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.

479. TMTF’s Top Ten Detectives in Fiction

Who are the greatest detectives in fiction? I’m no sleuth, but this is one mystery I might be able to solve.

From a young age, I’ve enjoyed detective fiction. I watched Scooby-Doo cartoons as a young child. Almost immediately after learning to read, I devoured stacks of Hardy Boys books. I read the entire Sherlock Holmes canon in my early teens, and picked up a number of classic mysteries in college. Yes, I love a good detective story.

Of course, such a story is only as good as its detective. Here are ten of my favorite mystery-solvers, because top ten lists are my beat.

The game is afoot, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Detectives in Fiction!

10. C. Auguste Dupin


Although C. Auguste Dupin appeared in only three short stories, he makes history as one of the earliest fictional detectives. When Edgar Allan Poe created Dupin, the word detective had not even been coined. Heck, the character is even mentioned in the very first Sherlock Holmes story: Watson compares Holmes to Dupin. Sherlock Holmes may be the father of detective fiction, but C. August Dupin is its grandfather. The character’s sharp intellect and analytical methods helped create an archetype for fictional detectives.

9. Batman


I was going to put Hercule Poirot on this list, but then remembered that I’ve read only two of his mysteries, and disliked one of them. Who could possibly replace the legendary Poirot, created by the legendary Agatha Christie, in a list of great detectives? The correct answer is Batman. (The correct answer is always Batman.) When he isn’t busy punching bad guys or brooding over his tragic past, Batman earns his nickname of World’s Greatest Detective by dabbling in forensics, solving crimes, and catching bad guys… whom he generally punches before brooding some more. Batman’s gotta Batman.

8. Lord Peter Wimsey


Lord Peter Wimsey has the intelligence of a detective like Holmes or Poirot, along with his own gift: an easygoing sense of humor. In a series of novels and short stories by Dorothy Sayers, this British nobleman makes a hobby of solving crimes. Wimsey’s relationship with his valet, the solemn and hyper-competent Bunter, echoes the partnership of Jeeves and Wooster in the stories by P.G. Wodehouse—and believe me, any comparison to Wodehouse is a good thing. Wimsey has all the skill of other famous detectives, and a heck of a lot more charm.

7. Professor Hershel Layton


Hershel Layton, the star of the Professor Layton games, wears many hats… figuratively speaking. (The only literal hat he would ever deign to wear is his beloved topper.) Layton is not only a professor of archaeology, but also a puzzle enthusiast, true gentleman, and amateur detective. Even inspectors from Scotland Yard have sought Layton’s help with tough cases. The strangeness of these mysteries is matched only by his ingenuity in solving them. The good Professor is clever and kind, and have I mentioned his magnificent hat?

6. Shawn Spencer


Shawn Spencer, the star of television’s Psych, is a “psychic detective” who handles cases too small, sensitive, or just plain weird for the police. Shawn’s alleged psychic powers are actually a front for rigorous training and a photographic memory. Since he’s an immature goofball, his clients find it easier to believe that Shawn has supernatural gifts than to accept that he’s just, y’know, really smart. He runs his detective agency with the help of his friend Gus; their chemistry is easily the best thing about the show, though Shawn’s quips and pop culture references are also a lot of fun.

5. Dick Gumshoe


Dick Gumshoe, the hapless police detective from the Ace Attorney games, is easily the least competent sleuth on this list, but he gets the job done. (His musical leitmotif, which I wish were my own theme music, is aptly titled “I Can Do It When It Counts, Pal!”) What Gumshoe lacks in smarts, he makes up in dedication, tenacity, and fierce loyalty to his friends. There’s a heart of gold under that shabby coat, and a determination behind those bewildered eyes to see justice done. It’s just a shame he can’t afford any meal more expensive than ramen noodles!

4. Edogawa Conan


Kudo Shinichi is still in high school, but has already built a reputation as a crime-solving prodigy who has worked with the Tokyo police. However, when he interferes with a criminal syndicate known as the Black Organization, its attempt to murder him with an experimental drug causes an unexpected side effect: Shinichi awakens in the body of a child. Now calling himself Edogawa Conan, he moves into a local detective agency, and solves its cases from behind the scenes as he searches for a lead on the Black Organization. The manga and anime series Detective Conan (known as Case Closed in the West) boasts some of the cleverest mysteries I’ve ever seen, all solved by this adorable little guy. Edogawa Conan is cooler than an action hero and cuter than a kitten—often at the same time!

