The Moon Leads Nowhere

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.

Figure A: Wise men

I like the wise men. In a world that seemed dark, they followed a star in a quixotic search for truth and meaning. My own world can seem bleak. I love the idea of a guiding light, untouched by darkness, proclaiming salvation and hope for anyone willing to follow.

It’s a good thing stars don’t move around, huh?

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.

We must follow the stars.

489. Trump Predictions

This is not a Serious Post. I wrote a Serious Post last time. Nah, today’s post is silly. These days of strife and political uncertainty call for a little comic relief, and TMTF is ready to answer that clarion call. Silliness is my beat.

Today I’ll share nine predictions of what Donald Trump will do as President of the United States. Please note that my jabs at Mr. Trump are all in good fun, and not meant to be taken as serious political commentary. I believe it’s important to respect our leaders whether or not we agree with them. That said, I also believe in the importance of humor, especially in difficult times. I found some cheer in writing this post, and I hope you find some cheer in reading it.


Here are my predictions for Donald Trump’s first actions as President of the United States.

(If you’re reading this, Mr. President, please don’t deport me.)

  • In addition to building a wall along the Mexican border, Trump will build a wall between the US and Canada, “just to be safe.”
  • Trump will make Official Donald Trump Wigs™ not only available to the American public, but mandatory. Now you can sport Trump’s iconic hairdo! What a privilege!
  • Trump will ban anime: “I love Japan—nobody loves Japan more than me—but anime is taking away jobs from our American animators. We make the best animation in the world. We don’t need anime. Anime is watering down America. We need to make animation great again. And anime is just weird, just really weird. Those Pokémonsters and giant robots—unhinged, really unhinged. No more anime. Let’s keep America safe.”

Unlike President Obama, Trump is probably not an anime fan. (For the record, President Obama isn’t actually an anime fan, which is a shame.)

  • As compensation for C.S. Lewis’s blatant plagiarism of the Trump name for one of his own characters, Trumpkin the dwarf, Trump will demand royalties for all copies sold of The Chronicles of Narnia.
  • Trump’s likeness will replace the current pictures of famous Americans on all existing denominations of US currency.
  • By decree of Trump, all American manuscripts of historical significance will be subjected to a barrage of painstaking examinations and scientific tests: “There’s a map hidden on the back of the Declaration of Independence. I know there is; I saw it in a documentary this one time. There’s a treasure map, and that treasure belongs to the American people. It’s a travesty, a total travesty, that nobody’s found it yet.”

National Treasure is a great, um, documentary?

  • Trump will decree that all seasonal autumn flavors must be renamed Trumpkin Spice. (I must give due credit to Lauren Faust on Twitter for this one.)
  • Trump will deport everyone except himself, his family, and his personal staff, reducing the US population to dozens. Overpopulation solved, baby.
  • Trump will commission the construction of a national monument for himself. It will be orange.

God bless America. We’re going to need it.

478. Sick

Life is a funny thing. It can be sweet and gentle, patting you on the shoulder and handing you slices of pie or cups of tea. It can also hit you repeatedly with a sack of bricks, breaking your ribs and sending you to the hospital. It depends on the day, really.

My life today is leaning slightly toward the breaking-your-ribs-with-a-sack-of-bricks end of the spectrum. I’m sick. It’s just a cold, fortunately, unless it’s actually the early stages of Ebola virus disease, which it probably isn’t. My state of residence, Indiana, isn’t perfect, but at least it doesn’t have much Ebola.

No Ebola here… I don’t think.

Anyhowz, I had another blog post planned for today, but it shall have to wait. My eyes burn. My head feels like a cannonball, and my left nasal cavity is sealed tighter than Scrooge McDuck’s bank vault. (It’s always the left side that gets congested; why is it always the left?) Alas, I haven’t the strength for a longer post today, so please accept my apologies, along with a bullet list of my miscellaneous (and probably fevered) insights on sickness.

