Good Character(s)

This summer I made my first foray into Jane Austen, reading Mansfield Park. I found the novel more thought-provoking than enjoyable, and one of the issues it raised for me was the relationship between moral goodness and good characters. Fanny Price, the novel’s heroine, is probably the most emphatically good (in the moral sense) character I have ever experienced, and also a bad character in the sense of not being compelling or enjoyable. She is, in fact, one of the reasons the book drags as it does (the other is that the simple plot takes far too long to unfold). I began to find her tiresome; Jane Austen’s own mother called her insipid.

I call Fanny Price emphatically good not because she is the most moral character I have ever read but because the whole book emphasizes her goodness. Austen’s admirable theme is that the meek shall inherit the earth, and her intriguing purpose is to cross-examine the true value of the witty, vivacious belle who was (is) the ideal of high society. Fanny exists as a kind of living counterpoint to all the defects of the upper classes – lack of principle, lack of kindness, form over substance, glitter over gold. Her goodness, as central to the novel’s ideas, is inescapable, but it does not do her many favors.

Yet I am sure that it is not due to excess goodness that Fanny Price is (to be kind) unengaging or (to be like Jane Austen’s mother) insipid. Fanny would be both a more enjoyable character and a more accurate representation of goodness if Austen had not mishandled the virtue of humility. She portrays it quite badly – though, in fairness, most authors do. In Mansfield Park, Fanny is humble; this means that she has a pathetically low, and generally false, valuation of herself and accepts other people’s negative opinions of who she is and what she deserves to a point that seems almost weak-minded.

Nor is Fanny a moral paragon in all respects. The narrator repeatedly reminds us that she is anxious and timid, and it’s certain that she has almost no courage at all. It is to Austen’s credit as a writer that she created such limitations in her character, and if you stop to consider it, Fanny’s timidity lends a poignant note to her climactic resistance to an unwanted marriage. Ironically, though, Fanny would have been better company for four hundred pages if her virtues had extended a little farther, and that would have done more for the novel than a little poignancy.

Additionally, Austen – who excelled in creating sharp, lively portraits of female characters – failed to do so with Fanny Price. Fanny gives little impression of anything except strong moral convictions and a puddle of weakness besides. Details such as her physical grace and her love of reading are barely seen and certainly not felt. Her passivity is the stuff of legend; her only contribution to her own destiny is to reject Henry Crawford – in other words, manage to do nothing when someone else is trying to get her to do something (usually she is just carried along when other people do things).

What makes a good character is ultimately disconnected from what makes a good person. White knights and black villains have alike succeeded as characters, and have alike failed. Even the case of Fanny Price proves that what matters is not the amount of goodness a character possesses but how it is used, and what the character possesses besides.

Arresting Attention

The topic of the hour is superheroes, so I am going add my two cents, or less, to the conversation swirling around this cultural and cinematic phenomenon.

I was never that into superheroes.

On to a new topic. Good openings, endlessly emphasized in modern fiction, are defined by being evocative, and it doesn’t really matter of what. What counts is arresting the attention of the reader, whether through humor, originality, mystery, or a felicitous turn of phrase. Here is a list of beginnings that showcase the art of the good opening, being not only evocative but memorable. You will note that famous, immortal, and timeworn first sentences, such as “Call me Ishmael,” are omitted from this list. You will also note that other famous, immortal, and timeworn first sentences are included. There is no good reason for this.

Please share in the comments any book openings that would complete this list, or whether any opening included makes you want to pick up its book.

 

There is a young legend developing on the west side of the mountains. William E. Barrett, The Lilies of the Field

Marley was dead: to begin with. There was no doubt whatever about that. Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

I dreamed of Goliath last night, strangely enough, considering it was Joab, David’s general, who died yesterday. Eleanor Gustafson, The Stones

The young prince was known here and there (and just about everywhere else) as Prince Brat. Not even black cats would cross his path. Sid Fleischman, The Whipping Boy

These tales concern the doing of things recognized as impossible to do; impossible to believe; and, as the weary reader may well cry aloud, impossible to read about. G. K. Chesterton, Tales of the Long Bow

April is the cruellest month. T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land

