257. Everything Is Awesome?

I saw The Lego Movie not long ago. Now, I know other bloggers have already discussed this strange, wonderful, colorful film, but I have a few things of my own to say.

On a Saturday evening weeks ago, I stepped out my front door into chilly gloom, clambered into Tribulation (my rickety car) and sped into the dark, forbidding unknown. Depression, anxiety and vague panic had burdened me all afternoon. It was hard to take those first few steps away from home. I wanted to stay, but I had a mission and dash it all, I was going to complete it.

I was going to see The Lego Movie.

The Lego Movie

I’m really glad I did.

The film was excellent, but I’m not really going to talk about it. I’ll just point out that it features an upbeat, poppish song titled “Everything Is Awesome,” which pretty much sums up the movie.

The Lego Movie is a bright, cheerful, clever film, and it did me good. Getting out did me good. Defying depression and exploring new places and driving along dark, cold roads in a dilapidated car did me good. These things were different. Some were pleasant. Some were a little scary. For a few hours, I left everything behind.

It helped me see things a little differently.

My life is governed by routines and repetition. Mind, that isn’t a bad thing. Routines are efficient. Doing things differently is challenging, risky and sometimes costly. However, routines have a cost of their own. They lull me into a stupor. Repetition makes me forget there is a wide, wide world beyond my narrow day-to-day experiences.

In a manner of speaking, The Lego Movie is right: everything is awesome. The things repetition make me take for granted are amazing—I just don’t realize it until I leave them behind for a little while.

G.K. Chesterton wrote a story in which a man abandons his children, wife and home and embarks on a long journey. He exclaims, “I won’t stay here any longer. I’ve got another wife and much better children a long way from here. My other wife’s got redder hair than yours, and my other garden’s got a much finer situation; and I’m going off to them.”

The man walks and walks and walks. He walks all the way around the world, and finally comes to his “better” home and “better” family. They are exactly the same ones he left behind… yet they are better. His home and family are better because he has learned to appreciate them. By leaving behind his home and its routines, the man has the exquisite pleasure of coming back to them. He realizes everything is awesome.

Weeks ago, I realized the same.

I guess this means I’ll be going to the cinema sometimes, and varying my route back from work, and ordering more than one kind of sandwich at Subway, and generally finding more excuses to get away. Everything is awesome. Sometimes, I just need to do things a little differently to see it.

237. 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

Silence

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.

201. And We’re Back!

My typewriter monkeys have dusted off their typewriters. I’ve brewed some coffee, fired up my laptop and spent roughly half an hour trying to think of a really clever way to start off this blog post.

Ah, it’s good to be back.

Truth be told, I really needed the break. TMTF had become an obligation, and getting away from it for a few weeks was exactly what I needed to renew my enthusiasm for rambling about faith, writing, video games, literature, life, the universe and everything.

Having cherished a private hope that my typewriter monkeys would make their month-long vacation in Tijuana a permanent stay, I was disappointed. My monkeys have returned. They brought back a baffling collection of souvenirs: three sacks of coconuts, a Velvet Elvis and a hideous false mustache. (I know better than to ask questions.) My monkeys are annoyed to be back, and I’m annoyed they’re back, so at least we agree on something.

In other news, my break gave me an opportunity to make plans for my writing.

At some point, for example, I may put Geeky Wednesdays on hold for a dozen weeks and republish The Infinity Manuscript as a serial. Hardly anyone has read The Infinity Manuscript, which is rather a shame. I put quite a lot of work into it. Rerunning the story seems like a great option if I become temporarily too busy to handle the pressure of writing new Geeky Wednesday posts every week.

I didn’t exactly devote my month off to soul-searching, but it hit me more clearly than ever before that I need to have a better, brighter outlook. I’m a pessimist. As often as I’ve pointed out the importance of being positive, I haven’t been consistent in having a hopeful attitude.

Few things are drearier than forcing or faking cheerfulness. Artificial happiness is a poor alternative to honest pessimism. Father Brown, G.K. Chesterton’s great detective, called an outlook of false optimism “a cruel religion.”

