Film · Movie Review · Movies · Podcasts · Tolkien · Trek.fm · Uncategorized

The 602 Club 10: They Didn’t Think This Through

downloadThe Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. 

The middle movie of a trilogy has always been the hardest to do. It relies on the first film, has to set up the last film and try stand up on it’s own. Some movies have done this really well, such as The Empire Strikes Back andThe Two Towers. The Desolation of Smaug also had the distinction of being the film that had the most added to it when the duology became a trilogy. Peter Jackson clearly had his work cut out for him.

In this episode of The 602 Club host Matthew Rushing is joined once again by Megan Calcote of Educating Geeks to discuss the second Hobbit film. We dive into the difference in filming time Jackson had and it’s effect on the look of this new trilogy, the new locations we see, Bree, Beorn’s House, Mirkwood, the Woodland Realm, Laketown and Erebor. All this while talking about the new characters and themes from the film. Listen Here

Film · Movie Review · Movies · Podcasts · Tolkien

The 602 Club 9: The Original George Lucas

TSC009-Thumbnail-SquareThe Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

After the monster success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy thoughts turned to making The Hobbit. After dealing with rights issues and a directorial change, Peter Jackson once again found himself in Middle Earth.

In this episode of The 602 Club, host Matthew Rushing is joined by Alice Baker and Megan Calcote from Educating Geeks to talk about the first film in this new Middle Earth trilogy. Together we discuss Peter Jackson being back as director, making three films out of two, additions from Tolkien’s other works, things we liked and didn’t from both versions of the film and the riddles in the dark. Listen Here

Books · Christianity · Faith · Graduation · Guardians of the Galaxy · Marriage · Movie Trailers · The Gospel · Tim Challies · Tolkien

Owl Post 5-19-14

Owl Post 2-17-12

 

My Wife Has Tattoos: Marriage, New Birth, and the Gospel

ring-tattoos-13Today is the day of my wedding.  And I am not marrying the girl of my dreams.

If you would have told me when I was a teenager that my wife would have seven tattoos, a history in drugs, alcohol, and attending heavy metal concerts, I would have laughed at you, given you one of my courtship books, and told you to take a hike.  My plans were much different, much more nuanced with careful planning, much more clean-cut, and much more, well, about me.

When Gifts Lose Their Luster

giftThere are times I grow weary of good things. Things I love. Things I would not want to live without. Things that have the ability to make my heart beat a little bit faster and keep my mind racing when I ought to be asleep. They are good things, but somehow, through time or familiarity or neglect or something else, they begin to feel not so good. I wish it wasn’t this way, but it seems to be yet another cost of being a sinful person in a sinful world. Even the best things feel like bad things at times.

Advice to High School Graduates: ‘You Are Not Special’

graduation-hats1On a spring day in 2012, Wellesley High School English teacher David McCullough, Jr., stepped onto the school’s football field, then covered in a sea of seniors dressed in identical caps and gowns. Clad in a blazer and striped tie, McCullough made his way to the podium, donned his reading glasses, and began his commencement speech. Nothing about the event seemed out of the ordinary. McCullough, after all, was participating in a ritual that happens hundreds of thousands of times across the United States each year. He had given graduation speeches before.

But compared to the countless other remarks given by comedians, journalists, and politicians that year, McCullough’s speech stood out for its blunt, four-word message: “You are not special.”

Kirsten Powers: Liberals’ Dark Ages

darkagesWelcome to the Dark Ages, Part II. We have slipped into an age of un-enlightenment where you fall in line behind the mob or face the consequences.

How ironic that the persecutors this time around are the so-called intellectuals. They claim to be liberal while behaving as anything but. The touchstone of liberalism is tolerance of differing ideas. Yet this mob exists to enforce conformity of thought and to delegitimize any dissent from its sanctioned worldview. Intolerance is its calling card.

Waving His Wand at ‘Beowulf’

packshotThere’s more to J. R. R. Tolkien than wizards and hobbits. The author of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” was also an Oxford University professor specializing in languages like Old Norse and Old English.

“Beowulf” was an early love, and a kind of Rosetta Stone to his creative work. His study of the poem, which he called “this greatest of the surviving works of ancient English poetic art,” informed his thinking about myth and language.