I am old now and have not much to fear from the anger of gods. I have no husband nor child, nor hardly a friend, through whom they can hurt me. My body, this lean carrion that still has to be washed and fed and have clothes hung about it daily with so many changes, they may kill as soon as they please. The succession is provided for. My crown passes to my nephew. C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

In a hole in a ground there lived a hobbit. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

The universe is infinite but bounded, and therefore a beam of light, in whatever direction it may travel, will after billions of centuries return – if powerful enough – to the point of its departure; and it is no different with rumor, that flies about from star to star and makes the rounds of every planet. Stanislaw Lem, “The Seventh Sally

Monsters do, of course, exist. Matt Mikalatos, Night of the Living Dead Christian

The only possible excuse for this book is that it is an answer to a challenge. Even a bad shot is dignified when he accepts a duel. G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Technically, the cucumber came first. Phil Vischer, Me, Myself & Bob

I don’t remember one thing about the day I was born. It hasn’t been for lack of trying either. I’ve set for hours trying to go back as far as I could, but the earliest thing I remember is riding in the back of Floyd’s wagon and looking at myself in a looking glass. Jonathan Rogers, The Charlatan’s Boy

Had he but known that before the day was over he would discover the hidden dimensions of the universe, Kit might have been better prepared. At least, he would have brought an umbrella. Stephen Lawhead, The Skin Map

Cover Reveal: Lightporter

I am pleased to be sharing with you a word from science fiction author C.B. Cook….

 

 

Hello, friends! I’m so excited to be sharing the cover of Lightporter with all of you today! This cover has been in the works for quite a while, but since I just finished writing the book, I decided it was time to show everyone the cover! So without further ado, here it is!

 

 

Thanks so much for joining us today with this cover reveal! Don’t forget to add Lightporter on Goodreads and share the cover with all of your friends. What do you think of the cover?

Also, if you haven’t gotten a chance to buy Twinepathy, the first book in the IDIA series, the e-book is on sale for $0.99 today only! Go check it out on Amazon, or leave a review if you’ve already read it.

 

To learn more about C.B. Cook and her work, please visit….

Lightporter on Goodreads

Twinepathy on Goodreads

Twinepathy on Amazon

IDIA Group Board on Pinterest

C.B. Cook at…

her Blog

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The New Look

… which is not to be confused with Eisenhower’s New Look, or FDR’s New Deal, or John Kennedy’s New Frontier, or Woodrow Wilson’s New Freedom, or Theodore Roosevelt’s New Nationalism. (One of the lessons of history is the enduring popularity of political slogans that begin “New.”)

The New Look I am referring to is, of course, the new look of this site. Some fine-tuning may remain, but the major renovation is finished. Despite some adjustment of the site’s pages and blog categories, the change is mostly cosmetic. If you’re reading this, you’re looking at it, and I have no need to describe what you’re seeing. I would like to note that the background image is original, designed by Meghan McDermott, and used on the cover of The Valley of Decision. Of course, there’s a knife and a nice burst of light there, too ...

Look Away: A Series of Unfortunate Events

Houses burning down. Parents dying. Guardians dying. Untalented actors with ropes, knives, and nefarious plots. Hurricanes, deadly leeches, dangerous reptiles. Lumber mills with numerous safety violations. This is a series of unfortunate events, and you can pull up a chair and watch.

Or you could just look away.

This January Netflix premiered Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, an adaptation of the children’s series of the same name. To date, eight episodes have been aired, adapting four of the thirteen books. Like the books before it, the show revolves around the adventures, misadventures, and misfortunes of the three Baudelaire children. After their parents die in a mysterious fire, they must escape Count Olaf’s schemes to get a hold of them and the Baudelaire fortune – again, and again, and again.

I had heard of Lemony Snicket before, invoked as an example of the literary devices of lampshading and of breaking the fourth wall. Knowing only this, and absolutely nothing of the actual story, I tuned into A Series of Unfortunate Events. The two most prominent elements of this series are its tone and its humor. The tone is ostentatiously bleak, with the theme song warning that watching will ruin “your evening, your series-of-unfortunate-events-2home life, and your day,” and narrator Lemony Snicket promising endless woe, troubles, and inconvenience. A literal pall hangs over the show – much of it, especially the scenery, appears to have been put through a gray filter. And this grayness is a mistake, an overreach of cleverness that undercuts the specific pleasure of a visual medium.

