336. Four Quotes to Guide a Life

In the past few months, I’ve done some redecorating in my apartment. For example, on my desk—well, I suppose I should start by point out that I now use a desk. I had previously slumped in an armchair, balancing my laptop on my knees and probably causing gradual, irreparable damage to my spine.

Yes, I’m now using a desk, and I’ve added a few personal touches. For example, a plush llama stands near my laptop. Beside it, a wooden warrior stands guard and holds his sword high; my dad cobbled together the brave little fellow from acorns and bits of wood.

Llama warrior

“CHARGE ’EM AND THEY SCATTER!”

My desk is decorated by one last personal touch: four quotes scribbled on a piece of paper and framed. The frame is cheap; I picked it up from Walmart a while back. The quotes, unlike their little frame, are invaluable. In past months, as I did my best to tidy up my life, each of these quotes made an impression on me.

I’m sharing these quotes today for a few reasons.

  1. Each of these quotes represents an idea I consider extremely important.
  2. I hope my readers may find these quotes helpful, inspiring, or meaningful.
  3. I didn’t feel like writing a proper blog post.

When I wrote down these quotes, I emphasized a few words because I read some comics recently and liked the way comic-book dialogue puts words in bold for emphasis. Don’t judge me.

With that, I’ll quit babbling and yield this post to four wise people: a web cartoonist, a saint, a writer, and a Savior. Their words inspire me, and I hope they inspire you.

“It is not about you. It is about everyone else.” ~ Matthew Taranto


“Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” ~ Mother Teresa


“If you continue to love Jesus, nothing much can go wrong with you, and I hope you may always do so.” ~ C.S. Lewis


“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” ~ Jesus Christ

320. Hope

Last month, my parents took a break from being awesome in Uruguay to spend a few weeks being awesome in Indiana. I have possibly the best parents in the universe, and I don’t get to spend much time with them—we live about fifty-five hundred miles apart—so I cherished every moment of their visit.

Of course, it was challenging to pack four people into a one-bedroom apartment. I relinquished my bedroom to my parents and set up camp around the dining room table with my sleeping bag, laptop, laundry basket, and assorted plush animals.

IMG_8456

When he must, a blogger can rough it with the best of them.

In this and other ways, my parents’ visit made my life messy. My routines and habits were disrupted. I had to improvise. We also spent a few days on the road, leaving behind my home in the little town of Berne. My life was extremely different for a few weeks, and it was really refreshing.

When my parents departed, leaving little gifts and pleasant memories, I faced the daunting task of putting everything back in its proper place. I had routines to reestablish and an apartment to reorganize. Then a funny thing happened: I kept finding opportunities for improvement. Having abandoned my ordinary lifestyle for a while, I could now look at it more critically.

I began changing things.

For a month and more, I tidied up my life. I swept through my apartment like a whirlwind, reorganizing drawers, cabinets, cupboards, and closets; I altered my diet, adding more vegetables and cutting out certain unhealthy snacks; I replenished my wardrobe, ditching holey socks and buying geeky T-shirts; I did some redecorating, adding five machetes and a plush llama to my bedroom decor; I reordered my priorities, putting first things first.

A few days ago, I reflected upon the changes I’ve made. My life has definitely improved. There is still room for improvement, however, which prompted me to ask myself: What else needs to change? What else do I need?

It was then I realized I could use a more hopeful attitude.

For several reasons, I often live with an attitude of defeat. My recurring depression makes it hard to have a positive outlook. Winter has arrived with its dark days, barren scenery, and bitter cold. Not least of all, my life situation is humbling.

From my early teens onward, I wanted to be an English teacher. I was convinced it was my calling. I went to college, attended classes, completed my student teaching, and earned both an English degree and a teacher’s license. This was all well and good, but there was one concern.

During my last semester, after three full years of study, I had second thoughts. My student teaching utterly demoralized me. I was no longer sure I wanted to spend my life teaching. Thus I eventually found myself in Indiana, using neither my degree nor my teacher’s license, working a low-wage job.

