I read this graphic novel because Time Magazine rated it as one of the best 100 novels ever written (or in this case drawn). “Watchmen” happens in an...moreI read this graphic novel because Time Magazine rated it as one of the best 100 novels ever written (or in this case drawn). “Watchmen” happens in an alternate- history-United States where comic book type masked heroes of the 30s and 40s were real. The story focuses on their second generation successors who were compelled to retire from the hero business by a federal ban on costumed vigilantes. The book simultaneously follows many characters, and recalls their background stories, while drafting several parallel plot-lines. As a whole, the book at times seems nearly psychotically fragmented, but eventually all the turbulence boils down to a fitting comic-book end in a climactic battle between former friends over the fate of the world.
Watchmen is a very dark, noir kind of tale full of black irony. It also heavily indulges in the noir’s penchant for moral ambiguity. All our heroes are flawed, and the reader is led to alternately admire and loathe many of the main characters. The main plot line, and most of the back stories, including a comic-book-within-a-comic-book are filled with the same black irony, and moral contradictions. I think my wife would hate this book.
I found it very creative both visually, and textually. It is in many ways multi-media, with normal frame by frame plot occurring simultaneously with text spoken by characters off screen. It is interspersed with “documents” such as reports, memos, journal entries, and newspaper clippings all contributing to the background stories surrounding our “heroes.” There are countless parallels between characters, text, and visual props which tie the many disparate pieces of this multi-media novel together. The whole book is a little like the wall of video monitors employed by the genius-ex-hero Ozymandias to predict future cultural and commercial trends. The pieces of this tale are extremely fragmented at times, yet they combine in some kind of an impressionist way if you let your mind step back a few paces.
I was amused by many of the sight gags found in the signs, walls, papers and people drawn in the background which paralleled the plot, or foreshadowed events. Another technique that most impressed me, was the ironic mismatch of pictures and text. I am not a graphic novel fan, so much of this may be commonplace, but it reminded me of a gentle, lyrical musical score which accompanies a violent slaughter on the silver screen. In both comic and cinema, this violation of our expectations actually heightens the emotional impact of the story.
The greatest success, and in my opinion the greatest failure of this book is in the psychology of its characters. They are all complex, flawed, individuals with both soap-opera and comic book fantasy type backgrounds. While the character development, and back stories often propels the plot, it just as often leaves us wondering if the picture portrayed is realistic, or as phony as a mask and cape. At times their torment, and heroism seems real, heroic, or repugnant, but at other times they seem as cardboard thin as any overwrought daytime soap opera role. Even though this unevenness was at times disconcerting, it doesn’t diminish my overall opinion of the book. That may perhaps be because I had already suspended several tons of disbelief on the alternate world, but I think it might also be that it just felt right to be over-the-top with these fantastic characters and fantastic world which only posed as being gritty realism. Because, in the end, the gritty and grim were just another purple costumed fantasy. (less)
BYU Professor Bob Millet and Reverend Greg Johnson have jointly addressed many dozens of groups concerning the similarities and differences between Mo...moreBYU Professor Bob Millet and Reverend Greg Johnson have jointly addressed many dozens of groups concerning the similarities and differences between Mormonism and Evangelical Christianity. This book presents questions and answers drawn from those forums. Millet and Johnson affirm and demonstrate that they have a strong friendship and a rapport that is most exemplary of true Christian charity, even while they tenaciously hold to their divergent religious convictions. They have each shown an ability to learn from the literature and expressions of faith outside their own tradition. They demonstrate respect for each other and even on occasion come to the defense of one another against zealous members of their own faith. And all this they do while still strongly (but kindly) disagreeing with many of the fundamental doctrines held by the other’s faith.
