Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Book Review: Defiant Joy

After reading a collection of G.K. Chesterton quotes, I decided to follow it up by reading a biography of him. Defiant Joy is written by the same man who assembled the book of quotes, and it is sprinkled with a delightful shattering of quotes. Perhaps the best compliment I can give it is to state that one quote from the book had me running out to find the book it was from.
Four of five stars.


This afternoon at church, I told someone I was going to vegitate all afternon. And then I recognized that my plans--reading The Everlasting Man, editing a novel in progress, and watching an intense episode of Doctor Who--are not quite in line with the lack of mental activity implied by "vegitating." On the other hand, I do find it more interesting and relaxing than homework.
What about you? Are your relaxing activities likely to be considered 'stressful' to others?

Monday, January 17, 2011

More Complicated~a Whovian fanfic drabble

More Complicated
“You did it; you’re a hero,” Rose laughed. “Where next?”
He shut the door.“A hero?”
Me, a hero? She doesn’t know who I am. What I’ve done. If I took her to the edge of the Time Lock…if she met a Dalek…if she really knew me…
She’d be terrified of me.
She’d reject me.
She’d run away in terror.
I can’t let her know. She’s the only one standing between me and the darkness. I’ll let her keep believing the lie. Let her think I’m a hero.
Because maybe, just maybe, if she keeps believing it…
It will become true.

***Author’s Note
This story came from a dream I had featuring the Ninth Doctor. I called him a good guy, but he said “Are you sure? I’ve done terrible things.” The title is from a trailer for “Off the Map,” where someone says “I’m not a hero. It’s way more complicated than that.”

The Quotable Chesterton

Even though I had never read Chesterton before, I had heard of his influence on Tolkien and Lewis, so I thought I'd give this volume a try. I was amazed at how witty and relevant Chesterton is on a wide range of topics. This book is well-organized and an excellent introduction for new readers.

Technobabble disclaimer: I recieved this book free through the BookSneeze program but was not required to write a positive review, yadda yadda yadda

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Monsters and Knights

When the BBC show “Doctor Who” began in 1963, it was marketed as a children’s show, but the amount of nightmare fuel it contains may led some parents to question that rating. Some of the most terrifying episodes take childhood fears (“something under the bed,” “something where you aren’t looking” and “something in the dark”) and mold them into physical beings.
While some of this may be accounted for by the show’s widespread popularity, even the 2007 spin-off “Sarah Jane Adventures” is on the heavier side for youth programming. Instead of dancing teddy bears or thinly veiled vocabulary lessons, it features a band of teens fighting aliens and saving the earth from rhino-headed policemen, body snatchers, and a wedding.*
C.S. Lewis once said that a book worth reading only in childhood is not worth reading even then. Does that apply to other forms of media too? I believe so. Children can understand more than we give them credit for. I first read the Chronicles of Narnia at nine or ten, and Don Quixote at fourteen. Even though I didn’t understand everything, it was still more profitable than Hannah Montana or Power Rangers.
Some adults would question the suitable of such stories for young ears. Wouldn’t they cause nightmares or phobias? But C.S. Lewis’ essay ‘On Three Ways of Writing for Children,’ warns of the dangers of trying to sanitize children’s stories.

You would fail to banish the terrors, and would succeed in banishing all that can ennoble them or make them endurable. For in the fairy tales, side by side with the terrible figures, we find the immemorial comforters and protectors, the radiant ones; and the terrible figures are not merely terrible, but sublime. It would be nice if no little boy in bed, hearing or thinking he hears, a sound, were ever at all frightened. But if he is going to be frightened, I think it better that he should think of giants and dragons than merely of burglars. And I think St. George, or any bright champion in armour, is a better comfort than the idea of police.