C.S. Lewis · Christianity · Faith · Movies · Tolkien · Uncategorized

All Ready, Just Not Yet

the_best_exotic_marigold_hotel_3

In the movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, there is a phrase that is repeated a few times, “Everything will be all right in the end… if it’s not all right then it’s not yet the end.” It is a powerful statement that drives to the heart of human existence. There is a deep longing and desire for a happy ending. Instinctively we wait for things to get better even though empirical evidence does it’s best to quench any hope that better is just around the corner. Tolkien calls it eucatastrophe.

The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially “escapist,” nor “fugitive.” In its fairy-tale—or otherworld—setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.

In our minds there is this the idea that there has to be more to life. There must be a joyous “turn” at some point, good has to win, the boy has to get the girl, each of these is an expression of the heart’s desire for all to be set right. Hopelessness ends up leading to the mantra, “Meaningless, meaningless all is meaningless.” Without hope, without a belief that things can and will get better there is only the alternative of suicide; the life of Nietzsche illustrates this well.

The desire that there be more to life is subaqueously rooted in our souls. We look to many things for the answer; money, fame, power, sex, the list is endless. C.S. Lewis says,“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” The Bible’s answer to Lewis’ thoughts on desire and Tolkien’s idea of eucatastrophe are found in the Gospel. John tells us in Revelation, 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God,prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.

There is coming a day when all will be made new, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” Life is full of valleys and vistas and there will never be a time before the end that is completely “all right”. Yet the promise of the Scripture is this,

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

The process of refinement is at work. The joyous turn is coming and  “Everything will be all right in the end… if it’s not all right then it’s not yet the end” when “the grey rain-curtain turns all to silver glass and rolls back, and we behold white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

green-hills-scenery

abortion · mbird.com · Movie Review · Movies · Parenthood · Star Trek · Tolkien

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Owl Post 2-17-12

 

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Mockingbird at the Movies: Silver Linings Playbook

JENNIFER LAWRENCE and BRADLEY COOPER star in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOKIn David O. Russell’s newest film, Silver Linings Playbook, the clinical psychological and psychiatric issues abound: an undiagnosed bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, sex addiction. Behind these, though, are the everyday varieties of guilt and self-contempt, delusional thinking and mixed-up love, and some classic rom-com dance competitions for good measure.

Concerning Christopher – An Essay on Tolkien’s Son’s Decision to Not Allow Further Cinematic Licensing of His Work:

9780618126989_p0_v1_s260x420Often, when a lengthy discussion of the Hobbit films takes place, someone asks “What about the other books? What about material from The Silmarillion, orUnfinished Tales? Will these be adapted to the big screen?”

The answer to this question is a simple one. As it stands, the literary executor of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work, his son, Christopher Tolkien, has refused to consider any further licensing of his father’s work for cinematic purposes.

The Year in Television 2012:

51kAMZ85vBL._SX500_Since we’ve been talking so much about television this week, why not go all the way and do our annual recap? Truth be told, it was a slightly off year on the small screen, the first plateau in quality that I can remember in about ten years. A number of the top-drawer shows experienced something of a “downturn”, e.g. Justified and Louie, and new contenders were not quite as numerous. Which isn’t to say there hasn’t been plenty worth watching and commenting on. God no: (This is an interesting list, even though I am not sure I completely agree with all of them)

‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Is Not Pro-Torture:

SUB-24ZERO-articleLargeThere are two ugly interrogation scenes in the opening minutes of Zero Dark Thirty that haunt the rest of the experience, and that have come to haunt critical reception of the film itself.

After we hear the terrified voices of Americans trapped on the upper floors of the burning towers on 9/11 against a black screen, the movie opens on a character named Ammar, suspended from the ceiling by chains attached to both wrists. It is two years later. Ammar is bloody, filthy, and exhausted. We learn quickly that he is an al-Qaeda middleman, and a nephew of Khalid Sheik Mohammad, architect of the 9/11 attacks. Ammar is believed to know details of a pending attack in Saudi Arabia, and he is uncooperative.

