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Literary Apologetics

This category contains 48 posts

“The Shadow Rising” by Robert Jordan- a Christian (re)reads the Wheel of Time

The Wheel of Time” is a massive fantasy series by Robert Jordan (and, later, Brandon Sanderson) that is being developed into a television show for Amazon Prime. It’s cultural impact is huge, the series having sold more than 44 million copies. Here, we continue the series with Book 4, The Shadow Rising. There will be SPOILERS in this post for the series.

The Allure of Evil

Robert Jordan has already developed some strands of plot through the series in which it is clear that evil isn’t always easily identified. In The Shadow Rising, though, he takes it to another level, and does this by making a more real picture of the allure of evil. That allure is found in the person of Lanfear, who has teased Rand through the earlier works in the series and now shows herself more fully as one of the Forsaken. The ways in which evil weaves itself into our lives and being is not as easily spotted as some may think.

Trust in Security and State

Another aspect of this allure of evil is the way in which we tend to put our trust and interest in the desire for security rather than peace. I have written more extensively about this theme elsewhere, but here in The Shadow Rising we see it illustrated to perfection. Back home, Perrin finds that the people of Two Rivers have come to giving up their own peace of mind in exchange for the security and protection allegedly offered by the Children of the Light. But this protection comes at a high cost. It may mean that Trollocs don’t kill them in their beds–maybe–but it also means that they have to submit to the inquisition that comes with having the Children in town. They don’t tolerate differences of opinion; they love throwing accusations of darkfriend around. This resonates with contemporary culture as well, as we use labels like “liberal” or “fundamentalist” to deride others and silence their opinions. Moreover, in the United States, we have consistently exchanged true peace for the security that is allegedly offered by guns, by keeping the feared “other”–immigrant, asylum seeker, refugee–out of our country, and by constant arms races that seek “peace” through force. But that kind of security also comes at a stiff cost. Is it worth it?

Moreover, if we put our trust in the state or in any other powers of the world (Children of the Light, the Republican Party, the Democratic Party), we have essentially elevated those powers to the place of God. Rather than trusting in God, we trust in the idol of the state, the leader, the organization. That is indeed idolatry, and frankly is something that Dietrich Bonhoeffer, for example, called blasphemy.

Cool Moments

Okay, setting aside the theological and philosophical inquiries for a moment, how many really awesome moments happened in this book? We once again run into Verin, and series veterans will know who she is and enjoy the interaction with Perrin here. Perrin gets married!? Yeah, he does. Faile is totally perfect for him, too. Rand makes it rain in the Waste. Nynaeve fights against a Forsaken, and wins! There are just so many awesome moments here that it is hard to contain them all. Which ones were your favorites?

Links

The Wheel of Time– Read all my posts on The Wheel of Time (scroll for more).

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Ted Chiang’s Religious Vision and Critique in “Exhalation”

Ted Chiang is one of the more well-known names publishing science fiction and fantasy short stories today. His short story, “Stories of Your Life” was the basis for the film “Arrival” (which I discussed here). His latest collection, Exhalation: Stories is another thought-provoking, moving collection of stories that will make readers think deeply about many questions. What struck me is that, despite Chiang being an atheist, his is remarkably knowledgeable about religion and, though he challenges various religious traditions at points, he also writes stories that resonate with them. I wanted to discuss his religious vision and critique in this book. There will be SPOILERS for some of these stories ahead.

Omphalos

Readers who have done a lot of digging into the esoteric origins of young earth creationism will recognize the title of this short story a nod to one of the most obscure but also earliest examples of young earth literature, Omphalos: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot by Philip Henry Gosse. In Gosse’s book, written before the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, he argues that the fossil record was actually created with the appearance of age and thus doesn’t give evidence of the actual age of the earth. Gosse effectively introduced the argument of “appearance of age” into the young earth creationist repertoire of arguments for their position, and he did it before the evidence for evolution had reached the stage it has now.

In Chiang’s short story, he imagines a scientist interacting with the world that genuinely does appear to be young. In this world, fossils are found that show no evidence of prior age. Tree rings do not falsify a young earth. The evidence on the planet all gives way to yielding the result that the Earth really is young. But some evidence isn’t fixed. The multiplicity of language begins to show that it is from accident rather than by design. Moreover, some question comes into mind as to why the universe was created–was it really made for us, or for some other group of beings somewhere else? The evidence for the miraculous continues, but the purpose of the character we follow in the story begins to get called into question. This leads to the challenge that if this person was not created with a specific purpose, they are left to their own devices to find purpose, and they choose to search… for purpose.

“Omphalos” serves as a lens to question: what would it mean if the universe were not made for humans? (I don’t think it was, and wrote this article to that effect, though it has diverged some from my current views in 6 years.) Chiang’s story is a masterful look at how we might perceive the universe differently as what we think collapses around us. It also asks questions about purpose in a universe in which we don’t have our own, unique purpose. It’s a thought experiment but one that needs to challenge us.

