Posts Tagged With: literature

Science+Fiction


Often literature is posited as in opposition to more technical disciplines, such as science, math, and technology. However, opposition amongst disciplines almost always leads to loss of knowledge and beauty. The wedding of science and literature–science fiction–has been used to great effect over the past century, in such stories as Frank Herbert’s Dune series (which also welds political theory), Kurt Vonnegut’s novels, Isaac Asimov’s brilliant Foundation series, and countless others.

Christians have written very little good science fiction, mostly because we often espouse a sharp divide between imagination and reality. In practice, though, we should be of those who are best at wedding the seen and the unseen, the known and the mysterious. What little has been written is not very good–because the Christians who write and the Christians who understand science, math, and technology are of two different sets.

Christians who write must lose their fear of science, and Christians who love science must stop clinging to pragmatism.

The 21st century needs good science fiction, along the lines of C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy.

Categories: Snapshots | Tags: , | 2 Comments

A Ghost Story, Part 3


~

I couldn’t wait a minute longer than I had to. As soon as my parents were asleep, I crept downstairs catlike, grabbed a few things out of the kitchen, and snuck out the door, quiet as you please.

The old lady was back in her chair, still rocking, still watching. I picked the rocker up one last time, and carried it off the porch, quiet as you please. The wind was whistling gently through the leaves. It sounded like the old lady’s breathing. Once I got her far enough away from the house, I pulled out my bounty: a box of matches and a jar of kerosene.

I doused the rocker in the kerosene—I never saw any of it go through the old lady, but she stayed as dry as a raisin through the whole thing. It just sorta slid around her. Then I lit a match.

It blew out instantly.

I lit another—the same thing happened. Now, I was bound and determined that I would burn this rocking chair before the night was out. I lit five at once, and threw them at the old lady. They were out, just like that.

Then I got an idea. I had seen something like this when I went to a movie with my cousin in Chicago—the bad guy had used some dynamite to blow up a bridge. I carefully lay the rest of the kerosene in a line leading back towards the house. It was still there, under the eaves.  After I got the last drop out, I struck another match, then dropped it there. I watched the fire lick its way towards the chair, wavering in the wind a couple of times; then the chair went up in flames. I had won.

Then she started screaming. I couldn’t look away—she was in agony. I had never thought that she could be hurt—only that I had to get rid of her. I was transfixed, hypnotized, watching her shrivel and blacken.

My parents must have smelled the smoke, or seen the fire, or something, because all on a sudden I heard them yelling. It was enough of a disturbance that I could wrench my eyes away from the sight to see what they were yelling about.

The house was on fire.

We all watched in our nightclothes as the house burned to the ground. The old lady was screaming all the while. She didn’t stop until the last ember went out. I remember my parents asking me why I had done it, why I had burned the house down, but I couldn’t speak. She had screamed until she had stolen my voice.

We tried to find someone’s house to stay in for the night. Apparently, no-one wanted the crazy little firebug anywhere near them. I don’t really remember that much. The next thing I remember clearly, I was lying in a makeshift tent pitched next to the ruins of our house. Peeking under the edge, I could see the spot where I had started the fire—where the old lady burned to death. Except she was already dead. Wasn’t she?

As if dreaming, I found myself standing over the charred spot. I reached down to touch it—to make sure she was gone— And all of a sudden she was there, still all on fire, still screaming She grabbed my wrist, and I thought she was going to take me with her. I could feel my skin burning, burning, burning—

And my dad grabbed me, pulled me back from the spot. My mother was standing there, face white. They never did tell me what they saw, but they never blamed me for the house burning down, either.

We never went back to Tennessee. My parents somehow scraped enough together that we could afford to go back to Chicago. The marks from where she had grabbed me never faded away. I went back eventually, found the records for that house. The first owner of that house had had a son named Luke, who had gone off to fight in the War Between the States. I found a picture of him in his uniform. We did look an awful lot alike. He never came back, and I guess the old woman was just waiting for him still, until she met me.

