Exploring where life and story meet!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Another reading addiction

I have discovered another book series to which I have become addicted but which I am still trying to decide what I think of the books themselves.  It is one of those curious situations wherein you want to know what happens next and find the world, characters, plot, writing or some combination thereof intriguing but are not quite sure what to make of the whole.  I have the same feelings towards the writings of G.K. Chesterton and George MacDonald, I love their writing in general but either their work is so far above me or I am not exactly certain what they are trying to say that I have a hard time saying if a certain book is among my favorites or not.  Phantastes intrigues me but is it on my favorite list?  The Man Who Was Thursday is a great but confounding read; I am not sure what to think.

In this particular case I speak of the 'Tales of Goldstone Wood' books by Anne Elizabeth Stengl, of which the first book is Heartless.  She is an excellent writer, her world is rich and beautiful, some of her characters are annoying and others endearing (just like real people), but there is something about this series that confounds me.  The first book does not fit very well with the rest of the series and has a theological/literary flaw* that has bugged me for a time, but the author mentions on her blog that this work is highly allegorical and her later books have improved significantly on this point.  There is also a bit too much mystery in the books, after reading the first half dozen books through I can look back and make more sense of things, but for a first time reader, things are often frustratingly foggy. A little mystery, foreshadowing etc, are essential to a good read but there was enough here to frustrate even a seasoned reader of the genre!  But then I do tend to be a bit impatient when it comes to 'what is going on' so this may be a personal flaw rather than a foible of the writer.  But perhaps the thing that frustrates me the most is not really a failing on the part of the writer but of epic fantasy itself.

She has good characters and I want to know more about these characters, but there is so much going on that there isn't as much room for character exploration as I would like.  I have the same complaint with the Lord of the Rings.  I really want to know what happens after the ring is destroyed and everybody has to go on with their lives, but all we get is a little blurb that so and so did whatever and then it is over.  I want to know what the characters felt, thought, and experienced not just the cold historical facts.  Besides these two minor complaints, I have really enjoyed these books and look forward to the next installment in the series.  If the worst I can say is that she mystifies me at times and I want to know more about her characters, I suppose these are not failings at all but rather flaws in my character as a reader: I must cultivate patience is what it all boils down to and her books are good enough to keep me hooked.

It was also interesting to note which books have influenced her, I thought I caught hints of C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, The Last Unicorn, and "The Hound of Heaven."  She did not mention this on her blog, but I also wonder if the sixth book in the series doesn't have a little Star Trek influence (no, not the technology but rather the main evil minds me of a major villain in the sci-fi series and her flouting the laws of time is also suggestive, but this is all a theory).  No wonder I like these books, she seems to be the modern heir to some of my favorite writers.  I must also admit that I have imbibed her works in a drunken binge (trying to satiate my 'what happens next' addiction).  I have not savored them as one should a fine work, but rather consumed them quickly in a short period of time.  I plan a leisurely second read and perhaps that will settle once and for all my conundrums with this series.  It takes a good book to get me to read like an addict, so chances are good these will end up on my favorite book list.

*The first book portrays the Christ figure pursuing a mortal woman as his bride, the allegory is appropriate and beautiful, but as the foundation for a series, it jarred me that one particular girl in all the history of the worlds could be united thus with the Creator, from a theological standpoint it made little sense.  The Church is the Bride of Christ (that is all believers throughout the ages) so how could one frail mortal girl stand in for millions?  What about the rest of us?  If this were a stand alone book and solely an allegory, it would be fine, but as the corner stone for a series it made little sense.  After the first book we hear hardly a mention of the character and it feels as if she were locked away in some closet somewhere like a crazy uncle never to be seen again.  Besides for this little snafu, the series is well thought out and put together and I look forward to seeing where it goes from here.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Price vs cost

