A Fatal Flaw

Amid all the sequels Pixar has been rattling off the assembly line, last year’s Coco comes as something of a relief: original and visually brilliant, funny and tender in the good old Pixar way. Disney can’t handle two living parents; Pixar can handle a whole clan, in the capable, work-roughened hands of a fiery matriarch. Despite its strengths and its appeal, Coco is undermined by the vision it presents of the afterlife.

The vision unfolds along with the story. Our first glimpse is a gorgeous cityscape made of color and lights – the Land of the Dead, shimmering beyond the mortal world. The unearthly appearance of the Land of the Dead is quickly juxtaposed by the bureaucratic procedures that surround entering and leaving it. The dead themselves hustle about on humdrum activities – working, traveling, eating and drinking, going to talent shows and arguing with customer service. They do much what they did in life, only they do it without skin. On some level, this is a pleasing incongruity; on another, it is a letdown. Why go to all the trouble to die if life just goes on the same?

It is revealed that death resembles life in still another way: You are going to die, this time the final death. All these skeletons will die of being forgotten. As they and their stories pass out of the memories of the living, they will be afflicted with spasms of weakness and pain before they finally collapse into dust. Some people will be kept alive in the Land of the Dead for years upon years, as long as their stories are still told among the living. Others must have a very short stay. Here we begin to sight the marrow-deep injustice of the vision, but it comes clear only later.

The villain in the Land of the Dead lives in luxury – gratis, we are told, of his admirers, who heap him with gifts on the Day of the Dead. And we see the old murderer in his celebrity and wealth, and think of the poor forgotten skeleton shivering into the final death, and we know …

There is no justice in the end. None at all. Your career, bred in the abuse of others, may be halted in life, but you will just resume it in death. Sell your soul to get this world and the next will be thrown in, too. Meanwhile, the unwanted, the unloved, the outcast and the forgotten – they are forever the losers. All the inequities of this life are transferred into the next. Indeed, new inequities are created by the fact that the dead can visit the living only through the possession and display of a material object. This opens, too, avenues of revenge, ways that the living can spite the dead and be sure they will know it.

Think of it: Even after you die, they can still get you.

All of this would be bearable if we could imagine that the Land of the Dead was only a stopping-place on the way to some other destination. The movie throws a bone in this direction, one skeleton shrugging that no one knows what happens after the final death. But the fact that they call it final hints at what they think. The story’s happy ending – Now you get to live as a skeleton in the Land of the Dead indefinitely! Pop the champagne! – makes it clear that no one has a better end in mind.

Coco presents an appalling vision of the afterlife. It would be easier to take if the movie knew it was appalling, but it doesn’t. Coco’s dreary afterlife drags down the whole story with a faint sense of depression, a subtle distaste. It’s well enough to imagine that the Land of the Dead is, but to imagine that it is all there is – that is the fatal flaw.

A March of Stereotypes

Last week, Becky Miller discussed the tendency of modern SF to stereotype women as aggressive protagonists who do what men do, only in heels. Her well-made points turned my thoughts to the treatment of women in speculative fiction. The portrayal of women has varied greatly from era to era and from author to author. It even varies from science fiction to fantasy; fantasy – built up from tales crowned with queens, fairies, and witches – possesses deeper traditions of vital female characters. Yet taking a broad view of speculative fiction, and especially of science fiction, one may discern the march of female stereotypes.

The reigning stereotype of early sci-fi was the young lady, invariably attractive, who was the love interest of the young hero, or the daughter of the old professor, or – this was not rare – both. Often, this young woman played Watson to the men’s Sherlock, asking what the audience doesn’t know. Thus the woman provided a method to resolve the eternal writer’s problem of the info-dump, and an infinitely more graceful one than having the hero and the professor tell each other what both already know. More significantly, the young woman is usually the story’s heart – the hero’s inspiration and the center of his emotion. Often enough, she is the damsel in distress, awaiting rescue. In short, early sci-fi stereotypes fit women into classic ideals of femininity, though it must be noted that this did not wholly sideline women from the action. It was not unusual for the hero’s love interest to accompany him into peril, nor unknown for her to use a weapon when the crisis demanded it.

