Wednesday, December 26, 2007
The recent flap over "The Golden Compass" has set me to thinking: what makes for an excellent piece of Science Fiction/Fantasy. In the case of "His Dark Materials" and "The Chronicles of Narnia," both series have been criticized as propaganda pieces for the author's respective world-views; Atheism and Christianity. Some opponents of the works, if I understand them correctly, claim that the artistry of these books is diminished or the enjoyment of them poisoned by the authors' attempts to use them as platforms for communicating their ideas/beliefs.
This seems puzzling to me. After all, each book that comes out of an author's head carries in it the image of the author that produced it. The author may ignore them, or try deliberately to hide them, but his/her core beliefs and ideas are going to come through in some form. Beyond that, many authors intend for their ideas to come through in their work as a way of dialogging with their audience. Last time I checked, free speech is not considered poor taste. American society worships free-speech even in those cases where we find ourselves attempting to squelch it.
Is this what the critics are objecting to? I think not. Rather, it seems as if what they are protesting is some sort of deception on the part of the authors; an occulting of their messages in an attempt to brainwash their readers. This is felt to be particularly grievous as the target audience of both "The Chronicles of Narnia" and "His Dark Materials" are children. If this were the case, these works might be grievous indeed! A quick survey of the public record, however, shows that both authors have been more than open about their respective worldviews. Goggle either "Lewis" or "Pullman" and you will find instantly that lewis was a passionate Christian and Pullman is a passionate Atheist. You will also find many statements from the authors regarding their intents in writing their respective books. So why all the flap? Perhaps it's that we as Americans have lost the ability to interact, or let our children interact, with ideas with which we disagree.
I have just finished reading with my wife a book that I very much enjoy and that I very much disagree with: Frank Herbert's "Dune." Over the weeks to come, I plan to discuss this book in what I hope is something like a positive model of how to interact with books by authors with whom we disagree.
P.S. The image is from the cover of the Sci-Fi Channel's adaptation of Frank Herbert's "Dune." I highly recommend it, but be aware that it may contain offensive materials, especially the extended edition.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Sunday, November 04, 2007
I've been sick for the past two weeks and the thought level on my blog has dipped accordingly. It turns out I caught a very severe case of the flu along with a secondary bronchitis infection. Being sick, however, left me with a lot of time on my hands and the capacity to do very little with it. It's hard to read N.T. Wright's "The Resurrection of the Son of God" when you might barf any second and all you've been able to eat for the past two days has been ginger ale and crackers. That left me wracking my brain for what I used to do when I was this sick 15 years ago (Yes, I have not been this sick in the last 15 years!). The answer was what any boy my age did: play video games. So I fished around in the storage closet and brought out my old Super Nintendo. In went the "The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past;" quite possibly the best video game ever made.
The ensuing journey into my childhood explains all the art on my blog recently. The images track the evolving concept of "Link" down through the years. We all remember "Ocarina of Time," when Link finally got pants. Of course, he lost them again for "Majora's mask." "The Windwaker," however, restored his leggings and they've been stock-in-trade ever since. The most recent incarnation of "Zelda's" protagonist seems to be influenced by the gritty realism of Peter Jackson's adaptation of "The Lord of the Rings." It's interesting to watch a beloved character age with you.
For an entire generation of men (being a man, I only presume to speak for men here), "The Legend of Zelda" series was a key formative element in our creative imaginations. It taught us the value of heroism, and standing up for what's right. In an age of concrete wastelands and demystification, it brought back a sense of wonder. Tolkien would come later, and baptize my imagination, but it was green-clad Link exploring the glades and hills of Hyrule with his sword and shield that first awoke it.
Saturday, November 03, 2007
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Friday, October 19, 2007
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Sunday, October 14, 2007
There's always something heart-breaking in seeing or hearing about a place you love but can't get back to. -of realizing that life goes on without you there. It's human nature to expect time to stand still, even when we know that it doesn't.
Something peculiar strikes me every time I finish reading the Oresteia. Three quarters of the way through the final act, Orestes has left the building and the play keeps going. All this time we've been concerned with Orestes, and we're suddenly reminded that he's not what the story was really about. Thus the play goes on without him. Aeschylus teaches us an important lesson in this: we are not the center of our own play.
Since each of us views life through the prism of self, it comes naturally that we suppose that we are the central characters of our life. After all, man is Homo Narratio as well as Homo Sapiens. We construct narratives wherever we go, even if they're as simple as "one plus one equals two." Thus man assumes that life is the story that he is telling to himself. Aeschylus reminds us that this is not the case. There are far greater actors than we in the story, and we are neither author nor director. As the play ends, Aeschylus brings us to see that not even the Furies, Athena, and Apollo are really in control of events. They too are players in the great drama of God. He alone is the author, director, main character, and audience.
One is tempted to add more, but that defense upon the hill of Ares comes more than five-hundred years after Aeschylus.
Friday, October 12, 2007
This is what was on the other side of the hill. -just hop the stone wall in Pratt's back yard.
How much of life is an attempt to reconcile past and present? How much of ourselves has already been defined, and how much is open to us to change? These are questions I find myself asking. Most of the time it's about other people. - sometimes it's about me.
In Aeschylus' Oresteia, past and present meet and reconcile. Through the sufferings of the House of Atreus, we come to learn that our history and our future are inseparable, and therefore present with us every moment of our existence. Far from being things to be escaped or desired, rushed on to or gotten over with, they are a unity that we must accept with wisdom. Apollo, the eternal youth, attempts to use brute strength to destroy the past, in the form of the Furies, and force the future, in the form of Orestes, and fails. Athena, goddess of wisdom, accepts both and succeeds, bringing renewal and balance to the realms of gods and men. The play ended three years ago, but I'm still pondering what that means.
