"Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. Never use a long word where a short word will do. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. Never use the passive where you can use the active."

- George Orwell
Behind the Scenes of "The Princess Bride"

Cary Elwes, whom you may know as Pierre Despereaux from Psyche, has written a book on his experiences making the film The Princess Bride. The book, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, is a delightful book for fans and possibly movie buffs, and we have some of the revelations in this article in L.A. Weekly. Here are some of them.

Fox bought the movie rights to the book as soon as it was published in 1973, but it was 1987 when it finally played in theaters. In the meantime, many directors wanted to do it, including Robert Redford. Can you imagine Redford as The Dread Pirate Roberts (if he cast himself in his own film)?

Author William Goldman had seen many of his screenplays produced before The Princess Bride, but he was unprepared for the filming of this one. He freaked out on the first day when they were filming the scene in the fire swamp. "As soon as the gas geyser lit up her dress, Goldman burst out screaming, 'OH, MY GOD! HER DRESS IS ON FIRE! SHE'S ON FIRE!!!' Later, he scolded Reiner: 'You're setting fire to Robin on the first day?! What are you, nuts? It's not like we can replace her!'"

There's a word for that reaction, if I could only think of it.

Celebrity Coffee Labels

Would you buy coffee from Joey Kramer of Aerosmith? How about Grace Hightower’s Coffee of Rwanda, sold at Bed, Bath, and Beyond? Maybe Laughing Man coffee from Hugh Jackman, which gives all of its proceeds to charity? Apparently, they aren't bad.

Also from our coffee connoisseur desk, confessions from baristas.

The Jack Stratton novels, by Christopher Greyson



It’s a rare treat to discover an author and a series of books I enjoy very much, and which I can recommend to our readers almost without reservation. But that’s the case with Christopher Greyson and his Jack Stratton novels.

Jack Stratton, the hero of the series, is a cop in a South Carolina town. He’s a good man, but wound tight. As a boy he was abandoned by his prostitute mother, but found refuge in a loving mixed race foster home before being adopted by a good family. As a young man he served in Iraq beside one of his foster brothers, Chandler. He saw Chandler die, and because of survivor’s guilt he hasn’t contacted his foster family since.

That’s until Replacement invades his life. “Replacement” is the nickname of a young woman who grew up in his old foster home, though after his time there. She shows up in his apartment and tells him Michelle, a foster sister to whom he was always close, has disappeared. She’d been studying in a local college, but supposedly transferred to a California school. Only she hasn’t gotten in touch with her family, and she wouldn’t do that.

With Replacement as his uninvited assistant, he starts looking into Michelle’s life, and discovers troubling things. Read the rest of this entry . . .

Points on Interstellar

Jeffrey Overstreet reviews Interstellar, whose trailer really draws me but I gather the movie may not get me singing. I haven't seen it read, nor have I read all of Jeff's review. Still, I'm sure it's good, so I wanted to link to it.

Our friend Hunter Baker says I enjoyed the film, but could not swallow a major plot rationale. Have you seen it? What do you think?

The Autobiography of a Pioneer Girl

Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote her autobiography before her Little House Series and could not find a publisher for it. This month, over eighty years later, an annotated edition will be published. Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography has been edited by Pamela Smith Hill, who wrote her own biography of Wilder a few years ago. She blogs about her subject here. In a recent post, a Wilder co-researcher explains a bit of research on a story from a terrible winter.

Wilder places the story of the schoolteacher and his improvised igloo in the winter of 1884–1885, but the setup is strongly reminiscent of the “children’s blizzard,” a storm that struck without warning on a warm day in January 1888 and killed more than a hundred schoolchildren as they struggled to get home. Wilder did not always remember events in their true chronological order, and it seemed likely that she misplaced this one. But she does not give the teacher’s name, and the Kingsbury County newspapers that could complete the story have been lost, so there, it appeared, the matter would rest.

Do Some Protestants Believe in Purgatory?