I admire their enterprise and wish there could be more reproachment between Mormons and Evangelical churches who both find themselves at increasing odds with the deepening wickedness in our culture. These two scholars demonstrate that mutual understanding is fostered more in friendship and temperate language than in debate and polemics. While there is nothing truly ecumenical in their efforts - they make no attempt to minimize our divergent doctrines, or compromise our distinctive practices - they have done a substantial service by showing us how best to understand our true differences, our superficial or linguistic distinctives, and our common roots. I have no doubt that this is what Jesus would have us do: Love and cooperate with those who may never convert. Have faith that God is in charge, if we use His means, we can be assured that the results will in the long run be according to his will.
This book was a quick and enjoyable read, but I don’t see much reason to keep it on my shelf for future reference. For a reference book on this kind of dialogue, you can’t beat Robinson and Blomberg’s: How Wide the Divide? (less)
His Dark Materials is a three volume adolescent adventure tale occurring in a pseudo-Victorian universe parallel to our own. In this “steam-punk” envi...moreHis Dark Materials is a three volume adolescent adventure tale occurring in a pseudo-Victorian universe parallel to our own. In this “steam-punk” environment religion and science are alloyed in clever and interesting ways. For example, a mechanical bug is a flying machine with a trapped evil spirit as its energy source, and physics is called experimental theology.
The protagonist of this trilogy is a pre-adolescent named Lyra Belacque. Lyra is a girl with a destiny, a feisty, clever child who lies almost reflexively to get what she wants. When Lyra’s friend Roger is kidnapped she begins a series of adventures in hopes of rescuing him while also searching for her father in the frozen north lands. Along the way she enlists a novel cast of characters including; a giant armored polar bear, a band of water gypsies or “gyptians,” a tribe of Siberian witches, and a Texas Aeronaut. Eventually, Lyra meets up with Will, another budding adolescent with whom she travels across parallel worlds facing grave dangers and impossible odds, while gaining maturity and falling in first love. Throughout all three books Lyra is pursued by agents of the sinister and powerful church known as The Magisterium.
In the principal world of HDM, each human has a constant animal companion called a daemon which is both friend and conscience. One’s daemon symbolically reveals the essence of one’s character. For example, Lord Azriel’s snow leopard shows us his ferocious strength, while Mrs. Coulter’s monkey is diabolically manipulative and cruel. HDM’s villains are deliciously evil, dripping in cold malice or driven by hot hatred. And none of them seem more malevolent than Lyra’s own parents. And even though Lyra is devoted to her parents, we don’t like them because they are the most bloodthirsty and amoral characters in the story despite the author’s insistence that the Magisterium and its Archangel patron are far worse.
This story has lots of interesting and admirable minor heroes, but HDM’s main heroes are characters which generally lack warmth. Lyra too is often amoral and Will is constantly distant, guilt ridden, and unapproachable. So even though the story tells us they are falling in love, and we want to believe it since we have all shared so much danger, yet it is still a poorly portrayed romance, barely budding in fact even if the narrator tells us it has already bloomed.
In the end, the large cast of characters are very cleverly contrived but bloodless, and we are more likely to shed tears for a polar bear than a parent, and feel as much affection for a balloonist as for the young lovers themselves. So while Pullman deserves acclaim for his delightful inventiveness in cast and setting, the principle characterizations do not ring warm, nor true. But characterization is not the most popular aspect of children’s fantasy. To most young readers this story is simply a fantastic adventure into adolescence. Despite it’s mature themes, His Dark Materials is ultimately a children's book and both adults and children should be dazzled and delighted by the rich and imaginative texture of Pullman’s fantasy, without paying too much attention to the author’s bitter attacks upon religion.