All-Seeing Zeus and Fate embrace, down they urge their union on. Cry! Cry in triumph through the streets! Carry the dancing on and on!
Sunday, October 07, 2007
Saturday, October 06, 2007
For Aeschylus, theater's primary role is to mediate change. In Aeschylus' mind, change is a vital part of life. Hence his repeated use of the thematic "Time refines all things that age with time" in his Oresteia. In other words, all things are ever becoming more and more what they are. The refining process is often gradual; so gradual that we don't even realize that it's going on. Occasionally, however, the inward process breaks out in our lives in startling color. It is those moments that drama deals with. They can be occasions for joy or terror, laughter or sorrow. Each of these is caught up and presented to us with crystal clarity by drama.
We put on our performance of the Oresteia in the Fall. The air grew cooler, the leaves began to change, and the cafe started serving pumpkin pie again. It was a time of transition for many of us. I was transitioning back to life in the U.S. Our director was in the process of getting engaged. The Freshmen in our play were transitioning into college life and the Seniors in our play were getting ready to transition out of it. Due to some administrative bickering, our theater troop was even getting used to a new name. As the year was dying, then, we took up the steps of Aeschylus' great choric dance and joined our little changes to those of Creation itself.
Friday, September 21, 2007
The story of Cassandra is one that has haunted me since I first read those excerpted lines in high school. Since then, the Trojan prophetess has been there at the boarders of my consciousness as both archetype and muse. Whenever I write, inevitably she creeps in; stealing softly through the portals of imagination to take her stand by the altar.
It didn't surprise me, then, when I took up the pencil and started drawing one night. Line followed line with unusual precision until a perfect image was formed: a girl, slight, with long dark hair, downcast eyes, wrapped in an German officer's coat and seated upon a ruined wall. The time was out of joint. She was here too, in the ashes of Hitler's Reich. I saved the picture.
I saw a series of Greek works once. Each cover had a picture of a momentous event in American history. The Iliad sported and image of a landing craft opening its door on Normandy. Oedipus Rex showed a haggard Nixon looking bleakly out at the Washington mall. The Oresteia had Douglas MacArthur riding through a ticker-tape parade. The images fit. Past and present met; history and archetype. The door was left open and something got out.
That something caught up with me on a rainy April in Oxford. For four years, I'd been badgering my poor friend who led a student theater club back in California to put on the Oresteia. After all, it was required reading in the honors department. She was interested in the project and we had the "go ahead." I took out a pencil, opened my book, and began outlining. Five months later, we had a working script.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
In this series of posts, I've found myself creating what could be called a spiritual geography; charting the landscape of my psyche with my favorite authors as a guide. Since my wife and I have finished our tour of Tolkien's completed works and started work on the Oresteia, I've decided to continue the project.
The story of the House of Atreus has appealed to me ever since I stumbled upon the references to it in Watership Down. The book opens with a quote from the Agamemnon: "Chorus: Why do you cry out as at some sight of horror? Cassandra: The hall is wet with the smell of dripping blood. Chrous: How so? 'tis but the scent of the altar of sacrifice. Cassandra: The stench of it is like the breath from a tomb. The lines struck me much the same way, I suspect, that "Balder the beautiful is dead, is dead" struck Lewis. New vistas opened up for me with sights that I only dimly understood. A few months later, we read the Odyssey, and a little of that dimness began to clear. That was during my freshman year of high school. It wasn't until college that I actually picked up a copy of the Oresteia.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Knowledge plays a key role in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Eomer troubles over questions of moral knowledge, to which Aragorn replies: "Good and evil have not changed since yesteryear, nor are they one thing among elves ... and another among men." Gandalf puts his skills in archival research to use in Gondor where he discovers the scroll containing the description of the One Ring. The Council of Elrond fills a whole chapter with historical narrative and debate. The desire for knowledge leads both Saruman and Denethor to use the Palantiri to their doom. Frodo discovers the limits of knowledge in Gandalf's admonishment: "... do not be too hasty to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends."
After living for nine years in Southern California, I can say with some confidence that people in Connecticut place a higher value on knowledge and education (Southern California has its own virtues that Conn. lacks and could learn from). This is backed up by the fact that Connecticut boasts some of the best schools and highest test scores in the nation. Even the boy whose father pumps your gas feels the pressure to get into Harvard or Yale.
As a son of that state, then, I feel a strong resonance with the value Tolkien places on knowledge and learning. More than any fiction writer I can think of, Tolkien makes facts, history, ethics, poetry, oral tradition, an inextricable part of the plot and beauty of his work. His heroes are not only warriors, lovers, and adventurers, but also academics, poets, historians, "lore-masters." He makes strong minds, and not merely strong bodies, attractive and beautiful. The "why" of this can be found in the motto written over the entryway of my old high school: "In Christ are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."
Monday, August 20, 2007
When he was pressed with the question "what is The Lord of the Rings about," J.R.R. Tolkien usually stated that it was not about anything. On one occasion, however, he gave a different answer. He said that, if it was about anything, it was about death. This can be seen, as I mentioned in the previous post, in the fact that much of Middle Earth is in terminal (or at least advanced) decline when we are introduced to it at the end of the Third Age. The return of King Elessar does bring hope, but it is a limited one. The elves do not remain in Middle Earth to share it, nor does Frodo.
As a survivor of childhood cancer, I was introduced to death at an early age. In fact, the life I live is one given by grace. One might say "on borrowed time" (as if each of our lives isn't just that). I might have died in '91. The interval, short or long, I live in is the gift of God.
