Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Platypus Translates?


Guess who's working through "The Song of Sir Roland" in the original Medieval French?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Platypus Rolls On


With the "Iliad" finished, my students are now moving into our textbook unit on Ancient Greece. Already, I can see that they understand the information at a deeper level than in the past. Beyond that, the literature teacher has also caught the Classical infection, and is having the students read "Antigone" before they launch into the Odyssey in February. That means that if my plan to do a unit on the "Aeneid" at the end of the year goes through, the 9th and 10th graders will have four classical works under their belts. That's a good, solid start.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Super Platypus RPG?

As I look back through this series of posts, I notice that a constant theme comes up: enchantment. A good video game should have loads of it. By enchantment, I mean that delightful sense of the "other" that commands our whole attention and alters our perceptions of reality. Think of the last time you watched a really good play. Was there a moment during the performance when you forgot that you were watching a series of staged actions and felt "caught up" into another world? That is the sensation that a well-made game strives to create. The only difference is that the audience can now interact with the drama.

The designer of the popular "Super Mario Brothers" series said that he strove to create a "magic garden" that players were invited to explore. I think that is what has always drawn me to these games. It's the same impulse that led me into the world of the theater: a desire not just to view, but to be a part of something "other."

Turn off the lights. Place the key in the lock. Open the door. Step in to fairy land.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Rage, Platypus- Sing the Rage of...




Today marks the end of my experimental "Iliad" unit for my 9th and 10th graders. We have just finished 24 days of Homer. On the whole, I think it was a resounding success. I only had one small-scale mutiny to put down, and many great moments to offset it. In addition, several kids positively caught fire. One of them even picked up Dante's "Inferno" on his own initiative and is eating it up. I'm busy writing down a final lesson plan set for the unit that I'll be putting on file. If all goes well, I'll be doing the "Aeneid" with them at the end of next semester. Meanwhile, we'll see how they do with the "Odyssey" for the English teacher.

Great Books Work!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Chrono Platypus


My Kids: "Mr Harrington! Mr Harrington! There's an awesome new video game coming out."

Me: "What's it called?"

My Kids: "Chrono Trigger. It looks awesome!"

Me: "It is. I played that game when I was your age. It's one of my favorites."

My Kids: *stunned disbelief* "You played it? That's awesome!"

Just glad to know that quality entertainment is being passed on to the next generation.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Platypus Knows JUSTIN BAILEY*********


What is adventure? Why do we all have this part of ourselves that longs for something beyond the world of safe and comfortable things? Why do we like being scared?

I tried to think what made "Metroid" such an instant classic. It's one of the oldest Nintendo games I can remember, and yet they're still making sequels to it today.

The clinging metroids seem to be the key. They remind me vaguely of the "face-huggers" in "Alien." There's also that sense of dark and mysterious "other" in every corner of the game. The eerie effect is only reinforced by the soundtrack. Like "Alien," there's very little frantic action in "Metroid," but rather a sense of deepening mystery and creeping dred. Unlike "Alien," however, it has an added sense of enchantment that runs throughout the game. 8-bits and all, the imaginary world of Zebes and its bizare flora and fauna are marvelous. Something in it taught me what it means to have an adventure; that longing for and experienceing of the other. Could I have understood at that time, it was all in Dante (what do they teach them in these schools?). In a strange way, I think my childhood of playing video games fitted me to understand and appreciate Dante in a way I wouldn't have otherwise. I had already followed Samus Arran into and back out of the Inferno.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

CT Platypus

Interesting article from my home-state here.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

All Platypus' Eve





With All Hallows' Eve and All Saints Day rapidly approaching, I offer you a trio of modern "saints" to keep in mind: Charles Williams, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien. Each of them, in their own fashion, was willing to reclaim territory for the Church that had been ceded without a fight to her enemies. Let us remember them, imperfections and all, and strive to imitate their best qualities as they imitated Christ.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

What the Platypus is Reading Now


Heaven's War

Charles Williams+C.S. Lewis+J.R.R. Tolkien+Cathars+Alastair Crowley+Comic Books=Crazy Delicious! (Or at least something I wish I'd come up with...)

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Platypus and a World of Wonder

A world of wonder.

I've always appreciated the Final Fantasy series for its art. Normally, I favor invented worlds with a down-to-earth, historically plausible look. Something where you can almost feel the weight of the chain mail and smell the fresh leather of a shield strap. It's the reason why John Howe is my favorite Tolkien artist. The art of Final Fantasy (especially what was released in America as II and III) is nothing like that. There's an ethereal quality to every bit of steam-punk, cyber-punk, high fantasy mish-mash in the game. Don't bother with the politics of the civilizations, finding a coherent cultural motif for the costumes, and theorizing about how the weapons would work in the real world. You'll just hurt yourself. Final Fantasy is candy for the eye and candy for the mind. It's a world that you emerse yourself in not by detail-mongering, but by sitting back and letting it carry you along. There are sword fights and operas, airships and submarines, theives in the night and Nietzschean gods, moments of melodrama and moments of the sublime.

Who knows. Maybe if I played it today I'd lose interest after the first thrity minutes, but something struck me back then that's never quite left. I think Lewis would call it Joy.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Why Was the Platypus Playing Back Then?


Secret of Mana

Did I waste time on video games as a kid? No. When I was growing up, there was always plenty else to do. I walked in the woods, made movies with my friends, painted miniatures, and went to youth group, among other things. I had good friends and there was a lot to do growing up in rural southern Connecticut. So what was the lure of video games?

In my family, and in my circle of friends, video games were a social sport. We picked hard and detailed games to play that encouraged cooperation and creative problem solving. The first thing my brother and I ever did together (I mean really together) was to beat "Secret of Mana." My sister used to sit and watch, and occasionally got in on the action as well. That memory will stick with me till the day I die. I have so many memories of sitting in the basement and penning a map, or slogging through a guidebook as my friends and I tried to crack a particularly tough puzzle. There were the soda ceremonies meant to invoke the god of caffeine. There were the breaks to rest our tired thumbs and cool our toasted brains. There were the conversations about story, art, music, and drama. We even did a little of our own creating with drawings and clay figures meant to represent our favorite heroes and worlds.

You could blame it on a culturally impoverished society. I blame it on the books. At school, we were fed on a steady stream of adventure, art, fantasy, and moral drama. We read Tennyson, Homer, Defoe, Shakespeare, Dickens, Bronte, and Tolkien until our imaginations were fit to burst. We found outlets for our creativity in plays, movies, music, and art, and there still was not enough room for it all. What spilled over passed into video games; into the wonder of exploring and interacting with a fully realized sub-creation. Maybe it was time wasted, but I wouldn't trade those moments for the world.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

What Was the Platypus Playing Back Then?

Autumn is always a time of nostalgia for me. It was my favorite season growing up, and I have many happy memories attached to it. For some reason, it also gives me a hankering (rarely fulfilled) for playing some old school video games. To go with the flow then, I'm giving my 10 personal (emphasis on personal) favorite video games of all time.

1. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
2. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
3. The Legend of Zelda
4. Chrono Trigger
5. Secret of Mana
6. Final Fantasy II
7. Final Fantasy III
8. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
9. Final Fantasy
10. Metroid

Saturday, October 04, 2008

What Was the Platypus Reading Back Then?


