Thursday, May 31, 2007

Sharon Hinck's The Restorer Received


It's been a while, but I'm back, sort of. I now live in Utah, but I'm not in Utah right now; I'm currently sitting in a casino in Nevada because it's about the only place in this town where I can get Internet access. I can't really tell you where I am or what I'm doing because Nevada apparently has some law on the books that what happens here has to stay here.

Anyway, because this is a public spot, until I know better, I can't put certain features into the blog posts because I don't care to expose certain personal info on this public network. We'll get this all worked out at some point.

Anyway, for an upcoming Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour, I'll be reviewing Sharon Hinck's The Restorer, book 1 of her The Sword of Lyric series. I recently received my copy and a press release came with it. I assume it's appropriate to reproduce for you the entirety of the release, so here it is. It's from NavPress and it's by Danielle Douglas:

THIS DESPERATE HOUSEWIFE IS INTERESTED IN MORE THAN CATFIGHTS AND TRYSTS!

New Hinck Novel Takes a Desperate Housewife To An Alternate Universe

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., January 2007--NavPress and Sharon Hinck are pleased to present the first novel in the Sword of Lyric series, THE RESTORER.

In book one, readers are introduced to Susan Mitchell, a modern-day soccer mom who longs to be a heroic woman of God. Susan, in dire need of a change, is pulled through a portal into another world, where her adventures carry her through swashbuckling battles, relationship challenges, and a profound spiritual journey.

THE RESTORER absorbs readers in a unique and entertaining experience while carrying a word of encouragement to anyone who has felt abandoned by God or bewildered by a path that doesn't make sense. It is a page turning story to stretch the imagination and provide encouragement to fight the battles of life.

More that a typical sci-fi fantasy, The Sword of Lyric series blends genres in a unique way combining mom-lit and high fantasy. Readers will relate with the heroine, an ordinary soccer mom, and immediately be swept into another world with dire villains, conflicting loyalties, sword fights, epic battles and grand journeys. In a daring move with a style reminiscent of Frank Peretti, J. R. Tolkien and Robin Jones Gunn, Hinck unleashes THE RESTORER.

###
Available June 2007, Paperback, 1-6006-131-1
$14.99k, 480 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4"

About Sharon Hinck

Sharon Hinck is a wife, mother, and author who has experienced many adventures on her road with God, though none has involved an alternate universe (so far). She earned an MA in communication from Regent University in 1986 and spent ten years as the artistic director of a Christian performing arts group, CrossCurrent. When she isn't writing, Sharon enjoys speaking at conferences, retreats, and church groups. She and her family reside in Bloomington, Minnesota.

About NavPress

NavPress is a publishing outreach ministry of the Navigator's. For over 25 years NavPress has specialized in producing trustworthy Bible studies, books, magazines, and the best-selling contemporary language bible, The Message. NavPress imprints include TH1NK, Pinon Press books and Discipleship and Pray! periodicals.

To order a copy of The Restorer, please visit http://www.navpress.com/.

Okay, it's D. G. D. again. Would it be in bad taste to comment on this press release? I mean, besides the missing hyphen, missing commas, and missing letter in J. R. R. Tolkien's name, I have to at least say something about TH1NK, an imprint I can't help pronouncing "Thwunk." This is the one, or the thonenk, that infamously includes a volume allowing masturbation. That tells you how "trustworthy" NavPress's publications are. Speaking of which, The Message is an awful, overwrought, slangy paraphrase I recommend you avoid unless you share my masochistic obsession with collecting study Bibles.

And who is Robin Jones Gunn?

Monday, May 21, 2007

May Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour

Because of the move, I can't give it the attention it deserves, but the feature site for this month's blog tour is The Sword Review, an e-zine dedicated to sf and fantasy stories and articles. They also appear to have really good cover art.

Okay, okay, I'll take time out of my busy schedule of washing windows, packing boxes, and steam-cleaning corn chip fragments (Snuffles's fault, not mine) out of the carpet in order to tell you a little bit about what I've seen at The Sword Review. Specifically, I read "Tiama--a Story of Hope" by David R. Downing. And, in fact, that's about all I read.

To be honest, it underwhelmed me. I found it "deficient in action," to steal a phrase from Ebenezer Elliott's assessment of Montgomery's World Before the Flood. "Tiama" has a kernel of a good idea, following the (miraculous?) rescue of a town being slowly buried by encroaching desert. Downing writes in the story's discussion forum that "Tiama" is loosely based on a real town fighting off sand from the Sahara. The image of sand covering civilization reminds me of J. G. Ballard's famous and surreal "The Cage of Sand," in which Martian sands bury Cape Kennedy while dead astronauts float overhead in wrecked spacecraft, but the resemblance is superficial. The primary deficiencies of "Tiama" are its lack of interesting characters and its dry narration, which sounds almost like a summary out of a history book. Besides that, the motif of a blind seer walking out of the desert reminds me of Children of Dune, and I'm afraid I simply can't give a glowing review to anything that reminds me of a Dune sequel.

For its good points, the story is a genuine and mildly inspiring look at persistence in the face of adversity, and the author's voice, while a little rough, is pleasant. So go check it out yourself.

Your blog tour: it keeps going and going and going....

Jim Black
Amy Browning
Jackie Castle
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
Frank Creed
CSFF Blog Tour
Gene Curtis
D. G. D. Davidson
Chris Deanne
April Erwin
Kameron M. Franklin
Beth Goddard
Marcus Goodyear
Andrea Graham
Jill Hart
Katie Hart
Sherrie Hibbs
Heather R. Hunt
Becca Johnson
Jason Joyner
Kait
Karen
Dawn King
Tina Kulesa
Lost Genre Guild
Kevin Lucia and The Bookshelf Reviews 2.0 - The Compendium
Terri Main
Rachel Marks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Eve Nielsen
John W. Otte
John Ottinger
Cheryl Russel
Hanna Sandvig
Chawna Schroeder
Mirtika Schultz
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Daniel I. Weaver
Russell Griffith
Jason Waguespac
Holly
Brandon Barr

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Chevy Camaro plays Bumblebee in new Transformers Movie

According to MSN, a Chevrolet Camaro concept car stars as Bumblebee in the new Transformers movie. Others my age may remember Bumblebee as a yellow Volkswagen Beetle, who in my tender years I think I confused with Herbie. I remember Bumblebee as a small, good-natured but put-upon fellow. I also remember choosing him as my avatar in games of make-believe. I'm not sure how I feel about him being a muscle car. Here's the article for you from Ann Job at MSN Cars:

The character Bumblebee is just one of several cars from General Motors
generating a lot of buzz in the upcoming 1980s cartoon-based movie. [more...]

Saturday, May 19, 2007

What About Harry?

I'm in the midst of my move, so I don't have time to post anything big. I'll make a few comments to pique interest and start a discussion.

People have probably noticed I haven't talked much about Harry Potter, which may seem odd since it's the fantasy series that has proven most controversial in Christian circles. I plan to write some essays on it later, but that's a large enough project I've put it off, and besides, my instincts tell me that everyone who's attempted to interpret the books so far will have egg on his face after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows comes out. Incidentally, I intend to review that book ASAP when I get it, but now that I'm changing addresses, ASAP may not be AS as it could have been.

As I see it, there are two extreme views of the novels. On the one hand are those who view the books as Satanist/Wiccan/Gnostic (take your pick) propaganda and on the other hand are those who view the books as Christian allegory. I'm somewhere in between. I'm not quite naïve enough to believe that anything with Christian-like elements is therefore Christian. Way back in my undergraduate days, I hung out with a campus Christian group that treated The Matrix like the fifth gospel, but I'm adequately convinced the film is actually Gnostic (on that subject, I refer the reader to the introductory essay in The Matrix and Philosophy). I learned my lesson from that experience and refrain from pronouncing anything an intentional Christian allegory unless I can be reasonably certain of it or have heard the writer admit it.