Mortality. It means giving up life upon this Middle Earth; the joy and the pain. Aside from that ultimate voyage, however, there are many lesser deaths that we face upon this shore: moving away, graduation, changing churches, parting with dear friends. Each of these is felt as a loss; an awareness of time breaking in upon a soul born for timelessness. They are glimpses of the flaming sword burning east of Eden. Tolkien captures those moments in a way unequaled by all writers I know save, perhaps, one.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
I grew up in Shelton, Connecticut; a small, rural town straddling the Housatonic River. It was a land of forests, rolling hills, and quiet rivers. Thus, imagining J.R.R. Tolkien's Shire was never very hard for me. I often felt as though I lived in it.
Being on the East Coast, there was a lovely sense of history to Shelton; though it pales in comparison with that of Tolkien's England. Main Street was still dominated by the shells of the old mills and the J.P. Morgan Restaurant; from a time when the great robber-baron himself had high hopes for the town. The Plumb Memorial Library still sported its quaint Victorian exterior, my friend lived in a 200 year old converted farm-house, many of the churches were at least that old, and crisscrossing the woods were miles and miles of stone walls, stone foundations, and little old cemeteries.
Quaint. Charming. But I never thought then what all this beauty meant. Shelton is part of a dying civilization. You can tell from the size of the trees, all thin and slender, the growth of the last fifty years. Two hundred years ago, they were mostly felled to make room for the bustling farms and homesteads that all those walls marked out. These were the days when Connecticut was part of the largest concentration of America's population: the Industrial North. It was Connecticut arms, forged by the great American gun companies, placed in the hands of men from New York, Ohio, and Massachusetts, that crushed the under-populated South and put an end to the "War Between the States." The rotting hulk of the great Colt Arms Factory can still be seen on the Hartford skyline, like the dome of Osgiliath. Now, thanks to AC, people are pouring in to Charlotte while each census quietly removes another house seat from the armory of her conquerors. But it is more than that. The families I knew growing up add to the tale. How many of them boasted two children, or only one? We were part of a rather conservative circle where three was thought average, but five was unnervingly large. Like old Europe, New England is slowly dying out.
This is one reason that Tolkien's works speak so powerfully to me: they are haunted with a sense of loss and decline. The old stone work of Minas Tirith is better than the new. Many houses in the White City stand empty. Beregond reflects that there were always too few children in the city. The realm of Arnor is lost. Eriador is depopulated. There are no more entings. Even the long life granted Aragorn is paltry in comparison to that of his longfathers. With the exception of Rohan and the Shire, everywhere we turn in Tolkien's world we see that the civilizations are not as great as those that preceded them. For a Yankee, at least, that rings true.
Friday, August 10, 2007
The first is the indispensable biography by Humphrey Carpenter: J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography. To date, this is the only "authorized" biography, and it is the best of any that I am aware of. Carpenter explores his subject with care and dignity. He makes no attempts to sensationalize a rather mundane(for his generation) life, while avoiding a sort of "hagiography" devoid of any mention of Tolkien's quirks and struggles. The portrait that emerges is of a middle class college professor, quiet, friendly, incurably nerdy, highly intelligent, a bit thin-skinned, often melancholy, devoted to his family, and completely unremarkable where it not for the fact that out of his ordinary life came the most extraordinary work of the 20th century.
The second book is the equally indispensable Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Humphrey Carpenter with the assistance of Christopher Tolkien. Here, Tolkien is allowed, more or less, to speak for himself. The letters provide a wealth of insights into the origin, creation, author's interpretations, and details of The Lord of the Rings, as well as casting another light on Tolkien himself.
Third on the list is Tom Shippey's J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century. Shippey is of particular interest as a commentator on Tolkien because he taught from Tolkien's curriculum at both Leeds and Oxford. Shippey has also placed himself in the role of Tolkien's defender in modern academia, a world often completely hostile to Tolkien's project and values. While neither a Catholic, nor a Christian, Shippey defends Tolkien's achievement with the upmost vigor in a way that is accessible to both the specialist and the non-specialist alike.
The final book on this list, and the one that I've just finished a second read through is Rose A Zimbardo and Neil D. Isaacs' collection Understanding The Lord of the Rings: The Best of Tolkien Criticism. This collection of essays presents a wide range of material from C.S. Lewis' original review of the trilogy to Tom Shippey's analysis of Peter Jackson's film adaptations. The essays very in style and accessibility providing material for the trained scholar and popular reader alike.
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
I don't typically pray with my wife for short car trips in town. On setting out to run a few errands yesterday afternoon I was stuck by a sensation that we really needed to pray on this trip. I suggested it to Sharon, and we did. Five minutes later, we barely escaped a nasty accident that we could have done nothing to prevent or escape from. We staid to help the people in the two cars involved, and thanked the driver who had been able to maintain control of his vehicle long enough after the collision that destroyed the entire back half of the other car to swerve and miss us as he passed us from behind.
After registering that we were witnesses with the police, we went on with our errands. We needed an extra set of drapes to cover our sliding glass door. The problem was that the drapes we had bought were discontinued. An initial inquiry at the store came back saying that there were no more left at that location or their sister location. However, on a hunch, the sails clerk checked a completely different section of the store and found a heavily marked down set!
So, in gratitude, and as a spiritual discipline I am writing this blog post. Praise God!
Saturday, August 04, 2007
The Oresteia by Aeschylus:
Aeschylus, as the greatest poet of the old tragedies in Athens, presents us with a struggle between conflicting claims of love, loyalty, and honor in a world doomed to destruction apart from a divine intervener and a human atonement.
