456. TMTF’s Top Ten Dragons

A while back, TMTF ran a top ten list of hot guys in fiction—guys who are literally hot, I mean. As I made the list, I was strongly tempted to fill it with fire-breathing dragons. I eventually wrote about other fiery characters, saving the dragons for a future top ten list.

That time has come. Today is a day of dragons.

Well, I won’t let this introduction dragon—sorry; drag on—any longer. There’s no claws, um, cause for further delays. These dragons hail from tails, I mean, tales of all kinds, old and new. (Heck, am I ever ember-rassed—embarrassed, I mean—by these dragon puns. I thought they were clever, but the scales have fallen from my eyes… so to speak.)

Feel the heat, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Dragons!

Be ye warned: Here there be dragons, and also spoilers.

Before we begin, a quick note: I considered including Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwock on this list, but it’s clearly not a dragon. It’s a Jabberwock. There’s a difference… I think.

10. Elliott (Pete’s Dragon)

Elliott

In this classic Disney film, Elliott is the dim-witted but well-meaning protector of Pete, an orphaned boy. Elliott communicates in good-natured grumbles, mumbles, and clicks. He can also turn invisible, which allows him to hide from grownups (and made less work for the film’s animators). Nearly everyone assumes Pete’s dragon is an imaginary friend, but that doesn’t stop him from being a faithful one. A remake of Pete’s Dragon will soon be released, but its oddly furry Elliott won’t replace the lovably derpy original.

9. Trogdor the Burninator (Homestar Runner)

Trogdor the Burninator

Have you ever wanted to draw a dragon? It’s easy! Just follow Strong Bad’s simple, step-by-step instructions—and witness the creation of a beloved Internet icon. Trogdor the Burninator began on a sheet of notebook paper as the letter S, followed by teeth, “spinities,” angry eyebrows, and a beefy arm “for good measure.” This silly sketch quickly spawned a cheesy death metal song and a couple of browser games, and went on to become one of the Internet’s most enduring memes. Strong Bad puts it well: “When the land is in ruin … only one guy will remain. My money’s on Trogdor.”

8. Ran and Shaw (Avatar: The Last Airbender)

Ran and Shaw

There are basically two types of dragons. The Western dragon, rooted in European folklore, is a fierce beast. The Eastern dragon, born of Asian mythologies, is nobler and wiser. These dragons are that second type. Ran and Shaw are godlike creatures who guard the secrets of firebending, an ancient martial art. They are silent and mysterious, helping only those who prove themselves worthy, and adding to the fascinating lore of my all-time favorite show.

7. Mushu (Disney’s Mulan)

Mushu

I just declared Eastern dragons wise and noble, but Mushu is an exception to the rule. This tiny dragon is sent to aid the heroine of Disney’s Mulan by the spirits of her ancestors. (They meant to send a bigger dragon, but Mushu went instead.) This irreverent spitfire is full of bad ideas, but his heart is in the right place. Forget Malificent. In this story of war and loss, Mushu makes us laugh, and earns his place as Disney’s best dragon.

6. Spike (My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic)

Spike the dragon

This young dragon is a dude in a world of candy-colored ponies, and he knows it. He survives as any self-respecting male does when surrounded by emotional females: he makes sarcastic remarks. Behind the snark is a kid who is in turn earnest, selfish, thoughtful, and insecure. In a couple of unexpectedly deep episodes, Spike comes to terms with his identity: neither a pony nor a typical dragon, belonging to neither group, yet finding acceptance in both. And did I mention his deadpan snark? Spike may not be the most consistent character ever written, but I like him.

5. Eustace Clarence Scrubb (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader)

Eustace the dragon

By the time the Dawn Treader, a ship battered by wind and waves, reaches the safety of a deserted island, Eustace Clarence Scrubb is sick of everything. This ill-tempered brat abandons his fellow passengers and goes for a long walk, which ends with a nap on a dragon’s abandoned treasure. He awakes, in the fine tradition of Gregor Samsa, transformed into a monstrous vermin—a dragon, actually. This outward change is horrifying, but prompts a positive inward transformation. As a dragon, Eustace finds his humanity, and eventually regains his human form in a scene that echoes the redemptive grace of Jesus Christ. Eustace may be only a temporary dragon, but he’s quite a good one.

4. Hungarian Horntail (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)

Hungarian Horntail

In the Harry Potter series, the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry is notable partly for training witches and wizards, but mostly for child endangerment. (A troll and a three-headed dog in the first book alone? Really?!) By the fourth book, Hogwarts has made child endangerment into a formal competition with the Tri-Wizard Tournament, in which teenagers face giant freakin’ dragons. (No wonder Harry Potter is controversial.) The spiked Hungarian Horntail is the deadliest of these, giving Trogdor some serious competition in the “spinities” department. I love how the various species of dragons in the Harry Potter books seem so believable, with different breeds having different countries of origin; the Hungarian Horntail is the coolest by far.

