Review: Arthur Christmas

Arthur’s heart was in the right place; it was his feet that usually weren’t. He wasn’t quite harmless – certainly not to the elves he routinely tripped over, whose home he once accidentally melted.

But he meant well.

Arthur Christmas is a story of Santa, his wife, his father, and his two sons. If you ever wondered how Santa Claus could visit every child in the world in one night, here’s your answer. If you ever wanted to see the intersection of a military operation, a mega-corporation, and a fairy tale, here’s your chance.

There is not much unique in the premise or themes of Arthur Christmas. We’ve all seen the modernistic re-take on old cultural standbys, from Santa to superheroes to the monsters beneath our childhood beds. We’ve seen many stories of Santa, stories of misfits at the North Pole, stories about saving Christmas and learning its spirit.

But the ideas are still good, and at any rate Christmas is not the best playing field for originality. God wrote the Christmas story, and our own stories are meant to catch echoes of His – even if only in a dim note of hope or good cheer.

As expected as the ideas of Arthur Christmas are, there is some freshness in the execution. The Claus family passing down the position of Santa from one generation to the next is new, and the movie draws a lot from it. In many ways Arthur Christmas is a film about family. There’s a fine-edged realness to the portrayal; we see their love, and the complexity of hurt and longing that too often grows up around love.

Arthur Christmas also makes a striking variation to the saving-Christmas theme. Here Christmas Eve came off with brisk efficiency … except for one small glitch. Out of a billion or so gifts, one was missed. One child was missed. Arthur’s urgent, flailing effort was for one child.

And by exchanging the generalization of children for the reality of a child, Arthur Christmas adds power to the story. Arthur’s mission is that much more poignant, his heart that much bigger. Anyone at the North Pole would have moved heaven and earth for all the children of the world. But Arthur, like the shepherd leaving his ninety-nine to search for the one lost, did it for one child, whose name he knew.

Arthur Christmas is a lighthearted story, most of it fun and funny. But it had its moments of tenderness and seriousness, enough to give another depth to the film. If you, like me, keep a list of Christmas viewing, Arthur Christmas deserves to be added.

From the Army Manual to the Gilded Age

While looking for old Thanksgiving recipes, I came across a page of Thanksgiving Recipes From America’s Past. There are forty-one recipes in all; here’s the highlight reel.

The Manual for Army Cooks, published in 1916 by the Government Printing Office, contained a recipe for pumpkin pie – or, rather, 12-15 pumpkin pies. (First ingredient: 25 pounds pumpkin.) In 1941 the Manual of Mess Management had a recipe for cooking 70 pounds of turkey.

There are several “Recipes From a ‘Gilded Age’.” The most eye-catching of these is called Terrapin, a la Gastronome. If you are like me, you would suspect that a “terrapin” is some sort of animal. This is immediately confirmed by the recipe, which begins, “Take live terrapin, and blanch them in boiling water for two minutes. Remove the skin from the feet …”

Terrapin, I find in the Dictionary, is a kind of turtle. Yes, they ate turtles for Thanksgiving, garnished with Espagnole sauce, consommĂ©, Parisian sauce, half a glassful of Maderia wine, and a “good bouquet”. And that is why they called it the Gilded Age.

Another recipe from the Gilded Age is Lalla Rookh Punch. Initially it looks good, but it goes on through sieves and ice cream tubs and broken ice mixed with rock-salt, and in the end you should not attempt it unless you have a kitchen staff and only scant mercy on them.

In 1883 Practical Housekeeping published a recipe for English Roast Turkey, which would be an ironic dish for Thanksgiving Day. But the herbs suggested for it are appealing, and I’m with them until this sentence: “Garnish with fried oysters, and serve with celery-sauce and stewed gooseberries.”

Fried oysters are probably good, but celery is a purposeless vegetable not meant for humans to eat, except in extreme circumstances such as famines or diets. And I don’t really know what stewed gooseberries are.

There is also a recipe for a French-style turkey – which may be more ironic yet. It begins: “Choose a small fat turkey; draw, singe and clean it well, extracting all the pin feathers; break the breast-bone, remove it and fill the breast with a bread dressing; sew up with the skin underneath.”

This year, I am thankful for supermarkets.

A recipe for Cranberry Tart, dated 1796, shows touching faith in humanity by giving these instructions: “Stewed, strained and sweetened, put into paste No. 9, and baked gently.”

Then they describe “paste No. 9”. And that’s it.

Happy Thanksgiving, and may God give you even more to be thankful for.

And please, leave the poor terrapin alone.

Clippings from my Kindle

Nearly a year ago I got my Kindle. A few months after that, I figured out how to create highlights. Here are a few Clippings from my Kindle.

