Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Williams (and Beowulf): Whiteboard Platypus

Pictures detail "The Headless Emperor" from Charles Williams The Kingdom of the Summer Stars and the lair of Grendel's Mother from Beowulf.  Copyright 2011 James R. Harrington.  All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Play: Strange Platypus(es)

Setting: A Higher Plane of Noetic Consciousness

John Piper, Pope Benedict XVI, and the Ecumenical Patriarch stand/hover/exist before three ornately carved podiums.

Enter Simon Peter with Fanfare and angels attendant bearing his keys.

Simon Peter: I am come now even from the Eternal Presence here to dispose a matter of great import.  Know you that in the Highest Heaven it is decreed that the Lady who has been twice wounded shall now be made most whole.  Therefore, gird yourself most manfully to make answer to the question I will now present, for upon your reply does rest the state of Christendom entire.  For be it known that whosoever of you givest that reply which in my Master's sight is most seemly and most true shall even so win for his party the keys wherewith all authority to loose and bind resides.

Benedict XVI: Most gracious Apostle and primary holder of that see in which now by Grace Divine I sit, we are most eager and most obedient to accept thy divine inquisition.

Ecumenical Patriarch: Aye, 'tis so.

John Piper: 'Tis so.

Simon Peter: Thy three-fold reply, yet one, doth agree most behoovingly with my charge.  Therefore, make your reply with such holy alacrity as is fitting to the divine query: "What is to be done with N.T. Wright?"

Benedict XVI: We must treat him with all charity as we would be treated.

John Piper: We must refute him in all love.

Ecumenical Patriarch: I'm sorry, who the heck is N.T. Wright?

N.T. Wright: (entering stage right) Grant him tenure!

Simon Peter: Right Tom.  Take the keys and off you go.

Exeunt Omnis

About Hell: Strange Platypus(es)

For with my own eyes I saw the Sibyl hanging in a bottle, and when the young boys asked her, 'Sibyl, what do you want?', she replied, 'I want to die' .

We went to a lecture this weekend on Annihilationism given by Edward Fudge.  Briefly stated, Annihilationism is the idea that souls in Hell are eventually destroyed and cease to exist.  Though Fudge cast his claims purely in the light of truth and falsity, I couldn't help getting the impression that Annihilationism is put forward as a sort of "nice" alternative to the endless conscious torment envisioned by the Traditional Doctrine of Hell.  Of course this begs the question of whether existence is a great enough good to be worth retaining in spite of any pain.  I have heard proponents of the Traditional Doctrine of Hell assert that it is "nicer" than Annihilationism because at least it allows the damned the good of existence.  There are other alternatives, however.  George MacDonald was influential in propagating a modified form of Maurice's Universalism in which Hell is temporary and primarily purgative.  This seems like a much "nicer" view than either Annihliationism or the Traditional Doctrine of Hell because in the end everyone will be saved.  However, after seeing the torture and violation of Free Will that MacDonald's view entails as he imagines it in his last novel, "Lilith," the purgative view of Hell seems downright monstrous.  It turns God into a cosmic torturer (for our good, of course).  If we find that unsavoury, we could posit that all souls go to Heaven without any stop-overs.  This might seem to be that than which no nicer can be thought until we imagine Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Sadam Hussein, or any of the other great tyrants of the past century entering immediately into eternal bliss.  It seems to make a mockery of any sense of ultimate justice.  Finally, we could scrap all of this Christian theology and claim that when we die that's it (whether that means the death of the soul or the mere death of a particular personality associated with the soul before it is reincarnated), but denying anyone a chance for Heaven seems the "meanest" view of all.

So what are we left with?  Well, perhaps we have to admit with Ecclesiastes and Homer that reality simply isn't "nice."  Fudge, with a sudden flair of Fundamentalism, was right in asserting at the beginning of his talk that the question isn't "What is nice?" but "What is True?" (I am paraphrasing here).  As Ajax exclaims at the moment when Zeus turns against the Achaeans "let the light shine on us and then let us die."  Reality is more like a war zone than a tea party (though it may be much more like something else when compared with a war zone) and there is something admirable in saying "well let's know the worst and then face it head on."  At any rate, it seems a whole lot more productive than quibbling about what's "nice."    

