Thursday, December 21, 2006

I seem to have a superpower....

I discovered my incredible power about a year or so ago. I found that, if I thought for a while that something cool should be made into a movie, within a few years, the movie would get made. About five years back, it occurred to me that somebody ought to remake King Kong but keep it set in the 1930s. And then came Peter Jackson's remake that did just that. Some time ago I realized it was high time for a live-action Transformers movie, and guess what's coming out next summer?

I could only conclude that I have the power of making movies happen.

No, I didn't promise they'd be good movies, just movies.

Actually, of course, Jackson had it in mind to remake King Kong for years before I thought of it, and Transformers was probably inevitable. The generation (mine) that grew up on the cartoon is now a generation of young adults who go to summer adventure flicks. The Transformers movie is just a shameless way to cash in on that, and I have an awful feeling in my stomach that this film I'm so highly anticipating will be...well, awful. Maybe the feeling is just Eragon hangover. Hopefully, it will pass.

But on the off chance that I can make movies happen or that Hollywood has a psychic spy satellite tuned on me or that I just like popular '80s stuff that Hollywood types see as potential blockbusters, here's a list of what I would like to see in theaters in the near future. Feel free to add titles of your own.
  • Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future. Yes, I know you've never heard of it, but that one season before it got cancelled ruled, okay?
  • Duck Tales: The Movie. This bad boy is long overdue, but since Disney has apparently jettisoned its animation department in favor of that awful CGI I'm already bored with, I don't expect it to happen, or at least, I don't expect it to be any good.
  • Gobots. Okay, I'm kidding. That's just to tick off all the Transformers fans who might be reading this. I will say, though, that Gobots were much less breakable than Transformers. Their hands had less of a habit of getting lost, and they didn't usually have those antennae that snap off so easily. I think they were cheaper, too. They hold a special place in my heart because I owned both a Gobots Command Center and its evil counterpart, Thruster, which came with the extra gimmicks of a trap door that wouldn't stay closed and a motion alarm that went off whenever an insect anywhere in the house so much as twitched.
  • Battlestar Galactica. Yes, yes. I know there was an original movie before the TV show, and I know there's a remake TV series, but while the original BG was a rip-off of Star Wars, the new one is a rip-off of West Wing and ER. Ugh. "Presidential Breast Cancer in Space" is not my idea of entertainment. I'm talking about a movie unrelated to the new series that actually taps the potential of the show's premise--a flying refugee camp. I want to see stressed out people having riots, an ineffective kangaroo government, pilots hated because they failed to protect the homeworld and reviled because they're a bunch of womanizers (like in the original show), and I want to see smart Cylons. Make 'em look like the originals, but make 'em stealthy, and let's see them pick off ships from the fleet one at a time while the number of Vipers steadily diminishes. We're talking intense here, baby. Real edge-of-your-seat stuff.
  • Bone. I have to mention it. I think it's in my contract. I'd prefer a movie trilogy, but I don't know who's going to do it now that Disney and Warner Brothers are done with animation and Nickelodeon already dropped the project. I once fancied that a live action movie with CGI bones and rat creatures might be a good idea, but then I came to my senses.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Movie Review: Eragon


That's the first word that comes to mind, and it's hard to know what to say after that. I knew something was wrong when the movie opened with a drab narration followed by the image of a moody guy in outlandish makeup sitting on a throne that looked like the result of a high school art class, saying in a voice part geeky, part whiny, and part bored:

"I suffer without my stone. Do not prolong my suffering."

If the word were "with" instead of "without," he'd sound for all the world like a man talking to his doctor about an upcoming gall bladder surgery.

This is King Galbatorix, a cardboard evil emperor saddled with one of the silliest names in literature or film history. In the right mouth, this goofy line could be menacing, but John Malkovitch apparently doesn't want to put in the effort. Awful as it is, I was amused by this scene because Malkovitch, in his evil makeup, sitting in his dark throneroom, reminded me of David Hemblen as Lord Dread in Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future. I guess that's not all bad, but Captain Power was a campy 1980s TV series, and Eragon, for all its high budget, looks more than anything like a made-for-TV movie.