So you can believe what you want, son, but I know that ghosts are real.

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A Ghost Story, Part 2


~

That was a cold winter. We didn’t go out unless we had to; I spent a lot of days at the kitchen table doing school. The old lady preyed on my mind; what was she doing out there in the cold? What if she came in? I never could hear her rocking over the snow and wind, and I never saw her. I was getting stir-crazy, of course; too long cooped up in that house. I thought I would go wild. When the thaw finally came, I was dying to get outside and do something. I finished my school and chores double-quick that day; when my mother finally told me I could go out, I near flew out that door. I was whooping and hollering and generally raising a ruckus, when I saw her.

She was still sitting there, still rocking. And all on a sudden, all the terror of that year froze inside of me, and I hated her. I hated her so much. How dare she make me be afraid in my own home? Who did she think she was?  I swore to myself at that moment that I would get rid of her if it killed me. I didn’t want to do it when my parents were around, though; I was just sane enough to realize that they would think I was crazy if I started trying to kill an invisible old lady.

Come to think of it, that does sound pretty crazy.

Well, my parents had cabin-fever, same as me. Pretty soon, they went to our neighbors for a day. It wasn’t hard to get them to leave me behind. This was my chance. I snuck out onto the porch, and looked. She was still there; still rocking. With a roar like an angry bull, I charged that rocking chair. With my eyes half-shut I grabbed the rocker and dragged it off the porch—with her still in it—it was uncommon light, as if there was no-one sitting there. I was yelling every time I had breath all the way to the hayfield, trying to make myself forget she was right there. When I got to the field, I put it down and sprinted away as if all the demons of hell were after me.

When I got back, she was sitting on the porch again. Still rocking. It was as if I had never moved that rocker.

I roared again, all unreasonable, and hauled the chair off in the other direction. Same result.

I didn’t want to touch the old lady; but I was sure if I could move the rocker far enough away, she wouldn’t come back.

By the end of the day, it had been all over creation, and the old lady was still rocking on the porch.

I gave up. I dragged myself inside, collapsed by the stove, and just shuddered. I couldn’t get rid of her. She was going to send me to the grave, with her incessant rocking, rocking, rocking–

Which had stopped.

I sat up and listened to the silence, unconsciously backing up to the wall. There was a creak from the porch. Then another. Then another–and the old lady’s silhouette appeared, framed in the kitchen door’s window.

I stopped breathing.

The knob turned–slowly–hesitant, as if she had forgotten how to open a door. It opened, though. I couldn’t look; I scooted back the few inches it took to get behind the stove. I heard her walking across the floor, but she stopped before she reached me. Then she spoke.

“Luke, you come out here,” she said, and it was the most natural-sounding thing I had ever heard, as if my own mother were speaking to me. I half-expected Luke to come out from—well, wherever he was.

“Luke, you come on out here right now.” Where was that darned Luke? She obviously wanted him real bad. I kind of had a suspicion rising in me, that maybe, maybe she thought—but that was impossible. Wouldn’t she know who her Luke was? The floor creaked. I peeked out to see what she was doing, and almost smacked my face on her knees. I screamed, and jerked back, banging my head hard against the stove.

“Stop that hollering, Luke.” Was the last thing I heard before blacking out, confirming my suspicions and withering my courage.

Next thing I remember is my parents standing over me. I didn’t have a real good explanation for why exactly I had hit my head on the back of the stove—I knew well enough that “the ghost lady made me do it” was not going to fly. After my mother spent hours fussing over me, they finally sent me to bed, with instructions to let them know if I felt dizzy. I must have hit my head pretty hard, ‘cause I didn’t care. In fact, I was deliriously happy.

I finally had a solution.

 

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A Ghost Story, Part 1


The man sits on the porch, rocking. He is old; his hair is grizzled, and his face wrinkled. A young boy clambers onto his lap.

“Grandpa, how did you get that scar?”

The man looks at his wrist. Fainter now than it once was, you can still see the shadow of a hand clasped around it.

“A ghost gave it to me.”