I am currently preparing two primary source reading units for my 9th and 10th grade World History class. Next week, they'll begin reading Homer's "Iliad." After that, they will read the "Odyssey" for English class and then finish off the year with me by reading Virgil's "Aeneid." We'll be discussing each day's reading using the first fifteen to twenty minutes of class, and I'll be interested to see how much they'll get out of it. My hopes are not too high. What I'm really aiming at is the bare minimum of exposure and getting one or two of my brightest pupils actually interested in the classics.

Worrying over whether or not I'm right to push them so far brought back to mind just what I was reading for class when I was their age. Just to clarify, I went to a New England private academy for the first half of my high school education. So let's see what I can remember.

9th Grade:

The Odyssey by Homer
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
The Tempest by William Shakespeare

10th Grade:

The Idylls of the King by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Macbeth by William Shakespeare
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Moby Dick by Herman Melville

The point here is that I would have been at least up to the challenge that I'm setting my own students. It leaves me distressed that I gravely doubt their ability.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Platypus Reads Part XXVII


Thoughts after reading the "Iliad" to prepare a Greece unit for my students:

-Hector is a jerk until he's dead. He even advocates the exposure of Achaean corpses and then has the cheek to turn around and ask Achilles to spare his. He rudely ignores Polydamas' prophecies and fights outside the gate to save his pride knowing full well what it will cost his family and city. After he's dead, he becomes a martyr for the cause.

-Agamemnon has several moments of true leadership to balance out his pettiness. In this way, he's a haunting foil to Achilles: the two men are more alike than they want to acknowledge.

-We see that Achilles is the better man at the funeral games of Patroclos. His lordliness, tact, and generosity there give us a window into Achilles before his fight with Agamemnon and the death of Patroclos consumed him.

-Nestor is a boring, rambling, old man who's better days are far behind him, and yet every Achaean treats him with the upmost respect. And well they should, because Nestor, when he gets to the point, is wiser than the lot of them. A major point of the "Iliad" is that people are owed respect because of their position, regardless of their individual character or abilities. The scene where Achilles gives Nestor a prize at the funeral games since the man is too old to compete is particularly powerful.

-The rage of Achilles stems from his perdicament, not a woman. Achilles has the emotions, apetites, and powers of a god, but is doomed to live in a world of death and to die himself. Notice the image of him laying his "man-killing" hands on Patroclos' chest and grieving that his friend is dead. With all his power and rage, Achilles cannot defeat death.

-The deathlessness of the gods is their own torment.

-Achilles is the hero of the "Iliad" because he experiences a moment of true revelation when he gives the body of Hector back to Priam. Hector dies deceived, both literally and figuratively. I think Homer means for this to disturb us.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Platypus in Autumn


All hail the return of the blessed season!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Platypus Reads Part XXVI

Why pulp? After all, there are so many great books out there, why bother with the low-brow of bygone era? Sure, there's a lot to dislike about pulp, particularly Edwardian pulp: the overt racism, the Social-Darwinism, awkward gender-roles, inconsistent quality of writing, and the endless assertions that "no, no, THIS was my greatest battle" at the outset of each new episode. You could level the same accusations at Homer, but almost 3,000 years of human opinion affirms that Homer is at a completely different level from "Moderately-Helpless Space Babes of mars."

Pulp may have multiple virtues in its own humble way, but I think the one that looms largest is precisely the one that our age lacks: courage. Courage is the ability to do what one thinks is right in spite of fear. After two world wars and the shattering loss of Western cultural confidence in their wake, courage has almost vanished from among our everyday virtues. Sure, it makes good rhetoric during a presidential campaign, but how often do we hear the exhortation as individuals to "be courageous."

Beyond that, our courageous acts are just not that courageous anymore. We protest the actions of a government that allows the greatest amount of free speech in human history and think ourselves moral giants. We march in the streets to protest a war, or immigration restrictions, or social injustice and then pat ourselves on the back knowing full-well that there will be no fire-hoses, no attack dogs, no knight-sticks, and no tear gas. Religious groups publicly decry the erosion morality when their ancestors in the faith were torn apart by lions for far less. All these accusations may be more than fair, but the point is that it costs us so little to speak out in proportion to how much pride we take in doing it. Even this post is about as courageous as ordering a bean burrito with no onions and no red sauce.

Pulp reminds us in direct and plain language that sometimes sticking it to the man comes at a much higher price than spending a pleasant afternoon outside with lots of like-minded people; and that's when we find out what our courage is really worth.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Platypus Fragments Part II

Utnapishtim spoke to his disciple, and his disciple listened to his wisdom; the wisdom of the time before the Flood:

"Did you not hear that the gods sent the Flood to ravage all mankind because they were noisy, oh my disciple? Were you told upon your mother's knee that the world bellowed like a bull and the gods called down the Flood to silence it? The storm riders were let loose to drown their noise, and the depths were opened to silence their bellowing. Seven days it rained, and forty days the tempest raged upon the face of the earth. The gods hid in the highest heavens, and all things upon the earth became as clay. Better a lion than the Flood. Better a bull than the Flood. Better a plague than the Flood. Is that what you were told?"

"There is a truth in these things. For then men were greater than they are now, and they had ears that were open to the call of Wisdom, and houses that were open to the wind. But men grew tired of Wisdom, and they were chilled by the North Wind; so they made noise to drown Wisdom out, and fashioned shutters to hold back every breeze. "

"Who will hold back Wisdom forever, and who will stand firm against every breeze? Bottle the waters and they will break forth with seven times the force, stand against the tempest and it will blow you down!"

Thus Spoke Utnapishtim

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Platypus Fragments

A Fragment from Thus Spoke Utnapishtim:


Now Utnapishtim sat upon his rock and his disciple sat at his feet, and he begged Utnapishtim to tell him of peoples and places, and of all that he had seen since the coming of the Flood. And Utnapishtim smiled and said:

"I can remember the coming of Arius and his sons, for I saw them from my mountain, oh my disciple. Were they not each the image of a god of war; red of hair and skin like new-cast bronze. Each carried a long spear and a well-honed sword at his hip, and they rode on chariots while their men drove the long-horned cattle behind them. Were not these the names of the sons of Arius: Hit, Cadmu, Persis, Ind, and Hy? Do I not know what the sons of Arius did at the great banquet they made on the day that they defeated the people of the two rivers?"

"Know then, oh my disciple, that I saw it all. They made a great banquet upon the plain and each drank from the skull of a prince of Ur. There they slaughtered untold numbers of bulls to the gods of the north: the lady of battles, the lord of battles, and the lord of thunder. And when the meat had been consumed and the wine had been drunk, they fell to quarreling. Then did the sons of Arius cast their father down upon the altar and mingled his smoking flesh with the victims. And Hy drew his sword and smote off the feet of his father, and Ind took his ax and smote off his thighs, and Persis and Cadmu divided his arms and his chest. Then Hit took up a great curved sword and clove the head from his father's body. Now when the deed was done, the sons of Arius came to their senses and their eyes grew dark as they looked down up their shame."

But Hit cried out with a loud voice: "Oh my brothers, what is this thing we have done? Are we not now both the enemies of gods and men?"