Malkovitch's opening line is perhaps the most imaginative in the film. Through the rest of the movie, we're subjected to classics like, "If you had been here, you would have shared his fate," or how about, "Tomorrow will come before you know it." Ugh. I don't remember the dialogue in the novel being this bad. Most amazing of all, it took four writers to pen this. Couldn't one of the writers look over the other writers' shoulders and say, "You know, I've heard that line in about five or six movies before this"?

The movie's plot is a sketchy outline of Christopher Paolini's novel, which borrows its own plot from Star Wars: Eragon (Edward Speleers) is a farmer boy living with his uncle until he encounters a mysterious blue stone that turns out to be a dragon egg. In a motif borrowed from Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern, the dragon (voiced ludicrously by Rachel Weisz) forges a psychic connection with young Eragon, making him the new Dragon Rider destined to end the rule of the evil Galbatorix. Fortunately, Eragon encounters Brom (Jeremy Irons), an Obi-wan Kenobi who explains the ways of the Force, or rather, of Dungeons&Dragons-style magic-casting. Then Eragon and Brom are off on a romp through the Middle Earth-like world, trying to join forces with the Rebel Alliance, here called the Varden. On the way, they rescue a spirited elf princess (Sienna Guillory) and meet up with a jaunty freedom figher (Garrett Hedlund). In the act of finding the Varden, they inadvertently draw Galbatorix's orc-like hordes of urgals (in the movie, chunky guys with black lines painted on their faces stand in for the monsters) to the hidden fortress, forcing Eragon and his dragon to join in a desperate battle. In the novel, Eragon passes out and wakes up elsewhere whenever Paolini isn't sure what to do with him. In the movie, they only have time for that once or twice.

The movie manages to be simultaneously drab and rapid. The characters rush through everything. The few brief scenes given over to sentiment or character development are so cliched that nothing emotional or otherwise worthwhile happens. It's an A-list movie, but it's hard to figure out where the money went. The sets, at first quaintly rustic, stay quaintly rustic the whole way through. The final, brief, dull "epic" battle takes place on a set that looks as if it were cobbled together out of planks, though for some reason it morphs suddenly into a gigantic castle when Eragon hops on his dragon and starts flying around.

The elves and dwarves promised early on are AWOL, and Galbatorix's evil legions are basically shirtless fat guys. For the final battle, Eragon and his princess/future girlfriend don laughable armor. Eragon's looks like a turtleneck covered with metal. Princess Whatsername's breastplate looks as if it were designed to emphasize the breasts it's supposed to plate, and--oh, look! She's holding her hairdo together with an armored comb! Isn't that darling? This couple would be a hit at a costume party, but in a real battle, I think they'd get their butts kicked. All the special effects budget apparently went into the dragon, which looks good, but perhaps they should have found some cash for creature makeup, set design, and costuming.

Contrary to what many reviewers, such as Lawrence Toppman, apparently think, Eragon's psychic connection to the dragon Saphira is not original to Paolini. The idea comes from Anne McCaffrey. At the same time, many viewers may unfortunately get the idea that the teenage Paolini was a less competent writer than he really was. Though highly derivative, Eragon the novel is both exciting and surprisingly complex, considering that it was written by a teenager. The film version is neither exciting nor complex.

Let's speak a little of the review by Eric D. Snyder. I'll begin by clearing away an odd comment made in response to his review (scroll down the page of the link above to see it). He has one commenter who claims Paolini ripped off Jeff Smith's comic epic, Bone. Now, I know Bone. I love Bone. I want to marry Bone. Paolini didn't touch Bone for this novel. He ripped off just about everything else, but the only things Eragon shares with Bone are unlikely heroes, dragons, lush environments, sword-wielding princess babes, and close friends of different species. You can pick up any one of these at the Fantasy Plot Device Clearinghouse. Such vague similarities are not borrowing.

Speaking of which, I loaned Bone volume 4, The Dragonslayer, to a friend a while back. He said he'd return it in a week, but it's been over a month. I'd better call him up: "I suffer without my Bone. Do not prolong my suffering."

