25 March 2013

The Doctor Diaries II.12-13b


I wrote yesterday about similarities between the TARDIS and the Narnian wardrobe. Now, let's talk about Lovers divided by a wall between parallel universes. 

Basically, the ending of "Doomsday" (Doctor Who Season Two episode 13) is exactly the same as the ending of The Amber Spyglass, the final volume of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. In yesterday's post, I asked: 

were the writers of Doctor Who inspired by Philip Pullman -- or vice-versa -- or were all of them inspired by Classical antecedents -- or are there certain archetypes within fantasy that are inevitably explored over and over again -- or are these just the fundamental questions and images of the human mind, so they are going to come up over and over whenever imaginative writers are given rein? 

First, the facts. 

This Doctor Who episode was first broadcast on 8 July 2006. 
The Amber Spyglass was published in 2000. 

Therefore, like with yesterday's discussion of Narnia, it appears that the authors of the Doctor are ripping off someone else's idea. 

But let's look a bit closer. 

First, the endings are not really exactly the same. Yes, two people in love (in some sense or other! -- age is obviously a complicating concern in both cases) are separated by being trapped in different parallel universes, more or less permanently. But there are a few differences. 
1. In the Pullman story, the two characters are originally from different universes. Rose and the Doctor are both from ours, albeit from wildly different planets in that universe (we think). 
2. In the Pullman story, Lyra and Will voluntarily choose to separate, to prevent their two universes from being destroyed by leaving the gap open. Granted, they wouldn't have much of a life if they stayed together, since each one could not survive in the other's world, so they didn't really have much choice. The Doctor has to close the gaps between the worlds for much the same reasons, but they choose to stay together in their own world, and Rose is taken to the other world more or less by accident (or at least against her will). 
3. Pullman has a very specific theological (or anti-theological) message to communicate in his novels, about the dangers and evils of Theism and the power and value of free love, even pre-adolescent sexuality. The Doctor's separation has a narrative function and, sadly, a marketing goal. The Doctor, being immortal, can never stay with one human woman for very long, so this was perhaps the kindest way of separating him from Rose without killing her off. AND one actress had to be got out of the way so the next actress could be introduced by the end of the season. Ah, pragmatics. 

But I'd also like to inquire, as I did before, whether there are Classical precedents for this idea. Well, sure. The idea of other worlds or parallel universes is probably as ancient as the human imagination. Orpheus and Eurydice were separated by something very like different universes. More recently, Lewis Carroll's worlds behind the Looking Glass are much like parallel universes, though there is not separation of lovers that way.  

And of course, the theory that there really ARE parallel universes -- the multiverse theory -- is gaining credence in the sciences right now, and the idea is an old one. Democritus of Abdera (c.460–c.370 BC) put forward some version of this idea.William James coined the term "mutiverse" in 1895. Richard Feynman proposed a "multiple histories" idea, for which he received the Nobel Prize in 1965. And now, Andrei Linde and Brian Greene have been working on (and popularizing) this idea for the last two decades or so.

All that to say this:

1. The idea of parallel universes is as old as the human imagination. 2. This is a common theme in imaginative literature of all kinds. 3. The specific concept of the multiverse was heating up in the decade right before Pullman, and then Russell T Davies, wrote their stories. 4. It is an easy imaginative leap to start with the concept of multiple universes, populate your stories with characters from different universes or different ends of the same one, have them fall in love, and then realize that the greatest tragedy would be for them to get caught in separate universes.

All that to say, finally: I don't think Doctor Who is ripping anybody off. I think it is tapping into deep, common archetypes in the human imagination and deploying them in creative, yet inevitable, ways.

24 March 2013

The Doctor Diaries II.12-13a

"Army of Ghosts" and "Doomsday"

Sigh. Amazing. Perfect.  

That's one heck of a narrative frame! It's not every day you get a work narrated by someone dead. I can think of The Lovely Bones, The Sixth Sense, Pincher Martin, and ... that's all that comes to mind. What other stories have you encountered that are narrated by a dead person?

But, oh, my heart! This separation story is, of course, horribly heartbreaking, beautiful, tragic, and perfect. I hate a story like that. Stories of lovers divided, or mothers and children divided, are the most painful to read or to watch, I think. I'll never recover from the horror of the scene in The Duchess when her baby is taken away, for instance, or from the end of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. Which leads me to the literary discussion I want to have today about Season Two overall:

Which came first, Doctor Who or all the other fantasy stories it resembles? 

