"Evocative images, provocative thoughts, tension without pretension -- that's what makes for good writing."

- Marvin Olasky
On not being afraid of the dark

Back in my low-rent Christian singing group days, we met a pastor who ministered in a southern Minnesota town. He was a fascinating fellow, an eccentric dresser, and a great extrovert with many wild stories to tell. He'd been a hippie before his conversion, and he told stories of his adventures with some occultists he'd lived with for a while in California. (Rory Bohannon in Wolf Time is based, in part, on him.)

Thinking back on our acquaintance, I don't believe he was a fraud. His stories were sometimes spooky, but they lacked the self-aggrandizement of Mike Warnke's fabulations. I believe he was seriously trying to convey spiritual truth, and using the stories to draw us in.

And there's one thing he said that I'll always remember. “When you talk to people about the occult,” he said, “they almost always respond in the same way. They say, 'I don't believe in it—tell me about it.'” Read the rest of this entry . . .

Relative Maxims

I have learned that both of these maxims have been employed over the years:

  • The best defense is a solid offense.
  • The best offense is a strong defense.
Which do you think is true or stronger, if both are true? I usually think of this the first way and in terms of a chess game. Your object in chess and any competitive game is to win, not to avoid losing too badly. I suppose in other conflicts you must be careful to avoid taking too much damage so that any victory would be hollow and sorely won, but even then defeating the opponent quickly will keep him from hurting you.

The page I link to above has a quote from George Washington which I looked up for a bit of context. The first American president and great American general said:
It is unfortunate when men cannot or will not see danger at a distance; or, seeing it, are undetermined as to the means, which are necessary to avert or keep it afar off. I question whether the evil arising from the French getting possession of Louisiana and the Floridas would be generally seen, until felt; and yet no problem in Euclid is more evident, or susceptible of clearer demonstration. Not less difficult is it to make them believe, that offensive operations oftentimes are the surest, if not in some cases the only means of defence.
That's generally the way I see it. What do you think?

The Soul of Frankenstein

Frankenstein's Castle. Photo by Yvo Geis

Burg Frankenstein in Darmstadt, Germany

This professor was very unlike his colleague. He appeared about fifty years of age, but with an aspect expressive of the greatest benevolence; a few grey hairs covered his temples, but those at the back of his head were nearly black. His person was short, but remarkably erect; and his voice the sweetest I had ever heard. . . .

"The ancient teachers of this science," said he, "promised impossibilities, and performed nothing. The modern masters promise very little; they know that metals cannot be transmuted, and that the elixir of life is a chimera. But these philosophers, whose hands seem only made to dabble in dirt, and their eyes to pore over the microscope or crucible, have indeed performed miracles. They penetrate into the recesses of nature, and show how she works in her hiding places. They ascend into the heavens: they have discovered how the blood circulates, and the nature of the air we breathe. They have acquired new and almost unlimited powers; they can command the thunders of heaven, mimic the earthquake, and even mock the invisible world with its own shadows."

Such were the professor's words--rather let me say such the words of fate, enounced to destroy me. As he went on, I felt as if my soul were grappling with a palpable enemy; one by one the various keys were touched which formed the mechanism of my being: chord after chord was sounded, and soon my mind was filled with one thought, one conception, one purpose. So much has been done, exclaimed the soul of Frankenstein--more, far more, will I achieve: treading in the steps already marked, I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation.
From Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

A couple of things

Came across this in my reading today, and thought it was good:

I dreamt. Jeremy tells me that we all dream every night but we don't remember our dreams. The trick to remembering is to wake up during a dream. Poets, he said, are particularly good at waking up during or immediately after a dream. Something lets them know some good stuff that they might be able to use has been going on. Jeremy's current favorite poet was Byron. I read a few Byron poems. The guy had nightmares. I preferred the book of William Blake poems Jeremy had given me, though I didn't understand most of them. I just liked the way they sounded and it was the only poetry book I'd ever seen with drawings in it.