3. Adrian Monk


Adrian Monk is afraid of dentists, snakes, nudity, elevators, death, milk, and mushrooms, not necessarily in that order. These are just a few of his phobias, which, along with his obsessive-compulsive disorder, make it hard for the star of television’s Monk even to leave his home, let alone solve crimes… yet he solves them. Monk’s phobias make for terrific comedy, but also create a character whose strength lies in overcoming his worst fears every single day. Adrian Monk is the rare character who can make you laugh in one scene, only to turn on a dime and make you cry in the next.

2. Father Brown


He may not have claimed the top spot on this list, but Father Brown is probably my all-time favorite character in fiction. This gentle Roman Catholic priest stars in a number of short stories by G.K. Chesterton. I’ve already written about Father Brown: “He’s a perfect foil to Sherlock Holmes . . . Everyone expects Holmes to be brilliant. In a charming subversion, everyone dismisses Father Brown as a superstitious simpleton, which makes it all the more satisfying when he apologetically solves the mystery right under their noses.” Father Brown’s quiet brilliance, boundless compassion, and no-nonsense worldview make him not only a great detective, but something rarer and more admirable: a good man.

1. Sherlock Holmes


Throughout this blog post, I’ve repeatedly mentioned Sherlock Holmes. How could I not? Sherlock Holmes is the world’s most famous detective, and the standard by which all others are measured. His ruthless logic, unshakable calm, numerous connections, and eclectic talents make him capable of solving practically any crime. In addition to his gifts, Holmes possesses, or is possessed by, a strong determination to use them. (He doesn’t handle boredom well.) This combination of passion and ability make Holmes an unstoppable detective. In addition to the original character in the novels and stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, television’s Sherlock offers an updated take on Holmes that’s perfectly delightful.

Who is your favorite fictional detective? Give us a clue in the comments!

477. About Storytelling: Comic Relief

Always be comic in a tragedy. What the deuce else can you do?

~ G.K. Chesterton

The Internet is buzzing over Luke Cage, the latest Marvel superhero show from Netflix. I’ve watched only a few episodes, but it’s pretty good so far, with compelling drama, solid acting, a funky soundtrack—and thank heaven, a sense of humor.

Fun so far!

In art, as in life, humor is invaluable. Shakespeare understood this. He wrote a lot of comedies, and even his tragedies have gleams of humor. Romeo and Juliet is full of dirty jokes, and Hamlet has the funny gravedigger. (I don’t even like Shakespeare’s plays, but that scene from Hamlet makes me smile.) William Shakespeare is widely regarded as a master storyteller, and comic relief is a key part of his stories.

Comic relief is a storytelling technique in which humorous moments, characters, or dialogue are included in an otherwise dark or serious story. The purpose of comic relief is generally to relieve tension, softening stories that might otherwise be unpleasant or unpalatable.

(Comedies can’t have comic relief because they’re already comical. Comic relief describes not a comical tone, but a break from a serious one. Incidentally, if tragedies have comic relief, shouldn’t comedies have tragic relief? Just wondering.)

When Netflix began making shows about Marvel superheroes, it began with Daredevil, an outstanding series that I totally lovedDaredevil used comic relief very effectively. It’s a dark show. Its heroes (and, unexpectedly, its villains) wrestle with guilt, rage, self-doubt, and other inner demons. A lot of people die violently. Corruption runs rampant. Heck, there’s even a lot of literal darkness.

Tons of fun!

Fortunately, the darker elements of Daredevil are kept in check by comic relief. My favorite character, Foggy Nelson, brings sarcasm, cheerful pessimism, and warm humanity to a fairly angsty cast of characters. One of the villain’s advisers, Leland Owlsley, reacts to everything with a perfect mixture of snark and grumpiness. Even Daredevil’s mentor, a ruthless killer named Stick, speaks with a dry, sardonic sense of humor. There’s just enough humor (and humanity) in Daredevil to make the darkness and tragedy palatable.