The series’ showily dismal tone is part and parcel with its humor – sometimes dark, always absurdist. A Series of Unfortunate Events thrives on repetition (it’s not a sea, it’s a large lake); on smashing the fourth wall (Lemony Snicket explains the concept of dramatic irony in relation to a particularly unfortunate event); on the unnecessary definition of words (in this context, “unnecessary” means “not needed”); on repetition (it’s not a sea, it’s a large lake); on absurdity (your closest living relative is the relative who lives closest to you); on repetition (LARGE LAKE).

As a rule, humor should not be explained or defended. If you don’t like this sort of humor, you won’t like the show. Even if you do, the show sometimes goes too far. It’s funny that Lemony Snicket has a two hundred-page book written by the woman he loves, explaining why she can’t marry him, but the repeated jokes about an older woman’s unfulfilled desires for marriage and a family are merely sad.

The characters of A Series of Unfortunate Events, like its humor, lean toward the absurd. Even Count Olaf, the villain of the story, is ridiculous, though he is sinister, too. The Baudelaires themselves are loyal to each other, courageous when the moment demands it, and – considering what they have to put up with – remarkably polite. They can be stilted at times, but in the natural sort of way you might expect wealthy prodigies to be stilted, and there’s something charming about them.

There’s a story here, too, but not much of one. I can usually enjoy the repetitivity of the humor, and always forgive it, but the repetitivity of the plot is another matter. Virtually every adult is malicious, dense, or both, and this allows the series to spin pointlessly through several reiterations of the same storyline. Villain employs laughable stratagem to get the children. Clueless adult falls for it. Children avert total disaster at the last minute. Villain employs laughable stratagem to get the children. Clueless adult falls for it. Children avert total disaster at the last minute. Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Villain employs …

A Series Of Unfortunate Events

The last episode suggests that the series may be breaking out of this cycle. I worry, however, that it will be crippled by a more fundamental flaw. You see, A Series of Unfortunate Events lacks heart. Sometimes it lapses into genuine drama, with ensuing moments of pathos, and there is poignancy in how fast the siblings hold on to each other. But all this seems almost beside the point – and in truth, if the show took Olaf and his schemes any more seriously than it does, it would be too dark. A disconnect exists in this series, and there’s no heart strong enough to unite it in meaning and emotion.

Despite this lack, A Series of Unfortunate Events has its virtues. It can be visually interesting, in spite of the overabundance of grey. It is sometimes fun, often delightfully absurd, and on rare occasions, moving. The cleverness and the humor are abundant, and who knows? We are only eight episodes in; the best may yet be ahead.

Grand Finale: Crossing Time


On Tour with Prism Book Tours.

Book Tour Grand Finale for

Crossing in Time

By D.L. Orton

We hope you enjoyed the tour! If you missed any of the stops, go back and check them out and grab ebook copies of the series on SALE while you can…

Launch – Note from the Author

Love is the most powerful force known to mankind. It wrecks kings, destroys barriers, makes us risk everything for a few stolen moments. . . . And all of this makes for a great story.

Reading for the Stars and MoonWhat are your favorite sci-fi books and movies?

I can never seem to remember book titles, and I struggle to recall all the plot twists, but the good characters stick with you. They teach you, change you, become a part of you. I aspire to that with my own writing.

Stormy Nights Reviewing & Bloggin’ – Crossing In Time (Excerpt #1)

The chubby gun trader shifts his weight and looks up at me, one eye squeezed shut. “What sort of rearm you lookin’ to purchase, ma’am?” He’s enthroned on a maroon chintz armchair in front of a burned-out Walmart.

“Handgun,” I say. “Something easy to aim and shoot.”

Hearts & Scribbles – Ask the Characters: How Difficult Is It to Be a Character in D.L. Orton’s Book?

Isabel: There were times when I wasn’t sure I wanted to trust a writer with my life. Still, Ms. Orton cares about the same things I do, and I’m dying to see how things turn out. In the end, I wasn’t keen on some of the scarier scenes (and I’m still sad about all those animals), but the author assures me that everything will work out in the end. Right, Diego?