In other words, who's ripping off whom?

You see, there are several plot elements throughout this series that I have encountered before, in the same or nearly the same form. So I got to thinking: were the writers of Doctor Who inspired by C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman -- or vice-versa -- or were all of them inspired by Classical antecedents -- or are there certain archetypes within fantasy that are inevitably explored over and over again -- or are these just the fundamental questions and images of the human mind, so they are going to come up over and over whenever imaginative writers are given rein? 

Here are the two particular plot elements I want to talk about: 
1. It's bigger on the inside than on the outside. 
2. Lovers divided by a wall between parallel universes. 

I'll talk about #1 in this post and #2 tomorrow. 

1. It's bigger on the inside than on the outside. 

This concept, of course, occurs throughout Doctor Who, since the TARDIS is most notably bigger on the inside than she is on the outside. In C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, of course, there is a small compartment (a wardrobe) that is bigger on the inside than on the outside. Indeed, this idea becomes a theme throughout Lewis's Narnia stories, culminating in the last book, in which Queen Lucy points out that “In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.” This is a beautifully Whovian idea: a little material object contains something bigger than itself, bigger than its entire universe! Gorgeous. What's even more gorgeous is that this is not only fantasy, it's DOCTRINE! Whew.

So, then, who inspired whom? Well, I am determined that this little diary project of mine won't turn into "research" (goodness knows I have enough *real* scholarly research projects going on). Therefore, everything here is readily googleable and wikipediafied. Feel free to modify, correct, supplement, etc.

C.S. Lewis began thinking about the Narnia stories in 1939, completed the MS of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe in 1949, and published on 16 October 1950. The Last Battle was published in 1956. 

Doctor Who first aired on 23 November 1963. Do I think the writers probably read Narnia? Yeah, I do. Do I have any proof? Nope. However... there are classical antecedents to this concept, which probably inspired both of these series. Here are a few: 
- the Slavic witch Baba Yaga has a tiny hut that is a great hall inside.
- there is a tent in A Thousand and one Nights that's bigger on the inside.
- In Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, an immense appears behind the door of an ordinary Soviet apartment--but I doubt that either of our writers had this in mind, given this books' complicated publication history.

Does anyone know if there are other, more Classic[al] instances? I'm trying to recall any in Milton, or Dante, or the Greeks? Are there any such? 

(Side note: There's a Doctor Who episode entitled "The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe", but I haven't seen it yet).

Tune in tomorrow for how the ending of Season Two parallels the ending of The Amber Spyglass.

19 March 2013

Charles Williams Summary #4: Divorce (1920)

Divorce is Williams's third volume of poems, his third published book. The title requires explanation (especially as this book appeared three years after CW's marriage!). He is not referring to the dissolution of marriage bonds. Rather, he is referring to the soul's divorce from body and from its earthly ties as death approaches. Specifically, this book is dedicated to CW's father (“and my other teachers”), as Walter Williams struggled with the onset of blindness and physical decline. The first (long, complex) poem in the book tells that CW's father “taught me all the good I knew / Ere Love and I were met” (p. 7). His father taught him:
--the terms of fate,
The nature of the gods, the strait
Path of the climbing mind,
The freedom of the commonwealth,
The laws of soul's and body's health,
The commerce of mankind (p. 8)--
in other words, pretty much the seeds of all of CW's distinctive doctrines and themes. He taught him how to debate, how to doubt, how to consider all sides of an argument:
I will of doubt make such an art
That no dismay shall move
Sufficient bitterness of heart
For unbelief in love (p. 49).
But at the time of writing, this great teacher is failing:
Now, now the work all men must do
Is mightily begun in you...
Now, now in you the great divorce
Divorce, sole healer of divorce...
Divorce, itself for God and Lord
By the profounder creeds adored.... (p. 9).
and he goes on to associate this “Divorce,” death, that heals the rift between body and spirit, between soul and God, with the Holy Spirit. Vintage CW weirdness right there on page 9, in poem one.

Later, in “Advent,” he writes that while Christ was incarnate on earth, he was “from his heaven divorced” (p. 94), which seems to explain away at least some of the weirdness.

There are several major themes in this book: War, Romantic Theology, the City, and True Myth.