“There’s no such thing as ghosts, Grandpa.”

It was…   oh, ’bout round my eleventh birthday when we moved to Tennessee. I remember the day we moved into the new house. It had a nice little wrap-around porch, and when I jumped up the steps they creaked and groaned, as though they had never felt the weight of a boy. I scurried through all the rooms, laughing my fool young head off. A new house was nothing but an adventure. I jumped on every creaky board, tested every rocker–except one. The last one was occupied.

I didn’t know who she was–that woman on the porch. She was just sitting there, rocking, so I went up to her bold as brass and said, “This is my house now. What’re you doing here?” She turned her face towards me, and I shuddered; it was a mighty lonesome face, all full of angry wrinkles. After staring at me for what felt like hours, she finally said, “You can stay for a while, I guess. Don’t you go bothering me, though; I’m waiting for my Luke.”

“Who’s Luke?” I asked, but she just stared through me.

I didn’t like her much. She didn’t bother me none, though, so I let her be. It seemed like she was always there, sitting on the porch, rocking. I couldn’t figure out why she seemed to like our porch so much, but I was young, and old folks were a mystery to me.

My room was right above her spot on the porch. I remember laying there in bed, just listening, and hearing the creak of her rocker all through the night. She never stopped rocking–all night and all day, just rocking, watching the horizon.

She was a sad old lady; never saw her smile, nor laugh, nor even look hopeful. She just–watched. It sort of sucked the joy out of my days, too. I’d go out to kick a ball around, or climb a tree, or what have you, and she’d just sit there, a-rocking. I could feel her eyes, watching me, always watching—and the ball just seemed to deflate, and the tree was too short to get any fun out of climbing it.

~

I remember the day I figured out that no-one could see her but me. It was harvest-time; the big oak tree outside my window was starting to lose its leaves. Our next door neighbors–we called them ‘next door’ on account of the fact that their house was the closest to ours, just over the hill and not quite to town–had come over with some squash and apples, and the grown-ups were all in the house talking about something or other. Their son, Tom, and I decided to play outside. I remember he had brought his brand-new baseball bat, and we were taking turns pitching and hitting, but I kept getting distracted. The old lady frowned at me a lot that day, see, and I kept looking up at her, just sitting on the porch, rocking and watching. Tom finally gave up on trying to get me to toss the ball back, and said “What’re you watching the porch for, anyways?” Well, I told him ’bout the old lady, and how she never stopped rocking, and I’ll never forget what he said to me. He looked me dead in the eye, all scornful-like, and said, “There ain’t no old lady up there!”

That was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard; not see her? How could he not see her? She was right there—

But then I remembered my parents ignoring her when they were painting the house—and the strange way they smiled when I mentioned her at the table, as if I were a little kid. And it struck me—I was the only one who could see her.

I ran.

I spent the rest of that day hiding in the hayfield; the warmth and light and golden hay seemed like a rejection of that old lady, who only ever sat, and rocked, and watched. When it finally got dark, I knew I had to go back in; my dad would tan my hide for being out so late as it was. I was powerfully afraid of walking past that old lady to get into the house, though. I approached slowly, cautious.

The rocker was empty.

Somehow, that was more terrifying than anything else that could have happened. I fled, blindly, sprinting for that front door. I couldn’t stop, couldn’t look back, she was back there–

And I slammed the door behind me, all out of breath. I ’bout cried tears of joy when my dad laid into me; he was real; he was alive; he was safe.

But when I got up to my room, I heard her. She was still there; still rocking. I slept not a wink that night. Nor the next. Nor the next after that. The incessant rocking–I knew she was out there, waiting. Watching.

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Intro


So I’ve been writing a story. I’m sure you are all very shocked. The introduction, I thought, was worth sharing. So here it is:

 

Adventuring is a messy business.

Adventurers are liable to meet all sorts of nasty ends, from being beheaded, to thrown into pits of fire, to being devoured by snakes, to losing their loved ones.

No-one with any sort of sense goes on adventures, and if they find themselves in one, they remove themselves post-haste, going back to their normal, nondescript, boring lives.