His Darker Materials: A 2nd Review for Overly Serious and Slightly Obsessive Adults
Phillip Pullman is one of England's most outspoken atheists who has expressed a desire to become the “anti-C.S. Lewis” by weaving anti-Christian themes into his fiction. Even though most of the anti-Christian themes will not be obvious to a young audience, they may become overly tendentious to adult readers. For example, while C. S. Lewis’s central character in his Narnia fantasy gives his life to save the world from evil before miraculously returning to life, Pullman’s God does precisely the opposite. He disengages from his creation, retires, and after having been deposed by his Regent and imprisoned in a crystal cage he dies in an auto accident and is eaten by vultures. This may seem to be delightfully dark humor to the ardent atheist, but to most readers it will seem irrelevant to the story - just another ax ground down to the handle. What makes this supposed irony meaningless is that Pullman’s God is utterly unrecognizable. He has none of the characteristics we associate with God except authority - and even that has been impossibly usurped. Pullman’s cardboard God plays no role in the faith of the characters, nor the plot development, so most readers will not be terribly distressed by his ignominious demise because even though it is a gratuitously bitter aside, it is not really an attack on anyone we know.
In 1996, Philip Pullman asserted that "[t:]here are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children's book." While I am not sure I agree with Pullman, neither can I join those who accuse HDM of being too sophisticated for children. I think it is perfectly acceptable to texture a story with history, symbols, and language that are beyond the understanding of children, because they generally have a remarkable ability to ignore that which seems irrelevant. After all, young readers are used to living in a world which is so complex as to be indistinguishable from magic. My principal complaint with Pullman’s work is not because he has embedded mature themes in a children’s fantasy, but because those themes themselves have little integrity. They are mostly inconsistent, contradictory, and unilluminating. If they are as important as Pullman asserts, then they deserve better treatment than here.
HDM sets up a variety of seemingly important elements which are lost or undeveloped. For instance, the central force driving the story is every faction's belief that Lyra has a crucial choice to make which will determine the fate of the multiverse. Yet whether she ever actually makes that choice is completely unclear. Similarly there is a much emphasized prophecy that Lyra will commit a "great betrayal" that will "hurt her greatly," yet what actually happens is not clearly a betrayal and does not hurt her any more than her companions who make the same sacrifice. Indeed this “betrayal” leads to greater power and freedom for herself and her dearest friend.
The value and nature of the soul is a recurring question that seems to drive all of the characters, but its relation to the story is dropped. The relationship between free will and sin also underlies the story but then it either dissolves into a question of sentience or disappears altogether. The origin of sentience itself is a question asked but unanswered. It could be caused by tool use, which itself might be caused by intelligent dust. The issue remains unclear, except that the author is certain that sentience is definitely not God’s doing.
Before embarking on her adventure Lyra is given an alethiometer, a device which can omnisciently tell the truth but is very difficult to read. Lyra reads it instinctively because of the dust within her. She loses her reading ability as she matures, although in theory that is when she receives more dust. So the facts of the story contradict the premise of the golden compass itself. Later we learn that the self-conscious dust is what is apparently omniscient, though why this benevolent dust is not the ultimate deific moral authority is unclear. I suppose the atheist author might be reticent to create a dust-god when his avowed purpose is to debunk all gods.
It is prophesied that Lyra will become Eve, but the way she eventually does this is to fall in silly, sweet, infatuous love like countless other budding adolescents. By falling in love, Lyra and Will supposedly reverse the spiritual/ecological disaster of “dust exodus,” though no one knows how. Nor do we learn why neither other people’s love, nor the Mulefa’s could attract the fleeing dust.
The prophesied temptress who brings Lyra to this Eve-like decision, tempts her by recounting her own personal liberation from religion. Mary tells young Lyra that she left the church and stopped being a nun during a business conference when she kissed an Italian man and felt sexual desire. She then happily left her vows, and became free to love, and be fulfilled instead of being alone. Of course she admits she did not marry him, nor the man she lived with for 4 years subsequent because even though she became free to not be alone like a nun, she learned that in fact she doesn’t need men, and she is happier alone as a non-nun.