The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate

The first story in the collection, “The Merchant…” is a series of smaller stories about how some different rings that allowed for time travel impacted people’s lives in a fantastic setting with explicitly Muslim religious expression. As the stories told by the merchant make the reader understand, the longing to be able to change the past and set events right to make up for mistakes is strong. But the concluding lines of the story make clear the point:

Nothing erases the past. There is repentance, there is atonement, and there is forgiveness. That is all, but that is enough. (36)

I have read this story before in another collection of Chiang’s, but it still struck me as forcefully as it did the first time. The deep yearning to change the past is found in so many of us now. But it is a longing we can’t fulfill. Yet even without magical rings that allow for time travel by passing through them, we can still find what is enough: repentance, atonement, and forgiveness.

Exhalation: Self-Destruction and Miracle

The title story of this collection, “Exhalation,” was a Hugo Award winner for best short story. In this story, there is a society of mechanical beings with brains that work based on pressure of the air. One of these beings discovers that its society is beginning to slow down in computations and the reason is due to the way they’re using their resources, pumping air from one place to another, which changes the air pressure and thus their capacities. From this, the being basically finds the second law of thermodynamics and posits that all things will eventually move towards equilibrium–dooming its society.

This short story has many intriguing threads. First, the notion of self-destruction by actions that are initially seen as good or profitable or beneficial. Clear parallels exist between this story and our own, as humanity continues to destroy the good creation of God through our own efforts to seek ease of transportation, luxury, and profit over all else.

Another startling aspect of “Exhalation” is the conclusion towards the end, that life itself is miraculous, because it manages to survive in a universe that is bent upon ultimately driving it out (the second law of thermodynamics means there will be an inevitable heat death of the universe). Life does seem to be a miracle: its diversity, persistence, the emergence of consciousness, and the very fact that life exists stand out. Though there may be natural explanations for these stages, the wonder of them cannot be totally explained in such naturalistic means. There is a sense of the miraculous in life.

Conclusion

There are many other themes found throughout this collection of stories, as well as his others. Questions about what it means to be a person; what mental life is like; how we destroy ourselves; and more. What are some themes you’ve picked up? What stories resonated with you? Check out Exhalation: Stories for some though-provoking stories.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“The Dragon Reborn” by Robert Jordan – A Christian (re)reads “The Wheel of Time”

The Wheel of Time” is a massive fantasy series by Robert Jordan (and, later, Brandon Sanderson) that is being developed into a television show for Amazon Prime. It’s cultural impact is huge, the series having sold more than 44 million copies. Here, we continue the series with Book 3, The Dragon Reborn. There will be SPOILERS in this post for the series.

The Creator, The Dark One, and the Pattern

There are extended portions in The Dragon Reborn that finally begin to draw out the relationship between the Pattern–a kind of stand-in for fate–as well as the Creator and the Dark One. The most extended discussion makes it clear that in this world, the Dark One and even the Creator are subject to the weaving of the Pattern. The Pattern itself runs along the Wheel of Time, setting a course for thousands of years, including the actions of individuals throughout the Pattern. Though the Pattern is active, weaving itself around individuals that have been picked out mysteriously as ta’veren, in the broadest sense, it is predetermined.

This leads to a kind of fatalism among the characters that many of them are constantly striving against. Rand is the most clear example, but the three ta’veren we’ve encountered–Rand, Mat, and Perrin–all work actively to try to thwart the pattern. Yet even their efforts seem to be taken into account and woven therein.

Again, even the Creator is explicitly said to be subject to the pattern, and this becomes an interesting point of worldview later in the series as speculation about the exact meaning of this abounds. Contrasted with the Christian worldview, in which God is radically free to act as God wills (though of course there is some debate about what this may mean), there is a great divide here between the world of The Wheel of Time and the real world.

The Creator

Now that we have some more insight into the notion of a Creator in “The Wheel of Time,” what is interesting is that the Creator here does not necessarily seem to be some kind of omnipotent or omniscient being. We already noted that the Creator seems bound by the Pattern, but we find here that the Creator seems to be a kind of demi-urge; an almost deistic creator who makes the world but then allows it to play out as woven by the pattern. “The Dragon Reborn” really only gives us a few hints of how this plays out, and so we will look at any other time the Creator appears to see what more is revealed.

Prophecy Fulfilled

Another dimension to all of this discussion is the notion of prophecy, which we find out from multiple Aes Sedai exists in huge amounts in the world. There are many, many prophecies of the Dragon, several of which appear to contradict. So for Rand to come and fulfill what is said to be the first step to revealing the Dragon Reborn remains yet something that some people reject. I can’t help but think about the prophecies of the Messiah in the Bible and how many yet did not believe in Jesus. Prophecy in The Wheel of Time can seem confusing and require the eyes of believers to see it. Is the same the case when it comes to Christianity? One example may be that of the virgin birth, a prophecy that was apparently fulfilled in the Old Testament (see Isaiah 7:10-17–the context shows that it was an immediate sign for Ahaz). Prophecy, it seems, is not as black and white as some would like it to be. It can take some discernment to draw out the meaning fully.