Of course, not everyone has that sort of sense. Every once in a while, there is the sort of person who seems to fall into adventures, and never has the sense to get out. Sometimes, you can spot those types. They have an extra sort of twinkle in their eye, or they notice things most people don’t see, or they carry a stack of books with dragons on the covers, or they wear clothes that just don’t quite seem, well… normal.

If you are smart, you will avoid these people. They, and those who associate with them, are liable to end up all sorts of places, and to meet all sorts of people, that normal, sensible people don’t want to meet.

You should also avoid books like this. They usually lead to becoming one of those people.

In fact, if you have any sense, you will put down this book and go find a nice, nondescript, boring newspaper.

Of course, if you are one of those hare-brained fools who go looking for adventure, that is quite another story.

……………….

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On Aeneas


Throughout the entire Aeneid, Aeneas turned away from his responsibilities and from the women he used, whether wife or not. He left Creusa in Troy. He left her behind, to die, abandoning his wife and fleeing like a coward.

He left Dido in Carthage. He loved her. He made a bond by laying with her, but when the gods told him to run like a coward, he ran. He sinned against her in the cave, and he sinned against her when he fled to the ships. Although it was not his hand that guided the dagger, he can be blamed for leaving his woman unprotected and despairing.

He left these women for a princess and a kingdom, because the gods told him too.

Turnus was a passionate man. He kept his promises. He had a responsibility to Lavinia, and he kept it, even against her father, the gods, and all the host of Troy. Turnus was far more of a man than Aeneas was. He, at least, was a man.

Aeneas was a nation.

At its heart, the Aeneid is the story of a nation, not a man. A story of the triumph of the nation over the man, the woman, the individual, the imago Dei. The nation, Rome, the great empire, the world, swallows up all in its path. Creusa? Unimportant. She holds no symbolism or value. She is only a woman. Dido? She only exists to be rejected. Aeneas must choose Rome over Carthage, over Dido. She is only a woman. Turnus? A boor. A minor obstacle. Love and passion must crumble before the coming empire. He is only a man. Aeneas must grow less a man that the nation, Rome, may increase. And so he takes a pallid lifeless princess to wife, and he chooses to rescue his father, his patriarch, rather than the woman he made vows to. What is the lesson of the Aeneid? Women are ornaments, nothing more, to be cast aside in times of danger or crisis. Men are tools, nothing more, to be cast aside and ignored when their purpose is served. Aeneas protected his men, yes; he needed them to found the nation. A good worker takes care of his tools. Individuality is useless at best and a sin at worst. The will of the gods is all, and the founding of Rome is paramount. Beauty, honor, passion, desire, humanity are all sacrificed on the altar of the glory that is Rome.

It should not surprise us that Christians were so persecuted. Love? Love is not Roman. It is dangerous and strange. Love requires us to see people as people, as individuals, as creatures. It is far easier and more expedient to see people as tools, as a mass, the populace, the rabble. Those to be used.

A community is made up of men and women. Rome was made up of leaders, tools, and ornaments. And that is why I could never be a Roman. That is why I passionately hate Aeneas. We stand for diametrically opposed ideas, and there is no hope for reconciliation.

Categories: Musings | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Against Victor Frankenstein


Frankenstein was a BAD GOD.

If the monster (For the sake of the argument, I will refer to him as Tom (The Monster with a vowel) for ease of writing) had turned out well, it would have been in spite of Victor Frankenstein, his creator, and a miracle.

I don’t know what Mary Shelley believed, nor do I particularly care. Standing alone, the book seems to indicate 3 things:

  1. That there is a god, or ought to be;
  2. That he is good, or rather, not bad;
  3. That Victor Frankenstein fails in every particular to live up to the standard set by this god.

Frankenstein was not a bad man, nor was he particularly good. He had an easy and enjoyable life up to the point he finally made Tom, and he fully expected Tom to be a perfect and beautiful creation. Based on his prior experience, he thought that his science could make a perfectly beautiful man–and in the process, make him a god.