Another, less genteel stereotype is typified by the women of the original Star Trek – the Federation servicewomen in miniskirts and the endless parade of female aliens who probably were not warm under those lights. Unlike the vaguely Victorian women of earlier sci-fi, those women were allowed to enter the story in their own right, not needing a personal relationship with a male character for admission. At the same time, their presentation – sexualized in the very teeth of common sense – objectified them in a way that the idealized women of a more old-fashioned tradition were not. This stereotype was probably most prominent between the fading of the old ideals and the dominance of the new, but it existed before then and is not extinct now.

The stereotype now ascendant is that of the action heroine, whose prowess defies old notions of feminine weakness and, at times, the laws of nature. Princess Leia is the embodiment of the new SF heroine: assertive, authoritative, confident in the use of weapons and in everything else, sarcastic and sharp-tongued to the point of being obnoxious. (If anyone disagrees with this last statement, let me just say: Get this walking carpet out of my way.) We want a heroine who can scrap with the biggest, toughest of men, and due to standards of female beauty strictly enforced in Hollywood, we are accustomed to heroines who do this while weighing just north of 100 pounds.

But despite this and other absurdities, there is nothing inherently wrong with the confident, sarcastic woman who knows how to make use of an arsenal. For that matter, there was nothing wrong with the sweetheart or daughter who is the hero’s heart. (The female military officer in a miniskirt we can do without.) The real error of this march of stereotypes is not that speculative fiction features a certain kind of woman, but that it neglects other kinds.

Blog Tour: Beyond Her Calling

 

Welcome to the blog tour of Beyond Her Calling, a new Christian historical romance written by Kellyn Roth. I am pleased to introduce Ena Owen, one of the people who populates the Scottish village of Keefmore.

 

Ena Owen

Bio: Ena Owen is a mother and widow who now runs the general store in the Scottish village of Keefmore. Since she lost her husband and youngest children to an epidemic, she’s become somewhat of a social pariah, but her faith in God and her love for her daughter can get her through the toughest days. Ena loves to read and give inspirational speeches.

 

Fun Info About Ena:

Full Name: Ena Leanne Owen

Personality Type: ????

Personality Info: Ena is a strong, independent individual. Though she doesn’t care what others think, which can make it rather difficult for her to make friends, she loves people and is quite caring in a sensible way. She’s very honest and once you get her talking, she often can go on for an hour.

Appearance: Ena has auburn hair and blue eyes.

Background: Ena was married at sixteen to Robert Owen. They had three children together, but her two youngest as well as Robert were tragically lost to an epidemic.

Family: Keira Owen (her daughter), Bobby and Flori Owen (deceased daughter and son), Robert Owen (deceased husband)

For more information, check out the latest novel she appeared in.

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And we have a giveaway! Enter to win a signed paperback copy of Beyond Her Calling.

 

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And now, the rest of the tour:

Saturday, October 20th

Intro Post // Kellyn Roth @ Reveries

Author Interview // Molly @ A Sparkle of Light

Review // Lisa @ Inkwell

Review & Character Interview (Jordy) // Amie @ Crazy A

Character Interview (Ivy) // Jo @ The Lens and the Hard Drive

Book Spotlight // Annie @ Letters from Annie Douglass Lima

Sunday, October 21st

Theme Day // Kellyn Roth @ Reveries

Guest Post by Character (Ivy) & Review // Grace M. Morris

Book Spotlight // Erika Messer @ Maiden of the Pages

Author Interview // Angela R. Watts @ The Peculiar Messenger

Monday, October 22nd

Ivy Day // Kellyn Roth @ Reveries

Character Interview (Ivy) // Loretta Marchize @ Just Writing

Review // Andrea Cox @ Writing to Inspire

Character Interview (Jordy) // Liz @ Home with the Hummingbirds

Author & Character Interview (Violet) // Julia @ Julia’s Creative Corner

Review & Character Spotlight (Ivy) // Caroline Kloster @ Inside the Autistic Life