That was two years ago.

I’m still working the same job, and it looks like I won’t be moving on any time soon. (I have reasons for staying.) Heck, I don’t even know where I would go. I may end up teaching; I may not. Many of my peers are using their education to pursue great careers. It’s humbling for me to be so far behind. I’m not sure whether I’ll ever use my college degree or teacher’s license for anything.

I just don’t know.

My ambitions of becoming an English teacher have faltered. I don’t know whether I’ll ever put my college studies to use. My attempts to become an author failed; that particular childhood dream is extinguished. As I work a job that seems to be going nowhere, worrying about the future, struggling with depression, freezing in the icy darkness of winter, I realize what I’ve been missing despite all my earnest attempts at self-improvement.

I sure could use a more hopeful attitude.

Hope is a simple solution, but not an easy one. Hope is hard. As I blunder onward, I’m trying to look back. My life—even the past two years—hasn’t been wasted. I’m trying to look forward. The future is uncertain, yet full of unforeseen opportunities. Above all, I’m trying to look around at my life as it is now.

Setting aside my insecurities and uncertainties, I remain sincerely convinced that I am where I need to be—for the time being, at any rate. My life is full of blessings. I’m surrounded by awesome people. My coffeemaker still works. God’s grace never fails, and I’m comforted by these words from C.S. Lewis: “If you continue to love Jesus, nothing much can go wrong with you.”

These are things I mustn’t ever forget.

303. About Storytelling: Temporary Death

Death is one of life’s few absolute certainties. Others include taxes and the fact that every person will, at some point, step in a puddle of water on the bathroom floor while wearing socks. Yes, life can be cruel.

Death is inevitable. For the most part, even fiction acknowledges this. What some stories don’t guarantee is that characters will stay dead. I’ve discussed how to kill off fictional characters, and even mentioned temporary death as a video game cliché, but I think it’s still worth taking a look at how characters in some stories recover from death as easily as getting over a cold.

There are endless possibilities for cheating death in fiction, going all the way back to classical mythology. In Greco-Roman myths, death was a literal place from which a surprising number of people managed to escape: Heracles and Orpheus, among others.

The past few decades have given us an endless array of methods for cheating death, especially in geekier media like comics, video games, and fantasy fiction.

Here are some of my favorites.

Be ye warned, here there be minor spoilers.

Time travel

How often dead characters have been restored to life because someone went back in time to rescue them! Thanks to the butterfly effect, tiny decisions in the past can have huge consequences in the future. Probably my favorite example of time travel resurrecting a dead character comes from Chrono Trigger, pretty much the greatest RPG ever made, in which characters travel to the exact moment of a man’s death to save his life.

Superhero comics

There is no single explanation for this one—comic book characters are revived in such a staggering variety of ways that I can’t even begin to list them all. A mutant’s seeming death triggers her evolution into a more advanced mutant. A superhero’s innate healing abilities pull him back from the brink of death. A villain fakes his death by a stupidly elaborate scheme. Really, the possibilities are countless.

Magic

When in doubt, magic is the ultimate deus ex machina. Magic is mysterious and inexplicable by its very nature. If a writer resurrects characters by magic, who is there to argue? Miracles, such as the triumphant return of Aslan or Gandalf, fall into this category, which also includes medicines like the chocolate-coated pill from The Princess Bride.

Supposed to be dead

What? I’m supposed to be dead? Well, this is awkward.

Technology

By technology I mean magic as it is called in sci-fi stories. Let’s face it: advanced technology and supernatural magic are practically the same thing in some science fiction.

Reincarnation

This metaphysical concept has been lifted from various religions and adapted to everything from Avatar: The Last Airbender to Doctor Who. (The Doctor’s regeneration is basically sci-fi reincarnation.) Characters may technically die, but reincarnation allows the narrative to bring them back.