My own view of the Harry Potter novels thus far is that their use of magic is unimportant to the their underlying philosophical and ethical base. The magic of Harry Potter is generally flashy and superficial; Rowling does use occult lore for the sake of humor, but for no other reason I can discern. I can only conclude that people who claim she's delving deep into the occult by making references to the philosopher's stone are poorly read; you can know everything Rowling knows about alchemy simply by reading The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. Those who think she must be an occultist are forgetting she has an MA in English.

Religion in the books is virtually nonexistent. Harry has a godfather, indicating he's probably nominally Anglican, but no other serious religious references have appeared. There's a strong suggestion that the individual personality continues after death, but the concept is undeveloped. I don't think the novels require explicit religious references, though I do find it remarkable that not a single character goes to church on Sunday. And contrary to some critics, the books have not the slightest hint that the characters get their magic power from demonic forces or any kind of spirits.

The morality of the novels is generally good but weak. I don't think Rowling intends us to take the misbehavior very seriously, so I don't. Some Christians have criticized Rowling for depicting children who are rude to each other; I can only assume such critics have never interacted with children. The books contain a strong anti-eugenics message, but that's neither unique nor progressive. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince spends an inordinate amount of time belaboring the message that making out is not a recreational activity. That's a good message as far as it goes, but it's neither bold nor inspiring. The emphasis on heavy petting is probably inappropriate for very young children, but the children who started this series when very young are not very young anymore.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Video Game Review: Bone 1 and 2

See the official website here.

The packing is well underway and I have three days to complete it, so I'm going to give you a post today. We haven't done a video game review yet, and according to my stats, the essays on Bone remain the most popular posts, so I thought it would be appropriate to talk about the video game adaptations. Don't count on a large number of game reviews in the future, at least from me; I'm a woefully inept gamer. I play little, use a laptop with no power, and have no television to which I can connect my nonexistent gaming console, assuming they still hook to televisions like they did in the old days when I played that cool talking spaceship game on a Texas Instrument.

Telltale Games, a small indie company, owns the license to the Bone video game adaptations, and they have produced two games so far, more-or-less covering the contents of Out From Boneville and The Great Cow Race. Though I got stuck for a time on one of the puzzles in the second game, an experienced gamer could probably get through the games in about forty-five minutes each.

These are adventure games, done in 3-D. The player plays as the three Bone cousins and, at least in The Great Cow Race, is able to switch back and forth between them. The 3-D rendering is unfortunate but necessary, and the game designers have given Bone an appropriately lush but cartoonish look that captures the atmosphere of the comic reasonably well. The voice acting varies, but is generally good. Fone Bone sounds great, though sometimes I think he could have used a few shots of espresso before entering the recording booth. His geekiness, which in the comic is mitigated by occasional true grit, has in the games become terminal.

The first game, Out from Boneville, is inept in some ways. Although the game does a decent job of winnowing the story down to its important elements, some of the puzzles have nothing to do with that story but act instead as frustrating obstacles. The game has gone through two versions (and I've played both). Originally, it opened with the three Bone cousins, Fone , Phoney, and Smiley Bone, lost in the desert after being run out of Boneville; the new version begins with a lengthy, dull cutscene in which Thorn gives a narration of Bone's cosmogony from the text of Crown of Horns. No doubt the developers felt this was necessary to avoid exposition problems later on, but it is a serious departure from the comic, which only reveals the cosmogony after considerable preparation. The new version of Out from Boneville makes other minor changes, the most important of which are new, better voice actors for Thorn and Gran'ma and a new model for Thorn. The original Thorn's hair kept disappearing into her shoulders when she turned her head, an image was that was both distracting and unsettling.

The greatest frustration with Out from Boneville is the repetitiveness. After a locust swarm separates the Bones, the player has to guide Fone Bone into the Valley and lead him to his first encounter with Thorn, which, though less sexually charged than the same scene in the comic, is quite funny. After this, the player has to go through virtually the same exercise with Phoney Bone. Worst of all, the process of getting the characters to their goal involves two (two!) games of Hide 'n' Seek with the 'Possum kids. The 'Possums are minor characters in the books who spend an inordinate amount of time on center stage in the games, mostly for the purpose of frustrating one or the other of the Bones and, with them, the gamer.

Much of the story is told through dialogue trees, as is typical in adventure games. This points up one of the great troubles of the genre--pacing. Like many adventure games, Out from Boneville is sluggish and consists largely of interactive narration. For that reason, many of the jokes are less funny and snappy than they have a right to be. This is particularly unfortunate because much of the humor and clever dialogue is original to the games and does not appear in the comic books.

Some of my initial objections are probably unavoidable in the transference from comic to game. Many times I complained, "They're just standing there!" There's plenty of talking in the comic, but the characters are usually doing something interesting while they're at it. In the game, they, well, they just stand there, though the designers wisely gave each of the characters a signature gesture. Phoney likes to smack his fist into his palm, and there's a halfhearted attempt at depicting Thorn's oral fixation: her hand moves to her mouth a number of times but never does anything when it gets there. There's an error here, however, and artistically it's a serious one: one of Thorn's signature gestures is to cross her arms. This shuts her off from the other characters and from the player; instead of instantly connecting with Bone as she does in the comic, Thorn in the video game appears to barely tolerate him.

The Great Cow Race is infinitely better. The puzzles are smarter, the dialogue funnier, and the plot bigger. Especially nice, the player has freedom to switch back and forth between the three Bones at will, so if he's stuck, he can simply go do another puzzle elsewhere. Sometimes this produces weird results, however; when I played, I got through a number of puzzles with Phoney and then Fone Bone walked into the bar and complained that Thorn was hanging out with some other guy. I exclaimed, "She is?!?" As I played it, Thorn's snubbing Bone for Tom didn't take place until much later.

Some of The Great Cow Race's puzzles are clever and original. In particular, you have to walk around and find imagery to help Fone Bone write Thorn a love poem. You can mix and match the images, and then Ted the Bug will give a comment on the poem. I particularly liked, "Your teeth are as white as Moby-Dick...." When it comes, the actual Cow Race is brilliant; it's fast-paced and makes a satisfying climax for the game.

Some of the dialogue expands on comments from the comic. In the comic book, Fone Bone says sarcastically to Phoney, "I wouldn't trust you to hold an ice cream cone!" In the video game, you can elaborate that by having Phoney exclaim, "I only ate your ice cream that one time!" to which Fone Bone replies, "I was little, and it was my birthday!" The writers for the game also poke gentle fun at some of Bone's absurdities; for example, Fone Bone wonders aloud why anyone is interested in the Cow Race at all when Gran'ma wins every year.

But the greatest part about this game is Moby-Dick. Fone Bone has his trusty copy of his favorite novel in his knapsack, and you can make him pull it out and read relevant passages to the different characters. I don't envy the poor intern who must have combed the novel to find a passage for each character. Moby-Dick's great and all, but once was enough for me.

It would be too much to ask, but I hope that in the future games they do a better job of capturing the relationship between Bone and Thorn. In the games so far, most of the hugging and hand-holding have been replaced with standing opposite each other and talking (while crossing arms). Thorn comes across as uninterested and uninteresting, and in The Great Cow Race she is remarkably moody; she sits and broods by herself for however long it takes to get Fone Bone to walk around the fair and think of dumb ways to impress her (an hour, in my case). I spent much of that time muttering, "You can find a better girlfriend than that, Fone Bone...." On the plus side (a little spoiler warning), if you play a frustrating carnival game something like three dozen times, you get an extra ten-second video in which Bone gives Thorn a stuffed animal and she kisses him on the nose. This, of course, shocked me no end. Kissing??? In Bone???? Hugging, yes. Group nude bathing, yes. Phallic symbols, yes. But no kissing; that's yucky.