3. The Dragon (Beowulf)

We’re dipping into the classics here with the unnamed dragon from Beowulf, the Old English epic. (I recommend the poem; it’s fairly short, and modern-language translations are surprisingly readable.) After conquering a couple of frightful monsters, Beowulf finally meets his match in this dragon, and dies shortly after killing it. This beast made literary history. According to Wikipedia, it’s an early archetype of the Western dragon, establishing classic traits such as hoarding treasure and breathing fire. John Gardner’s novel Grendel adds its own interpretation of the Beowulf dragon, depicting it as a nihilistic philosopher. Huh.

2. Toothless (How to Train Your Dragon)

Toothless

Toothless is basically my cat, but even more adorable. He can also fly and shoot concentrated blasts of explosive energy, which I’m pretty sure my cat can’t do. In the film How to Train Your Dragon, the Viking lad Hiccup defies his culture by refusing to kill this injured dragon. The dragon, which Hiccup names Toothless, rewards his compassion with fierce loyalty and adorable affection. In the original book, Toothless is actually kind of a jerk; this is a rare case in which the movie is way better than the book. Toothless is cuter than your average dragon, which makes him pretty much perfect.

1. Smaug (The Hobbit)

Smaug [alt]

Yes, Smaug is number one on this list. Of course he is. Inspired by the Beowulf dragon, Smaug is the ultimate example of his kind: cruel, vindictive, petty, vicious, powerful, and scary as all heck. After destroying an entire kingdom, he haunts the land for many long years. The entire story of The Hobbit builds up to Smaug, and it doesn’t end with him: Smaug’s death ignites a battle between three armies, which is interrupted by legions of goblins eager to claim the dragon’s hoard. Even in death, Smaug causes all kinds of horror, and I consider him the greatest dragon ever imagined.

Who is your favorite dragon? Fire away in the comments!

453. Fans, Geeks, and Cosplay: A Momentary Study

Geeks are fascinating creatures. In a perfect world, someone would make a nature documentary about them, and it would be narrated by Morgan Freeman. Tragically, since I don’t own a video camera and can’t afford to employ Mr. Freeman, I’ll have to keep writing blog posts about geeks instead of producing that well-deserved documentary.

Yes, it’s time for another brief exploration of geek culture. Today’s subject is cosplay, the hobby (or art, depending on your point of view) of dressing up like characters from movies, comics, video games, or other media. It’s sort of like wearing Halloween costumes, but really… hardcore.

Lord of the Rings cosplay

Here’s some Lord of the Rings cosplay.

The word cosplay is a portmanteau of costume and play; it denotes not only the hobby, but also specific examples of it.

Dedicated cosplayers often create their own cosplays. This sounds easy, but flipping heck, some cosplays are complicated. Depending on the complexity of the costume, a cosplayer may need the expertise of a tailor, makeup artist, leatherworker, blacksmith, or even computer modeler (for 3D printing).

Cosplayers show off their creations by attending geeky events (such as conventions) in costume, or by holding photo shoots and sharing the photos via blogs or social networks. Some fans are so good at cosplay that they do it professionally. In order to promote their brands or products, companies may hire professional cosplayers to mingle or manage booths at conventions, trade shows, or other events. Some cosplayers don’t merely dress as characters, but act and speak like them in improvised performances.

While some cosplay strives for perfect authenticity to its source material, other styles may feature creative twists on familiar characters, or gender swaps.

Darth Batman and Lady Link

On the left is a gender-swapped Link from The Legend of Zelda. On the right is… wait, is that Darth Batman? That is AWESOME!

What separates cosplay from other forms of dressing up? Costumes feature in some holidays and cultural events, but their purpose is nearly always rooted in tradition, religion, or symbolism. Cosplay, by contrast, is an expression of enthusiasm for a particular work or character. (Halloween costumes can be a bit cosplay-ish.)

Aided by the spread of the Internet, cosplay has gained prominence in just the past few decades; the term itself originated in the eighties. However, dressing up as fictional characters has a long and rich history. For example, just off the top of my head, I recall a scene in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott in which a couple of its characters dress up as literary figures for a fancy dress ball. Cosplay has evolved as a hobby in recent times, but its roots are firmly planted in centuries of human history.

Like many geeky hobbies, cosplay sometimes carries social stigmas. Cosplay may be considered childish, creepy, or inappropriate.

I’m not a cosplayer, but I usually disagree with these stereotypes. Cosplay is a creative hobby. It often requires superb dedication and all kinds of specialized skills. Like dressing up for Halloween, it’s fun for a lot of people. It can be inappropriate, certainly—but generally as a reflection of inappropriate media or characters. If a cosplay is in poor taste, it’s probably because the media it represents was in poor taste first.

Sadly, not all of the stigmas against cosplay come from outside its community. Fans and geeks can be as cruel as anybody. Over the years, some cosplayers have been criticized or insulted for having the wrong body type, skin color, or physical features for cosplaying certain characters. That’s dumb.

Perfectly fine cosplay

Black Captain America? Plus-size Batman? Cool. I see no problem here.