It finally struck me that having a cheerful outlook is not the same as merely pretending to be cheerful. Without making the slightest effort to feel a certain way, I can choose to focus on the positive over the negative instead of succumbing to Batman Syndrome and letting the negative eclipse everything else.

All this to say: I’ve been more positive lately. It’s nice. I recommend it.

The past year was an adventure. I found a job, settled down, learned some invaluable lessons, ate a lot of cookies and discovered coffee tastes great with bourbon.

This was the year I grew up.

I remain grateful to God for bringing me so far, excited to press onward and upset with my typewriter monkeys for cluttering up my apartment with coconuts. I wish they had stayed in Tijuana.

160. The Wonderful Weirdness of Life

If I were a preacher, I would use the geekiest sermon illustrations Christendom has ever known.

I once joked about using the Millennium Falcon as the basis for a sermon. As a pastor, I probably wouldn’t go that far… but then I might. I’m sure there are parallels between Han Solo’s dilapidated starship and the profound truths of Christianity. I just haven’t found any. At least not yet.

I was recently reminded of a great lesson by Doctor Who. The Doctor has become one of my favorite fictional characters, surpassing even literary greats like Anne Shirley and Bertie Wooster in my esteem.

One of my favorite things about the Doctor is the way he responds to commonplace things—humans, for example—with amazement.

“Look at these people, these human beings,” he exclaims. “Consider their potential! From the day they arrive on the planet, blinking, step into the sun, there is more to see than can ever be seen, more to do than—no, hold on. Sorry, that’s The Lion King.”

Pop culture allusions aside, the point is made: humans are pretty darn awesome.

At one point, the Doctor runs into a research team investigating an unprecedented phenomenon. Their curiosity delights him. “So when it comes right down to it, why did you come here?” he inquires. “Why did you that? Why? I’ll tell you why—because it was there! Brilliant! Excuse me,” he adds, beaming. “Just stand there, because I’m going to hug you.”

In his travels through space and time, the Doctor never fails to appreciate how weird and wonderful they are. Plain old people astound him no less than the greatest marvels of the universe.

Like the Doctor, G.K. Chesterton looked at ordinary things and pronounced them extraordinary. “I do not generally agree with those who find rain depressing,” he wrote. “A shower-bath is not depressing; it is rather startling. And if it is exciting when a man throws a pail of water over you, why should it not also be exciting when the gods throw many pails?”

Michael Card, my favorite songwriter, has this to add: “If you must see a miracle, then just look in the mirror!”

Too often, I live without thinking. I follow a mechanical routine of habits and repetitions without pausing to consider how brilliantly strange my life has been—and is.

With my computer and its microphone, I can carry on conversations with people thousands of miles away. With the flip of a switch or the touch of a button, I can summon light, heat or water instantly to my apartment. With a digital camera, I can create near-perfect images of anything: pictures that are stored securely in a tiny chip of metal and plastic.

My life is weird in ten thousand glorious ways—and I take it for granted. I shouldn’t. Thoughtless repetition leads to ennui, ennui to discontent and discontent to discouragement, ungratefulness and all kinds of nasty things.

How much better it is to appreciate the wonder of simply being alive!

154. Why G.K. Chesterton Is Awesome

Why is G.K. Chesterton awesome?

I can answer that question in one word, and that word is mooreeffoc.

I once mentioned that Chesterton pointed out how astonishing it is to see the word mooreeffoc in a shop window until one realizes one is looking at the words coffee room from the wrong side of the glass.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the man whose books are remarkable for showing things from the wrong side of the glass and making even the most ordinary things extraordinary.

I give you Gilbert Keith Chesterton, whom George Bernard Shaw called “a man of colossal genius.”

G.K. Chesterton

Chesterton was also a man of colossal size. He once told Shaw, who was evidently a thin gentleman, “To look at you, anyone would think a famine had struck England.” Shaw replied, “To look at you, anyone would think you have caused it.”

Fortunately, Chesterton’s imagination and sense of humor were no less impressive than his weight.

As I’ve pointed out, good literature is generally depressing. We live in a sad, dark, broken world. Chesterton didn’t deny it. His books acknowledge the darkness in the world, but they never take it lying down.