Since this book was published just after World War I, presumably composed during the war--while CW stayed safely at home, thanks to poor eyesight and a neurological disorder that caused shaking in his hands, in mental and emotional agony over the friends who went to war in his place and, he thought, died for him. This story is dramatized in an amazing graphic novel,>Heaven's War
, that tells the story of how this substitution haunted Williams, and how he later made a [fictional!] substitution of his own in exchange for Lewis's life. I found this graphic novel very moving.

But back to Divorce. After the poem to his father, CW includes several war poems in the book. They cover a wide range of topics and emotions surrounding war, loss, and death. Mourning the loss of his friends. Praising death in a strange Novalis-like kind of sehnsucht nach dem Tod mood. Lamenting the Schism. Layering historical and contemporary wars and legends. Remembering conversations with his lost friends and watching their “ghostly blood” run down on the London street and stain the feet of pedestrians. Telescoping geography so he is drawn into the killing fields of France with them.

The six-part sequence “In Time of War” ends with this brief lyric “For a Pietà”:
Sorrow am I, though none has seen my tears.
To me for comfort all men's childhood ran;
To me men's dolour piously uprears
This image, where I mourn, not men, but man.
I am that which lives when in your darkest hour
Not heroes only, but their hopes, have died.
I am the desolation, and the power
Of patience; I await what shall betide. (p. 19)
In this difficult verse, I see CW's distinctive identification of the Christian's life (and death) with the life and death of his Lord dramatized yet again.

One of my favorite poems in the collection is “In a Motor-bus,” in which the bus turn into his coffin-- “Narrow and long my coffin is, / And driven lumberingly, / As I go onward through the dark / And Death goes on with me” (P. 110). It's powerful and memorable, and picks up on that theme of strange longing for Death. It's pretty much just sheer terror in this poem, but the strong meter makes the poem itself enjoyable.

I have written about CW's Theology of Romantic Love before—in this summary of his 1917 book Poems of Conformity
, in this discussion of his principle themes, in>this summary of his 1912 volume The Silver Stair, in my report on transcribing The Chapel of the Thorn at the Wade Center, and in several of my academic papers on CW. I will continue to talk about this belief in future posts and papers.

In brief, this is the doctrine that the romantic, sexual love of another human can be used as a step towards loving God. In Divorce, in the sonnet “For a Cathedral Door” (p. 71), Williams writes of love that “I reach heaven by so pure a stair.” He takes this even further in the same poem when he warns himself about the “dangerous” truth that “Almost my love for me is church enough.” I have written>elsewhere
about how CW seems to misapply this doctrine.

Anyway, in Divorce, written during the first few years of his (difficult, complex) marriage, Williams is still using his wife's personality, love, and person as the locus of his spirituality. In “To Michal: After a Vigil,” he either equates her body with the elements of the Eucharist or claims that her true nature is reveal by the light of the Elements—or perhaps both (pp. 26-27). in “Politics,” he claims that truth is “Taught, Fair, to all in deity, / And taught to me in you!” (p. 48)--he doesn't need God, he just needs Florence!--but forgive my levity. He tells her in “After Marriage” that “The gospel your bright forehead told” (p. 58), with an inversion of syntax that needs unpacking; “your bright forehead [an anticipation of Taliessin?] told me the gospel.”

In “To Michal: On Disputing outside Church,” there is an anticipation of his novel The Greater Trumps. That novel ends with what appears to be heresy. The saintly Sybil says that a crazy lady thought Nancy was “Messias.” “O!” Nancy's father exclaimed. “And is Nancy Messias?” “Near enough,” Sybil answered. “There'll be pain and heart-burning yet, but, for the moment, near enough.”
In other words, in the action of the novel, the character Nancy has taken the role of Christ. This “To Michal” poem ends:
thou shalt feel
A day, a sennight hence, what tempters fled
From those hot prayers. Thy foot there crushed his head,
Smile if the dragon's claw here tore thy heel. (p. 72).
Apparently CW's wife Michal, too, is “Messias,” or at least “near enough.” Near enough, indeed, that at the end of the next poem, “On leaving Church”: “I rise, I genuflect, I turn / To breakfast, and to you!” (p. 77)--not that he is bowing to her, but that his bowing to Christ leads naturally into his relationship with her. That's actually very lovely!

There's more of this sort of thing, lots more. Michal seems to shift from identification with Christ to identification with Mary in the “Commentaries.”