Do you see that black guy cosplaying Captain America, a traditionally white character? He’s a cosplayer. He’s not actually Captain America. It’s okay. Everyone can stop freaking out. The chubby fellow cosplaying Batman? He isn’t Batman. He lacks Batman’s muscular physique, and he’s smiling happily, which isn’t terribly Batman-like. Does it matter? He’s having a good time. So is the black gentleman in the Captain America suit, and the lady rocking Link’s iconic green tunic, and whatever mad genius created Darth Batman.

Cosplay isn’t about rules. It’s about fun, acceptance, and coming together as geeks to wear goofy costumes. Anybody should be able to cosplay as whatever the heck they want. After all, isn’t that the point of cosplay? Isn’t cosplay a chance to be an actor without a stage, becoming a completely different person, if only for a little while?

I don’t cosplay, but I understand why so many people have embraced it as a hobby. I respect them. I wish more people did. In fact, generally speaking, I wish more people respected geeks instead of assuming the worst of them. Heck, while I’m at it, I wish more people respected other people. That would be a great start.

I’m not planning ever to cosplay… but if I did, I bet I’d make a pretty good Hiccup from How to Train Your Dragon, or even a tolerable Tenth Doctor. Just a thought.

449. Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Introverts (but Were Afraid to Ask)

I’m currently gathering questions for a blog Q&A this Friday. I’ve received questions from exactly one person so far. (God bless him.) Friday’s post will be really short if no one else speaks up! If you’ve ever wanted to ask me anything about my life, blog, book project, or anything else, ask away!

I plan to attend a writing conference later this summer. It will probably be an educational experience. It shall certainly be a caffeinated one. I plan to drink a lot of coffee, that very present help in trouble. After all, as an introvert at a crowded social event, I’ll need all the help I can get.

That said, I recently picked up a book titled Networking for People Who Hate Networking on my latest visit to the bookstore. The book was on sale, is marketed to introverts, and has penguins on the cover. Penguins, guys. How could I refuse?

Networking with penguins

Professional Networking: Now with 100% More Penguins!

The book hasn’t offered any spectacular insights, but it has served (so far) as a solid introduction to introverts, extroverts, and ways both groups can connect with new people.

A few of the book’s points are well worth sharing, so I am going to share them.

Misconceptions shall be shattered! Stereotypes shall be broken! A sword day, a red day, and the sun rises! Ride now! Ride—wait, sorry, that’s Théoden’s speech from The Return of the King. I got a bit carried away. Let me try again.

For introverts and extroverts alike—and for all of those people who don’t know the difference—here is everything you ever wanted to know about introverts, but were afraid to ask.

Trying to cope

I’m an introvert. You may have noticed.

Introverts are not necessarily shy or quiet.

Many introverts can be talkative; this introvert, especially so. Introverts are often labeled shy because we tend to be guarded around people we don’t know well. Once we feel comfortable around others, we drop our guard and speak up.

Extroverts, by contrast, often feel comfortable talking around others, even people whom they don’t know well. That can be a great gift. Good for you, extroverts.

I’m generally very quiet around new people. Once I get to know them, they sometimes can’t shut me up.

Introverts are not necessarily negative.

Introverts tend to be less impulsive than extroverts. We need time to consider circumstances and process decisions. Thus, when given a request or invitation for which an immediate response is expected, we tend to say, “No.”

If we have a little time to think about an invitation or request, and to make up our minds without being rushed, introverts are much more likely to respond positively.

Introverts need time alone.

I use the word need here deliberately. We don’t merely want it—we need time alone in order to function well. Without opportunities to regain our mental balance, away from distractions and other people, we become stressed, anxious, or grumpy.

This, dear reader, this is why it bothers me so much when people interrupt me when I’m reading a book on break at work. It isn’t really about the book. In my job, which consists of working with dementia patients whose behaviors are often exhausting, I need time alone, immersed in a book, without coworkers dragging me into inane conversations. I get enough tiring human interactions when I’m working; I don’t need them on break.

Not that I’m bitter or anything.

(I may be a little bitter.)

Introverts tend to weigh their words carefully.

I typically choose my words with near-obsessive care. I want to say exactly what I mean, and to mean everything I say. Nuances matter to me. Like most introverts, I think to talk.

Extroverts, by contrast, often talk to think. Talking is how they reach their conclusions. They think out loud. This means their views and opinions can change wildly from one conversation to the next, and even from one moment to the next. This makes it easy for introverts to label extroverts thoughtless or indecisive. It’s important for introverts and extroverts alike to understand these differences in mental processing.

Introverts excel at depth, not quantity.

Extroverts often have vast social circles. Introverts tend to have a close circle of dear friends. Extroverts go wide; introverts go deep. With fewer social commitments, introverts can spend more time and effort developing those closest relationships.

These principles can be applied in the context of networking. Introverts can be aware of different communication styles, plan opportunities to recharge, and focus on making a few key connections instead of using up their energy on small talk. As I’ve read the Guide to Networking with Penguins, or whatever that book is titled, I’ve been rather gratified to see that it also recommends some of my own strategies for coping with social events.

