Sunday, June 30, 2013

Thrice-Told Tales: "That's a fairy tale." "Aren't we all?"


Believing in even the possibility of a happy ending is a very powerful thing.

--Mary Margaret,  Once Upon a Time pilot

While fairy tales may be losing their respectability in some people's minds, they're still growing and sprouting new forms. As C.S. Lewis pointed out in the beginning of That Hideous Strength, the evil stepmothers and woodcutter's cottages that feature in the beginning of many stories were originally familiar scenes that transitioned to the fantastical. Modern stories that place Snow White  in a small town in Maine or the Big Bad Wolf in Manhattan are merely moving the story into our time.

The first of these stories is the YA series  The Sisters Grimm.Orphaned after their parents mysteriously disappear, sisters Daphne and Sabrina Grimm are sent to live with the grandmother they've never known. Granny introduces the girls to the unusual assortment of characters who inhabit Ferryport Landing, a town on the Hudson River were many strange and mysterious crimes have been occurring. In Ferryport Landing, Sabrina and Daphne learn that they are descendants of the famous Grimm Brothers and that those famous fairy tales were actually histories of a magical parallel world. * Characters are trapped in the town, unable to leave until the binding placed on them is broken.

A similar curse is placed on the inhabitants of Fairy-Tale Land in ABC's drama Once Upon a Time. In the first episode, viewers learn that the Evil Queen attempted to revenge herself on Snow White by casting a curse that exiled the inhabitants to our world with no memories of their true identities. The only one who can break the curse is Emma, the child of Snow White and Prince Charming, sent away to safety minutes before the curse. But they must wait twenty-eight years for her to grow up and return.

Finally, the graphic novel series Fables features characters from a variety of realms, all who have fled the great Adversity as he conquered the realms of the Homelands. They originally came to the island we know as Manhattan, establishing a community there and another in upstate New York for those of their number unable to pass as human.  

One of the best aspects of such public-domain characters is the opportunity for different character interpretations. For example, almost all princes in fairy tales go by "Prince Charming?" Is that just a pseudonym or is he one person?  If the latter, what lies behind his womanizng ways.

*taken from a reader's guide to the series.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Outreach and the Arts

Ever since my trip to London last spring, I have realized how deficient most evangelical churches are in the arts.  It’s most obvious in the plain walls of our churches, but the problem extends into our homes. So I was interested in Outreach and the Art: Sharing the Gospel in the Arts.
The author, a jazz musician, focuses on things he has witnessed in his career, while inviting readers to apply his observations to other fields as well. The book is divided into three main categories: outreach with the arts, through the arts, and to the arts, with related chapters on practicalities and the danger of art becoming an idol. Each chapter also features an artist profile with an artist from a different field,  providing different perspectives.
I found chapter 3 “what works and why” especially important for those in leadership positions in the church, as it points out the need for communication between artists and the church.  For example, I may sound nice to offer snacks during a jazz concert, but that might undermine the artist’s significance at make him no more than background music.
I also appreciated chapter four,  “outreach through the arts.” While art can be seen as an evangelism tool, there’s also the danger of treating it only as a tool.  The author reminds people that while the message can trump the medium, there is also a time for developing a quality medium as well.  One quote references  a group of Christian musicians and says [critics feel] “this is authentic music because it is inspired and shaped by the musicians’ beliefs rather than simply providing a vehicle for their message.”
I think Outreach and the Artist is a good book for starting a discussion on the roll of art in the Christian world.

I was given a free e-copy of this book from Thomas Nelson’s BookSneeze program but was not required to give a positive review

Monday, June 24, 2013

Pope Francis

As an evangelical Christian rooming with a Catholic last spring,  my roommate’s response to  Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation and the appointment of Pope Francis, which arouse my curiosity about the papacy. When I saw a book about the new pope on BookSneeze, I decided to check it out.
Francis: Man of Prayer is divided into three sections, defining his early life, his rise among the Jesuits, and five challenges facing him as pope.  The first part felt a bit rushed in places, while the second section digressed somewhat into a discussion of the Jesuits’ origins. The final section was what I was really interested in.
I appreciate the author’s speed in bringing out this book, but the book struggles to define itself.  The biography sections suffer from uneven focus, jumping from the details of Francis’s life to the wider political realm and back again.  Furthermore, the descriptions of how the Catholic church operates were still unclear to me as an evangelical, while too detailed, I suspect, for Catholics. 
The book still is interesting and contains several interesting quotes, but I’d recommend non-Catholics read a book on Catholic hierarchy first to understand it better.

