Wednesday, January 27, 2010

To Ponder

More men died of dysentery during the Civil War than died in battle.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Book of the (Next) Month

I have been thinking over my book of the month for February for quite some time. Then, when I woke up and realized it was the 26th, I thought I had better announce my book of February: The Last of the Mohicans. I'm going to have to get pretty good at typing 'Mohicans' fast. Hard job. I have never read this book, but I looked it up on the invaluable Google and found out it has thirty-three chapters. Thus, a chapter a day and double up on weekends. With this book I will provide a guide and post more about what I think of it, perhaps even devoting multiple blog posts to it. So, here is a guide:

February 1: Chapter 1
February 2: Chapter 2
February 3: Chapter 3
February 4: Chapter 4
February 5: Chapter 5
February 6: Chapters 6 and 7
February 7: Chapters 8 and 9
February 8: Chapter 10
February 9: Chapter 11
February 10: Chapter 12
February 11: Chapter 13
February 12: Chapter 14
February 13: Chapters 15 and 16
February 14: Chapters 17 and 18
February 15: Chapter 19
February 16: Chapter 20
February 17: Chapter 21
February 18: Chapter 22
February 19: Chapter 23
February 20: Chapters 24 and 25
February 21: Chapters 26 and 27
February 22: Chapters 28
February 23: Chapter 29
February 24: Chapter 30
February 25: Chapter 31
February 26: Chapter 32
February 27: Chapter 33

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Influence of Redemption In Literature

One of the largest influences of the Gospel on Western culture is the theme of redemption. It pops up in the most unexpected places in literature. Last week I read the poem Lady Clare by Alfred Lord Tennyson. In it, a heiress of high birth discovers she is actually the daughter of the Nurse, Alice, and was exchanged for the true heiress when the true heiress died as a baby. She then dresses in beggar's clothes and goes to tell her fiance (who also happens to be her cousin and now the closest heir to the inheritance) that she is not who everyone thinks she is. At the end of the poem, her cousin says that he will marry her anyway and she "will still be Lady Clare".

The obvious theme in this piece is redemption; that is, the act of being brought back. We can see similar themes nearly everywhere we look. In A Tale of Two Cities, Sydney Carton redeems Charles Darnay by dying in his place, while at the same time being redeemed in the reader's eye by giving up his life. In Pride and Prejudice, Lydia is "redeemed" by Darcy by being getting to marry Wickham, thus, raising herself from apparent doom.

There are two perspectives stories like to follow: the perspective of the redeemer and the perspective of the redeemed. We like to read the perspective of the redeemer because they seem noble. We like to read the perspective of the redeemed because they remind us of ourselves.

It's interesting to note that in nearly all redemption stories there is a Christ-figure. If someone is going to be redeemed, there has to be redeemer. Salvation is perfectly free, but only to us; it cost God incomprehensibly. I believe this influence is a good thing. It urges us to think about the Gospel and God. My mom always said "Every good story has a Christ figure." I think she was right.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Why You Should Read the Old Testament

Some parts of the Bible are easier to read than others. It's easy to get bogged down on the law and the books of Old Testament history. "This wasn't written for me," I can think, "It's written for the Israelites. I'm not an Israelite." A simple answer to the question "Why should I read the Old Testament?" is that the Old Testament helps us know who God is. But like most simple answers, this does not explain everything.

For one thing, if you have just read something encouraging (Philippians, for example) reading the O.T. may seem a bit depressing. Israel is caught in a seemingly endless cycle of sin, oppression, and deliverance. Sure Hezekiah saves Judah from Assyria, but the king after him is a jerk. Also, many of the books in the O.T. were not written like the "letters" books--as a pieces of practical advice.

One practical reason to read the Old Testament is that it's just plain interesting. I always feel a sort of poetic justice when Jezebel gets eaten by dogs.
There is a lot we can learn from the Old Testament history. By studying the righteous figures we can learn what God likes. By seeing the serious consequences when the people turn from the Lord, we can more fully understand how amazing not having to pay the price for our sin really is. Lastly, the O.T. shows us just how much Israel needed God. The continual downfall-repentance cycle would have gone on is He had not mercifully intervened for Israel and for us.

Hamlet Update:
I finished a week ago and liked it! Time to choose a February novel.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Misplaced Modifiers

Anyone who has studied or taught grammar recently knows what a misplaced modifier is. For those of us who haven't a misplaced modifier is simply putting a prepositional phrase in the wrong place. As William Strunk says in his excellent book The Elements of Style "sentences violating [a rule about misplaced modifiers] are often ludicrous." Here are some examples:

Ms. Ruiz got a sweater for her dog with a snowflake pattern.