Now for Snyder's remark about Paolini's educational history: a few commenters on his site have already read him the riot act for suggesting that the movie is a pipe dream born out of social awkwardness resultant from homeschooling, but I'd like to make a few additional comments. First , Snyder should have realized that it's unsafe to criticize the author of a book because of the awful movie someone else derived from that book; however bad some people might think the novel is, most will agree that it's Pulitzer material compared to the film. Second, there's nothing about Paolini's unexpected rise to fame that suggests social awkwardness. Besides writing a lengthy epic in his tender years--not a feat of genius by any stretch, but at least impressive--Paolini made the novel sell through his parents' tiny publishing house in large part because he went on a massive publicity campaign, if I remember rightly. It was enough of a campaign that Knopf took notice and took the book. Okay, Paolini didn't do that all by himself, but you don't do that at all if you're afraid of people or can't interact with them.

Now for a final comment on Eragon the novel. This isn't in the movie (not much of the book is in the movie), and so it has nothing to do with the subject here, but considering the nature of this blog, I can't resist.

Paolini, as is to be expected, makes a lot of mistakes in his first novel. One thing he demonstrates is the peril of placing a satire in a work that otherwise isn't satirical. Putting the questionable artistic quality of his novel in mortal jeopardy, Paolini has Eragon and Brom visiting a city dominated by a religion that worships a big rock with three spikes on top. The temple of this religion is called a "cathedral," apparently because Paolini thinks this is a style of architecture rather than a Christian church with a bishop. The members of this religion spend all their time, Paolini tells us, arguing about which of the three spikes is the greatest, and about whether or not they ought to worship a fourth, lower spike.

Satire, to be effective, must be cutting, and to be cutting, it must be precise. This is neither. The rock with three points is apparently the Trinity, but I've yet to hear a debate in Christianity over which member of the Trinity is the greatest. The metaphor really breaks down with the fourth spike. Presumably, this is meant to represent bickering between Protestants and Catholics over Marian devotion, but I've heard no one suggest Mary should be considered part of the deity except a few far fringe liberals, and they were so vague that I'm not sure they were saying it, either. At any rate, Paolini's blundering attempt at ironic criticism should remind us all of what we look like to outsiders when we allow our serious disagreements to disintegrate into petty squabbles. Since this is apparently how Paolini really views Christianity, something must have happened to give him such a negative impression.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Comments on CBC's Recent Article on the Gospel of Judas

Interesting news regarding the famed Gospel of Judas. At least one scholar has suggested the reconstruction and translation of the text is incorrect, and that the gospel depicts Judas as a dupe rather than a hero. This should be seen as a normal part of scholarly debate; in spite of the sensationalism, courtesy of National Geographic, some actual scholarship is involved.

What interests me more is the grossly irresponsible way this article is written (no, not the one you're reading--the CBC one linked above).

Whoever wrote this little article seems to be working on the assumption that the Gospel of Judas carries some kind of special historical weight, as if this document, by virtue of being sensational and by virtue of having been discovered recently, must contain gospel truth. Pardon the expression.

This leads me to speculate that, in many people's imaginations, the strange, especially in regards to the subject of Christianity, is assumed true with little or no critical evaluation. Witness the popularity not only of Dan Brown's novels, but of Dan Brown's ideas. Because Brown proposed strange and on rare occasion unique notions, many are willing to accept them as true history in spite of legions of experts who contradict him.

The contents of the Gospel of Judas have no compelling claim to historical veracity, though the text itself is of course historically important. To show how sf often successfully predicts real events, I refer the reader to George R. R. Martin's "The Way of Cross and Dragon," a short story remarkable mainly for its clumsy storytelling, though that didn't stop Donald A. Wollheim from reprinting it in The 1980 Annual World's Best SF, probably more because he liked its message than its artistic qualities. In the introduction to that same volume, Wollheim reveals himself to be a remarkably ignorant bigot, regarding people outside the pale of Western civilization as backwards and savage, living meaningless lives because they lack the creature comforts of modern technology. He hints that his bigotry extends even to those within Western civilization if they hold to religious creeds.

At any rate, Martin's space opera centers around a heresy-hunter sent to eliminate a new heresy that reveres Judas Iscariot as a saint. As a premise for a made-up heresy, Martin's idea is obvious and not particularly shocking, but he manages to spice it up. In this version, Judas is king of Babylon, master of dragons, and Jesus' greatest servant. After Jesus gets his legs chewed off (a nice, morbid embellishment), Judas carries him around. There's no traditional betrayal here, though Judas eventually falls out of Christ's favor by sending his dragons on a rampage after the crucifixion. When Jesus rises from the dead, he punishes Judas by making him into the famous Wandering Jew of folklore.