Then came Jessica Jones, Netflix’s follow-up to Daredevil, and lo, it was painfully bleak. Without going into details—believe me, they aren’t pleasant—it’s a show about violence, abuse, betrayal, addiction, and toxic relationships, with some rape metaphors thrown in for good measure. The entire show hinges on the protagonist’s abusive relationship with a super-powered sadist. Yeah. Nasty stuff.

The thing is that Jessica Jones is actually an artistic, thoughtful, well-written, well-acted drama. It’s just painful to watch. There’s nothing to brighten the gloom or ease the tension. (David Tennant is in it, and he’s awesome, but his character is a cruel, rapey, mind-controlling stalker, so… yeah, that doesn’t help.) None of the characters are likable, and there’s no comic relief. Wait, no, I recall one joke. I think it might be repeated once. That’s it. Jessica Jones is thirteen episodes of misery.

No fun at all.

I’ve seen the first season of Daredevil twice. I will never watch Jessica Jones again. The hope and humor in Daredevil make the darker bits bearable. Jessica Jones is all darker bits.

So far, Luke Cage, which follows the events of Jessica Jones, has been really good. There aren’t as many quips as in Daredevil—man, do I ever miss Foggy Nelson—but the characters in Luke Cage at least have a sense of humor, and it makes a world of difference.

Not every tragedy needs comic relief. I can’t help but think of Shūsaku Endō, who wrote such terrific novels as Silence and The Samurai. There’s no humor in these books, and they’re more powerful for it.

Comic relief isn’t an absolute necessity, but it’s often helpful. Stories are told to edify, sure, but also to entertain… and who doesn’t appreciate a laugh?

Three Great Novels About the Silence of God

I could write pages about the silence of God, but it would all boil down to just a few words.

I don’t get it, and it troubles me.

Some of my doubts and questions about the Christian faith have been resolved. Some have not. Why does God let kids get hurt? Why does he allow us to make innocent mistakes? Why does he permit headaches and cockroaches and Fifty Shades of Grey to exist? Why, God? Why?

Yes, I know about sin and death and the fall of humankind. I know, darn it! Those things still don’t explain why God doesn’t, well, explain. Couldn’t he at least make his existence more clearly known? It seems unfair for God to penalize people for failing to believe in him when he seems intangible, invisible and… silent.

I don’t know why God remains silent. In the end, I believe because my evidence for God outweighs my evidence against him. There remain dark doubts and unanswered questions.

Since I don’t have any answers regarding the silence of God, here are what three great novels have to say upon the subject.

Be ye warned: Here there be spoilers for SilenceThe Chosen and The Man Who Was Thursday.

The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton

The Man Who Was ThursdayThe Man Who Is Thursday is the exciting tale of Gabriel Syme, a poet-turned-detective, and his attempts to stop a band of nihilistic terrorists. There’s a sword duel, and some thrilling chases, and at least one good discussion of poetry.

The novel takes a turn for the surreal in its final chapters, in which Syme and his companions realize their elaborate intrigues against the terrorist organization were actually orchestrated by its leader, the enigmatic man known only as Sunday.

Syme and his friends demand to know why Sunday, who is apparently not an evil man, allowed them to suffer so much pain and fear in their pursuit of him. One of Syme’s companions says, with the simplicity of a child, “I wish I knew why I was hurt so much.”

Sunday does not reply.

The silence is broken by the only sincere member of the nihilist organization, who accuses Syme of apathy and ignorance. It is then Syme realizes that his pain qualifies him to refute all accusations. He and his friends suffered by Sunday’s silence. No matter how wretched or tormented their accuser, the agonies they endured bought them the right to reply, “We also have suffered.”

The Chosen by Chaim Potok

The Chosen

The Chosen tells the story of two young Orthodox Jews in New York during the final years of World War II. During a baseball game, Reuven Malter meets a gifted student named Danny Saunders. They become friends, despite their dissimilar cultures and upbringings within the Orthodox Jewish community.

Reuven is astonished to learn Danny’s father, Reb Saunders, speaks to him only during religious discussions. At other times, Reb Saunders says nothing to his son. This cold silence baffles Danny and Reuven. What kind of father refuses to talk with his children?