(Stuart M. Kaminsky in Think Fast, Mr. Peters, p. 90)

I'm still not sure this story is authentic, but if true, it's just delightful. Apparently Larry David did an episode on his Curb Your Enthusiasm HBO series about urinating on a picture of Jesus. Hilarity ensues as those stupid Christians react in their simple-minded, provincial way.

However, now the Council on American-Islamic Relations has sent a letter to HBO, expressing their offense at an insult to someone they revere as a great prophet.

What a dilemma for a citizen of Hollywood—“Do I apologize, and please Christians (which is unthinkable), or do I insult Islam (also unthinkable)? How can this have happened? I'm so sensitive!”

That sound you hear is me chortling. Chortling evilly. In a simple-minded, provincial way.

In which I explain my crush on a younger woman who's not actually younger, and died long ago

Rita Hayworth
Sunday evening I watched my DVD of the movie, “You Were Never Lovelier,” starring Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth.

Now I'm not normally a huge musical fan. I find Fred Astaire's movies entertaining, but I wouldn't actually spend money to acquire one.

But Astaire and Hayworth? That's a whole different matter.

It's not the greatest musical. Only one song became a standard (“I'm Old-Fashioned”). A silly plot, worthy of a P.G. Wodehouse novel (not that there's anything wrong with that). It has the added eccentricity of featuring band leader Xavier Cugat in his pre-Abby Lane, way-pre-Charro days. Although it's set in Argentina, everybody speaks in American accents. Except for Cugat. Quick! Don't think about it!

Astaire and Hayworth only did two films together (I've still got to acquire “You'll Never Get Rich”). Though they were miraculous as a team, and Astaire said he'd never worked with a better partner, he refused to do another with her because, he said, he didn't want to be permanently paired with anyone again, as he had been previously, first with his sister, and then with Ginger Rogers.

I'm sure it had nothing at all to do with the fact that when Rita's dancing, it's impossible to see anybody else.

I know it's mostly illusion. I know her real name was Margarita Cansino, and that her hair wasn't really red, and that the studio gave her electrolysis to raise her hairline. I know that she once said, “Men marry Rita Hayworth, but wake up with me.” I know about her alcohol problems, and the string of awful marriages. And the final tragic descent into Alzheimer's.

But movies are illusion. Rita was born to be a movie star, and nobody was ever lovelier on screen.

The Internet is Infinite, and So Am I

Carrie Frye talks about how the Internet has made her a terrible reader and worse, "an overly inflated sense of my own ability to learn and appreciate new things."

Serious Biography on Louis Armstrong

Terry Teachout has a copy in hand of his new biography on Louis Armstrong. He writes that his book is a bit different than other biographies on jazz musicians or popular figures. "I've sought to write a narrative biography of Louis Armstrong that is comparable in seriousness, scope, and literary quality to a 'definitive' high-culture biography of a great novelist--or a great classical composer," he says. Bravo, sir.

Cool Notice

I've been occupied away from the blog lately, so I have not yet linked to this cool post by world famous author Hunter Baker on the reception of his book by ubercool and famous author Andrew Klavan. Klavan said, "I’m startled to report I glanced at it while laying it aside, then picked it up again, then read it through. This is a very well written, concise and learned primer on the secularization of the public square." I love it.

What's your next book going to be, Dr. Baker?

It Bears Repeating

Jared has said this before, I think, but it's worth saying again: Martin Luther is his homeboy.

The Two-Space War, by Dave Grossman and Leo Frankowski

Not a flawless book, The Two-Space War has the definite feel of the debut of a series still finding its sea-legs.

Nevertheless, it's a voyage worth completing, and I enjoyed it increasingly as I went on.

The set-up is kind of complicated, which slows down the action at the start. This is a standard problem in stories set in unfamiliar worlds, but I thought the authors did as good a job as anyone in weaving the info dumps into the narrative.