In the end, it is utterly unclear how this tale of liberation from consistency, commitment and genuine love can possibly awaken Lyra’s desire for Will. After all, we readers saw the signs of first-love coming five hundred pages before ever hearing Mary’s tale of self-deceiving liberation. So while Lyra is to become Eve after yielding to temptation, the temptation is unclear, the yielding is unclear, and the effect is unexplained. By failing to truly show Lyra’s significance and destiny, the driving force of the whole story is lost.
It was also prophesied that because of Lyra, death should cease. In the first place, Pullman’s death is imprisonment in a “super-dungeon of the soul” made by God to make both good and bad souls miserable forever. In the second place, because of Lyra death didn’t really cease. People still die. But now, imprisoned spirits can escape to the surface and dissolve into nature. Even if you see blessed oblivion as a step up from the awful spirit prison, it is hardly an end to death.
Though Lord Azriel admits indifference to his daughter, he makes a sudden turn-around to protect her in the final climactic battle, though he doesn’t know why, and neither do we except that now another prophecy may somehow be fulfilled. Lyra’s mother likewise sacrifices herself to overthrow the Archangelic Authority. Thus she too is redeemed from being demonic throughout the story, because even though both parents are arrogant, vicious child murderers, at least they have the eventual moral fortitude to rebel against the even worse malevolence of the Church. To me the parents final redemption and demise is inexplicable, and not at all touching.
Preaching the New Religion
HDM is dripping with bitterness against religion as can be seen by its numerous jabs at the Catholic church. But Pullman also attacks institutional religion in general by asserting that God should not have won the war in heaven. HDM posits an heroic anti-authoritarian resistance to the tyranny of heaven, and suggests we would all be better off with a “Republic of Heaven.” But the heavenly war was not fought over the choice of Kingdom or Republic. Satan’s alternative to God’s benevolent kingdom was an oppressive totalitarian dictatorship. And because Lord Azriel, Pullman's Promethean voice of reason against the Church, is as arrogant as Lucifer and excuses the ample blood on his hands, we have every indication that his “Republic of Heaven” would be no more free than any other police state set up by 20th century intellectual revolutionaries seeking a better world, only to create dystopia.
Moral relativism is another great theme given insipid treatment in HDM. Toward the end of the story, one of the main characters spends several pages asserting that though his own morality is different from God’s version, it is every bit as valid. I think Pullman unintentionally shows here that it is very difficult, perhaps impossible, to show the moral superiority of a moral-relativist.
The author shows poor judgment by commending profligacy in a children’s book by treating the free and uninhibited sexual relations of witches and men as a positive thing, and by applauding Mary’s promiscuity. He even encourages a physical relationship between the two pre-teen heroes (though some passages were excised in the US edition).
Pullman’s story includes several other religious heresies. For instance, the notion that beings with bodies are more powerful than beings of spirit only, and that there exists in the universe elementary particles of intelligence. He also suggests that the only true spirituality is self-awareness, and that the fall of Adam and Eve was brought about for a good purpose. Because these controversial ideas are consistent with my own unorthodox form of Christianity, I have no objection to including them in a speculative fiction, though I can’t help suspecting that they were employed principally to aggravate the religiously orthodox.
His Golden Conclusion
Pullman’s fantasy is so very inventive and clever, it almost compensates for being ideologically pretentious and fragmented. I recommend the reader ignore the philosophizing. It doesn't go anywhere and it doesn't actually impact the stories in the ways it seems like it should. In the end too many of the pieces don’t fit together, and Pullman’s grand themes end up not being so grand. But for the most part that is OK because few children care much about the large themes, and those adults who do care ought to lighten up or go elsewhere. (less)
This book should be titled “Are Mormons Christian, or are they a Cult?,” but I think that title is taken. Daniel Peterson is an excellent scholar, and...moreThis book should be titled “Are Mormons Christian, or are they a Cult?,” but I think that title is taken. Daniel Peterson is an excellent scholar, and is very knowledgeable about anti-Mormon writings. I have read several pieces of his F.A.R.M.S. research, and generally have enjoyed them. But this is not a pleasant read unless you are obsessive and very scholarly. I don't mind the pugnacious attitude much because many of the anti-Mormon writers there refuted truly are deserving of little respect. Nonetheless, this is classical bashing with little effort made to persuade, or acknowledge the full dimension of legitimate disagreements. Stephen Robinson’s book “Are Mormons Christians?” is a better, if less scholarly shot at informing LDS about many of the petty salvos being levied against them.
