Silence: A Difficult, Important Film

John Murdock talks about beautiful, but problematic the movie Silence is. It isn’t a success story. The power of believing doesn’t end the war. It ends on a note that will need explanation for many viewers.

In an age of ISIS brutality, its themes are sadly relevant today, and it opens a window on a period in church history of which too few are aware. It is not a perfect picture, but those who proclaim it a masterpiece have reason to do so.

‘The Hanging Tree,’ by Ben Aaronovitch

The Hanging Tree

If you’ve followed my reviews of Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series of comic-mystery fantasies, you know that Detective Constable Peter Grant works for “the Folly,” a secret division of the London Metropolitan Police. The Folly’s brief is to deal with supernatural, magical crime. Peter is still learning his magical craft under Inspector Nightingale, an eccentric officer over a century old. The “Rivers” of the series title refer to several women who are in actuality the local goddesses of London’s various rivers, the daughters of “Mother Thames.”

In this installment, The Hanging Tree, a young socialite is found dead of a drug overdose in an upscale apartment building. The investigation turns up connections to certain members of Mother Thames’ family, and so the Folly is called in. Their inquiries uncover drug dealing among members of the semi-magical “demimonde,” and the trail leads to the Faceless Man, a magical supervillain Peter and Nightingale have been hunting for some time. It all culminates in a magical showdown in which a great deal of real estate gets trashed.

As always, the writing is excellent (although I’m annoyed by Peter’s narratorial tendency to use the construction, “me and x did so and so”), and the story combines excitement and wit.

However, I think this will be the last Rivers of London book for me. The series bears a resemblance to the revived Doctor Who TV series (for which author Aaronovitch has been a writer), including its ideological themes. Each book works more LGBTQ (etc.) characters in. I suppose the idea is to acclimate the reader to such things, in a frog-in-the-kettle manner. However (as you probably know), the frog in the kettle is an urban myth. Real frogs in real life stay until the water gets uncomfortable, and then jump out.

Which I’m doing now.

Books, plated

theconversation.com had an article on bookplates yesterday.

Edwardian readers were expected to share books from their own library with others, and so very special attention was paid to the plate design, to indicate the type of person that the owner was. While the wealthy were able to afford privately commissioned plates by famous artists, the average Edwardian depended on stationers or booksellers for mass-produced plates, or something from a pattern book. For the bibliophile, choosing a bookplate was a delicate process and the purchase commanded quite a price, varying from £2 to £50 – roughly £220-£5,500 today.

I’ve got some bookplates around here somewhere – in my old desk, I think. I used to have a store where I could pick them up, and I had a favored design – an etching of a full-face lion who reminded me of Aslan. It was an Antioch design, but I don’t find it at Bookplate Ink, which claims to have the largest online supply of Antioch plates.

Some years ago somebody gave me one of those embossers with Ex Libris and my name on it, so I mostly gave up bookplates. And of late I’ve bought most of my books in electronic form.

Hey — there’s a business opportunity! Bookplates for ebooks!

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Linkage

The great Dave Lull sends a link to an interview with Anne Kennedy on The Eric Metaxas Show. Anne is the author of the devotional book Nailed It, which I reviewed here.

And our friend Ori Pomerantz recommends this link to the Federalist, where John Ehrett imagines the “hot takes” (a new term to me, I’ll admit) that might have been published if C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books had been published today.

Reason: “Narnia Doesn’t Need Kings”
In “Prince Caspian,” the Telmarines were on the cusp of transforming Narnia into a successfully modern state that would’ve created job opportunities for everyone. Aslan’s violent return destroyed valuable capital and plunged the regime back into a preindustrial dark age. The GDP losses are incalculable. For shame, Aslan.

Become Mall of America’s Writer-in-Residence

In celebration of its 25th birthday, Mall of America is holding a contest to choose that wonderfully creative soul who will spend five days “deeply immersed in the Mall atmosphere while writing on-the-fly impressions in their own words.”