"Then each brother took up a piece of his father's body and fled. Thus were the sons of Arius dispersed to the four winds. Know, then, oh my disciple, that the mark of this crime is ever upon the true sons of Arius; that they divide and destroy whatever they come across. Sharp are their knives, but Wisdom's is sharper!"

Thus Spoke Utnapishtim

Monday, September 01, 2008

Historic Platypus

This year, I will be teaching World History I (prehistory to 1500). As such, I've tried to sketch out for the students the three broad phases of man and their most basic worldview. Any attempt to do this sort of thing is problematic at best, but high schoolers need something to start with, something foundational, before the process of deconstruction (and reconstruction?) can be done in college.

The first is ancient (or pagan) man. Ancient man's approach to life was essentially tragic: hope, joy, and love were fleeting at best and the underlying structure of reality was rooted in pain and chaos. The best a person could do was to bear up nobly under the weight of suffering and turn it into some great act or art that gave meaning to existence.

The second is medieval (or monotheistic) man. Medieval man's approach to life was essentially comedic: no matter how bad things get, they will be resolved for good in the end. If we're talking about the European Christians of the middle ages, then it ends with a wedding.

The third is modern man. Modern man's approach to life was essentially domineering or consumerist: man, through science, becoming master of nature and himself/herself so as to order all things to his/her taste. From this seemed to emerge postmodern man. Postmodern man doubted the ability of science and technology to deliver all it promised and turned instead to language and narrative to achieve mastery over self and the environment. Postmodern man's tastes often differed from those of modern man, and indeed claimed to be modern man's great rival, but the end goal was much the same.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Academic Platypus

Observations on the State of Christian Education and Suggestions.

I am, in large part, a product of Christian education. For the last few years, I've been giving back to the system at a small private school. My experiences on both sides of the desk have begun to coalesce lately, and so I offer the following as a provisional and tentative sketch of what I've learned.

Christian education, at its best, revives the old ideal of the university; where all the disciplines meet under a common uniting principle to shape students into integrated physical, emotional, and spiritual beings. However, experience, studies, and anecdotal evidence have suggested to me that this ideal is rarely reached. There are several factors in play that seem to me to hinder many Christian schools in their attempts to offer an excellent and truly Christian education:

Problems:

1. Lack of a clear philosophy of Christian education. It seems to me that many churches decide that something is wrong with the state of secular education and therefore set up Christian schools. Well and good. These schools, however, only become shallow and underfunded apes of the state schools apart from a clear understanding at all levels of what a Christian education ought to be. Without an ordering ideal to make a Christian school distinctive in its view of what exactly education is, and how students learn and grow as spiritual beings, all that is produced is a secular school managed by people who happen to be Christians and offer Bible classes along with the promise that the school is "safer" than the local government schools. If the school is well funded, it becomes merely a safe-haven for rich kids. If the school is poorly funded, it becomes merely a safe-haven for less wealthy kids. In each case, the students are quicker than the adults to pick up on what's going on and many become jaded with both Christian education and Christianity itself. There is no coherent idea to inspire them and explain why they are in a Christian school rather than a government school.

2. Over saturation of an area's market for Christian schools. I've counted at least three or four Christian schools in my area and I know for a fact that they are all in competition with each other for a limited number of students. This leads to rivalries between the schools and backbiting that undercuts a Christian school's mission. It is also wasteful from a market standpoint. Yes, competition is good to a point, but aren't all Christian schools of the same denomination/general movement in the same game? This competition often leads to underfunded and under-attended schools that cannot provide a quality education of any stripe to their customers.

3. Lack of funding. I had a colleague who asked: "How can a teacher press his students to strive for excellence when the desks the students are sitting at are falling apart?" Christian schools claim to strive for excellence but often can't pay for it. A Christian school can't build up a highly qualified and united faculty willing to stay long enough to really make an impact on children's lives if they pay them around $30,000 in southern California. Since many Christian schools can't afford to pay their staff even a modest amount, the turnover rate for the faculty remains high. Students need continuity and relationships with their teachers in order to flourish academically. When they have five math teachers in three years, they become jaded and recalcitrant, feeling that the faculty does not care about them. For their part, teachers need to be able to spend several years in the same school, teaching the same classes, in order to develop their teaching abilities to their full height. This is incredibly hard when their classes change year to year depending on loss of faculty and number of students. It is impossible if they are forced to leave after only a year or two because they cannot make a decent wage to care for their families.

In addition to high turnover rate, a lack of funds also means that the faculty is frequently under-qualified, unable to acquire further education without great personal sacrifice, and mostly composed of women who are second income earners with kids who benefit from reduced tuition. The first two are undoubtedly problems. The third is only a problem in that Christian schools are chronically gender imbalanced and the teachers' kids don't contribute a share of resources to the school equal to the slots they fill. Most importantly, kids have a hard time believing in a school they know is a shoddy fourth-rate, and will often extend that judgement to the religion that sanctions it.

Suggestions:

1. Make sure that all staff, faculty, board members, parents, and students are exposed to a strong and coherent philosophy of Christian education. I recommend Cardinal Newman's The Idea of a University, Nancy Pearcey's Total Truth, and C. S. Lewis' The Abolition of Man as a place to start. If anyone can recommend additional readings for the beginner, let me know.

2.Be aware of what other Christian schools are in the area before you start one, and of the cost of establishing a Christian school. Does your church feel the call to get in on Christian education? See what else is out there first. Why hinder the work that fellow Christians are already doing by pulling away needed students, dollars, and faculty from their efforts? If your church does go through with it, make sure that everyone understands that starting a Christian school is significantly different from any of your other ministries. It will take an immense commitment of cash at the outset and at different times during the school's maturation. Also, if your church starts a school and wants administrative control, it needs to be fully committed financially until the school can run itself as a well-grounded academic institution. If the church doesn't have the needed resources, or wishes to allocate them elsewhere, then it needs to get things started and then step aside and allow the school to administer itself. Much trouble is caused when a church wants to provide only limited support, or none, while still requiring the school to be absolutely submissive in policy and procedures to the church. If your church does go in all the way, remember that you still need to work with and listen to the people you hire; if you've hired good people at the outset, trust them to make good decisions and put some faith in their understanding of what's required to do their job.

If you are on a church board that already oversees a Christian school or are a Christian school administrator, consider if your school can really afford to provide high quality education to each of its grade levels. If there is not enough money to properly staff grades 9-12 and provide all the programs and curriculum needed, consider closing the high school and reopening it one grade at a time as finances improve. It's a hard call to make, especially when real people's jobs are in question, but if the result of keeping those grade levels open is to convince kids that Christianity is about justifying third-rate education and fourth-rate facilities, then it just might be worth closing those grades down. Knowing that my job could be downsized at any time, this is the hardest of the suggestions I've put forth, but I think it holds true when a school or grade-level has deteriorated beyond a certain point. What is that point? I'm honestly not sure, but administrators, faculty, students, and parents all seem to know when it has been reached at a particular school.


3. See what God might lead your church to do with those funds instead. Your church might want to take the money that would be used to set up a new school and instead use it to partner with one or more of the Christian schools in the area. Believe me, they can always find a good use for your dollars. If the church board doesn't think it wise to just hand over money, then perhaps they can set up a scholarship fund to help financially burdened families, or a yearly grant to Christian schools that meet certain standards. The church could also agree to help support teachers in Christian schools who are living near or below the poverty line.