TIME Sounds the Alarm: The Pro-Life Cause is Winning

1101130114_600The story – “What Choice?” – is written by Kate Pickert. The main point of the article is that Roe v. Wade hurt the pro-choice cause by delivering the movement’s main goal and by energizing a generation of pro-life activism.

Not surprisingly, the story is biased against the pro-life cause. Though the issue of “personhood” and “life” is alluded to (see below), Pickert never explores the reasons for a surge in pro-life activity. Had she sought to explain the pro-life perspective, she would have shown how this debate is really a showdown between reproductive rights and human rights, and which rights are foundational to freedom.

Can’t we aim higher than ‘Honey Boo Boo’?

No one forced me, but I finally decided it was time to discover what all the business was about Honey Boo Boo.

Even though I’ve made reference to the show featuring a former beauty tot, now 7, and her family, I’d never actually watched a full episode. I still haven’t, but I watched enough to need a jaw adjustment.

Alas, a few minutes with “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” confirms that even mindlessness has its limits.

Cover Art and Release Date for Star Trek: Enterprise Season 1 on Blu-ray

star-trek-enterprise-season-1-blu-ray-coverIt’s official. The first season of Star Trek: Enterprise will be released on Blu-ray on March 26th.

On Monday, Star Trek visual FX artist Doug Drexler posted the official cover art along with the release date on his Facebook page.

The chosen cover art for the hi-def release, is said to have received the most votes in a StarTrek.com poll, which we reported on back in November.

In addition to the 25 first-season episodes, the first season set will include new audio commentaries with Rick Berman, Brannon Braga, Dan Curry, Mike Sussman, David Livingston, Connor Trinneer and Dominic Keating. Plus a few bonus features, including a three-part documentary, entitled “To Boldly Go: Launching Enterprise”.

Book Reviews · Books · C.S. Lewis · ebooks · Harry Potter · Man of Steel · Marilynne Robinson · Matt Chandler · Superman · Tolkien · Uncategorized

Best Books I Read in 2012

The other day I gave my top ten films of 2012 and so I decided that I should do much the same for books. I love to read and this year read over 70 books. This list will not just be new books even though there are quite a few, some of them are also books that I have just finally gotten around to reading. I am going to rank them, but they should not be considered less if they are lower on the list. Each of these books is the top 9 out of over 70, not bad.

The_Fault_in_Our_Stars9. The Fault in Our Starts

John Green knows how to write. This book is not just for teens, it is for anyone that likes a good story that is not afraid to ask big questions. Hazel and Augustus struggles with mortality and the ultimate questions will leave you teary all while pondering the final questions yourself. Good books should always leave you thinking about something important and Green is not afraid to have his readers do just that.

 

0615_superman-book8. Superman: The High-Flying History of the Man of Steel

Ever since I was a child, Superman has captured my attention in a way no other superhero has. A man that is all powerful and yet, in the end, is forced to hide himself, his true self from everyone was actually very relatable to me (not the all-powerful part). Larry Tye has written the best book on the history of Superman, from conception of an idea to the new 52. Tye delves into the background of his creators as well as the ways in which Superman has reflected the generations to which he has been written; each generation getting the Superman that they need. For all those who have never liked Superman or if you have always been a fan, this is the book for you. Everyone who reads this will walk away with a deeper appreciation for the Man of Steel and all that he has stood for. Tye sums up the longevity of Superman well when he writes, “Our longest-lasting hero will endure as long as we need a champion, which should be until the end of time.”  My full review is here.

20110511_Jacobspleasurescover7. The Pleasure of Reading in an Age of Distraction

This is the first book that I have read about reading and it was well worth it. In a short 162 pages, Jacobs helps us understand the plight of reading in the 21st century. With the proliferation of technology in our lives and the distractions that it brings, reading is something that has fallen by the wayside. Instead of telling readers what they should be reading, Jacobs says read for whimsy. Read what you like. This is a long quote from an interview that Jacobs did, but is helps explain what he means,

Where this really got started was with the many, many students who have come to me over the years after graduating from Wheaton. And they think, Oh, there are so many important books I haven’t read. They come to many teachers, but I get my fair share of them. They come to me and say, “Give me 10 books that I should read over the next year.” Or: “Give me 10 books that you think everyone should read.” I always find myself thinking, Read what you want to read. Since you were 6 years old you’ve been reading things that people told you to read. Now you don’t have to do that anymore, unless you’re going to graduate school. Go out and read what strikes you as being fun.