Conclusion

The Dragon Reborn is another fascinating step in the world of “The Wheel of Time.” Reflecting on its worldview, it is here we begin to find some of the greatest deviations from Christianity, particularly in its elevation of the Pattern/The Wheel over the power of the Creator and the character of the Creator. However, it is interesting to see how this notion of fatalism truly begins to play out in later books. We’ll delve into those as we go. For now, let me know your thoughts up to this point in the series!

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Horus Heresy: “Horus Rising” and “False Gods” – the False Gods of statism and totalitarianism

A huge series of novels set within the Warhammer 40,000 universe, the “Horus Heresy” tells the story of a massive rebellion against the Imperium of Man started by a man who was once the darling son of the Empire, Horus. Here, I want to discuss the way that the first two novels discuss religion and, in particular, the notion of “false gods” while setting it alongside false gods we face in our world today.

The Gods of Humanity

One of the background ideas in the Horus Heresy series is first introduced in the novel Horus Rising by Dan Abnett. This is the notion that the Emperor of Mankind has waged a lengthy Crusade to unite humanity, and that one of the primary aspects of this Crusade was the destruction of all religions. This theme is expanded greatly in False Gods by Graham McNeill, the second book in the series. Here, we find utter contempt from several of the main characters for those who carry along in different religious traditions. In this fictional world, it is unclear whether Christianity or any other major world religion ever existed, though a few analogues exist here and there. The main characters who express this disdain for religion, though, are also those who are pushing forward their own religionless agenda of one rule and a totalitarian state.

The False Gods of Statism and Totalitarianism

It is there–in the agenda of the totalitarian state combined with a kind of cult of statism that we find the true “false gods” in the novel False Gods. Yes, that’s a confusing sentence, but let’s parse it some. For Horus and those who follow him, the notion of the state itself has become a kind of idealized deity. There are even some who are working in this fictional world to deify the Emperor, and readers of the other fiction will know how that turns out. Horus and his ilk have worked for an ideal society, and it is one they don’t know how to stop fighting for. By making their god into the state, they ritualize violence and sanctify war. Their fall from grace, as it begins in this book, is surprising in some ways, but almost inevitable in others, due, again, to the way that violence in the name of the state has become an end for itself.

We live in times in which statist violence is still sanctified. Whether it is dropping bombs on civilians in the name of our protection or the revision of history to make our own nation state the side that is in the “right” no matter what, the protection of the state leads to the worship of violence and the lifting up of war as an end rather than as a means (as one might argue for in Just War theory). I’ll be very interested to see if these themes continue to develop in the Horus Heresy, which can almost, so far, be seen as a critique of the worldview of the “good guys” in this fictional universe.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“The Great Hunt” by Robert Jordan – A Christian (re-)Reads “The Wheel of Time”

The Great Hunt is book two in  Robert Jordan’s epic “The Wheel of Time,” a series that has sold more than 400 million copies. There will be SPOILERS, though I will try to limit those for later in the series. Fair warning, though, I may not.

Evil is Deceptive

I know this may seem obvious, but it bears thinking on more closely: evil is deceptive. The Dark One is a deceiver, just as Christian theology teaches about Satan. In The Great Hunt, this most clearly strikes home in the prologue, as a man who calls himself Bors is entertaining himself at a party, seeking out the deceptions within deceptions all around him. Ultimately, the Dark One–or perhaps a Forsaken?–makes an appearance, leading all to cower in fear, but also to wonder at the possibility of lies and plots even here. Evil, you see, is deceptive: it is dangerous even to itself, tricking other evildoers into great plots and twisted ends.

The deception of evil isn’t limited to the prologue, though. Perhaps the most clear example of evil being deceptive is one not revealed in this book. In fact, there are several threads that dangled in The Great Hunt without being fully revealed. Readers, get ready for some upcoming revelations! Some of them will take many books until we get to them.

Hatred and Justice

Some of the most poignant scenes in this book center around the Seanchan. I think that the scene in which Egwene is captured by the Seanchan and the subsequent scenes following her imprisonment are some of the most emotionally jarring in a book that I have ever read. I felt true loathing for the Seanchan and even though I knew the outcome of these events, having read the series before, I felt a true sense of dread throughout these scenes. The characters involved are no less emotional. Nynaeve says that the Seanchan deserve hatred, but also justice. I was struck by this. It is an almost offhand remark, made by Nynaeve in her efforts to get everyone moving out of a dangerous situation, but it is a statement offered unchallenged. Perhaps it is a commentary from Jordan on morality and justice as well.