Wrapping things up.

These are all just thoughts and they are open to revision and correction. I intend to stick with Christian education and, in light of that, I want to be the best Christian educator I can be, and that means being informed on and developing a deep understanding of the issues that are at the heart of making it a reality.

One final word. Most of this article has centered on questions of finances. I think the most important question we can ask regarding Christian education at this time is "how much do we value it and how much are we willing to pay for it." Knowing the answer to that question as individuals and as the broader Christian community will make the answers to much of the issues raised above clear.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Lewisian Platypus


Lines quoted by Lewis in "Surprised by Joy" from Euripides:

"Oh God, bring me to the sea's end
To the Hesperides, sisters of evening,
Who sing alone in their islands
Where the golden apples grow,
And the Lord of Oceans guards the way
From all who would sail
Into their night-blue harbors —
Let me escape to the rim of the world
Where the tremendous firmament meets
The earth, and Atlas holds the universe
In his palms.
For there, in the palace of Zeus,
Wells of ambrosia pour through the chambers,
While the sacred earth lavishes life
And Time adds his years
Only to heaven's happiness"

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Platypus Reads Part XXV

Odds and ends as summer wraps up.

My big "thinking book" for this summer was "The Closing of the American Mind" by Allan Bloom. Yeah, I'm coming to this one a little late, but I was just a kid in the '80s when it was written. I undertook it as a sort of intellectual archeology, since it influenced people who have influenced me. Even if it's a little out of date, (and when has that ever stopped a Torrey student?) it's still worth the read just to uncover some of the ideas and problems that shaped the way we were taught. Hopefully, I'll be able to continue that archeology by digging into a bit of Strauss later in the year.

In prepping for my American History class, I also undertook to read "1776" by David McCullough. My grandmother sent me the illustrated edition for my birthday. It was a thoroughly enjoyable read and all the reproductions of historical documents were fun to play with and will be useful in the classroom.

Finally, I'm also prepping for a lecture on Gothic literature, and so I've been reading through my "Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe". Poe's easy to underestimate, and I fear that I underestimated him for too long. Yes, he doesn't have a terrible lot to say, but the ways he finds to say it are powerful and engaging, and all the more so since they pass so easily for gloomy, middlebrow fluff. It reminds me a lot of Hellboy in that. Speaking of Hellboy, I finally got out to see "The Golden Army" the other day! It was fun. Nothing life-changing, but just plain fun. If I can gather my thoughts, I may sit down and write a review... We'll see.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Return of "Thus Spoke the Platypus" Part XII

Now on the fortieth day, the great strength of Utnapishtim failed him and his foot stumbled, and Utnapishtim cried out. Then a great wind came from the East and drove a wall of sand between him and his pursuers, and Utnapishtim rose up and ran. A while later, his strength gave way again, and he stumbled in the way, and cried out with a loud voice. Then a great fire came across from the West and burned between him and his pursuers, and Utnapishtim rose up again and ran. When darkness came, his great strength was at its end, and he stumbled to the ground, and let out a great cry. Then a storm came from the North and the springs of the earth were opened and Wheels of Og's chariots, and the hooves of his horses, and the feet of his footmen were snared in the mud. Then Og lost Utnapishtim in the midst of the storm and great was the wrath of Og in that day when he lost Utnapishtim in the heart of the storm.

Then Utnapishtim found a tree and laid himself beneath it to die. And Wisdom spoke to Utnapishtim out of the storm: "Utnapishtim, wisest of men, man of the reed house! Now has Utnapishtim become a dog by the side of the road? Now has Utnapishtim become a dead dog?

And Utnapishtim spoke to the storm: "Now surely Utnapishtim is as a dog by the side of the road, now surely is Utnapishtim as a dead dog, for Og has come, and moved Utnapishtim from his place at the crossroads. How will men learn of Wisdom now? What wind can reach them in their stone houses?" And Utnapishtim put his face in the dust as one who dies.

And the voice of Wisdom answered Utnapishtim from out of the storm: "Indeed Og has come and driven Utnapishtim from his place at the crossroads, but who is Utnapishtim, and who is his father, and of what clan is he that Wisdom should need him? At what school did they study together that Utnapishtim knows all his secret thoughts? Does not the wind blow wherever it pleases? Will it not blow through every crack and chink in their stone houses? Will it not knock their houses down if it so wishes!"

And Utnapishtim had no answer and was silent. Then the voice of Wisdom left him, and Unapishtim lay beneath the tree as a deadman.

In the morning, the storm lifted, and the sun shown down, and life yet stirred in Utnapishtim. And Utnapishtim raised his head and cried out: "Ah! That Wisdom did not slay me, for shall I speak to Wisdom and live?" And he turned his face from the sun and lay down again to die, but Wisdom sent the animals of Utnapishtim to him, his raven and his dove, and they brought food and drink to him so that he ate and drank and was refreshed. So Utnapishtim arose and cut a branch from the tree to shield his face, and set out for his mountain, and each day his animals came to him with found and drink and so refreshed him.

Now this is the song of Utnapishtim that he sang at the rising of the sun between the mountain and the lake:

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.

Thus Sang Utnapishtim



Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Platypus Returns (Yet Again)

Well, we've been back from a wedding in Penn. long enough for the jet lag to start wearing off at least. We were out there for a wedding where I was the best man. The service was held in a beautiful little church that dates all the way back to the Revolution. The graveyard was well worth the trip as well, and it was nice to get a chance to indulge in two of my less-frequent hobbies: church-seeing and graveyard-seeing. The reception following the wedding was held in a manor house. All in all, it was quite a classy affair. Did I mention they used the marriage rite from the 17th century Irish Book of Common Prayer?

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Return of "Thus Spoke the Platypus" Part XI

Thus did Bera, Priest of the City, and Birsha, Priest of the Forest, and Bela, Priest of the Plain, all fail to move Utnapishtim from his place at the crossroads, but each led away a part of the people with them until only a few remained to hear the words of Utnapishtim. Then word came to Og, King of Bashan, that Utnapishtim had come down and taken his stand at the crossroads. So he gathered to himself a new army, horsemen, and footmen, and chariots, and took the road that led from the sea. So Og, King of Bashan, and his army, his horsemen, and his footmen, and his chariots, went up to Utnapishtim. Thirty-nine days they traveled, and on the fortieth they came to the crossroads.

Now Utnapishtim saw the clouds of dust, and perceived that Og was coming up from the sea. Then the people that remained to hear the words of Utnapishtim were filled with great dread, and they all fled so that Utnapishtim was left alone. So Og, King of Bashan, came to Utnapishtim.

And Og boasted before Utnapishtim saying: "Now surely Utnapishtim is as a dog by the side of the road, now surely Utnapishtim is as a dead dog, for none of his followers will stand before this my army."

When he had heard the boast of Og, King of Bashan,Utnapishtim frowned and said: "Have I not laid low an army with the Unnim, the World-Destroying Power, have not I laid low seven armies with the Annim, the Soul-Destroying Power? How is it, then, that Og, King of Bashan, can say to me 'surely Utnapishtim is a dog by the side of the road, surely Utnapishtim is as a dead dog?'"