The Idylls of the King by Alfred, Lord Tennyson:
Tennyson, poet laureate to Queen Victoria, uses the Arthur legends as the backdrop for an elegy of the Victorian age; a civilization undone by its failure to live up to, and grasp the threat to the intellectual and moral foundations of, its own ideals.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien:
J.R.R. Tolkien, an Oxford don, presents us with the great epic of 20th century literature; a work that centers around a theme that stretches all the way back to Gilgamesh and Edan: death.
Friday, July 27, 2007
Friday, July 20, 2007
So, for anyone who's read "Hellboy: Conqueror Worm" out there: do you think there are any references/similarities to Lewis' "That Hideous Strength?" I know the main inspiration is Edgar Allen Poe's poem of the same name, but just think: macro-beings who want to destroy mankind, neo-fascists, floating head-in-a-jar, attempts to breed a new race of men, evil scientists trying to contact said macro-beings in space via a collection of severed heads in a cabinet hooked up to machines, the veneration of a space-worm with weird chanting ... At least we get spared "Fairy Hardcastle," and we do get a homunculus!
(P.S. -hope the links are helpful and not a superfluous annoyance!)
Thursday, July 19, 2007
The sun traveled across the sky, and at last the ass was overcome with exhaustion and died. Utnapishtim spoke to the man and said: "Surely, if you had led the animal back or around or had given it its own head it would have lived!"
At these words, the man grew incensed and struck Utnapishtim with his stick saying: "It cannot go backward! It shall not go backward!"
Then the man went off in a rage, but Utnapishtim with his own hands took dirt and stones from the road and buried the poor animal in the mire where it lay. The people saw this thing that Utnapishtim did, and were divided in their hearts toward him.
Thus did Utnapishtim.
Saturday, June 30, 2007
When Birsha saw Utnapishtim with the people gathered about him, he cried out in a loud voice: "Utnapishtim, friend, colleague, wisest of men! Rightly have you spoken out against Bera, Priest of the City. Now show your wisdom and speak out against the City! Well do these people know of its oppressions. They wait only for one who can guide their wrath; one such as Utnapishtim!"
Utnapishtim heard these words, and saw what was in the heart of Birsha, Priest of the Forest: that he hated man and would sacrifice all men but himself for the idea of his sacred groves. So he replied: "You viper! You have walked forty days and forty nights to find me, yet you have never walked so far from your beloved cedars for Wisdom! Who is Utnapishtim that you should seek him so? At what school did you study together, that you call him 'friend' and 'colleague'!”
Birsha, when he heard these words, became wrathful, and he did not disguise it when he replied: "Is Utnapishtim a lover of the City that he chastises me? Is Utnapishtim a lover of oppression that he rebukes me?"
And the people heard the words of Birsha, Priest of the Forest, and were thrown into confusion by the passion of his speech.
Then Utnapishtim smiled, and he replied: "This I salute in you, Birsha Priest of the Forest: that you speak your thoughts plainly and do not dissemble. Yet you miss the mark. Utnapishtim loves Wisdom! He will speak out against the oppressions of the City, he will raise a great cry against the oppressions of the rulers of the City, but against the City he will not speak; for the City is in the image of Man, and Man is in the image of Wisdom. This Wisdom holds against you, Birsha, Priest of the Forest: that you love not the City, not because of its oppressions, but because it is Man's!"
Great was the wrath in the heart of Birsha at these words, and with scorn he spoke to Utnapishtim: "What is this wisdom that you speak of but the lies of City-men, and what is Utnapishtim but a chattering monkey that the rulers of the City keep on a leash?"
At these words, many of the people rejected Birsha, Priest of the Forest, on account of the greatness of his passion, but a part of the people took up his cry.
Then Utnapishtim laughed out loud, and great was the laughter of Utnapishtim. "Shall I say to Birsha the words I spoke to Bera, his mortal foe? Birsha and Bera should be better acquainted; indeed their hatred of Wisdom may make them friends. You say that Utnapishtim speaks the words of City-men. That may be true! You say that Utnapishtim is a chattering monkey. Perhaps he is! Yet what is Utnapishtim to you? Scoff at Utnapishtim, slander him from the rooftops, and Utnapishtim will be glad; for so your fathers treated all those who wisdom sent to them. Seek not to know who Utnapishtim speaks for, nor who holds his leash. Seek Wisdom!"
All the while that Utnapishtim said these things he laughed and at the laughter of Utnapishtim, Birsha left in scorn and returned to his beloved cedars, but a part of the people went with him.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
It's summer vacation; a time for rest and frivolity. A time to go back and beat all those annoying video games that thwarted you when you were in college. Oh how they thwarted you! The shame! The unending shame!!!! Yes, well, my wife and I have decided that such shame shall no longer besmirch the name of our fair household. We wish to inform you that we now stand victors in the field over all the tyrannies and frustration of "Peasant's Quest." We have earned ye honour of a Trogdor burnination! Bring forth the laurels, sound the trumpets, and let all the land know of our most glorious triumph.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
At long last, "Hellboy: Volume 7" is here! It's almost as wonderful as the thought that "Samurai Jack: Volume 4" is just around the corner in August! What new secrets will be revealed? Will Gruagach get his war? What of Hecate and the witches? Is the END truly at hand!?!!!! Ok, so if you've been buying up the individual issues as they come out, you already know... but I don't... So, yeah, I'm excited. "Fafrhd and the Grey Mouser" was just enough to wet my appetite, and now I'm craving a main course of "Comic Noir." Oh how wonderful and excellent a thing is a Borders gift card!
