Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Return to Middle Earth: The Platypus Reads Part LXXVII

My wife and I are drawing toward the close of our second trek through "The Lord of the Rings" together.  As with all great works, returning to Tolkien's masterpiece rewards the reader with fresh insights.  Here are a few things that have stood out to me this time:

1. Gimli the Patriot  The defining aspect of Gimli Gloin's son is that he is a patriot.  A new generation of dwarves has shown up on the scene in Middle Earth since "The Hobbit"; a generation who grew up after the successful reconquest of Erebor and the resounding defeat of the goblins at the Battle of Five Armies.  Gimli stands as a type for this new generation in his fierce dwarven pride and generally more optimistic outlook on life.  Thorin and co. pass right by Moria without a second glance, having experience a Pyrrhic victory in the Dimril Dale.  For Gimli, the whole journey from Caradhras to Mirrormere is a sacred pilgrimage.  His song of Khazad-Dum is more than just an elegy, it is a nationalistic hymn.  If you need a little help seeing it that way, listen to the performance of the piece by The Tolkien Ensemble.

2. Sauron's Body  Sauron's body is diffused across Middle Earth in a dark parody of the Church.  Think about it.  Sauron is never seen in bodily form in the work.  He manifests himself through his servants.  Sauron has an eye in Barad-Dur.  His mouth speaks with Aragorn at the Black Gate.  There are only nine fingers on the black hand, and nine Ring-Wraiths that do its will.  Sauron attempts to make his his nine pseudo-fingers into a full ten with the corruption of Saruman, who Gandalf calls "a finger of the claw of Mordor."  This spiritual body is bound together with the power of the Ring, which sometimes seems a second eye of Sauron, sometimes a wheel of dark Pentacostal power.

3. I am Lancelot; Lancelot as he Should Have Been  Others have drawn comparison between King Arthur and Aragorn (though I think the comparison is more fitting in the case of Frodo).  Read over the passages that deal with Aragorn and Eowyn and then read Tennyson's "Lancelot and Elaine."  Lancelot is the perfect knight, worn out in acts of service, but his problem is that his will is weak.  Aragorn is powerful, humble, and flawlessly courteous, but his will is so powerful that he can wrench the Palantir from Sauron and leads the Grey Company through the Paths of the Dead.  Lancelot's weakness of will is why he can never be king and why he ought to have married Elaine.  Aragorn's strength of will makes him fit to be king and the reason he is able to marry Arwen.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Seven Heavens of Summer Reading III: The Platypus Reads Part LXXVI

September is just around the corner and that means that Summer is nearly at an end.  On that note, it's time to announce this year's winners for "The Seven Heavens of Summer Reading."

Moon: Lilith by George MacDonald  Constancy and inconstancy form a central motif in this weird tale turned Universalist allegory.  As a symbol of this stand the various moons that govern the nightly changes of MacDonald's imaginary world.

Venus: She by H. Rider Haggard  The colonial administrator turned author brings us a vivid picture of Venus Infernal in this seminal work of adventure pulp.

Mars: Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein  One of the great soldier's novelists since Kipling, Heinlein easily captures the slot devoted to the god of war.  On the bounce!

Mercury: From Alpha to Omega by Anne H. Groten  I tried to teach myself Greek this summer.  Not the best thing to try during a major move.  Still, what better book could there be for this summer's language award?

Sun: Education For Human Flourishing by Paul Spears and Steven Loomis  For the heaven of scholars, only one book this Summer will do.  If you are an educator, read this book.  ... and that's all I'll say pending an opportunity for a fuller review.

Jupiter: Hellboy Volume 9: The Wild Hunt by Mike Mignola  This is hands down the best Hellboy comic to date.  Just when you think you know where Mignola might be going with things he completely "blows your mind."  Oops!  Was that a spoiler?  I'll say no more then.

Saturn: At The Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft.  Lovecraft is all about endings and doom.  Ok, there are a few other things he's on about too; mainly Southern New England.  Still, cosmic horror at the South Pole?  Could there be a more Saturnine work?

Well, there you have it folks.  Hopefully, you had some time for your own fun and informative reading list this Summer.  Right now, it's back to the salt mines for me.  See you on the flip side!  And remember, reading is always good for you.  Unless it's the Necronomicon.  Then it's bad.  ...very, very bad.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

All Damned, All Saved:The Platypus Reads Part LXXV

After "The Summer of Lovecraft," I decided to scrub my brain with a little George MacDonald.  I chose "Lilith," since it seemed to complement all the weird literature from this summer's reading.  As it turns out, this was an apt choice since H.P. Lovecraft recommended it (particularly the original draft) as an excellent example of the British incarnation of the "weird tale."  After re-reading "Lilith," I find the fact that Lovecraft recommends the book distinctly odd.  After all, can there be two cosmic visions farther apart than Lovecraft's "be eaten first" and MacDonald's "even Lilith shall be saved"?  Of course, the features of the book that were most important to MacDonald the pastor are probably not the features that appealed most to Lovecraft the agnostic/atheist.  Still, it's an interesting link.

Steampunk Platypus Part V

It's done.  It took fifteen years, but it's done.  I have finally finished Final Fantasy III.  Not exactly big news, but there you have it.  As I've been working my way through this SNES classic, I've tried to put down my thoughts about why this video game has done so well over the years.  After finishing FFIII, I have some final thoughts to share.

Kefka, the villain of the story, reminds me of nothing so much as Heath Ledger's Joker.  He is the clown who gets the "joke" of modernity: the world is utterly meaningless, yet humans run around acting as if there's some point to life.  Infused with the god-like power of magic (an obvious analog for technology in the game) Kefka seeks to share the joke with the rest of humanity by slowly destroying the world.  Against this assault of nihilistic fury, the protagonists find strength to resist in the community that they have created.  Together, they challenge Kefka's nihilistic project by asserting that they have created their own reasons for living.  The two points of view are, of course, irreconcilable and an all-mighty knock-down-drag-out ensues with all twelve principle characters taking on Kefka as Lucifer on a lovecraftianly-blasphemous multi-story throne complete with an organ fugue.

You couldn't ask for a more gen x/mosaic storyline.  It's all here; nihilism, angst, created community, radical authenticity, and existentialism.  Final Fantasy III is the perfect mass-market post-modern icon.  That's ultimately why it keeps selling.