The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for Bone Episodes 1 and 2:

Myth Level: Medium (hard to say yet, but the new intro is quite mythic)

Quality: Medium (some good stuff, but falls prey to the problems with adventure games)

Ethics/Religion: Medium/High (same as the comic; no objection to anything but the balancing-good-and-evil part)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Updates

I got nothin'. For the last three days, I've been apartment-hunting. I haven't read any new sf. I haven't gotten hold of any sf news. I haven't seen or read any religious items of note.

But I found an apartment.

I see too that my attempt to start a vigorous discussion produced a less-than-vigorous result. What's going to happen around here if I have to go to the field?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Michael Wilson's "Edifice Rex" and Christian Cosmology

I anticipate being away from the Internet for the next four days (though I've been wrong before), so I intend to leave you with some thoughts that I hope will start a discussion in the comments or on your own blogs, which you will carry on without me for a short time.

Archaeologist Michael Wilson has an interesting article entitled "Sun Dances, Thirst Dances, and the Medicine Wheels: A Search for Alternative Hypotheses" in the volume Megaliths to Medicine Wheels: Boulder Structures in Archaeology, edited by Michael Wilson, Kathie L. Road, and Kenneth J. Hardy, from the Archaeological Association of the University of Calgary (1981, pp. 333-370). The article is on the function of medicine wheels, especially the famous Big Horn Medicine Wheel of Wyoming. Just as an aside, don't believe anything you read about medicine wheels on the Internet. We don't know what they were for or why they were built, and they were almost certainly not ancient astronomical observatories.

But I don't want to talk about medicine wheels. Wilson makes some interesting comments at the end of his article about indigenous religions versus modern religions, particularly Christianity--though he seems to have a specific Protestant megachurch Christianity in mind.

According to Wilson, modern religionists treat religion like a once-a-week ordeal during which believers can expiate all the sins of the previous week with a formulaic recitation (thus I say he is presumably not including Catholicism in his discussion, nor Evangelicals who recite no such confession--he means Lutherans, perhaps?). He blames Christians for worshipping "the almighty building fund," which he names "Edifice Rex," as if Christians believed a bigger building would make their religion more worthwhile. Having visited some of the frighteningly huge megachurches in rural Kansas, I see where he might get this idea; and he's apparently not the only one who's gotten it, because he refers to cartoonist F. Sturgeon, who arrived at the "Edifice Rex" pun independently.

Following this, Wilson explains that indigenous religions have a different view. They do not divide the religious and secular spheres. They simply have no secular sphere. They do not personify the inanimate; rather, in contacting nature, they have a sense of being in the presence of a person or of persons; thus, pagan religions depict nymphs and dryads or spirits and gods of nature. I note also that scripture, particularly the books of Daniel and Revelation, depict angels in charge of nations, bodies of water, and so forth. Wilson's positive statements about indigenous traditions also parallel some of G. K. Chesterton's criticisms of naturalism.

If my books weren't all in boxes, I would pull out Radical Ecology: The Search for a Livable World and would look up Ecofeminism, which if I remember rightly, involves among other things rejecting a mechanistic view of the universe in favor of an organic one.

I would also pull out David Standish's Hollow Earth. Toward the beginning of that book, Standish mentions a Catholic scholar from the beginning of the Enlightenment (I'm afraid his name escapes me) who proposed that the oceans cycled: Waters flow to the North Pole where they sink into an underground realm and then disgorge at the South Pole. This constant cycle keeps the oceans from stagnating. Standish quotes a commentator (again, name escapes me) who suggests this scholar pictured the world as a macro-organism, and that this image is in tune with Medieval thinking. Similarly, Ecofeminism (I'll double-check all this when I have my books back) wishes to return to a pre-Enlightenment view of the universe as a macro-organism continuously preserved and animated by the Spirit of God. Incidentally, this image of cycling oceans is largely correct; the oceans do cycle, just not by flowing underground at the North Pole. The cycle is sometimes called the "oceanic conveyor belt."

So used are we now to a mechanistic view of nature that when Christians hear this sort of thing, many write it off as "new-agey." However, there are suggestions here that an organic or even personal view of nature is in tune with pre-Enlightenment Christian thought. Now that many, including non-Christians, are abandoning the mechanistic view of the universe, should Christians who have purposely or otherwise absorbed the mechanistic worldview seriously consider whether another, older view is more valid and more Christian? Could this improve our treatment of the environment? Could it also, as Wilson hints, revitalize religion by making all of life an "I-thou" experience and by eliminating the secular sphere?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

A Meme and Review from the Gumbo People

Vehige at Thursday Night Gumbo has written a fine little review of Robert J. Sawyer's Calculating God. I have not read this novel yet (I've had frighteningly little time for pleasure reading lately), but I did read a bit by Sawyer on how he came up with the novel. He called his publisher, told him he wanted to write a novel featuring a creationist and an evolutionist arguing without getting mad, and sold the book. Go read the review.

Also, Vehige memed me. Okay, then, here's Booked By Three. Let's see if I can make this worthwhile but write it in a timely manner.

Three works of non-fiction everyone should read:

Bierlein's Parallel Myths has been on my mind a lot lately. As soon as I can get through it, I'll give it an extensive write-up. He has a thoughtful essay on the relationship between world mythology and the three great revealed religions.

Can I cop out and add the Bible to this list?

I'm drawing an embarrassing blank here. I'm too distracted. I'm afraid I'm going to throw in The Elements of Style, which I think is an incredible work capable of stopping people from using they as a singular pronoun, which is my all-time number one pet peeve.

Three works of fiction everyone should read:

Whew, my stomping ground. We'll start with Lewis's Perelandra.

Second is definitely Warren's All the King's Men.

Third, I'm going to say Asimov's Caves of Steel because I can and because it's a fine blend of sf and mystery-writing. You thought I'd say Bone, didn't you?

Three authors everyone should read:

Hmm. John Milton, Homer, and G. K. Chesterton. That was easy; name-dropping I can do.

Three books no one should read:

On principle, I refuse to answer this question. Well, okay, anything from Harlequin.

I'm going to meme EegahInc just to disrupt his wonderfully streamlined blog. And I'll also meme Peter to pay him back for giving me big essay projects. ;)

Matthew Kelly, Story-telling, and Changing Your Life

Lighthouse Catholic Media puts out a CD of the month with lectures by various Catholic teachers. It's an excellent series. My friend/mentor/RCIA sponsor (does that make him my godfather?) gets this series and also gets extras to pass out to others, which means I typically get them, too.

The CD this month is Matthew Kelly's "Becoming The-Best-Version-of-Yourself." I don't know what's up with the hyphens, but never mind that.

Kelly's "best version of yourself" is just another term for sainthood, but what I find particularly interesting about his talk is his recognition of storytelling as a vital didactic method. He begins his lecture with an excellent fable. In the midst of his lecture, he strongly encourages everyone to read a good book for at least ten minutes every day. My response was at first, "Only ten minutes?" But if someone doesn't read regularly, ten minutes is a good, reasonable start.

"What you read today walks and talks with you tomorrow," says Kelly. Amen to that! The ability to read is a precious gift. To neglect it is a crime. If my books weren't all packed up in boxes, I'd pick up Alberto Manguel's The History of Reading and tell you what the statistic was on world illiteracy about a decade ago. I remember it was rather high. To be able to read is a precious gift; in particular, being able to read the Bible is a precious gift.

Kelly speaks of books that change lives, books that move and comfort people. His ministry, apparently, even offers a list of books he thinks will particularly move people. Sometime soon, I need to produce a list of my own. I'll post it when it has a significant number of titles. I'm sure it will be different from Kelly's, as I don't imagine his list is particularly science fiction-laden.

Here's the the link to Matthew Kelly's organization. I'm having trouble finding his top books list, though I found his books.