The premise is that humans have learned to travel to distant galaxies, by traveling through “Two-Space,” the second dimension. The trade-off is that all but the simplest early Industrial Revolution technology rapidly deteriorates in Two-Space. So the ships by which people travel there have to be wooden ships, similar to those of the Napoleonic era, with interesting differences.

As the story opens, Lt. Thomas Melville and a landing party are stranded on a distant planet, battling thirst and suicidal, ape-like monsters. They await rescue by their mother ship. They were recently attacked by a ship of the evil Guldur Empire, and their captain's death has left him acting commander.

Through skill and military discipline, he manages to save his landing party from the apes. Shortly thereafter they are picked up by their mother ship, only to learn that the ship (their ships are sentient) is dying, and that the Guldur are coming in fast.

Lt. Melville determines not to take refuge on the primitive planet, but to employ a bold strategy against the Guldur ship. So begins a story that steadily builds in dramatic tension, and draws the reader both through suspense and with interesting, likeable, growing characters.

In some ways I found the world-building a little self-indulgent, by my personal reckoning. The universe Lt. Melville and his crew explore is notable for planets containing elves and planets containing dwarfs, and so (in this narrative) J.R.R. Tolkien is considered an actual prophet. His books are venerated as if they were Scripture. There are also numerous references to the “classic” writers of the 20th Century—such as Heinlein, Weber and Pratchitt. In this version of the future, Science Fiction is considered the highest literary form. Elements of Tolkien, Patrick O'Brien, and (perhaps) Kenneth Roberts rub together in this universe, not always seamlessly (in my opinion), but in the end the authors make it work.

I'm not sure what to say about religious matters (the future seems to be vaguely Christian, in a syncretist sort of way), or the issue of women in combat, which is addressed so eccentrically that it's hard to draw a conclusion what the authors think.

But the real heart of this book is the battle scenes. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (full disclosure: he sent me a free review copy) is a retired officer of the Army Rangers, a former professor of Psychology at West Point, and a recognized authority on the physiological and psychological effects of combat on human beings. His descriptions of the experience of battle are as authentic as any you'll ever come across, and they in themselves make The Two-Space War a moving and unforgettable read. I'm serious about this. The combat scenes are worth the price of the book all by themselves.

Once I got acclimated I was riveted. I recommend the book highly, and hope there's a sequel.

King of the airwaves

The interview on Issues, Etc. happened after all. My thanks to the interviewer, in case he shows up here. Never did get his name.

Special thanks to our friend Hunter Baker, who shilled for me by calling in and pretending to be a mere mortal. If I'd been thinking on my feet, I'd have said, “Is this HUNTER BAKER, the famous author of The End of Secularism, published by Crossway?”

But of course I was thinking on another part of my body, and it didn't happen.

Thanks too, either to Dr. Gene Edward Veith or Pastor Paul T. McCain. I'm pretty sure one of them twisted somebody's arm in St. Louis to get me on the show, but I don't know which it is.

At some point the Issues, Etc. people will make the interview available for download over at the site.

Listen to it for me. I don't think I have the nerve.

The adventures of my voice

I made it to Fargo on Friday night, and back again Saturday afternoon. The drive was more enjoyable than usual, as there was little crosswind, something Mrs. Hermanson hates.

I don't think I've ever spoken to a more attentive or appreciative audience than the Fargo Chesterton Society on Saturday morning. Unfortunately it was a small audience; nobody knew where everybody was. Even the reporter who'd planned to interview me for the Grand Forks Herald didn't show up. Such are the vicissitudes of obscurity.

The Chesterton people were really great, though. Most of them bought books, and they gave me more money than I think I strictly earned. It was a lovely meeting. But I'm disappointed for them.

By the way,
tomorrow I'm scheduled to be interviewed, at 3:00 Central, on the Issues, Etc. radio program. You can listen to it the old-fashioned way if you live in St. Louis, or you can webstream it or download it later at their site, for listening at your convenience.

If it happens, of course. I'm taking nothing for granted at this point.

No one named Clementine was involved in any way

Wyatt Earp
Before it's too late, let me note that today is the anniversary of the Gunfight at the OK Corral, October 26, 1881.