The narrator of Martin's tale hands a copy of this legend to a nonbeliever for comment, who replies that it's entertaining , unique, more interesting than the Bible (Martin clearly thinks highly of himself), and for that reason, apparently, more compelling than Christianity. Here we see, buried in Martin's short story, the same concept--that which pertains to Christianity, if it is novel, and especially if it contains conspiracy theory, is more acceptable to our exotic tastes than anything traditional. Of course, Martin is no more a believer in the Way of Cross and Dragon than is his narrator. The moral of his story, with which he gleefully bludgeons the reader, is that all religions, or at least Christianity (the only religion discussed) are false because their details are too hokey for Martin's tastes. That is, you might as well believe Judas was a dragonmaster as believe Jesus was the Son of God.

This isn't exactly brilliant reasoning. When is a detail in a narrative hokey? When it contradicts Martin's worldview, apparently. It's easy enough to point out absurdities in Martin's own story, if we all get to define our own absurdities. There are some indications that he wrote about Catholicism without researching it, and how about the psychic mutant who shows up for no reason? The philosophical sketchiness, thin plot, klutzy writing, didacticism, and occasional pure venom didn't prevent Martin from picking up a Hugo Award.

Faith and Fantasy, Part 1 (of who-knows-how-many)

Religion and fantasy are closely related. Both have elements of escapism. Fantasy literature is sometimes criticized for being escapist, but this is actually one of its good points. One of the primary purposes of fantasy is to show the reader something so radically different from the ordinary that it shifts his perspective and leads him to look on the real world with fresh, renewed vision. It is for this reason that C. S. Lewis described the feeling of reading good fantasy as a glimpse into heaven. Good fantasy produces in a person an intense longing to break through to an extraordinary understanding of the universe.

Lewis’s view is probably partially inspired by Jungian psychology. Jung apparently understood myths (that is, fantasy) to exist in a collective human subconscious. It should be evident that this notion has more to do with mysticism than science; genetics has adequately demonstrated that human beings are not genetically complex enough to have DNA-encoded collective memories. The certain religious longings that humans have, which express themselves in myths and moral teachings, are part of the human spiritual makeup. We have built into us two essential spiritual things, a longing for a relationship with God and a longing for right behavior: the first, I refer to as the Religious Sense, and the second, Christian Tradition refers to as the Natural Law. Because these are a part of basic human makeup, they are similarly expressed in different cultures. That is why cultures often share basic moral concepts and also why they share folkloric motifs.

It is evident to me that fantasy writing (that is, myth making) is approved by God. I say this because God saw fit to inspire certain myths and direct the Church to canonize them as scripture. Leaving aside the issues of whether or not these events actually happened in historical space-time, such tales as those of Adam and Eve in the Garden, Jonah and the Whale, or the Exodus, are mythical in character. And the fact that Esther, Judith, and Tobit are part of the canon of scripture, though it can be said with some certainty that they depict events that did not actually take place, is a sure indication that God approves the writing of fiction. I believe this derives from the Imago Dei. Human beings are created in the image of God, which means that we share finite versions of some of God’s infinite attributes. God is Creator. The Church recognizes that when we have children, we participate with God as co-creators. Ultimately, all human life comes from God, but God in his grace allows us to participate in this creation through our own willful actions. As will be elaborated more fully in a later essay, probably, I hold that sexuality, imaginative creativity, and religious devotion stem from the same, or at least closely related, impulse. It is often commented, sometimes jokingly and sometimes not, that sexual frustration seems to produce great artists. Dante’s infatuation with Beatrice is the traditional example. Robert Heinlein, in his novel Stranger in a Strange Land, emphasizes this point and challenges the reader to name one great book written by a eunuch. Heinlein’s challenge is unfair; eunuchs are outnumbered and so should hardly be expected to produce as many great works as men with testicles. If the nasty rumors are to be believed, Origen was a eunuch, and he would surely prove a devastating exception to Heinlein’s rule, but even this would merely demonstrate that mutilated men lose neither their sexual impulse, their creative ability, nor the Imago Dei.