Afterlives

This brings us to ghosts, phantoms, and other not-alive states of being. Again, even if the story considers characters dead, they’re still fulfilling the roles of living persons by lingering as spirits.

Fake deaths

This one annoys me. (All the same, I’ve used it more often in my writing than I care to admit!) When a character seems to die, the narrative treats them as dead… until they turn out to have been alive all along. Fake deaths generally cheapen the reactions of living characters. Responses like mourning, grief, and anger become less meaningful when they’re revealed to have been unnecessary. Besides, fake deaths are generally predictable.

I think temporary death is a valid storytelling trope, but I prefer death in fiction to be permanent. Death is more realistic, and carries much more weight, when it’s treated as an everlasting reality instead of a fleeting condition.

Anyone who knows anything about video games probably knows that Aerith dies in Final Fantasy VII. Partway through the story, this cheerful flower vendor is impaled by the villain. That’s it. There’s no resurrection, no last-minute deus ex machina. In the game, she is dead. The other characters mourn her… and so does any player whose heart isn’t made of stone.

Death is tragic. It often seems meaningless. However, in storytelling, that miraculous medium which makes all things meaningful, death matters—especially when it lasts more than a few minutes.

286. God is Not a Grump

I may be overanxious, but prayer kind of scares me.

Does any other person of faith feel at least a little nervous speaking to the creator of the universe? Heck, I get flustered interacting with random people on the Internet. Speaking to the Lord God Almighty is a good deal more intimidating. I mean, he made the starry heavens! He designed trees and molecules and wombats! He created coffee! (I believe coffee is the clearest ontological proof of God’s goodness.) I mean, seriously, the greatness of God is immeasurable, and it makes me nervous.

Yes, I know God loves me. Christian culture tends to emphasize the kindness, love and gentleness of Christ, sometimes to the point at which it forgets his harsher words and actions.

"Hey, man. Got Christ?"

Christian culture sometimes gives this impression of Christ, which is equal parts heretical and hilarious.

I generally make the opposite mistake. I remember the Lord Jesus brandishing a whip, killing trees and calling people snakes. I recall all those times in the Old Testament God pronounced curses on people and struck them dead.

When I pray, I sometimes can’t shake the feeling that God hears my prayers with the divine equivalent of a grumpy expression.

I'll listen to your prayers, but only because I have to.

“I’ll listen to your prayers, kid, but only because I’m contractually obligated by the Bible.”

Why do I struggle with this faint, annoying fear that God is a celestial grouch?

I suppose it’s because I’m painfully aware of my own faults, and not always forgiving towards the faults of others. It’s easy for me to assume that God, being absolutely perfect, is even less tolerant of our sins and failures. If I were God—which, fortunately for the universe, I am not—I wouldn’t be very gracious or patient.

Thus I often have what C.S. Lewis called a “vague, though uneasy, feeling that [I haven’t] been doing very well lately.” This uneasiness makes me reluctant to pray or practice other spiritual commitments. It’s easier for me to bury my anxiety in unnecessary busywork, pointless procrastination or random YouTube videos. Quoth Lewis, “All humans at nearly all times have some such reluctance; but when thinking of [God] involves facing and intensifying a whole vague cloud of half-conscious guilt, this reluctance is increased tenfold.”

It was last week I was reminded, and not for the first time, that praying badly is better than not praying at all. “Next to trying and winning,” as I often say, “the best thing is trying and failing.” When I feel far from God, keeping my distance probably won’t help.

As for God being a grump, well, that’s nonsense. There’s a famous verse in the thirty-fourth chapter of Exodus. God appears in this passage and, being a gentleman, introduces himself: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”

These words are echoed throughout the rest of the Bible, and the “slow to anger” part jumped out at me as I read Psalm 145 yesterday: “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.” He responds with compassion, not contempt; grace, not disgust; gentleness, not grouchiness.

If God is truly gracious, compassionate and slow to anger, I think it’s safe to say he is not a grump.

