For those of us who live far north of the Equator, Christmas comes and goes in the freezing darkness of winter. The holiday season is like a candle flame, burning bright and warm, extinguished in a moment. We clear away the wrapping paper, take down the Christmas trees, and resume our ordinary little lives. The nights, no longer lit by colored lights, are still long. Without the excitement and bustle of the holidays, the cold seems ever more oppressive. Winter loses its charm. The warm feelings of Christmas disappear like last week’s snow.
Christmas isn’t the end of all good things. As Relient K reminds us, “No more lights glistening. No more carols to sing. But Christmas—it makes way for spring.” The bitter cold and long, dark nights give way to warmth, green leaves, and sunny days. Heck, even the very first Christmas was a beginning. It wasn’t the ultimate fulfillment of divine grace and salvation. It merely promised that they were on their way.
I’m a little sad to see TMTF end this week. For all I know, its end may leave you a little sad, too. That’s okay. This blog shall give way to new things, and they will be different, and that’s perfectly fine.
This is the end, but not really. It’s the beginning of something new.
As long as the vision of heaven is always changing, the vision of earth will be exactly the same.
~ G.K. Chesterton
Do you know what’s nice about stars? Stars stay. They’re fixed in the night sky. Although they seem to move slightly as our planet spins, stars are heavenly fixtures.
I often think of a particular star during the Christmas season. Most of us know its story. Wise men followed this star until they found the infant Christ, whom they worshiped, and to whom they gave kingly gifts. It’s a familiar image of the Christmas season, often depicted on holiday cards and remembered in carols.
Just imagine if the wise men had followed, say, the moon. They would never have found the Christ, unless by accident. The moon moves across the night sky. It regularly changes shape, apparently unable to decide upon one it likes. The wise men would have found neither hope nor truth following the moon. It leads nowhere.
I recently reread G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, which I once reviewed for this blog. One of Chesterton’s criticisms of contemporary worldviews is how constantly we change them. “We are not altering the real to suit the ideal,” he declared. “We are altering the ideal: it is easier.” Frequently changing our ideals makes real progress almost impossible. Quoth Chesterton, “This, therefore, is our first requirement about the ideal towards which progress is directed; it must be fixed.”
Figure B: Wise man
Reform requires fixed goals. A traveler can spend all day walking, but if he chooses a new destination every five minutes, he won’t make much progress anywhere. He needs a fixed destination. If the wise men had followed the moon, they may never have found any hope for their broken world. Fortunately, they followed a star, and found it.
They found him.
C.S. Lewis, an admirer of Chesterton, had this to add:
Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes.
If our beliefs, goals, and ideals change with our moods, we may as well be following the moon—we’ll get nowhere. We must find fixed ideals, and we must stick to them.
Before this blog ends, I would be remiss if I didn’t give a mighty shout out to Strong Bad, the strongest, baddest, and probably funniest dude on the Internet. In the video above, Strong Bad vandalizes a picture book, greatly improving it.
Strong Bad hails from Homestar Runner, a series of homemade cartoons that conquered the Internet back in the early aughts. In a time when the Internet was still figuring itself out, Homestar Runner used it as a self-publishing platform, making its cartoons freely available to anyone with an Internet connection—and good gosh, what cartoons they were.
Homestar Runner is a unique blend of snark, silliness, pop culture references, surreal humor, and self-aware jokes, all delivered in good-natured fun. Homestar himself is nominally the protagonist of the series, but Strong Bad is the real star, and he knows it. This self-proclaimed cool dude, who wears a luchador-style wrestling mask and boxing gloves at all times, brought us everything from Trogdor the Burninator, one of my favorite dragons, to the legendary “bear holding a shark,” seen below:
Homestar Runner emerged in a time of change for the Internet. In spite of the Y2K problem, with its minor programming issues and major panic, the Internet survived the year 2000 and continued to evolve. Dial-up connections and modems gradually disappeared, along with their characteristic audio tones, which Dave Barry described as “a noise like a duck choking on a kazoo.” Wireless connections and Wi-Fi became standard. The Internet entered a new age of digital splendor, but around seven years ago, lost the Homestar Runner series, and became poorer for it.