For Jordan, there seems to be less room–if any–for mercy or forgiveness. Enemies are hated, justifiably, because they are evil. It’s almost as though he has painted a truly black-and-white world, one in which evil is evil and good is good and that’s all there is. The magical elements related to the evil powers help enforce this feel. I can’t remember if forgiveness becomes a theme later in the books, but I’m curious to read more. According to a few bios I’ve seen of Jordan, including one on Tor, the publisher’s page, he was an Episcopalian, so I’m wondering how much of his faith comes out in his books. On the other hand, it is clear he was drawing from many religious beliefs and myths to build his world, telling a story in the best way he knew.

Reincarnation

Time works differently in The Wheel of Time. From what we can tell so far, it seems to be a wheel, constantly repeating in a circle. Many scenes with Rand show us this theme, as he is attacked by the Dark One who constantly tells him he will fail “again” and “again.” Rand sees many possible (former?) lives in several different scenes. More and more, what this means becomes more clear. It is with this theme–reincarnation–that we see a more significant divergence from Christian belief. What does it mean for Rand to be Lews Therin reborn? What kind of ideas are involved in such rebirth and renewal? The future books will have to answer those questions.

The cyclical view of time seems to be quite different from a view of time from a Christian perspective. Though some Christian theologians through history can be found to hold to things like a B or Static theory of time, including an eternal universe, these are in the minority. Such musings about time take us far afield from what is clearly taught in the Bible, though. But reincarnation seems to be rather more clearly rejected. Though proof-texting out of context is a practice I tend to avoid, something like Hebrews 9:27-28 appears to go against reincarnation: “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” Though again, here, we see the thrust of the text is not on the point of dying once, but rather on Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice to take away sin. Other verses could be mustered, and the overall teaching within the Bible about humanity seems to be: life (not from eternity but born into time), death, judgment, and then final ends, whether eternal life or eternal death. 

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“The Eye of the World” by Robert Jordan – A Christian (re-)Reads “The Wheel of Time”

The Wheel of Time” is a massive fantasy series by Robert Jordan (and, later, Brandon Sanderson) that is being developed into a television show for Amazon Prime. It’s cultural impact is huge, the series having sold more than 44 million copies. Here, I begin my re-read of the series. There will be SPOILERS in this post for the series.

The Cost of Darkness

Evil has a real, palpable effect on the world in The Eye of the World. Everything it touches, it corrupts. Darkfriends–those who aid the Dark One–are not always visibly evil, but a key figure–a darkfriend who had been a merchant to Two Rivers–gets twisted into an almost unrecognizable form. Trollocs are the “standard” bad guy in the Wheel of Time, and their features are distortions of reality: human forms mixed with those of beasts. The Forsaken, who make an appearance later, are again visible distortions of nature. If I wanted to go all Aristotelian-Thomistic on it, one could argue the evil has impacted the nature of these things, turning them from their proper ends and towards ends that lead to physical abnormalities and certainly impacting their capacity to see beyond their evil desires. The Foresaken, in particular, are twisted to the will of the Dark One and against each other. Evil, in Jordan’s world, has real impact. It is not just something to shake our heads at.

Yet even in our world–the real world–evil does have an impact. It doesn’t physically distort its perpetrators, but it does impact their well-being. It may not immediately show up in their everyday lives, at least from the outside, but by going against proper ends–by going against that which is good–evildoers distort nature and disrupt it. Sin corrupts and needs to be healed–it is not something that heals itself.

Men and Women

A theme throughout the whole series is the interactions between men and women. In some ways, Jordan seems to play into tropes of chivalry and the like, but then he subverts them, sometimes playfully, throughout the book. There are multiple scenes that become running jokes to fans of the series in The Eye of the World, whether it is Perrin and Rand each wishing the other were there to confide in about women or the hair tugs, there are several things Jordan integrates into his storytelling that seem to, at first, perhaps reinforce gender norms. However, the shared heritage of the One Power, which men are unable to touch at this point without going insane, is one way he subverts these norms. Another is through having the women themselves subvert expectations within the narrative. Egwene and Rand’s story, for example, seems like a clear setup for a love story settling in over time, but when push comes to shove it becomes much more. Egwene and Nynaeve each go against expectations, realizing roles for themselves that push them beyond what their cultural expectations were. For example, Egwene in The Eye begins to see her potential for the One Power, as does Nynaeve, yet back in Two Rivers and abroad this may as well paint them as Darkfriends–or worse, something to be feared and totally unknown. It will be interesting in this re-read to see how Jordan continues to play with broader gender narratives.

Myth and Reality

A constant theme throughout The Eye of the World is that of myth and reality, which is itself set alongside prophecy and fulfillment throughout the whole series. The folk of Two Rivers see Aes Sedai as practically myths themselves, but when it comes to the news of false Dragons or even the mundane things like Trollocs, they’re nothing more than myths in the unreal sense. But myth has a way of worming its way into reality. The people of Two Rivers, unfortunately, must face reality rather starkly when those legends come to life and Trollocs attack. More broadly speaking, Rand and the others must come to realize that their perceptions of what is real or possible may be wrong.

