- Donald S. Whitney, Simplify Your Spiritual Life
Assemblies of God writer Frank Luke reviews Troll Valley.
Norwegian children in exile, celebrating Syttende Mai in London in 1942. Photo: Ole Friele Backer (1907—1947)
I should probably warn you that I won't be posting tomorrow, as my Sons of Norway lodge is hosting a Constitution Day (Syttende Mai) celebration tomorrow (6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Danish American Center in Minneapolis, if you're in the area) and I have to be there to lend a hand. I'll be delivering a lecture on the holiday, which I'll spare you just now.
Because I enjoyed Throne of Bones, Vox Day was kind enough to send me a copy of his new release, The Wardog’s Coin, which consists of two shorter stories set in the same universe.
I enjoyed them both, in different ways. The title story is more immediately accessible, being (so far as I can tell – I may have missed some subtext) a pretty straight war story about human mercenaries fighting an army of goblins and orcs for an elven king. It’s a rousing and tragic tale of men and war.
The second story, “Qalabi Dawn,” is more challenging but interesting on a couple of levels. It’s the story of a desert race of rational creatures who seem to be a cross between humans and big cats. A ruthless ruler conquers all the prides in order to defend his race as a whole from human aggression. Aside from offering a kind of metaphor for the place of Islam in the world, this story deals very successfully with a challenge I’ve tried to tackle myself in the past, with (I fear) debatable success – the conception and communication of a wholly alien ethos, imagining what creatures who really thought differently from us might be like.
Well done. Recommended.
Lee would have to be mad to send his divisions across that field. And Hunt was sure he would do it.
When I finished reading Ralph Peters’ Civil War novel Cain at Gettysburg, I almost checked my clothing for blood spatter.
Up until now Michael Shaara’s epic novel The Killer Angels has been considered not only the best Gettysburg novel ever written, but the best possible Gettysburg novel.
It’s been a long time since I read Shaara’s book, but I’m fairly certain that, for all its virtues, it didn’t have anything like the impact on me that Cain at Gettysburg did.
Cain at Gettysburg is a tactile book. It’s written at eye level – sometimes ground level – and leaves a powerful – occasionally sickening – impression of the actual experience of the men involved, generals and common soldiers alike. We are never far from the smells of gunpowder and dysentery and decomposing bodies. We feel the itch of the uniforms, the burning heat of the July sun, and the thirst and hunger of men who can never get sufficient clean water or food.Read the rest of this entry . . .
"After dark vapors have oppress'd our plains
For a long dreary season, comes a day
Born of the gentle South, and clears away
From the sick heavens all unseemly stains.
The anxious month, relieved of its pains,
Takes as a long-lost right the feel of May;
The eyelids with the passing coolness play
Like rose leaves with the drip of Summer rains.
The calmest thoughts came round us; as of leaves
Budding—fruit ripening in stillness—Autumn suns
Smiling at eve upon the quiet sheaves—
Sweet Sappho's cheek—a smiling infant's breath—
The gradual sand that through an hour-glass runs—
A woodland rivulet—a Poet's death." — Keats
I’m in a kind of a mood today.
In the last couple days the Minnesota House and the Senate, both with Democrat majorities, have passed a bill legalizing homosexual marriage, and about an hour and a half ago the governor signed it. August 1 it becomes law.
The prospect of being hanged in a fortnight, as Dr. Johnson noted, concentrates the mind wonderfully. And the prospect of my own eventual imprisonment for a hate crime also has the effect of focusing my own thoughts. A Christian ought to be dead to the world, prepared at all times to suffer for his faith. And it looks very much (at least to me) that such a time is coming.
If I’m being paranoid, I’m not the only one. My friend Mitch Berg of Shot In the Dark blog, a libertarian and no Bible thumper, addresses (among other points) the abysmal record of “freedom to marry” advocates in terms of spreading the freedom around in this post.
Chanting “The First Amendment protects religious expression!” is about like saying “the Second Amendment protects your right to keep and bear arms!” or “the Fourth Amendment protects you from unreasonable searches and seizures!” or “The Tenth Amendment reserves unenumerated rights to the States and People!”. All are true – provided you take them seriously enough to beat back ill-advised legal attacks on them.