The idea of the City runs through all of CW's work.>Here are some thoughts about “The City” on the website of a Benedictine Order
. Basically, CW used the image of an orderly, harmonious city as an emblem for Heaven (that's an oversimplification). This idea is being developed in Divorce. In “Ghosts,” he writes to those departed that:
Your heavenly conversation turn
Some while in aid of me,
That I may now, in these dark ways,
Glimpse of your city see. (p. 25).
In “House-hunting” (p. 28-29), he turns the ordinary domestic activity of looking for a new flat into an adventure “In the high town which is eternity,” again mapping earthly life onto heavenly. “Celestial Cities” (pp. 30-31) plays out the identification even more clearly, and lays the groundwork for what Lewis would explore in That Hideous Strength—the idea that underneath or co-existing with the earthly, human “England” is a heavenly, divine “Logres”--CW puts it like this: “...through the streets of London / The streets of Sarras shine.”

I have written about “true myth” before, here and here. Inklings scholar Holly Ordway talks about in>in this podcast
. Several people talk about the idea in this article on C.S. Lewis.

  • There are also hints of the later Arthurian poems in such pieces as “Ballade of a Country Day,” (p. 20-21) in which all is well “If Sarras be, if Sarras hold the Grail” (CW's slightly less catchy version of Browning's “God's in His Heaven—All's right with the world”). The “Chant Royal of Feet” (p. 107) foreshadows “A Vision of the Empire” in its praise of body parts.
  • There is a foreshadowing of All Hallows' Eve in “Ghosts,” in which “I at the next corner met / With you whom once I loved” (p. 24).
  • The poem “Ballad of Material Things” suggests that the Devil fails in his schemes because he is not incarnate—which led me to query in the margin, “What about Merlin?”
  • In addition to the title, there is one other moment that seems to have influence C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce. In “Dialogue between the Republic and the Apostasy,” The Voice of the Republic says:
    Chooses he? I at ending shine, a God.
    Refuses? But a dream I pass away.
    Accepts? The heavens shall be his native sod.
    Rejects? He treads but clay. (p. 40).
  • There are poems for and against Universalism (pp. 42, 44, expositions of the Way of Exchange (p. 45)
  • In the middle of the book are three “Experiments” with free verse that don't sound like himself at all. In fact, they sound more like MY poetry than his! Very ood indeed.

17 March 2013

The Doctor Diaries II.11: "Fear Her"

Fears and Flaws

Sigh. This was also a dumb episode. Can we get back to Steven Moffat (or Matt Jones), please? Can we stop repeating stories over and over, just changing up the heads? Sure, this story did tap into some of our deepest fears--about harm to children, for instance--but it was really just mostly unoriginal and silly. I'm looking forward to moving on.

16 March 2013

The Doctor Diaries II.10: "Love and Monsters"

On Narrative Frames

Nah. Nope. Lame. Dumb. Boo.

But anyway, I guess I can still write about NARRATIVE FRAME. That's about all I enjoyed in this episode. The Narrative Frame or Frame Story is the story-around-the-story; the framing device; who tells the story, when, etc. Framing devices are very popular in both written fiction and TV/movies. They occur whenever the story or its chronology is put at least one remove from the reader/viewer. It might be told in the form of letters or diary entries. It might be a dream sequence. These methods were very popular in the 18th and 19th century, especially in novels, especially in those written by women. Here are some examples:
- Frankenstein is a lovely nested form of three narratives within one another. The interior story is the "Monster" speaking to Victor Frankenstein, telling of his own waking, education, and experiences. The story outside that is Victor Frankenstein talking to a ship's captain, Robert Walton, narrating his childhood, education, making of the creature, and subsequent disasters. The outside layer is a series of letters (into which everything else is transcribed) by Robert Walton to his sister.
- Wuthering Heights is told in the form of a narrative by Heathcliff's tenant, Mr. Lockwood, as told to him by Nellie, the housekeeper of Wuthering Heights.
- The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is also in the form of letters to a friend, and then inside these letters the narrator transcribes the whole of someone else's diary so that we get her story in her own words.

So, this episode has a clever framing device: the whole story is told by a minor character who filmed the whole thing on his home video camera. He gets to choose the time sequence, then, and the perspective. Nice idea.

But that's it. It was a really dumb episode otherwise.