Happy Mother's Day

Photo by a2gemma
May is Mary Month and today is the day in May we honor mothers, especially the Blessed Mother. So happy Mother's Day to all from The Sci Fi Catholic.

Hail thou star of the ocean
Portal of the sky,
Ever virgin Mother
Of the Lord Most High.


O! by Gabriel's Ave,
Uttered long ago,
Eva's name reversing,
Established peace below.


Break the captives' fetters,
Light on blindness pour,
All our ills expelling,
Every bliss implore.


Show thyself a Mother,
Offer Him our sighs,
Who for us incarnate
Did not thee despise.


Virgin of all virgins
To thy shelter take us,
Gentlest of the gentle
Chaste and gentle make us.


Still, as on we journey,
help our weak endeavor,
Till with thee and Jesus
We rejoice forever.
Through the highest heaven,
To the almighty Three,
Father, Son, and Spirit,
One same glory be.


Amen.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Updates and a New Study on Religious Bias in Colleges

Having just finished editing a novella I've worked on from time to time, I find it is neither as awful as it could be nor as good as it should be. Too much action in the middle? Not enough? Too prosaic? Hard to say.

Anyway, I've begun the process of packing up and moving out. That means, among other things, that I've little to say on the blog today. But if you look to your right, you'll see a few new things on the sidebar, including new Catholic blogs and new Sci Fi blogs and resources. That should keep you momentarily entertained. Hopefully, I'll have something worth saying tomorrow.

Oh, but here's something interesting. Albert Mohler, a Baptist, has a post up on his blog about a new study revealing significant bias against Evangelicals in academia. What disturbs me is that these same academics don't have such a negative attitude against Catholics, which tells me Catholics are doing something wrong.

Of course, part of the negative attitude against Evangelicals probably has to do with short-earth Creationism and Intelligent Design, subjects about which Catholics are understandably less enthusiastic than are our separated brethren, some of whom have apparently gotten doctorates without taking a single science class. But still, the higher negative attitude against Evangelicals suggests to me that these academics see Catholics as a less significant force for conservative social change.

Mohler quotes Cary Nelson in his post; Nelson argues that the negative attitude probably reflects Creationism and Evangelicals' Republican leanings. Catholics, and I mean orthodox Catholics including me, are not all Republicans (I'm a registered Democrat who usually votes a straight Republican ticket because of disqualifying factors in my own party's candidates) and are not all short-earth Creationists (I consider Intelligent Design good philosophy but bad science because its propositions are untestable by the scientific method). Evangelicals have some diversity too, but the general misconception is that they're all wild-eyed radicals.

Perhaps the most shocking part of Mohler's post, though, is how he begins it. A Dr. Frank G. Kauffman at Missouri State University actually instructed his students to write write letters to legislators to pass a law legalizing same-sex marriage, and then he had a student who refused brought up on charges of discrimination. How's that for freedom of religion?

On some matters sacred to liberals, Catholics ought to be big movers and shakers, such as on opposition to abortion, homosexual marriage, and birth control. We should be able to annoy even conservative Evangelicals with that last one. In fact, we should annoy everybody with that last one; since "sexual freedom" is sacrosanct in this culture, why aren't we the most reviled group around? Is it because we've become lax? Is it because we've given in to the mainstream? Is it because we've become...irrelevant? Let's get some comments from the peanut gallery here.

Oh, and one extra thing: The report from which Mohler gets this info mistakenly uses Evangelical and Fundamentalist as synonyms. They are not the same thing.

I'm working on the possibility of a new title graphic or something.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Movie Review: Dark City



That's some fine sf!

Dark City, directed by Alex Proyas. New Line Cinema. Starring Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, and Jennifer Connelly. Screenplay by Alex Proyas, Lem Dobbs, and David S. Goyer. Runtime 96 minutes. Rated R.

Read other reviews here.

I know I haven't been blogging much lately; things are topsy-turvy here and I'm likely to be moving soon, which naturally makes the blogging erratic.

This movie's been around for about a decade, but it came out when I was in high school and R-rated movies were forbidden. I knew it was likely to be something special when it came out; now, at last, I've seen it.

The movie's greatest drawback is that it's confusing. The quick editing keeps it from getting dull, but it also renders it occasionally incoherent. A number of times in the movie, I was wondering where exactly the characters were in relation to each other. As a result, some of the sequences were less meaningful than they should have been, especially the action sequences. Probably the second-greatest problem is the odd insertion of gratuitous nudity in the film's beginning. They must have been afraid of bombing at the box office if they didn't make an R-rating on this thriller, which isn't especially scary or thrilling.

Dark City succeeds mainly by combining so many good tropes. We have the film noir setting with the creepy city, old cars, and stark lighting. We have a pretty good set of scary villains in The Strangers, who are pale white, talk in weird deadpan voices, and wear trench coats and black hats. Oh, and they carry knives. These are supposed to be powerful, high-tech aliens, but their favorite weapon is the knife. Go figure.

Story-wise, the greatest mistake is the film's need to explain the premise three times. Yes, I get it: The Strangers are aliens who have kidnapped a bunch of humans and stuck them Somewhere Else in this atmospheric city to run nightly experiments on them after putting the whole city to sleep. They have one human scientist who works for them and knows everything. There's one guy (Rufus Sewell) for whom the experiment goes wrong, and for reasons never explained, he has some of the aliens' psychic powers. It's a good little premise, but it isn't especially original or convoluted. Hearing the same character (Kiefer Sutherland) lecture on it three times over is a bit much. I especially dislike that he gives this lecture right at the beginning, so from the start there's little mystery. It might have been better if they'd set up the story a little more tightly so I could be happily confused for, say, ten minutes before Dr. Explainslove shows up.

The plot follows some recognizable motifs. As a nod to the noir inspirations, there's a gruesome murder right at the beginning and a hard-boiled detective (William Hurt) who's looking for the murderer. Coupled to the serial murder plot is the classic hero-who-wakes-up-with-no-memories-and-has-to-discover-his-true-destiny-and-save-the-world motif. This oldie but goodie has become such a cliché of fantasy/sf, I think only inexperienced plot-makers are unafraid to use it; for example, I point the reader to Doug Chiang's Robota, a medium-good picture book with a plot so uninspired even Orson Scott Card's enthusiastic writing doesn't save it. On top of that, half the illustrations, excellent as they are, have nothing to do with that story...but I'm getting off topic.

Let's face it, though: The no-memory hero is a great idea, and I bet it still has juice in it if a solid writer uses it. For one thing, it gives the reader or viewer a comfortable way of being introduced to the fantasy/sf world--through the eyes of the protagonist.

So I can, with some hesitation, recommend Dark City. Certainly its noir set design is worth seeing if nothing else.

The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for Dark City:

Myth Level: High (some classic motifs including the hero on a journey of self-discovery who turns and saves others)

Quality: Medium (nice city, now would you let me look at it?)

Ethics/Morality: Medium (some problematic scenes at the beginning)

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Book Review: Flight Volume 2



I seem to be reading this series backwards.

Flight Volume 2, edited by Kazu Kibuishi. 431 pages. Image Comics, Berkeley. ISBN: 1-58240-477-1.

I previously reviewed Volume 3 of this series, so when I saw Volume 2 on the shelf, I snatched it. I can say that the stories here are just as good.

At least one of the stories I thought was new in Volume 3, Michel Gagné's "Underworld," has a prequel here, "Inner Sanctum." The stories follow the continuing adventure of a little fox in a surreal sf universe. The stories have two very different expressions of the idea of a hidden underground realm.

Probably the best stories, Jake Parker's "The Robot and the Sparrow," Sonny Liew's "Dead Soul's Day Out: A Malinky Robot Story," and Kazu Kibuishi's "The Orange Grove" all share the theme of--not robots--friendship, and they do a delicate job of exploring it. Two are quite moving, but "Dead Soul's Day Out" is surprisingly gritty and dark for a story about kids.