The heroes of Chesterton’s novels and stories struggle to find light in darkness and meaning in emptiness. One of my favorite sayings—one I quote in my novel, in fact—comes from Chesterton: “Always be comic in a tragedy. What the deuce else can you do?” Chesterton’s poets, priests and revolutionaries never lose their courage, hope or sense of humor.

Chesterton has a fantastic trick of setting up circumstances that seem bizarre or impossible, and then providing a staggeringly simple explanation. I can’t give examples without spoiling surprises, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. Read nearly any Father Brown story and you’ll see what I mean.

The characters in Chesterton’s books occasionally do ridiculous things very seriously. They often know something the reader does not, and an action that seems absurd may turn out to be quite sensible when an explanation is given. The reactions of other characters to these sanely insane people is delightful.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Chesterton is his passion for paradoxes. In his books, the villain may turn out to be a good person. The detective might be the criminal, or the criminal might be an innocent man. Things are seldom what they seem.

Chesterton’s literary style is marvelous. Some readers may find his writing a little dense—he doesn’t hesitate to use words like conviviality and attenuated—but his novels manage to be both comfortably prosaic and vividly poetic.

No writer is perfect, and Chesterton has his weak points. While his dialogue is clever, it’s usually clever in exactly the same way from character to character. In one of his novels, there’s a chapter in which testimonies are given from unrelated people on several continents—a French innkeeper, a Russian stationmaster, an Asian monk and an American tavern-keeper—and they’re all meditatively poetic.

Chesterton also values ideas over perfect realism, and some of his stories are a bit unbelievable.

In the end, however, minor flaws like these are pardonable. Chesterton’s characters may sound too much like Chesterton, but he’s such an engaging writer that it hardly matters. Chesterton’s stories may not be strictly realistic, but they’re awfully good stories.

I occasionally listen to audiobooks on my iPod as I work overnight shifts at my job. About a week ago, I was listening to The Napoleon of Notting Hill, in which one of Chesterton’s characters is able, so to speak, to see everything from the wrong side of the glass.

In that character’s eyes, a fence is not a fence, but a row of iron spears guarding a house from intruders. A drugstore is not a drugstore, but an alchemist’s storeroom bursting with mysterious remedies and miraculous cures. A toyshop is not a toyshop, but an allegory of everything important in life: families, expressed by dolls; conflict, symbolized by tin soldiers; survival, represented by Noah’s Arks; work, embodied in building blocks; and more.

I finished the audiobook, put away my iPod and decided to take a break from my work. Sitting beside a window, I gazed out into the rainy night. A storefront across the street was lit by a lonely light bulb.

As I looked at it, the storefront was not a storefront. It was a defiant spark burning against the cold, wet night. It was an island of light in vast, empty ocean of darkness. It was a welcoming beacon for the wet, weary traveler.

I didn’t mean to be poetic. Chesterton had rubbed off on me. Quite by accident, I saw that storefront from the wrong side of the glass.

For someone who has never read anything by G.K. Chesterton, I recommend the Father Brown stories: particularly the early ones. Father Brown is my favorite fictional character—period. He’s generally taken for a well-intentioned but superstitious simpleton. Then, when dark mysteries baffle everyone, he humbly, almost apologetically, solves them.

Chesterton also wrote some excellent novels. I recommend The Man Who Was Thursday (which has a manly protagonist and needs to be made into a movie), a thriller bursting with intrigue, swordfights, conspiracies, high-speed chases and… theological allegory. I’ve read many books, and not one has kept me hooked quite like The Man Who Was Thursday.

For those who prefer their novels less metaphysical, The Club of Queer Trades is a lighter story about a man’s odd encounters with a club with one rule for membership: every member must make his living by inventing an entirely unique kind of work.

In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, G.K. Chesterton is awesome.

121. Literature Is a Luxury; Fiction Is a Necessity

I am deeply grateful for the feedback on the previous post! Before making any definite decisions about TMTF’s future, I’ll be taking suggestions, comments and criticisms for one more week. Please check out this post about the blog’s future and comment away!