Dude, is this not a call for a writers riot? Several writers should immerse themselves in this mall, if not one of the many malls across America, to write “impressions” of what they see. Nothing could possibly go wrong with that. Don’t let a good challenge go ignored. Post your short impressions here.

Micah Mattax says, “For some reason, my on-the-fly impressions of malls always come out Ecclesiastes, so I won’t be applying. Still, that $400 food court gift card is pretty tempting.”

You bet it is. What are your impressions of a food court feast? What snatches of conversation do you hear as you walk? Is there a spiritual dimension to riding an escalator? America needs to know.

‘Dead Wood,’ by Dan Ames

Dead Wood

Sometimes there’s nothing much really wrong with a book except that it annoys me. That was my problem with Dead Wood, the first volume of the Grosse Pointe Pulp series, by Dan Ames.

The hero, John Rockne, was once a Grosse Pointe policeman – very briefly. Then one night he made a well-meaning decision that cost a man his life, and him his career. Today he’s a private investigator in the upscale Detroit suburb. He’s married and a father.

He gets a visit from a retired Country music star. The man’s daughter, a brilliant guitar maker, has been brutally murdered. The police blame a junkie who broke into her workshop, but the old man is sure it was his daughter’s boyfriend, whom he never liked.

John’s investigation leads him into the world of music recording, where the daggers in the back are not always metaphorical. He also comes face to face with a very old enemy.

This synopsis makes the story sound fairly grim, but in fact the tone is relatively light – which was one of the problems for me. John Rockne (who has a Norwegian name but never mentions being Norwegian, only one of the things I didn’t like about him) is a wiseacre. Now wiseacrey is a cherished tradition among hard-boiled private eyes. But you’ve got to earn the right to it, and John doesn’t (in my opinion). He’s not really hard-boiled. In fact, he’s kind of a wimp, constantly nagged by his wife and his older sister. He doesn’t show much sign of fighting ability – but nevertheless manages to survive, apparently mostly by luck, even when set upon by a pair of bodybuilders. In a related issue, he suffers from Fictional Transitory Injury Syndrome, the condition common to TV and movie heroes, where a guy suffers fairly serious injuries one day, and then seems entirely untroubled by them the day after.

On the plus side, I thought the prose wasn’t bad, and the ending of the book was quite affecting.

But, although this is a three-book set, I didn’t like Dead Wood enough to read the follow-up books. At least for now. Your mileage may deviate.

Cautions for language.

‘Rachel and the Many-Splendored Dreamland,’ by L. Jagi Lamplighter

Rachel and the Many-Splendored Dreamland

Rachel Griffin flies again (on a broom) in the third entry in the Unexpected Enlightenment series by L. Jagi Lamplighter: Rachel and the Many-Splendored Dreamland.

If you’ve missed my reviews of the first two books, Rachel is a freshman at Roanoke Academy of the Sorcerous Arts, an institution invisible to the Unwary (non-magical) World. Similarities to the Harry Potter books are obvious, but there are important differences too. The chief one is that the Unwary World of these books is different from ours in important ways.

Rachel has only been in school a short time, but has already been through a series of perilous adventures. This time out, she and her friends (who include a princess and a dragon-slaying orphan boy) are refining techniques for traveling in dreams. One of their friends has the ability to enter the dream world and move through other people’s dreams, which allows them to travel anywhere that someone is dreaming of, so long as they keep holding hands. As before, Rachel acquires knowledge that permits her to help thwart the plans of demonic forces – though she never gets credit.

A highlight of this book is a daring visit to the Ghost’s Ball at Halloween, where Rachel and her boyfriend meet various ghosts, some pathetic, some evil, some quite nice – and are able to do favors for a few of them.

As with the previous two installments, the whole thing ends in a rousing sorcerous battle scene, well worth the cost of admission.

I’m enjoying the Rachel Griffin books quite a lot, and look forward to the release of the next one. I was particularly pleased to see that Christian themes are beginning to come into focus.