When I attend that writing conference later this summer, I will add to the book’s admirable list of tips my own tried-and-true strategy: liquid courage. It is for such times, after all, that God made coffee.

445. How Much Should I Talk about My Book?

All right, guys. Serious question.

How much should I talk about my book project, the Lance Eliot saga, on this blog?

As TMTF staggers ponderously toward its imminent demise, I’m wondering how to fill its final fifty-something posts. I’m also thinking a lot about the changes I plan to make to Lance Eliot’s story. Should these musings intersect? Should I start sharing some of my plans for the Lance Eliot saga—no major spoilers, mind you, just basic stuff—on this blog?

I’m excited about my book project, and eager to share some of my early ideas. I would appreciate feedback, too. As Neil Gaiman observed, “writing is, like death, a lonely business.” Community is important for creativity. I could use the suggestions, ideas, and enthusiasm of my readers.

Writing is hard

A writer needs all the help he can get.

Another potential benefit of writing about the Lance Eliot saga is the possibility of raising interest in, and awareness for, the project. It would also give me a smoother segue from writing a blog about nothing in particular to writing a book.

However—and this is an important “However,” spoken in a deep voice and with a concerned expression—I don’t want to annoy or alienate any of my readers by talking too much about my writing plans. People read this blog, I assume, for… whatever it is that happens here. (Heck if I know.) Most readers don’t come here to read about unrelated projects.

I don’t want readers who enjoy TMTF for what it is to be disappointed by repeated discussions of a completely separate project. I don’t want anyone to feel that TMTF has become a blog “just for that book project,” especially since there is only a limited number of posts left.

If I wrote about my plans for the Lance Eliot saga, new posts might offer character profiles, an updated geopolitical situation for my imaginary world, stories from its lore, thematic elements, and maybe more.

I’m not sure what to do, so I’m leaving this one to you. What are your thoughts? What would you like to see from this blog? Should I share early ideas from the Lance Eliot saga? Should I stick to… um… whatever this blog is already? At this point, TMTF exists largely because of its readers. (I care about you, believe it or not.)

Should I write occasional posts about my book project, or stick to this blog’s usual topics? Let us know in the comments, or send me a note on social media!

441. TMTF’s Top Ten Hot Guys in Fiction

Do you know what this blog needs? Hot guys. This blog needs more hot guys.

What? You think hot guys are an inappropriate subject for this blog? Oh, I disagree. I won’t discriminate against anyone for being totally smoking hot. I think this post is long overdue.

It’s a burning question: Who are the hottest guys in fiction? There are a lot of potential answers, so let’s warm up with a list of ten.

We’re turning up the heat, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Hot Guys in Fiction!

10. Calcifer (Howl’s Moving Castle)

Calcifer

This friendly fire demon is not only helpful and adorable, but also sounds exactly like Billy Crystal. (Wait, he’s actually voiced by Billy Crystal? Well.) Calcifer may not be the hottest guy on this list, but he’s certainly hot enough to fry eggs and bacon.

Cooking with Calcifer

That’s pretty hot, right?

9. Anger (Inside Out)

Anger (Inside Out)

This one is easy. I mean, the dude’s head is literally on fire.

Hot guy. No doubt about it. Great movie, too.

8. Mario (Super Mario Bros. series)

Fireball Mario

Mario isn’t always hot, but he occasionally throws fireballs. These whirling spheres of flame aren’t terribly large or threatening, except when they get out of hand. (Pun intended. I’m so, so sorry.) When Mario cuts loose with the fireballs, things heat up pretty quickly.

Mario's Final Smash

Bowser is another hot character from the Super Mario Bros. series, but I chose Mario because this list has quite enough scaly fire-breathing monsters. Speaking of which….

7. Charizard (Pokémon)

Charizard

Charizard is labeled a Fire-type Pokémon, and for good reason. His flaming tail is a life sign, like a pulse… but more likely to burn down buildings. Charizard also breathes fire.

Totally hot, man.

6. The Fury (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater)

The Fury

This crazy cosmonaut hails from my favorite Metal Gear Solid game as a member of the Cobra Unit: a team of supervillains working for a rogue Soviet colonel. The Fury is a pyromaniac through and through, packing a flamethrower and a jet pack—which, I can only assume, were standard issue for Soviet cosmonauts prior to the sixties.

When the Fury finally gives up the ghost, it’s with delusions, explosions, and surreal shrieking heads of fire. So hot.

5. The Guys in the Seventh Circle of Hell (Dante’s Inferno)

Seventh Circle of Hell

The circles of Dante’s hell offer various horrors, from violent winds to ceaseless whippings. It’s the seventh circle that most closely resembles the classic image of hell as a fiery place, with a river of boiling blood and flakes of fire drifting to the ground. “Thus was descending the eternal heat, whereby the sand was set on fire, like tinder beneath the steel.”