The moment his failure stared him in the face, though, he fled. Throughout the book, he accepts only barest responsibility for his creation, refusing to give him help, protection, companionship, education, or even a name. After Tom turns on him, he is unable to protect his family or his wife from Tom. He is not an omnipotent God, nor even a powerful one. He is weak and apathetic, blaming the problems on Tom, FOR WHOM HE IS RESPONSIBLE.

He is not a good god. He hates his creation, and flees from it. He provides no hope for redemption, no plan for salvation, no hope for after death, SIMPLY BECAUSE TOM IS UGLY. The monster’s first fault, first ‘sin,’ can only be blamed on his creator. There is no choice, no free will from the god Victor Frankenstein.

The Christian God, by way of contrast, made his creation good. He was capable. He was powerful. He made all things beautiful. He gave us a home and a name, and companionship. Our sin was our own fault and choice; we cannot blame it on Him. At the moment of our sin, however, He did not completely reject us; He gave us a hope and a future, then remained with us throughout our struggles. In the culmination of His goodness and strength, He came and took our form, our beautiful, sinful, wretched form, and carried all of our sin and suffering for us and utterly destroyed it at the cross. He did not flee from us; He was not scared of us; He loved us to the last, and even Death was not enough to quench His love.

Praise God that he is good, and not Frankenstein.

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The Dangers of Allowing your Child to Read the Classics


It’s just one book.

She probably won’t even like it. Aren’t the classics boring?

It’s just a phase. He’ll outgrow it.

They aren’t addictive…

These justifications, and more, have often led unwary parents to let their children read a seemingly innocuous book, such as The Odyssey, Don Quixote, or The Pilgrim’s Progress.

DO NOT BE DECEIVED! Allowing your child to read just one classic may not seem like such a big deal, but it is the gateway to horrors unspeakable, such as: questioned assumptions, logophilia, thoughtfulness, and painful questions that may not have answers. It can cause your child to devour classics with ever-growing voracity until they eventually become an avid reader, an amateur poet, a budding novelist, or, worst of all, a lit major.

A literature major.

You’ve seen them. Talking about Dante in hushed circles, reading in public rather than socializing, infecting the minds of the children with stories… At all costs, keep your children away from them.

If you hope for your child to have any sort of normality, keep him or her far away from the classics.

Categories: Light-heartedness, Snapshots | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Freedom in Honesty


Bookshelf

Image via Wikipedia

There is this site called Goodreads that is connected with Facebook. I have been receiving requests for some time from various of my friends to join it and be their ‘friend’ on it. I was highly skeptical and put it off until just recently. I have no opinion about the merits of the site yet; I have not been on that long, and I have been rather busy with other things. However, one of the features of the site is the ability to rate books you’ve read based on how much you like them.

And for the first time ever, I was completely honest.

Do you know how freeing that is? I stopped caring what people thought and gave my honest opinion. I didn’t care if people could see that I loved Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare but hated Othello. I didn’t care if people knew that I enjoyed Bullfinch’s Mythology and loathed The Scarlet Letter. I felt free to admit that, although I have read both Emma and Pride and Prejudice, I loved the second and hated the first. I admitted that I have a passion for children’s literature. I gave all the classics I hated the grade they had always been assigned in my mind. For a few short moments, I let go of my literary pride. Ten minutes later, I started to worry what people would think again.

But I haven’t gone back and changed anything.

English: Ribnica field, Slovenia

Image via Wikipedia

I have been slowly working through the books, continuing my policy of honesty. But my original furor and complete joy will probably not be back for a while.

I finally know, though, that I can let go of my trappings of literary snobbery.

And there is freedom in that.

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History and Literature


“History is not the story of heroes entirely. It is often the story of cruelty and injustice and shortsightedness. There are monsters, there is evil, there is betrayal. That’s why people should read Shakespeare and Dickens as well as history — they will find the best, the worst, the height of noble attainment and the depths of depravity.” -David C. Mccullough

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