When Og heard this, he laughed out loud and said: "Utnapishtim will not use the Unnim again, Utnapishtim will throw the Annim into the sea, for never again will he send so many men down to the pit apart from wisdom. So now I will cut off the head of Utnapishtim and feed his body to my dogs, and his wisdom will be no more."

Utnapishtim heard the words of Og and the heart within him was sore tried, for he knew that Og spoke true. Then Utnapishtim girded up his loins and turned and ran before the face of the armies of Og, King of Bashan, his horsemen, and his footmen, and his chariots, and he took the road that led to the waste. Forty days and forty nights he ran before the chariot of Og.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Return of "Thus Spoke the Platypus" Part X

News of how Utnapishtim had received Bera, Priest of the City, and Birsha, Priest of the Forest, spread far and wide and came to the ears of Bela, Priest of the Plains, as he was directing the mowers, and builders, and all the people of the Plain. When Bela heard how Utnapishtim had rejected Bera and Birsha, his wrath was beyond measure, for he said in his heart "will not the fool challenge me too, and take away all that I have worked for, and all that my fathers' fathers have worked for?" So too he girded up his loins and went up to the crossroads. Thirty-nine days he traveled, and on the fortieth he came to Utnapishtim.

When Bela came to the crossroads he heard Utnapishtim addressing the people thus:

"What shall I say to you, oh men of reed houses?"

And the people responded to Utnapishtim: "We do not live in houses of reed but in houses of stone! They are strong and tall, as our forefathers built them!"

But Utnapishtim replied: "Would that you did live in reed houses then, so that you could hear the wind! For once Utnapishtim lived in a reed house and there he heard the voice of Wisdom blowing on the wind and warning him of the Flood. Now Utnapishtim is the wind, and he seeks for the house of reeds where he may blow, but you build your houses out of stone and keep him out! The wind is cold, the wind is unpleasant, but through the wind dose Wisdom speak!"

The words of Utnapishtim confused the people, but they would not leave him so long as each day he spoke some new thing.

All this did Bela, Priest of the Plain, observe, and when he could stand the words of Utnapishtim no longer, he cried out: "Utnapishtim, my foe, my adversary, deceiver of men! What nonsense is this that you teach the people? They will forget their fields, and there will be no more grain, they will forget their building and there will be no more houses. Surely, Utnapishtim is liar and a hater of men!"

The people heard Bela's voice, and they stood back from him in great confusion; a part on his right, and a part on his left.

Utnapishtim bore these harsh words from Bela, Priest of the Plain, and he smiled as he heard them, but when Bela had finished he spoke: "Has Bela come too? Thirty-nine days you have walked, and forty you have travailed to insult me, but you have never walked so far to insult Wisdom! Who is Utnapishtim, and who is his father, and what is his clan that you hate him with such an abiding hatred?"

And Bela answered Utnapishtim: "Utnapishtim is a liar, and his father a deceiver, and his clan's name is the pit. He, I insult, for what is this wisdom he claims to speak for more than a fable? I and my fathers have taught the people how to mow, I and my fathers have taught them how to build. What does Utnapishtim teach them? Birsha knows his place, and Bera serves the builders and mowers of the city, but Utnapishtim draws the people out while their fields go untended and their houses unbuilt."

At these words, Untapishtim laughed: "What a long time Utnapishtim must have kept these people standing here if their grain goes unharvested and their homes become ruins! Does any man need to go to his work? Let him go! But what is this talk of "I and my fathers?" If Bela knew his fathers' teaching better, he would know that they themselves said "we were taught by Wisdom."

When Utnapishtim had said this, Bela came up and struck him on the mouth and spit on him. Then he called out, "friends, do not be troubled any longer, for have I not defeated this man who was troubling you? I could have argued all day, but his bible-babble is nothing, and it would waste our time. Come back to your fields and to your houses, and I will show you new marvels to make them better than they were before!"

Then a great part of the people arose and followed Bela, Priest of the Plain, but a part still remained with Utnapishtim.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Platypus Reads Part XXIV

It's funny, but it's true; during the school year I have to shut half my brain off so that I can teach.

Bare me out on this one. You can't walk into a room full of eighth graders and say: "Modern America can only be understood in terms of Nietzsche's understanding of the creative man, or "over-man," as the maker of values via his will-to-power perversely democratized so that all of us can become value-generators." Well, you can, but they'll just look at you funny and roll their eyes. That's not to say that teaching teenagers doesn't require any real mental effort, quite the opposite, but that it uses certain mental faculties to the limit while demanding that others be temporarily suspended. You have to figure out how to communicate complex information in a way that they can grasp and run with. When you're mentally sparing with them, you still have to keep one hand behind your back. The goal is to help them develop their abilities, not to crush them with your massive brain. The part of my brain devoted to navigating those tricky waters gets worked to exhaustion during the school year. The other half, the half that desperately wants a long jaw with an Oxford trained mind, has to lay dormant.

Summer is when the other half of me gets let out of the basement. Practically, this means that I read about five books at once. The closer to the school year, the more difficult the fair. This summer, I've already long since exhausted my projected reading list, and so I'm having to make up more as I go. Sometimes it feels like my brain is on over-drive.

So what does all this mean? Well, for one thing, it means that my list of posts under the heading of "The Platypus Reads" is growing at an alarming rate (and I'm not posting on all the books I'm reading). Secondly, it means that I understand why teachers get that time off during the summer. Summer is your chance to remember that you're an adult again. It's a time to let out those parts of you that you have to stifle during the year in order to get by. Don't get me wrong, I love teaching, and I care about my students, but it comes at a price. Summer's reminding me of that fact right now.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Platypus Reads Part XXIII




Following from what I have stated in the last post about my read of "Dune," I want to address what I think is a sub-theme that flows out of it. Since the focal character of the drama is the planet Arrakis, the humans in the book are there as fauna and loci of planetary change. Thus one of the primary lenses through which Herbert views them is in how they adapt to life on Arrakis.

In light of this, it is no surprise that the entire first book of the novel "Dune" deals with the attempts of the Atreides family to adapt to life on Arrakis. Because of the predators on Arrakis, the Harkonnens (indeed, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen is fond of referring to himself as a predator), most of them are wiped out. This is to be expected when a new species is introduced to an area; it will either flourish and displace indigenous life forms (ie. the rabbit or the cat when introduced to Australia), or rapidly decline unless some sort of adaptation occurs (ie. colonial Europeans in tropical Africa before the discovery of a malaria prophylactic and cure). Books two and three, however, deal with the few specimens that do survive via adaptation; Paul, Jessica, Alia, Gurney, and (perhaps) Thufir. Their adaptation is so successful that, together with the native Fremen, they are able to devour House Harkonnen in turn, and replace them as the dominant species on Dune. Moreover, the exceeding harshness of the environment of Arrakis shapes the Atreides/Fremen into super-men capable of becoming the dominant species in the galaxy.

The narrative at the human level, on this read, is not one of treachery and vengeance, but of natural selection in action. Along with the life cycle of the Sandworm, the topography of Sheildwall, deep desert, pan, and graben, and discussions of various flora right down the flowers that the dew collectors harvest each morning, it is just one more feature making up the life of the planet Arrakis.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Platypus Reads Part XXII



This post comes at the urging of a friend and a stroke of inspiration prompted by a web comic last weekend.