I was at the grocery store lately and was asked by the checkout lady, whom I hardly know, if she could get a price break on a certain professional procedure as I was now working part time at the local provider of such services.  I wanted to ask if I could get an 80% discount on my bananas since I had a passing acquaintance with her.  I get annoyed when people ask me things like this, and I was not quite sure why until I sat down and thought it out.  I was feeling that in asking for a discount, they felt that my time and skills were of little or no value and thus it was outrageous for me to charge a reasonable market price for said service and I was indignant that my years of schooling, hard earned experience, and insane student debt counted for nothing but rather they are the ones who get to be upset when I decline to offer free services based on the most meager acquaintance.  It is a strange world we live in!  But more importantly, this is how so many of us treat our own faith in Christ.  We want to get by 'on the cheap,' we want 'cheap grace' rather than redemption, we want Christianity on our terms rather than His.

Our salvation cost Him everything and we assume it should cost us nothing.  We want to live as we want to live, not as He expects us to.  We treat it as some eternal life insurance policy we can ignore until the moment we need it when rather it should be a radical change in life and behavior.  We are called daily to 'take up our cross' which literally means to take up an implement of death and carry it towards the site of our own execution!  We must be ready to lay down our lives and priorities in His service, in whatever guise that may take at the moment.  This is not an easy, gentle faith to be ignored save at the last end of need.  It demands 'my life, my soul, my all,' and if you are not prepared to lay it all down, why bother pretending?  The Book of Revelation warns believers about being 'lukewarm,' rather let us be either hot or cold!  All or nothing!  It is the ultimate insult to approach the throne of grace with a list of prerequisites before one is willing to kneel before it.  Christ held nothing back.  He asks the same of each of us.  

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Cheese, real and imagined

G.K. Chesterton once remarked, "the poets have been strangely silent on the subject of cheese."  Apparently said poets have not watched any overtly Christian movies of late.  Why are they so high on the cheese factor?  Don't get me wrong, I love a good cheesy movie every so often, but those aren't the movies I like to watch time and again or that might change the way I think about things.  It is like a date with a goofy man, amusing for the moment but nothing you want to build a relationship on or even take seriously.  I am not talking about movies like 'Amazing Grace,' 'Son of God,' or 'Narnia' that have underlying christian themes or are actually depicting a biblical story but movies whose whole purpose seems to be proclaiming the gospel with a little bit of a story thrown on to make it palatable; much like putting peanut butter on a pill so your dog will eat it.  I think the former type of movie is far more powerful than the latter, with the latter, people know what you are trying to do and resent it, with the former, if the story is good enough they won't care and will let the story sweep them off whither it will.

The latest attempt (at least the one of my most recent viewing) is 'God's not Dead,' and while there are good parts to the movie, it is a bit of fun, and the characters might have been interesting had there been more time and better acting, overall I was disappointed.  There were too many characters to get to know any of them even remotely, much of the acting was rather unconvincing, there were too many story lines to keep the plot cohesive, and serious events in their various lives were tossed aside and became irrelevant when they accepted Christ, which is completely unrealistic!  If a story is not believable, it will not be accepted or liked by those who hear it and thus ineffective and a failure.  It was a fun movie overall, but not something I will likely own or watch again since it can't figure out which story it was trying to tell.  I especially liked the grumpy professor, but they spent too much time delving into other subplots to make much of his story or character, rather hurrying out a quick excuse and moving on.  I was appalled with how his tale ended, I never saw it coming because you knew no one would ever do that to a character in a 'serious' movie and yet they did.  I was blindsided because I didn't expect them to do something that stupid, and how the other characters reacted to it really made me wonder what was going on.  Something rather serious has just occurred and no one seems upset about it in the least?  Creepy!

The best 'christian' movies are those with a subtle, intriguing message that is intricately woven throughout a good story; not a billy club of a gospel message wearing a thin veneer of story.  That is how Jesus Himself proclaimed the gospel: using stories and parables to explain the mysteries of God and make people curious, to make them hungry, not hitting them over the head with it and demanding they repent and be saved.  Until we learn that, I am afraid the cheese will continue!  At least the poets will have time to rectify their topical oversight.