15 March 2013

The Doctor Diaries II.8-9: “The Impossible Planet” and “The Satan Pit”

Too Much Metaphysics

I asked for metaphysics, and heck did I get metaphysics! Whewie! These are the best two episodes yet; no others are even in the competition, by my standards. The writing, the story, the ideas, and the character development in these two are just off the charts. “Off the scale!” to quote himself. There are way too many great things to say about these episodes, so I will limit myself to two: (1) True Myth and (2) the Open Ending.
So, these two episodes are basically a retelling of one of the most important themes in Perelandra. Perelandra is the celebrated second novel in C.S. Lewis's so-called “Space Trilogy,” better known as the “Ransom Cycle.” The idea of “true myth” was essential to Lewis's conversion to Christianity; he wrote about it in an important letter to his friend Arthur Greeves and again later in his spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy. I've written about it here. Inklings scholar Holly Ordway talks about turee myth in>in this podcast
. Several people talk about the idea in this article on C.S. Lewis.

Lewis explored this idea most fully, as he often did, via fiction. On Malacandra, Ransom met a creature he took to be the original of Cyclops; on Perelandra, he met a dragon, mermaids and mermen, and finally Mars and Venus themselves. He wondered, “Were all the things which appeared as mythology on earth scattered through other worlds as realities?” (Perelandra 45). He proceed to develop his theology across other planets, embodying it in characters, events, and landscapes.

Here is a conversation from “The Satan Pit”:
The Doctor: You get representations of the horned Beast right across the universe in myths and legends of a million worlds. Earth, Draconia, Vel Consadine, Daemos... The Kaled god of war, the same image, over and over again. Maybe, that idea came from somewhere. Bleeding through, a thought of every sentient mind...
Ida Scott: Originating from here?
The Doctor: Could be.
Ida Scott: But if this is the original, does that make it real? Does that make it the actual Devil?
The Doctor: Well, if that's what you want to believe. Maybe that's what the Devil is, in the end. An idea.
Without bothering about the silly theology in the last line (that the Devil is “only” an idea; cf. The Great Divorce), just take a look at that theology of True Myth right there! Isn't that great? The idea that there “really” is a Devil, trapped on an Impossible Planet, generating all of the myths and doctrines about him all across the universe. Then later on, when The Doctor talks to The Beast, here is their exchange:
The Doctor: If you are the Beast, then answer me this: Which one? Because the universe has been busy since you've been gone. There are more religions than there are planets in the sky. The Arkiphetes, quoldonity, christianity, pash-pash, new judaism, Saint Claar, Church of the Teen Vagabond. Which devil are you?
The Beast: All of them.
The Doctor: Then you're... what? The truth behind the myth?
The Beast: This one knows me.
In other words, Yes. This Beast is the truth behind all the legends, myths, and teachings about The Devil. Which, of course, means either that “The Devil is Real” or that “There is no 'devil,' only this alien on which the legends are based.” Rose asks the Doctor that question at the very end of the episode, and he refuses to answer.
Ida Scott: But, Doctor, what did you find down that? That creature; what was it?
The Doctor: I dunno! Never did decipher that writing. But that's good! Day I know everything—might as well stop.
Rose: What do you think it was? Really?
The Doctor: I think...we beat it. That's good enough for me.
Of course, if they killed the Devil, that opens up all kinds of theological questions, and maybe messes up the story. But it doesn't mess up the story, actually, because of...
In this era after the age of suspicion of meta-narratives, of the slippery nature of texts, of indeterminacy and relativisms and pluralisms galore, it is not surprising to encounter a story with an open ending. There are lots of those. There are even books that offer the reader alternative endings, such as the over-praised Life of Pi. So it isn't surprising that “The Satan Pit” ends inconclusively. I mean, the plot ends conclusively: our heroes win, and those of the good guys left alive go home happy. But the idea is left indeterminate—which I propose to you is the best way it could possibly be left. If the show has decided this Beast was indeed exactly and precisely the Christian Devil—then how could they kill him? That would wreak all kinds of havoc with the theological implications of the story. If the Devil died, would sin come to an end? I suppose not; humans are pretty good and thinking up and acting out sins on their own without diabolical inspiration. But the Christian story has a specific plot that involves the Devil's defeat at the end of time. That wouldn't work in a story about a Time Lord, now would it? The Doctor had a hard enough struggle dealing with the concept of before time; I don't think he would survive an encounter with after time. And if the Devil were not the Christian Devil, that would take away from the character' s mythic power. It would reduce him. So the screenwriter, Matt Jones, was wise to leave that part of the story undecided.