I Love Books – The Journey Is the Reward

What’s the moral of the story? Don’t take the ones you love for granted. They could disappear at any moment—and time machines are pretty hard to come by. Put your arms around someone you care about and just enjoy the moment. The journey is the reward.

Rockin’ Book Reviews – Review

“This is a steadily progressing story of love gone awry, reconciliation, commitment, sacrifice for love and mankind, and time travel. The novel begins with a “interest-catching Prologue, then quickly begins to formulate the story on a solid foundation, constantly building in momentum until it ends in a solid climax, leaving the reader anxious for the next sequel in the story! It is complete with romance, suspense, adventure and life’s lessons.”

Kindle and Me – Review

“If you like other universes with the same people, nuclear bombs, physics, emergency preparedness, giving up your life for someone you love, dogs, cats, jokes, finding that one special person, biodomes, peeing on a handkerchief with smoke everywhere, and maybe a way to save us all from our mistakes then this might be for you!”

Wishful Endings – Crossing In Time (Excerpt #2)


“Still…” The gun trader waits for me to meet his eyes. “I s’pose I could use some fancy flavorings on my venison.”

I regard the only overweight man in a sea of famine, disgusted with the whole human race and embarrassed by my own full stomach.

Zerina Blossom’s Books – Author Interview

Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or is it purely all imagination?

Who hasn’t looked back at a turning point in his or her life and wondered how things might have played out differently?

I met and fell in love with the man I’m married to when we were twenty-eight, and one of the first trips we took together was to attend the wedding of his best buddy from college. At the reception, I ended up seated next to my husband’s ex-girlfriend! Despite an awkward introduction, she and I hit if off, and we ended up comparing notes. (You should have seen his face when he realized we were talking about him.) At the end of the evening, she said something that stuck with me: I wish I would have met him at a different time in my life.

Celticlady’s Reviews – How Does Time Travel Work in the Between Two Evils Multiverse?

Take a shower curtain, some ants, and a bowling ball.

Start with the shower curtain. It’s a two-dimensional object in a 3-dimensional world. Imagine, now, that you are an ant, walking, talking, and shagging other ants on this thin, flexible membrane (or a “brane” in physics-speak). Layered above and below you are a million other shower curtains, all of them with their own allotment of ants (some of which get paid 78 cents on the dollar due to slight differences in their copulatory organs).

deal sharing aunt – Review

“I enjoy a good time travel and that is what this book is. It has a great romance and a second chance at love. I enjoyed the world the author created and thought that the author did a great job traveling in time.”

Colorimetry – Lost Time (Excerpt #1)

I lie in the greenish half-light, my lungs on fire, panic forcing out any rational thought.

And then I remember where I am—or rather where I should be.

I pound my fists against the translucent coffin lid until I manage to hit the release lever. The top pops open and frigid air rushes in, smelling of damp earth and evergreens.

I gasp for breath, my heart pounding.

The last thing I remember is a panicked voice shouting to abort the mission. Stop the countdown because…

fuonlyknew – Review

“The beginning swiftly pulls you in. The plot deepens and the characters emerge. And as you draw near to the conclusion, you’re gripped in a vise of suspense that brings tears to your eyes, fearing and hoping for what comes last.”

Angels With Attitude Book Reviews – Dead Time (Excerpt #1)

I’m trying to be brave, Mom, but it’s harder than I thought.

All the jeeps and other equipment are gone now, and I count four dingy biosuits slogging toward me through the downpour. I gaze up at the sloped wall of the massive biodome, wishing it didn’t look so… alien.

What would Madders do?

He’d be collecting data, not blubbering like a D-2 who fell off a swing and scraped her knee. Identify the problem, engineer a solution, and Bob’s your uncle.

Bookworm Lisa – Review

“The book involves time travel, an orb with a message, seashells, love, and secret government projects. It is a fascinating book.”

Booklove – Review

“The book, Crossing In Time was a one sit read for me with intriguing and captivating characters, unique, thrilling and original plot and a hooking prose . A perfect read for every Sci-Fi and romance lover.”