I don’t think these students trust themselves to be readers on their own. They want to continue the sort of reading under direction that they have experienced ever since they started school. Over the years I’ve gotten absolutely stiff-necked about it. I refuse to give any recommendations. I say, “Go and read for fun,” because that sense of reading as a duty is not going to carry you through. It’s not going to sustain you as a vibrant reader, as you will be if you read what gives you delight. You may have actually lost some of that sense of delight over the years reading primarily for school. So go out there and have fun with it.

What will happen when people do that? Will they read frivolous things? Yes—at least I certainly hope so. I quote W. H. Auden, who says that the great masterpieces should be reserved for the “high holidays of the spirit.” You’re not designed for a steady diet of literary masterpieces any more than you would eat a seven-course French meal every day. At one point, Auden says it’s not only permissible but admirable not always to be in the mood for Dante. And I think that’s right. Sometimes you just want a lighter fare.

Auden himself liked detective stories and doggerel poetry and other things that many of his peers would have looked down their noses at. I want people to recover that sense of pleasure. Of course you’re going to want the heavier stuff. You’re going to want the stuff that’s possibly life-changing. But for heaven’s sake, don’t turn reading into a matter of eating your literary vegetables. I don’t think that’s healthy in the long run.

What I also really appreciated about his book is that he praises what Kindles, Nooks and iPads are doing for reading. Each of these devices are making it easier for people to read more often and for longer periods of time. Instead of carrying around bulky copies Anna Karenina or The Iliad, now they are stored in light-weight devices that also have built in dictionaries, enabling longer reading sessions in more places.

So pick up this short little book and be inspired to read all the more in 2013!

the-great-divorce6. The Great Divorce

Every year I try to read at least one C.S. Lewis book that I have not read before. The Great Divorce is a short book about people from hell visiting the outer regions of heaven. Each person that visits has a different reaction to this new place. Lewis’ keen insight into the human condition is on full display here. This is a challenge to read, there are many points you may find yourself in one or more of the characters and their excuses, but this makes it an important read. Start the new year off right and see what path you are on. For more on The Great Divorce go here.

when-i-was-a-child-i-read-books5. When I Was a Child I Read Books

Marilynne Robinson is one of my best-loved authors, her books Gilead and Home are on the top of my list of all-time favorites. Her newest collection of essays is well worth the read. She talks about America, religion, science, literature and more, weaving together a diverse set of thinkers and philosophers with ease. This is a short book and yet dense enough that it needs to be digested slowly and with a pen for notes and underlines. Accept this challenge in 2013, it is worth the effort. For good taste of her writing go here.

the narnian4. The Narnian

I own my voracious reading appetite to C.S. Lewis and his Narnia books. As a young boy I really did not enjoy reading and when I did I read non-fiction. After reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe that all changed. Alan Jacobs has written a masterful book on the life of Lewis. This is not an exhaustive biography but a focused look at his life and how he came to write the beloved children’s series. Jacobs shows how Lewis’ experiences as a boy telling stories with his brother to his deep, life-changing friendship with Tolkien, each gave him a pieces to the puzzle that would become Narnia. This needs to be on your reading list fo 2013! My full review is here.

134978183. The Casual Vacancy

No writer has had more to live up to than J.K. Rowling with the release of her first novel post Harry Potter and no book could have been more different. Rowling weaves a tale of a small British town with the intricacy of Austen and the modern sensibility of McEwan all while challenging our notions of social justice. This is an important book on the level of novels like To Kill a Mockingbird; so if you missed it last year, read it in 2013. My full review is here.

12ExplicitGospel_L_8590274382. The Explicit Gospel   

2012 has seen a flood of gospel oriented books and I read quite a few of them, but Chandler’s book was at the top of the list. God has used the preaching of Matt Chandler and now his book to open up the truth of the gospel in new and life-changing ways for me. Understanding and thinking about the ultimate questions of the universe is the most important thing a person can do, so spend some time on that this year. I cannot recommend a book more to you for 2013! My full review is here.

riseofteddyroosevelt21. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt

This is the first book in Edmund Morris’ trilogy on Teddy Roosevelt and it is fantastic. There is never a dull moment in this book so do not let the length dishearten you. Spending time getting to know one of the most interesting and influential men in American history was one of the highlights of my year. Roosevelt was forged in the fire of suffering and the American ideal. He will leave you captivated and inspired even when you might not always agree with his sensibilities. I am looking forward to reading the next two books in 2013.