So I’m contemplating how to prepare for persecution to come – not the metaphorical kind where we complain about people talking to us mean, but the kind where we actually get sent to prison for expressing our beliefs. Do I compose my soul to accept arrest and incarceration? Do I squirrel away portable wealth for a quick run for the border (I understand diamonds aren’t as useful as they once were)?
Or should I take the Lord literally when He says “Cast no thought upon the morrow?”
W. H. Auden explains:
Every poet, consciously or unconsciously, holds the following absolute presuppositions, as the dogmas of his art:(stolen from Alan Jacobs)
(1) A historical world exists, a world of unique events and unique persons, related by analogy, not identity. The number of events and analogical relations is potentially infinite. The existence of such a world is a good, and every addition to the number of events, persons and relations is an additional good.
(2) The historical world is a fallen world, i.e. though it is good that it exists, the way in which it exists is evil, being full of unfreedom and disorder.
(3) The historical world is a redeemable world. The unfreedom and disorder of the past can be reconciled in the future.
It follows from the first presupposition that the poet’s activity in creating a poem is analogous to God’s activity in creating man after his own image. It is not an imitation, for were it so, the poet would be able to create like God ex nihilo; instead, he requires pre-existing occasions of feeling and a pre-existing language out of which to create. It is analogous in that the poet creates ￼not necessarily according to a law of nature but voluntarily according to provocation.
Things Learned While Looking for Something Else Dept.:
If you belong to one of those increasingly rare churches that still sings hymns occasionally, you’ve probably sung the hymn, “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.”
If you look at the bottom of the page, you’ll note that it was written by Joachim Neander (1650-1680), and translated by Catherine Winkworth.
Neander, though born in Germany, somehow managed to be neither Lutheran nor Catholic, but Reformed. He experienced a Christian conversion while studying theology, and became a Latin teacher in Dusseldorf. A lover of nature, he used to preach to large open air meetings in the Dussel river valley. He also wrote more than 60 hymns.
Long after his death, in the early 19th Century, the valley where he used to preach was renamed the Neander Valley in his honor. Or, in German, Neanderthal.
And it was in the Neander Valley, of course, that scientists found the bones of the prehistoric humanoid who became known as Neanderthal Man.
So even when they look back at their evolutionary family tree, biologists must pay tribute to a Christian hymn writer.
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! You cannot escape us! We’re everywhere!
Lars shared this article on Facebook, and I was moved--moved I tell you--to share it here, because you can't get good writing like this often: "The voice at the other end of the line gave a sigh, like a mighty oak toppling into a great river, or something else that didn’t sound like a sigh if you gave it a moment’s thought. 'Who cares what the stupid critics say?' advised the literary agent. 'They’re just snobs. You have millions of fans.'"
Michael Deacon writes in response to the Dan Brown's upcoming novel, Inferno, which if you are going to buy it, you must use this link. Must! Support starving artists!
The novel is another unique take on art history and world conspiracy. From the book: "Against [the backdrop of Dante's Inferno], Langdon battles a chilling adversary and grapples with an ingenious riddle that pulls him into a landscape of classic art, secret passageways, and futuristic science. Drawing from Dante’s dark epic poem, Langdon races to find answers and decide whom to trust . . . before the world is irrevocably altered."
Dude! That is one unique thriller! I'll go on record now by predicting this will tell of a Manx plot to manipulate world currency. Dante has been rumored to be Manx sympathizer among all the scholars who have studied him. Sorry, I should have given you a spoiler alert.
My brother posted this link on Facebook today. It's from a recent news story on a Twin Cities TV station about the sheriff of my home town, where goodness abounds and the writ of Original Sin runs not.
You are interested in this story because it'll give you some idea of the site of one of your favorite novels, Troll Valley. Which appears to be enjoying a better sales rank than Hailstone Mountain right now, for reasons that pass my comprehension.
Have a good weekend!
The word "dwarves," was (more or less) invented by J. R. R. Tolkien. The "proper" spelling is "dwarfs," but the Professor had his own secret purposes.