274. About Storytelling: Chekhov’s Gun

There was once a writer named Anton Chekhov. Besides writing a play that trapped me in a stage kiss, this contemplative Russian also established the literary principle that has come to be known as Chekhov’s gun.

Chekhov once stated, “Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”

This concept of a background element becoming an important plot point has become known as Chekhov’s gun. Something that seems trivial becomes extremely significant. The thing you forgot from twenty chapters ago defeats the villain or break the hero’s heart.

A famous example of this can be found in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by dear old Tolkien. The all-important Ring that ends up driving the whole story starts out as a convenient escape for Bilbo Baggins early in his adventures. When Tolkien brought a magic ring into the story, he originally had no plans for it. The Ring was a handy deus ex machina, a trinket discovered just in time to save Bilbo’s life.

Chekhov's... ring

This is an example of Chekhov’s gun. Yes, I know it’s not really a gun.

Only later did Tolkien decide to make the Ring more than a magical accessory. It became the crux of the story, the thing around which all other things revolved—one Ring to rule them all, so to speak. The rifle had gone off.

Chekhov’s guns tend to be common in plot-driven stories. J.K. Rowling uses this principle all the time in her Harry Potter books, in which later plot developments hinge on minor incidents and random rubbish from earlier books.

Although less common in character-driven stories, Chekhov’s gun can apply to people as well as objects and events. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, kindly Professor Kirke seems unperturbed by wild claims of magical worlds inside his furniture. His composure doesn’t make much sense until the reader gets to The Magician’s Nephew. Here it is revealed that Kirke actually visited magical worlds as a child, explaining his lack of surprise as a grownup.

While Chekhov’s gun is a wonderful dramatic technique, it’s best used with subtlety and restraint. It’s a treat for careful readers and devoted fans to notice trivial things becoming important, but overuse of this principle makes stories seem contrived or confusing.

Incidentally, while I haven’t any rifles hanging on my walls, I do have swords. As much as I appreciate the principle of Chekhov’s gun, I hope my assorted blades stay on my walls in later chapters of my life.

267. I’m Giving Up

The ironic thing about some of the lessons I’ve learned is that I haven’t really learned them.

Sometimes, I know things without understanding them. I accept a lesson and then forget it. When I’m reminded of some lessons, I understand them a little more fully. Learning becomes an incremental process.

Thus I’m going to quote myself quoting C.S. Lewis and say,

Thus, in one sense, the road back to God is a road of moral effort, of trying harder and harder. But in another sense it is not trying that is ever going to bring us home. All this trying leads up to the vital moment at which you turn to God and say, “You must do this. I can’t.”

Living by grace doesn’t mean merely trying to do good things, says dear old Lewis,

But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.

In other words: Stop trying to be good enough and depend on God’s grace.

My problem is a paradox. I have made depending on God’s grace just another facet of trying to be good enough. As I said last time, I wanted to be consistent. I wanted to depend on God’s grace consistently. Grace became another weapon in my battle to get it right.

Maybe grace is simply permission to stop fighting.

I’m giving up. My dreams of reaching a nice, level plateau of angelic goodness and contentment are gone. My life will be disordered, flawed and messy. I shall sin and struggle and make mistakes. (Please note these are a statements of fact, not of intention.) There will be days of depression and grief and anxiety, and nothing I can do to prevent them.

What does this mean for my day-to-day life? Honestly… not much. I’ll keep living, working, praying, reading, writing, playing video games, drinking too much coffee and failing to act like a solemn, serious adult.

As I do these things, I’ll try not to hold myself to the self-imposed standards of years past. I won’t replay and review things constantly in my mind, and I certainly won’t agonize over mistakes. By accepting I shan’t be perfect, I can stop trying—better yet, I can try in that new, less worried way.

I’m giving up.

Tolkien on Fantasy

It was a beautiful golden harp, and when Thorin struck it the music began all at once, so sudden and sweet that Bilbo forgot everything else, and was swept away into dark lands under strange moons, far over The Water and very far from his hobbit-hole under The Hill.