The close relationship between sex and art is easily explained. The artist pours his creative energy into a creative outlet other than sex. For the same reason, monks and nuns are celibate so that they may pour their creative energy into prayer and contemplation. The scriptures describe the relationship between God and Israel, and Christ and the Church, as marriage. God created human sexuality and established marriage as visible expressions of the nature of reality and a microcosmic representation of the relationship between God and his people. The husband, the monk, and the artist are all expressing--through equally legitimate outlets--the finite creative impulses that they possess as images of the infinite Creator.

By condoning icons and rejecting a rigid canon regarding their appearance and manufacture, the Church implicitly sanctions and approves the human creative impulse. The Church so reveres the creative impulse that it may even consider its products sacred. Icons are one example, and in the Mass, the priest acknowledges the bread and wine before the consecration as “the work of human hands.” Just as human life, product of the human creative impulse, is inherently sacred because humans bear the Imago Dei, so other human creations, to a lesser degree, may be sacred. This is true of prayers, religious poetry, theology, devotionals, and other works, which are all products of human imagination. As already mentioned, it also applies to fiction-writing, as demonstrated by the fiction in the Bible, imagined and created by men in cooperation with the Spirit who inspired them. Science fiction and fantasy involve the human imagination in a process of creation, re-telling, and re-imagining of myth. For this reason, fantasy/science fiction writing is an inherently religious act. As Frank McConnell astutely points out, the “religious impulse” is “after all just the artistic impulse wearing a different hat.”[1] It might be better to put that the other way around, but either way it gets the point across.

Now let me return briefly to my earlier comment that religion is escapist. Religion and fantasy both connect the participant with something constant and eternal. Fantasy does this by unlocking and expressing myth in written form. Religion does this by making myths immediate and relevant and explaining, by means of dogma, exactly where and when those myths break in on the natural universe to become visible, historical, or sacramental realities. For example, it is the dogma of the Church that the dying and rising god of myth was in history a blue-collar Jew of first-century Palestine. This dogma is one of the cores of Christianity. Without it, you don’t have Christianity anymore. There are other myths that are part of the Christian tradition but about which no dogma is defined. For example, there is no dogma that Adam and Eve ever existed in history, and so orthodox Christians can have several opinions on the subject and yet remain orthodox. Yet, though the Church does not insist that the myth of Adam and Eve has an identifiable point of entry into the real universe, she does insist that the myth is important and relevant because it adequately explains the human condition as one of separation from God brought on by disobedience. All of us consistently and without exception go astray after Adam’s example, and by that demonstrate the reality of what the Church calls original sin. That is, each of us is sinful, and no human being ever achieved a sin-free existence through his willpower. Because of the nature of human existence, it was necessary for the mythic figure of the dying-rising god to become an historic reality. From this description of the Christian gospel, we see why the dying-rising god myth, contrary to the teaching of some misnamed “liberal” theologians, must occur in real history, while the myth of the Fall of Man need not. The Fall of Man, whether or not it can be pinpointed as a specific event, is a visible, real (and therefore historic) reality, however it came about. The redemption of man, therefore, must occur not in mythic space-time but in real space-time. If we agree that the death and resurrection of Christ represents man’s redemption, then it we must agree that both the death and the resurrection of Christ are actual historic events, or else man has had only a mythical, metaphorical redemption and not an actual redemption. Since the Fall of Man is an historic reality whether or not it is an historic event, an historic redemption is necessary. This is why St. Paul wrote bluntly that if Christ has not risen, we are still in our sins (1 Corinthians 15.17).

Myth draws a person out of the natural world in order to return him to it with a new vision. Religion has the same function. The hermit who goes into seclusion and then returns to teach is a good example. Christians have long recognized the value of retreats even for those of us who are not hermits, in which we leave the world temporarily in order to return to it renewed. Something similar happens to all of us every Sunday when we attend Mass. We are caught up into the eternal and constant heavenly liturgy where Christ is still offering his body and blood at the Last Supper. The liturgy of the Church is an intrusion of timeless, ultimate reality into the natural world. After participating in this heavenly liturgy, the Christian returns to that world, able to go about his vocation with renewed vision. That is to say, the liturgy is inherently escapist.