And don’t forget to enter the giveaway, if you haven’t already…

Crossing in Time
(Between Two Evils #1)
D.L. Orton
Adult Sci-Fi Romance, Dystopian
Hardcover, Paperback, Audiobook & ebook, 374 pages
April 7th 2015 by Rocky Mountain Press

A Publishers Weekly Starred Review
“Best Sci-Fi Love Story of the Year”

Remember How It Feels to Fall in Love?

Race against the clock through a dystopian nightmare. Climb naked into an untested time machine (carrying only a seashell and a promise). Wake up twenty years younger on a tropical beach, buck naked and mortally wounded, with your heart in your throat.

This is a journey of love, loss, and redemption that will make your pulse gallop and your palms sweat, have you laughing out loud through your tears, and leave you flush with the sublime pleasure of falling in love.

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Tour Schedule

April 17th: Reading for the Stars and Moon, Stormy Nights Reviewing & Bloggin’ & Hearts & Scribbles
April 18th: I Love Books
April 19th: Rockin’ Book Reviews
April 20th: Kindle and Me & Wishful Endings
April 21st: Zerina Blossom’s Books
April 23rd: Celticlady’s Reviews
April 24th: deal sharing aunt & Colorimetry
April 25th: fuonlyknew & Angels With Attitude Book Reviews
April 26th: Bookworm Lisa
April 27th: Booklove
April 28th: Grand Finale

Other Books in the Series

Lost Time
(Between Two Evils #2)
D.L. Orton
Adult Sci-Fi Romance, Dystopian
Hardcover, Paperback & ebook, 222 pages
July 1st 2016 by Rocky Mountain Press

If someone took everything you live for, how far would you go to get it back?

When a faulty time machine deposits Diego at the top of a pine tree, he knows he’s in the wrong place–but has no idea he’s in the wrong time. Naked and shivering in the chilly mountain air, he attempts to climb down, but slips, whacks his head, and falls into oblivion.

He wakes up inside a darkened room, crippled and disheartened, and must come to grips with the realization that he is marooned in a bleak alternate future. In this universe, what remains of the human race is trapped inside a handful of aging biodomes. With his mission failed, his world destroyed, and the one woman he loves, dead, he can find no reason to go on living.

But Lani, the emotionally scarred doctor who finds him, refuses to let him die, and as Diego heals, their relationship becomes… complicated. He struggles to let go of the past but is unable to get Isabel out of his head–or his heart. Just when it seems he may be able to find some measure of happiness in a world teetering on the edge of extinction…

Another note arrives from the future: Isabel is alive–but not for long…

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Dead Time
(Between Two Evils #3)
D.L. Orton
Adult Sci-Fi Romance, Dystopian
Paperback & ebook, 414 pages
April 15th 2017 by Rocky Mountain Press

If someone took everything you live for, how far would you go to get it back?

From award-winning author D. L. ORTON comes book three in the Between Two Evils series…

Shannon fights to stay alive inside a rogue biodome and discovers something totally unexpected… Peter. Lani is forced into the role of the reluctant heroine but rediscovers her street-kid mojo and sets out to find everything she’s lost. Diego receives another dirty sock (and a note) from the poorly aimed fireball express: “The window between universes is closing.” If Diego has any hope of getting back to Iz, he must get to the Magic Kingdom and power up the time machine before it’s too late.

What could possibly go wrong?

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About the Author

D.L. ORTON is the BEST-SELLING author of the BETWEEN TWO EVILS book series. She lives in the Rocky Mountains where she and her husband are raising three boys, a golden retriever, two Siberian cats, and an extremely long-lived Triops. In her spare time, she’s building a time machine so that someone can go back and do the laundry.

Ms. Orton is a graduate of Stanford University’s Writers Workshop and a past editor of “Top of the Western Staircase,” a literary publication of the University of Colorado at Boulder. The author has a number of short stories published in traditional and online literary magazines, including Literotica, Melusine, Cosmoetica, The Ranfurly Review, and Catalyst Press.