God is the only Being in this world who knows fully why He created me. Therefore, He directs my life. Husbands cannot give us purpose. God may choose marriage for part of our ministry. Our future husbands are not mapping out the course of our lives; instead, they are mates designed to join us on the path God has for us (and vice versa). Cheryl McKay, Finally the Bride

I bethought me that a bird capable of addressing a man must have the right of a man to a civil answer; perhaps, as a bird, even a greater claim. George MacDonald, Lilith

If two madmen had ever agreed on anything they might have conquered the world. G. K. Chesterton

I often say I’d rather be alone than with the wrong person, even if the wrong person feels right for a while. It’s not worth getting in the way of, or delaying, God’s true calling on my life. Cheryl McKay

I realized that every woman should hold out for a prince – especially if her Father is the King. Christopher Pence

God is a romancer. No one can match His love. No one in this world can love me more than Him. None. My search to find a love greater is fruitless. God’s love is unmatched. We search for many things to fill our God-sized holes. Only He can fill. Only He can fulfill. Only He can reach. Cheryl McKay, Finally the Bride

She fetched him meat and drynke [drink] plenty, Lyke [like] a true wedded wyfe [wife]. Ancient ballad of Robin Hood’s Merry Men

God tells me things on a need-to-know basis. Apparently, He doesn’t think I need to know anything. Cheryl McKay

I say you shall yet weary
Of the working of your word,
That stricken spirits never strike
Nor lean hands hold a sword.
G. K. Chesterton, The Ballad of the White Horse

Follow the passions of your heart, as the Lord allows. Cheryl McKay

And the whole world turned over and came upright. G. K. Chesterton

You, my dear Lord, are all I need. For today. Please don’t change my life one day too soon. Cheryl McKay

Review: Tuck

Blood is thicker than water. That’s why you can’t get rid of your relatives. It’s also why you can generally expect certain things from them – like a place to spend the holidays, or rent when you absolutely need it.

Or, maybe, troops to fight your guerrilla insurgency. Maybe.

In Tuck, the long war has exacted its price from rebel and conqueror alike. Now the sheriff in his town is as desperate as Bran Hood in his forest. And desperate men do desperate things.

Tuck is the concluding book of the King Raven Trilogy, and it was probably wise to send characters on adventures away from the greenwood. It allowed new characters and new places to freshen the story. At the same time, the old characters are not left to stagnate, and Bran himself fills and finally outgrows the Robin Hood legend.

In this book Stephen Lawhead shows again his capacity to surprise. He also shows his limitless attention to history, both its small details and broad realities. History makes impressive scenery for his books, but it is more than that. Here, as in other novels, Lawhead turns it to fine and sometimes startling uses.

After reading so much of Scarlet from Will Scarlet’s perspective, it was interesting to experience him in Tuck entirely from Lawhead’s omniscient viewpoint. Will was still enjoyable, yet he never reached the charm and brightness he had in Scarlet. Readers have sometimes complained that Lawhead’s characters are distant and hard to connect with. Maybe he should write more from the first-person.

As a telling of Robin Hood, the King Raven Trilogy is unorthodox, but credible enough for its purposes. Lawhead brilliantly retained the concept of Robin fighting for the true king while appearing to throw it away. He did justice to the characters of the Robin Hood legend, with the exception of Little John. Iwan (as Lawhead renamed him) was a missed opportunity.

The one complaint I will enter against Tuck is that it had a death for, I think, no other reason than to make us feel bad. Aside from that, I enjoyed the book. The characters were satisfying, and consistent even when they changed; some were appropriately likeable, others appropriately despicable. The long journey of the King Raven Trilogy came to a rewarding end, all the different elements woven together.Tuck proved a fulfilling book and a fulfilling conclusion.

And my review would not be complete if I did not add that the epilogue was a masterstroke.

A Colonel, a Chief, a Sargent, and Ruffled Feather

I had been thinking of reviewing Tuck, by Stephen Lawhead, and thus completing my review of the King Raven Trilogy, but I just haven’t been in the mood this week. I want to do something lighter.

So let’s talk about 1960s children’s cartoons. I first saw Go Go Gophers a year or so ago. (For a sample episode – less than five minutes long – go here.) The show is a continual conflict between the Indians (the gophers) of the old West and the fort’s soldiers (coyotes, for some elusive and possibly ironic reason).

The humor of the show varies from the silly to the absurd. A dose of extravagant slapstick shows that it was written for children; occasional touches show that it was written by adults. The inept colonel, obsessed with regulations to the exclusion of common sense, comes from an adult world – and appeals to an adult humor.

Four characters fill the dramatis personae: The colonel, blundering, clueless, and vain; his long-suffering sargent, offering dry comments in a dry voice, and following even while the colonel walked over his good advice; Running Board, the chief of one brave and the final judge of crazy schemes; and Ruffled Feather, who was small, nearly incomprehensible when he spoke, and had an effective, violent solution for every problem. He reminds me of my nephew.

My sister-in-law does not read this blog.

Go Go Gophers would never be made today. It makes fun of Indians, the political correctness police would say. It’s ethnically insensitive.

And it does make fun of Indians. It also makes fun of the soldiers and their army. “Begging the colonel’s pardon,” begins the sargent, “but I think – “

“Think?” exclaims the colonel. “Think? You’re in the army, sargent; you’re not supposed to think. Regulation 387 – o – 5 expressly forbids it.”

If this show paints a stereotype, at least the brush sweeps both ways, and the gopher Indians get the better of it. They certainly get the better of the soldiers. The colonel is like the various villains faced down by Underdog and George of the Jungle: He always, invariably, irreversibly loses.

But to keep the score is to miss the point. Go Go Gophers is no more a social statement than it is a history lesson. It’s all silliness and fun – and it’s harmless, the wigwam jokes notwithstanding.