I wanted to write a series of meditations on Frank Herbert's "Dune" earlier this year, but was prevented by illness from following through. As a further bit of background, my wife and I were reading the book together out-loud at the time. It was my third time through the novel and her first.

Since its appearance, "Dune" has been the poster-book for proponents of transhumanism; the belief that science should be employed to help humanity "transcend" unwanted features of current human existence such as sickness and death. In the sixties, this interpretation was linked with the drug culture so that "Dune" became "all about the spice." The drug angle seems to be losing steam the further we get from the sixties, however, and the new take on the book is heavily influenced by environmentalism, cloning and genetics, the oil crisis, and events in the Middle East.

Certainly, all these themes can be found in the work, but I want to offer a little different spin in interpreting "Dune." The place to start, as a professor at the U of R pointed out to me, is with the title. The book (and those that follow it) all have as their title the name of the planet on which the action takes place. With a good writer, the title of a book generally alerts the reader right off to the core theme(s) or character in the novel. "Jane Eyre" is a book about Jane, "Pride and Prejudice" is about, you guessed it, pride and prejudice. In the case of "Dune"this should point right off to the central character of the work: the planet Arrakis.

I find further evidence, right at the start, that Arrakis is the focal character of the book, from the dedication:

"To the people whose labors go beyond ideas into the realm of "real materials"- to the dry-land ecologists, wherever they may be, in whatever time they work, this effort at prediction is dedicated in humility and admiration."

The great workers toward the future, for Herbert, are not geneticists, or historians, or poets; they are ecologists, those who study the forces that make up a planet. Interestingly enough, this seems to presciently predict Jared Diamond's theory of geographical determinism in "Guns, Germs, and Steel." Again, this moves the focus of the work from any human character or characters and puts it on the title planet, Dune.

The purpose of "Dune" according to my read, then, is not to endorse the quest to master human evolution, but to deemphasize the importance humanity places on itself, and picture humans as just another factor of earth's ecology. All the wars, loves, politics, and religion are just tiny little ripples within the greater narrative of the planet's evolution.

Of course, a lot more evidence is needed to substantiate this claim. However, weblogs are ideally unsuited as a medium for handling 120 page academic essays. My hope is that by posting these thoughts, the reader can begin to intuitively grasp the inherent plausibility of this reading and find motivation to reengage the text along a different axis. Subsequent posts on this topic should be understood in light of this read on the text.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Platypus Reads Part XXI

This one came highly recommended from a friend.

"The High House" follows in the footsteps of George MacDonald's "Phantasties" and "Lilith," and that is the best place to start with this quirky, imaginative, highly literate, work. (Speaking of starts, this also seems to be Stoddard's authorial debut.)

Stoddard is absolutely steeped, and I mean STEEPED, in the works of the Inklings (Tolkien, Lewis, and Williams in particular), their influences (Norse Mythology, Chesterton, MacDonald), and their contemporaries (Burroughs, Dunsany, Lovecraft, Eddison). If you aren't borrowing a copy, be prepared to annotate! However, "The High House" does not come off as simply imitative or a pastiche (though as a new author, their are moments when his allusions are too heavy or descend to the level of strait borrowing). At its best, it stands as a genuine, new contribution to the field; both interpreting the works that influenced it and yet producing a new and enjoyable world all its own.

To sum it up, "The High House" is the sort of book I wish I could write.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy Fourth Platypus

May our little loves grow bigger under the sovereignty of the Love that moves the sun and other stars.

No king but King Jesus!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Platypus Plunder

Nothing makes for a morning of enjoyment like finding out that an elderly historian is liquidating part of his library and that you get first pick. The only thing that could make it better is if he wasn't an Americanist... Oh well. I still got to bring home some treasures including: "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich," "The Closing of the American Mind," and Winston Churchill's "A History of the English Speaking Peoples." All for free, of course. And just in time too; my summer reading is going faster than I planned.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Platypus Reads Part XX

The Marble Faun serves as my introduction to the writings of Nathanael Hawthorne. It's more of a back door in, as a move in the middle of my junior year of high school prevented me from having the normal entre of The Scarlet Letter. I did get a chance to read his friend, Herman Melville's great work, Moby Dick, which still ranks pretty high on my list of all-time favorites. At any rate, it was about time that I sat down with a work by one of New England's great writers.

The Marble Faun is often seen as one of Hawthorne's weaker works because of the heavy element of travel-log in the story. I have to say that made it particularly enjoyable to me as I could sit down every hundred pages or so and google-image every place, monument, painting, and sculpture that he mentions. It added a welcome layer of thick description, and put him instantly in dialog with so many great works, that I felt that I received more than the usual level of enrichment. Besides, I've traveled a little bit, so the travel-log doesn't seem so quaint or artificial to me. I've actually lived a bit of that lifestyle in Oxford and Africa (yes, yes, great white hunter, colonialist, neo-orientalist, adventurer prig and all that rot...).

On a deeper level, I was intrigued by Hawthorne's handling of the Fall of Man. I felt as if Hawthorne is pushing hard for a Felix Culpa, but didn't want to openly espouse heresy. He dances upon the point in such a way, however, that I'm not sure whether he is merely wrestling with idea or committed to it. The ambiguity seems intentional.

The thing I appreciate most about Hawthorne's writing in the novel is the way that he constantly uses imagery and symbolism to draw attention to the spiritual realities behind the overt action of the plot. Towers, for instance, seem to symbolize the soul's assent toward God. Donatello's mythic ancestry reminds us that he serves as a cypher for man in the state of nature. Rome, as the image of Civilization, seems to take on a life of its own; now horribly corrupt, now sublime beyond the ability of words to capture. In spite of this, the novel is not allegorical and, better yet, escapes the feel of allegory while one is in the midst of reading it. To understand it, one must be immersed in enjoying the work; the minute you step away to examine it, the inner meaning slips away.

So there you have it, The Marble Faun. If you're already a fan of Hawthorne, I recommend that you renew the acquaintance with his work by picking up a copy of this enjoyable romance. If you've never read him, don't be shy of starting here! There's time enough for The Scarlet Letter and all those other books you were supposed to have read in high school.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Why Platypi Don't Have Teeth

I've been dealing with various tooth related problems that have been keeping me in pain since the beginning of May. The dentist has been working away on them (he's been gracious enough not to charge for the lion's share of the work) but other problems I have (like grinding) keep interfering with the work, and the teeth are having a hard time accepting all the fillings, re-packings, grindings, bite-adjustments, and what-not. To sum it up, I'm in a lot of pain, and I don't know when, how, and at what cost this will all end (my dentist, at least, is pretty optimistic). If you would pray for healing, that would be great.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Platypus Reads Part XIX

In honor of Michael Ward's groundbreaking new book, "Planet Narnia," I've decided to post my own seven heavens of summer reading. Each book is selected to follow the virtues of a particular planet in Medieval cosmology.

Jupiter: The Trojan War by Barrey Strauss

This is a master-work that blurs the line between history and novel in the vein of Jonnathan Spence's Treason by the Book. Strauss combines the evidence from latest dig at Hisarlik with Homer's text, and a strong, swift human sympathy to create a narrative overflowing with regal tragedy. The strong narrative structure makes for a very pleasant summer read that won't bog you down in a mire of scholarly prose.