You can bet the sinners in hell’s seventh circle are pretty hot.

4. Zuko (Avatar: The Last Airbender)

Zuko

In the fantasy world of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Zuko is a firebender: a martial artist who redirects chi (spiritual energy) and unleashes it as fire. Firebending is awesome. It can be used to warm tea, heat bathwater, or do this:

Firebending

Zuko is the show’s most dynamic firebender, learning from dragons and experimenting with advanced forms of his art. He never did learn to make a good cup of tea, but he’s still a really hot guy.

3. Hades (Disney’s Hercules)

Hades

At first glance, Hades looks like a shady uncle to Anger from Pixar’s Inside Out. Don’t be fooled. The smooth-talking god of the dead from Disney’s Hercules often loses his cool. (Pun intended. I’m still sorry.) When his temper flares (I’m so, so sorry), those flames rage out of control.

Yes, Hades is a hot guy… but he’s the master of the underworld, so what did you expect?

2. Smaug (The Hobbit)

Smaug

Do I even need to explain this one? Smaug is a dragon. He breathes fire. Dragons breathe fire. Hot.

It would have been easy to fill this list with dragons, but I limited myself to one. I chose Smaug because, of all the dragons I considered, he hit the best blend of hotness and cultural significance. (Next time, Toothless. Next time.) Smaug is far from the only hot character in J.R.R. Tolkien’s books; Sauron is represented by a fiery eye, and Denethor was pretty hot right at the end of his life.

1. The Human Torch (Marvel comics)

The Human Torch

I don’t really have anything to say about the Human Torch, except that he’s literally on fire, burning at impossibly high temperatures that would reduce ordinary men to greasy little piles of soot.

I can think of no hotter guy in fiction.

Who are your favorite hot guys or gals in fiction? Fire away in the comments!

434. Reviving Lance Eliot

I recently declared my intention of resurrecting the Lance Eliot saga. With that announcement out of the way, I was free to sit back, swallow a feeling of rising panic, and ask myself, “Now what?”

I won’t begin working on a new manuscript for The Trials of Lance Eliot until after this blog bites the dust later this year, but I have plenty of groundwork to lay in the meantime. Not much research or planning went into my previous attempts to tell Lance Eliot’s story. This time, as I prepare for one last do-or-die effort, I want to give it a solid foundation.

In case anyone is interested in getting a glimpse into my creative process, here are some of my early preparations for reviving Lance Eliot.

Flipping heck, when did I get to be so old?

Figure 1: A writer hard at work in the conceptual stage of stage of writing.

Background reading

Reading is often a deceptively vast part of the writing process. Before returning to Lance Eliot’s story, I want to revisit some of the works that influenced it. One of these is Dante’s Divine Comedy, upon which the Lance Eliot saga is (very) loosely based. Another is Reading for Redemption, a book by one of my college professors. It posits a theory of literary criticism that informed the Lance Eliot character.

I also need to do some research. In previous drafts of the story, the setting is simplistic: a kingdom tucked between two empires, quietly minding its own business. I want to create a more precarious political situation by making the kingdom a reluctant player in a rivalry between its neighbors. When I explained this idea to my dad, he suggested I look into the history of Uruguay, which was apparently caught in a conflict between Brazil and Argentina. I clearly have some reading to do.

Uruguay

Figure 2: Real-world inspirations can be helpful.

I’ll also have to reread the latest version of The Trials of Lance Eliot because, honestly, I’ve forgotten most of it. There was a character called Tsurugi, wasn’t there? I’m pretty sure there was. And Lancelot came into it somehow? I could use a review.

Story planning

I need to begin fitting together the pieces of the story long before I start writing. Some writers are able to get away with making things up as they go along, but when I do that, I generally end up with a lot of fluff.

I want to streamline the story this time, making sure every scene and character contributes something meaningful. That will take a lot of careful planning. I’m not yet sure how I’ll keep track of everything—a notebook? Index cards? Desk graffiti?—but I’ll try to craft a more focused story.

World-building

In previous attempts to write Lance Eliot’s story, I felt too impatient to do any more world-building than absolutely necessary. If Lance Eliot doesn’t see it, I thought, the reader won’t see it, and I won’t have to make it up.

Sadly, my apathy toward the world I had created made it a bland, generic place. I need to start asking myself more questions. What’s the history of my fictional kingdom? What sort of holidays does it celebrate? What are its cultural influences? How high are its tables? I need to answer these kinds of questions even though some of my answers won’t make it into the story.

High vs. low tables

Figure 3: Table height. It matters, guys.

The reader’s image of the world I create will be much vaguer than my own. If I have only a faint concept of Lance Eliot’s world, how much fainter will the reader’s be!

Reader feedback

The Trials of Lance Eliot has been rattling around in my head for so many years that my view of it is deeply subjective. I could use some objective views from other people. What works in the story? What doesn’t? What needs to change?

If you’ve read the book, and if you can offer any feedback, please feel free to send it my way!