Anyone can see that there’s danger in the world, whether on a global scale or merely the problems of daily life. Sometimes those dangers can seem overwhelming. But in stories, we can find the heroes who confront the monsters. In the Doctor Who episode ‘The Girl in the Fireplace,’ the Doctor attempts to comfortable a little girl when clockwork monsters invade her bedroom by saying, “Everyone has nightmares. Even monsters under the bed have nightmares, don't you, monster?”
Reinette replies, “What do monsters have nightmares about?
“Me!” the Doctor boasts. Later, when the clockwork monsters return, Reinette stares it down, saying, “You are merely the nightmare of my childhood. The monster from under my bed. And if my nightmare can return to plague me then, rest assured, so will yours.”
We all face monsters—and the greatest of them all is sin. We can’t defeat it on our own. That’s why Jesus came. He conquered our sin nature and freed us from our enemy. Nightmares aren’t greater than the Light.

*yes, I did say a wedding. Season 3’s “The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith” is one of my favorite episodes.

The Charlatan's Boy

This book will be welcomed by fans of Roger's previous WilderKing Trilogy, even though its relationship is uncertian. The vibrant feechiefolk of WilderKing have been reduced to legends. The young orphan Grady travels the wilds with the showman and hustler Floyd, participating in a series of frauds and tricks.
My main problem with the book is the episodic nature of the plot. While the various tricks of Floyd are amusing enough to keep young readers interested, Grady is a rather static character. Instead of actively searching for the truth about himself, he merely stumbles into a happy ending, as if the author grew tired of him.


The previous post highlighted some connections between Doctor Who and the works of Tolkien. Perhaps it is for that reason I feel comfortable with changing the main topic of this blog from Tolkien to Doctor Who. The current posts will remain, and I might even post about Lord of the Rings from time to time, but most of the posts will be about the Time Lords, the TARDIS, companions, and more.

The Fellowship and the Lonely God

The Fellowship and the Lonely God

Do not laugh! But once upon a time (my crest has long since fallen) I had a mind to make a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic to the level of romantic fairy-story--the larger founded on the lesser in contact with the earth, the lesser drawing splendour from the vast backcloths--which I could dedicate simply: to England; to my country.
~J.R.R. Tolkien

One of Tolkien’s goals in writing the Lord of the Rings was to create a new mythology for England. He arguably succeeded beyond his wildest dreams: one man drawing on the tapestry of past civilizations to create a myth so deeply rooted in its native land it seems millennia old. The tales of Middle-Earth are firmly bounded on the rich soil of Northern Europe and resplendent with the virtues of fellowship, humility and unity. The leadership of Aragorn, the struggles of Frodo, and the guidance of Gandalf are amazing examples for us, yet I believe they no longer represent the spirit of England. Instead, the BBC TV show “Doctor Who” serves as a new myth for the British Isles.
“Doctor Who” is the longest-running sci-fi television show ever, running from 1963 through the present, with a break from 1989 to 2005 (not including a TV movie.) The title character, known simply as “The Doctor,” is a Time Lord from Gallifrey, with two hearts and the ability to regenerate into a new body after death. This allows a relatively seamless transition between actors in the main role. The current incarnation (11th) of the Doctor is played by Matt Smith, the youngest actor to take on the role.