Homestar Runner stopped updating regularly around 2009, and has updated only a handful of times since. (The storybook video at the start of this post is one of these rare, relatively recent cartoons.) Its creators moved on to other things—including writing and acting for Gravity Falls, one of my all-time favorite animated shows—leaving behind a legacy the Internet will never forget.
Strong Bad, the true star of Homestar Runner, represents the Internet in so many ways: outspoken, zany, sarcastic, saturated in pop culture, and frequently mean-spirited, yet having a softer side. Here’s to you, Strong Bad. How do you type in boxing gloves, anyway?
I’m astonished, even amazed, that this movie has actually been made. I can’t wait to see it.
The trailer above is for a film adaptation of Silence, a heartbreaking novel by Japanese novelist Shūsaku Endō. It tells of two seventeenth-century Jesuits who travel to Japan to help its persecuted Christians, and to investigate claims that a fellow Jesuit had publicly disowned his faith.
The novel is considered Endō’s masterpiece, but outside of literary circles, it’s mostly unknown in the West. Silence is not a fun read, and not a book that lends itself easily to film.
I’m amazed not only that a movie adaptation has been made, but that it has been made by Martin freakin’ Scorcese, a filmmaker considered one of the most significant of all time.
This movie has been his passion project for more than twenty years. Many of the cast and crew, including Mr. Scorcese, worked for minimum pay to keep the film within its budget. When a director like Scorcese waits two decades for the chance to make a movie, it’s bound to be remarkable. I hope it’s remarkably good; I suppose it could be remarkably bad. Either way, a passion project like Silence won’t be lukewarm.
Silence stars Liam Neeson in a supporting role, which is awesome. He gave a fine performance in The Mission, a film with striking similarities to Silence. He’s also, y’know, Liam freakin’ Neeson. ’Nuff said.
Silence, the novel on which the film is based, is a book near and dear to my heart. I first read it almost a decade ago for a class in high school. I realized it was something special, but didn’t know why at the time.
Well, now I know.
Silence is a powerful meditation upon the silence of God. It’s also a reflection upon the apparent incompatibility of Christianity and Japan—a poignant perspective written by a Japanese Christian whose culture was indifferent to his faith.
Well, if it isn’t our friend with the cello. I’ve been in a Star Wars mood lately, and with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on the horizon, it seems like a good time to revisit some of the best music from the famous film franchise.
Some story elements in the Star Wars movies are pretty weak, but the films have three outstanding strengths.
First is the visual design. Have you seen Darth Vader’s mask and helmet?
At once stern, sad, and inscrutable, this mask and helmet are a masterpiece.
Vader’s armor is amazing. So are the TIE fighters, X-wing fighters, Star Destroyers, stormtrooper outfits, and lightsabers, not to mention the Millennium Falcon. These things are iconic for a reason: their visual design is striking and unique.
Another strength of the films is their sound design. Like the visuals, it’s positively iconic: the buzz and hum of lightsabers, Vader’s breathing, the scream of TIE fighters, and the whine of laser weapons. It’s all so good.
The final great strength of Star Wars is its music. John Williams may be one of the greatest film composers ever, and Star Wars is some of his best work. The video above includes my favorite melodies from the films, including “Main Theme,” “Imperial March,” “Duel of the Fates,” and, of course, “Cantina Band.”
Star Wars is a cultural phenomenon for many reasons, including the strengths I’ve mentioned. They give the franchise an enduring quality, which we remember long after we’ve forgotten Luke Skywalker’s whinier moments and Boba Fett’s embarrassing demise.
What an embarrassing way to go.
I grew up on Star Wars. Besides watching the movies, I played whatever Star Wars games I could find. (These included such cult classics as X-Wing on the PC and Rogue Squadron on the N64. Great games!) I also began reading licensed Star Wars novels within a couple of years of learning to read. My first attempt at writing a book, at roughly age eight, was my own take on a Star Wars novel. I wrote about two paragraphs before giving up. (Writing is hard, man.)