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Tour Giveaway

– 1 winner will receive a $25 Amazon eGift Card (open internationally)
– 1 winner will receive the Between Two Evils series, which includes Crossing in Time, Lost Time, and Dead Time (print if US, Kindle copies if international)
– Ends March 28th

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We Might Have Guessed

If you listen to critics of the arts, teachers of the arts, and even a fair number of actual realistic-fictionartists, you will hear many praises of and exhortations to realism. If you examine art, you will find that many people have been wildly successful while showing a flagrant disregard for realism.

A prime example of this is Twilight. (If you were an old, powerful, more-or-less immortal supernatural being, would you be in high school?) However, I am going to focus on Star Trek and Star Wars and their shared violation of realism in everything military. I have chosen this focus because that sort of (un)realism is widespread in fantasy and sci-fi, and also I like Star Wars and Star Trek and have enough firsthand experience of them to write about them.

I once read a detailed critique of a certain Star Trek episode that made a very strong case that, at the end of the episode, three important characters should have been court-martialed. This is how I learned that, in real militaries, staff officers (however senior) don’t take command from line officers (however junior).

But one doesn’t need that sort of knowledge to see that the entire franchise is built around a principle so lethally unrealistic only television can save these people. This is the principle that in any unknown or dangerous situation, senior officers are immediately placed at the point of greatest jeopardy. They routinely round the senior officers up into bands just small enough to be easily ambushed, just large enough to virtually exterminate the senior staff in case of disaster. The Next Generation made a show (hah) of not sending down the captain, except when he really wanted to go, but this did not improve the picture a great deal.

This is Star Trek’s main offense to military realism. There are smaller ones, such as the fact that the Enterprise keeps civilians as permanent residents. Consequently, they are always endangering small children, and you don’t want to think about what’s happening in other parts of the ship while the officers are hanging on for dear life on the violently-shaking bridge.

Of course, Star Trek would not be Star Trek if our heroes didn’t get to do the coolest part of everyone’s job. Star Wars’ offenses to realism are less fundamental, but somehow even goofier. Consider that the Rebel Alliance gives away generalships like Employee of the Month awards. They may give them away as Employee of the Month awards. There is no other way to explain why Han Solo is made a general fresh off the accomplishment of getting defrosted, nor why Lando is a general five minutes after being a shady businessman.

I know: the maneuver at Taanab. But look: No single maneuver will make you a general unless it wins the battle, ends the war, saves several major heads of state, and prevents an invasion of hostile aliens from another dimension.

Another premier example of Star Wars’ unrealistic war is the ground battle on Endor. I like Return of the Jedi better than most, but it is ludicrous that the battle was won by a horde of midget aliens armed with weapons that were obsolete at the founding of the Roman Empire. If the stormtroopers had stayed by the installation and defended it – which was the only reason they were on the moon – it would not have been possible for them to lose. Even when, strangely impelled to be idiotic, they charged into the trees, they should still have carried the day. Superior firepower beats superior numbers any day, and it isn’t possible to defeat professional soldiers with advanced weaponry by konking them with rocks.

Star Trek and Star Wars give every indication of having been written by people with a rather slippery grasp of military matters. That their lack of realism hasn’t kept them from smashing success doesn’t prove that a lack of realism is all right. But it does prove that when people turn to fiction, realism is not terribly high on their list of desired qualities.

We might have guessed.

Let My People Think

In the lately-renewed controversy surrounding The Shack, two defenses of the book, and now movie, stand out to me. Both are meant to silence theological critiques. “It’s just a story,” runs the first. The second is more varied and a bit harder to sum up, but it turns on how the book makes people feel, especially about God’s love.

These defenses don’t answer criticisms of The Shack; they dismiss them out of hand. They make me critical thinkingthink of what Ravi Zacharias called his radio program: “Let My People Think.”

To dismiss criticism of a novel’s theology by pointing out that it’s just a story implies one of two things. The first is that stories can’t present a theology. As a statement regarding stories generally, this is wrong; as a statement regarding The Shack in particular, it’s absurd. The whole purpose of The Shack is to expound on theology, and it has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. No one who has read the book will doubt that it makes a theological statement with clarity and at great length.