I received a copy of this book for free through Thomas Nelson’s Booksneeze program but was not obligated to write a positive review.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Thrice-Told Tales: Three Volumes of Devilish Correspondance

“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors."
--C.S. Lewis, preface to The Screwtape Letters
As the original volume of fiendish correspondence, The Screwtape Letters engages the mind with Lewis's diabolical perspective flip and insights into human nature.  Despite its age, many of Screwtape's remarks are still valid on topics ranging from human interactions to stress. A short story, "Screwtape Proposes a Toast," can be found in many volumes and can be read with equal enjoyment. A special recommendation must go out to Focus on the Family's Radio Theatre adaptation, which features the renown Andy Serkis (Gollum) as Screwtape, managing to create convincing dialogue without sacrificing the text.

On the other hand, Derek Wilson's Magnificent Malevolence rejects the epistolary format in favor of a memoir.  Its attempt to lay out the grand schemes of the Lowarchy over the past fifty years suffers from overly serious tone. Though cheerfulness is not to be expected from demons, the reader is forced to identify so completely with the narrator that there are few, if any, moments of narrative irony.

In contrast, Richard Platt's As One Devil to Another  not only uses a rejected title for Lewis's work, but gained a recommendation from Walter Hooper, official biographer of C.S. Lewis. "Reads as if  C.S. Lewis himself had written it," the cover proclaims. It's a bold statement, but it delivers. Not only have I read it multiple times with enjoyment, but I even convinced my mom (who rarely has time to read and prefers Karen Kingsbury), to give it a try.
The author readily acknowledges his debt to C.S. Lewis, not only in the preface and introduction, but throughout the book, from the senior demon warning his apprentice away from a shelf of Lewis's books to the rant on "That Place by the River" in chapter seventeen. (Addison's Walk, site of Lewis's conversion to Christianity). The book also contains the humor and self-delusion that made The Screwtape Letters a classic, while addressing modern concerns  in a timeless way.

p.s. apparently my auto-publish doesn't work. Bother

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Thrice-Told Tales: An Introduction

You may have heard that there's only four plots in the world or only seven types of characters. While that's a gross oversimplification, it's true that many stories share similar elements. To keep my blog regularly updated this summer, I decided to start a series focusing on stories that share similar elements, grouped in three sets of threes. The updates will be published on the 10th, 20th, and 30th of the month until complete.
The first set will focus on stories with similar concepts--for example, the first post will feature three examples of devilish correspondence. The second set will showcase retelling of old stories with no set canon, while the series will end with three stories with multiple adaptions. 
As an example, I will start by naming three stories with one element in common: an oracular/powerful head.  
  1. That Hideous Strength, by C.S. Lewis
  2. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle
  3. Brief Lives, volume eight of the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman
In That Hideous Strength, the Head originally belonged to an executed murderer, but has become the vehicle for more sinister energies. The head in A Wrinkle in Time, however, is an enslaving hive mind, threatening the heroes.  The final head, belonging to the famed Orpheus of Greek mythology, still possesses its famed musical skill, but its true role in Brief Lives is as a catalysis for the final arc of Morpheus's journey. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Sherlock Holmes and the Needle's Eye

With the rush of new Sherlock Holmes productions, ranging from the popular films to the BBC’s Sherlock and CBS’s Elementary, it’s no surprise that the public-dominion character is popular with writers. Sherlock Holmes and the Needle’s Eye is a combination novel/study book in which Holmes travels back in time to solve ten Bible mysteries.
  1. Apithopel’s suicide
  2. the writing on the ground in John 8
  3. the fatherhood of Zechariah  (Old Testament martyr)
  4. the temptation of Jesus
  5. Paul and Silas’s arrest in Philippi
  6. David’s five stones against Goliath
  7. Lazarus’s death
  8. Jesus’s genealogy
  9. the timing of Jesus’s incarnation
  10.  the fall of Jericho