Allen Barra, in his fascinating book, Inventing Wyatt Earp, notes that recent movie treatments have tended to be more hostile to the Earps than earlier ones (though Wyatt Earp and Tombstone, released after he wrote the book, were friendlier). He attributes this to the fact that the Earps were Republicans and Hollywood hates Republicans, even 100 years ago, when they were the liberal party.

Tip: World Magazine blog.

e-Reader Killed the Publishing Star

Marion Manekar says the new e-reader from Barnes & Noble, the Nook, is better than Amazon's Kindle and therefore could break Barnes & Noble as a printed bookseller.

The Coming Light Age

A new age of information without newspapers

Pastor Burns Bibles for Halloween

A misguided pastor from North Carolina plans to burn "satanic" books this Halloween, including recent translations of the Bible.

“I believe the King James version is God’s preserved, inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God… for English-speaking people," the pastor said.

Of the non-biblical books to be burned, they have works by Billy Graham, Rick Warren, John Piper, John MacArthur, Mother Teresa and many others. You can read a list here. (Maybe a Christian bookstore closed recently.)

I guess my impulse is to laugh off such foolishness, but I can't do it this time. I'm grieved. This man and his congregation are deceived about the nature of God's holy word in English and the mercy or gracious freedom he gives to his people. I'm even more bothered by his claim to have studied at a Christian college in my town. He says he left because they were too liberal, which is a little funny. Fundamentalists are known by the way they divide up believers and separate themselves from others. The plain meaning of the text is all they need to know God's will, and by "plain meaning" they mean their interpretation alone. They have gone to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses, and the voice they hear is Jesus' voice, so how could they misinterpret anything?

I'm not too bothered, of course, because there isn't anything I can do about it. Still, having heard stories of religious abuse, I can't laugh when those who appear to be clanging cymbals like this hit the news. I'm not a satirist, I guess--which brings to mind this video of a panel discussion from a Ligonier Ministries conference. Doug Wilson gets into acting like Jesus acted, saying we throw some heavy interpretation into our answers when asking what Jesus would do. We almost never think that Jesus would give a satiric or biting answer, like calling some religious leaders a brood of vipers. Piper, Sproul, and Mohler all comment on that idea.

Athol Dickson's Latest

I'm looking forward to reading Athol Dickson's next book, Lost Mission.

"Welcome to my house!"

Bran Castle in Romania

"The old man motioned me in with his right hand with a courtly gesture, saying in excellent English, but with a strange intonation. 'Enter freely and of your own free will! Go safely, and leave something of the happiness you bring!'"

Text from Bram Stoker's Dracula, photo of Bran Castle in Romania.

Olsen letter #2b

[I hadn't intended to post the rest of the second Olsen letter right away, but again I've got no clever ideas tonight, so here it is. By the way, there probably won't be a post from me tomorrow night, as I'll be driving up to Fargo in order to be on the spot for my 10:00 a.m. speech on Saturday. lw]

[Attached page:]

I must also tell you that here in Kvalevaag there will certainly be many weddings this summer. Anne Sirine and E. E. Ylveland the shoemaker will be newlyweds this next Thursday, that is July 9, and the wedding will be at the Mollene home. And Daarte Andresen will marry again now, and the banns have been pronounced; she will marry Ole Svehaugen Ylveland. Also there will probably be a wedding in our house this fall, according to what I hear, for Berthe. She will marry a widower. He has 3 children. The oldest is in confirmation. He is an engineer [i.e., operates a motorized boat], and makes good money, and he is said to be a nice man, so they say, and so he seems to be; I can say no more about that so far. So it looks as if we will see her married, if we weren't able to see any of you who are in America married. You can tell your wife Lava that I will soon go and visit her family, and then I will write soon to you that I have been down south there, for I will take the opportunity to go to Stavanger and see about a net boat for us, for the net must and shall go out, if I live so long.