Someone posted the following video on Facebook, and it interested me enough to share it here. Armorer Tony Swatton creates a replica of Gimli's axe from the "Lord of the Rings" movies, but does it in a traditional Damascus style. The results are impressive.
This particular axe (John Rhys-Davies actually carries three) is a stylized version of a Viking bearded axe ("bearded" refers to the extended lower horn of the cutting edge). The technique used here, however, is not the sort of damascening the Norse did. Viking pattern welding involved twisting together bundles of rods with differing carbon content, so that strength and flexibility would be maximized (or so they hoped).
I inserted a dwarf into Hailstone Mountain, in a scene I like quite a lot. My dwarves (dwarfs?) are a little different from Tolkien's, though.
Rick Dewhurst is a writer who confounds me, to a great degree. I wasn’t sure what to do with his mystery, Bye Bye, Bertie, which I reviewed a while back, and now I’m not sure what to do with The Darkest Valley, a very different sort of book. Bye Bye, Bertie was a farce. The Darkest Valley is a tragedy. Neither is easily classified or compared with anything else I’ve read (or you either, in all likelihood).
Tom Pollard is a pastor in the island town of Cowichan, British Columbia. He’s barely hanging on in his ministry. The elders are on the point of kicking him out, and the street ministry center he fought to establish has borne little fruit, but has become a heavy burden with which he gets little help. His only success is Will Joseph, a young Cowichan Indian man. Will dreams of going away to Bible school, but lives in fear that his father, who follows the old ways, will have him kidnapped and brainwashed.
Meanwhile Tom’s wife Ruby is dying of cancer, dreaming of a miracle but worn down with pain, bitterness, and guilt. Tom and Ruby become friends with Jesse Thornton, editor of the local paper, who holds Christians generally in contempt but is avidly pursuing a young woman who attends Tom’s church.
The only thing I can really tell you about the course of the story is that it won’t go where you think it will. This book is true to life, not to Christian fiction conventions. I think that, in Flannery O’Conner fashion, God’s grace is at work in the shadows here, but to be frank the whole thing’s kind of depressing.
The writing isn’t bad, but Pastor Dewhurst needs to watch his homonyms (reigning/reining, tow/toe), and sometimes his sentences are poorly constructed. I’ve seen worse, but I’m pretty sure this author could do better. Also the book is told in alternating streams of consciousness, a technique that bores me after a while.
I recommend The Darkest Valley for Christians eager to struggle with very profound questions of faith. Not for casual entertainment.
I got my review copy free.
Joel Miller writes about how we guard ourselves from all kinds of failure, even in our walk with Christ, but that won't mature our faith. Referring to Patrick Henry Reardon's comments on the publican and the Pharisee, he notes, "His point was that our failures do not keep us from heaven. Only our pride can do that."
A mystery set in a Norwegian-American community in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was bound to get my attention, so I took advantage of a free download of Past Imperfect by Kathleen Hills. The book wasn’t bad, but I can’t describe it as compelling reading.
The year is 1950, and John McIntire, a native of the lakeshore town of St. Adele, has returned at last after five post-war years in England, during which he did something unspecified for the US government and married an English woman. His neighbors have elected him constable, noting that he seems to have little else to do with his time. Nobody expects him to have to investigate a murder. But his childhood friend Nels Bertelson is found dead on his fishing boat, killed by a bee sting, to which he was allergic. But why is his syringe of antivenin missing? And why are bees found in his clothing, as if planted there? John has hardly begun asking questions before a local teenage girl is found strangled, though her body disappears before the police can get to the spot. What’s it all about? Who could benefit from these deaths?
The mystery plot of Past Imperfect was all right, but the storytelling only so-so, in my opinion. Author Hills seems to have the same problem I’ve noted in many female authors – her male characters don’t come to life. Even the ones supposed to be energetic come off as remarkably passive. And everybody talks on and on, and when they’re not talking they’re paddling the stream of consciousness. Relationships are subjected to detailed forensic analysis. Past Imperfect moves much more slowly than it needs to.
Not generally objectionable, and not a waste of your reading time, I still can’t recommend Past Imperfect very highly.