Monday, June 11, 2007
This review is expanded from a response to a friend's request for my thoughts on "300." Giving a just review of the film would take volumes, and so I have had to be selective in this post. In the main, I have tried not to cover territory that has already been covered by my betters. The closest approximation to my thoughts would be to take the reviews of Dr. Touraj Daryaee, Dr. John-Mark Reynolds, and Dr. Paul Cartledge, put them in a blender and hit "frappe." I have posted the links to all three reviews in previous posts. Naturally, with a movie as controversial as "300" I understand that this review cannot hope to please at each point. Critics may wish that my condemnation of historical inaccuracies and negative images of the Persians were more forceful and dilatory, while supporters may wish for a more strident defense of the movie's strengths. Both have been done by my betters, and I would refer you to them. As always, those that know me are free to question me at length in person, and I feel that that is perhaps the best format for this sort of discussion. As a final note, it has been abnormally hard to gather my conflicting thoughts on this film, so where the review may seem a bit scattered, I will have to plead that it is only as scattered as my musings.
I can really only liken "300" to a pagan "Passion of the Christ." I found myself thinking within the first fifteen minutes: "this is so beautifully pagan, that it's as if the ball's been placed in our court to answer it... oh wait, Gibson!" It's one of those movies that I'm glad I saw, but I don't plan on seeing it again any time soon. To wax eloquent, 300 is a pagan opera in the vein of Richard Wagner. Of course by "pagan" I mean more than simply "polytheistic" and definitely not "uncivilized" or "barbaric!" I mean the deeper levels of that worldview: a proud and defiant despair in the face of an unreasoning and ultimately unfair Nature. The rights and rituals of Greek paganism are largely absent in "300," but the soul of Homer is there in all its stark and human glory.
To move on from the raw impact, I think many people misunderstand the film. I cited the comic book and the movie in my Master's thesis last year, before the movie came out. I had a feeling that the film would generate resentment among the Persian community in the 'States and the Iranians in the Middle East (and yes, they do have a right to be!). The "300" depicts the Persians as deformed freaks, and that has been amply decried, but look who's telling the story: the best liar/story-teller in Sparta. We shouldn't trust his portrait of the battle, let alone the Persians!!! The idea of the film is to get us to feel about Thermopylae the way that the Greeks felt about it. That in itself is problematic since our most reliable records of the Persian Wars come from only two authors: Herodotus and Aeschylus. Historians can go on for hours parsing out all the nuances of how these two view the Persians. Still, in the main, we can note some common elements: Undisciplined, exotic Persian hordes versus the the disciplined, homogeneous Greeks, Persian decadence and effeminacy versus Greek reserve and manliness, and the Persian "Great Leader" versus the Greek "First-Among-Equals." This seems to be just the line that the movie follows. Judging, then, from my own experience, and the experiences of my students who went to go see it, "300" accomplishes that goal with flying colors. The few times in which the illusion of "Spartaness" is broken are the exceptions that alert us to the rule. I remember the collective gasp that the audience let out when Leonidas says to Ephialtes: "May you live for ever!" When a "historical" film can make people feel that like a "Spartan," not just acknowledge intellectually what's going on, then it's done its work. Let us be clear, Hollywood's job is to entertain and inspire, it is the historian's job to teach history! The movie has been a windfall in that arena, raising interest in what is an all but forgotten event in the public mind. I've been able to set the record strait with my students, but they wouldn't have bothered to listen to me, let alone ask hours worth of questions, if "300" hadn't sparked their interest.
I do worry that the film glorifies violence. That's one message our culture gets far too often, even if a brief scan through Homer demonstrates it to be very Greek. I don't see "300" being used as effective propaganda to bomb Iran any time soon (Can we really picture Hollywood in bed with the Bush Administration?!?). Just tell me how many Americans have any idea at all that Persians=Iranians (Especially after Khomeini's government did everything in its power to break with the Achaemanid Persian past)!!! However, granted that the movie is supposed to be "Spartan propaganda," it does genuinely disturb me to see a culture as grand and storied as the Achaemanid Persians turned into a show-case for "freak of the week." Even the comic book saves that for Xerxes and lets the Persian army, by-en-large, off the hook. I think I would have preferred to see a movie more like "Tora,Tora, Tora!" which attempted to portray both sides fairly and thereby increase the drama. After all, to turn the standard critique of the movie on its head, some parallels can be drawn between decadent, multi-cultural, imperial America and the Achaemanids as well as between brutal, mono-cultural, hegemonic insurgency and the Spartans.
So what can I say in sum? "Did I like the movie?" Yes and no. "Was it a good movie?" Yes and no. "Is it historical?" Yes and no. "Should I go see the movie?" Yes and no. This film continues the long battle between Dionysus and Apollo in true Greek fashion. But ask yourself reader: oh what a movie "300" must be to provoke so many "yeses" and "nos!"
Friday, June 08, 2007
Thursday, May 31, 2007
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
When it became known that Utnapishtim had taken up his place at the crossroads, all the princes of the people were greatly concerned. “He will send our people into a frenzy,” they said. “And then Og will come and destroy us all!” So they sent unto Utnapishtim Bera the priest; for he was cunning in all the ways of the city. “Surely Bera will make him see reason,” they said. “Surely Bera will turn the people's hearts toward us once more!”
So Bera took up his robes and his staff, and went up from the city to the crossroads where Utnapishtim stood. There he found the people gathered about Utnapishtim, though they did not understand his words, for he was a new thing to them.
Then Bera opened his mouth and spoke: “Hail Utnapishtim, friend, colleague, wisest of men! What is this that you are doing? Why are you throwing these good people into confusion? Let us draw aside and talk a while, you and I!”
“You snake!” Utnapishtim cried. “You have walked forty days and forty nights to find me, yet in all your years you have not sought so hard for Wisdom! Who is Utnapishtim that you should seek him so? At what school did you study together, that you call him 'friend' and 'colleague'!”