  • Sick days are like enforced Sabbaths: they compel a person, no matter how busy or determined, to slow down and rest. I planned to spend yesterday working on this blog, wrapping gifts, and doing housework. I actually spent it eating pizza, replaying Radiant Historia, and hanging out with my dad and younger brother: a day well spent.
  • All right, this is a digression, but Radiant Historia is easily one of the best JRPGs I’ve ever played—and believe me, I’ve played plenty. If you own a Nintendo DS or 3DS, you should look it up.

Great, great game.

  • According to one of his biographies, C.S. Lewis loved sick days. They allowed him to sit and read without feeling guilty for failing to be productive. Another fun fact: In his earlier years, Lewis read on walks, only occasionally glancing up to admire the changing scenery. How he never tripped and broke his nose the world will never know.
  • Do you remember the episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender in which Sokka gets deliriously, hilariously sick? You haven’t seen it? Go watch Avatar: The Last Airbender, then. It’s a truly great show. At any rate, I like it.

Poor Sokka.

  • Mild sicknesses like colds provide a great explanation for non-depressed people of what depression feels like. A cold leaves a person listless and tired, and occasionally sucks the enjoyment out of things that are usually fun. Depression does the same, but without obvious physical symptoms. What a cold does physically, depression does mentally and emotionally. Since depression has fewer physical symptoms than a cold, it’s generally met with less understanding and compassion, which is a shame. My own depression (which hasn’t acted up in a long time, thank God) comes and goes in phases, much like colds and other mild illnesses.
  • I found myself listening to this chipper song on YouTube yesterday. It seemed apropos.

Well, I should probably get some rest. Radiant Historia isn’t going to finish itself, you know.

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)


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)


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 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!

Abandon Hope, but Save a Little

Thence we came forth to see again the stars.

~ Dante Alighieri

Dante’s Inferno is not a cheerful poem. It follows the poet Dante and his guide Virgil through hell, upon whose gate are inscribed these words: Abandon all hope, ye who enter hereThis slogan could just as easily be printed on the poem’s front cover. Inferno isn’t a fun read, unless you happen to enjoy long conversations (all written in archaic language and poetic meter) with the tormented souls of damned sinners.

I once wrote about my favorite opening lines in literature, and more recently considered some of my favorite last lines. For example, A Tale of Two Cities ends on a poignant note: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” My all-time favorite last line concludes The Lord of the Rings: “‘Well, I’m back,’ he said.”

The final line of the Inferno is right up there with my favorites. For a poem whose most enduring words are “Abandon hope,” it ends hopefully. Dante and Virgil leave hell.

I can imagine it so clearly: disheveled travelers, exhausted from climbing in the endless dark, chilled by the ice of hell’s last circle, disturbed by the horrors of the underworld, glancing upward and seeing a sky alight with stars. I can see them stumbling out of the cave into the fresh air, blinking in the soft light from heaven. I can hear cicadas buzzing and feel a breeze stirring the grass. Hell is behind them. The nightmare is ended. After all the circles of hell, they know they’ve reached safety, for they see again the stars.

Thence we came forth to see again the stars

I’m a bit sentimental, but that’s one of my favorite images in all of literature. After literally going through hell, our heroes are safe. They are no longer trapped beneath stone ceilings. Above them, the heavens declare the glory of God. It’s a touching picture, and an uplifting end to a really bleak poem.

In one of the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, there’s a similar scene in which the protagonists escape an underworld to find themselves beneath a starry sky. J.R.R. Tolkien’s books also feature characters ending underground journeys by stumbling out into the open, such as Bilbo getting out of the Misty Mountains in The Hobbit and the Fellowship fleeing Moria in The Fellowship of the Ring. Escaping the underworld to find oneself beneath the sky has become a literary motif, and I dig it.

To conclude, here’s a bit of trivia: All three parts of the Divine Comedy end with the word stars. Neat, huh?

443. Good Things, Bad Things

While this blog was on break, I went to a wedding. It was splendid. I’m not the sort of person who enjoys weddings, but this one was all right.