This was the weekend of the annual Festival of Nations at the River Centre in St. Paul. And so I was there, but with an abbreviated schedule. I’ve noticed in the past that I’ve always come down sick shortly after this worldly debauch, and I’ve started to suspect that it’s not good for me to spend four long days in a basement. I’ll see if this works better.
Business-wise, it was pretty good. On Saturday I sold a whole lot of books. Sunday was slower, but OK. Things were probably slowed some by the fact that there was a hockey game in the same facility that day, and parking prices got hiked.
I often ponder during those long, long days whether “multicultural” events like this actually do anything to promote their advertised purposes. Certainly I encountered nice people of many colors and tongues, and a wide variety of costumes. But to be honest, most of the costumes made me grateful I’d come as a Viking. They tended to inflate my low, reflexive feelings of cultural superiority. Read the rest of this entry . . .
There are elements in Max Allan Collins’ Mallory mystery novels which could easily have turned me against them. But Collins’ skill in handling sensitive issues is of so high a quality that he turns them into strengths. I thought this admirable element was especially on view in The Baby Blue Rip-Off, originally published in 1983 (which I’m constantly surprised to realize is a long time ago).
Mallory (his first name is never divulged) is a former soldier, former cop, and present mystery writer who has moved back to his home town of Port City, Iowa. When the story begins he’s been talked into doing a little volunteer work, delivering hot meals to elderly people. To his surprise he enjoys it, and becomes very fond of several old ladies on his route.
But on this night he finds a van backed up to one of the meal recipients’ houses. The place has been trashed and several men are carrying valuables out. Mallory gets seriously beaten, but his elderly friend is dead.
Sheriff Brennan warns Mallory not to try investigating on his own, but he does it kind of half-heartedly, having resigned himself to Mallory’s curiosity and his personal stake in the case. As he runs down clues, Mallory gets beaten up again, re-kindles an old romance, and confronts profound questions of love, trust, and betrayal.
What particularly pleased me – and this is fairly surprising in a book whose narrator unabashedly declares himself a Democrat – is how deftly author Collins handles the politics. This especially applies to Mallory’s relationship with Sheriff Brennan. The sheriff’s son went off to Vietnam with Mallory years ago, but only Mallory came back. Then Mallory got involved with Veterans Against the War, which Brennan saw as a kind of betrayal. But in this story the two men warily reach out to one another and form a bond.
This is a masterly example of a technique many authors (perhaps even me) can’t seem to get. A failure in this department completely spoiled fellow Iowa author Ed Gorman’s Sam McCain mysteries for me. Gorman couldn’t concede that a Republican could be anything other than an idiot or a scoundrel. Collins, to the contrary, first of all includes a liberal character who is a jerk (which obviously doesn’t mean all liberals are jerks, as Mallory’s a liberal himself), and a conservative character (Sheriff Brennan) who’s a decent human being.
That’s all it takes. You don’t have to pander to the other side. Just grant them a little humanity, and admit there can be faults on your own side. It was enough to charm me completely, and enable me to get behind Mallory with enthusiasm.
Mild cautions for adult material, including Mallory committing adultery with a married woman. Otherwise highly recommended.
A couple videos for you tonight.
First of all, somebody in a P.G. Wodehouse fan group on Facebook embedded this, the only known surviving episode of the Ian Carmichael/Dennis Price BBC series on Jeeves and Wooster.
Some of you people as old as I am may recall Carmichael as an inspired (though slightly overaged) Lord Peter Wimsey back in the '70s. Since Lord Peter and Bunter are pretty much interchangeable with Bertie and Jeeves, he's naturally perfect in this role (no disrespect to Hugh Laurie, who was great in another way).
But Dennis Price as Jeeves disappoints me (I haven't watched it all yet). He lacks the imposing figure I expect (perhaps I was just spoiled by Stephen Fry).
And here, below -- thanks to Floyd at Threedonia -- is the trailer for the upcoming Odd Thomas movie. From what I see here, I like it. The kid playing Odd seems to have the right attitude.
Photo ©2006 Wikimedia Commons user Trounce. Licensed under CC-BY-SA
Today I got personally insulted (by insinuation) on Facebook. And it pleased me no end. Because the insult was based on the kind of prejudice that proves my point better than any argument I could make.