On the other hand, this book does have a very attractive cover picture of Lehi's dream, by Greg Olsen.(less)
Eighteen years after publishing The Mote in Gods Eye, Niven and Pournelle have written a sequel that, while not as novel, is more thrilling than the f...moreEighteen years after publishing The Mote in Gods Eye, Niven and Pournelle have written a sequel that, while not as novel, is more thrilling than the first tale of alien savants.
I think that the opening mystery tale involving “New Utah,” and the possibility that the Moties have at last escaped into the Empire of Man is an unnecessary set up. Even so, it is more interesting than much of the slow build up that follows. But the patient reader is finally rewarded with another amazing look a Motie civilization. Because the planetary inhabitants have bombed themselves back to the stone age, this tale revolves around the complex and volatile tribal politics of the Motie asteroid civilizations. Niven is at his best while letting hard science shape both the economics, and the logistics of this low-G civilization. For those who have the patience to get through the build up, the last third of the book contains an increasingly frenetic series of space battles which can easily leave your mind a little breathless and confused. Even upon a third reading I thought it was an intriguing and thrilling story. (less)
No words, 136 wonderful wood engravings by one of the finest masters - Lynd Ward. The story is iconic, a very familiar Faustian tale. But the "white l...moreNo words, 136 wonderful wood engravings by one of the finest masters - Lynd Ward. The story is iconic, a very familiar Faustian tale. But the "white line" engravings are superb. A landmark work in graphic fiction which showcases Ward's wonderfully stark white on black, Depression era printmaking. "Read" this book for artistic enjoyment, not for fantasy or adventure. (less)
In it, Lewis reacts to moral relativism (the Marriage of Heaven and Hell) by suggesting that “you cannot take all luggage with you on all journeys; on one journey even your right hand and your right eye may be among the things you have to leave behind.” He astutely notes that the “great divorce” of good and evil is utterly voluntarily. And he does so by conjuring up this simple tale of a bus ride from a ghostly, insubstantial hell, to the brilliant, vividly tangible outskirts of heaven. Anyone can take the bus, any one can stay in heaven. But in the end, most sadly return to the grayness below, unable to give up the things preventing them from truly accepting heaven. The bus is loaded with characters full of excuses, foibles and vices. And I think I know everyone on that bus. Some of them I know really well, - too well.
I have used this short book in many Sunday school lessons over the years because Lewis’ language is so clever and incisive, and his insights are so pointed. I really love this book, and I cannot recommend it more highly!(less)
“How Wide the Divide” is a superb debate between BYU Professor Stephen Robinson, and Evangelical scholar Craig Blomberg concerning Scripture, God &...more“How Wide the Divide” is a superb debate between BYU Professor Stephen Robinson, and Evangelical scholar Craig Blomberg concerning Scripture, God & Deification, Christ & the Trinity, and Salvation. Each of these four chapters contains initial statements of belief, comments upon each other’s position, and a jointly written conclusion. The authors are respectful in their disagreement, and are often surprised to find agreement where they thought they had none. The format served well to expose misunderstandings based upon vocabulary rather than scriptural interpretation. It also exposed misinformation derived from polemical literature written by antagonists on both sides. Robinson and Blomberg developed a good friendship despite their serious reservations about each other’s religious beliefs, and gained a greater appreciation of how much they truly had in common as disciples of Jesus Christ. This type of dialogue is a wonderful example to all of us on how to be civil, and fair in our disagreement about religious matters. In an increasingly wicked world, it is all the more important that we ally ourselves with those attempting to follow the Lord and do his will. I wish more Evangelicals and more LDS would engage in such constructive dialogue. I am sure it would reduce the distrust and animosity that too frequently besets us. (less)
In 1970 a wise Sunday school teacher gave me this book, which opened my mind to the philosophical brilliance of the teachings of Joseph Smith. Largely...moreIn 1970 a wise Sunday school teacher gave me this book, which opened my mind to the philosophical brilliance of the teachings of Joseph Smith. Largely because of this teacher, and the works of Truman Madsen, I began a scintillating intellectual journey toward spiritual things.