My tastes aren’t particularly refined. I watch children’s cartoons, listen to video game music and drink cheap, generic blends of coffee.

There is one area, however, in which my tastes are pretty sophisticated: I like literature. Sensational horror tales, thrillers and romances don’t interest me. Give me the classics! Few things delight me as much as a deep, compelling story. I love engaging prose, dynamic characters, intricate plots, thought-provoking themes and clever concepts.

The problem with literature is that it’s not very accessible. The classics aren’t easy to read.

G.K. Chesterton knew all about literature, and he had this to say: “Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity.”

We might not all enjoy the classics, but most of us enjoy stories. Whether we see superhero movies, read novels about sparkly vampires or watch professional wrestling, we like fiction. Something about losing ourselves in a story is irresistible.

The ironic thing is how often simple stories succeed where fine literature fails.

When I was in college, I read One Hundred Years of Solitude for a literature class. The greatest work of a Nobel Prize-winning author, the novel features a meandering plot, intriguing symbolism, postmodern perspectives and an unforgettable blend of surrealism with matter-of-fact narration.

I appreciated One Hundred Years of Solitude. With almost every chapter, I found myself thinking, “Ah, I see what you did there, you Nobel Prize-winning author, you. That’s very clever.” Upon finishing the novel, I pronounced it a masterpiece.

The problem with One Hundred Years of Solitude is that it utterly failed to engage my emotions. Reading it was strictly an intellectual experience. It left an impression on my mind, but not on my heart.

More recently, a piece of fan fiction was brought to my attention. It’s impossible for me to be too disapproving of fan fiction because, I confess, I’ve dabbled in it myself from time to time.

All the same, I must point out that most fan fiction is badly written. It’s usually nothing more meaningful than wish-fulfillment. Rather than focus on telling a good tale, too many fans settle for turning their daydreams into stories. Fan fiction may have some trifling literary value, but it can’t begin to compare to original stories.

Some weeks ago, however, I stumbled upon a brief piece of fan fiction that intrigued me. I read it, expecting the usual mix of bad writing and clichéd ideas, and received quite a surprise. The story was actually touching. Reading it was cathartic. It wasn’t especially well written. Like all fan fiction, it shamelessly used situations and characters from an existing story. From a literary perspective, the story was completely unexceptional.

Even so, it made an emotional impact.

That experience set me thinking about the irony of fiction. As Chesterton pointed out, literature is a luxury, but fiction is a necessity. Few of us appreciate the classics, but we all find comfort in stories of one kind or another.

Sometimes a humble piece of fan fiction can touch someone in a way even a literary masterpiece cannot.

It’s a bonus if a story impresses the reader with its depth and complexity. In the end, it’s enough for a story to touch the reader’s heart.

I’m still critical of fan fiction, and I still love the classics deeply. Even so, I must admit that literature is a luxury. In the end, stories are all we need.

115. TMTF’s Top Ten Manly Men in Literature

We here at TMTF are experts on manliness. Some of us have the undeniable advantage of actually being men, giving us considerable insight into the manly virtues of loyalty, courage, honesty, bravery, integrity, humility and resourcefulness.

I personally possess a fascination for bladed weapons, an appreciation for beards and a liking for cartoons about magical rainbow ponies—all manly attributes.

Today’s top ten list features some of the manliest men in literature. A few rules apply to this list. Characters from books I’ve not read are not allowed on the list, and only one character is allowed per author. For the purposes of this list, manliness is defined as characterized by virtues generally associated with men.

By this definition, literary characters such as Odysseus and James Bond are not manly. They are intelligent, strong and brave, but their moral flaws (arrogance, dishonesty, lustfulness and disregard for the value of human life, to name but a few) disqualify them for this list.

Without further introduction, TMTF is excited to present…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Manly Men in Literature!

10. Sydney Carton (A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens)

Sydney Carton being wistful.

Sydney Carton is a hopeless mess of a man who wallows endlessly in self-pity. Although an interesting character, he wouldn’t even come close to making this list if it were not for his incredibly manly, stoic, selfless sacrifice in the final chapters of the novel. Heroism often seems pretentious, but true heroes quietly accept the burden of their fate. Sydney atones for a lifetime of unmanly weakness with one powerful act of heroism.