I got enticed, against my inclinations, into a discussion about homosexuality. A woman asked me how I knew that homosexuality was a sin. (An inexact description of my position, as I consider only homosexual actions sinful; the orientation itself is neither here nor there, except as an aspect of the Original Sin we all share).
I told her that I’d read the Bible, rather than just hearing it talked about.
She admitted she hadn’t read the Bible, but said that she was pretty sure I hadn’t either.
Well, I have. More than a dozen times. But I found her assumption fascinating and revelatory.
We Protestants are prone to seeing Biblical ignorance as an aspect of the Dark Ages. Illiterate Christians of those times viewed the book with superstitious awe, even fear. Only the priest, enjoying magical protections, was able to unpuzzle its mysterious symbols and mediate its meaning to the common folk.
We have entered a new Dark Age, in terms Biblical knowledge. Once again the average church member sees the Bible, not as a book to read, study, and discuss, but as a fearsome talisman. It’s so long, and so full of riddles. We dare not approach it. Open that cover, peruse those mysterious words, and a madness is likely to seize us. Soon we may be changed out of recognition. We may no longer be able to live our lives as we are accustomed to.
Which, of course, is true.
Not long ago, I acquired one of those “Roku” boxes, which allows me to watch Netflix programs on my actual TV instead of my computer. To my own surprise, I find myself watching rather more old TV than movies. They’ve got the whole run of the immortal Rockford Files, for instance, which is wealth at my fingertips.
But another old series I checked out was one I only remember vaguely from my childhood – the original Dragnet with Jack Webb. I’ve found it surprisingly fascinating viewing.
Like most people of my generation, I remember the show chiefly in its later 1967-1970 revival version, with Harry Morgan as the sidekick. And I’ve been watching some of those, too – not on Netflix, but on the broadcast Antenna TV channel. They’re OK (though it’s always embarrassing to see a record of how we dressed in those days), but there’s a strange flatness about them (and not only in the acting). In a strange way, the later color version is less colorful than the earlier, black and white series. The original 1951-1959 Dragnet was genuine TV Noir. Read the rest of this entry . . .
“I just don’t know why you can’t have it both ways. You know, give unbridled effort in your defense but be conscientious about your work. Try for the best outcome.”
“The best outcome for who? Your client? Society? Or for yourself? Your responsibility is to your client and the law, Bullocks. That’s it.”
I gave her a long stare before continuing.
“Don’t go growing a conscience on me,” I said. “I’ve been down that road. It doesn’t lead you to anything good.”
I’ve said before that, although I’m a big fan of Michael Connelly, I’m not a big Mickey Haller fan. Mickey, Connelly’s street-smart defense lawyer hero, is just a little shady. His aspirations are mostly monetary, or so he believes – though in the crunch he tends to learn he’s not quite the scoundrel he fancies himself.
I consider it a tribute to author Connelly’s storytelling skill that I found myself generally irritated with Mickey all the way to the end of The Fifth Witness, where a sudden reversal won me over completely.
When the story begins, Mickey has diverted his legal practice to a field currently more lucrative than criminal defense. That's contesting mortgage foreclosures. Among his new clients, the most annoying is Lisa Trammel, who has turned her personal property fight into a crusade, and has started a protest movement. She’s pushy and entitled, and Mickey doesn’t like her at all.
But when Lisa is arrested for the murder (with a hammer) of a bank officer she’s been blaming for her troubles, she calls on Mickey to defend her. Sure, there’s blood DNA evidence to link her to the crime, but how did five foot three Lisa kill a man well over six feet tall with a hammer blow to the very top of his skull? And who sent thugs to beat Mickey up?
As he works through the evidence, Mickey begins to suspect he may actually be defending an innocent woman – something that troubles him more than an assumption of guilt would.
Very well done. Michael Connelly played on my emotions like a master all the way through.
Cautions for the usual, but nothing major by contemporary standards.
Today was the first genuinely nice day of the year. I have a window (one) open as I sit here.
Sadly for you, there was no camera present to record the hauntingly beautiful “Welcome to Spring” interpretive dance I did this morning.