The novel follows Danny and Reuven as they grow up and progress in their studies. In the wider world, the horrors of the Holocaust are revealed and Jews fight for the restoration of Israel as a nation. At last, as young men, Danny and Reuven learn the truth behind the silence of Reb Saunders.

Reb Saunders knew his son’s intelligence outweighed his concern for others. In order to teach Danny compassion, Reb Saunders distanced himself from his son. Silence, he hoped, would give Danny an understanding of pain and a greater empathy toward other people.

Danny had learned compassion, and so the silence was broken. Speaking of Reb Saunders, Danny tells Reuben at the end of the novel, “We talk now.”

Silence by Shusaku Endo


This is it: the definitive novel about the silence of God. Heck, the book is even titled Silence. This gloomy masterpiece tells of Sebastião Rodrigues, a Portuguese Jesuit sent to seventeenth-century Japan. He hopes to encourage the tiny population of Japanese Christians, and is willing to die for his mission.

What he doesn’t expect is to watch others die for his mission. When he is captured by Japanese authorities, Rodrigues is not martyred. Instead, he watches as the authorities martyr other Christians because of his religion. Rodrigues expected to suffer for his faith. He did not imagine he would cause others to suffer for it.

In this darkness and brutality, God says nothing. There is only silence.

At last, as Rodrigues recants his faith to spare the lives of other Christians, the image of Christ he is forced to trample seems to break the silence: “Trample! Trample! I more than anyone know of the pain in your foot. Trample! It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world. It was to share men’s pain that I carried my cross.”

For me, this is the most powerful answer in these three novels to the question of God’s silence. God may seem silent, but he has shattered the silence once for all with a single word—rather, a single Word: the Word who became flesh and made his dwelling among us. Whatever the sufferings in this world, Jesus shared them. However little God may seem to say to us now, Jesus said plenty.

Do I understand the silence of God? No. I do, however, find great comfort in these books, which offer tentative answers to a great and terrible question.

This post was originally published on January 3, 2014. TMTF shall return with new posts on Monday, September 5!

462. About Storytelling: Subverting Expectations

Not long ago, I began playing a little game titled Recettear: An Item’s Shop’s Tale, and promptly decided it may be the best thing in the universe.

I exaggerate, but Recettear is delightful all the same. It’s set in a standard fantasy world of monsters, swords, and magic, with one important twist: the player doesn’t control an adventurer. The player controls a shopkeeper: a sweet, chipper girl named Recette who must pay off her absent father’s debts. Recette’s motto: “Capitalism, ho!”

Capitalism, ho!

Capitalism has never been cuter.

Fantasy games have always had shops. They’re a ubiquitous feature in the manner of inns, dungeons, and bosses. Gamers accept them without thinking. Heck, off the top of my head, I can’t think of a single fantasy game that doesn’t have some kind of shop.

Recettear turns the cliché of the fantasy-game shop on its head. This time around, the player isn’t fighting to save the world—he’s fighting to make that next debt payment. A player can’t just waltz into dungeons; she must hire an adventurer to keep her safe while she searches for items to sell. Recettear shows the behind-the-scenes struggles of keeping a fantasy-game shop open for business, providing a twist on a well-worn trope.

Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale represents a brilliant creative tactic: subverting expectations.

After a certain number of stories, we begin to see patterns. The good guys win. Things end badly for the villain. Depending on the story’s tone, either romance happens, or it doesn’t—either way, we can usually see it coming. If Sean Bean is in a movie, his character probably dies. We expect these things. We figure out that stories usually work a certain way.

It’s neat, then, when stories come along that work differently.

Consider, for example, how Disney’s Frozen handles the love-at-first-sight cliché. In many previous Disney films, the guy and the girl fall in love hilariously fast. I mean, seriously, the prince in Cinderella decides to marry the eponymous heroine before he even knows her name. They dance for one scene, and then he wants to get married. It’s actually kinda creepy.

Love is an open door, I guess

Will you marry me? Oh, and what’s your name?