What did you enjoy reading in 2012? Let me know, leave me a comment so I can add it to my list!

Christianity · Christmas · Faith · Stories · Tolkien

A Baby Saves the Day

IMG_0145Once upon a time there was a hobbit in a hobbit hole. There was a young girl, playing hide and seek with her brothers and sister. She found a room with a solitary wardrobe and hid herself in it. A baby boy is laid on porch, wrapped in a blanket, he has a peculiar scar on his head and a letter lain on top of him. A baby boy is laid in a manger, surround by barn yard animals.

Many of our greatest stories start out the same. They begin with the most unassuming people, people we would never give a second thought to. Yet, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” This is the power of a good story, taking the smallest and most underrated character and making them the one who saves the day.

Once upon a time, there was a king. He loved his people like no king has ever loved a people. He wanted nothing but their good and had given them the best of every thing. The people were happy. They loved the king and walked with the king on the cool evenings. The king had only given a few rules for the people to follow. Theses rules were for their safety. For a while everything was perfect. Then long came a serpent, a crafty and sly creature. He talked the people into rebelling against the king. After the rebellion the people were cast out of their perfect place. They lost contact with the king and could not walk with him anymore.

The king was brokenhearted. His people had chosen to abandon him for something else. He wanted his people back. He sent them laws and prophets. He sent them women and even a talking donkey, but the people rejected them. The king knew that the only way to restore his people was going to be through his own intervention. He was the only one who could make things right.

This is a familiar story at this time of year. The King is God and he sent is only Son into the world as a baby to save the people from their sins. The story starts off small. A young teenage girl, who is betrothed to a man finds herself pregnant. This is not ordinary pregnancy. As with the best of stories there is something bigger at work behind the scenes. She is a virgin and still with child. If you think this is crazy, it is nothing compared to who the baby is. He is God and man, coming into the world to take care of our deepest problem. He is coming to restore what the people broke so long ago, he will make a way for us to walk with the King again.

NativityAt this Christmas, I want to challenge you to look at the story again. If you believe it, see the wonder in it again. A baby comes to save the day, how incredible is that. If you don’t believe I want to challenge you to look at the story again. Look and see the mystery of  God coming to rescue you in the form of a baby. Is it so crazy to think? “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” Even a baby, born in a stable to a pesant girl, can be the King in disguise. May of our greatest heros die for the good of their friends, but this King dies for all his people, even as they are actively involved in rebellion against him. He rises again so that he can walk with those who will accept his gift. He offers his gift to us at Christmas in the form of his Son, he asks us believe that he has made things right and all we have to do is put our faith in a King and his Son who made a way when their seemed to be no way. J.R.R. Tolkien says this about the Christmas story,

I would venture to say that approaching the Christian Story from this direction, it has long been my feeling (a joyous feeling) that God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way fitting to this aspect, as to others, of their strange nature. The Gospels contain a fairy- story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels—peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: “mythical” in their perfect, self- contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the “inner consistency of reality.” There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.

It is not difficult to imagine the peculiar excitement and joy that one would feel, if any specially beautiful fairy-story were found to be “primarily” true, its narrative to be history, without thereby necessarily losing the mythical or allegorical significance that it had possessed. It is not difficult, for one is not called upon to try and conceive anything of a quality unknown. The joy would have exactly the same quality, if not the same degree, as the joy which the “turn” in a fairy-story gives: such joy has the very taste of primary truth. (Otherwise its name would not be joy.) It looks forward (or backward: the direction in this regard is unimportant) to the Great Eucatastrophe. The Christian joy, the Gloria, is of the same kind; but it is preeminently (infinitely, if our capacity were not finite) high and joyous. But this story is supreme; and it is true. Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of angels, and of men—and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused.