Tuesday, October 23rd

Jordy Day // Kellyn Roth @ Reveries

Author Interview // Faith Blum @ Bookish Orchestrations

Review & Guest Post // Cara @ Jessie Bingham

Guest Post // Lindsi @ One Beginner To Another

Character Spotlight (Ena) // Shannon McDermott @ Shannon’s Blog

Wednesday, October 24th

Violet Day // Kellyn Roth @ Reveries

Guest Post // Germaine Han @ The Writing Mafia

Review // Jana T. @ Reviews from the Stacks

Thursday, October 25th

Real Life Day // Kellyn Roth @ Reveries

Book Spotlight // Gabriellyn Gidman @ PageTurners

Author Interview // Sara Willoughby @ Th!nk Magazine

Review // Michaela Bush @ Tangled Up In Writing

Guest Post by Character (Violet) // Peggy M. McAloon @ Peggy’s Hope 4U

Friday, October 26th

Future Day // Kellyn Roth @ Reveries

Review // Abigail McKenna @ Novels, Dragons, and Wardrobe Doors

Review // Gracelyn Buckner @ Literatura

Review // Katherine Brown Books

Review // Bella Putt

Saturday, October 27th

Wrapup Post // Kellyn Roth @ Reveries

Character Interview & Spotlight (Jordy) // Kaylee @ Kaylee’s Kind of Writes

Book Spotlight // Abigail Harder @ Books, Life, and Christ

A Simple Line

Now that Amazon has acquired film rights to Lord of the Rings, and Netflix has licensed all seven Chronicles of Narnia, it is time to stop and ask ourselves: How much do bad adaptations of our favorite books really bother us? I am not saying, mind you, that the adaptations will be bad. But the possibility is strong enough that we should be thinking about it.

I am not going to attempt to analyze the profound emotional investment humans pour into stories that don’t happen and people who do not exist. We all know how real fiction can be, and how stories can accompany us through life, following us through changes that leave old times and old friends behind. Depending upon the time and manner of their entrance into our lives, stories acquire associations with larger things – a carefree summer, a person we knew then, old haunts, even (a thousand Star Wars jokes don’t change the truth) a gone childhood. To touch the story is to touch hidden chords.

Narnia and Middle-earth possess an uncommon power and resonance. Their potency is all the greater because they come to so many people in childhood and remain, among all the fantasy movies and books that follow, a kind of first love. Christians often associate these books with their faith and see Jesus in – or, perhaps, through – Aslan. Both for what they are and for what they represent, Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia evoke a considerable degree of passion that does not wish to be disappointed.

The new adaptations further labor under the burden of previous adaptations. The animated versions of both works exist mainly as curiosities, arousing little antipathy or attachment. The live-action versions are weightier creations and well-known to the Tolkien and Lewis fandoms. Peter Jackson’s trilogy is iconic, binding its images to the books, and for countless people it was their initiation into Middle-earth. Many fans don’t only worry that the Amazon series won’t live up to Tolkien’s Middle-earth; they worry that it won’t live up to Jackson’s Middle-earth. There is even talk of bringing back the actors from Jackson’s Lord of the Rings.

Perhaps some people feel about Walden’s Narnia films the way others feels about Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. Perhaps, but I doubt it. The Walden films were not bad, but they fell far short of their source material. They failed to capture the spirit of Narnia, always seeming to be made by people tone-deaf to the meaning of Lewis’ works – people who replaced Caspian’s thirst to see Aslan’s country with boilerplate daddy issues because they just didn’t understand. Netflix has, in many ways, an easier task than Amazon, and strange as it may seem, it helps them that they are trying to do something no one has done: bring Narnia’s magic to the silver screen.

For myself, I am glad that Amazon and Netflix are producing their adaptations. I take a simple line: If the adaptations are good, I will enjoy them, and if they are bad, I will ignore them, and in either event I will be an interested viewer. But other people will take other lines. What is yours?

In ‘The Twilight Zone’

There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition …

So The Twilight Zone opens, solemnly making it clear that you, the viewer, are not in Kansas anymore. Debuting on CBS in 1959, The Twilight Zone was not the first sci-fi TV show, but it was, perhaps, the first fully respectable one. In its own day, it worked. Perhaps more surprisingly, it works in our day, too.

The very conception of The Twilight Zone brings with it a disability. Twilight Zone is that rare bird, an anthology show. It is, essentially, Astounding Stories translated into the medium of television – an amalgam of short stories with no connective tissue between them. The stories share little, not even necessarily a universe; they share only the somber tones of Rod Serling’s narration. A new cast of characters is presented on the stage and then ushered off every episode, and this tends to a chilling effect. Attachment between viewers and characters can’t be developed to any real power when the characters are so ephemeral. You can’t begin any TZ episode with a sense of who the characters are, or any particular affection for them; they’re all strangers to you, after all.