J.R.R. Tolkien

There are a few works, just a few, which have given me glimpses of Fantasy.

Sure, I’ve read and seen and played plenty of fantasies. Few have shown me Fantasy. You see, Fantasy is a realm beyond our own: a mysterious, beautiful, dangerous place we are seldom privileged to see. Tolkien called it Faerie.

The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords. In that realm a man may, perhaps, count himself fortunate to have wandered, but its very richness and strangeness tie the tongue of a traveller who would report them. And while he is there it is dangerous for him to ask too many questions, lest the gates should be shut and the keys be lost.

There are worlds we know, the worlds of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy: Middle Earth, Narnia, Hyrule, Spira, Ivalice and others. None of these are Fantasy, yet all of them have given me glimpses of it. Like Thorin’s golden harp, they carried me to faraway places full of danger and beauty and mystery: snowy peaks and tangled forests and mines whose gems shine like stars in the dark heavens.

I enjoy escaping to Fantasy. My brief trips there are never planned, sadly. They just happen, and I think they’re a good thing. Consider these words from Tolkien:

I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which ‘Escape’ is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?

In my ordinary life, I appreciate my fleeting visits to Fantasy. It’s nice to get away!

239. TMTF’s Top Ten Unstoppable Heroes in Literature

Many works of fiction feature unstoppable heroes. These paragons of excellence may not be immune to defeat, but they sure seem like it!

Take Batman. He has no superpowers; Bruce Wayne is just a man with a high-tech suit and some fancy gadgets… and he’s also nigh-invincible. He excels physically, intellectually and morally as a strong fighter, brilliant strategist and champion of justice. I suppose it’s technically possible to kill Batman, but we all know in our heart of hearts that he’s unstoppable.

Literature is full of characters seem physically, intellectually or morally perfect. These are the characters the reader is sure will never be killed or get caught or suffer defeat. They are not invincible, but they may as well be. Some are nearly invulnerable; others are simply too clever or confident to be held down.

Why must I take an entire blog post to list unstoppable heroes from fiction? I can only echo George Mallory and reply: “Because they’re there.” As long as there are things to be ranked in top ten lists, TMTF shall be delighted to oblige!

My usual rules apply to this list: only one character is allowed per author, and characters can be included only from books I’ve read. (Batman would make the list, but I haven’t actually read any of his comics.) An unstoppable hero is defined as a character whose physical, intellectual or moral excellence make him or her seem utterly impervious to defeat.

Be ye warned, here there be minor spoilers.

Prepare to be amazed, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Unstoppable Heroes in Literature!

10. Phileas Fogg (Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne)

Phileas Fogg

Phileas Fogg is an impassive British gentleman whose life of precision and strict regularity is interrupted by the decision to circumnavigate the world in just eighty days: a feat that seems impossible given the limited technology of the time. Is it even possible to travel so far so fast? The reader must wait for an answer, but one thing is clear from the beginning. If it is humanly possible to travel around Earth in eighty days, Fogg will do it. Nothing—not faulty railways, conniving detectives, Sioux warriors or insufficient fuel—can deter this man.

9. Professor Albus Dumbledore (Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling)

Albus Dumbledore

Gentle, wise, whimsical and rather odd, Professor Albus Dumbledore is the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Dumbledore’s seeming frivolity and warm sense of humor belie his shrewd mind, powerful magic and terrifying capacity for anger: “There was cold fury in every line of the ancient face; a sense of power radiated from Dumbledore as though he were giving off heat.” Despite his age, Dumbledore seems far too clever, strong and wise to be stopped even by death. Right? Right?

8. Tristan Farnon (All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot)

Tristan Farnon

In James Herriot’s fictionalized memoirs, Tristan Farnon is an irresistible force of optimism, charm and good-natured mischief. Not even the tyrannical bossiness and short temper of his older brother Siegfried can dampen his cheerful outlook. Tristan drinks too much, plays practical jokes and flirts with every young female in sight—and he nearly always gets away with it.