It was also wise to leave the Doctor's beliefs open, I think, from a story point of view. It would be another story all together if The Doctor became a Christian (!) and went around promulgating the Gospel. That could be wildly amazing, done right, but it would be something else again. Here's the conversation he has with Ida Scott about faith. She says she was raised “Neo-Classical” (which is hilarious, by the way). He replies:
The Doctor: Neo-classics. Have they got a Devil?Ida: No, not as such. Just, um... "the things that men do."
The Doctor: Same thing in the end.
Ida: What about you?
The Doctor: I... believe. I believe I haven't seen everything, I don't know. It's funny, isn't it? The things you make up—the rules. If that thing had said it came from beyond the universe I'd believe it, but before the universe... that's impossible. It doesn't fit in my rules. Still, that's why I keep travelling. To be proved wrong.
And then when he meets The Beast, he tells it, “I accept that you exist. I don't have to accept what you are, but your physical existence, I give you that.” But he refuses to decide what or whom he has seen. He refuses to close down on one interpretation. As sad as that might be for a real person whose soul I care about, it's a good choice in fiction.

Christianity and the Detective Story

You may recall that, way back, I gave a paper entitled "Is a ‘Christian’ Mystery Story Possible?
Charles Williams’s War in Heaven as a Generic Case Study
at a CCL Conference in New York. Well, that paper has just been published in a volume called Christianity and the Detective Storyfrom Cambridge Scholars Publishing, edited by Walter Raubicheck and Anya Morlan, Perhaps you can purchase the book, get your school library to purchase it, or order a copy through interlibrary loan. I hope you enjoy it! Let me know if you do; perhaps you can write a little review somewhere?

...and I just found out that my article is Chapter One, probably because I lay out the "rules" for detective fiction and I gently query the whole project of the book. ;) 

09 March 2013

The Doctor Diaries II.7: "The Idiot's Lantern"

The Doctor and The Pedestrian

The main theme of this episode is to revitalize early fears about television. But note the brilliance of the narrative conventions of this show: time travel enables these stories to re-energize old fears by going back into the time when such fears were new and of immediate relevance. The time travel to 1953 takes the viewer back into a time when TV was brand new, thus taking our 21st century knowledge about what has happened since and layering this on to real and imagined cultural conditions from the 50s. Then the story cycles back, in our minds, applying the theme anew to the fears of our own time, such as our concerns about television/film violence; unreal social and personal expectations fostered by "reality" tv; the internet's negative effects on attention, deep reading, and education; addictions to social media; interpersonal implications of the digital community; the dangers of multitasking; addictions to email or texting; etc. So by making the old new, the old then makes the current visible again. 

This made me think about the analogous fears in the 1950s and their representation in literature. The two prime examples are the short story "The Pedestrian"  and the novel Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. These works bring fears about Tv to life as well, at the very moment when TV was becoming popular. 

See what fiction can do? 

Now, before I move on, I want to babble a little bit more about the Doctor before I sign off. I find that I am waiting for several topics to be covered somewhere in the show. Here's a list: 

- I am impatient to see what domestic life is like in the Tardis. Where do Rose and the Doctor sleep? Do they take meals together? Who cooks? Do they sit and have homely kinds of conversations over dinner? What was it like when Mickey was there? Where does Rose get all her clothes? 
- I am waiting for the series to develop its METAPHYSICS. Does the Doctor believe in the soul? Does he know God? Does he have experience of heaven and hell? (The next episode, "Impossible Planet," touches on these questions). The Doctor is always--well, nearly always--fighting to save people's physical lives, as if bodily death is the worst evil. But I have seen two exceptions to this already. One was in "School Reunion," when he was horrified to discover that the aliens were using not only the children's bodies, but also their souls. There's also a moment in season 5 when he tells Amy that the angels "can only kill you," but the Crack in the Universe can "erase you, make it so that you were never born."   
- ok, just two for now. 

08 March 2013

Don't Shoot!