The Twilight Zone‘s reliance on the short-story form leads it into other hazards. Like so many of the short stories published in science fiction magazines, Twilight Zone often depends on the twist at the end. The savvy viewer knows this and frequently spends the episode looking for the trick. Whether this decreases enjoyment by detaching one from the story or increases enjoyment by turning it into a game hinges on the individual viewer. The more serious effect is that when the story is about the twist, the twist is not always enough to sustain the story. In some Twilight Zone episodes, the story is stretched thin over the required twenty-five minutes, going in circles because it’s too soon to go to the end. And though it is only natural for victims of the Twilight Zone to wander around confused, you sometimes wish they were quicker in the uptake. (“Face it,” you want to say to the man who jumped in front of a truck before the scene cut and now wonders why nobody seems able to see him. “You’re dead.”)

And for all this, The Twilight Zone works. With all its limitations it has a liberty that it fully, skillfully exploits. When all characters are one-shot characters, anything can happen to them, and it often does. The fatality rate among Twilight Zone protagonists is high. Because the show doesn’t have to resume next week where it leaves off this week, it is free to go in directions and to extents that would prove impossible for more conventional shows. It indulges ideas that could not fit into a universe less fluid and shadowy than the Twilight Zone. The show shuffles among subgenres: science fiction, folk lore, moral fables, horror – anything that might be called the fifth dimension.

The Twilight Zone is a serious show: often philosophical, moralistic to its core. Some episodes are written around morals; others have their lessons attached in the closing narration. Religion is unusually present in The Twilight Zone. A handful of episodes traffic in ideas of devils, angels, and hell, but far more notable is the repeated, reverent invocation of God’s name. (God’s name, in this era of television, was not abused, but it was generally ignored.) The Twilight Zone wants to tell you stories, but it is also quite conscious, sometimes, of the desire to tell you an idea, and maybe even a life lesson.

There is good reason why The Twilight Zone is a rare bird. It sacrifices the history and emotional connection of the well-done serial, and that is no small loss. At times it’s a little bleak, or a little overwrought, or a little stretched. But it holds a persistent fascination, fueled by a serious and sprawling creativity. It is good to venture into the Twilight Zone, where the normal rules are always suspended, and let the ride take where it will.

 

Spotlight: A Great Light


On Tour with Prism Book Tours

Book Tour Grand Finale for
A Great Light
By Jennifer Ball

We hope you enjoyed the tour! If you missed any of the stops

you can see snippets, as well as the link to each full post, below:

Launch – Note from the Author

Welcome! I’m so excited to bring you my new series “The Kingdom to Come”. This first book “A Great Light” will introduce you to Prince Karhiad, a humble prince next in line to the throne, and his band of close loyal friends who live in the low social status of his kingdom. The crown prince respects his royal family, loves his parents and brother dearly, yet doesn’t align with their views of ruling the kingdom. He appreciates the authenticity that is found in his friends and the lifestyles of the lower and middle class…

My Devotional Thoughts – Inspiration for A GREAT LIGHT

This book was inspired by my favorite non-fictional person who was a humble king. Although, he was never a prince and had no royal bloodline, he was (in the plans of God) next in line for the throne — King David. The extreme trials that David faces in his lifetime are so immense, yet he stays faithful to a God he’s never laid eyes on. He never allows his status as king to make him arrogant or materialistic…

Stacking My Book Shelves! – Excerpt

“You came out here at night?” she asked with excitement. “Did you see these lit up in the dark?” She held her jar filled with lucent flutters towards him.

“Uh, no. I didn’t see those.”

“What was the woman’s name you met last night? Maybe I know her, although I doubt I do. A Trinicitian woman wouldn’t travel out here at night. We really aren’t supposed to travel outside without a companion anyway. I think I may be the only adventurer,” she said as she got into a standing position.

“I don’t know her name. I didn’t ask. I saw this magnificently beautiful light from my balcony. The curiosity of what it could possibly be drew me out here to find it. But it…” — he looked up towards the sky where he had seen it before — “it was gone.”