But in God’s kingdom the presence of the greatest does not depress the small. Redeemed Man is still man. Story, fantasy, still go on, and should go on. The Evangelium has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the “happy ending.” The Christian has still to work, with mind as well as body, to suffer, hope, and die; but he may now perceive that all his bents and faculties have a purpose, which can be redeemed. So great is the bounty with which he has been treated that he may now, perhaps, fairly dare to guess that in Fantasy he may actually assist in the effoliation and multiple enrichment of creation. All tales may come true; and yet, at the last, redeemed, they may be as like and as unlike the forms that we give them as Man, finally redeemed, will be like and unlike the fallen that we know.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her king.

atheism · Books · C.S. Lewis · Christianity · Stories · Tolkien

The Narnian – A Review

The Narnian

Alan Jacobs

HarperSanFransisco, 2005 342 pages $25.95

Alan Jacobs has written a superb biography chronicling the life of C.S. Lewis. Unlike other exhaustive works on Lewis, this one is focused on how his life led him to create the enduring works The Chronicles of Narnia. What enables this boy with a wild imagination who created “Animal Land” to become an atheist? What was the catalyst for turning away from atheism, “…kicking, struggling, resentful and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance to escape”?(129) It was this turn that had the largest impact on the creation of Narnia.

For Lewis, his undoing as an atheist was his love of story and myth. “What alternative was there to the materialist’ suspicious undermining of all myth and the supernaturalist’ universalizing of the Christian story?”(142) The real light switch for this was his friendship with Tolkien who, “…the question of myth…had much occupied…for many years, and his thinking on the subject was therefore considerably more sophisticated than Lewis’s.”(142-143) What did myth have to do with Christianity? Tolkien’s answer was, “…to perceive the Creation truly we must move beyond knowing what stars are ‘made of,’ and because we are fallen and finite creatures, this we can do only by image, metaphor, and myth.”(145) For Lewis this is the beginning of understanding. He had always longed for joy, and this longing had plagued him for years since there never seemed to be a way to satiate this desire. “So Tolkien goes on to ask a countering question: ‘Whence came the wish, and whence the power to dream’? That is, if materialist philosophy is true, why do we even have such dreams and desires?”(145)

Here Tolkien was reaching to the heart of his friend. Lewis had focused all his attention either on what Joy was or how to get it, but Tolkien was forcing him to consider the matter in a wholly different light. It was not Joy itself but its presence in a biological organism comprised largely of water, nitrogen and carbon that constituted the greatest puzzle. That we dream and wish at all is a powerful element in the case for the belief that myths communicate some truth that cannot be communicated in any other way.(145-146)

Lewis’ lifelong desires had been pointing him to something greater – his love of myth and storytelling had primed his heart for the truth that he was discovering.

“Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with the tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where others are men’s myths: i.e. the Pagan stories are God expressing himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing himself through ‘real things.'”….”the ‘doctrines’ we get out of the true myth are of course less true: they are translations into our concepts and ideas of that wh. God has already expressed in a language more adequate, namely the actual incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection.” That is, the language of actual historical event, such as can be narrated in mythical form, is a more truthful language than the ‘concept and ideas’.(149)

Jacobs does a wonderful job of showing how so many of the things in Lewis’ life make their way into the Narnia stories: the death of his mother, the horrible treatment he received at boarding school and even his own time as a teacher – each one of these things makes an impact. Almost every part of Lewis’ life influences Narnia in one way or another, and Jacobs’ masterful grasp of his subject adds to a deeper understanding of Lewis’ life and his most famous works.

I first read a book by C.S. Lewis 25 years ago, and I have been reading his work consistently since then. I know his voice quite well, as well as I know anyone’s; it is utterly distinctive. And the most dominant feeling I get when I read his early letters – that is, those written in the first 30 years of his life – is that in none of them does he sound like himself. That pre-conversion Lewis is, though obviously highly intelligent, neither a particularly likable nor a particularly interesting person – at least in his letters. He may have been delightful to know, but I doubt it. But once he “admitted that God was God,” it is as though the key to his own hidden and locked-away personality was given to him. What appears almost immediately is a kind of gusto (sheer, bold enthusiasm for what he loves) that is characteristic of him ever after.(131)

I recently read another well-written biography, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. I was struck by how similar geniuses seem to be – they are driven and usually end up challenging the status quo. But there is something that separates these men, Lewis and Jobs, and it really makes all the difference. Jobs continually fights in his life to be important, to do something meaningful and be remembered. When he did not get his way, he would literally throw a tantrum. The driving force in his life was himself, and in the end it left him empty. Lewis was headed down that same path, but something grabbed him and altered his very foundation.