I wrote a piece about gun violence and the movies for Curator magazine.
Part 1 is available >here
, and Part 2 is
Here is a quick preview of part 1: 
I decided to conduct a thought experiment, to ask a hypothetical question: What would happen if everyone in the film industry voluntarily covenanted not to show positive gun violence for a year? If there were no movies, at all, for a whole year, in which gun violence was shown to be funny, cool, sexy, manly, stylish, casual, or inconsequential—what would happen? If shooting people was not shown to be a viable escape from personal problems—would such incidents decrease? If the only gun violence depicted was evil and catastrophic—would this serve as a deterrent to potential shooters? And what would happen to box office sales, movie attendance, the artistic freedom of movie-makers, and the artistry of films, in such an imaginary case?

I put these questions to several people in the film industry. Their responses included skepticism that such an abstinence could ever happen but an intelligent curiosity about what the artistic and social results might be if it did. There was something like agreement that the movies might be better, and we might all be safer.

07 March 2013

The Doctor Diaries II.5-6: “The Rise of the Cybermen” and “The Age of Steel”

What Makes Us Human?

This two-episode story continued to fulfill my desire for thoughtful stories without silly aliens. And here's my thought for the day: the popularity of Doctor Who seems to undermine any stereotypes of our times as ironic, skeptical, or nihilistic. These are classic tales of good triumphing over bad. They are simple stories of right and wrong. They do have some added complications—in these episodes, the Doctor had to decide whether killing millions of innocent people in an agonizing death by emotional torture was justified, to prevent them from killing all the rest of the innocent people in the universe. And he decided he had to do it. This came right after Mickey stopped somebody from murdering a guard, saying that if they did, they would be as bad as their enemies.

So I am not saying these stories are without moral complexity. I'm merely observing that they argue against an age of irony, cynicism, and meaninglessness by placing their characters firmly in a traditional ethical realm. Good and bad are usually pretty clear, or only as difficult as choosing a lesser evil over a greater one. It is always good to choose good and to be good; there is no anti-moral message about destruction being inevitable and therefore the best path to choose or anything like that.

And other traditional values are espoused, too: family, loyalty, love.

There are some common, timeless questions, too, about what makes us human. Do our emotions set us apart from animals or from machines? Or is it our imagination that makes us unique? Or our creativity? Or our ability to suffer? When do we become too dependent on our own technologies, or when do we become interimplicated in their own designs?

So, there are some thoughts for today. Now further up and further in!

06 March 2013

Desolation and Creation Speech

Speech for sale! Are you interested in a talk about spiritual problems and their connection to creativity? I would be delighted to talk to your church, college, high school, arts group, homeschool group, etc.  It is a speech I gave last night at Baptist Bible College in Clarks Summit, PA, entitled "Desolation and Creation." It was a much expanded version of this article I wrote for Comment

Here is an audio/screencast recording of the speech as I presented it last night. I could do it again just like that, or I could make it a more lively interactive presentation with live performances/readings, or I could present just part of that long talk, or I could provide a closer literary analysis of a few pieces. Contact me if you want to discuss this! 
Here is a summary of the material I covered: 

Many shadows lurk in the corners of the human mind; there are many valleys of darkness the soul may stumble through. These bleak phases have haunted human beings for at least as long as they have known how to record their thoughts.The wild varieties of desolation, depression, and despair have frequently haunted artists. Yet, for as often as artists have lain silent and exhausted through long periods, stifled under the weight of darkness, as often have others turned their pens or brushes against the shadows, describing the grief, capturing the elusive twilight, or setting the night raging through their works. What makes the difference? When both are plunged into a dark night of the soul, what shuts the mouth of one and sets free the songs of the other?

I do not know.

But here are some stories of people who overcame the darkness or at least captured it in their works.

TAXONOMY: catagorizing kinds of darkness. Discussion of the DSM, the manual for diagnosing and labeling mental and social illnesses. Confusion between “spiritual desolation and creativity” vs. “mental illness and creativity.” Artists and mental illness. Kinds of spiritual darkness.

IV. Charles Williams and THE SCHISM
V. DESPAIR (Franz Liszt's “Czardas macabre”)

The “God gene” and the doubt gene.
Providence and choice, or, How to read the signs.
Darkness from external circumstances
Makoto Fujimura's Zero Summer
Bruce Herman's The Crowning
Nietzsche: “one must still have chaos in oneself, to give birth to a dancing star.”