Remembrancy – The Kingdoms of A GREAT LIGHT

In this first book, A Great Light, you are introduced to 3 major kingdoms — Merrhius, Trinicity, and Ananias. There is also a few other minor kingdoms mentioned, however their focus will play out in future books…

Rockin’ Book Reviews Review

“This book is full of fascinating adventure. I like the way Jennifer separates the lands with distinctive differences. They are close in proximity but so far apart in their beliefs and the way they live…

This is an awesome story and I highly recommend it to other readers.”

Hearts & Scribbles – Excerpt

“Where is Trinicity?” he blurted out. She stopped her antics, and looked up at him. She didn’t respond. “I don’t mean to be intrusive. I was… I was just wondering how long a journey it is for you to get here.”

“Not long.” They kept their deep gaze with one another.

“Do you know…” He stopped, he couldn’t possibly ask, but he just felt so comfortable with her.

“Do I know what?”

“Do you know… why do people say they can’t find it?”

Wishful Endings – Why We Read Fantasy

Why do people read fantasy books? Because the human imagination is far more creative, compelling and fascinating than reality. If all books available only had a non-fictional theme, our minds would explode with the constant mental state of reality we’d always be in. Fantasy takes a person, even if for a brief moment, into a realm of excitement at the thought of “Wow, what if…?”…

The Barefoot Reader – Excerpt

“Could you ever show me your city?”

“Oh, no! He asked it!” Faith tried not to let her anxious feelings show on her face. Karhiad just longed for this mysterious place so eagerly. He knew this place was real, irrespective of what his father believed. He was confident this fascinating girl he met in the woods wasn’t lying about where she was from. The way she spoke about trivial matters and important issues was so alluring to him. The idea of visiting Trinicity, the place she came from, was very appealing to him. Besides, he never believed it to be a myth, and now eagerly just wanted to see it all with his own eyes.

My Life, Loves and Passion – Review

“Over the time they spend together they share about their homes. How they differ and what they share. They call for each other. Then tragedy stricks. Secrets and lies and manipulation take over…

…I like the story though and am curious what happens next.”

Declarations of a Fangirl – Good vs Evil

People are drawn to good vs evil because everyone can relate to such a battle. Even if the storyline is fantastical, everyone can relate to one of the characters in the fight. If it isn’t obviously painted out who the villain is and who the hero is, such as in Stars Wars with Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, then who is good and who is evil can be a matter of opinion. An interesting aspect of good vs evil stories is that it allows the reader/audience to see redemption in someone…

Among the Reads – Excerpt

“Rhaevaehyn. Do you know of it?”

“Vaguely. They have a monarchy.”

“Yes. We have a monarchy.” He couldn’t tell by her tone when she said ‘monarchy’ how she felt about royal dynasties. He wasn’t sure if he should follow his statement by telling her he was a prince in his kingdom. He didn’t want to appear as if he was boasting. Besides, he was still a little shocked they had never even discussed where he was from until now.

“I know.” Faith’s lack of interest let him know that this actually was not the right time to let her know his inheritance.

Reading On The Edge – Excerpt

“An old man in my city died this morning,” Faith said as she and Karhiad stacked twigs and leaves up into a pile. They wanted to see who could start a fire first without the common essentials needed to cause a spark.

“I’m sorry. Did you know him?” Karhiad wasn’t sure what level of comfort to provide her yet, so he kept gathering the driest leaves he could find.

“Yes. He was an elder that I would deliver dinner to.”

Tell Tale Book Reviews – ​Prince Karhiad’s Survival Checklist

√ Don’t fear anything… ever

√ ​Loyal friends in my circle who value me unconditionally

√ Physically train harder than what is expected of me as the prince

Locks, Hooks and Books – Review

“I enjoyed this Christian Fantasy. Prince Karhiad is lead to Faith by a light. She was my favorite character of the book. The story is full of inspiration with the battles of good versus evil.”

Colorimetry – Excerpt

“So, um, where…” She was eager to change the subject. “Where else have you traveled? Do you journey outside your kingdom walls often? Have you met people from different cultures?”

“I’ve traveled many miles on the outer stretches of my kingdom. It was part of my training to know all the terrain. The most interesting culture I’ve encountered would have to be those living in Ananias. They don’t have walls, so I guess they are considered just a village.”