These early preparations for writing a story are, for me, the fun part. It’s when the writing starts, and I have to put my ideas onto paper, that things get tough.

I suppose I’ll worry about that when I get there.

433. I Nearly Left My Faith Last Year

I have put off writing this post for a long time. I was afraid it might cause some of the religious people in my life to shout, “ADAM WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU HAVE MORE FAITH,” and some of my nonreligious friends to shout, “LET IT GO ADAM BE ENLIGHTENED,” and shouting stresses me out.

That said, this post is an extremely personal one, and I’ll be grateful for sensitivity in the comments. Advice or criticism, however gentle or well-intentioned, probably won’t help today. I’m not asking for any of that.

I’m just telling a story.

I considered leaving my faith last year. I didn’t actually leave it, in case you were wondering. For better or worse, Adam Stück remains a follower of Jesus Christ.

Crucifixion statue

The year 2015 was, all things considered, a memorable one. I quit my old job, started a new one, went on an unexpected adventure, switched job positions, lost a dear friend, grew a scruffy jaw-beard, and got a cat. As I blogged about the turbulent changes of 2015, there was one I didn’t mention.

I have long wrestled with doubts about the existence of God. Of all the posts on this blog, probably the most important to me is the one in which I discussed my uncertain faith. “If I’m a fool,” I wrote long ago, “at least I have the consolation of being God’s fool.”

I’ve been a dedicated Christian since 2004, when I began taking Christ seriously. Faith was effortless in high school, and even college (despite my Thursday Afternoon of the Soul and other rough patches) didn’t dampen my devotion to God. I was convinced he had a plan for my life, and I was following it, and everything would work out if I kept the faith and worked hard.

Cathedral

Then, around the time I started this blog, I realized I didn’t want to follow the career I had studied in college. I panicked, uncertain of where to go next. My plans, which I had always assumed were really God’s plans, suddenly seemed mistaken.

Less than a year later, my most cherished writing project, a little book titled The Trials of Lance Eliot, crashed and burned. I had wondered before whether I had wasted three and a half years of college; now I asked myself whether I had wasted twice that time working on a failed novel.

My career plans had gone awry. My book plans had failed. I was stuck in a really bad job situation. However, I didn’t give up. I assumed my situation was some sort of spiritual desert: a test after which God would lead me to my “real” future. I clung to faith. I endured.

Then, when I finally left that lousy old job last year, I didn’t arrive at my long-sought promised land—I just reached another dead end. (Sure, it was a much nicer dead end, but just as dead.)

It made me question things.

Was there ever a bigger plan?

What if there never was?

Where is God?

Along with these questions came the all of the familiar ones with renewed urgency: Why does Scripture seem so inconsistent and self-contradictory? Why has Christ’s life been followed by two thousand years of empty silence? Why is the world so broken? Why do so many religious people seem hypocritical or out of touch?

As I set aside my long-held religious preconceptions, a naturalistic worldview began to seem more rational than a religious one. I asked myself, “If I give up faith in Christ, what happens?” Do I put in two weeks’ notice? Is there paperwork? Do I sing “Let It Go” on a snowy mountaintop somewhere, or what?

As I pondered who I would become without Christ, an ugly picture emerged: a bitter, self-centered geek wrapped in a cocoon of video games, television, and other anesthetics, reveling in theretofore forbidden pleasures like porn and alcoholism, grieving the death of his faith, and pursuing his own comfort and happiness at any cost.

I didn’t like that picture.

Jerk [resized]

I don’t want to believe in Christianity because it’s convenient or well-intentioned. I want to believe in it because it’s true. Is it? I wish I knew. A lot of evidence supports it, but no conclusive proof. I hope Christianity is true. I choose to believe it is, and I’m trying to live my life according to that belief.

Whatever good I’ve done, I’ve done because of my Christian faith. Whatever good I’ve done, I’ve done for Christ. There’s something in that, even if my beliefs turn out to be mistaken. I would rather live for Christ, and die in hope, than live for myself, and die miserable.

I conclude with a scene from one of the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. (Spoilers, I guess?) In one of the books, the heroes are trapped deep underground with a beautiful witch. She enchants them into believing the world has no surface. There is no sky, she says, and no sun. There is no land called Narnia, and no king named Aslan. The only world is underground, the only lights are lamps, and the only ruler is the witch herself.

Everyone falls under the witch’s spell, except an old grump named Puddleglum, who has this to say:

One word, Ma’am. One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one thing more to be said, even so.

Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it.

We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.

I’m less certain of my faith than ever before, but I’m going to stand by it. I’m on Christ’s side even if Christ doesn’t live to lead it. I’m going to live as a Christian even if Christianity isn’t true—and I believe it is.

Either way, for better or worse, I’ll stand by Jesus Christ.

431. My Creative Heroes

Creative people are fun, quirky, smart, and responsible for most of the entertainment in my life. (The rest of it comes from acting silly in public to make my younger brother uncomfortable.) I have many creative heroes: people I know personally, people on the Internet, and professionals in the media.