The tables at which the wedding guests were seated were named after fantasy lands, from Hyrule to Narnia to Middle-earth. I sat at the Redwall table, drinking coffee and stacking the paper cups like a conqueror piling up the skulls of his vanquished foes. I chatted with relatives, some of whom I hadn’t seen in many years.

The whole stacking-empty-cups-like-skulls-of-slain-enemies thing is a habit of mine.

All around me rang the joyous hubbub of dozens and dozens of people, all gathered to celebrate the union of a man and a woman who really love each other. I may not care much for weddings, but heck, I’m not made of stone. It was a lovely evening made special by lovely people, and also by cake and coffee.

For a few months, I’ve struggled more often with depression, but on that evening, it all seemed very far away.

I love road trips. A good road trip is a breath of fresh air—no, a blast of fresh air. It blows away the dust and cobwebs of tired routines and lingering anxieties, making even familiar things seem new again.

My younger brother and I took a road trip to attend that wedding. (Due to scheduling difficulties, we had to miss another wedding last week, which is too bad.) We followed back roads through woods and meadows, along rivers, and past quaint little towns. An iron sky stretched over us. Rain spattered the windshield, but we were wrapped in warm clothes, with coffee drinks at our elbows, comfortably braced for our travels.


There’s nothing like a road trip on a wet day.

At one point, as I lounged in the passenger seat, I spread out my duster overcoat like a blanket. “If you need me,” I told my brother, “I’ll be in my duster cave.” With that, I dove into warm darkness, where I spent a few cozy minutes thinking of nothing in particular.

After the wedding, as we drove homeward in deepening gloom, I made up for lost time by thinking hard about my plans for my book project, the Lance Eliot saga. I bounced some ideas off my bro, who listened patiently and made encouraging noises.

After years of feeling stressed and guilty about my book project, I felt something different. I felt optimistic. I felt excited. “Lance Eliot’s story is going to be so much better this time,” I told myself, “assuming I ever get around to writing the damned thing.”

I don’t know whether I’ll ever finish Lance Eliot’s story, but after that trip, I felt eager to try.

Those days of rest and travel were like a strong wind, blowing away the dust, and breathing hope into my life. I appreciated the break from blogging. It was good to spend a few hours on the road, and great to spend time with family. I’m encouraged and refreshed.

However, a cynical part of me can’t help but wonder: How long before the dust settles again? In the past few days, familiar shadows of gloom and anxiety have crept up on me at odd moments. Has anything really changed? What happens when my hopefulness wears off?

I don’t know.

C.S. Lewis once wrote,

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.

Blogging pro tip: When in doubt, quote C.S. Lewis. Works every time.

My hope and courage are more dependent on my moods than I feel comfortable admitting. When times are good, I tend to assume they’ll stay that way. When times are bad, I lose hope of ever seeing better ones. I get so caught up in the moment that I can hardly imagine the future being any different than the here and now.

TMTF returns today after a two-week break. I took that break because of some bad days, and during those two weeks I had some really good ones.

Life is full of good and bad things. I once wrote of a lesson from Doctor Who, in which the good Doctor says,

The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant.

I tend to let these good and bad things dictate my moods, and thus, much of my life. I’m trying to learn to enjoy good things without becoming overoptimistic, and to endure bad ones without losing hope. As it is written, “When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other.”

God is there, in the good times and the bad. So are many of the people whom I love most, and that’s a comfort.

In other news, TMTF is back to updating regularly. We apologize for the inconvenience.

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.


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.

422. Lance Eliot Is Not Dead

A long time ago, I declared the death of a dream. My attempts to tell the tale of Lance Eliot, a sarcastic and reluctant hero, had finally failed. I pronounced Lance Eliot dead… well, mostly dead.

I announce today that Lance Eliot is alive… well, somewhat alive. (I thought about titling this blog post Lance Eliot Is Alive, but that seemed much too optimistic, so we’ll have to settle for Lance Eliot Is Not Dead.)