Recommended.

St. Petersburg Has a Luxury Library

In St. Petersburg, Russia, publisher Alfaret has opened a Gothic-style library that is more a book-themed experience than a place to read or check out books. In fact, I don’t think you can check out anything from Book Cappela‘s over 5,000 edition collection.

What you can do is pay about £100 for a four-hour visit to study the collection or buy an annual card, making you a “Book Apostle,” for £3,209. Life-long members are also available.

For these prices, you can review Alfaret’s collection of Russian and international masterpieces in leather chairs under the kind gaze of the apostles.

“Book Capella is not a library in the traditional sense, and it is not a museum, although elements of the museum are presented. It’s also not the bookstore, although you can buy our books here. [It] is a new way for people to communicate with rare books,” Irina Khoteshova, the project director, told the Guardian.

“Library hand”

Library joined hand

A character I had to read a lot about in the previous couple years was Melvil Dewey (a spelling reformer, he reformed his own first name), the father of modern librarianship and inventor of the Dewey Decimal System. He was a crank generally, but he left his mark.

Atlas Obscura today has an article about another of Dewey’s projects — he didn’t invent it, but he promoted it heavily. “Library hand” was a form of handwriting librarians were expected to master before typewriters became ubiquitous.

Influenced by Edison and honed via experimenting on patient, hand-sore librarians, library hand focused on uniformity rather than beauty. “The handwriting of the old-fashioned writing master is quite as illegible as that of the most illiterate boor,” read a New York State Library School handbook. “Take great pains to have all writing uniform in size, blackness of lines, slant, spacing and forms of letters,” wrote Dewey in 1887. And if librarians thought they could get away with just any black ink, they could think again real fast. “Inks called black vary much in color,” scoffed the New York State Library School handwriting guide.

My MLIS training was deficient. They didn’t teach us a thing about this.

Recovered Essay on Extraterrestrial Life

Who comes to mind as a public figure who has written an essay on the possibilities of life on other planets?  Not a high school paper, but a fairly scientific essay that concludes, “With hundreds of thousands of nebulae, each containing thousands of millions of suns, the odds are enormous that there must be immense numbers which possess planets whose circumstances would not render life impossible.”

Would you believe Winston Churchill wrote these words?

The essay written in 1939 reportedly has a strong understanding of contemporary astronomy and how scientists would approach the question of extraterrestrial life. It was found by Timothy Riley, director of the National Churchill Museum at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. He recommended the essay to astrophysicist Mario Livio, who was thrilled to examine it.

Churchill did his homework, Livio reports. Though he probably didn’t pore over peer-reviewed scientific literature, the statesman seems to have read enough, and spoke with enough top scientists—including the physicist Frederick Lindemann, his friend and later his official scientific adviser—to have had a strong grasp of the major theories and ideas of his time.

Burned-out Author Forges On, Lands Deal

Nancy Peacock has done well as a novel writer, and her path has been a challenging one. Speaking of her mindset about ten years ago, she writes,

At the time, writing and publishing another book was the last thing on my mind. Although, even as I say it, that feels like a bit of a lie. I think publishing is always on a writer’s mind; I also think we have to forget about it. We have to write without feeding any fear regarding the future of a book, how we’re going to publish, how we’re going to reach an audience, and how the book will be received.

She describes how she soured on traditional publishing, chose to self-publish her third novel with professional help, and the key that turned her back to traditional publishing.

How an Indie Author Landed a Traditional Book Deal

Peacock doesn’t talk about her experience with queries, but whatever mistakes she may have made, I’m sure she didn’t make any of the ones agent Steve Laube lists in this post on odd queries he’s received.  Here’s one of them.

An email proposal with a cover note that reads, “I am sure you get a lot of proposals, but this one is worth your time to read.”
But the author claims they looked at what we agents want and then sent us something we specifically say we do not represent. Then says they followed our guidelines for submission but didn’t follow one of them. And then claims the Holy Spirit told them to write it and gave them the words. They must not have read what I wrote a while back “God Gave Me This Blog Post.”