This theme of reality and myth resonates with the real world. Many things are dismissed as wrong or fairy tales when they are in fact grounded in reasonable beliefs. Others try to deny evidence that is directly before them (like those who deny that Jesus even existed, for example). But our world is one that is full of wonder and mystery still. Perhaps it is time to confront our own presuppositions and skepticisms and allow evidence to sway opinions. And that’s just it–evidence does sway opinions in The Eye of the World, sometimes in very quick and easy ways–seeing a Trolloc attack–but other times it takes much more. Seeing is believing, as they say, but testimony is also evidence, and Rand and company are just beginning to learn about more myth breaking in to reality.

Prophecy and fulfillment, as I said, goes alongside this notion of myth and reality. The Dragon is a terrible, fearsome one who is prophesied, and there are seemingly clear ways to know when the Dragon has come along. Many false Dragons have come and gone. The world awaits with fear the one who will fulfill the prophecies. It’s not quite like the anticipation of the Messiah, but it does show how expectations can be very different from what one thinks a clear reading of the texts entails.

Conclusion

The Eye of the World remains a compelling narrative nearly 30 years after its initial publication. Jordan wove myth, narrative, prophecy, and humanity together into a coherent whole that only begins with this first book. What questions do you have coming out of reading the book? What other worldview issues did you see arise?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“The Changeling” by Victor LaValle – Seeing the Humanity in the Other… or not

I don’t think it is a secret to say that I love books. Part of loving books as much as I do means joining book clubs, and places like Goodreads allow for networking about books around the globe. I am somewhat active in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club on Goodreads, and in August, we read The Changeling by Victor LaValle. I found it to be deeply moving, at times disturbing, and, on reflection, ingenious. LaValle seems particularly interested in the notion of seeing humanity in those we consider “other.” There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

The Changeling

Amal El-Mohtar at NPR had an intriguing post on the book as well, which gives a summary, with a caveat:

Here is more or less what most synopses I’ve seen of The Changeling say: Apollo Kagwa is a rare book dealer and new father, in love with his wife, Emma, and their infant son Brian, named after the vanished father who haunts Apollo’s dreams. But when Emma commits an unspeakable act of violence and disappears, Apollo’s left grasping at the threads of his unravelled life, following them through a labyrinth of strange characters, mysterious islands and haunted forests, all occupying the same space as the five boroughs of New York City.

This is accurate — but the experience of reading the book is something else. The storytelling gets compressed and decompressed at various points like the air in a bellows, stoking the fire under the story, burning away its disguises and sending it shrieking up the chimney.

When I finished reading the book, I initially thought it was a bit odd. Like El-Mohtar, I could summarize the book, but the more I thought about it, the more it felt the various threads in the plot needed to be stripped away and removed, so that I could see what was underneath. What his plot summary leaves out is that Emma is ultimately found vindicated because their son was replaced with a changeling by a man whose family has been working to steal children to feed to a troll for an extraordinary length of time. But all of this is tied, in a way, back into a discussion of racism. The main characters are almost all people of color, while the two characters who work to feed the trolls the children of people of color are white.

As I thought about the plot of the book, I realized that it could be a kind of metaphor for talking about race relations in the United States. The idea of whites taking away black children to give to a “troll” is a poignant way to think about slavery. The heartless attitude of those who take the children away is also similar to the comments made about various “political” issues like immigration or shootings.

I asked the author on Twitter a bit about the interpretation of the book. He replied that the idea of seeing it as a commentary on race relations was on track, but also that one of the white characters had the motivation that he simply couldn’t imagine a correspondence between how much he loved the children and how much their own parents did. There’s a kind of disconnect in understanding the “other” that leads to heinous acts. It is this disconnect that is perhaps most alarming and heart-rending in the book. LaValle draws readers in with a truly beautiful story of falling in love, loving books (I have to admit the used book seller aspect of the plot gave me much joy) and then hammers home a point about the brutality of our world so suddenly that it shocks the reader.

Sin has that same effect. It breaks into a peaceful picture, most violently when we see it in Genesis 3. Into God’s very good creation comes sin, and it changes everything. The serpent offers a substitute–a changeling–for reality, pushing a vision of the future to Adam and Eve that they accept instead of trusting God. Racism is sinful, and LaValle’s work highlights the intensity of violence and the person-destroying nature of that sin.

Near the end of the book, there is this brief aside at the end of Chapter 102:

Apollo lingered. He approached the stones, skirting around until he found the largest one, what had been the troll’s head. He could still make out the soft depression of those great blind eyes. He brushed each one with a finger. He leaned close to the stone and pressed his forehead to it. He felt as if he was finally burying what had been haunting him since he was a child. A funeral not for his father but his fatherlessness. Let that monster rest.