“Oh, yes. I’ve read about them. How did you find them?”

“I don’t know the details of it. When I was a young adolescent, there was a man in our military who said he found a unique culture and wanted us all to meet them. My father took me out with him and the rest of the traveling troops to encounter them.”

SilverWoodSketches – Review

“Jennifer Ball does a fantastic job of painting this world with compelling characters and vivid colors. There is some very lovely prose to immerse the reader into Karhiad and Faith’s worlds. The writing style harkens to Robin McKinley’s and other epic fantasy authors. Some readers may be put off by the heavier religious elements, but fans of more allegorical works like C.S. Lewis and Anne Elisabeth Stengl will love the message of faith behind The Kingdom to Come.”

Don’t forget to enter the giveaway below, if you haven’t already…

A Great Light
(The Kingdom to Come #1)
by Jennifer Ball
Young Adult Christian Fantasy
Paperback & ebook, 298 Pages
June 28th 2018 by Revelation Publishing Company

Love and war are often the same thing.

Prince Karhiad is a humble king-in-waiting. His father, King Vilsig, rules the Kingdom of Merrhius with an iron fist. While the king dreams of endless conquests, his son only wants to conquer the hearts of his subjects through love instead of fear.

Meanwhile, a dark and sinister force threatens every kingdom around. And if King Vilsig and Prince Karhiad can’t put aside their differences, an ancient sinister beast and his supernatural army will lay waste to the Kingdom of Merrhius.

On the night of Prince Karhiad’s 17th birthday, he is mesmerized by a radiant light and makes a decision to learn of its origin. That choice will force him towards answers he wasn’t seeking, a woman he wasn’t planning to fall in love with, and a destiny that will bring him great suffering yet an even greater reward. But in this gripping tale of good vs. evil, the power of love isn’t just a shield to ward off the darkness — it’s also the strongest weapon of all.

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About the Author

I am a friend of Jesus who at times fails at making this is my most important relationship. I am a wife who forgets at times this is my primary job. I am a mom who at times didn’t get it right. I take lots of pictures that annoy everyone in my family except for my dog. She loves it.

I began writing short stories when I was a child. I would sit in my room for hours writing as fast as I could to keep up with my thoughts. We didn’t have a typewriter and certainly no computer. Too often my writing would turn to scribble. I ended up with lots of loose paper with many short stories written on them in half scribble that made it too difficult for others to read. Thanks to technology, I went back to my childhood passion and wrote a story that I turned into a readable book.

That’s me, to make a long story short.

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– Ends September 19th

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A Dark Little Tale

Last week I discovered that my Amazon Prime subscription includes several seasons of the original Twilight Zone. So I came to watch “Judgement Night,” an episode that opens on a civilian ship creeping across the Atlantic Ocean in the unhappy year 1942. I would be reluctant to recommend this dark little tale to many people; I would be afraid they would find it merely unpleasant. Yet it left me thinking. It is a story that demonstrates – all the more powerfully for its lack of greatness – the power of stories.

First, the story itself (and if anyone needs a spoiler alert for a sixty-year-old story – well, consider yourself alerted). We begin with a man standing at the railing, looking out at the foggy sea; he is persuaded to enter the dining cabin, where people carry on civil conversation despite the silent, hanging dread of being stalked by German U-boats. Our protagonist is the most afraid of all, and with reason: he cannot remember getting on the ship, knows nothing but his name and birthplace and an awful sense of familiarity coupled with a crippling dread. “Judgement Night” follows the Twilight Zone pattern – tiresome elsewhere, but not here – of a bewildered person growing more and more distraught until he finally understands the trap snapping over him.

One of the awful things about this story is that the protagonist spends it just on the wrong side of understanding, where uncertain fear and sure misery converge. He’s not at all surprised when the U-boat attacks; he’s not even very surprised to see himself on the U-boat’s deck, directing the torpedoes that spill him into the ocean to drown. Neither is the audience very surprised, but the show holds its final punch until the end. We see our protagonist as the Nazi captain he always was, deriding a younger officer’s discomfort at the slaughter of men and women, but then slowly subsiding into unease as the man worries that God will damn them to a special hell – a hell where they are forced to share the fate of their victims, except that the people they killed only died once and they will have to die a hundred million times …

And we see again a man staring at the foggy sea, quiet in his confusion, and for him it is always 1942.

