Sunday, January 24, 2016

Simon Magus in the Mirror: The Platypus Reads Part CCXC

I recently finished Grevel Lindop's landmark biography of Charles Williams, Charles Williams: The Third Inkling. It's one of the those books that can only be written when enough people have died. If that doesn't pique your interest, we can go on to "did you knows". Did you know that actor Christopher Lee met and corresponded with Williams during World War II? Did you know that Charles Williams was mainly responsible for the books picked to form the Oxford World Classics series, thus shaping the literary tastes of students across the anglo-phonic world? Did you know that the line "at the still point of the turning world" from the Four Quartets is a reference to Charles' Williams' The Greater Trumps? Did you know that Charles Williams played a major role in promoting the poetic works of Gerard Manley Hopkins? If not, don't be surprised. Williams himself lived with the fear that he would always be a mere footnote to his friends and associated greatness. According to Lindop's interpretation, that fear drove Williams throughout his adult life until he became two persons, the wise, mystic sage represented by Peter Stanhope in Descent Into Hell and the egotistical deviant Wentworth in the same novel. Lindop's chronicle of this bifurcation is one of the sad and revolting stories in 20th Century Christendom. Of course, he being dead and having famous friends, it's easy to want to give Charles Williams a pass. He was an influential GENIUS after all. The real challenge I walked away with after reading Charles Williams: The Third Inkling was to examine the way that contemporary Christians give a pass to all sorts of un-Christian behavior in the name of supporting those with "genius" (see Yoder) or the right connections (see Gothard or Wilson). Williams is dead, but the challenge of dealing with men like him in the churches is all too alive and well. As with Yoder, there also remains the role of assessing the work of Charles Williams in so far as it can be divorced from the evils of the man. How to begin going about that, I don't know, but in his treatment of his subject, Grevel Lindop may show us a way forward. Want to see how he does it? Take up and read!

N.B.- John Mark Reynolds is running an excellent series on detecting and expelling charlatans and grifters at his blog Eidos. For more on Charles Williams and his relationship with the Inklings, see The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings by Philip and Carol Zalenski.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Arkham Platypus (Cont.)

Oh no! After too many games of Arkham Horror, Crochet Cthulhu appeared crushing everything in sight beneath his colossal tread. Before he could call to the Outer Gods whole dwell in the darkness between the stars with the help of his Evil Mayo, our investigators rallied to the cause. Assisted by the noble Platypus, they were able to force the Abomination back through the gate and seal it with the Elder Sign.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Arkham Platypus: Table Top Gaming

My wife and I picked up Fantasy Flight's Cthulhu Mythos game, Arkham Horror, over the break. We've been playing Eldritch Horror and Elder Sign: Omens for about a year now and we were eager to see the legendary game that started it all.

In some ways, Arkham Horror feels like a less refined version of Eldrich Horror. There is less flavor text and the game mechanics are less stream-lined. After playing through two and a half games, however, I see the attraction. Arkham Horror is more flexible and more focused than Eldrich Horror. With the setting limited to a single town rather than the whole earth, the art and tone of the game are more focused. The less stream-lined mechanics also allow for a greater amount of control over the investigators (player characters), and thus a more intense game.

And the game is much more intense than either Eldrich Horror or Elder Signs: Omens. Monster movement each turn creates all kinds of problems for the investigators. The frequency with which gates open up keeps you frantically rushing across the board and makes it difficult to take advantage of the locals and resources that would really make a difference. Should the Ancient One awaken, the the fight is stiff (we took down Yig with the loss of 1 out of 4 investigators just in the nick of time). All of this creates the sense of battling against hopeless odds that is the essence of so much of Lovecraft's fiction.

Speaking of H.P. Lovecraft, Arkham Horror has a much more gender diverse cast than old H.P. ever allowed. The box game doesn't have the racial diversity of Eldritch Horror, but it does seem as though Fantasy Flight Games is aware of the problem and is seeking to greater diversity in each new game that pops up. The age and economic diversity of the investigators is also appreciated by this aging member of the middle-middle class. This is a welcome correction of the most serious defects of Lovecraft's works (racism, exclusion of women, and a championing of the hegemony of the white, anglo, upper-class male -though he does a great job of being age inclusive).

Finally, I have to tip my hat to art design which feels spot on for an old Massachusetts river town. The map of Arkham could be easily transposed onto the Connecticut mill town I grew up in and the look of the buildings and their situations in various sections of the Arkham are spot on. There's even the hint of farmland on the outskirts of Uptown right where there would be in my hometown.

So all-in-all, Arkham Horror is a fun game. I don't know what will happen when we try to take on Hastur or Great Cthulhu himself, but the fact that you're not guaranteed to win is part of the fun. If I have any more thoughts, I'll be sure to pass them on to you here at the Platypus of Truth.