Gene Edward Veith points out a news story about Professor Jerry L. Walls, who teaches the idea of purgatory and has written about it in Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation. Walls apparently buys into the Catholic understanding of the purification of believers. As this article explains, followers of Christ must be purified even if they are forgiven of all their sins. Their sanctification is not fully accomplished by Christ's work on the cross, but by some spiritual process between death and paradise. David Gibson of RNS states, "In recent years, the emphasis [for purgatory's purpose] has swung from 'satisfying' the justice of God through painful reparations to one of sanctification, or becoming holy.

“'To suggest instead that Christians will enjoy a kind of express executive elevator at the time of death is to suggest that those who work hard on holiness in this life are wasting their efforts,' John G. Stackhouse, Jr., a popular evangelical author at Canada’s Regent College wrote in an essay on Walls’ ideas in The Christian Century."

This Catholic writer explains, "Catholic theology takes seriously the notion that 'nothing unclean shall enter heaven.' From this it is inferred that a less than cleansed soul, even if 'covered,' remains a dirty soul and isn’t fit for heaven." But I guess Christ's atonement does not accomplish this, so though we are fully saved by his grace, we must be fully purified by purgatory's refining fire, which has been a big problem historically (not to mention the fact that the Protestant Bible doesn't allow for even prayers on behalf of the dead).

Jerry Jenkins' Christian Writers Guild Shuts Down

Popular Christian novelist Jerry Jenkins has closed the doors on the Christian Writers Guild. The Guild was founded in the 1960s. Jenkins has owned it since 2001. Christianity Today has some details on why it is shutting down, perhaps due to diverging interests for Jenkins and Dave Sheets, the recently resigned guild president. Sheets is now heading up BeliversMedia, which will offer many and more of the things found in the Christian Writers Guild.

Is a Content Creator Required to Interact with Readers?

Matthew Ingram argues that media companies, particularly content creators like Reuters, should allow their readers to comment on articles. If they don't, they are shutting out potential fan support.

Reuters recently removed its comment section, saying self-policing social networks were already handling lively discussion well so they didn't need to duplicate the effort. Ingram says by doing this, Reuters is handing a large slice of market value to Facebook and Twitter (among other networks) as well as move any arguments over an article onto other venues where Reuters' writers will have to decide how to respond on their own. He explains:

Is moderation a pain, and an expensive proposition? Sure it is. Lots of things that matter to your business are expensive. And if you have an engaged community, they can become your moderators, as successful online communities like Slashdot and Metafilter have shown — which in turn helps strengthen your community. Ending comments means removing any chance that this will ever happen.
A news service probably needs all the love it can get. Does Reuters really want their writers to tweet their defense of contentious reports or take the debate to Medium?

Will Bill Watterson Return to Comics?

Is Bill Watterson returning to comics? Gracy Olmstead suggests, "Now, after all this time, Watterson is free to create again—to create something new." (via Prufrock)

Pixar Is Reviving Disney Animation Studios

Caitlin Roper tells the story. "Once upon a time, around the turn of the century, in the sunny town of Burbank, there was a great old animation company that was no longer great. Its films were various kinds of bad, but they all had some things in common: They didn't resonate with audiences, they didn't introduce unforgettable characters, and they didn't sell tickets or DVDs."

Disney Animation wasn't being run by artists anymore, perhaps not even by people who loved movies, Roper says. They had unremarkable business people picking stories and making movies happen.

"Disney's movies just seemed to lack ... heart," Roper says. "Take Home on the Range. From its predictable opening song to its by-the-numbers plot about a cow that's lost her home and her friends, the movie was a dusty ride through stock archetypes and one-note sidekicks. In contrast, Pixar's The Incredibles, which came out the same year, immediately introduced audiences to a unique and relatable protagonist as he struggles to attach a microphone to his spandex supersuit.... Mr. Incredible may be a superhero, but he's just like us. That epitomizes Pixar's approach to storytelling. 'The connection you make with your audience is an emotional connection,' Lasseter says. 'The audience can't be told to feel a certain way. They have to discover it themselves.'”

'One Bright Star to Guide Them,' by John C. Wright



“Innocence and faith are the weapons children bring to bear against open evils; wisdom is required to deal with evils better disguised.”