Several aspects of the show reflect modern Western culture, from the range of settings to moral values. The Doctor travels through space and time in his TARDIS—Time and Relative Dimension(s) In Space—which is disguised as a police box from the 1950s and is bigger on the inside. He journeys throughout the universe, from the beginning of time to the burning of the Earth to strange planets and satellites. If, as Tolkien says in his essay “On Fairy-Stories,' one of the essential components of fantasy is “survey(ing) the depths of space and time,” then Doctor Who has a strong fantasy flavor.
But there are also contrasts between Doctor Who and Lord of the Rings. While Tolkien emphasizes unity and fellowship in the face of danger, the Doctor is an incredibly lonely man. In the revived series, he repeatedly speaks of himself as the last of the Time Lords—only later do viewers learn what lead to the fall of Gallifrey. Even though the Doctor finds companions to travel with, they end up leaving, some in tragic ways.
Furthermore, while Tolkien views fear as a conquerable enemy, Doctor Who tends to emphasis fears as genuine threats. The show has a reputation of being watched from behind the couch, with children peeping out in fright at the monsters. While some of the classic series monsters suffer from dated special effects, the show in general (especially the Steven Moffat episodes) is full of nightmare fuel. From angel statues to shadows, it takes ordinary objects and infuses them with terror. Don’t blink. Don’t blink.
In the episode “The Hungry Earth,” the Doctor says “Monsters are scared of me.” While the line is meant to be reassuring, other episodes show the Doctor’s dark side. In “The Runaway Bride,” a character says to him, “You need somebody to stop you.” Another episode, “The Waters of Mars,” unleashes a truly terrifying side of the Doctor as he declares, “We're fighting Time itself! AND I'M GONNA WIN!” The season five finale drives the point home with a surprising twist of events.
Another area worth commenting on is the romantic angle. The classic show had the Doctor as a celibate hero without romantic entanglements, but three of four female companions in the new series had crushes on the Doctor (only one was reciprocated.) Unfortunately, the new series also has some homosexual relationships among minor characters, but nothing more is shown on-screen than a kiss. Parents might want to skip over some scenes with young children and discuss it with older ones; thankfully, such scenes tend to be only token nods.
But the overall theme of Doctor Who is the struggle between pacifism and fighting. Despite all the enemies the Doctor faces, he is incredibly reluctant to pick up a gun. His trademark ‘weapon’ is not a laser or a pistol, but a sonic screwdriver. And unlike Lord of the Rings, where only some enemies (Southrons and Easterlings) are shown mercy the Doctor’s tries to give everyone a chance, even in cases where it seems ridiculous. His plans tend to have three stages:
1. Talk
2. Sonic
3. Run (often skips to this one)
On the other hand, if the villain rejects the offer, retribution is swift and harsh. One of the clearest examples of this is in the two-part episode Human Nature/Family of Blood. Without spoiling the ending, I will quote a character to describe the Doctor’s wrath.
“He never raised his voice. That was the worst thing — the fury of the Time Lord. And then we discovered why — why this Doctor, who had fought with gods and demons, why he had run away from us and hidden... He was being kind.” (Family of Blood)

According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, a myth is “a popular belief or tradition that has grown up around something or someone; especially : one embodying the ideals and institutions of a society or segment of society.”
The Doctor is a lonely man, one who travels the universe but has no place to call home. He is constantly battling monsters and the dark side of himself, facing things that crawled out of humanity’s worst nightmares and trying to balance respect for all life with the dangerous nature of his enemies.
Tolkien’s mythology exalted lowly heroes like Frodo who succeed with the aid of friends. But the Doctor, who feels alone and caught in a never-ending battle, is an embodiment of today’s society. He is a new mythology built around the values of our time.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Ten Lessons I Learned in 2010

10. Psalm 19 was C.S. Lewis' favorite.
9. low d high minus high d low over low low
8. Computers are excellent cell phones and TVs.
7. Beware wisdom teeth.
6. Free is good.
5. Hunger is a state of mind
4. "He saves planets, rescues civilizations, defeats terrible creatures ... and runs a lot. Seriously, there is an outrageous amount of running involved."~'The Doctor's Daughter'
3. "Just because I love you doesn't mean I'm not evil"~Friend
2. "Write what makes you burn with holy fire." ~Bryan Davis
1. "Today, I realized that college students are just like toddlers. I idolize anything that my mother gives me from home, I take naps, I don't sleep at night, I get frustrated very easily, crayons are awesome again, a pet fish is all I'm allowed to have, there is nothing better then homemade cookies, and most of's... a huge drop from the top of my bed to the ground. And here I thought college would make me grow up."--Friend's Facebook status