9. Domovoi Butler (Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer)

That’s a lot of neck.

The Artemis Fowl books are not sophisticated literature. In fact, they’re on roughly the same literary plane as the Twilight novels. I must confess to liking the Artemis Fowl books anyway. What they lack in substance and style, they provide in charm, whimsy and delightful absurdity. Domovoi Butler is the, er, butler of Artemis Fowl, an Irish criminal mastermind who also happens to be a twelve-year-old boy. Butler is not only a manservant, but also a bodyguard and a very dangerous man. Apart from his fierce and selfless loyalty to Artemis, he consistently manages to save the life of every person in the room every time there’s a crisis—which, in the Artemis Fowl books, is pretty much every chapter.

8. Remus Lupin (Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling)

That is one manly ‘stache.

In spite of his strength, girth and massive beard, I don’t consider Rebeus Hagrid the manliest man in the Harry Potter books. (He’s not even a man, technically speaking.) No, that honor goes to Remus Lupin. (He’s also not exactly a man, but I’ll bend the rule this time.) Lupin is an eccentric, disheveled professor who turns out to possess remarkable kindness, humility, courage and common sense. Lupin also possesses a dark secret, a tragic burden which never seems to prevent him from being friendly and cheerful.

7. Radcliffe Emerson (Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters)

I couldn’t find an image of Emerson, so have a picture of Sean Connery being a gaucho.

Known to Europeans as a noted Egyptologist and to Egyptians as “the Father of Curses,” Radcliffe Emerson is notorious for losing his temper, swearing constantly and making fantastic archeological discoveries. Emerson may be gruff, but he loves his family and treats Egyptians with deep respect—unlike most of his nineteenth-century European colleagues, whose prejudice toward “the locals” frustrates him deeply. Beyond Emerson’s ostentatious masculinity—he’s a handsome, muscular man who dislikes wearing more clothes than absolutely necessary—he demonstrates many virtues of true manliness.

6. Gabriel Syme (The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton)

That is a fabulous hat.

The Man Who Was Thursday begins with a poet stumbling upon a secret society of anarchists, and promptly convincing them to elect him into their council of supreme leaders. The poet, who also happens to be a police detective, embarks on a mad journey to protect innocent people from the nihilistic terrorist known only as Sunday. In the face of danger, despair and absurdity, Syme never loses his resolve to do the right thing. His calm bravery in the face of extreme danger is incredible, and his response to tragedy is to maintain his hope and sense of humor. As a bonus, Syme is delightfully witty.

5. Ned Land (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne)

That seagull is toast.

As I’ve mentioned before, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea has basically four characters, three of whom are obsessed to various degrees with science. The fourth, Ned Land, is a refreshing exception. A sensible, short-tempered harpooner, Land keeps his companions grounded (forgive the pun) every time their resolve falters. Despite disliking his host, Captain Nemo, Land doesn’t hesitate to save his life. Add bravery and a fierce love of life, and Ned Land turns out to be quite a manly fellow.

4. Adam Bede (Adam Bede by George Eliot)

Adam Bede being even more wistful than Sydney Carton.

Stoicism is a manly virtue—not the absurd idea that men should go out of their way to suffer, nor the equally ridiculous notion that men must always hide their feelings, but the decision not to embitter the lives of others by complaining about troubles that can’t be avoided. Adam Bede has it rough. His life seems to be one tragedy after another. He perseveres, never complaining, always working, doing his best to provide for his loved ones and calmly accepting every blow dealt him.

3. Jean Valjean (Les Misérables by Victor Hugo)

Take notes, Batman.

Jean Valjean is more awesome than Batman, and they’re both awesome for exactly the same reasons: courage, stoicism, resourcefulness, compassion and an undying obsession with atoning for a mistake. What makes both characters so compelling is that they pay for their sins many times over and yet can’t overcome their guilt. They consider themselves monsters when they’ve become saints. Jean Valjean is humble to the point of self-effacement, unable to see what is plain to almost everyone else in the book: he is a great man, not to mention a manly one.