You might be tempted, on the basis of its description, to think John C. Wright’s novella, One Bright Star to Guide Them, is simple Narnia fanfic. A story of four adults, who were once children who entered a magical land peopled by magicians and talking animals.

But it’s more than that. This story is a transposition of Narnia. Author Wright moves the whole concept onto a different level. It's a meditation on the most terrible line in all the Narnia books – “Susan is no longer a friend of Narnia.” Thomas, the protagonist, is summoned to take up a new fight against a revived evil. But when he contacts his childhood companions, he finds that – for one reason or another – they are not willing to join him. So he has to test his faith alone, except for the help of their old guide, a mystical kitten called Tybalt.

One Bright Star to Guide Them is a quick read, but entirely worthy of the material that inspired it. Beautiful in places. Highly recommended.

Starr endorsement

Author Rachel Starr Thompson takes up valuable space in an interview to say nice things about my work.

I could never do the grit Lars Walker does, but I kind of wish I had written The Year of the Warrior. Wolf Time is amazing too. Actually, I love all of Lars’s books. - See more here

New Book on George Whitefield

Thomas Kidd has a new biography on one of America's great evangelists, George Whitefield.

Although I deeply respect and appreciate him, my Whitefield is not a perfect man. As Whitefield readily admitted, he struggled with the temptations of fame, and I also show his besetting difficulties in relating to other evangelical leaders such as the Wesleys. Most disappointing (as Dallimore noted too) was Whitefield’s advocacy for slavery, and his personal owning of slaves.
I thought I had read that he opposed slavery and got into trouble with some Georgian businessmen for saying so.

DIY Coffee for Blue Collar Workers

When Edward Samudro started his Yellow Truck coffeeshop, affordable coffee was not available in his city Bandung, West Java, Indosesia. If students or blue collar workers had a taste for good coffee, they would have to spend half a day's pay (if they had an income) on one cup. At Yellow Truck, customers can work the coffeemaker themselves. Samudro "wants them to know that coffee 'actually has taste;' it doesn’t have to be bitter."

As a roaster who sources the beans from local farmers, he also has a social mission: to improve the welfare of the families that make their living from selling coffee. That means educating coffee drinkers to demand the flavor that comes from good beans. Mr. Samudro says it’s a long term investment that he hopes will pay off eventually. In the meantime, he’s creating a no fuss, bare bones hangout that epitomizes the Indonesian art of nongkrong – essentially sitting around and chatting for hours.

Unbelievable, True-to-Life Hollywood Mystery

When director William Desmond Taylor was murdered, no one in 1922 Los Angeles knew who did it. William Mann spins all the details into a wild noir that "seems far too cinematic to be credible. Yet every word of it is true," writes Stefan Kanfer.

... the author spins a terrific yarn, though he frequently goes into overdrive, with staccato, machine gun-style sentences, as if to keep his readers’ attention from wandering: "Three long blond hairs. Clearly not Taylor’s. With a tweezers, the detective removed the hairs and placed them in an envelope. Now he just needed to match them to someone’s head."
(via Prufrock)

Child on 'Day of the Jackal'

From this interview in England last September, author Lee Child mentions Fredrick Forsyth.

I think that Without Fail [2002] would actually be my homage to Day of the Jackal, because it explicitly references Forsyth’s book. The emphasis there is placed upon the assassins planning for escape, as opposed to the [1993] Clint Eastwood/Wolfgang Peterson film, In the Line of Fire, in which the assassin knows he won’t be able to escape. As I said at the CWA Diamond Daggers ceremony, The Day of the Jackal … was Year Zero for the current generation of thriller writers; it was different, and re-set the clock, and we’ve all had to deal with it ever since. So, I didn’t mean it as a direct homage but acknowledged--for all of us, readers and writers--that Fredrick Forsyth is a giant figure, and his debut novel casts a giant shadow over the genre.