What brought the comparison of these two men to mind was Jacobs’s description of the change that belief in God had on Lewis. Isaacson talks about the perfecting nature of Jobs and his pursuit of greatness that drove him, and when he failed it left him longing for more of what he could never seem to obtain. Lewis on the other hand is able to find the fullness, the joy, that he had always been looking for by surrendering to God. It was only through this surrender that Lewis was able to give us Narnia.

“It is a reasonable hope,” Lewis writes, “that of those who heard you in Oxford many will understand that when poets of old made some virtue their theme they were not teaching but adoring, and that what we take for didactic is often the enchanted.” Lewis is known as a moralist, but I think we can infer from this comment that his teaching is often a function of his adoration – so that the moral elements if his writing are not so easily distinguished from the enchantment of storytelling and story-loving. It is the merger of the moral and the imaginative – this vision of virtue itself as adorable, even ravishing – that makes Lewis so distinctive.(xxiv)

I am thankful that Lewis was dragged kicking and screaming to the Lord and that his whole self was unlocked for all the world to benefit from. This book is well worth the read and you just may finding yourself longing to revisit Narnia soon after.

Books · Christianity · G.K. Chesterton · Harry Potter · Movies · Stories · Tolkien · Uncategorized

Fairies, Tolkien and Eucatastrophe

J.R. Vassar, a pastor in New York City, was talking about the resurrection of Christ last Sunday.He brought up this idea from Tolkien of eucatastrophe (if you are not sure what this means, Tolkien will explain it in the quote below). The happy turn in the story recorded in the Gospels is the rise of Christ from the dead and the defeat of death and sin. This is not just some story though; it is the pinnacle of all history, the turning point of the entire universe. This is what changes everything.

This quote from Tolkien’s essay titled, “On Fairy Stories” has taught me a lot. It really resonates with me on why so many people around the world are drawn to books or movies like Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, Braveheart and so many others. There is a reason we all like a good story; good vs. evil, where the heroes win and the bad guy gets their due. G.K. Chesterton said, “The life of man is a story; an adventure story; and in our vision the same is true even of the story of God.” There are still more stories to tell and the best ones are those that point to the most mythic and truest of them all.

And lastly there is the oldest and deepest desire, the Great Escape: the Escape from Death. Fairy-stories provide many examples and modes of this—which might be called the genuine escapist, or (I would say) fugitive spirit. But so do other stories (notably those of scientific inspiration), and so do other studies. Fairy-stories are made by men not by fairies. The Human-stories of the elves are doubtless full of the Escape from Deathlessness. But our stories cannot be expected always to rise above our common level. They often do. Few lessons are taught more clearly in them than the burden of that kind of immortality, or rather endless serial living, to which the “fugitive” would fly. For the fairy-story is specially apt to teach such things, of old and still today. Death is the theme that most inspired George MacDonald.

But the “consolation” of fairy-tales has another aspect than the imaginative satisfaction of ancient desires. Far more important is the Consolation of the Happy Ending. Almost I would venture to assert that all complete fairy-stories must have it. At least I would say that Tragedy is the true form of Drama, its highest function; but the opposite is true of Fairy- story. Since we do not appear to possess a word that expresses this opposite—I will call it Eucatastrophe. The eucatastrophic tale is the true form of fairy-tale, and its highest function.

The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially “escapist,” nor “fugitive.” In its fairy-tale—or otherworld—setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.

It is the mark of a good fairy-story, of the higher or more complete kind, that however wild its events, however fantastic or terrible the adventures, it can give to child or man that hears it, when the “turn” comes, a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed accompanied by) tears, as keen as that given by any form of literary art, and having a peculiar quality.