Mars: A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice-Burrows

In keeping with its title, this book overflows with Martial virtues. It's also a quick read, and a nice, refreshing break from today's 700+ page sci-fi behemoths.

Sol: The Book of Lost Tales Volume II by J.R.R. Tolkien

For those interested in achieving a state of scholarly heaven this summer, I can't stress the value of reading the "Lost Tales" enough. They are a Tolkien scholar's dream come true, allowing the reader a peak into Tolkien's world at the instant of its creation.

Luna: The Marble Faun by Nathaniel Hawthorne

As proper to a descendant of the Puritans, this book is about sin. Set among the decaying remains of ancient Rome and the decadence of nineteenth century Italy, Hawthorne explores the interplay between the immutable stone archetypes of his setting and the all too mutable human hearts of his characters in a reenactment of the Fall of Man.

Mercury: The Odyssey by Homer

The original "return of the king." Homer presents us with an intricately woven tale of a lost heart seeking its true home.

Venus: Serenity: Those Left Behind by Joss Weadon et al.

Those who have seen Firefly know that Joss Weadon's space opera is pretty far from your standard sci-fi shoot-em-up. At the core of the work are the bonds of love that develop between the members of the "created family" that make Serenity their home. Of course, it's got plenty of romance too.

Saturn: Hellboy by Mike Mignola et al.

You know that you've found the book of catastrophes when the main character's destiny is to end the world with his big red right hand. However, it also possesses that other most Saturnine characteristic of being one of the few comic books that makes me really sit down and think.

How about you? What are your "seven heavens" of summer reading?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Platypus Reads Part XVIII


I always tell my kids that the moral of every Russian fairy tale is "don't ask the Baba Yaga for favors!!!!". Evidently, however, if someone else sends you to ask the Baba Yaga a favor on their behalf, you just might get something really nifty; like a glowing skull on a stick that vaporizes your enemies. Of course it helps if you have a magic doll that can do just about anything if you feed it.

I definitely see this one coming up in future lectures...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Platypus Reads Part XVII

I've finished "A Princess of Mars," and it turns out to have followed through with my original expectations. Overall, I liked the book. It was a fast-paced, short read with just enough depth to keep you interested and a pacing that keeps you from pausing to break out and laugh at the absurdity of the whole thing. Classic pulp to the core. The heroes are larger than life, the villains are just plain villainous, and the ending sets up for plenty of sequels.

My only qualm: since when is it o.k. to sack a city using ravening hordes of brutal barbarians just to get the woman you love out of trouble? In keeping with the Martian setting, exulting in physical prowess, and martial skill are at the core of this work. This would leave us in a Nietzachean universe were it not for the countervailing emphasis placed on love, pity (Zarathustra's great sin!), and friendship.

Moving on down my list of summer reading, Hellboy Volume 8: "Darkness Calls" came in yesterday. I've had time for a strait read-through, and then some skimming of key passages to help clarify my thoughts (I use this method for all serious comic book reading). This volume was certainly, and appropriate to where the overall story is at this point, the most intense. The choice of handing over the actual art-work and layout to Duncan Fegredo plays a large part in this. Fegredo's style is much more direct than Mignola's. Fegredo keeps thrusting us into the action with his panels where Mignola would defer or come at a situation obliquely. Still, their styles are similar enough, overall, to avoid jarring the reader out of the world (a weakness in my opinion with some of the stories in Volume 7: "The Troll Witch and Others").

Without giving away the plot, Yolen's assessment on the jacket seems correct: this volume sets us up for the eucatastrophe. My big question is "how will this play out?" This question is wrapped up with the very fabric of the world Mike Mignola has created. If we are in a fundamentally "Christian" world, then good will definitively triumph over evil. If we are in a dualistic world, then somehow the devil will get his/her? due. This all hinges on whether Hecate is right in the Epilogue. Typical of Mignola's work, the bad-guys often seem to be the closest to the truth, but they then draw the wrong conclusions from it. We'll see if this is actually the case.*

*Caveat: Mignola is express in stating that "Hellboy" is meant to take place in its own sub-created universe and is not meant to represent cosmological realities in our own.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Platypus Reads Part XVI

Summer is here, and with it my return to pulp! Hellboy Volume 8: "Darkness Calls" has just shipped, and while I'm waiting I've decided to delve into one of those ubiquitous ur-sources: Edgar Rice-Burroughs' "A Princess of Mars." The book is an odd (but appreciated) mixture of fantasy and sci-fi that reminds me very much of Lewis' "Out of the Silent Planet." It's also much lower (so far) on the whole quotient of "metal-clad-space-bikini-babes" than much of the later jacket covers seem to suggest (Though I think it's implied that our heroes spend most of the first chapters in a sort of heroic grecco-roman nudity). Maybe I just don't understand what good space-pulp is all about... It does have giant green men though! Anyhow, I'm only a third of the way through the book, so a full review will have to wait. It's well done so far, and holds my interest much better than more recent novels in the genre seem to.

Also on the list for the summer:

"Planet Narnia" by Michael Ward
"The Marble Faun" by Nathanael Hawthorne
"1776" by David McCullough
"The Book of Lost Tales Volume II" by J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Christopher Tolkien
"Dorothy L. Sayers" by Ralph E. Hone (the late husband of a very generous woman at our church)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Platypus and the Riddle of Graduation


What do you say to all of your adoring followers? -just hope no one cuts my head off...

Monday, June 09, 2008

The Platypus Checks Out


What do you mean I have to recheck, sort, and file all of my students' textbooks A.S.A.P.!?!?!!!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Platypus Reads Part XV



What do Thucydides and Xenophon have to tell us about democracy (it being an election year and all):

1. Democracy is not the opposite of tyranny. It is merely the tyranny of the majority.

2. Building off of #1, democracy often ends up being the rule of whatever elite can most effectively sway the majority. This leads to de facto aristocracies (ie. Bushes, Kennedys, Clintons).

3. Democracies tend to function by fomenting class envy and other forms of "us vs. them" thinking.

4. Building off of points 2 and 3, democracies tend to be guided by the passions of the many, and are thus highly inconsistent in their policy-making.

5. Following from point 4, democracies are much more likely to go to war than more conservative forms of government.

6. Again, following point 4, democracies most adept at short, concerted bursts of energy, and break down when it comes to the long haul.

None of this is to say that Thucydides and Xenophon are right in their observations. One must also remember that the democracy at Athens functioned differently from America's representative-democracy. Still, it seems worth considering.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Platypus Finale


One day of finals left...

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Narnia Platypus


So, I got to see "Prince Caspian" for my birthday. It was as good as I had hoped, and I think that I might (heresy of heresies!) have liked it better than the book. One way or another, it was a thoroughly solid adaptation. The clincher is that the movie feels like Narnia all the way through. Though I greatly appreciate Peter Jackson's adaptation of "The Lord of the Rings," I can't say it did as much. I'm going to put that firmly on Gresham's heavy involvement with the film. If you get a chance, I'd recommend seeing the film and then reading Gresham's biography of Lewis "Jack's Life" just so that you can see the points where Lewis "enters" the film via Gresham.