Then the heart within Bera was wrathful indeed, but he cloaked his anger with honeyed words: “Be not angry with me, Utnapishtim, wisest of men. I have not your learning, and would in no wise be compared with you! But cannot two wisdom-seekers be brothers in their work, though they were taught at different schools? Surely wisdom is like a mountain, whose top can be reached by many paths!”
He ended, and the people nodded their approval of the words of Bera, priest of the city.
Utnapishtim was not swayed by these words, however, and he spoke, saying: “Indeed, Wisdom is like a mountain, and there are many paths to its summit. But what would Bera know of that summit? He speaks of many paths, and fellow travelers, but what agreement and what fellowship can there be between him who seeks the top of the mountain and him who seeks the gutter of the street? Shall they not part ways from the very first?”
At this speech, the heart within Bera was filled with wrath, but again he cloaked his anger with honeyed words: “Utnapishtim has spoken an unkind thing! The tongue of Utnapishtim has uttered hurtful things! Utnapishtim says that we all must be mountain-climbers. Is there no place for those who cannot climb so high? Utnapishtim is a lover of high places, and his heart dwells with the mountains, but will he deny us any other loves? Surely the plain is a lovely thing, and the forest, and the crowded city streets. Must all men love what Utnapishtim loves?”
Thus Bera, priest of the city, spoke; and the people were thrown into great confusion. Yet all the honeyed words of Bera could not deceive Utnapishtim.
So Utnapishtim replied with a voice of laughter: “Did not I rightly call Bera, priest of the city, a snake? See how his words wind and twist! Love the lowest, by all means, but love not the lowest more than the highest!”
Twice had Utnapishtim spoken in wrath and Bera endured it; but the laughter of Utnapishtim was too much for him to bear. “Will you mock me now!” Bera raged. “What is Utnapishtim but a liar, and a deceiver of women! He fashions this 'wisdom' in his own image, and puts his words in its mouth to speak!”
Many of the people turned in loathing from the harsh words of Bera, but a part now took his side and joined their voices to his.
When he saw that Bera had revealed his true nature, Utnapishtim laughed out loud. “Now the snake shows his fangs! Who is Utnapishtim indeed, that you should listen to him? Perhaps he is a liar, perhaps he has deceived you. Seek not, therefore, Utnapishtim. Spit upon him, kick him, revile him, and Utnapishtim will be glad! Reject Utnapishtim, for so all your forefathers rejected those that Wisdom sent to them! Oh my brothers, seek not Utnapishtim, nor the words of Utnapishtim: seek Wisdom!”
When Utnapishtim had said these things, he let out a third laugh like a peal of thunder, and Bera turned and fled in dismay before the laughter of Utnapishtim; but a part of the people followed after him.
Monday, May 21, 2007
But Utnapishtim replied: "What new thing shall I teach you? Already, you know all that Utnapishtim has to say: do not lie, do not steal, do not murder! That which you do not wish to be done unto you, do not do to another! But these teachings you do not keep. How then shall Utnapishtim teach you a new thing? Behold, even if Wisdom should become a man and speak with you in the flesh you would not marvel."
When the crowds heard these words, they scoffed at him. "Og shows us new things," they said. "Each day he brings forth new marvels."
But Utnapishtim replied: "Yet you still crave more. Seven marvels cannot not satisfy you, and seventy times seven marvels lose their splendor like the grass. Paltry indeed must be the marvels of Og, King of Bashan, if he must bring new ones forth each day to please you. If you seek marvels, seek marvels that remain marvels indeed!"
Thus spoke Utnapishtim.
Monday, May 14, 2007
Monday, May 07, 2007
Thursday, May 03, 2007
One of my favorite contemporary historians of ancient Greece is Paul Cartledge. I had the misfortune to disagree with him on some points about Homer in my thesis; benighted fool that I am! That's beside the point. I also happened to site Frank Miller's "300" in my footnotes a year before the movie was released; and I must say I'm quite pleased to see that my predictions regarding it have come true. So I was fascinated to find that Paul Cartledge had written a review of the movie that can be found here. Check out Wikipedia for quite a few more. Sooner or later I'll try and commit my own thoughts to the web, but they're proving remarkably elusive.
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
Monday, April 16, 2007
When Utnipishtim heard this he raised his face toward heaven and cried out: "It is Time! It is Time! It is indeed Time!"
Then Utnipishtim turned to his disciple and spoke, saying: "Oh my faithful follower, I must leave you. Who knows whether you will see Utnipishtim again? But fear not! My animals will care for you. They will bring you food from afar. For drink, there is the stream that runs from the mountain to my lake."
When he had said these words, Utnipishtim departed. After many days and nights, he came to a great crossroads, where the road from the mountain, and the road from the plain, and the road from the sea, and the road from the city, and the road from the waste all met.
And Utnipishtim took his stand at the crossroads and called out in a loud voice: "Oh my brothers! I, Utnipishtim, have come down. Wisdom has sent me to you to preach to you the Great Return! You have found yourselves, but you have not found Beauty. You have found yourselves, but you have not found Wisdom. You have found yourselves, but you have not found Joy. Seek now for the ancient paths. Oh my brothers, let us begin the Great Return. Wisdom speaks to us: "As a man may go forward, so too can he go back!"
Thus Spoke Utnipishtim.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
In the ditch that flanked the road lay a woman in the throws of a terrible illness. Her muddied garments were soaked in sweat and soars and lesions of all sorts covered her skin. In the ditch she lay, covered by the filth that ran down it, but there was no strength in her to move.
I turned to my guide and asked him how it was that no one helped the woman out of the ditch and brought her to a place where her sickness might be mended.