After Typewriter Monkey Task Force concludes later this year, I will rewrite the first part of Lance’s story, The Trials of Lance Eliot, before moving on to its two sequels.

At any rate, that’s the plan. God only knows how many years it will take me to write the Lance Eliot saga, or whether I shall even finish it. I don’t know if I can, but I suppose I’ll try.

The Lance Eliot story cycleAt this point there are three questions I should probably answer. Why am I rewriting The Trials of Lance Eliot instead of working directly on its sequels? Why am I revisiting Lance Eliot’s story instead of starting something totally new? And who the heck is Lance Eliot anyway?

Let’s start with that last one.

Who the heck is Lance Eliot?

From pretty much the moment I could read, I wanted to write a book. Years later, in middle school, I steeped my impressionable imagination in the fantasy novels of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Stephen R. Lawhead; I also played a lot of fantasy games, such as the outstanding Legend of Zelda series. It was then, during my awkward transition from boy to slightly-taller-and-less-chubby-boy, that my vague dream of writing a book crystallized into a clear ambition of writing a fantasy novel.

It wasn’t until my sophomore year of high school that I stumbled upon a decent idea for a story. People in fantasies and fairy tales are often summoned from one place to another by magic. What if a magician summoned the wrong person by mistake? What she tried to summon, say, Lancelot from the Arthurian legends, but got some unsuspecting loser instead?

Over the next six years, the idea became a short story, and then a completed novella, and then one or two incomplete manuscripts, and then finally a published novel—and then it failed spectacularly, failing even to recoup the expenses of publication. I struggled for a year or so to make progress on its sequels, and finally gave up.

This brings us to the next question.

Why am I revisiting Lance Eliot’s story?

I no longer dream of publishing novels. Even if I finish all three parts of the Lance Eliot saga, which is by no means guaranteed, I may not bother publishing them. If I do take another stab at publication, I will probably self-publish instead of working with a literary agent or trying to court a major publishing house.

My reason for revisiting Lance Eliot’s story is a simple one: it’s a story I want to tell. In the vast scheme of things, it isn’t remotely special. It won’t be particularly deep or clever or original. I have no delusions of grandeur this time around. The Lance Eliot saga won’t be a masterpiece. It will be nothing more than a story I want to tell—a story I feel compelled to tell—a story I’ve struggled for more than a decade to tell.

I’ve already told part of it, but not very well. This leads to the final question.

Why am I rewriting The Trials of Lance Eliot instead of moving on to its sequels?

A few people have said ridiculously nice things about my novel; in response, I’m touched, flattered, and grateful. When I look at it, however, I see an embarrassing number of clichés, oversimplifications, cheap coincidences, and lackluster characterizations.

I believe I can do better. There are so many things I want to change about the story, including some I haven’t mentioned. Instead of writing reluctant sequels to a failed novel, I want to start over with more experience and creative freedom, and less emotional and literary baggage.

Am I excited to revisit the Lance Eliot saga? Nah, not really. What I feel is a mixture of resignation, determination, nervousness, and cautious optimism.

After four or five manuscripts, one failed novel, and more than a decade of hard work, I am now almost ready to begin working on the Lance Eliot saga. Oh, boy.

Here I go again.

How to Start a Story

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.

~ C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Any writer worth her ink and paper knows the importance of starting a story with a really good line. An interesting or clever first line grabs the reader’s attention right away. First impressions are important, you know!

The quote above from C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite opening lines of any story. It’s witty and succinct, and also tells us several important things right away while setting up one or two intriguing questions:

  1. Eustace Clarence Scrubb is a character in this story.
  2. He is also a boy.
  3. His name is terrible.
  4. He almost deserves his name—why?
  5. The lousy name suggests that his parents, who (presumably) named him, are probably unusual in some way or simply have poor taste. (Spoiler: It’s a bit of both.) What is their deal?

In just thirteen words, the author has begun to set the stage for the story, and told a joke into the bargain. That, dear reader, is how it is done.