Frozen is different. (Spoilers ahead, in case anyone cares.) The movie sets up the love-at-first-sight cliché between Princess Anna and her crush, Prince Hans. Shortly after meeting, they decided to get married. I mean, they sing a cute song and everything. When they share the news, however, they’re met with incredulity and derision. “You can’t marry a man you just met,” declares Anna’s sister flatly. Later on in the film, Kristoff reacts in pretty much the same way.

When I watched Frozen, I wasn’t expecting the movie—a Disney movie about princesses, mind you—to mock the love-at-first-sight cliché. But it did. And it was refreshing, funny, and simply delightful to see.

Let’s look at a more literary example: Father Brown, the mystery-solving priest from the stories by G.K. Chesterton. Detectives in fiction are often marked by certain characteristics, which are best exemplified in Sherlock Holmes, the most famous detective of all: intelligence, logic, curiosity, emotional distance, and a strong sense of justice.

Father Brown subverts practically all of these.

Father Brown (alt)

He isn’t your garden-variety sleuth.

He’s a perfect foil to Sherlock Holmes—the Anti-Holmes, if you will. Holmes is tall, thin, emotionless, and just. His brilliance is painfully obvious. By contrast, Father Brown is short, stout, deeply empathetic, and merciful. His intelligence is belied by his humility and simpleminded manner. Holmes solves mysteries by careful reasoning; Father Brown solves them by common sense and an intuitive understanding of human nature. Holmes kills his greatest enemy; Father Brown redeems and befriends his own archnemesis.

Everyone expects Holmes to be brilliant. In a charming subversion, everyone dismisses Father Brown as a superstitious simpleton, which makes it all the more satisfying when he apologetically solves the mystery right under their noses. It’s another terrific subversion of audience expectations, and it makes for great reading.

We’ve all come to expect certain things from fiction. How exciting when fiction gives us things we don’t expect!

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.



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.

341. Mole End

If you ever happen to visit my apartment, you will be greeted by a wooden sign immediately upon stepping inside. It depicts a well-dressed mole drinking coffee and reading a book, along with two welcoming words: Mole End.

Mole End

I love the way the mole’s glasses are perched delicately on the end of his snout.

My dad, God bless him, crafted this sign for me many years ago. Although he’s known round these parts for his superb drawings of monkeys, my old man is perfectly capable of drawing other small mammals!

The sign is made of driftwood from an Ecuadorian beach. (The sign fell from the wall a few weeks ago, scattering sand from its deepest crevices all over my floor. I was oddly touched to find my small-town Indiana apartment suddenly dusted with sand from my faraway homeland.) My old man sketched the picture on an ordinary piece of paper, glued it to the driftwood, aged it with cold tea, and applied a layer of finish.

When I moved into my apartment two and a half years ago, I immediately christened it Mole End and put up the sign shortly thereafter. Now, you may wonder why I chose this name for an apartment in a quiet, out-of-the-way corner of Indiana. You wouldn’t be the first!

Some time ago, I was honored to receive a visit from Thomas Mark Zuniga. This wise, wandering blogger had written for my blog. I had written for his, and also reviewed his debut book. It was quite a privilege finally to meet the man (and his splendid beard) in person.

Adam and Tom

Someday, if I am very lucky, I will have a beard half as nice as Tom’s.

Upon entering Mole End, Tom asked about the sign. It took me a moment to stammer out a reply: “Have you ever read The Wind in the Willows?”

For those who haven’t read this enchanting book, The Wind in the Willows is the tale of several animals in the old-timey English countryside. One of these creatures, Mole, reminds me strongly of myself: neat, anxious, insecure, quick to blame himself, and a devoted homebody. In a few other ways, I’m rather like a mole: I’m an introvert, keeping away from social events and enjoying my safe, cozy, solitary burrow.

Mole loves his subterranean home, Mole End, yet leaves it early on in search of fresh experiences. It’s only later in the book, as he chats with a Badger, that Mole remembers how much he enjoys life underground.

“Once well underground,” he said, “you know exactly where you are. Nothing can happen to you, and nothing can get at you. You’re entirely your own master, and you don’t have to consult anybody or mind what they say. Things go on all the same overheard, and you let ’em, and don’t bother about ’em. When you want to, up you go, and there the things are, waiting for you.”