My guide, who held in his hand an object that was now a scroll, and now a sharp sword, pointed across the road to where a great dragon was slithering out of the trees. Its body was covered in slime and filth, but its face was that of a woman, and upon its flanks and side were written blasphemous names. A great host of lesser creatures followed it and sought succor from its teats; but they were dry.
Then my guide spoke, and his voice was the sound of clashing swords: "The woman's sisters have come and tried time and again to rescue her from the ditch, but each time the serpent drives them back. She has other relatives too, but she broke from her mother's house long ago and scorned her own children so that many of them are loath to help."
"Is there no hope for her then?" I asked.
"Her Father has not forgotten her, and he will send his servant who is mightier than the dragon to drive it off. Her Husband has not forgotten her, and he will come and take her up out of the ditch with his own hands and bind her soars. Her Advocate has not forgotten her, and he will come and plead for the healing of her sickness."
"But what of the dragon," I asked. "If it is driven off and not slain, will it not find another to waylay?"
"The serpent hopes that it shall devour the woman when her sickness is complete and all hope has failed. Only thus can it provide for it brood, who are many, and feed its husband when he comes seeking meat. With its prey removed, the serpent shall be devoured by it own family in their hunger."
I took hope at what he said, but we staid not to prove it true.
Friday, March 30, 2007
Out of the past does Wisdom speak, and out of the wasteland does it sing!
Seek ye the ancient way, for daylight is coming and will show the path.
O leave man's city and go out with anxious feet, for Wisdom comes with the dayspring.
The font of all our yesterdays, the font of our tomorrows: out of the same ocean
do they spring!
Now Utnapishtim will take a wife and father children,
For the Hope of men will come!
O that Wisdom would become a Man and speak with me!
For I love you, O Wisdom.
For I love you, O Wisdom.
Utnapishtim does not crown himself. Nay! He will fling his crown away!
For what can compare with Wisdom, who possesses us, and not we Wisdom?
Utnapishtim makes his crown an offering though it is but a paltry thing.
A coronet made all of thistles and water rushes, with faded water lilies!
Now Utnapishtim will take a wife and father children,
For the Hope of men will come!
O that Wisdom would become a Man and speak with me!
For I love you, O Wisdom.
For I love you, O Wisdom.
Join me in my merry dance! To the city of man return, in the train of holy Wisdom!
Love Life, for Life is stronger than death. Love Love, for Love is stronger than the grave.
Oh Life, and death, and Love, and grave, we bring you into our city.
In the train of holy Wisdom each has as much good as each can hold!
Now Utnapishtim will take a wife and father children,
For the Hope of men will come!
O that Wisdom would become a Man and speak with me!
For I love you, O Wisdom.
For I love you, O Wisdom.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
just to let you know, I need prayer. I've come down with a ferocious allergy/head-cold even though I'm still finishing up the medicine from the last one. Bad news is that I've got a mountain of stuff to do at work tomorrow since I'll be heading out for Washington D.C. with my seniors early Sunday morning. Please pray for a speedy recovery and strength to do all the tasks that remain!
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
I spoke to the one who was with me, the one who was covered in eyes as a fish is covered in mail: "Where are these men bound, and why do they bear such harness of war and yet sing so gaily?"
The one who was with me answered; and his voice was like water passing over stones. "They are on a pilgrimage to seek the Holy City; therefore do they sing so gaily. Many trials and battles yet lay before them; and therefore go they armed. The Lord of the City shall see that not a one of those He called is lost. "
My heart was swiftly lifted and I spoke: "Then this is surely a most excellent thing!"
But the one who stood next to me grew grave: "Say not that until you know the end. Many a base deed is done in a noble cause, and many a noble deed done in a base." He saw that these words puzzled me and continued: "The highest cause cannot hallow a base deed, nor can the basest deed profane the highest cause."
I pondered what he said a long while before speaking. "What you say is good."
The one who was with me, who shone brightly at one moment and in the next was hidden in a cloud, responded: "How little all your race knows what these things mean!"
Then the dream passed, and I found myself lying in the shade of a gentle beech. I arose, and thought much on all that I had seen.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Now Og, King of Bashan, heard that many even of his own people were going up to hear the words of Utnipishtim; and his heart was full of wrath. And Og said to his heart: "I will go with my armies and destroy Utnipishtim and all his followers. I will blot out the wisdom of the time before the flood." And Og took his army and went up.
Utnipishtim arose one morning with his followers, and they saw that all the valley was filled with the armies of Og, King of Bashan. And Utnipishtim called out in a loud voice: "Turn back, O armies of Og. Turn back, that you may live and not go down to death." But the hearts of the followers of Utnipishtim quaked, for none had ever turned aside the armies of Og.
When Og saw that Utnipishtim was come forth, he saddled his horse and ordered his horsemen, and his footmen, and his chariots forward. Then Utnipishtim raised his left hand, and held forth the Annim, the soul destroying power; and half of the armies of Og was consumed. But Og and his armies, his horsemen, and his footmen, and his chariots, would not turn. Then Utnipishtim raised his right hand, and held forth the Unnim, the world destroying power; and the second half of the armies of Og were consumed.
Og, King of Bashan, saw now that he was alone, and that his power could not avail against the power of Utnipishtim. So Og cursed Utnipishtim with three great curses, and turned his horse and fled.
Then the hearts of the followers of Utnipishtim were joyful beyond measure, but the heart of Utnipishtim was grieved. Therefore, his followers sought to console him with the greatness of his victory: "Utnipishtim! Wisest of men! Be joyful! Six armies have fallen before you. Be elated! Seven armies lie in the dust at your feet."
Utnipishtim opened his mouth and said: "Why are you joyful, O my followers? Why are you elated? Six armies have gone down to the grave. Seven armies have been destroyed. How can there be any wisdom for them in the grave? Who among men or gods can go down to the depths to teach them?"