7. Mr. Great-heart (The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan)

Mr. Great-heart

Mr. Great-heart is too good to be true. A manservant, Mr. Great-heart is ordered by his master to accompany Christiana and her companions on their journey to the Celestial City. His role for the rest of the story is to slay giants, rescue pilgrims, light dark paths, discuss theology and generally be an impossibly perfect (and mostly uninteresting) blend of warrior, mentor, guide and teacher. Mr. Great-heart is so angelically brave and pure that there’s absolutely no question of getting in his way.

6. Kaito Kid (Detective Conan by Gosho Aoyama)

Kaito Kid

Kaito Kid hails from Detective Conan, a long-running (and ongoing) series of mystery manga (i.e. Japanese comics) also known as Cased Closed. Kid is a gentleman thief, expert magician and master of disguise whose crimes are perfect. Even his habit of announcing heists beforehand never seems to get in his way: no matter how smart the police, Kid is smarter. Kid pulls off tricks that seem supernatural… until Conan, the eponymous detective of the series, figures them out. However, even Conan can’t always stop Kid. It’s fortunate that Kid always returns whatever he steals!

5. Sherlock Holmes (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

Sherlock Holmes

As long as we’re discussing detectives, let’s not forget the father of them all: Sherlock Holmes. How many cases has this man solved? How many juggernauts of crime has he brought to justice? No trick is too tricky nor mystery too mysterious for the incomparable Holmes. Besides being, you know, a freaking genius, Holmes is a skilled fencer, actor, sharpshooter, violinist, martial artist and expert on a bewildering range of subjects from poisons to tobacco ash. No criminal stands a chance against Holmes.

4. Gandalf (The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien)

Gandalf

According to Tolkien’s mythology, Gandalf is basically an angel. A freaking angel. So yeah, he’s unstoppable. This short-tempered wizard is ancient, but his age doesn’t stop him from traveling the world, battling monsters and getting in and out of scrapes. Even death can’t stop this man. When Gandalf dies after dueling a demonic beast, some higher power resurrects him and sends him back to save the world. Gandalf recovers from death the way most people recover from colds, and I’m pretty sure there’s no stopping him.

3. Obelix (The Adventures of Asterix by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo)

Obelix

When the ancient Roman Empire conquers Gaul, a vast region of Western Europe, they don’t conquer all of it. One tiny settlement, “the village of the indomitable Gauls,” remains free. The good-natured residents of this tiny town repel the legions of Rome thanks to a potion that gives them temporary surges of superhuman strength. When young Obelix falls into a cauldron of this potion, it has a permanent effect on him. Obelix grows into a pudgy delivery man who can lift anything, cannot be harmed and is literally unstoppable.

2. Jeeves (Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse)

Jeeves

Imagine Socrates, Confucius and Solomon rolled into one person, and then make that person a polite British valet. Congratulations: you’ve just imagined Jeeves, insofar as human imagination can devise a person as brilliant as he. Jeeves doesn’t contend with giants or monsters or criminals—if he did, they would be toast. No, Jeeves turns his colossal genius toward solving social crises and keeping his wayward employer, well-meaning but dimwitted Bertram Wooster, out of trouble. Jeeves’s dry wit, perfect composure and sheer intelligence make him an inexorable force of peace and order.

1. Aslan (The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis)

Aslan

Aslan is basically Jesus Christ, and also a lion with huge muscles and sharp teeth. You can’t get any more unstoppable than that. What’s that? Aslan dies? Please. Aslan watches Gandalf conquer death and says, “See here, lad, this is how it’s done.” Able to appear anywhere and do anything with his infinite wisdom and boundless power, Aslan is absolutely the most unstoppable hero in any fiction I have ever read.

O people of the Internet, what unstoppable literary heroes would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments!