Here, in no particular order, are some of my favorite opening lines in literature.

When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.

~ Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

I have yet to read The Metamorphosis by Kafka—it’s on my reading list, which continues to grow at an alarming rate—but this line is fantastic. I mean, after reading this line, I really want to find out what happens next.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

~ Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

As many of my friends know only too well, I have read only one book by Jane Austen, and hated it with the burning passion of ten thousand suns. Mark Twain put it well: “I often want to criticise Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.” However, as much as I disliked Pride and Prejudice, I have to admit that it has one heck of a first line. It wryly pokes fun at the expectations of high society with its “truth universally acknowledged,” and also hints at the plot of the novel.

In a hole in the ground lived a hobbit.

~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

All right, I admit it: I love this one mostly for sentimental reasons. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a great opening line. What is a hobbit? Why does it live in a hole in the ground? The following paragraphs elaborate with surprising information: the hobbit lives not in “a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole,” but in a neat, comfortable, luxurious home built inside a hill. This line is an intriguing set-up to a few really engaging paragraphs… assuming the reader doesn’t mind starting the story at a leisurely pace.

What is your favorite opening line in literature? Let us know in the comments!

345. Always Winter but Never Christmas

I’m tired, guys.

I look out my window at a desert of old snow. Once soft and shining, it has become an icy crust over withered grass and frozen mud. The sun shines now and then, melting snow, only for the water to freeze overnight into slick, dangerous patches of ice. I haven’t had even a glimpse of green leaves in months. The landscape is a gloomy muddle of white and brown and gray. Overhead, the sky is a weary, faded blue… when it isn’t covered by clouds. It’s cold.

I’m so tired.

Work has been ghastly. We’ve been short-staffed, putting everyone under pressure. My workplace has become toxic with complaints, accusations, gossip, and abusive remarks. No matter how hard I work, I seem to take an unfair share of blame. I often feel unappreciated at work, but I’m beginning to feel unwanted. It hurts.

At the end of the day, exhausted, I go to bed, trying not to think about work, blogging, or any of the things on my to-do list. That list never seems to get any shorter: like the hydra, which grows two heads for each one cut off, my to-do list defies my attempts to conquer it.

I’m so, so tired.

C.S. Lewis once described a curse that made it “always winter but never Christmas.” I’m amused by the childlike clarification about the holiday. After all, when confronted by eternal winter, only children would be concerned by its effect on Christmas; the grownups would be too busy worrying about food, warmth, shelter, and the collapse of Society As We Know It.

C.S. Lewis knew a thing or two about winter.

I feel cold just looking at this picture.

All the same, I admit that “always winter but never Christmas” paints a bleak picture. It suggests gloom, bitterness, and suffering with no consolation. There are no holidays to brighten the darkness: no parties, presents, or carols to keep hope alive. “Always winter but never Christmas” is an awful thing. It wears away a person.

In the end, though, that curse was broken. No winter lasts forever. Sooner or later, spring melts the snow and breathes life into the grass and trees. Spring is a resurrection. Spring is a promise, echoing the very words of God: “I am making everything new!”

I should also point out, for the record, that I had a very nice Christmas.

As it happens, beyond the holidays, my winter hasn’t lacked for blessings. I haven’t run out of coffee. I grumble about winter from the warmth of a cozy apartment. My job has hit a rough patch, yet I’m thankful to be employed. My life isn’t really “always winter but never Christmas.” It’s occasionally winter and sometimes Christmas, and there’s one more consolation.

Spring is coming.


This tree stands outside my window: at this moment, a desolate skeleton sticking out of the snow. As this photo reminds me, spring will make it new.

I’m waiting to see some blossoms on the skeletal trees outside my apartment. I’m trusting, hoping, and persevering—at least, I’m trying. (I’m certainly drinking a lot of coffee, so that helps.) Spring will arrive with warmth and sunshine and explosions of pink petals. I know it will.

As I blunder onward, one day at a time, I’m trying not to forget it.