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Back to the Books:The Platypus Reads Part CXXX

Now that school's started, it's back to serious reading.  I've got a couple of books on Art History and culture going as well as "The War That Killed Achilles" by Caroline Alexander.  In addition, I've also just finished "The Spartacus War" by Barry Strauss (always a favorite).  There's still a little time for fun, however, and that's meant re-reading the Harry Potter series with the wife and "Leaf by Niggle" by J.R.R. Tolkien.  Right now, that makes my head hurt, but once things settle down a little I'll have to organize my thoughts and let you know what I'm thinking.  Meanwhile, the Platypus is sensing the return of all things pumpkin...

Sunday, September 04, 2011

More About Howl my Moving Castle Lost its Legs:The Platypus Reads part CXXIX

I started blogging about Diana Wynne Jones' "Howl's Moving Castle" while we were still only half way through.  Having finished the book I am pleased to say that my enthusiasm for it remains unabated.  True, there is a considerable amount of divergence with Studio Ghibli's adaptation, but that only means that some aspects of the ending, and several extra layers of plot remain unspoiled for the reader.  Both the book and the movie are strong enough works of art in their own right that they each can be enjoyed without detriment to the other. It should also be emphasized, however, that while there are places where the two works diverge, they still share many points in common.  The movie can be seen more as a simplification of the book than a departure from it.  Pick up the novel yourself and see what you think!

Saturday, September 03, 2011

2011 Seven Heavens of Summer Reading: The Platypus Reads Part CXXVIII

September is here and Summer has ended (even if it doesn't feel that way outside) and it's time for the 2011 Summer Reading Awards, or as I like to call them: "The Seven Heavens of Summer Reading."  The awards were established in honor of Michael Ward's "Planet Narnia," in which he claims that the seven books of The Chronicles of Narnia are ordered around the seven planets of medieval cosmology.  In that spirit, each award is given to honor an excellent book whose content is in keeping with the attributes of one of the "seven heavens."  With that bit of background, let's cut to this year's awards.

Moon: "Howl's Moving Castle" by Diana Wynne Jones  For the sphere of madness, flux, and change, there could be no better match than this story of magical transformations, mistaken identities, and mad Welshmen.

Mercury: "The Four Quartets" by T.S. Eliot  In the matter of manipulating language, T.S. Eliot's Nobel prize winning poems stand alone.

Venus: "Brideshead Revisited" by Evelyn Waugh  In the matters of Venus Infernal, Waugh is a knowing expert, but he also reminds us that when all's said and done real creative power cannot come from ourselves but only from our Creator.

Sun: "On Fairy Stories" by J.R.R. Tolkien  Though perhaps his bent was more Saturnine, J.R.R. Tolkien will always be welcome in the heaven of scholars (though I'm sure he has his eye on Mercury).  This essay was a ground-breaker in the field and remains the unchallenged master down to the present day.

Mars: "The Guns of August" by Barbara Tuchman  In the matter of recording the ringing strokes that opened the Great War, Mrs. Tuchman reigns supreme.

Jupiter: "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" by J.K. Rowling  For restoring a sense of wonder, joy, majesty, and the pleasures of the feast to children's literature, Ms. Rowling has earned the sphere of Jove.

Saturn: "Gilead" by Marilynne Robinson  There are no things certain upon Middle Earth save death and taxes.  In the matter of facing this reality head on, Robinson's story of a minister chronicling his own decline takes the prize.

Runners Up:

"World War I" by John Keegan
"The Graveyard Book" by Niel Gaimon
"Traveling Heroes in the Epic Age of Homer" by Robin Lane Fox
"Taliessin Through Logres" by Charles Williams
"At the Back of the North Wind" by George MacDonald

That's it for this year.  In the meantime, what are your "Seven Heavens of Summer Reading?"