Today’s post honors three of my creative heroes, one each from the media of film, video games, and literature. I admire and respect the heck out of these people. If I were the sort of person who cries and gives hugs, I would embrace these heroes of mine and weep tears of joy and gratitude. I’m not, however, so instead I’ll ramble about them, because rambling is what I do.

John Lasseter

[Update: I wrote this post long before the #MeToo movement exposed Mr. Lasseter’s history of sexually harassing coworkers and others. While I admire his creative genius, I hasten to add that success and talent are never acceptable excuses for being a sleazebag.]

I considered naming Hayao Miyazaki one of my creative heroes, but this brilliant Japanese filmmaker is also demanding and grouchy: not qualities I admire in anyone, creative or not. John Lasseter, like Miyazaki, is a legend; unlike Miyazaki, he seems like a nice human being.

John Lasseter

Lasseter’s career is one of the most incredible rags-to-riches stories I know. As a boy, he dreamed of working for Disney as an animator. He achieved his dream—only to be fired after just a few years. His mistake was annoying his superiors by experimenting with a brand-new form of art: computer animation.

Heartbroken, Lasseter drifted to a division of Lucasfilm, which later became an independent company called Pixar Animation Studios. (You may have heard of it.) For a decade, Pixar pioneered computer animation with masterpieces like Toy Story and its sequel, both of which Lasseter directed.

It seems strange to us nowadays, as we enjoy terrific films like Wreck-It Ralph and Zootopia, but just ten years ago Disney’s animation studios were stuck in a losing streak. Their films found neither commercial nor critical success, and their fans yearned for the good old days of Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. Disney, the most successful animation company in history, had sunk to the unimaginable low of mediocrity.

Faced with this crisis, Disney’s newly-appointed CEO, Bob Iger, did the only sensible thing: oversee Disney’s purchase of Pixar, and then put Lasseter and his colleague Ed Catmull in charge of basically everything. After more than twenty years, John Lasseter returned to the studio that had fired him—as its chief creative officer. His employees welcomed him with cheers and applause.

In the following years, Lasseter renamed and restructured Disney’s main animation studio, canceled cash-grab projects and lazy sequels, and oversaw the release of superb films from both Disney and Pixar: all while wearing colorful Hawaiian shirts.

I admire John Lasseter for his creative vision, which blends an appreciation for tradition with a dedication to cutting-edge innovation. Mr. Lasseter emphasizes teamwork, strives for quality in art and storytelling, and seems like a genuinely nice guy. He’s one of my heroes, and a colorful one at that.

Shigeru Miyamoto

Several decades ago, the president of a company on the verge of financial collapse made a desperate plan to salvage unpopular hardware. He tasked a young employee named Shigeru Miyamoto with creating a new game for old arcade units. That game was Donkey Kong, that company was Nintendo, and that employee went on to create Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and many of the greatest video games ever made.

Shigeru Miyamoto

Nintendo is awesome, and Shigeru Miyamoto is the genius behind many of its successes. Many of the turning points in the history of video gaming hinge on Miyamoto’s games. Donkey Kong established the platforming genre. Super Mario Bros. helped save the video game industry after it crashed in the eighties. Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time pioneered movement in a virtual 3D space, and the Wii experimented with motion control.

Miyamoto has helped shape the video game industry for nearly four decades, but you wouldn’t guess it to look at him. He’s a mild gentleman who enjoys music and gardening, and walked or biked to work until his company pressured him for his own safety to drive. For a creative visionary, he seems entirely down to earth.

Nowadays, Miyamoto is more of a creative consultant for Nintendo than a game designer. He is notorious for “upending the tea table” during game development, flipping design concepts on their heads. (His suggestions are game-changing, so to speak.) Miyamoto seems like Nintendo’s idea guy, stepping in when a development team needs a boost.

I admire Miyamoto’s design philosophy: he values fun over fancy graphics or technical intricacy. Most of his games are based on his own life experiences, from exploring woods and caves as a child to gardening as an adult. (He even made a game inspired by his attempts to lose weight!) His work is colorful, charming, fun, and friendly. Nintendo is basically the Pixar of the video game industry, and Miyamoto-san, like Pixar’s Mr. Lasseter, is one of my heroes.

J.R.R. Tolkien

Of course this man is one of my creative heroes. Really, they don’t get any more creative than J.R.R. Tolkien. The man created an entire world—an earth with its own geography, mythology, languages, cultures, genealogies, and thousands of years of history—and he did it in his spare time.

J.R.R. TolkienLong before he published The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien was a noted academic renowned for his groundbreaking work in literary criticism. He lectured, graded papers, translated old texts, published books, raised a family, and still found time somehow to create his own vast, private, intricate mythology.

Tolkien was irrepressibly creative. For example, every year his children wrote to Father Christmas, aka Santa Claus—and, incredibly, Father Christmas wrote back. For twenty-two years, Tolkien played the role of Father Christmas to amuse his kids: writing and illustrating stories about his misadventures at the North Pole. These letters were published as a children’s book after Tolkien’s death; I’ve read them, and and they’re delightful. Even in his little pet projects, Tolkien’s creativity and cleverness were astounding.