A funeral for his fatherlessness. I was deeply moved by this line and have been thinking about it ever since. I don’t really know how or why it made me think so much about it, but it has stuck with me. Just another aspect of a book that forces its readers to reflect.

The Changeling by Victor LaValle is a moving, disturbing work. I recommend it highly, and would love to discuss it with you.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“The Count of Monte Cristo” – Faith, Vengeance, and Destiny

I have decided to mix in some classics with my constant reading of sci-fi/fantasy, philosophy, theology, and biographies. In order to pick which classics to read, I have largely crowdsourced recommendations of which classic literature they have enjoyed, combining this with lists of major classic works. So yeah, pretty subjective, but we can deal. As I read through the classics, there will be SPOILERS, because I want to actually talk about them. Maybe it will encourage you to read them, or, if you have read them already, you can join in a deeper discussion of these great works. Feel free to recommend your favorites, as well.

The Count of Monte Cristo

Several friends had recently talked about finishing this book and how much they enjoyed it. I also recalled seeing the recent-ish movie several years ago (though, having finished the book, I threw it on hold at the library, so I’ll be watching it again!). Also, there’s a delicious sandwich that I at least assume got its name from this book, which makes it even better. But other than these fleeting glimpses, I knew pretty much nothing about Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo going in. The memory of the movie had faded, and I just recalled there was some guy who wanted revenge. Yeah, there’s a lot more to the novel than that.

The Count of Monte Cristo is, on the surface level, a novel of vindication and revenge. It’s an adventure that spans more than a thousand pages. Yet it remains a page-turner that demands to be devoured in sitting after sitting. But on the deeper level, it is a fantastically Christian look at the world and God’s action therein.

The set up for the plot involves the man who would be the count getting set up by several who wish him ill for various reasons. But throughout even that section, “Providence” is constantly in view. Providence is historically one way people talked about divine activity in the world, so the reader is led to see Dumas’s viewpoint as having a divine hand in many acts. And, indeed, as our lead character begins his quest for vindication and vengeance, bringing blessings and curses upon those who helped or hindered him, we as readers cannot help but associate his actions with those of God. We want the Count to succeed in his quest for revenge; it is so well planned, and he has become a man of almost limitless poise and focus. It is not until the count has one part of his vengeance go “too far” that he starts to have second thoughts.

These second thoughts translate into an awareness that our Count’s activity is not just the hand of God acting. Though we as readers have been rooting for him throughout, it becomes clearer that the assumptions we’ve made about how the story is going are wrong. It’s as though Dumas played into our expectations, allowing us to think that, perhaps, here is the kind of “divine vending machine” that we so often wish to turn God into. Here, in at least this story, God is working in the way that we want, dispensing a kind of hard justice on wrongdoing and giving great benefit to those who deserve it. But our Count realizes that this is not, in fact, what is happening. His own actions have been, well, his own. Has he been aided by God? Yes, in the sense that his endeavors could not have all succeeded without some acts of Providence. But he has presumed too much. Like Job in the Bible, he has questioned God; nay, he has gone farther and turned himself into the hand of God, dishing out vengeance and blessing as he wished. And his actions have led to a great wrong with the death of innocents.

So Dumas asks us to take ourselves back out of the shoes of the Count, to stop assuming that we know what is supposed to happen. Instead, he has lured us into this complacency, thinking we know how things ought to be, when instead we should be approaching the acts of God with fear and trembling, carefully avoiding the notion that we can make God act in the ways we desire. Hidden in plain sight within this apparent adventure novel, we have a serious theological commentary that forces us to re-examine who God is and how God acts. How often we make God into what we want, thinking we can control God! Yet here we see how foolish that is, and how we must once again evaluate the assumptions we have made.

So apart from this deep theological discussion, is there a good book? Yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes. The novel is so well written. I found it un-put-down-able. It’s a true page turner even at its doorstop-like heft. The story is full of beautiful description and overflowing with heart and depth.

There is far more that I could say about The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s such a phenomenal achievement. It definitely stands among my favorite works of all time, and I cannot recommend it highly enough to you, dear readers.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Gender, Fear, and Politic: “The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula K. Le Guin

lhd-ursulakleguin

The soundest fact may fail or prevail in the style of its telling… (1)

The Left Hand of Darkness has come to be considered one of the greatest works of science fiction. The book portrays the efforts of an ethnologist, Genly Ai, makes to try to unite the people of the planet of Winter with the Ekumen of Known Worlds. What happens in his efforts  will be explored thematically in what follows. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Gender

Le Guin has come to be known as a major innovator in science fiction by putting forth feminist ideas in the form of novels. In The Left Hand of Darkness, Winter is populated by humans who have genetically been modified to be essentially genderless. But it goes beyond that, because in each monthly cycle, people become either male or female during a time of fertility, and then become effectively “neuter” again.