Lessons Learned by Reading Book Inscriptions

In Theodore Dalrymple's essay "Eternal Youth, Eternal Kitsch," we learn of the dangers of inscribing a book to just about anyone. Of course, the reason a book has been discarded and subsequently found in a second-hand shop isn't necessarily singular, so you might dedicate a copy of Love Everlasting to "My Dearest Wife without whom I could not live" and find that you no longer have the space for it in your library (or that the story was pretty awful) and, despite the love note, discard it. I find the book in a second-hand shop, I am not forced to conclude that your love did not last. But there are other lessons. (via Anecdotal Evidence)

One of the lessons it teaches is that one should never inscribe a book intended as a gift with a poem of one’s own, for it is sure to be bad and probably pretentious, ridiculous in the eyes of anyone other than the person one wishes to impress with it. Bad poetry fulfils a social function, of course, for reading bad poetry is an easy way to learn to appreciate good poetry; but still the rule holds that if you feel a compulsion to inscribe a gift with poetry, it is best to quote someone else’s.

The Jimmy "Soldier" Riley mysteries, by Michael Lister



For a little while, while I was reading the first Jimmy “Soldier” Riley mystery, I thought I’d found something wonderful to recommend to you. Alas, the execution did not live up to the promise.

Jimmy Riley’s nickname is “Soldier,” which embarrasses him a little. World War II is raging, but he never actually served in it. He’s missing his right arm, but he lost that in a gun fight in his capacity as a cop. Now he’s a private detective in Panama City, Florida.

But his mind isn’t on his work these days. He’s desperately in love – with the wife of a rich banker. He thought she felt the same way about him, but she broke their affair off one day, without explanation. Now he’s mooning around the office, and his partner is worried about him.

But one day Lauren, the Woman He Loves, comes to his office to ask if he’s been following her (he hasn’t). She refuses to hire him to investigate, but he starts looking on his own initiatve.

That’s the promising set-up of The Big Goodbye, the first book in a trilogy. Unfortunately, the following books, The Big Beyond and The Big Hello, don’t live up to expectations. Read the rest of this entry . . .

Your Reformation Day Treat: A treasury of insults

"Your words are so foolishly and ignorantly composed that I cannot believe you understand them."

The Luther Insult Generator may be found here. Hours of innocent fun for you and your family.

Why Read Calvin's Institutes?

Justin Taylor quotes J.I. Packer on how great and necessary reading Calvin's Institutes is for modern believers.

Packer explains that Calvin’s magnum opus is one of the great wonders of the world:

Calvin’s Institutes (5th edition, 1559) is one of the wonders of the literary world—the world, that is, of writers and writing, of digesting and arranging heaps of diverse materials, of skillful proportioning and gripping presentation; the world . . . of the Idea, the Word, and the Power. . . .

The Institutio is also one of the wonders of the spiritual world—the world of doxology and devotion, of discipleship and discipline, of Word-through-Spirit illumination and transformation of individuals, of the Christ-centered mind and the Christ-honoring heart. . . .

Calvin’s Institutio is one of the wonders of the theological world, too—that is, the world of truth, faithfulness, and coherence in the mind regarding God; of combat, regrettable but inescapable, with intellectual insufficiency and error in believers and unbelievers alike; and of vision, valuation, and vindication of God as he presents himself through his Word to our fallen and disordered minds. . . .

Legacies of the Reformation

Two pastors are celebrating the legacy they see in the Reformation. Tony Carter notes that one principle of the Reformers was universal literacy.

"The will of God is first and foremost a written revelation and if we are going to faithfully seek and understand his will we are going to have to be readers of God’s word. Luther’s translation of the Bible into the language of the people was key in making sure the Reformation would continue past his generation."

So for people who are reluctant to read well and have been denied education in the past, the Reformers are their champions. They say, "You are the chosen people of the book. Take up God's Holy Word and read it yourself, because in the Word is abundant life no matter your circumstances."

Louis Love talks about the church of his youth buying new hymnals that came with responsive reading, creeds, and a confession. His pastor began incorporating new, doctrine-based elements into their worship, and Love was surprised to learn this new material was from the New Hampshire Baptist Confession of 1833. They were learning from old ministers who had been discipled in Reformation theology.

"Be not ashamed of your faith," he quotes another pastor. "Remember it is the ancient gospel of the martyrs, confessors, reformers, and saints. Above all, it is the truth of God, against which all the gates of Hell cannot prevail."