‘The Raven, the Elf, and Rachel,’ by L. Jagi Lamplighter

The Raven, the Elf, and Rachel

Rachel Griffin, student sorcerer, returns in The Raven, the Elf, and Rachel, the second entry in L. Jagi Lamplighter’s Unexpected Enlightenment series. It’s another delightful exercise in exuberant fantasy.

We pick up the story immediately where the last book left off, on a terrible night when rogue magicians nearly succeeded in destroying Roanoke Academy of the Sorcerous Arts. Only the quick actions of Rachel and her friends (but mostly Rachel) prevented disaster. Soon they learn that the evil magician behind that attack, Montague Egg, has escaped. Egg has much bigger plans than the destruction of the school – he wants to destroy the whole world. And various Roanoke students, including Rachel, are his targets in a diabolically cruel scheme that will break down all protecting walls if it succeeds.

Through the course of the story, Rachel comes to understand her own powers better, and receives guidance from potent supernatural entities. She also learns terrible secrets about her own family history.

The story is (pardon the term) enchanting. I take it on faith that Christian themes are being served here, because they’re only hinted at in the actual narrative. One thing that troubles me is a recurring pattern of Rachel disobeying her elders and superiors, and being generally proven right in doing so. That’s somewhat surprising in books that pay occasional homage to C.S. Lewis, both his Narnia books and his Ransom trilogy. I await further enlightenment on that point in the volumes that follow.

I recommend the series highly, though I’m not entirely sure they’re suitable for children inclined to rebelliousness. No objectionable material except for the magic itself.

8 Steps to Revive Christian Fiction

Christian fiction has been pronounced dead in some circle, and E. Stephen Burnett is running with that idea. If it really is dead, how can it be reborn? He offers eight steps.

  1. Figure out what fiction is even meant to do, starting with Scripture.
  2. Find fans who have similar biblical conviction and imagination.
  3. Stride forth with winsomeness, a confident voice, and ‘swashbuckling.’
  4. Encourage bravery about certain words and topics.
  5. However, do nothing for outrage’s own sake—that is the dark side.
  6. Budget each month to buy great Christian novels you’ve heard about.
  7. Don’t ‘ban’ any genres: romance, fantasy, mystery, literary, popular.
  8. This is ‘Christian fiction,’ so let’s see more than generic Christianity.

I like this last one. Let’s write stories with true-to-life people in them, people who attend close-to-actual churches with real theological traditions. I’d be willing to believe many novels depict vaguely Christian characters because their authors have vaguely non-denominational beliefs. But I don’t know what a survey of Christian authors would produce. Perhaps their theological depth is no deeper than that of the reading public.

Killing Cupid

I haven’t written for The American Spectator much recently, because – frankly – I’m having trouble finding anything to say. Mere anarchy, it seems to me, has been unleashed upon the world, and it’s hard to find a side to defend.

But Robert Stacy McCain is a braver man than I, and he wrote a piece for Valentine’s Day that I wish I’d written. Instead, I linked to it on Facebook. I quoted the following passage there:

Of course, even if a young woman today did want Prince Charming to sweep her off her feet, he might be afraid to attempt it. If he admired Cinderella’s beauty, feminists would condemn Prince Charming for objectifying her with the “male gaze.” If a man talks to a woman, whatever he says is denounced by feminists as “mansplaining.” Any man who attempts to initiate a romantic relationship with a woman is guilty of “harassment,” according to feminism, and any expectation that a woman might enjoy sexual activity with a man is “rape culture.”

This excerpt may have been poorly chosen by me. A number of the people who commented on the link assumed I’d chosen it primarily to complain about the fact that I can’t get a date. I can understand the mistake – my almost magically pathetic love life is of course one of the most noticeable things about me.

Maybe I should have quoted the following paragraph, which I almost chose instead: Continue reading Killing Cupid

Book Reviews, Creative Culture