The "weird story I don't get" award goes to Matthew Woodson's unsettling "Tendergrass," a wordless piece featuring a man slitting open animals in a corn field, presumably for some kind of magic ritual.

"Best imitation of The Twilight Zone" goes to Rodolphe Guenoden's classicly underhanded and very satisfying "The Ride," which has one of those twist ending you know is coming but love anyway.

Rad Sechrist's "Ghost Trolley" features some neat characters in an intriguing world full of impractical high-flying architecture that puts me in mind of Miyazaki's Castle in the Sky. I only wish the story lasted longer. Specifically, it features a young woman who drives a trolley for dead people.

The funniest is "Impossible" by Herval and Aris, featuring a toy airplane with an unrequited crush, though is has some close competition in "Mousetrap" by Johane Matte, Ghislain Barbe, and Eric Baptizat and "The Flying Bride," which seems to be missing attribution, and "Icarus" by Johane and Matte, which indicates that Dedalus's invention of those wings was a long and painful time coming.

Art and storytelling quality are consistently high, with the exception of Don Hertzfeldt's "'Dance of the Sugar Plums' or, Last Month on Earth," a train-of-thought end-of-the-world story featuring stick figures. I could have drawn that.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

The Vivisection of Bone, Part 2: Mytho-Bone-esis



“And still the fragrant thorn is beautiful.” --Ebenezer Elliott, “Spirits and Men”

Read Part 1 of this series. For another, briefer discussion of some mythic motifs in Bone, check out Stephen Weiner’s “Using Graphic Novels in the Classroom, including Bone by Jeff Smith” p. 7, which briefly outlines some comparisons for which I don’t have space. Page numbers are once again from the Bone: One Volume Edition.

And here’s the requisite spoiler warning. Now let’s get started.

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man” (Campbell 1968:30).

Thus Joseph Campbell describes what he calls the “nuclear unit of the monomyth” (1968:30), that is, what he sees as the core of every myth. I’m uncomfortable with Campbell’s reduction of all myths to one, partly because Campbell’s monomyth, as he elaborates it, has notably different elements from the Hero Cycle in Stith Thompson’s motif index (Underberg 2005), but I certainly acknowledge parallels between the myths of the world.

Whether there is only one myth or several, Campbell’s nuclear unit is certainly common, which should be unsurprising, considering how basic it is. In particular, change in the mythic hero and his way of relating to the world is of the essence of the myth.

But if anything is not mythic, if anything defies the monomyth, it is the comic strip. In the Calvin And Hobbes 10th Anniversary, Bill Watterson explains in his introduction that some people enjoy comic strips because of their stability, because the characters do not change. This is evident in “Calvin and Hobbes.” Every event that happens to Calvin may as well have never happened; even when moral lessons are presented--and they are, sometimes in more intense forms than are typical of the funny pages--Calvin learns nothing. The events of his life slide off his psyche as if they never occurred; once Hobbes is returned, the stolen TV replaced, or the Snow Goons frozen, the crisis is over, Calvin forgets, and nothing changes. This is visible particularly in Calvin’s agelessness. He goes to school, goes on summer break, has numerous Christmases, and yet he never has a birthday. He is eternally six.

It is perhaps no surprise that, not long after the publication of the 10th Anniversary, Watterson retired, announcing he could do nothing more with the strip. Arguably, he could have done a lot more; he could have let Calvin turn seven, which would have opened up a new world of possibilities, but it would also have denied the inalterability that some see as intrinsic to the comic strip art form.

Bone is intriguing for many reasons, but perhaps its central conceit is its bringing together of seemingly irreconcilable opposites: high fantasy with slapstick humor, realistically drawn characters with cartoonish ones. Perhaps most startling of its collided opposites is the confrontation of three comic strip characters with Campbell’s monomyth. Bone is a depiction of the unstoppable force encountering the immovable object: the all-changing myth meets the unchangeable character. Which one has to give?

This conceit has precedents. Others my age will remember Duck Tales, which demonstrated that talented writers could get a good deal of mythological mileage out of Disney’s iconic characters. The three Bone cousins, in their personalities and even to a degree in their appearances, are similar to some of the best-known Disney characters: brave, kind Fone Bone is much like Mickey Mouse; tall, silly, easygoing Smiley Bone is much like Goofy; greedy, squabbling Phoney Bone is something like a hybrid cross between Donald Duck and Scrooge.

In Bone, the monomyth is encased in what has come to be called the high fantasy epic. The high fantasy, by the narrow definition I’ll use for this essay, involves a fantasy world, usually described as “sprawling,” beset by a curiously camera-shy representative of evil, in this case the Lord of Locusts. Locusts, of course, symbolize chaos and destruction.

This evil overlord commands a vast army of hideous monsters, here rat creatures, who tend to be surprisingly inept fighters, at least when battling the heroes. Aligned against the villain and his army are a comparatively weak force of do-gooders, perhaps attached to the remnant of an ancient utopian or otherwise good society, such as the city of Atheia. There’s plenty of room for political intrigue and the exploration of the decadence of certain members on the side of good. Typically, the people representing good are divided, argumentative, and lazy, whereas the evil are unified and energetic, though they may have minor intrigues of their own, particularly when the army of inhuman monsters has to work in alliance with groups of misguided humans.

The politicized conflict between good and evil erupts into war, climaxing with a major siege battle in which evil's massive horde outnumbers good's small army.

Mixed into the political situation is a quest, frequently involving a magical artifact, either the evil overlord’s one weakness or the source of his power, which he has foolishly left lying somewhere in the countryside. The final siege battle forms the backdrop of the completion of the quest. Since fantasists back themselves against a wall with these paired conceits, an explanation is sometimes necessary that the evil army was bound to the will of the overlord and disperses peacefully or becomes otherwise incapacitated at his death.

High fantasies, particularly the quest portions, make good vehicles for unlikely or reluctant heroes. Sometimes, these heroes are what I call interpreter characters. Interpreters are mediators between the high fantasy universe and the reader. The interpreters may have a mindset or background closer to the reader’s than to the world of politics and magic occupying the book. Explanations to the interpreters keep the reader from getting lost, and their personalities keep the reader from getting bored. In the case of The Lord of the Rings, the hobbits serve as interpreters. In the case of Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Fionavar Tapestry, five students from the University of Toronto serve in that role. In Bone, the Bone cousins, who come from a society more-or-less like modern America, act as interpreters, filtering the story about dreams and demigods through easily digestible dialogue and worldviews.

Of course, everyone knows the high fantasy formula. Susannah Clements suggests in her fine lecture, “From Middle Earth to Fionavar: Free Will and Sacrifice in High Fantasy by J.R.R. Tolkien and Guy Gavriel Kay,” that the real question in a high fantasy is not whether good will triumph over evil but how much it will cost good to accomplish that triumph.

In The Lord of the Rings, the cost is rather low, and for that reason the books are, in my opinion, unsatisfying in their conclusion. The biggest sacrifice is Gollum, a character nobody cares about (notice how they try to repair that deficiency in the films). The smaller sacrifice is more subtle: Middle Earth is a less magical place when the story is complete, but since the reader is about to leave it anyway, he probably doesn’t mind too much.

The Fionavar Tapestry, on the other hand, is too extreme in the other direction. The sacrifices are frequent and intense. At first, they are quite moving--Paul hangs for three days on the Summer Tree after the manner of Odin and Jennifer is graphically raped by the archvillain. But after that, the sacrifices are less dramatic and even routine: a race of sinless beings has a fall from grace, a sea god gives himself up to torture, and a man who just found the love of his life willingly dies in battle to save another. And it just goes on.