On Facebook, I had a short conversation with a truly remarkable man, Norwegian artist Anders Kvåle Rue. We’re Facebook friends, but there is a division between us. Despite the fact that we’re both Christian Viking aficionados, which puts us in a fairly small minority, he’s a supporter of St. Olaf, and I’m a supporter of Erling Skjalgsson. The feud of two men a thousand years dead lives on in our hearts.
I kind of like that.
Anyway, I went on to ask him about the video below (it’s in Norwegian) done by my translation publisher, Saga Bok. It’s about their trip to Iceland to examine the Flatey (Flatøy) Book, one of the great lesser-known troves of saga material in existence. Saga Bok is doing a Norwegian translation and Anders did the art. They wanted to get a look at the original artifact so he could match colors.
I asked him about something that may have surprised you too, if you watched it. He handles this precious object, well over a millennium old, with his bare hands. “Didn’t they want you to wear gloves?” I asked.
No, he said. The Flatey Book is written on parchment, made from animal skins. Unlike paper, which deteriorates from the acid in your fingerprints, parchment actually benefits from the body oils you deposit on it.
From the English Spectator, a review by the great Paul Johnson of Alister McGrath's new C. S. Lewis biography. I might note that Johnson makes one mistake. He says Mrs. Moore was Lewis’ friend Paddy Moore’s widow, when she was actually his mother. Tip: First Thoughts.
Have a good weekend!
I’m pretty sure I’d read this one before, but I’d forgotten it enough to enjoy a second reading. Free Fall is one of Robert Crais’ earlier Elvis Cole novels. I personally think the later ones are richer, but this is a good mystery by a skillful author.
Jennifer Sheridan comes to see Elvis in his office. She’s young and beautiful and fresh, and Elvis half falls in love with her at first sight, but her mind is on her fiancé, Mark Thurman. Mark is an LA cop on an elite squad. He’s been acting strangely recently, and she’s grown convinced he’s gotten himself involved in something illegal.
The case seems to have solved itself a few minutes later, when Mark himself, along with his sleazy partner, walks into the office. He tells Elvis he knows why Jennifer was there, and that it’s all very simple. He’s fallen in love with another woman, and is just waiting for the right moment to break up with her. Elvis passes this on to his client, but she doesn’t believe him. She insists he look a little closer. That closer look eventually uncovers police brutality and a cover-up and gang violence, and leads to the deaths of innocent people and Elvis’ arrest. He’ll need all the help he can get from his fighting machine friend, Joe Pike, before he can get himself out from under a very nasty conspiracy.
Pretty good. There’s a strong element of morality in this story that pleased me a lot. Elvis informs us that LA cops respect and admire anyone who helps put a crooked cop away, which strains credibility a little, but that’s a small point. Minor cautions for the usual stuff, but nothing heavy.
John Sigismund of Hungary with Suleiman the Magnificent in 1556.
Today, Grim of Grim’s Hall cited Hailstone Mountain again, pointing out that one of the issues I dramatized in the book has shown up in the New York Times.
I’m getting really sick of being a prophet.
“It is my understanding that the prophet Jeremiah frequently expressed a similar sentiment, sir,” said Jeeves.
Over at National Review’s The Corner, Andrew C. McCarthy links to an article about the Islamic institution of the Jizya tax. Jizya is part of the process of submission in a sharia state. The kuffar (infidel) pays the jizya and suffers various social indignities, in order to be permitted to go on living and to practice his religion (this is the much-vaunted freedom of religion of which Islamic apologists boast).
The argument is that the Egyptian government openly considers U.S. foreign aid to be a payment of jizya. In their view, they are in the process of conquering us, and this is the beginning of our submission.
Will this information cause liberals, most of whom are adamant that our government should pay for nothing that can possibly be regarded as religious, to call for an end to our aid to Egypt?
No, no of course not. When they say “religion” they mean “Christianity.”
Joe Carter asks whether our daily news is making us dumb. For instance, Dan Rather "spent roughly 75,000 hours reporting, researching, or reading about current events," so why isn't he considered to be one of the wisest or most knowledgable men in America?