I think, then, that It’s just a story carries the second implication, namely that the theology of a story is irrelevant. But once admitting that a story has a theology, how can that theology be irrelevant? A story’s elements differ in importance, but no element is simply irrelevant, and a story’s ideas about God are far from the least relevant. Further, stories have power in that they work through the imagination and the emotions, sometimes bypassing the head. A story’s ideas, especially about God, matter.

There might be a third, more sophisticated understanding of this argument; it may mean that stories shouldn’t be judged too strictly because their form creates limitation and an inherent ambiguity. Generally, this is true; specifically regarding The Shack, it isn’t.

C.S. Lewis, when he wrote a novel about a mortal demanding answers from God, set it in an ancient, mythical world that required something more imaginative and more allegorical than a straight-up discussion of Christianity. But The Shack takes place in our world, and it’s chock-a-block with straight-up discussions of Christianity. Unlike other novels, it doesn’t present its ideas through fallible characters, who might be wrong, or events, which are open to interpretation; it has the Almighty state its ideas in endless exposition. There are few novels more obvious in their theology, and any notion that that theology is beyond the bounds of critique is simply wrong.

Other Christians justify The Shack by how it makes them feel. I don’t dismiss the importance of feeling God’s love, or the value of a bridge between the head and the heart. And yet: Feelings are no justification in the end.

Human feelings, no matter how spiritual they may seem, are not incontrovertible proof of God’s work; God’s work is not necessarily a seal of approval on His instruments. Maybe God has used The Shack, as people say, but you know, He used Pharaoh, too.

That The Shack makes you feel (correctly) that God is love doesn’t mean that it isn’t wrong in other respects; neither does it make significant errors all right. And it’s not enough to feel rightly about God; we need to think rightly about Him, too. Even the feeling that God is love, without any feeling that He is also majestic and terrifyingly holy, leaves us stranded a long way from home.

We live in an anti-intellectual age, where feelings are taken to be the basis of everything from moral truth to government policy. But Christians should swim against that current, too. We shouldn’t dismiss what a novel or movie says about God because it’s just a story; we shouldn’t be so carried away by how something makes us feel that we don’t want to think about what it means. Ideas matter, and they can be bad even when the feelings are good.

Let my people think.

When Fandoms Attack

We all have our fandoms, and other people have theirs. With the never-ending expansion of shows and movies and franchises, no one has the time to join every fandom. Even if we did have the time, no one would have the inclination; human tastes and interests vary too widely. But isn’t it nice to witness the endless enthusiasm other people can show for things that hold, for us, so little interest?

No, not really. Because to be subjected, at length, to enthusiasms you don’t share is so much aggravated boredom. You can’t tell other people you don’t think their fandoms are interesting, any more than you can tell them you don’t think their pets are cute, but you can certainly think it. Dwell on it, even, until your indifference is gradually transformed, by dint of another person’s passion, into implacable hostility.

Why should this be? For one thing, we are all self-centered. If I were a kinder and more generous person, I would have more patience, and even interest, for other people’s enthusiasms. But sometimes fangirlfans go too far in insisting on their opinions – over contrary opinions, and contrary evidence, and obvious disinterest. Sometimes, fandoms really do attack.

We all have our fandoms. In the interest, then, of not going on the offensive, here are three principles that we should all, as fans, try to live by.

Number one, in order to have an actual conversation on your fandom, you need another fan. Trying to talk fandom with people who are not fans is like trying to talk shop with people who are not in your business. They likely won’t know what you’re talking about, they probably won’t care, and they certainly will have nothing to add to the conversation. Indeed, this is one of the surest signs of a fandom attack: a conversation – in the loosest sense of the term – that goes on and on even though one party’s main contribution is “Uh-huh.”

Number two, retain your objectivity. I cannot stress enough the importance of this. The worst sort of fan is the one who has lost all critical judgment; who in regards to their fandom will hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil; who insist that the newest movie in the franchise is awesome before actually seeing it, and perfect after seeing it; who feel greater affinity for those who share their fandom than for those who share their nationality, religion, or blood; who can scarcely credit the intelligence or motives of critics; who still cannot admit that Tom Brady probably did not destroy his cell phone because he was innocent.

Don’t be this fan.