Arguably, Kay’s constant sacrifices aren’t a failure. The torments are varied and unexpected graces appear. The greatest problem is that the biggest and most moving sacrifices are at the beginning of the story rather than the end. The other great problem is the conclusion: The Lord of the Rings ends in decisive fashion with Frodo and the elves departing forever into the uttermost West, but The Fionavar Tapestry ends with the characters just sort of wandering wherever, deciding whether they’ll go back to our world or hang out in Fairyland. The obligatory separation that gives good fantasies their sense of completion is missing. Surely the interpreter characters must go back to their own world or move on to the next one--ultimately, they don’t belong in the world in which the story takes place.

It is a delicate balance to strike, and even great masters have missed the mark by at least a hair. Besides that, the effect for which the high fantasist is reaching is largely a subjective one gauged by the reader’s disposition, preconceived notions, and attitude at the time of reading. Some may be bored by The Lord of the Ring’s overextended post-climax conclusion while others may delight in it (I am in the former category). Some may find the end of The Fionavar Tapestry a relaxed relief after the preceding brutalities while others may find it an aimless extension of Kay’s sometimes ludicrous worldbuilding (I am in the latter category). But speaking from my own subjectivity, Bone strikes the balance precisely, both with a definite sacrifice and an ending in which the characters are separated. Bone matches my expectation of what emotional response a high fantasy will produce. I expect the high fantasy to make me want more, to open a yearning in the heart like a sweet wound. Others may prefer to end high fantasies with a sense of satiation, in which case I would suggest they’re reading the wrong kind of books.

The necessary sacrifice in Bone’s high fantasy myth is accomplished in two ways. The first is by a tease: we have every reason to believe Thorn will die at the Crown of Horns or even before. I say this because Fone Bone and Thorn have a competition for the role of central hero in this myth. The story begins by following Bone, yet when he arrives at the spring where Thorn is bathing, his role switches to that of “herald” to Thorn’s coming adventure and life change (cf. Campbell 1968:49-58). Fone Bone is the strange creature the hero sees as the quest begins, announcing the existence of a world beyond Thorn’s current ability to imagine. Taking the herald, combining him with the helpful companion, and then letting him take center stage in the role of a faux protagonist is certainly a unique idea. Smith’s execution of this isn’t perfect; without Thorn, the entire book of Rock Jaw Master of the Eastern Border feels like a pointless interlude, but such can be expected, for as far as I know, Smith is here exploring new territory outside the bounds of what we normally consider good writing. He succeeds anyway, combining the changeless comic strip protagonist with the high fantasy epic: as the story gradually morphs from light, episodic adventure to full-scale myth, Smith lets Bone fluctuate between first-place hero and second-rate sidekick. As this happens, Thorn changes via a rite of passage as a fantasy hero should while Fone Bone remains largely the same. In this way, Smith satisfies the needs of the myth and the comic strip simultaneously.

The interesting effect of this competition for first place is the conclusion in the reader’s mind that the story can ultimately do without one or the other of the characters. Briar detects this as well, for she says as she determines that Bone is a true protagonist, “...that means I no longer need you, Princess--” (p. 918). It would have made an interesting (and desolating) twist if Thorn had died after accidentally bequeathing a fragment of the Locust to Bone, forcing him to continue alone on a quest that was never rightfully his to begin with. While reading Bone for the first time, I convinced myself this was going to happen. Interesting though the idea is, it would have mortally wounded the story, for it would have killed the relationship that, as I’ve previously discussed, is Bone’s centerpiece. Nonetheless, the possibility of the story going on without one or the other of its main characters lends Bone a tension few high fantasies have. In this way, Smith gives the work the emotional impact of Kay’s repetitious sacrifices without the laborious presentation of constant death or protracted torture.

The possibility of the death of Thorn almost takes on certitude when Bone proposes that Thorn will indeed die if she touches the Crown of Horns (p. 1161). Arguably, both of them do die in that scene, in a sense. Bone dives into his head (p. 1277) much as he dove into the Dragon’s mouth in an earlier dream sequence (pp. 894-896), perhaps representing in both instances a death-and-rebirth motif. In this second sequence, Bone encounters a light that says, “Hello,” but then Thorn appears and draws him back (pp. 1278-1279). The scene can be variously interpreted, but since Bone is diving into his own head toward his own center, we are probably meant to understand the light as his own soul, which in the Bone universe is a coagulation of the dreaming, probably identical to the “Dreaming Eye” through which the Dreaming streams and by which it can be perceived (p. 868).

So why does Thorn tell Bone that if he goes that way he can’t come back, a warning presumably of either death or permanent catatonia? Perhaps such direct contact with one’s own center would mean self-revelation too intense to bear. In that case, there is a conscious turning here from ultimate enlightenment. This may be a choice in favor of the material world and in rejection of the spiritual one, though that would be at variance with the rest of the comic. It may be the rejection of a pure spiritualism that ignores or contemns the physical, in which case it would be in tune with the underlying theme of balancing opposites; it would also be, at least on this point, in line with Christian metaphysics. Or it may be a representation of the bodhisattva who foregoes entrance into Nirvana in order to turn back and teach others, which may also align it with the story’s end in which the bones return to Boneville.

The second of Bone’s sacrifices comes at the climax. One sacrificial death, one tragic death, and one necessary death occur, altogether making a satisfying “cost” for the defeat of evil, consummating--but also relieving--the fear of approaching death that pervades the comic’s latter third. The sacrificial death is Lucius’s. He seizes Briar to save Rose and in so doing repairs the mistake he made years before (p. 1271). He dies heroically, saving others. He also, in a sense, dies in place of Thorn and Bone. Having botched his own romantic story, he gives them the opportunity to complete theirs in the right manner, and they do. “This is a far, far better thing I do,” he might say if the action allowed such an introspective pause.

The tragic death is Kingdok’s; he is Bone’s sole tragic character (pp. 1257-1262). Formerly a mighty king, he turns over his power to the Hooded One. It is interesting to trace Kingdok’s character and appearance through the comic: in the early chapters, he looks like a large and especially toothy rat creature (p. 98), but he evolves into a gigantic walking mouth, a creature of nightmare (p. 480). Intimidating as he is, other characters gradually dismantle him in representation of his loss of authority. Thorn cuts off his right arm, symbol of strength (pp. 477-478). Rock Jaw rips out his tongue, symbol of the ability to give commands or opinions (p. 774). Gran’ma smashes in one side of his face with a statue, completing the mutilation (p. 850). Humiliated and debased, Kingdok insists that Thorn slay him even though she gives him opportunity to live (p. 1257). He will have none of it: he forces her hand and very nearly frustrates her quest. Kingdok is a noble character who destroys himself--the subject of tragedy.

The necessary death is Briar’s. She, along with the Locust, is a villain who needs to die if the story is to resolve, so we need speak no more about it.

The sacrifices have appropriate impact, for both Lucius and Kingdok have enough development to be sympathetic characters. After everything is wrapped up, the story ends with the conclusion of the myth: the interpreter characters, alien to the world of the story, return to their own world (p. 1332), “with the power to bestow boons,” Campbell would say. What exactly these boons are, we don’t know. That brings us back to the earlier question: do the bones change? Can they, in fact, bestow boons? Have they learned anything?

Before answering that question, I will pause to address fans who hope for sequels. Sequels to myths are inevitably bad because when the myth is over, it’s over. Whatever happens next is unnecessary and uninteresting. Does anyone want the details of Cinderella’s happy married life? Does anyone want to read about Sam mucking around in the Shire? If you don’t believe me, read Dune, a mythic story in its own right. When you’re done with that, read the sequel, Dune Messiah. If you manage to get through it and still aren’t convinced, read Children of Dune. Repeat as necessary with the remaining three sequels. Somewhere in there, you’ll realize that sequels to myths are bad news.

But now: do the bones change? I think the answer is yes, but their change is subtle and Smith makes a nod to comic characters’ unchangeability. The comic ends where it began, with the Bone cousins having an argument in the desert (p. 1332), the same argument with which we first me them (p. 19). Phoney clearly hasn’t learned his lesson; the story’s end finds him trying to rob people. Smiley is still a moocher. Fone Bone is still Fone Bone.