226. Why C.S. Lewis Is Awesome

On November 22, 1963—exactly fifty years ago—the world lost a very great man. His name was Clive Staples Lewis, but he preferred to be called Jack. He was an academic, poet, novelist, literary critic and lay theologian. He was also a close friend and associate of J.R.R. Tolkien, the renowned writer of fantasy.

Jack was not a saint, a prophet or even an author of literary masterpieces. No, Jack was something very different and equally wonderful: a genius of varied interests, remarkable talent, deep faith and gentle humor.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the man to whom the world owes Narnia, Screwtape and a great deal of commonsense theology.

I give you C.S. Lewis, a man whom we shall never forget.

C.S. LewisRaised in a religious home, C.S. Lewis drifted into skepticism as a young man and became an atheist. It was with extreme reluctance that he returned to belief in God and eventually (with a little help from friends like Tolkien) devotion to Jesus Christ.

As an ex-atheist, Lewis devoted much thought to Christian apologetics—the rational defense of Christianity as an accurate worldview. He also dabbled in theology, penning books such as Mere Christianity and The Four Loves in which he discoursed upon faith, love and absolute morality.

Lewis’s faith blurred together with his prodigious imagination. His Narnia books wove together folklore and Greco-Roman mythology with a Christian worldview, and The Screwtape Letters explored Christian life from a diabolical point of view.

(I enjoyed The Screwtape Letters so much that I imitated them—badly—on this blog in the form of The Turnspike Emails, which I discontinued a long time ago. Forgive me, Jack.)

Lewis was—no pun intended—a jack of all trades. He dabbled in everything from theology to literary criticism to medieval studies. He wrote novels. He wrote essays. He wrote poems. The range and variety of his work is incredible.

One of Lewis’s greatest strengths was his gift for explaining things simply. Take the super-confusing concept of the Trinity: God as three persons, yet a single entity. Lewis gives the best explanation of the Trinity I have ever seen, read or heard… in three paragraphs. Three. (See Mere Christianity, Book IV, Chapter 2.)

Another example: For centuries, theologians have debated the exact relationship between faith and good works. Which is more important? By which does God save us? C.S. Lewis resolves the debate in two sentences: “Christians have often disputed as to whether what leads the Christian home is good actions, or Faith in Christ. I have no right really to speak on such a difficult question, but it does seem to me like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is more necessary.”

C.S. Lewis is idolized by some and reviled by others. He certainly wasn’t infallible, but no one can dismiss his intelligence or creativity. Personally, I find his works on Christianity remarkably insightful. The Narnia books are pretty good, The Space Trilogy rivals Doctor Who for offbeat science fiction and Till We Have Faces is simply fantastic.

For anyone interested in the Christian faith, Mere Christianity is a thoughtful work for believers and skeptics alike. The Screwtape Letters is a really clever treatise on Christian life. For sophisticated readers, Till We Have Faces is a brilliant reimagining of an ancient Greek myth; for those with simpler literary tastes, the Narnia books are fun, easy reads.

In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, C.S. Lewis is awesome.

Adventure? Take This with You!

Dangerous to Go Alone

Picture from Spader7 on deviantART.

“It’s dangerous to go alone. Take this.”

These are the famous opening words of The Legend of Zelda, and an age-old motif in mythology, legend, folklore and fantasy. “Going on an adventure? Here, take _____ with you!”

Luke Skywalker got a lightsaber at the start of his journey. Frodo Baggins received a magic ring. The Pevensies (sans Edmund) accepted useful gifts from Father Christmas, and Captain Jack Sparrow was granted a pistol and one shot. Heck, even Perseus got a bunch of neat stuff for his quest from the gods in the old Greek myths.

The hero often seems to get something—a sword, an amulet, a keepsake—at the start of his or her adventure, and whatever it is always turns out to be really useful. A pointless knick-knack is later revealed to be the all-important Map or Key or Talisman of Plot Advancement.

So take my advice. If someone gives you something at the beginning of an adventure, hold on to the darn thing. You’ll be needing it.