Philip Duncanson shares a personal story of his discovery of Reformation history as a high-school boy who had yet to surrender to Christ, despite growing up in a Christian home. "It wasn’t the courage of Martin Luther to stand up against the powerful Catholic Church that fascinated me, although that was good drama. It was the fact that for the first time I realized that the Christian experience that I thought I had known all my life was actually tied to human history. Imagine that, at 15, Christianity was a concept that I had only tied to my generation, and at best, my parent’s generation."

Luther Keeps It Simple

Carl Trueman writes, "If Augustine freed the church from the back-breaking self-martyring piety of Pelagius, Luther freed her from centuries of obfuscating complication. . . Luther saw clearly that the Christian life is actually distinguished not by elaborate complexity but by its beautiful, simple, accessible Christ."

Book Recommendations from Librarians or Algorithms?

"Librarians have been suggesting books to patrons for literally forever, mostly during actual face-to-face conversations," Jessica Leber states. Can math model do it better, and more importantly, do we want it to?

Brooklyn's public library set up a title recommendation service in which their librarians would read your submission and respond with appropriate books. It took a while at first.

"Wait time aside," Leber says, "when I received my own response two weeks later, I had in hand not five, but six well thought out suggestions of literary science fiction novels I might enjoy (as per my request), all from authors I’d never read before. I felt really good about the list--not because I’ve actually read the six books yet, but by simply knowing there was a human being involved in creating it. The titles genuinely all seemed like books I might read, and Emily Heath, the librarian who fulfilled my request, had even placed a card catalogue-linked list in my online library account so I could more easily find and borrow them."

The human element is part of what David Swartz misses in bookless libraries. When everything is digital and can only be found through search requests, you may be able to find what you're looking for but not be able to stumble across the extra information you need. (via Prufrock)

The State of Theology in America

Wittenberg

The wonderfully Reformed Ligonier Ministries issued a survey through LifeWay Research to identify what points of doctrine Americans believe. As you would imagine, Americans are all over the theological map, but what statements do they believe reflect reality? Will there be people in heaven who have never heard of Jesus Christ? Forty-one percent believe so. Is even the smallest sin worthy of damnation? Only fifty-one percent of self-professed evangelical protestants believe that's true and only ten percent of all respondents agree strongly. Is God unconcerned with my day-to-day decisions? Twenty percent say he is unconcerned. And pertinent to the central question of the Reformation, must someone contribute his own effort to his personal salvation? Seventy-one percent of surveyed Americans agree, fifty-four percent being evangelical protestants.

Dr. R. C. Sproul believes our country is sliding into a new dark ages of spiritual life, and this survey doesn't change his mind. Get all the details on their website, including a great infographic.

Notice the section on worshipping alone. That's one of those points of application that reveal our theological assumptions. Do we need worship the Lord together? Is our salvation essentially individualistic? Does a local church have any spiritual authority over us? Americans appear to have lost an understanding of the purpose of a local church.

Evelyn Waugh, 101 today

Happy birthday to the late British novelist Evelyn Waugh, who was not the sweetest man to work around.

John Banville describes him as terribly sad at the end of his life. "As a man, he was quintessentially English—stubborn, class-obsessed, honorable, detached and despairing. And he was unfathomably strange." (via Books, Inq.)

If These Old Bones Could Talk

Loren Eaton has written a short story for a collective Halloween storytelling event. It's a story of a young girl who discovers she hears and experiences things when she touches the bones of deceased animals. It's a bone-chilling (heh, heh) idea which rings true in sad way. If we didn't have a culture of death in this world, this kind of story would feel completely fantastic.

Bones spoke to Jenny.

She discovered the gift -- if gift it was -- at the age of five. Her brother, Samuel, had been excavating in the backyard with a red-bladed Ames True Temper shovel. A foot down, he accidentally disturbed the grave of one Fluffymump, a former favorite feline. Some surreptitious digging, a quick bend and snatch, and he whirled, shouting, "Hey, Germy, catch."

Fluffymump's sepia skull landed in Jenny's outstretched hands.