Yet they have learned something. They are going home together. Earlier, in The Dragonslayer, Phoney makes a serious move to head home without Fone Bone and Smiley (p. 588). But in Crown of Horns, he exclaims to Gran’ma, “I can’t leave without my COUSINS” (p. 1219).

As for Fone Bone, he has gone through a similar transformation; he must choose between Thorn and his cousins or, as previously described, between selfishly clinging to Thorn and unselfishly releasing her. Upon first meeting Thorn, he says, “.....Boneville....? ....What’s Boneville?” (p. 61). The sight of a beautiful woman has made him forget countrymen and homeland. But when he decides to go back to Boneville, Thorn says, “You don’t have to explain, Fone Bone. I know how much you love your cousins” (p. 1323).

As for Smiley, if anyone hasn’t changed, he hasn’t. We’ve learned a few things about his character, but they haven’t been changes. Smiley is inalterable because he adapts to any situation. Smiley bends like bamboo. His wu-wei approach to the world is evident in the way he goes along with Phoney’s moneymaking schemes: Smiley agrees to play along with Phoney, though as Phoney hints early on, Smiley may not be entirely on board, for Phoney says to him, “Satisfaction with YOU is always so TEMPORARY!” (p. 218). Later, we learn that Smiley made Phoney pay everyone for pies they had stolen as children (p. 963). Fone Bone opposes Phoney’s plans directly, but Smiley prefers to undermine them from within. Yet at the same time, Smiley seems to acquiesce to Phoney’s worldview as well as his schemes; as he says during The Dragonslayer, “You can’t feel SAFE unless there’s somethin’ to be safe AGAINST!” (p. 509), defending Phoney’s conniving plans. Characters like Smiley make highly entertaining sidekicks--Smiley could hold his own with any of Shakespeare’s wise fools--but such characters are never heroes. If Thorn or Fone Bone behaved like Smiley, they would have glided right along and adapted to everything--and the Locust would have won.

Now that we’ve discussed the high fantasy myth of Bone’s plot and the changes in its characters, we must discuss Bone’s underlying cosmological and cosmogonic myths.

The Bone cosmology comes from Australian aboriginal mythology. Callicott gives a good summary, which I will quote at length:

“Australian aboriginal mythology is referred to as ‘The Dreaming’ or ‘Dreamtime’--alternative translations of the Aranda word alcheringa. The contemporary convention of capitalizing these terms indicates that they are better understood as proper names than as descriptive nouns. ‘The Dreaming,’ read literally, suggests that Australian aboriginal mythology originated in and was sustained by dreams. However, while dreams per se seem to play a vital part in the spiritual life of native Australia, their role is not as large as the name would suggest. ‘Dreamtime’ seems to be the less misleading term, since the reference is to a special sort of time--the familiar time of the mythic human mind, a time that is at once long past and existing alongside the present, perhaps as dreams exist parallel to the waking experience. Elkin captures its dual sense of both long ago and right now, and its similarity to dreams: ‘the eternal dream-time--a time which is past and yet present, partaking of the nature of the dreamlife, unfettered by the limitations set by time and space’” [Callicott 1994:174].

Compare this to a conversation about the Dreaming from Bone 490:

Thorn: The Dreaming? Isn’t that the name for the OLD TIME?
Bone: You’ve HEARD of this?
Gran’ma: It IS the old time, but it still exists. It’s all around us.

Callicott indicates that dreams, as such, are less important in Australian mythology than in Bone. Campbell, when discussing the Australian Dreamtime, emphasizes and probably overemphasizes dreams because he wants to link mythology to Freudian and Jungian dream interpretation (e.g., Campbell 1968:18-19,137-138). If Smith gets some of his inspiration for Bone from Campbell, as I half suspect he does, the reader interested in the Smith’s original intent may profit from reading Bone’s mythology from a Jungian angle. Personally, I’m unimpressed when people undergoing Freudian or Jungian psychoanalysis start having Freudian or Jungian dreams, but this apparently impresses Campbell greatly (1968:11-12).

Whatever way Bone is meant to be read, we can say with some certainty that Australian mythology, with a heavier emphasis on actual dreams as entrypoints into the spiritual realm, forms the primary inspiration for Bone’s cosmology: “Dreams are windows to the spirit world...” “That’s what our ancestors believed. A world from which everyone comes... ...and to which everyone must one day return” (p. 330). Some of the more intriguing elements of Australian mythology, such as the mythologized landscape, song lines (Littleton 2002:648-649), totem animals, and increase sites (Callicott 1994:175) are absent from Bone. However, this quote from Callicott may be relevant:

“The ancestral beings were human but also had the characteristics of various animals--such as the emu, kangaroo, bandicoot, or red flying fox--into which they would eventually transform themselves. When their walkabouts were complete, each ancestral being ‘went down’ or ‘in’ at a certain spot” [Callicott 1994:175].

The only being from the Dreaming named in Bone is the Locust, represented as, and in control of, locust swarms. How this being of pure spirit (p. 782) relates to the material locusts of the mortal world is unexplained, but the Locust’s own going “in” to the world by being frozen in stone in the Eastern Mountains may reflect the Australian ancestors going down into the earth and remaining present through totem animals. The Ghost Circles, points where the barrier between mortal world and Dreaming is thin, may be similar to the increase sites where the ancestors entered the earth, but all these things in Bone take on a sinister aspect.

The cosmogonic myth of Bone is laid out on three occasions. First, Gran’ma tells the myth to Phoney (pp. 781-783). Later, Taneal radically reinterprets it (p. 999). It is presented for a third time in its own chapter (pp. 1173-1177). This third presentation is the clearest and forms the basis for this discussion.

The story begins like a fairy tale, “When the world was new, and dreams had not yet receded from the waking day...” “DRAGONS ruled the Earth” (p. 1173). We learn that the dragon queen Mim encircled the world and held her tail in her mouth (p. 1174). The image here comes from Norse mythology, in which the Midgard serpent is “of such an enormous size that holding his tail in his mouth he encircles the whole earth” (Bulfinch [1855]2003:333). The Midgard serpent appears to be an emblem of chaos, for he will fight the gods at Ragnarok and die by the hand of Thor (Cotterell and Storm 2006:204). Mim or Mimir (see this article from Brittanica), on the other hand, is a wise god who tried in vain to mediate a peace between the warring Vanir and Aesir (Cotterell and Storm 2006:210). Mim in Bone has aspects of both a wise world-preserving god and a god of chaos. Mim/Locust is a representation of the Indian Mahadevi or Great Goddess (Cotterell and Storm 2006:396, Campbell 1968:109-120). As Mim, the central deity of Bone is a world-preserver. As Locust, she is a destroyer.

“She was Cosmic Power, the totality of the universe, the harmonization of all the pairs of opposites, combining wonderfully the terror of absolute destruction with an impersonal yet motherly reassurance. As change, the river of time, the fluidity of life, the goddess at once creates, preserves, destroys” [Campbell 1968:115].

Campbell’s presentation of the goddess is similar to Taneal’s presentation of Mim/Locust: “This is MIM, the first dragon. You see her long body? She holds her tail in her mouth and gives life to the world.” “This is also Mim--but in her dark aspect. Here she is the lord of DEATH: The Lord of the Locust.” “She is the creator AND the destroyer... You cannot have life without death. The two are always together” (p. 999).

The point in Taneal’s version, then, is balance: Locust and Mim, creator and destroyer, must be in harmony. The first and third presentations of Bone’s mythos, however, are at variance with this presentation. In these, the Lord of the Locusts is a representation not of destruction to be balanced with creation, but of imbalance itself, an agent of chaos opposed to order. According to these versions, annihilation of the Lord of the Locust is the solution to the problem. According to Taneal’s version, the annihilation of the Lord of the Locust would mean everyone’s hosed.