The novel is oriented around questions of how this may affect perceptions of gender. It is largely narrated from the perspective of Genly, who himself has many assumptions about what men and women are like from his own gendered society. In reading Genly’s thoughts, the reader is exposed to notions of duality. At one point, Genly attempts to explain what a woman looks like and who a woman is in his own society to one of the inhabitants of Winter:

I suppose the most important thing… is whether one’s born male or female. In most societies it determines one’s expectations, activities, outlook, ethics, manners–almost everything… (252-253).

Ultimately, Genly admits defeat in attempting to explain what women are like. He says they are “more alien” to him than the aliens of Winter (253). But Genly, in his own mind, has much to think about women. He often thinks of women as submissive, foolish, and perhaps a little weak. They are tied down through childrearing while men are to be dominant in society. Genly’s own thoughts on the topic serve as a foil for the reader’s thoughts about gender. By placing the reader in Genly’s mind, and seeing the absurdity of his views of gender lined up against an effectively genderless (or potentially gendered?) society, one is forced to consider one’s own views of gender and the power structures which may accompany it.

Jarringly, the inhabitants of Winter are always referred to with male pronouns. The reason is explained at one point as having to assign the Gethenians (those inhabitants) some pronoun to use. But the fact is that the Gethenians may be both the mother of some children and the father of others due to the way their procreative cycle works. One is forced to wonder at the wisdom of using the male pronoun for such persons.

The implications of a sexless society (or again, potentially sexed?) are used as a way to view our own society. We are told to “Consider” various aspects of how reality might change if gender were not viewed as a way to predetermine power structures:

Consider: Anyone can turn his hand to anything… Consider: There is no division of humanity into strong and weak halves, protective/protected, dominant/submissive, owner/chattel, active/passive. (100)

We’ll consider the implications of this below, but for now it is merely important to see the dialogue happening within the story. What are your views of gender? How do they impact your view of the “other”?

Fear and Politic

Gender may be seen as one way of viewing the “Other,” but fear is a powerful tool, and it applies to any duality or disjunct which allows one to see strict delineation between self and other. In a discussion with one of the inhabitants of Winter on politics, Genly is asked if he knows what it is to be a patriot:

[Genly responded] “I don’t think I do. If by patriotism you don’t mean love of one’s homeland…”

[The Gethenian replied] “No, I don’t mean love… I mean fear. The fear of the other. And its expressions are political, not poetical: hate, rivalry, aggression. It grows in us, that fear. It grows in us year by year.” (20)

Once again we see the recurring theme that the “Other” is to be feared and fought against. Whether that “Other” is a gendered other or an alien or simply someone from a different country, The Left Hand of Darkness forces readers to consider their own fears. How might one’s own feelings about the “Other”s in their own society shape their interactions with them?

Truth

The line quoted at the beginning of this post is echoed throughout the book: truth is what we make of it. We may choose a reality. But Le Guin’s portrayal of truth goes beyond relativism. Instead, truth matters in the telling. “Facts are no more solid, coherent, round, and real than pearls are. But both are sensitive” (1). Thus, lies may come across as true or believable due to how they’re told, and they may “become true.” Of course, this means not that reality itself changes, but rather that one’s interaction with truth or falsehood may itself determine one’s belief in either one.

Reflection

The Left Hand of Darkness is steeped in critical theory. Le Guin’s discussion of gender is perhaps the most obvious point of this: readers are forced to consider their own ways of thinking about male/female dichotomy through the eyes of a man who is struggling to force his categories onto beings which do not neatly fit into either bucket. Some may immediately critique Le Guin and suggest she is trying to blur gender lines and do away with any distinction between man and woman. That may well be what she was doing (I don’t know), but that should not prevent readers from acknowledging they have their own biases about what genders are or how male/female should act (or not?). The novel forces introspection and reflection.

Similarly, how does one’s view of the “Other”–whether made other by gender, country, kin, or belief–get shaped by one’s own presuppositions about what that “Other” should be? Here are dynamics of power, politic, and fear.

The Left Hand of Darkness is a highly reflective novel. By integrating literary criticism and critical theory into her fiction, Le Guin forces readers to examine their own views. Whether one agrees with the various aspects of feminist thought Le Guin includes in the work, one will consider these aspects with new light through the reading of the novel.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness (New York: Ace, 2010). Originally published by Ace in 1969.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“The Once and Future King” by T.H. White – Honor, King David, and Justice

ofk-whiteT.H White’s classic Arthurian tale, The Once and Future King is an absolute delight to read. I had never read it before, and I was surprised to see the sheer amount of humor found therein. The depth of the work’s story is immense. Here, I will look at some of the worldview level themes found in the book. There will be SPOILERS in this post.