By the time I reached middle school, my passion for Star Wars was dwindling. I had moved on to other media franchises, such as The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and The Legend of Zelda. The final Star Wars movie, Episode III, was a disappointment. (The prequels were all disappointments, really, but I didn’t realize it at the time.) No more films were planned. The licensed novels had become steadily more nonsensical. It wasn’t worth keeping up with the franchise’s convoluted narratives.
Star Wars was dying.
Then, just a few years ago, Disney bought Star Wars. A new film entered development.
The film represented, dare I say, a new hope.
The clutter of the franchise’s expanded universe—three decades’ worth of contradictory stories by dozens of different writers—was swept away, declared by Disney no longer to be Star Wars canon. The first new Star Wars movie was really good. I hadn’t even dared to hope there would be a new movie, let alone a good one.
After ten or eleven years, I’m recovering my interest in Star Wars. It’s exciting and nostalgic. It’s also oddly comforting, like slipping under a warm blanket patterned with TIE fighters. I’m fond of Star Wars, and I’m glad it’s back.
I feel tired. I think many of us do. It has been a rough week, which makes this a good time for a song about laughter, silver linings, and believing the best of others.
(In case you’re wondering, I don’t intend any political subtext here. At the time of writing this post, I’m not sure which candidate won the US presidential election, so please don’t assume I’m talking about politics!)
I’m often a pessimist. One of my greatest faults, with which I struggle daily, is a tendency to think the worst. I assume the worst of situations, and of myself, and especially of other people. It’s a shameful tendency. I’m duly ashamed of it. This song reminds me to give others the benefit of the doubt, and to hope for the best in them.
In other news, I recently started EarthBound, one of the musical inspirations for the song above. It’s a weird game with a weird story. So far, I dig it.
We live in a time of conflict and turmoil. In this age of uncertainty, the video above dares to ask the one question that really matters: What if the Batman stories were set in 1930s Shanghai?
The Bat Man of Shanghai is a four-minute animated miniseries; each of its three episodes is about a minute and twenty seconds long. The animation is gorgeous. Its style seems to take its cues from such diverse inspirations as ink wash painting, Japanese anime, Hong Kong action movies, and Western comics.
If you have any interest in martial arts, superheroes, animation, or stuff that’s cool, I highly recommend The Bat Man of Shanghai. The entire miniseries is only four minutes long. I wish it were much, much longer.
Here’s the second part:
And here’s the third part:
Is it too late to nominate Batman for President of the United States? Imagine it: The United States of America, one Nation under Batman. We could put his scowling face on US currency. (The Founding Fathers were great men, but none of them were Batman.) Heck, with the Dark Knight in charge, the US wouldn’t even need nukes. Who needs nuclear deterrence when you have the Caped Crusader?
The video above tells the story of Japan in nine minutes, and it is glorious.
The video is glorious, I mean, though Japan’s history is also impressive. (That said, sensitive readers should be advised that the video has a few swearwords.) This nine-minute history of Japan combines tongue-in-cheek narration and humorous oversimplifications with manic, colorful editing. The end result is not only hilarious, but quite informative. Huh. Maybe this, not the history of Nintendo, is history’s greatest history lesson.
I have a strong interest in Japan, which is rivaled only by my lifelong interest in Great Britain. These island nations have a lot in common. Each was once the seat of an empire, and both have made incredible contributions to the arts.
Many of my favorite storytellers and creative people are Japanese: Hayao Miyazaki, the legendary filmmaker; Shigeru Miyamoto, who worked on many of the greatest video games ever made; Shūsaku Endō, the writer of such heartbreaking novels as Silence and The Samurai; and many more. For such a small country, Japan has made a vast cultural impact, giving us everything from anime to beckoning cat figurines.
Oh Japan, where would we be without you?
I would love to visit Japan someday. I would also love to see Great Britain. Of course, I want to return to Ecuador for a visit, and to visit Canada, and to take an epic road trip around the United States of America.
Man, I wish I were free to travel more. At least I have books and the Internet!