For this reason, timelessness is an inherent and necessary part of Church attitude and Church worship. Though it is untrue to say that the Church does not change, and it is equally untrue to say that the Church cannot grow stuffy, it is nonetheless foolhardy to argue that the Church ought to be more “relevant.” Relevance, as defined by its proponents, typically means faddishness. Many people have the idea that youth will be attracted to Christianity if the music is contemporary or if the liturgy is simple. Speaking as a youth, I think I can say with some authority that no youth (I daresay, no person) comes to a religion for the purpose of relevance, fun, or entertainment, at least not if he intends to stay and be serious about it. He comes, rather, to escape such things as relevance, fun, and entertainment. He comes to find something solid, something permanent. I love the Catholic Church because she has such wonderful, outdated moral strictures that I simply cannot find anywhere else. That the Catholic Church has maintained such grossly unpopular teachings as the immorality of contraception in the face of all the worldly pressures, is indicative of her solidity, her dedication, and her truth. The Catholic Church has decided to follow something more permanent, more important, and ironically, more relevant, than mere relevance. I think it likely that honestly seeking youths are more put off by a religion that strums guitars than a religion that chants quietly and burns incense. They can hear strumming guitars anywhere, but they can only hear chants and smell incense in a place that suggests eternity. In order to attract youth, the proponents of relevance have instituted practices that alienate everybody.

Youths do not read fantasy novels in order to experience the everyday, and they do not go to church to experience the everyday, either. They read fantasy and go to church because they want to escape to something more wonderful, mysterious, and remarkable than the everyday. When they have such extraordinary experiences, they will go back to the everyday and realize that there is no everyday, that everything is extraordinary, that the entire universe bears the imprint of God.

But this revelation of the extraordinariness of the ordinary cannot come, or at least cannot come easily, if a person does not first escape. The liturgy of the Church should facilitate the fulfillment of the escapist impulse, which is identical to the religious impulse, which is identical to the creative impulse. But more on that later.

[1] This comment appears in McConnell’s introduction to Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman: The Kindly Ones (DC Comics, New York, 1996: n. pag.).

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Book Review: BONE

Jeff Smith is one of those people you love to hate. His life sounds like one of those Scandinavian tales of the Ashlad; success just sort of came to him. In kindergarten, he produced a doodle of a character who looks like a cross between Snoopy and a Smurf and gave him the name Fone Bone. He continued to draw stories about him through grade school and high school until a whole world developed. With no formal training, but with a preternatural artistic talent, he produced a comic for his college student paper called Thorn, now a significant collector's item. Smith left college without a degree and co-founded the Character Builders Animation Studio before he left that as well and, without any experience in the medium, began self-publishing Bone as an underground black-and-white monthly comic.

Though it got off to a slow start, it became a hit. Smith spent twelve years on the series, putting it on hiatus to write the scripts for the movie for Nickelodeon, a deal that unfortunately fell through. When it was complete, Smith gathered Bone into nine volumes and shortly thereafter released it with emendations as a one-volume trade paperback. The comic won over 38 awards internationally.

Because of Bone's popularity, Scholastic picked it up to flagship its new Graphix imprint. Scholastic is releasing one volume of the nine-volume series (with the emendations of the one-volume edition) every six months with new color by Steve Hamaker. Understandably, when Scholastic bought the title, Smith's own Cartoon Books editions went out of print.

For those of us who have a relationship with Bone similar to the relationship that slightly more normal people have with Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, it's good to hear that the Scholastic titles are selling exceptionally well, and so the black-and-white One Volume Edition has been re-released. Though the colored editions are lush and beautiful, the black-and-white better displays Smith's virtuoso line art.

Time Magazine named Bone as one of the top-ten graphic novels of all time, and at least one reviewer at called it the most important fantasy epic since The Lord of the Rings. This is an exaggeration, but not much of one. Bone breaks the mould of traditional story-telling. It shuns the unfortunate sensational elements like nudity or graphic violence that characterize many underground comics and keeps the story-telling at a child-friendly level. It is simultaneously high fantasy, slapstick cartoon, coming-of-age story, and love story. I have seen a few reviewers tear out their hair (not literally) trying to discern how Smith balanced such incompatible elements so effortlessly. He breaks a fundamental rule of storytelling--that you should start the story where the action begins--and instead draws the reader slowly into the tale. So lovable are the characters and so engrossing is their world that the funny stories become a full-scale cosmic myth without losing the reader along the way.