Honor

Young Arthur, known as “The Wart,” shows his character in one discussion with Merlyn-

If I were to be a Knight… I should pray to God to let me encounter all the evil in the world in my own person, so that if I conquered there would be none left, and, if I were defeated, I would be the one to suffer for it. (174)

Arthur is an honorable man–and was even an honorable boy. That doesn’t mean he never makes poor choices, but he is ultimately motivated by faith and a desire to take on evil directly.

King David… Arthur

In many ways, the story of Arthur parallels the biblical story of David. Like David, Arthur desires to follow justice and walk in the way of God. Like David, it is illicit affairs which lead to his undoing. Like David, Arthur’s downfall ultimately comes from within his own family. Each has a kind of guide in the early stages of their rule (Merlyn or Samuel), but neither takes on such guidance later in life. Each is guided by faith, and it each attempts to capture a kind of ideal in their monarchy. Their ideals are never quite reached, and it is evident in the story of each that their own choices limit their capacity to reach that ideal. In the end, each turns to God for the final answers.

Justice

One of the best portrayals of justice in the book can be found in the way White portrayed injustice. The knights are operating under a principle of “Might makes Right.” They expect the lower class soldiers to be slaughtered, while they themselves are so heavily armored they can barely be harmed (as hilariously depicted in an early scene that young Arthur gets to witness). Arthur seeks to go against this principle–to wage war on Might. Yet, even that battle ends in failure as it becomes corrupted. A question the book seems to point us towards is whether violence to overcome violence is a realistic means.

The conclusion to the book catches Arthur at his most reflective. White’s own view begins to peek through the words of Arthur’s thoughts. What is it that failed Arthur? How did his quest for good become so embroiled in deceit and betrayal? Yet Arthur finds that there was a crucial flaw in his plan: “[T]he whole structure depended on the first premise: that man was decent” (637). He had forgotten about the sinfulness of humanity:

For if there was such a thing as original sin, if man was on the whole a villain, if the Bible was right in saying that the heart of men was deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, then the purpose of his life had been a vain one. (638)

The purpose was vain, because it was not pursued alongside God’s will but rather as Arthur’s will imposed upon humanity–the very thing that Merlyn had come back through time (or was it forward?) to discover. Yet that which Arthur wished to bring about–the defeat of Might–was not itself an evil end. Indeed, it is the King’s page who reveals the ultimate judgment on Arthur’s plan: “I think it was a good idea, my lord”–thus said the page; and Arthur’s response: “It was, and it was not. God knows” (644).

Ultimately, it seems, justice is defined on God’s terms and humans are incapable of seeing the whole picture. White was an agnostic, but was apparently scornful of the evil he saw in the world. A kind of pessimism about human capacities is found throughout the book. The fact that, in the end, “God knows” is the answer that can be given towards whether humans can accomplish an ideal is telling. Without God, endeavors of that sort are impossible.

Other Topics

There are some pretty interesting parables included within the text, particularly in the “Sword in the Stone” section. One of them is from the Talmud–a story in which Elijah travels with a Rabbi and perplexes the Rabbi with his apparent lack of concern for the poor while he aids the rich. Yet this parable shows that God is indeed working towards justice, and a God’s-eye perspective of justice is impossible. Another parable tells a story about humanity as a kind of capstone of creation, while limiting humanity to being an “embryo” for all time- a creature in development. This capacity-laden view of humanity points to White’s worldview once more. Human choices matter, but we so often choose poorly.

The Dark Ages, White notes, may have been a bit of a misnomer:

Do you think that they [those times sometimes called “The Dark Ages”], with their Battles, Famine, Black Death and Serfdom, were less enlightened than we are, with our Wars, Blockade, Influenza and Conscription? (544)

Here again we see White’s own world creeping back into the novel. The novel was published in 1939, the year World War II officially began, though there was plenty going on before that. It was difficult to see the War coming and think that another age was to be singled out as the “Dark” age. There is a kind of intellectual hubris in dismissing the ideas of the past and seeing one’s own time as somehow enlightened. White did not think that was a route to take.

Merlyn (yes, Merlyn, not Merlin) is a character whose interactions with Arthur bring up all kinds of questions. He seems to be guiding a young Arthur towards the attempt to bring about justice in the world, but he also allows himself–seemingly willingly–to be cast aside when Arthur is at his most vulnerable. He only reappears at the very end of the book as a kind of wind. I am left feeling rather ambivalent about Merlyn, who had so much power but who did not ultimately use it very effectively.

Conclusion

The Once and Future King is a simply phenomenal book layered with many levels of meaning. There are so many avenues to explore from a worldview level that I’m sure repeated readings will be rewarding. The central theme, however, is incredibly powerful: humans cannot complete their own ideals. We are imperfect. God knows.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Popular Books– Read through my other posts on popular books–science fiction, fantasy, and more! (Scroll down for more.)

Source

T.H. White The Once and Future King (New York: Ace, 2004 edition).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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