Naturally, she screamed and ran upstairs to her room. Naturally, Jenny's father bent Samuel over his knee and given him three sharp whacks. Naturally, Jenny's mother followed close after to offer consolation and chocolate chip cookies only just taken from the oven. But that was where expectation ended.
Read the rest on his blog, I Saw Lightning Fall.

Veith likes 'Death's Doors'



Our friend Prof. Gene Edward Veith of Patrick Henry College gives my latest novel the thumbs up:

But although there are a lot of big ideas in this book and a lot of rich theologizing, Death’s Doors is just fun to read. It’s suspenseful, exciting, and wildly imaginative, both in the author’s story telling and in the way it stimulates the reader’s imagination. And I’m realizing that all good novels–including Christian novels, classics, and other works that are Good for You–need to have those qualities. And this one does.


Read it all here.

Sharyl Attkisson on Liberal Media's Disinterest in Investigation

Former CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson could not pursue her line of questioning on many interesting stories because her sources in The White House or her own bosses at CBS were interested in advocating their side, not revealing the truth. Attkisson says this and more in her new book, Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama's Washington.

The New York Post gives us many details:

“Many in the media,” Attkisson writes, “are wrestling with their own souls: They know that ObamaCare is in serious trouble, but they’re conflicted about reporting that. Some worry that the news coverage will hurt a cause that they personally believe in. They’re all too eager to dismiss damaging documentary evidence while embracing, sometimes unquestioningly, the Obama administration’s ever-evolving and unproven explanations.”

One of her bosses had a rule that conservative analysts must always be labeled conservatives, but liberal analysts were simply “analysts.” “And if a conservative analyst’s opinion really rubbed the supervisor the wrong way,” says Attkisson, “she might rewrite the script to label him a ‘right-wing’ analyst.”
She says she asked by Katie Couric about a possible interview with Attorney General Eric Holder on the Fast and Furious scandal. Attkisson, who had done many reports on that subject, said it should be a relevant interview, but after that weekend (without a Couric interview on air) the network began cancelling her stories, saying she had reported everything already. Attkisson wonders if Holder ordered CBS to stop talking about it.

She also believes the Obama administration had someone hack her laptop to listen to her and plant classified documents on her hard drive, possibly intending to use them to prosecute her as needed.

For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles



I'm familiar with three of the people you see in this trailer, and I'm confident in the quality of their work. On that basis I'm sure this is worthy watching with a small group. It asks what our salvation is for and offers compelling answers.

Joshua Rogers, writing for Focus on the Family, says, "I suppose the most remarkable thing was how the series helped me fall in love with the Gospel in a way that I hadn't since that awesome spaceship-themed Vacation Bible School at Calvary Baptist Church when I was in fifth grade." He means that in the best way possible and gets the director to answer some questions on his objectives.

Andy Crouch says, "It is designed to help the church reclaim our true calling: to live out our salvation, in the words its title borrows from the Orthodox writer Alexander Schmemann, “for the life of the world.” ...Schmemann’s breathtaking sacramental view of ordinary life is here, as are Kuyper’s distinctive spheres" (subscription required).

Learn more about For the Life of the World here.

"What Is Thy Only Comfort In Life and Death?"

Mur des Réformateurs - Reformation Wall 2

Churches with what we call high liturgy have suffered bad press from many believers who find it easier to point their faithlessness in their congregations than in their own, low liturgy churches. They accept the bad idea that creeds are lifeless and only spontaneity is of the Holy Spirit. In doing so, they have missed their own rich Christian history, which can be rediscovered in the catechisms and confessions of the holy catholic (universal) church. To those who are unfamiliar with these writings, let me give you the first two questions from the Heidelberg Catechism, one of the written teachings to emerge from the Reformation.

Question 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death?

Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.

Question 2. How many things are necessary for thee to know, that thou, enjoying this comfort, mayest live and die happily?

Answer: Three; the first, how great my sins and miseries are; the second, how I may be delivered from all my sins and miseries; the third, how I shall express my gratitude to God for such deliverance.

The second question sets up the rest of the catechism, and the first question--isn't it glorious?

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