So, should you read Bone? Should you let your children read Bone? My own answer is yes, but be aware that the images include what in a film would be called "mild epic violence" and "stylized action violence," though there's very little blood and none of the horrific artwork of grotesque comics like Hellblazer. The early chapters contain mild swearing; Smith apparently didn't figure out that a comic like this should be child-friendly until the fourth issue (which is the fourth chapter of the first volume). The first volume, Out from Boneville, contains two scenes that could conceivably be termed sexual, though that would be an exaggeration. There is no implicit or explicit approval of immoral activity.

Volume five of the color editions, Rock Jaw: Master of the Eastern Border, will be available in February. The video game adaptations of the first two volumes, Out from Boneville and The Great Cow Race, are available from Telltale Games. The prequels, Rose and Stupid, Stupid Rat-tails, are still available from Cartoon Books.

Book Review: From Homer to Harry Potter

From Homer to Harry Potter: A Handbook on Myth and Fantasy by Matthew Dickerson and David O’Hara (BrazosPress, Grand Rapids)

I recommend Dickerson and O’Hara’s magnificent work. I picked this up on impulse at our public library and was pleased to find that it is an explicitly Christian work, which I hadn’t guessed from the title, as well as well-informed and intelligently written. In the ongoing and often ludicrous debate over the Harry Potter novels, Dickerson and O’Hara inject a heavy dose of sanity. Whether he ultimately agrees with them or not, the reader will come away with more information and a coherent framework within which to view fantasy literature.

The book functions as more than a Christian defense of Harry Potter. Dickerson and O’Hara use the writings of Lewis and Tolkien as a springboard, but move beyond the thought of those two authors, to apply workable definitions to terms such as fantasy, science fiction, fairy story, legend, and myth. They then move into an erudite discussion of the Bible as myth, followed by essays on Greek mythology, Beowulf and Arthurian romance, and nineteenth-century fairy tale compendia and original stories, always keeping in mind how such works have influenced modern fantasy. Following this review of sources, they discuss four works of modern fantasy: Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, Walter Wangerin, Jr.’s The Book of the Dun Cow, and J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. It happens that I have read two of these four modern fantasies and a smattering of the earlier works, and I can say that the essays are equally intelligible and enjoyable whether or not the reader knows the original material.

What Dickerson and O'Hara successfully show in their discussion is that Harry Potter is nothing new, that it contains nothing, or at least nothing obvious, that is contradictory to Christianity. They show also that a wholesome and enthusiastic understanding of myth is key to a healthy religious imagination. Perhaps most valuable to the average reader will be the discussion of the three "faces" of imaginative literature, borrowed from Tolkien: the mystic toward the supernatural, the magical toward nature, and "scorn and pity" toward man. The categories that the authors use make sense of the literature. The early chapters create an excellent framework within which the authors are able to intelligently evaluate the four modern fantasies they discuss in the final chapters (though the discussion of The Book of the Dun Cow could have benefited from a little research on basilisk legends).

By the end of the book, the antagonist of Harry Potter simply has nothing left in his arsenal. Although not all fantasy is Christian by any means, fantasy has been a major part of Christian storytelling for a very, very long time. Not only do the authors demonstrate this, but they also interpret the Harry Potter novels in such a way as to demonstrate that they hold up a moral framework compatible with Christian morality, or at least very similar.



No, there's nothing up here yet, but there will be soon. This space is for essays by D. G. D. Davidson, science fiction writer and archaeologist. Hopefully we'll get at least one post up a month, perhaps more.

D. G. D. Davidson is a starving artist. He works as an archaeologist in Wyoming and writes science fiction and fantasy stories, two of which he has published. He is currently writing a novel. Davidson is a recent convert to Catholicism. Due to his interests, posts on this blog will typically consist of book reviews, discussions of trends in science fiction, Catholic apologetics, comments on the relationship between religion and imaginative literature, maybe occasional archaeological essays, and a number of humorous posts just for the fun of it.

Hope you enjoy reading.