2. Aragorn (The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien)

Another manly man with fine facial hair.

Aragorn has a troubled past, but he’s too busy defending Middle Earth from the looming threat of Sauron to waste time brooding over it. (Pay attention, Cloud Strife.) Aragorn is almost messianic in his heroism: a brave warrior, gentle healer and strong leader. He does not succumb to the temptations of the Ring, a powerful but evil relic, but humbly does his best to ensure its destruction. Ironically, the greatest hero of The Lord of the Rings isn’t Aragorn. An ordinary little person named Frodo destroys the Ring. Aragorn is quick to praise Frodo’s heroism over his own, and that is part of what makes Aragorn one of the manliest men on this list.

1. Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee)

Ladies and gentlemen, men don’t come manlier than this.

I can think of no manlier man in all literature than Atticus Finch, the soft-spoken lawyer from To Kill a Mockingbird. Where do I even begin? Atticus can fire a gun with incredible accuracy, a skill of which his children are unaware because he dislikes violence and refrains from showing off. Atticus does his best to respect and understand every human being, and risks his safety to protect a prisoner from a mob. Most significantly, he willingly throws away his reputation as a lawyer to defend an innocent man. Blinded by racial prejudice, most white people assume the defendant, a black man, to be guilty. Knowing the trial will almost certainly end in a guilty verdict for the defendant, Atticus defends him anyway. Through all this, Atticus doesn’t complain once. He bears every burden patiently, doing the right thing and never losing hope—a true paragon of manliness.

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

88. TMTF Reviews: Watership Down

Watership Down is an epic adventure. It’s also a story about bunnies.

Admittedly, before reading Watership Down, I didn’t think it could be an epic adventure and a story about bunnies. It could be one or the other, but not both. Bunnies and epic adventures are mutually exclusive.

At least that’s what I thought.

When I actually read the novel, which has been considered a classic for decades, I was amazed at how gripping a novel about bunnies could be.

The story follows a band of rabbits, led by the sensible Hazel, who abandon their warren and strike out into the vast, dangerous wilderness in search of a new home. For these rabbits, the world is a frightening place. Streams are impassable obstacles. Cats are bloodthirsty enemies. Men are an enigmatic menace, setting traps, carrying guns and trapping rabbits for their own sinister purposes. Even other rabbits can’t be trusted. Hazel and his band must depend on their luck, their wits and a few remarkable tricks to survive.

The most remarkable thing about Watership Down is the way it takes a perfectly ordinary scenario—rabbits establishing a warren in a peaceful English countryside—and transforms it into a quest to rival the best myths and fantasies.

G.K. Chesterton, the great British writer, had a knack for taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary. As he explained it, it’s surprising to see the word mooreeffoc in a shop window until one realizes one is looking at the words coffee room from the wrong side of the glass. In his writing, Chesterton tried to show everyday scenarios from perspectives that made them amazing.

Watership Down, though not written by Chesterton, is thoroughly Chestertonian. Much like The Borrowers and its recent film adaptation from Studio Ghibli, The Secret World of Arietty (which is superb, by the way), Watership Down makes commonplace things wondrous by showing them “from the wrong side of the glass.”

To the rabbits, men are inscrutable, godlike beings whose guns flash fire and inflict wounds from far away. Trains are terrifying apparitions, appearing out of the night with a flash and vanishing into the darkness with a roar. Everything human beings take for granted is shown through the eyes of the rabbits, and made marvelous through those eyes.

The characters in Watership Down, while not as developed as they could have been, are a likable bunch. Descriptions of the countryside are beautiful, and the novel is written in a vivid, matter-of-fact style.

Perhaps my favorite thing about Watership Down are the stories told by the rabbits themselves, legends of rabbit heroes, which are fascinating and add a greater depth to the story.

It’s a long novel, but Watership Down is over all too quickly. I recommend it to anyone, and particularly to those who enjoy stories about animals—from The Wind in the Willows to The Call of the Wild—or to readers who like myths and contemporary fantasies.

For a book about bunnies, Watership Down is quite the heroic epic.