Ja, now I'd better close for this time of writing to you, for if my writing has taken time, I have done a good job of telling this and that. I must tell you that old Grandfather is still living, but is now very poorly and awaits death each day. Grandmother is now a little better than he. Read the rest of this entry . . .

Olsen letter #2

[Having no useful thoughts to share this evening, I turn to the second installment in my translations of a series of letters from my great-great-grandfather in Norway to my great-grandfather in America.lw]

Letter addressed to: Mr. John Walker, Millington, Po., Ills., Kendall Co., North Amerika.

Kvalevaag, the 30 June, 1891.

Mr. Jan H. Olson

Dear children,

Having received your lively letter, for which I am very thankful, and say thank you for, and from which we can see and hear both of and from you, that everything is well and good with all of you in every respect, ja, it is precious to hear from one's dear ones that everything is fine in every way, for which we must thank the Lord, who upholds us each day. Ja, it is grace upon grace for our part that He does not turn His back on us also, as so many others have done in our misery, and at an inconvenient time. Ja, thanks and praise to His holy name for all good both for soul and body. Ja, I can also tell you today that we are all sustained in life by God thus far, although in many infirmities, so that we aren't always so brisk in health, we who are now old. Mother especially has [been] and is so very poorly, and so she has been for a long time now. She spent no little time in bed, but now in Pentecost she has been in bed most of the time. But what shall we say? We have to suffer through anything. We endure much evil and hard work every day, for we haven't much help in our old age.

I myself have been sick a while, but now, thank God, I am better again; and it's a good thing, because I haven't had much of anyone to help me with the farm work this year. There's me and Marte [sister] and the mare—we are the ones who have done the farm work this year. I myself have plowed every furrow this year. I haven't hired a day-laborer this spring, but now I am going to have hired help with me in the peat bog, for you have to have people for that, and I was ready, although I was alone, as soon as the others. And for that I can thank the Lord, who has strengthened and helped me, and He is a good helper to have with you in everything.

Ja, it is certainly hard to think that we, who have brought up so many as we have, are now alone in our old age. Ja, it is sorrowful to think of, that we should have two sons in America, and [they] go and work for day wages, with nothing of their own to hold on to, and will not be at home in their own home and country. Ja, it is amazing how a person can be, ja, I often wonder about it when I think of you, that you could forsake your dear home, and live in that America. Ja, it is certainly said of America, this time by me, “for I would not live there, although I got gold and green forests.” Ja, I know that for sure. Read the rest of this entry . . .

Leaving the Country

The problem of leaving small towns behind in the dust.

Does It Matter What It Costs?

Sarah Palin has a memoir coming out next month, Going Rogue: An American Life. You can pre-order it from Amazon for $9--the same at Walmart. Buy it at Books-a-Million for $15.65.

I very well may buy this book, but should I go for the $9 or the $15 price? Why are deep discounters able to discount some books so deeply? Should I care about paying too little for a book, or should I let the publishers figure out their stupid business models by themselves?

In related news, political pundit Bernie Quigley talks about the messages within the titles of Palin's and Mitt Romney's upcoming books. Romney's book, to be released in March, is called No Apology: The Case for American Greatness. Quigley says that title focuses on the past.

"There is hubris and a kind of conspicuous arrogance to it, which he asks us to wear with our chests out. Romney’s title suggests a full endorsement of the Bush II paradigm without a moment’s introspection," he says. "Going Rogue, however, suggests a new direction, a new adventure, something just ahead there in the great unknown. It is a very good title and speaks in essence to the frontier spirit of those who venture beyond the Hudson River or the Beltway."

Lightning strikes

Loren Eaton speaks highly of my novel, The Year of the Warrior, at his I Saw Lightning Fall blog today. Thanks, Loren.

Vampires, Burial, and Death by Paul Barber

I made some comments about vampires in this space a while back, and a friend lent me a copy of Paul Barber's Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality so I could have the real skinny.

I know much more now. I'm not sure I'm happier for it.