As a final note, "The Voyage of the Dawntreader" is in pre-pro, and this second strong showing gives me great hope for the series.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Creative Platypus


So I've decided to try my hand at creating a play this summer. The working title is "The Conqueror Worm." It's got a little bit of Poe, a little bit of Hellboy, and a little bit of Hawthorne. We'll see if it holds up when finger meets keyboard or if it collapses under the weight of its own absurdity.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Platypus Reads Part XIV


My wife and I are taking a tour through the Odyssey as I push on to Xenophon's Education of Cyrus in my personal reading. Reading three Greek works at once with three different translators allows you to pick up on the peculiar cadence of Greek speech. It also begins to push you into the Greek mindset: love of well-turned phrases, logical argument, and extended discourse upon a multitude of topics, just to name some of the tendencies I've noticed. The Greeks come down to us mainly through their writing, but these qualities remind us that Greece was primarily an oral culture with writing serving as an aid to memory. The fact that their foundational works, The Iliad and The Odyssey, are oral poems bears witness to this. Greek books were made to be read aloud, and there is a certain pleasure that comes from experiencing them that way. What may seem dull or tedious on the page, comes to life when read out-loud with voice and intonation. Give it a try. Or as Fitzgerald puts it: "Lift the great song again!"

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Embattled Platypus


Must be getting close to the end of the school year....

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Platypus Reads Part XIII



A Torrey tutor once asked me if I thought we should read Xenophon in Torrey. It's a hard question. Xenophon is what we might label a "minor genius." He was on the outskirts of the Socratic circle in Athens, and may have had connections to Thucydides as well. His works, numerous by ancient standards, fail to rise to the level of Plato and Thucydides but have still enjoyed a remarkable popularity down through the ages. So why read Xenophon? Since I'm working my way through his "Hellenica" right now, I thought I'd try and tackle that question.

1. He's our only fully extant source for the period beginning at the end of the Peloponnesian War and ending with the hegemony of Philip of Macedon. As such, he is also the lone chronicler of the Spartan Empire.

2. He's one of our few sources for the Achamaenid Persian Empire. The other two major sources are the Bible and Herodotus.

3. He shows us what an average Greek trying to live according to Socrates' teachings actually looked like.

4. He knows more and presents more of the inner-workings of Sparta than any other Ancient writer.

5. As a memoirist, he has an attractive and engaging style and he helped pioneer the genre.

6. If he's dumber than Socrates, he's still smarter than you.

Those are just my preliminary thoughts. If something further attracts my attention, I'll post it here.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Platypus Returns

We're back from Washington and trying to get over the jet lag. My back and stomach survived the trip, though I'm still in a fair amount of on and off pain. Here's one of my favorite pictures from the trip. The image is of the capital rotunda, and the fresco is called the "Apotheosis of George Washington."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Platypus Travels

Hi all,

my wife and I will be back East next week for my student's senior trip. They visit the Capitol, Gettysburg, Philadelphia, and New York. We're going with the same agency we went with last time, and I was really impressed with last year's trip. This should be another great experience. Please keep us in your prayers for safe travels and also that my health problems (bad back, stomach) would not get in the way of the trip.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Platypus Maladies Part IV

The doctor says that I'm healing up on schedule, and that he doesn't see any reason to resort to harsher treatments. Evidently, the condition I have never fully heals, but as the damage done to my chest heals, the stomach stuff should become more manageable. Hopefully that's the last word on it.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Platypus Maladies Part III

I go in to the doctors on Thursday at 3:00 this week. I have some symptoms that they're worried about, though they can't say what kind of tests they want to run (if any) until they've had a look at me. Until then, I'm on an all liquid diet. Please pray:

1. for healing.
2. for wisdom for the doctors to correctly diagnose and treat my illness.
3. that any tests or treatment would be easy, quick, and as painless as possible.
4. for my family and community that have been stressing and suffering with me through this.
5. for grace for me not to make extra trouble for my family and community through either frustration or short-temperedmness.

Friday, February 29, 2008

The Platypus Lectures

Hi all,

this is just a note to let you know that I will be lecturing on C.S. Lewis' "Till We Have Faces," at BIOLA University on the evening of March 6th. The lecture should be in Sutherland at 8pm. All are welcome!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Platypus Maladies Part II

Finally starting to get better this week. We'll see how it continues to go. Thank you all for your prayers.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

J. S. Platypus


J.S. Bach's "Sheep May Safely Graze".

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Platypus Paints (Someday...)

Three years ago, two friends of mine decided that I needed to expand my hobby interests. For years, I've collected and painted miniatures for relaxation and as a way of beatifying my office space. I collected them for the craft, and without much concern for the games in which they were meant to be used as pieces. My two friends, however, thought that my interests stopped just short of some real fun. They thus decided not to rest until, via birthday and Christmas presents, I had a entire playable army of my own. This Christmas, they've officially done it. I am now the proud owner of a 2,000 point High Elf army. So a word of thanks to the guys who "presented" me into the world of table-top war-gaming. Next time you're in town, we'll have a go at it. Of course the best thing about having a 2,000 point army? More models to paint! ;-) At least as soon as I heal up enough to do a little painting... :-P

*The Picture is taken from the "Warhammer: High Elves" rule book.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Platypus Reads Part XII




Well, events of the last month have derailed much of my proposed blogging. Thoughts on Dune have gotten overwhelmed by my current reading of The Half-Blood Prince (A day late and a dollar short, but I'm almost done with the series). Still, I may attempt to restart that thread at a latter date.

With N.T. Wright in the bag, the new theological work is Bishop Ryle's book on holiness. We're reading through it for faculty devotions. I've wanted to dig into Ryle for a while, so now I get my chance.

I've also finished the first edition printing of The Book of Lost Tales I that my in-laws were nice enough to get me for Christmas (The picture above is J.R.R. Tolkien's painting of Taniquetil). I recommend it for lovers of The Silmarillion and those who have a keen interest in artistic composition. If you're in the mood for more of The Lord of the Rings it comes off as fragmented and frusterating (That was my impression when I first picked it up many years ago). You can also look at it as "a different version" or "an earlier telling" of the major events of The Silmarillion (which is essentially what it is: the earliest drafts of Tolkien's legendarium). All in all, I enjoyed the read and look forward to snagging a copy of volume II. I highly recomend volume III, The Lays of Beleriand, as well as the recently released Children of Hurin.

Well that's all for now. I'm off to run errands, but remember: "the Platypus speaks Truth!"

Friday, February 01, 2008

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Platypus Maladies

Well folks, it looks like I've got something weird again. Some of you may remember the tale of the sixth-month long ear infection and its final eradication? Well this time it's a hiatal hernia. In layman's terms, that means that a part of my stomach has lurched up through my diaphragm causing all kinds of discomfort. The methods of treating it are also agravating some of my other wonderful little conditions ensuring that I'm kept continual discomfort. Four different doctors have looked at my case and here's their prognosis:



1. This is fairly common.
2. It's very rare that it has to be fixed with surgery.
3. They think they can fix mine with drugs and exercise.
4. If I do end up needing surgery, it will be major.

Right now, my stomach's a bother, but the real trouble is that the things I need to do to fix it put a lot of pressure on my bad back which has voiced its displeasure by keeping me in near constant pain for the past two weeks. Combine that with finals and a distinct desire not to use up any more sick days in case they need to switch me to a harsher course of drugs in the next few months, and that keeps life pretty miserable. Oh well, me and the Platypus have faced weird things like this before...