At these words, many of the followers of Utnipishtim grew angry, and the hearts of many others were confused. One by one, they went and plundered the bodies of the armies of Og, King of Bashan, and left Utnipishtim.
By the waters of his lake, Utnipishtim found a large, round stone and he sat down upon it and wept. But when he opened his eyes again, behold, there was still one follower that remained, and he sat at the feet of Utnipishtim.
Then Utnipishtim cried out, and uttered from his wisdom the third great truth: "Though a thousand come to listen, only one among them will hear!"
Thus spoke Utnipishtim
Saturday, March 10, 2007
The Raven spoke to Utnipishtim: "Utnipishtim! Wisest of men! Are you troubled because a dog has mocked you? Are you troubled because you saw a dead dog by the side of the road? Be glad, then, that you may be alone with your wisdom. For what need have you, O wisest of men, to teach?"
Utnipishtim smiled, and he replied: "There speaks my raven, there speaks my contemplative one, whose delight is in the journey, not the return. I did not meet a dog, nor did I see a dead dog. I went to pass on my wisdom to men, for it burns within me, and must be released. And I found no one to listen. Therefore I am grieved."
Then the Dove, the active one, whose delight is in the return, hopped forward before the foot of Utnipishtim and spoke: "Utnipishtim! Wisest of men! Are you troubled because a dog has mocked you? Are you troubled because you saw a dead dog by the side of the road? Let students come to you, then, to be taught. The right sort will hear of your wisdom, and come to you for knowledge of the time before the flood!"
Utnipishtim pondered these words, and the sun sank in the sky, and his two animals pondered with him.
The Untipishtim cried out from his wisdom the second great truth: "I see now that Wisdom must be bought at a price if men are to value it."
Thus spoke Utnipishtim.
Monday, March 05, 2007
Jesus Is My Homie an' He's Hangin' Out Under the Host: An Evangelical's Guide to Sacramental Theology
A Fashionable Game of Diachronic Tag: The Evangelical Quasi-Sophisticate's Guide to Apostolic Succession and Ecclesiology
Potpourri in my Closet: Real-Life Confessions of the Catholically Challenged
Saturday, February 24, 2007
*Unidentified pieces of contorted meat tumbling out of the fridge.*
Sharon: what is it?
Me: *holds a hand spread wide over a suspect piece* Impossible to say. Wait! Nooo!!!!!
meat: I was once a great creature.... For untold ages have I slumbered.... but now I arise to wreck terror on the living as I did in days long ago!!!
Sharon: What should we do?!?
Me: Burn it! Burn it!!!!
*After 30 minutes kitchen prep, mushrooms, orange, rice, soy sauce, plus 40 minutes cooking time...*
Me: Mmmmmm. Tasty evil.....
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Friday, February 16, 2007
Then Utnapishtim was angry. He looked down at the Unnim which was in his right hand; the world-destroying power. He looked down at the Annim in his left hand; the soul destroying power. But neither of these things could proclaim wisdom. So Untapishtim was silent, and the heart within him was angry.
Then came Og, King of Bashan, and laughed at him, saying, "Old gray-beard, why do you think that the people will listen to you out of respect for your gray hairs?" And the people said: "We will follow Og, king of Bashan." And they left, until Utnapishtim was alone.
For forty days, and forty nights, Utnapishtim stood alone, and the heart within him was grieved. Then Utnapishtim cried out, and uttered from his wisdom the first great truth: "Oh that Wisdom would become a man, and teach me how to teach!"
Thus spoke Utnapishtim
Thursday, February 01, 2007
In other news, I've finished Machiavelli and plowed through Voltaire's "Candide. Both worth the read as two of the giants of emergent secularism. I'll be incorporating a survey them into my lectures. Right now I'm toying with a trip through Boswell's "Life of Samuel Johnson" or "The Diary of Samuel Pepys." Then again, maybe those can wait...
The added stress of an extra class has kept me from posting any deeper musings. Once I adjust, we'll hopefully get some. The Platypus' musings are always deep.
Saturday, January 20, 2007
It's been a while since I last managed a post. This have been busy around here, but not in a bad way. The Platypus, as ever, has been speaking Truth and assisting me in my pondering.
So what's new?
Urbana went well. My wife and I had a blast with the team and recruiting (even though I never worked for the company!). I definitely like the way World Team does business, and it was a pleasure to help out. We learned all about "St. Louis Style" pizza: thin crust, large toppings, and something like a layer of cheese whiz under the normal cheese. Very interesting...
School is going well as we approach finals. The kids have gotten down to business, and the worst of the discipline problems seem to be past. We'll see what happens when Summer Vacation gets closer, but for now I'm enjoying the break from "controlled chaos."
Speaking of education, I'm still working my way through "Guns, Germs, and Steal," a masterful, yet deeply flawed work. I've also picked up Machiavelli's "The Prince." It's much better, and surprisingly less ruthless than I thought it would be. We'll see. I'm only on page 50 so far; and no, the Platypus and I are not going to endorse his politics. ;-) I think we'll have some posts on these two authors in the future.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
My wife wore a burkha with veil on Saturday. It was interesting, to say the least. Beneath that black column of rich and delicate cloth, my wife disappeared and lost all trace of personality. People avoided eye-contact. They would not address her. I became my wife's window on the world, her keeper. -until she spoke. Only her voice could break through that spell of anonymity and convert that still and terrible black column into flesh and blood once more. It was an act worthy of Pygmallion or Phantasties. As a choice, there is awesome and noble power in that veil, as Orual knew only too well. For one to take it up not out of their own free will; I can think of few tyrannies more absolute.
More on this later...