That, dear reader, is why I call my apartment Mole End.

Mole later returns to Mole End in a chapter aptly titled “Dulce Domum,” Latin for sweet home. He is overwhelmed to the point of tears. Mole End is all the sweeter because Mole abandoned it for a while, like the man in the book by G.K. Chesterton who left his house and walked around the world simply for the joy of coming home again.

I love my home—not my Indiana apartment, specifically, but the place I feel secure, comfortable, and relaxed. My home isn’t permanent. There’s a reason the Bible refers to our bodies as a “tent” instead of a house. Quoth the Apostle Paul, “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven.”

We are all foreigners and strangers on earth. Some of us are searching for a better country—a heavenly one. My apartment in Indiana may be the closest thing to home I shall ever find on earth. I don’t know how long I’ll stay. In the future, I may have many homes… but I will only ever have one Mole End.

Of course, Mole End’s size, appearance, and layout may change occasionally. Its location may vary. Mole End may be found, at various times, in different cities, countries, and continents.

As long as I have the promise of a heavenly home—and the sign, of course—I’ll carry Mole End with me.

291. TMTF’s Top Ten Books You Should Probably Read

I love recommending books. This temptation, common to bookish people, seizes me occasionally. I am tempted today beyond what I can bear; there is no way out of this temptation so that I can endure it. That said, here are ten books I think everyone in the world should read.

This list is a mix of great classics, personal favorites, and books with widespread cultural impact. This is not a definitive list of ten books everyone absolutely must read, nor is it a list of my ten all-time favorites. These are simply ten recommendations for the average reader.

Let’s get bookish, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Books You Should Probably Read!

10. The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton

The Man Who Was Thursday

The Man Who Was Thursday is either a gripping spy thriller set in Edwardian era London, or else an eloquent reflection upon the silence of God and the meaning of pain. Either way, it’s fantastic. The dialogue is clever, the plot has some astonishing twists, and the whole book is drenched in intrigue and melancholy romanticism. It’s Thursday himself who says, “Always be comic in a tragedy. What the deuce else can you do?” This desperate courage, along with brilliant surprises and unexpected philosophical depth, make The Man Who Was Thursday a classic.

9. The Cay by Theodore Taylor 

The Cay

This book made a strong impression on me as a child. On the surface, The Cay is an exciting tale of survival: the story of a privileged white boy and a poor black man stranded together on a deserted island. A closer look at The Cay reveals themes like bigotry, sacrifice, loss, and cultural differences, all handled with disarming frankness and simplicity. The Cay is a quick, easy read, and a book well worth reading.

8. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

Everyone should read this book because freaking Sherlock Holmes. He is the archetypical crime-solver and one of the most famous characters in fiction. The Holmes stories are worth reading if only to understand their cultural impact… and they’re also pretty fun to read. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes is a collection of some of the best. While I personally prefer Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries, there’s no denying the significance or excellence of Sherlock Holmes.

7. Living Poor by Moritz Thomsen

Living Poor

Living Poor is a memoir of Moritz Thomson, a man described as “the finest American writer you’ve never heard of.” After joining the Peace Corps, Thomson found himself living in a remote coastal village in Ecuador. His account of living poor is powerfully written, with jabs of wry humor punctuating a tone of bitter resignation. I grew up in Ecuador, so Thomson’s descriptions of its people and places strike a special chord with me. For all readers, whatever their circumstances, Living Poor is not only a heartrending glimpse of an impoverished community, but a look at the universal problems of poverty, depression, and helplessness.

6. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Like The Cay, this children’s classic is disarming in its brevity and simplicity. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is the delightfully funny story of the Herdmans, “the worst kids in the history of the world,” and their unexpected takeover of a church’s Christmas pageant. The book is hilarious. The Herdman kids respond to the Christmas story with suspicion, awe, and curiosity. Not only does this give readers plenty of laughs, but also a fresh, new perspective on an old, tired holiday. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is two parts funny, one part poignant, and all parts wonderful.

5. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Hobbit

I mentioned earlier that the Sherlock Holmes stories are worth reading for their cultural impact. The Lord of the Rings is important in exactly the same way. It didn’t invent the fantasy genre, but it sure as heck defined it. While The Lord of the Rings is an amazing work of fantasy, it’s also slow-paced and really long. The Hobbit is a much quicker read: a simpler adventure that shows off Tolkien’s remarkable world and sows the seeds for the bigger tale told in The Lord of the Rings. The story of Bilbo Baggins and his epic journey “there and back again” is a charming read. I can think of no better introduction to the fantasy genre.

4. Silence by Shūsaku Endō


Silence is the story of a Portuguese Jesuit sent to seventeenth-century Japan, and also one of the most heartbreaking books I’ve ever read. The novel deftly changes perspectives partway through as it follows Sebastião Rodrigues in his journey from religious zeal to anguished perplexity at God’s silence. Silence is not only an elegy on the silence of God, but also a fascinating look at how cultures and their values conflict—much like Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, another book I considered for this list. It’s not a fun or easy read, but Silence is a book to challenge the mind and the heart.

3. Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

Carry On, Jeeves

This is not a particularly deep book, and it doesn’t have to be. It’s a collection of Jeeves and Wooster stories by P.G. Wodehouse. Really, what higher praise can there be? The book introduces two of Wodehouse’s most enduring characters, bumbling Bertie Wooster and his nigh-omniscient valet Jeeves, in a series of stories penned with Wodehouse’s effortless humor, aplomb, and British wit. Wodehouse’s work belongs on any list of recommended books, and Carry On, Jeeves is a fine place to start.

2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird

Many of my dear readers probably had to read this book for school, which is kind of a shame. Nothing sucks the fun out of books like being forced to read them. There’s a reason this one is read so widely in schools—it’s absolutely fantastic. Everything about the book is excellent, from the setting to the characters to its skillful handling of themes like racism, class divides, and the loss of innocence. Like Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, another novel that nearly made this list, To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the great classics of Western literature. If you’ve never read this book, read it. If you were forced to read it for school, give it another chance.

1. The Bible

Holy Bible

Along with Greco-Roman mythology, the Bible is the foundation of Western literature. Its cultural and literary impact over two millennia is literally incalculable. The Bible is packed with history, poetry, and philosophy that have inspired people and shaped societies. As literature, the Bible is a little uneven—the Psalms are much better reading than, say, Leviticus—but the work as a whole is an incredible wealth of wisdom, truth, and beauty.

O people of the Internet, what are your top book recommendations? Let us know in the comments!

287. About Storytelling: Intertextuality

As long as we’re talking about The Avengers, I want to point out that Marvel’s superhero stories have a lot in common with the Bible, Little Women and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Why, you can hardly tell them apart!

The similarities here are obvious… aren’t they?

(I also want to point out for the record that Jo and Donatello are the best March sister and Ninja Turtle, respectively. I’m just throwing that out there.)

These stories are extremely different, but they share at least one notable characteristic: intertextuality. This fancy (and somewhat dirty-sounding) word refers to the way an artistic work is shaped by another artistic work.

Still confused? I sure am. Let’s make it simpler by looking at these stories one by one.

Little Women is a novel by Lousia May Alcott about sisters growing up and getting married. It’s basically Pride and Prejudice, but better. (Fans of Jane Austen, please spare my family.) The first half of the book, which follows the March sisters as they become young ladies, loosely parallels The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. As these little women read Bunyan’s allegory, they find it mirrored in their own pilgrimages from childhood to adulthood.

The Bible is packed with intertextuality. The number of times Scripture references itself is practically beyond count. The New Testament alludes constantly to the Old. Many books of Scripture cite passages from other books. Jesus Christ, as he hung dying upon the cross, quoted a phrase from the Psalms. Stephen, in turn, repeated some of Christ’s final words during his own execution. The Bible echoes itself constantly.

The Avengers is a tale woven from several different stories. Every one of its heroes has some kind of history; the film is built upon the foundation of other films. Without Iron Man and Thor and all those other Marvel movies, The Avengers probably wouldn’t even exist.