Clearly, daily news will not make us wise, but can be very useful. A report I caught by chance (if chance means anything) the other day warned of frost that night, so my wife and I covered up our newly planted herbs, spinach, okra, and tomatoes. Had I not had that news, I would have been very frustrated. I haven't had much success with our backyard garden over the years, and it's not supposed to frost after April 15 in the contented pastures neighboring the Chattanooga valley. The news of anticipated frost did not make me wise, and it won't be revalent to any other day in my entire life, but it was revalent to me on that day.
Of course, how much of what is sold as news is relavent even in this way? Carter closes his piece with this from Muggeridge: "Events that are truly important are rarely those captured on the front page of a daily paper. As Malcolm Muggeridge, himself a journalist, admitted, 'I've often thought that if I'd been a journalist in the Holy Land at the time of our Lord's ministry, I should have spent my time looking into what was happening in Herod's court. I'd be wanting to sign Salome for her exclusive memoirs, and finding out what Pilate was up to, and—I would have missed completely the most important event there ever was.'
I haven't been taking in much news lately, and I can't see the reason I need to return to it. I'm fairly fed up with my life at the moment. I don't think the news will help me with that at all.
Image by Stefan-Xp.
Finally we got a spot of what the Vikings would have called “weather-luck.” It did snow last night, as described, but it lost interest after about three inches. And through the day most of it gradually liquefied and returned to the bosom of the thirsty earth. Right now the sun is shining cheerily. I took my evening walk. The forecast actually calls for 70 degrees this weekend. Maybe our long regional nightmare is over.
But I’m not putting the snowblower away just yet.
I thought about The Boy With the Red Pencil today.
That’s not what the title of the book was, I’m pretty sure. I never actually read it. I was too young. It was a book I remember lying around the house when I was very small. Somebody must have read it to me, I’m sure, but my chief memory of it is seeing it on the couch in the sun porch, picking it up, and looking at the pictures, following the story through them.
It was about a little boy who got a red pencil that had magical powers. Whenever he drew something with it, that thing would become real. Complications ensued, but I’m unclear on what they were after all the years.
All I remember is how fascinated I was with the idea of using a writing instrument to create real things.
I suppose my whole life since then has been an effort to emulate that boy with the red pencil. At first I drew pictures, like him, but eventually I moved on to writing stories, which (for me) produced results more like real things.
Tolkien called it “subcreation,” the compulsion of the created being to emulate his Creator by creating things of his own in turn. Such an impulse, like all our impulses, can be turned to good or evil. Creativity is a power, capable of corruption like any other power (the aesthetes never seem to grasp this point).
But whether you’re a computer programmer, or a tailor, or an architect, making things is essentially good. It’s part of what God put us here for.
It's snowing again. Coming down pretty heavy. The weather man says five to eight inches this time.
I was going to call it an insult, but no. The last one was an insult. This is the one there's no alternative to laughing over. Even if it puts down a foot, I declare here and now I won't shovel it. It'll be gone in a couple days anyhow.
I'm beginning to think we need to draw lots to figure out who offended the Almighty.
Only I'm afraid it's me.
Anyway, our friend Grim at Grim's Hall has posted a review of Hailstone Mountain, with a call for discussion on a theological point which I, frankly, had never actually connected to the scene in the book he's talking about. But now that he mentions it, I guess he's right.
Gustav Dore, "Nehemiah Views the Ruins of Jerusalem's Walls" (1866)
I started reading the Book of Nehemiah again the other day, and I got to thinking about walls.
Walls are unfashionable in our time. “Open plan” homes are trendy (or maybe that trend has passed. I’m not exactly up on architectural fashions). For years, businesses have believed – in the absence of any evidence whatever – that productivity and morale can be improved by putting employees in big bullpens instead of giving them offices (management, of course, gets to have offices). When people talk about “tearing down walls,” they generally mean walls of prejudice and misunderstanding. This trend of thought goes back a long way, at least to Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall”: “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That wants it down!”
I myself, on a far lower level, wrote a song with the same sort of theme back in my college/musical group days. And no, I won’t tell you the words. You’ll never hear it, and I’m fine with that.
There’s an assumption in a lot of Christianity, too, that walls are uniformly bad. All walls need to go. Joshua knocked down the walls of Jericho. Christ, as we are told in Ephesians 2:14, destroyed “the dividing wall of hostility.” So the reflexive assumption is that Christians are against all walls, at least in the moral and cultural sense.
