Flotsam & Jetsam 3/31

Culture War – “If you want a naval war, you have to build ships, and if you want a culture war, you have to build a culture. And whether it is Rome or any other city, it is not done in a day.”

‘Lullaby for a Nameless Child’ – Powerful: “Too small to run, too weak to fight/Too young to know a warning/Like thieves they caught you in the night/And stole away the morning…”

Indiana: A Religious Liberty Bellweather – An excellent piece by Rod Dreher on the controversy over Indiana’s religious freedom law.

007 ‘Spectre’ Official Teaser Trailer - Two words: Christoph Waltz.

Not That Bright – A good reminder from DeYoung: “You don’t have to bear the burdens of the planet, just bear witness to the one who can. You don’t have die for the sins of the world, just introduce people to the one who has.”

“The good deeds of men are always accompanied by an all defiling, all destroying pride that whispers, ‘My name be hallowed.'”
– Koberle

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

“I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from things or people or moments that hurt, but I took joy in the things that made me happy. The custard was sweet and creamy in my mouth, the dark swollen currants in the spotted dick were tangy in the cake-thick chewy blandness of the pudding, and perhaps I was going to die that night and perhaps I would never go home again, but it was a good dinner, and I had faith in Lettie Hempstock.”

o-OCEAN-AT-THE-END-OF-THE-LANE-facebookOne of the first novels I read this year was Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Wonderful, wonderful book. The day I finished it, I wrote, “I know it’s only January, but I can’t imagine reading another novel this year that’s half as magical as this one.”

We now approach the end of March and I stand by my prediction. Like N.D. Wilson and the late Sir Terry Pratchett, Gaiman is one of a handful of contemporary fiction writers I feel it my solemn duty to recommend to everyone I meet.  (On that note, if you’re looking for somewhere to start, pick up Coraline. You can’t go wrong with it.)

And while it’s a popular style of compliment among reviewers to call this or that novel “like nothing I’ve ever read before,” I can’t say this of Ocean. It would be untrue, and further, it would be damning it with faint praise. It is because I have read something like it before that Ocean is such a formidable bit of storytelling.

Gaiman is no hack – the very idea is farcical. But he is carrying on a tradition, and the mantle of writers like C.S. Lewis and Lloyd Alexander looks rather splendid draped across his shoulders. I can’t help but think they would be chuffed to see it worn so well.

In Ocean‘s opening pages, our protagonist (nameless throughout the story) declares his affection for the myths of old: “They weren’t adult stories and they weren’t children’s stories. They were better than that. They just were.”

How fitting that Gaiman’s own story should achieve this very quality. Did you ever stand in your pajamas under a full moon, no shoes, just your naked feet touching the ground? Ocean is like that: a perfect marriage of the tangible and the transcendent. In a word, timeless.

Thank God, the fairy tale lives.

A Tribute to the Man in the Awesome Hat

85610That would be Sir Terry Pratchett (28 April 1948 – 12 March 2015).

My tribute is late, and by now I’m certain everyone who is anyone has said everything there is to say about Sir Terry’s life and legacy and how generally smashing he was. But since adding to the noise is what writers do, I’d like to say a few words in honor of the man who gave me more belly laughs than any other writer on God’s green earth. Yes, even Wodehouse.

I read The Color of Magic when I was fifteen and became a fan of the Man in the Awesome Hat instantaneously. Forays into Discworld are now a literary staple for me. It’s a bonkers place – not unlike a Monty Python sketch from the hand of J.R.R. Tolkien, assuming the latter had been smoking something besides tobacco while writing it. (This is where everyone raises an eyebrow and wonders why this blog isn’t rated R for drug references, too. “Mercy!”)

Sir Terry – like his friend Neil Gaiman, like Lewis and Chesterton and Alexander before them – was a reminder to me that the imagination is a terrible thing to waste. Feed it well. Gorge it. Make it fat. “Stories of imagination,” Pratchett observed, “tend to upset those who don’t have one.” For the love of God, don’t be one of those people. It’s a sorry way to think.

Another thing: laughter really is good medicine. I’m not talking about school girl titters, either. I’m talking about busting an almighty gut. I’m talking about dropping the book because your stomach hurts and you can’t read through the tears. Cue howls and labored breathing. People look at you with a mixture of wonder and alarm because, let’s be honest, you appear to be dying and having the time of your life doing it.

Cracking the cover of a Discworld book is a one way ticket to all this and more. Abdominal pain guaranteed. It’s a great feeling. You should try it.

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