Probably the full strength of the story eludes us; we can’t receive it, today, as they received it then, when World War II was a living memory for most adults. “Judgement Night” aired in 1959, only seventeen years after 1942 – the same length of time between us and 9/11. To its first audience, it wasn’t just history. But if it can never be as immediate or visceral as it once was, the story still weaves its spell – the quiet, dreary atmosphere of the ship, the thick tension of fear, the frantic, useless resistance to the end. It’s chilling to see the Nazi captain again at the railing, knowing it will be exactly as it was, but there is also a grim sense of justice. God sent him to hell, but he made it.

The old-time preachers tried to evoke the horror of hell, and the rational apologists tried to justify it, and this brief story makes you feel both the horror and the justice. It’s not a great story, obvious in some ways and oppressive in others. But it possesses the power, innate to stories, to slip by arguments and intellectual proofs to make you feel truths you might not even believe. And what you feel is easy to think, for that is the power of the heart over the intellect, and of the story over the mind.

A Girl and Her Father

Of all biblical stories, Esther is among the best-known and most retold. There is good reason for this. It is a complete and satisfying tale, with peril and victory, with an underdog who wins, a villain who gets his comeuppance, and a brave, beautiful heroine. Its attraction is enormous, but a curious pattern emerges among the re-tellings. Even while staying faithful to the facts of the story, many re-tellings shift the dramatic and emotional center from Esther and Mordecai to Esther and Xerxes. The story of Esther is commonly told as a romance, but in the Bible, the relationship that matters most is the one between Esther and Mordecai.

Esther and Mordecai were cousins, but their relationship is defined by the fact that Mordecai adopted Esther after her parents died, taking her in and raising her. (Somewhat-irrelevant side note: This phenomenon – family members of the same generation but of vast age differences – occurred more frequently in ancient times than in modern, for various reasons.) Mordecai was, in effect, Esther’s father. This relationship drives forward the story: Mordecai’s concern for Esther leads to his vigils at the palace gate, through which he both saves the king’s life and incurs Haman’s animosity; it is Mordecai who explains to Esther (cloistered in the palace) the plot to annihilate the Jews and persuades her to act; Mordecai and Esther together save the Jews and later establish the celebration of Purim.

Esther and Mordecai are also at the heart of the story’s spiritual and emotional power. Esther commands the fasting and prayer in preparation of her bid to save the Jews; Mordecai makes the immortal statement that she became queen “for such a time as this.” It is their lives, their family, and their people brought beneath the shadow of ruthless slaughter. It is their relationship – and emphatically not the relationship between Esther and Xerxes – that is demonstrated to be one of mutual affection: Mordecai walked in a courtyard of the palace every day to find out how Esther was after the king’s officials took her; Esther was “in great distress” at the news of Mordecai’s distress.

Esther’s relationship with Xerxes was, of course, marriage – but marriage to a despot of ancient Persia, and that is a very qualified thing. He practiced, and pretended, no sexual fidelity toward her; consider that he slept with all her rivals for the queenship and then kept them as concubines within his palace. It is evident, too, that Xerxes and Esther didn’t really live together. They only visited at such times when Xerxes wished it – and he could go whole months without wishing it. No detail more sharply illuminates their relationship than the fact that Esther was deathly afraid to go to Xerxes without his summons. In the pivotal moment, Xerxes treated her with regard, but to the end their interactions were those of an absolute sovereign and a favored inferior. Esther was Xerxes’ queen more than she was his wife (though that also, to be fair, had its privileges). It should be noted, too, that Xerxes was an alien to the spiritual concerns of Mordecai and Esther and wholly safe from the death that threatened both of them. Xerxes is an ambivalent figure at best, and a hero on no consideration.

Why, then, do interpretations of the story so often fix on the supposed romance between Esther and Xerxes? The answer is simple, a truth that has long frustrated readers who prefer fantastical stories: People would rather hear about romance. To many people, a romantic relationship – even one as distant and asymmetrical as the marriage of a Persian despot and his queen – is inherently more interesting than a father-daughter relationship, even if it saves a nation from genocide.

Choose Your Own Story!