This book raises issues much pondered by modern philosophers in chapters titled: Evil and Suffering, Identity or Nothing, Freedom and Fulfillment, Creation and Procreation, Whence Cometh Man, The Spirit and the Body, and Revelation and Self-revelation. In each chapter Madsen briefly presents contemporary views, and then contrasts them with the teachings of Joseph Smith which invariably cut a brilliant, revelatory swath through the best efforts of man to solve the problems, dilemmas, and doubts of the ages.
Madsen’s stimulating dialectic engaged my mind, and opened it to the surprising possibility that there were important matters which I did not understand, and there was a realm of knowledge not yet open to me. Soon thereafter, my heart was softened, and I began to humbly seek the Master. Since then, nothing has ever been the same.
This book was an important step in my journey toward Christian discipleship. I commend it to all who love ideas, and their profound impact upon the inner life.
One of many favorite quotations:
"...it is only a rootless prejudice of our time that morbidity is profundity, and that any insight that seems consoling is bound to be a wishful and vagrant bromide."(less)
This is a pastiche of political irritants. The left gets hit the hardest, but the right has its wackos too, and Goldberg has a written about enough of...moreThis is a pastiche of political irritants. The left gets hit the hardest, but the right has its wackos too, and Goldberg has a written about enough of them to make anyone's blood boil. Quick read, good ammo for your next political bash. (less)
This short book (113 pgs) is a good response to arguments made against Mormons being Christian. BYU professor Stephen Robinson classifies and discusse...moreThis short book (113 pgs) is a good response to arguments made against Mormons being Christian. BYU professor Stephen Robinson classifies and discusses the many reasons given by both Protestant and Catholic for claiming that Mormons are not Christian. His chapters include Exclusion by Definition, by Misrepresentation, by Name-calling, as well as Traditional and Canonical exclusion. His arguments are well reasoned, and at times footnoted with references to Christian groups once believing as do the LDS, and contemporary Christian scholars making arguments for beliefs similar to Mormon teachings which have been rejected as unchristian by strident evangelicals.
Robinson writes very clearly, and makes his points well without becoming overly pedantic or argumentative. I like this book much better than “Offenders for a Word” by Peterson & Ricks which is written with excruciating scholarly detail, and a very pugnacious attitude. OK, . . I don’t always mind the hard-nosed argument, but unless you obsessive and hard-bitten, you will probably like this book much better. (less)
I read the first book (Eragon), and felt obligated to read its sequel. It was more of the same "boy-and-his-dragon" type adventure, but this time the...moreI read the first book (Eragon), and felt obligated to read its sequel. It was more of the same "boy-and-his-dragon" type adventure, but this time the author revealed more of his youth and inexperience for example by describing classically mystical, and mannered elves with an anachronistic secular wisdom - in love with logic and disdainful of religion. No longer a teen, the author is obviously a college student now, and of course under the thrall of contemporary academia. Paolini also followed too many obvious stereotypes to too many obvious conclusions, including the see-it-coming-for-300-pages" climax that could be subtitled "Luke, I am your father. ., er, brother."
Because it is a long story, by the end I had spent a lot of time in Eragon's world, and felt comfortable there, and even longed for more, but after a few days distance it became apparent that this fantasy was only an average adolescent escape. (less)