Number three, keep your perspective. The better part of no one’s life consists of his fandoms. It really is all right if other people reject, even strongly, your fandoms. And don’t be offended by jokes or parodies or insulting memes. It’s not worth the energy or a fight. Everyone has the right to object to, for example, parodies of his religion or jokes about his mother; no one’s fandom is that important.

These principles will help all of us to, in our fandoms, keep from going on the attack. And if we’re on the defensive when fandoms attack, there are three principles for that, too. Smile. Nod.

Back away.

Review: The Napoleon of Notting Hill

In a drear future – or, we may say, a drear past that never was – democracy in England died. England sank into a dull despotism. Its army and police almost vanished; its King was chosen out of alphabetical lists. “No one cared how: no one cared who. He was merely a universal secretary.”

In a system like this, anybody could become King. And anybody did.

Auberon Quin was a man who cared for only one thing: a joke. As a private citizen, he made a fool of himself for his own amusement. As a king, he still made a fool of himself, but he quickly branched out to making fools of other people, too. He instituted the Charter of the Cities, making each municipality of London a sovereign city and imposing on them an absurd glory. Each city had its own guard, its assigned colors and heraldry. Each had a Lord High Provost, who could not put a letter in a mail-box without five heralds proclaiming the fact with trumpets.

For ten years, the businessmen and bureaucrats endured the robes and trumpets and heralds. Then the farce was interrupted by a lunatic, who mistook the whole thing for a drama and wanted to turn it into an epic.

The Napoleon of Notting Hill was written by G. K. Chesterton and published in 1904. After a satiric prologue about the game Cheat the Prophet, the narrator sets the story “eighty years after the present date.” This adds up to 1984, and the colorless, moribund England of Notting Hill, languishing in a world made ever more uniform by imperialism, would have been dystopia to Chesterton. So this is another English novel presenting a dystopian 1984, but of quite another flavor.

Like all Chesterton novels, Notting Hill is written in omniscient style; the narrator is practically a character, and that character is G. K. Chesterton. A brief sample: “In the beginning of the twentieth century you could not see the ground for clever men. They were so common that a stupid man was quite exceptional, and when they found him, they followed him in crowds down the street and treasured him up and gave him some high post in the State.”

In humor, social criticism, spiritual opinions, and the well-used paradox, whole passages of Chesterton’s fiction are indistinguishable from his nonfiction. There’s a rambling quality to Notting Hill sometimes, and the long paragraphs of dialogue often serve Chesterton’s ideas more than his plot. Still, this book stands out as one of the most disciplined of Chesterton’s novels.

As obvious as Chesterton was in expressing his opinions through the pages of his novels, he also managed one of the most subtle interweaving of theme and plot that I have ever seen. The main theme of The Napoleon of Notting Hill is patriotism, but it takes until the very end of the book to see how the plot cross-examines the idea of loving your country. Notting Hill becomes a nation in microcosm, passing through in twenty years what takes real nations centuries, and new turns in the story present new arguments against patriotism. The slaughter at the end of the novel, uncharacteristic and startling, offers the most final argument.

Although a dystopian of a sort, and set far in the future of its writing, Notting Hill is an unusual specimen of speculative fiction. Neither technology nor magic has any real place in its world, which is the London of 1904 draped with medieval glory. The English government is altered in a few, somewhat metaphysical paragraphs in order to make the creation of Notting Hill possible. But there’s no menace to it, just plenty of room for absurdity. Big Brother is not listening.

notting hill 2Still, Notting Hill shares one great commonality with many better-known works of speculative fiction: It explores the present through the future. The glory of speculative fiction is that it is, more than other popular genres, about ideas, and Notting Hill is about nothing if not an idea.

The Napoleon of Notting Hill overflows with humor and depth. The characters are large as life and enjoyable, though they seem sometimes to be embodiments of different philosophies as much as people. The plot is very good – quick, unexpected, lively. “Two Voices” – the novel’s closing chapter, and its climax – is a masterpiece, the full meaning of the story bursting forth in an evocative and fascinating scene. And Chesterton not only considers the worth and meaning of patriotism, but gives voice to its heart, ringing in the words of Adam Wayne: “I have a city. Let it stand or fall.”