As for my favorite band of crime-fighting reptiles, well, the Ninja Turtles began as a parody of several gritty comics popular at the time. Even its details were drawn from the works it parodied: the Turtles’ teacher Splinter was a jab at a comic book character named Stick, and the villainous Foot Clan poked fun at a supervillain group called The Hand. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles exist as a lighthearted response to darker comics.

All these stories are shaped by other stories. So what?

Intertextuality can be either a brilliant asset or a horrible nuisance. It can give a story depth or make it incomprehensible.

The benefits of intertexuality are too many to list in a single blog post, so I’ll mention just a few. Referring to other works can establish a strong narrative framework, as in Little Women. The Bible shows how intertexuality can help explain and clarify ideas. In The Avengers, the way separate narratives converge in one big adventure is, if I may express it so bluntly, really freaking sweet. Finally, intertextuality can provide humor or insight in the form of parody or satire of existing works.

Of course, intertextuality can go wrong. G.K. Chesterton is probably my favorite author, and also really awesome, but he sometimes makes the mistake of assuming all his readers are just as smart and educated as he is. His book Orthodoxy is full of allusions to other thinkers, but without context or background these references only confuse ignorant readers like me.

We’re all shaped by other people. It’s only natural, then, for our ideas and stories to be shaped by those of other people.

258. TMTF Reviews: Orthodoxy

I received some lovely presents for Christmas last year: an Edgeworth-colored coffeemaker, a few gift cards, a picture of ponies drinking milkshakes and a paperback copy of G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy.

I loved Chesterton’s novels and stories, but I had never read any of his nonfiction. Orthodoxy and Heretics had been recommended to me for years by friends and teachers. It was clear there was no getting out of it. My unalterable destiny was to read at least one of these books, and so I settled upon Orthodoxy as a Christmas gift when my loving mum insisted on buying me something for the holidays.

Was Orthodoxy worth all those recommendations? Is this spiritual memoir a worthy read, or should Chesterton have stuck to writing stories?


Orthodoxy was thoughtful, engaging and lively—but not at all the book I expected it to be.

You see, I had assumed Orthodoxy would be a work of either apologetics or lay theology. I expected either a focused defense of Christianity or something along the lines of The Gospel According to ChestertonOrthodoxy turned out to be something much different, and much more interesting.

In his book, Chesterton lays out a sort of spiritual quest—no, a spiritual ramble, which began with his basic beliefs about existence. His views of the world required a certain set of facts or principles. No existing worldview seemed to fit his revolutionary ideas. Every ideology he tested rang false; every philosophy had some damning flaw.

It was with great surprise he realized his daring new ideals were perfectly matched to one very ancient worldview—Christianity.

Chesterton loved paradoxes: things that seem contradictory yet are true. It came as absolutely no surprise to me that Orthodoxy is packed with fascinating paradoxes from start to finish. Christianity, despite its ancient heritage and old traditions, is the most revolutionary creed on the market, maintains Chesterton. It is a system of ludicrous extremes, and it is the only system to make sense.

I wondered at the beginning whether Chesterton would try to prove any of his assertions by logic. He does not. In fact, he cheerfully confesses, “This is not an ecclesiastical treatise but a sort of slovenly autobiography.” Orthodoxy is not a work of lay theology. It’s more like a wandering essay packed with poetic prose and cheerful sarcasm.

Anyone looking for a concise defense or explication of religion in Orthodoxy won’t find it. The book is a lively discussion, not a lecture or sermon. For those contented to read a clever set of perspectives on faith and modern worldviews, Orthodoxy is absolutely a worthwhile read: thought-provoking, unapologetic and witty.

My only notable criticism of the book is the way Chesterton constantly alludes to thinkers ancient and contemporary (for his time) without explaining their philosophies. He tosses out names like Zola and Bellec, apparently expecting his readers to know exactly who they were and giving only the faintest hints of their ideologies. I recognized a few of these allusions, but most of them sailed over my sad, ignorant head. Chesterton clearly assumed I would be a good deal better educated than I am.

Its frequent allusions to random thinkers aside, Orthodoxy is a fascinating exploration of ancient doctrines, modern philosophies and the strange habit old things seem to have of being more revolutionary than new ones. Readers expecting structured arguments will be disappointed, but anyone looking for a wry discussion of ideologies sacred and secular is in for a superb read.