Even modern fairy-stories can produce this effect sometimes. It is not an easy thing to do; it depends on the whole story which is the setting of the turn, and yet it reflects a glory backwards. A tale that in any measure succeeds in this point has not wholly failed, whatever flaws it may possess, and whatever mixture or confusion of purpose. It happens even in Andrew Lang’s own fairy-story, Prince Prigio, unsatisfactory in many ways as that is. When “each knight came alive and lifted his sword and shouted ‘long live Prince Prigio,’ ” the joy has a little of that strange mythical fairy-story quality, greater than the event described. It would have none in Lang’s tale, if the event described were not a piece of more serious fairy- story “fantasy” than the main bulk of the story, which is in general more frivolous, having the half-mocking smile of the courtly, sophisticated Conte. Far more powerful and poignant is the effect in a serious tale of Faërie. In such stories when the sudden “turn” comes we get a piercing glimpse of joy, and heart’s desire, that for a moment passes outside the frame, rends indeed the very web of story, and lets a gleam come through.

“Seven long years I served for thee,
The glassy hill I clamb for thee,
The bluidy shirt I wrang for thee,
And wilt thou not wauken and turn to me?”

He heard and turned to her.

Epilogue

This ”joy” which I have selected as the mark of the true fairy-story (or romance), or as the seal upon it, merits more consideration.

Probably every writer making a secondary world, a fantasy, every sub-creator, wishes in some measure to be a real maker, or hopes that he is drawing on reality: hopes that the peculiar quality of this secondary world (if not all the details) are derived from Reality, or are flowing into it. If he indeed achieves a quality that can fairly be described by the dictionary definition: “inner consistency of reality,” it is difficult to conceive how this can be, if the work does not in some way partake of reality. The peculiar quality of the ”joy” in successful Fantasy can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth. It is not only a “consolation” for the sorrow of this world, but a satisfaction, and an answer to that question, “Is it true?” The answer to this question that I gave at first was (quite rightly): “If you have built your little world well, yes: it is true in that world.” That is enough for the artist (or the artist part of the artist). But in the “eucatastrophe” we see in a brief vision that the answer may be greater—it may be a far-off gleam or echo of evangelium in the real world. The use of this word gives a hint of my epilogue. It is a serious and dangerous matter. It is presumptuous of me to touch upon such a theme; but if by grace what I say has in any respect any validity, it is, of course, only one facet of a truth incalculably rich: finite only because the capacity of Man for whom this was done is finite.

I would venture to say that approaching the Christian Story from this direction, it has long been my feeling (a joyous feeling) that God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way fitting to this aspect, as to others, of their strange nature. The Gospels contain a fairy- story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels—peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: “mythical” in their perfect, self- contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the “inner consistency of reality.” There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.

It is not difficult to imagine the peculiar excitement and joy that one would feel, if any specially beautiful fairy-story were found to be “primarily” true, its narrative to be history, without thereby necessarily losing the mythical or allegorical significance that it had possessed. It is not difficult, for one is not called upon to try and conceive anything of a quality unknown. The joy would have exactly the same quality, if not the same degree, as the joy which the “turn” in a fairy-story gives: such joy has the very taste of primary truth. (Otherwise its name would not be joy.) It looks forward (or backward: the direction in this regard is unimportant) to the Great Eucatastrophe. The Christian joy, the Gloria, is of the same kind; but it is preeminently (infinitely, if our capacity were not finite) high and joyous. But this story is supreme; and it is true. Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of angels, and of men—and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused.

But in God’s kingdom the presence of the greatest does not depress the small. Redeemed Man is still man. Story, fantasy, still go on, and should go on. The Evangelium has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the “happy ending.” The Christian has still to work, with mind as well as body, to suffer, hope, and die; but he may now perceive that all his bents and faculties have a purpose, which can be redeemed. So great is the bounty with which he has been treated that he may now, perhaps, fairly dare to guess that in Fantasy he may actually assist in the effoliation and multiple enrichment of creation. All tales may come true; and yet, at the last, redeemed, they may be as like and as unlike the forms that we give them as Man, finally redeemed, will be like and unlike the fallen that we know.

There are so many places that this is seen in the books we read and the movies we watch; what are your favorites?

Pastor JR Vassar’s sermon