Roberto read that some turtles can swim quite fast in a magazine.

I saw the ants marching through my magnifying glass.

The man bought the rare photograph of Geronimo with the cellular telephone.

Mrs. Chu gives the sculptures to her friends that she carves.

The students met with a tutor who needed help in math.

The hero of the story, Bilbo Baggins is not a typical hero, who likes nothing more than chatting with his neighbors, sleeping, and eating.

The hat belongs to the girl with the feather.

The poster caught my eye on the wall.

A beautiful Bolivian weaving hangs on our living room wall from the town of Trinidad.

We saw Jose Clemente Orozco's beautiful murals on vacation in Guadalajara.

Sleeping on the roof, I saw our neighbor's cat.

Cleaning the attic, an old trunk was found.

Pacing in its cage, I watched the lion.

The turkey was large enough for three families stuffed with sage and bread crumbs.

The kitten belongs to my neighbor that is on the branch.

[The examples above are from The Elements of Language: Introductory Course pp. 510-514 and The Elements of Language: First Course pp. 541-546.]

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Rather Macabre Joke

Many years ago, my family watched a documentary on the Donner Party. When it was mentioned that one of the survivors opened a restaurant, my brother quipped,

"We serve you better."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Balanced Themes

I read quite frequently, and also enjoy writing. Recently I have noticed a "conflict", if you can call it that, between timely themes and timeless themes.

Webster's Dictionary defines a theme as an idea that recurs in or pervades a piece of art or literature. For example, the themes of Pride and Prejudice could be "romance" or "faults" or "self-realization". A theme of Hamlet could be "infidelity" or "insanity". Timely themes would be themes that are culturally relevant now, perhaps "post-modernism". Timeless themes would be themes that are always relevant, such as "death". It happens to everybody, excepting Enoch and Elijah.

There is as much danger in writing a novel set in the present as there is in writing a fantasy. The danger is that you, the writer, become so engrossed in the setting that you forget what is more important: the plot. In a modern novel, the writer could dwell on the advanced technology his characters use, thus; subtracting form the plot. In a fantasy, a writer could give over-detailed explanations of customs and lands in their made-up world

A novel could override its balance. Too many timeless themes, and, while the novel may be a masterpiece, it does not have the power to make a present change. Too many timely themes, and it becomes marginalized and will have no lasting power. Some books I think have an admirable balance of timeless and timely themes are:

A Tale of Two Cities (death, the mechanization of death, liberty, revolution, revenge)

To Kill A Mockingbird (prejudice, prejudice against African Americans, courage, innocence)

Can you think of any more?

Hamlet Update:
I am currently in Act 4, Scene 4.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Hannah's Prayer

A few days ago I read Hannah's prayer from the second chapter of Samuel. I had always considered Hannah taking her young son to the temple as a sad event. I could just see the weeping mother reluctantly handing her son over to Eli the priest, regretting her rash vow. But one look at chapter two banishes any such thought.

"My heart exults in the LORD;
my strength is exalted in the LORD.
My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation.

2"There is none holy like the LORD;
there is none besides you;
there is no rock like our God.
3Talk no more so very proudly,
let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the LORD is a God of knowledge,
and by him actions are weighed.
4The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble bind on strength.
5Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.
The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn.
6The LORD kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
7The LORD makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low and he exalts.
8He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s,
and on them he has set the world.

9"He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness,
for not by might shall a man prevail.
10The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces;
against them he will thunder in heaven.
The LORD will judge the ends of the earth;
he will give strength to his king
and exalt the power of his anointed."

If you have recently read Mary's Song of Praise, also called the Magnificat, ( from Luke 1, you will definitely notice some similarities. Both Hannah and Mary were given sons from the Lord. They expressed the same things in their praises: joy and astonishment at what He has done for them. Both women ended up giving up their sons as well.

Hannah is not having a pity party here. She is so wrapped up in what God has done for her and who He is that she does not even mention that she is surrendering her son, who was only weaned recently. How wonderful self-forgetfulness is! It enables me to make sacrifices for God without considering me, because God is far more important than me. That's a helpful thing to remember.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Book of the Month: Hamlet

For the upcoming year, I am going to be reading one classic novel a month. I admit to cheating and choosing a play for this month, but it is considered literature, so I'm counting it as such. If you want to join me in my 2010 Reading Challenge, you're more than welcome. Let's read!