First of all, the writing style is excellent. The author skillfully imitates Doyle’s tone and dialogue, though a few modern slang terms slipped in. The plot also manages to keep a reasonable balance between action and explanation. Even the device used to put Holmes at many of these events is used fairly consistently throughout the book.
However, I don’t feel all the mysteries are equally significant. The first, Apithopel’s suicide, seems a rather convoluted solution, while the answer to Jesus’s genealogy seemed too obvious to bother with. On the other hand, I thought the analysis of Lazarus’s death and resurrection provided a new angle that I hadn’t seen before.
My main problem with this book is the format. I’ve read a few novel/devotional hybrids, and the former section tends suffer, with characters becoming little more than talking heads. The novel section of this book is decent, but the devotional seems more focused on solving mysteries than the power of God and his omnipotence. 
Three of five stars.

I received a free copy of this book from Thomas Nelson’s BookSneeze program but was not obligated to write a positive review.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Why I Want a Male Doctor

First of all, in-story, it seems like that sort of regeneration would require more control than the Doctor’s ever had. All of his regenerations have been white males appearing between 22 and 55 originally. (Hartnell was 55, and as the original his age could be partially attributed as such).  In River’s three regenerations, we see her go from seven to “a toddler,” and from early twenties to forty or so,  including a change of ethnicity in the former.  That might be due to her human-plus nature, but it also shows a wider range of regeneration change than the Doctor has ever done.  I think if he wanted to change (even ethnicity, but especially gender) he’d have to specifically will it, otherwise his “template” will come up with a new model relatively like the old.
Outside the story, I think it shows a misunderstanding of the show and disrespect to other female characters. Would we want Star Trek with Captain Jane Kirk?  Should we have Iron Woman or Nicole Fury?  What about Lucy Skywaller and her friend Hannah Solo?  No, we value those characters as characters, and changing them would be only a gimmick.  Likewise, I wouldn’t want Death from Sandman to suddenly be a guy or have Lucy Pevensie replaced by Luke.   
Furthermore, it actually de-values the other strong female characters the show has had now and in the past.  While many people say the classic companions were “screaming, frightened women,”  that’s not the truth. Sure they screamed—but so did the guys, including the Doctor. And they did some pretty impressive stuff.
  • Zoe talked a computer to death
  • Amy remembered the whole universe back into existence, including the Doctor
  • Barbara ran over Daleks with a truck
  • Donna knocks out a Sontaran with a hammer
  • Ace attacked a Dalek with a cricket bat
  • Leela carried a pouch of poisonous thorns with her and ended up marrying a Gallifreyan (for reference, the last two companions the Doctor brought to Gallifrey had their memories erased.)
  • Nyssa held the Lord President of Gallifrey at gunpoint
  • Jo Grant resisted the Master’s mind control by reciting nursery rhymes
And that’s just some of the companions.
If the Doctor has to be a women to prove that women can be strong/leaders/brave/etc you’re implying that only the Doctor demonstrates those qualities, instead of realizing the characters who already show those abilities.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Link to Giveaway

Hey, interested in the Arthurian legends? Visit Heavenward Reviews for a chance to win Merlin's Blade.

Letter to Clara

Dear Clara,
I could start this letter with compliments about your courage on Akhaten or at Trenzalore, but that’s not why I’m writing this letter. There’s one simple fact I’m struggling against when I try to like you.
You are not a Pond.
Now, this may not mean anything to you. But let me repeat it again. You are not a Pond. You are not a River, or a stream, or even a puddle.  You are Clara “Oswin” Oswald, Souffle Girl, not possible, a wonderful friend to the Doctor, but you are not a Pond. 
I’ve talked with other friends about your good qualities, your loyalty, your ability to manage “Doctor life” and “real life” at the same time, your willingness to take charge of a situation and trust the Doctor. But I’m not warming to you like I did to the other companions, and I’m not sure why.
They were my first, you know. The first companions I ever met, and I’m slow to make friends and unwilling to accept loss. Maybe if the wait hadn’t been so long…if I’d had more stories with you…but I feel I never knew you, nor why you made the sacrifice you did at Trenzalore. I can come up with versions in my head, stories that make me understand you better, but that’s only a shadow. 
And with this new long will you travel with him? Will I ever really know you?
I’m sorry.