And—especially for the sake of those of you with weak stomachs—I'll pass the gist of it on to you, so you won't have to read this often entertaining, but generally depressing and unappetizing, book. Read the rest of this entry . . .

The Poetic Muse

Robert Roper writes, "Contemporary psychologists have unearthed strong associations between poetry and introspection, between introspection and depression, and between depression and self-destructiveness. Not all poets are depressives, but there is a statistical connection. If that child of yours is writing a poem at this moment, go into his bedroom right now and stop him!"

Ahem.

"I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;"
And if it landed in your heart,
I hope you die, you little tart.

Gasp--I'm so depressed now.

On Fairy Tales

Chesterton on the Benefit of Fairy Tales for Children. The world is not nice, and the monsters must meet their just ends.

Sea-ing the grove for the trees

I meant to do a number of things this weekend, and accomplished a few of them, mostly shopping- and computer-related. But I'm only firing on a couple cylinders. Either my cold is still hanging on, or I'm in the process of succumbing to a second malady, possibly H1N1 or the King's Evil. I hope that's not the case, because I'd hate to cancel my appearance for the Chesterton Society in Fargo on Saturday.

I just picked up some Airborne®, which some of the Vikings recommend. Just like the Fizzies we used to enjoy when I was a kid, except less sweet and they're supposed to be good for you.

Again I spent Sunday at home (I was beginning to fear I was contagious), and I ended the day as has been my custom recently, watching one of the Inspector Lewis mysteries on PBS.

Inspector Lewis (as all Mystery aficionados know), is the former Sergeant Lewis who played sidekick for so many years to Inspector Morse in the splendid series based on Colin Dexter's whodunits. Lewis has had an interesting character arc. In the original mystery in the series, as written in the book Last Bus to Woodstock, Inspector Morse had two sergeants assisting him. One was named Lewis, and was described as short and stocky. The other (whose name I've forgotten) was tall and thin. When the series was televised, the producers conflated the two sergeants and gave us a tall, thin officer named Lewis. In the books that followed, the author just rode the wave. He made Lewis the regular assistant, and never (as far as I noticed) described him again, so the reader was free to think of him as looking like Kevin Whately, who still portrays him on television.

There's an interesting religious subtext in the new Inspector Lewis series (Dexter killed off Inspector Morse with a heart attack in The Remorseful Day in 1999). Lewis had been (though inconsistently) portrayed as a churchgoer in the Inspector Morse stories. Now we're told that his wife has been killed in a senseless traffic accident, and that he has become an atheist. His assisting sergeant, however, is a former seminarian who still believes to some extent. The question of God's existence intrudes regularly in the stories, as it did in this week's episode, which involved an Oxford don who writes bestselling books, Richard Dawkins-style, about atheism.

But what struck me most in this episode was the presence of the actress Jenny Seagrove. My heart knew a nameless dread when I saw her name on the credits at the beginning. “What have the years done to Jenny?” I asked myself. “Will she be a skin-tightened, botoxed android, like so many other actresses her age?” Read the rest of this entry . . .

The White House vs. Fox News

I don't see how this helps anyone but Fox News. Maybe we should call for a nationwide beer summit.

Crime in Norway

Scandinavia House, home of the The American-Scandinavian Foundation, has an author panel tonight in New York on the topic "Where Fiction and Reality Collide: Norwegian Crime Fiction Panel". Norway is apparently one of the most peaceful countries in the world. Read any Scandinavian crime novels lately?

In completely unrelated news from Norway, the amount of heroin seized this year is already almost twice that of last year. "In 2008, 738 kilograms of drugs were seized at Norwegian borders, while the customs this year have already discovered 1500 kilograms of narcotics," reports The Norway Post.

A Life of Prayer

Sean Michael Lucus reviews and recommends Paul Miller's book A Praying Life, released this year.

Tim Challies also reviews the book, noting a caution about quotations from Thomas Merton. In the comments, Paul Miller responds to that concern and critics the mystics on prayer.

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