But it’s not at all that simple in reality. If you actually read the Bible (and one of the problems I’ve faced increasingly, on the rare occasions when I can be lured into an argument, is that I’ve found myself arguing a book I’ve actually read with people who only know it by hearsay) you’ll see that walls in Scripture are just like any other temporal thing. They’re good in the right place, and bad in the wrong place. The whole Book of Nehemiah is about restoring a wall that’s been torn down. The wall itself is a symbol of the religious law that stands between the Jews and their pagan neighbors. This wall is a necessity if the nation is to survive; it has God’s blessing. In the parable of the vineyard in Matthew 21:33-41, Jesus tells of a man who plants a vineyard and builds a wall around it. This land owner represents God, and his wall is a perfectly reasonable barrier to keep unwanted pests, human and animal, out.
There’s a perception about in the world today that Christians have no sense of nuance. Everything is black and white for us. We can’t see shades of gray.
But that’s only true if you’re selective in your observations. In the matter of walls, for instance, Christians see them as either good or bad, depending on who builds them, where, and for what purpose.
Or, as G. K. Chesterton said in Why I Am a Catholic, “There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, "I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away." To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: "If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it."
When I wrote my article on Christian Fantasy for the Intercollegiate Review, I made a disparaging comment about “wanabee George R. R. Martins.” I received a friendly e-mail shortly thereafter from none other than Vox Day of the Vox Popoli blog, wondering if I had had his novel Throne of Bones in mind. I hastened to tell him that I hadn’t. I’d seen the book on Amazon and thought about checking it out, but hadn’t done so yet.
The upshot was that I sent him a copy of Hailstone Mountain, and he sent me a copy of A Throne of Bones. It should be noted for the record that if our reviews of each other’s books are positive (I don’t know whether his will be, assuming he does one) that we have both received free books in the deal and may have been corrupted thereby.
Most anyone who starts reading Throne of Bones will realize that it’s very much the same sort of thing as George R. R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice books, and Vox makes no denial of this. But he’s trying to do the same sort of thing in a very different way, which for me makes all the difference.
The story takes place in an alternate world called Selenoth (it has two moons). The general situation seems to be something like that of the Roman Empire in the late Republican period (as best I can figure out), though there are differences. The time period seems more medieval than Roman, and the Amorran Empire (spell Amorr backwards) has believed in a religion which seems pretty much the same as Christianity for four centuries. The two most powerful houses in Amorr are the Valerians and the Severans, conservative and liberal respectively. The Valerians want to preserve the old form of the empire, while the Severans want to expand citizenship to the provincials. But General Corvus of the Valerians sets off a break within his own family through a necessary act of military discipline.
Meanwhile the Sanctiff of the Amorran church dies, and the conclave convened to elect his replacement is massacred by some kind of demonic attacker, something that’s not supposed to happen in Amorr, where magic is strictly prohibited.
Far to the north, the Viking-like Dalarans are being driven from their home islands by the Ulven, a race of wolf-men. They agree to submit to the king of Savondir (a heathen land where magic is legal) if he will give them refuge and help them reconquer their homeland. But strange shape-shifters have appeared among the Ulven, and pose a threat to Savondir as well.
And Corvus’ soldier son Marcus survives an army coup, managing to wrest control from the mutineers and finding himself, though woefully inexperienced as a commander, the general of an entire army, facing not only orcs and goblins but rebel Amorrans.
And there are dragons. And dwarves. And elves.
Pretty much all you could ask.
I enjoyed it immensely. Vox Day isn’t the prose stylist George R. R. Martin is, but he's not bad. On the plus side we have a complicated, complex story with interesting and sympathetic, fully rounded characters. There are few out-and-out villains – everybody is doing what they think right. And unlike Martin’s stories, the fact that someone is virtuous and noble does not guarantee them a painful and ignominious death. In terms of pure story, Vox Day’s book is much more rewarding. And Christianity is treated not only with respect, but as a true part of the cosmos.
Amanda Thatcher, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's granddaughter, sent many media voices chattering by her reading of Ephesians 6:10-18 at her grandmother's funeral yesterday.