The subsequent events of the story give the lie to Taneal’s explanation, leaving open the question of whether Smith intended Taneal to be in error or whether Bone has an internal inconsistency. The way in which Taneal’s presentation is given suggests to me the latter. Smith is not the first fantasist to try to force this kind of dualism into the high fantasy formula. As with the other attempts, the result is incoherency, as I’ll explain more thoroughly in the next essay. This essential incompatibility of two myths, incidentally, also gives the lie to Campbell’s insistence that all myths are the same.

Taking the Lord of the Locust alone, apart from Mim, we have a representation of another motif from mythology--the evil god who is imprisoned in the Earth but still has influence. This motif has appeared in ancient mythology and modern speculative fiction from Loki to Cthulhu. Loki from Norse mythology is probably the best-known version--chained under the earth where a venomous serpent drips painful acid on his face, awaiting Ragnarok, when he will be free to make war on the gods and destroy the universe.

Satan is in the same line of trapped gods. Note, for example, the language of Revelation 20.1-3 and 7: “Then I a saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and locked and sealed it over him, so that he would deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be let out for a little while.... When the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, in order to gather them for battle...” (NRSV).

Similarly, 2 Thessalonians 2.8 reads, “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed” (NRSV). People have wasted time and paper trying to figure out who “the one who now restrains it” is. The nature of the restraining force is not the subject of the passage; the idea is that evil is for a while in check but will come out in full strength at the end of time. “End times” language appears in Bone as well, specifically referring to an indefinite future date when the Locust will be free of his restraint.

The battle between the dragons and the possessed Mim more-or-less resembles the ancient Near Eastern Combat Myth, a widespread story of creation best known from the Babylonian Enuma Elish in which Marduk defeats the rampant nature goddess Tiamat. In the Canaanite version, Baal defeats Yam (Coogan 1978:75-115). In both versions, a god conquers a chaotic being represented as a serpent, the ocean, or both. These stories are similar to the Titanomachy of ancient Greece in which the Olympian gods defeat the older, serpentine Titans (Littleton 2002:146-149). The Canaanite, Greek, and Babylonian myths all feature younger gods defeating older ones and usurping them. Similarly, in Bone, Mim, apparently the original dragon, is replaced by her children when they turn her to stone to trap the Locust. Smith’s version is perhaps unique in that he represents all the actors as dragons, beings normally associated with water and, hence, with chaos (e.g., Ingersoll 2005).

Finally, before ending, we’ll discuss the Crown of Horns. The Crown of Horns is an example of a common concept in mythology, a world axis or focal point, which Campbell calls the World Navel (1968:40-42). Typically, the World Navel is a mountain, such as Mount Meru in Buddhism (Littleton 2002:385), or a tree, such as Yggdrasil in Norse Mythology. Christianity, of course, which claims to fulfill the myths, has Christ hanging on a tree on a mountain, which is less a focal place than a focal event.

The Crown of Horns apparently has a complicated history. In an earlier version of the comic, the old headmaster explains the Crown as an antithesis of the Locust, so the Locust and Crown would destroy each other if they came in contact. Vestiges of this explanation remain in the One Volume Edition; in the climactic scene, Bone and Thorn are working on the assumption that a person possessed of the Locust can kill the Locust by touching the Crown (p. 1267). Nonetheless, Smith has altered the headmaster’s dialogue in the One Volume Edition to emphasize the Crown as a world axis, thereby removing the explanation of the Crown as an antithesis of the Locust: “The Crown of Horns sits directly upon the veil, half in our world, and half in the DREAMING world.” “It is the tipping point--the point of BALANCE.” “Some say it is the very HEART of our world” (p. 1099). The new explanation is perhaps more mythological, but the original makes better sense of the story.

The Crown of Horns is a crystal in an underground cave rather than a tree or mountaintop. I haven’t located a precedent for such a depiction of the world axis, though one may exist. However, the descent into Tanen Gard to reach the Crown of Horns mirrors any of various descents into the underworld or realm of the dead. Being as it is a graveyard for dragons with a bottomless pit at its center, intentional underworld imagery seems likely. In particular, Fone Bone’s harrowing journey to find Thorn, rescue her, and bring her back is similar the various stories of people descending into the underworld to find dead companions. The outcomes of these stories are various. Ea tries to rescue Ishtar from the underworld by sending a servant and is partially successful (Dalley 1989:158). Gilgamesh, upon losing Enkidu, tries to call him up, but gets only his ghost (Dalley 1989:120-125; cf. Ferry 1992:85-92). Orpheus tries to rescue Eurydice from Hades and is wholly unsuccessful (Cotterell and Storm 2006:69).

A reasonable parallel to Fone Bone’s descent into the underworld is the story of Savitri, from India, in which Savitri manages to win back her husband from the god of death, Yama, through cleverness and bravery (Bierlein 1994:205-209). It’s pleasing to consider the various outcomes of these stories in terms of the actions of their heroes: Ea sends a servant instead of going himself and gets Ishtar back for only part of the year; Gilgamesh doesn’t go at all and can only necromance Enkidu; Orpheus actually makes the journey to Hades but commits a fatal error, turning his story into a fine Greek tragedy; motivated by love, Savitri takes the journey, makes no mistakes, and retrieves her husband, much as Bone retrieves Thorn.

The Christian reader, of course, wants to know why it’s called the Crown of Horns, for it appears to be a pun on “crown of thorns.” The name is particularly odd since the Crown of Horns is not a crown but a large crystal growing out of a wall. The name recalls the world axis of Christianity, and little else may be intended. I’ve not been able to find the term in any of my sources. According to a Wikipedia article, if you trust such things, the Crown of Horns is also “an evil, intelligent artifact of great power from the Forgotten Realms Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting.” I doubt if Smith had this in mind. I also located the term in some Satanist stuff and one of the hoax versions of the fictional Necronomicon. I doubt if he had this in mind either.

A likely source of the image is the horned crown representing deity in ancient Mesopotamia. It’s tempting to draw comparisons with specific female Mesopotamian deities, especially the Burney Relief, an image of Inanna often mistaken for a depiction of Lilith, a figure from Jewish folklore, but the horned crown is also associated with male deities. It represents authority and power and may be intended as a culmination of Thorn’s journey of self-awareness, a journey she completes only with the help of the companion who initiated her journey in the first place.

No doubt we could find other mythological links if we kept exploring, but this essay has grown long, so I’m going to have to stop.

WORKS CITED

Bierlein, J. F.
1994 Parallel Myths. Ballantine, New York.

Bulfinch, Thomas
1979 Bulfinch's Mythology. [My copy is:] Gramercy Books, New York. [Note: The copy I'm using may be paginated differently.]

Callicott, J. Baird
1994 Earth's Insights: A Multicultural Survey of Ecological Ethics from the Mediterranean Basin to the Australian Outback. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Campbell, Joseph
1968 The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton UP, Princeton.

Coogan, Michael David
1978 Stories from Ancient Canaan. Westminster Press, Louisville.

Cotterell, Arthur, and Rachel Storm
2006 The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Mythology. Hermes House, London.

Dalley, Stephanie
1989 Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others. Oxford UP, Oxford.

Ferry, David
1992 Gilgamesh: A New Rendering in English Verse. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York.

Ingersoll, Ernest
2005 Dragons and Dragon Lore. Dover Publications.

Littleton, C. Scott
2002 Mythology: The Illustrated Anthology of World Myth and Storytelling. Thunder Bay Press, San Diego.

Underberg, Natalie M.
2005 “The Hero Cycle, Various Motifs in A.” In Archetypes And Motifs In Folklore And Literature: A Handbook 10-16. M. E. Sharpe, Armonk, NY.

The Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission. All rights reserved.