 

Welcome to my site! Today I’m taking part in Sarah Holman’s Choose Your Own Story! event. This is to celebrate the release of her latest book Escape and Endurance. In this event, you get to pick the outcome of the story by making choices. A lot of different things can happen. What are you waiting for? Start your adventure by clicking the image below.

He couldn’t see the princess. No doubt her cruel captor had locked her up and shut the window for the night.

Though his feet were sore and his bones ached, Sir Andrew would not let that stop him. After all, he had his sword. He waited until after the sun had set and then snuck up to the wall. He listened to the guards and found out that this place had been built by Lord Burn secretly. Since the guards had indulged in too much ale, they did not hear him climb over the wall.

He crept toward the tower and up the stairs. It was there that he encountered a guard who was alert. However, the guard was no match for the knight. Sir Andrew dealt with him and moved went to the door.

“Princess Gail?”

She flew to the door. “Sir Andrew! You’ve come to rescue me!”

“Come! We must leave here quickly!” Sir Andrew led her back down the stairs and to a horse he had spotted. An alarm was sounded, but it was too late. The princess and the knight were out the gate and flying back toward her home.

Sir Andrew became the most respected knight in the land. The king lavished him with many beautiful gifts, including the finest pair of boots that could be made.

It didn’t matter if the knight had stumbled upon the princess by accident or been dedicated to finding her, he had rescued her, and all was as it should be.

Are you interested in reading about a knight, a tower, a princess, and a servant? Pick up a copy of Escape and Endurance! Haven’t read the other books in the Tales of Taelis series? Not to worry. Each book can stand alone.

 

About Sarah:

Sarah Holman is a not-so-typical girl, a homeschool graduate, sister to six awesome siblings, and lives in the great state of Texas. If there’s anything adventuresome about her life, it’s because she serves a God with a destiny greater than anything she could have imagined. You can find out more about her at her website: www.thedestinyofone.com

You can join the Adventurers (her newsletter) here.

Seriously, Now

For some years, I avidly followed a certain political/cultural writer until finally – you know how it can be, between authors and readers – we drifted apart. I thought her commentary was simply declining. One symptom of this decline was an overabundance of the word serious. It wasn’t right or left or even right or wrong anymore: The new word – the only word – was serious. Our national diagnosis was a lack of seriousness and our national prescription was to get serious. Our leaders weren’t serious and they didn’t know how serious things were, but if everybody would just get serious we would all be serious and then things could finally stop being so serious.

I lost interest, but I had a thought: To be serious is not enough. And can’t a serious person be just as wrong as an unserious person and, in certain situations, even more disastrous?

This principle can be applied to art as well as people. You may hear much of serious art or a serious work, but the phrase tells little of the real quality or worth of the work. My favorite example of this disconnect between seriousness and worthiness is Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes. The most shocking thing about Tarzan of the Apes is that it is a genuinely serious book, a story written around ideas. The second most shocking thing is the book’s level of racism. Given the period in which Tarzan of the Apes was written, a certain degree of racism would not have been surprising; when racism is dominant in society, it is inevitably reflected in (some of) that society’s art. But even with that forewarning, the racism of Tarzan is surprising in its pervasiveness, in how deeply and how elaborately it is woven into the story.

These two elements – the book’s seriousness and its racism – are not at all in contradiction. Indeed, if Tarzan of the Apes had been less serious, it would probably have been less racist. Burroughs might have still, in the appearance of a minor black character, invoked cheap, false stereotypes, but he would not have taken such pains to present thoroughbred English aristocrats as the highest human type. That was Burroughs’ elucidation of the theory of eugenics. Tarzan of the Apes revolves around nature v. nurture, the effect of environment and the effect of genetics; it is also wrong about nearly everything, from the truth of eugenics to the likely consequences of a childhood totally without human interaction. But books, like people, are not any less serious for being wrong, nor less wrong for being serious.

All of this emphasizes the essential ambivalence of what we call seriousness. Serious is more a description than a judgment, more an attribute than a virtue or a vice. To be serious is not to be good, or even to be deep, but the ambivalence is greater than that. Serious ideas, cogently presented, are as likely to be false as to be true, and some of the most serious works are also among the most malignant.

So if anyone, or anything, is commended to you as being serious, remember that this could mean seriously wrong.