6. Five Books that Should Be Made into Movies

Stephen Spielberg and Peter Jackson are currently collaborating on a film adaptation of The Adventures of Tintin, perhaps the greatest graphic novel series ever. Jackson is also adapting The Hobbit, the amazing prequel to The Lord of the Rings, into not one but two movies.

(Fun fact: Andy Serkis, best known for his performance as Gollum, will star in both the Tintin and the Hobbit films as a drunken sea captain and the aforesaid slimy creature, respectively.)

With these excellent books receiving their long-overdue transition to movie screens, I couldn’t help but wonder what other books would make good films. Here are five novels that would make, in my humble and totally biased judgment, amazing movies.

5. Beau Geste by Percival Christopher Wren

If you’ve ever read Peanuts, you may be familiar with Snoopy’s occasional daydream that he’s a member of the French Foreign Legion leading his troop, a line of little yellow birds, through the desert in search of Fort Zinderneuf.

This is a reference to Beau Geste, a classic adventure novel. It tells the story of three brothers who join the French Foreign Legion and embark on a quest involving an inexplicable mystery, a priceless gem, a terrifying battle and two silly Americans. Several film adaptations were made of Beau Geste many years ago, and it’s time for its triumphant return to cinema.

4. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

I keep hearing rumors of an Ender’s Game movie being made, but for years it has stubbornly insisted on not being made. A science fiction masterpiece, Ender’s Game is the story of Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, a child prodigy who’s recruited into Battle School to become a military commander and save humankind from the hostile extraterrestrials called the Buggers.

The movie could incorporate elements from Ender’s Shadow, a companion novel telling the same story from the point of view of the child called Bean, who is more intelligent and sarcastic—and therefore, to my sensibility, more likable—than Ender. An Ender’s Game film would offer epic space battles, great characterization and absolutely no teenage romance.

3. Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace

This novel has been adapted into a film at least twice. The first time, it became one of the greatest classics of the silent movie era. The second time, it won eleven Academy Awards. Ben-Hur has sword fighting, political intrigue, a chariot race, a battle at sea and a bitter yet handsome young man whose thirst for vengeance is dramatically conquered by mercy.

Ben-Hur is the tale of a man betrayed by his closest companion and condemned to life as a galley slave. He eventually earns freedom and wealth, and resolves to use them (and his mad chariot-racing skills) to punish his treacherous friend. The novel strives to tell this exciting story in the most boring way possible, but a modern movie adaptation would be epic.

2. The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis

I read a lot of books as a child. Of all the books I read, about only one did I think, “Man, I wish they’d make this into a movie.” That book was The Horse and His Boy, the third book in The Chronicles of Narnia. It’s been my favorite since I first read the Narnia series, and I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that it was also the author’s favorite.

They keep making books from The Chronicles of Narnia into movies, adding gratuitous romances and battles. The Horse and His Boy is the only book in the series that doesn’t need extra romances or battles. There’s already romantic tension between two of the main characters. There’s also a battle, and an exhilarating chase on horseback, and a harrowing journey along a mountain precipice—dash it, it’s been more than a decade since I first read the book and I’m still saying, “Man, I wish they’d make this into a movie.”

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

Mystery novels are intriguing, fantasy novels are spellbinding, literary novels are thought-provoking, but no book has ever kept me hooked quite like The Man Who Was Thursday.

The Man Who Was Thursday is the incredible story of a poet-turned-detective who joins a great council of anarchists in order to bring them to justice. The anarchists are named after days of the week; the title refers to the appointment of the detective to the post of Thursday. The scene in which we meet the anarchist council is terrifying. We’re alarmed by Muslim extremists who blow things up for religious reasons, but the anarchists in The Man Who Was Thursday are a good deal more frightening—they blow things up for no reason. The author of the novel also has a fantastic trick of introducing something that seems impossible and terrifying, and later explaining it in an instant with the addition of one simple fact: like someone hitting a switch in a dark room and instantly flooding it with light. Of all the novels that could be made into a really good movie, this is the one I’d most like to see.

What books would you like to see made into movies? Let us know in the comments!