Of course, Tolkien’s greatest project of all was Middle-earth and its stories, the most famous of which is The Lord of the Rings. The sheer size and intricacy of Tolkien’s world is astounding; by some estimates, it’s the largest and most complex ever created by a single person in all of human history. Tolkien’s influence on literature and pop culture is literally incalculable.

In his vast mythologies and in his little stories for children, at work and at home, J.R.R. Tolkien was incredibly creative, and he’s one of my heroes.

Whew! That was a long post. What can I say? Creative people inspire me!

Who are your creative heroes? Let us know in the comments!

428. An Open Letter to Hollywood 2: The Sequel

Dear Hollywood Executives,

I know you’re all very busy, so I’ll try to keep this short. It’s been a while since my last letter, which I assume you all read, and another one is due. Consider it a sequel.

You’ve made a few small improvements since my last letter. For example, you actually made a Deadpool movie. I haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard it’s pretty good. (I’ve also heard that it’s extremely vulgar, but Deadpool’s gotta Deadpool, I guess.) So many superhero movies are all doom and gloom, because, y’know, heaven forbid comic-book stories be fun for anybody. Irreverent takes on the genre like Deadpool and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy are a welcome change. It’s okay for superhero movies not to take themselves so seriously. We don’t mind, honest!

Speaking of superhero movies, can we get a bit more diversity? Please? Take the Avengers, otherwise known as the League of White Guys. (They have only one female member: a token femme fatale with no superpowers.) I don’t read Marvel comics, but I know they feature more than white dudes. I don’t have anything against white dudes—I am one, as a matter of fact—but flooding superhero movies with them is unfair, uncool, and frankly kinda boring.

To be fair, I must congratulate you on giving Black Panther, the no-nonsense African superhero, a part in the new Captain America movie, and working toward giving him his own film in a couple of years. For a change, the black guy won’t be just a sidekick. He’ll be the hero.

Black PantherIt will be nice, after more than a dozen Marvel movies, finally to have one whose hero isn’t a white American (or quasi-British) male. It’s a step in the right direction. Keep stepping, ladies and gentlemen. Keep stepping.

I’ve already written about video game movies and portrayals of Christians in secular media, so I won’t repeat myself here. Just go read those blog posts. I will, however, emphatically repeat my appeal for a Metal Gear Solid movie. It should happen. It needs to happen. Please, please, please, make it happen. I will give you anything to make a Metal Gear Solid movie, unto half my kingdom. (I won’t actually give you anything for making the movie, but I will buy tickets to see it.)

Look, I’ve even done some of the casting for you.

Metal Gear Solid movie Now you just need to make the movie. Please do.

As long as we’re discussing film adaptations: Why don’t you adapt more old books? As you struggle to come up with ideas, consider the thousands of terrific stories available at your local library. I once made a list of books that would make great films, and you’ve made only one of them (Ender’s Game) with a second (Ben-Hur) on its way. Seriously, I want a film version of The Man Who Was Thursday almost as much as I want that Metal Gear Solid movie.

Incidentally, I hear Martin Scorsese is working on an adaptation of Shūsaku Endō’s Silence: a brooding and powerful novel about the silence of God.

SilenceIt’s exactly the sort of obscure, slow-paced book you Hollywood execs won’t touch with a ten-foot boom pole. Mr. Scorsese thinks differently. Learn from Mr. Scorsese, Hollywood.

Moving on from a good director to some really bad ones: Why are you still letting Michael Bay and M. Night Shyamalan make movies? Why?! Just stop. Stop. Staaahhhp.

On a brighter note, Disney and Pixar have been making some outstanding movies lately. I’m glad to see that animation is not merely surviving on the Hollywood scene, but evolving and thriving. As long as you have Disney and Pixar, Hollywood, I think you’ll be all right.

I could go on, but that’s probably enough for one letter. I hope it doesn’t seem too harsh or demanding. For all of my grumbling, I really appreciate good movies, and I suppose I have you Hollywood people to thank for them. Thanks, ladies and gentlemen, for making my life a little brighter, and occasionally a little more explode-y.

Peace,

Adam

P.S. I don’t suppose there’s any chance you could just put Disney’s John Lasseter in charge of everything? No? Well, there was no harm in asking.

425. Stealing Ideas Is Wrong (so Borrow Them Instead)

Today’s post wound up on someone else’s blog. Hey, don’t give me that look. Bloggers sometimes misplace their posts. It happens. Don’t judge me.

My friend JK Riki wrote the book on creativity. (This isn’t just a figure of speech; he wrote a literal book on the subject.) He also writes a monthly newsletter with creative tips, and a personal blog on creativity.

JK's blog header

When I got an opportunity to write a post for JK’s blog, I wrote about J.R.R. Tolkien, because of course I did.

My latest post, “Stealing Ideas Is Wrong (so Borrow Them Instead),” can be read here!