03 March 2013

The Doctor Diaries II.4: "The Girl in the Fireplace"

Hooray for Moffat

I find that I don't have much to say about this episode, even though it was my favorite so far. I want to make one primary observation: What a difference the writer makes!!!! This is the first episode in season two that's by Steven Moffat, and he is galaxies beyond any of the other writers. His work is not always as funny as the others', and it's nearly always more profound. This was a very serious episode, continuing and deepening the heartbreak of the one before. My only gripe is that its plot gets repeated again later (in season five), but because of the cycling nature of the Doctor's adventures anyway, that's probably thematically intentional rather than evidence of any lack of creativity.

Before watching this episode, I was thinking, man, I hope we get an episode without silly aliens one of these days. There are no silly aliens in this one. There are clockwork men made by aliens, but they are more scary than aliens without being ridiculous. Nicely done.

I do have a question for the Doctor, though. When he messes up and arrives at the wrong time, too late or too early (or in the wrong place, for that matter), why doesn't he just go back in the TARDIS and proceed to the right place and time? I dunno. Any thoughts?

02 March 2013

The Doctor Diaries II.3: "School Reunion"

Does Pain Last Forever?

In my last entry, I wrote that there is a fine line between an archetype and a cliché. Well, this episode is just one big old string of clichés. There's the "save the children from the evil headmaster" theme. There's the "love triangle," fancied up into a love rectangle, if you know what I mean. There's the "temptation of ultimate power used for ultimate good" idea, with a good bit of "You shall be like gods" tacked on for good measure. . There's the "You really had other women before me?" surprise. There's the "You left me without saying goodbye" heartbreaker. There's the "I'm immortal and will outlive everyone I love" theme, which is a double heartbreaker. And finally, there's the old solution to the Problem of Evil, which is that all of our imperfections, pains, and sufferings really make us who we are; we wouldn't be who we are without the pain of our past.

And in spite of its being such a string of chestnuts, it works. It still tugs at the heartstrings. Well, mine anyway. That's probably because David Tennant is such a good actor, and the other aren't too shabby either.

But it puts me in another theological conundrum. Sorry, when I set out to do "cultural critique" of the series, I didn't mean to get all doctrinal in every entry. I guess that's just the default way my mind works. I'm sure I'll have other ideas as we go along, but here's what I've got for now.

Sarah Jane Smith persuades the Doctor to refuse ultimate power. He is tempted to accept an offer that would allow him to go back in time and prevent the war that killed all of his people, thus saving the lives of his entire species. Sarah Jane stops him by saying, “Pain and loss: they define us as much as happiness of love. Whether it's the world, or a relationship, everything has its time, and everything ends.” This is certainly true in our temporal realm. Our griefs become part of us; our heartbreak blends into the shape of our character. But it is true universally, eternally? The Doctor seemed to think so. He gave in to the inevitability, turned away from the power offered to him, broke Sarah Jane's heart again, and set Rose up for future heartbreak. Again, and again, and again.

If change, pain, loss, endings, and heartbreaks are necessary to being human, how could Heaven be possible? The promise of Heaven is a place without tears. We are never told it is a place without change, so that is one possibility: there, we will develop eternally, changing, growing, blossoming, learning. But we have faith that we will never lose anyone there. That we will never have our hearts broken. That we will never have to say goodbye to so much as a tin dog that we love. Does that mean we will stop being human?

Perhaps not. Here is an idea. Perhaps our pain, grief, and loss will go on into Heaven. They are part of us, and it is we who are redeemed, not some shadow of ourselves. Maybe there will even be some kind of sorrow that is eternally redeemed on through our heavenly existence, in a vital, evolving, real life. There seems to be the tiniest bit of Biblical evidence for that: Christ's scars were visible on His resurrected body. In Revelation He appears as a Lamb “looking like it had been slain.” If even His pain goes on into eternity, I imagine ours will, too. So perhaps Sarah Jane was right. Maybe pain and loss define us as much as happiness and love.

Here's a poem I wrote on this subject ages ago; it appears in my collection Caduceus.

He Descended into Hell

Christ endured through three dark kinds of death:

His body, cold; His spirit, tormented;

His two-fold nature, from the Trinity,

somehow divided, lonely. There, the shade-as-

fire flaming dim unquenched Him; ashed-

thick-air untarnished Him, though plunged in Hades.

For harrowing [I wonder] He alone went

wandering: exquisite pains eternal

wracked Him, packed in one three-day atonement

through His Father’s solitude infernal.

He wears His wounds forever from that war-

fare, bears His glory in the beauty of His scars.