In 1939, Marjorie Rawlings helped a whole nation of readers imagine that they were young country boys just coming of age. Her Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Yearling told the story of Jody Baxter, whose family ekes out a living in the central Florida scrubland of the late 19th century. Jody’s loss of innocence and search for friendship gave America a glimpse of its own struggle to survive the Great Depression and find fellowship in the midst of suffering. It resonates today with the same power, regardless of our country’s changing circumstances.
Among the tales of The Silmarillion, The Children of Húrin is one of a few that feature mankind as the central characters. Like the epics of old, it begins with a great battle, one full of both hope and despair. The sons of men and kingdoms of elves suffer great loss of life and land as the battle slowly works against them. Before Húrin is captured by Morgoth, the fallen Valar or Tolkien’s Satan, Húrin’s faith is ever strong:
In John 20, Mary Magdalene goes to Jesus’ tomb twice. The first time, she goes to anoint the body of Jesus (Mark 16:1), only to find the stone rolled back. Assuming that the enemies of Jesus had moved the body as one last insult, Mary ran to find the disciples, bringing Peter and John back with her.
“Easter lasts for fifty days?”
“Yes. We fast for forty days and feast for fifty.”
“That means we can have soda and pop music for fifty days, right?”
“Um, no. Not at all.”
“It’s not much of a feast if everything just goes back to normal.”
This week, I am leading more than thirty sophomores to New York City. I hope nothing goes wrong. My students, on the other hand, hope something does go wrong. I understand this hope.
How much good does it do a film or book to have “a good message”? How valuable to a song is a good message? Will a good message do the audience any good?
Merely acknowledging that “the medium is the message,” as Marshall McLuhan famously opined, cannot help these questions. If the medium is the message, I still want to know how valuable the message is. My students are quite taken with the importance of “messages,” but I am yet to see messages do people much good. So far as art is concerned, good messages are often more of a distraction than a boon.
One of my favorite scenes in the film The Fisher King occurs in Grand Central Station. Perry, one of the lead characters, has lost his hold on reality through trauma, but he has snatches of sanity mostly centered around his love for Lydia—a plain-looking, ordinary girl whom he has not actually met. He knows her routines, and waits for her to show up at the terminal on her way home from work.
"One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn't going to go off."
The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil seems a good bit like Chekhov's proverbial gun. Who could blame the casual reader for finding Moses's account of the Fall more than a little predictable? How was Adam not going to eat? Given the characters, their power, the rules, and the furniture, wasn't sin inevitable?
We often misuse words. Over time, the pictures and meanings of a word are slowly 'petrified,' and turn into just a sort of impression of the original. Instead of calling to mind a picture, they simply dwell in the realm of abstraction and a vague, contextual-based understanding of its meaning. The life-blood of the image is gone.
One example of this is the word “fascinating."
It is Passover, and Jesus of Nazareth is dead. His body is naked and mangled, and quiet in death after the throes and moans of Friday’s tortured hours. Those gathered around the cross weep. How can we endure a dead God? How can it be that he is good, yet he is dead; that he rescued sufferers, yet suffered more than any; that he performed miracles; yet not on his own behalf? His followers are desolate, but I weep for another reason, for I know I would have been in the mob that called for his crucifixion because he was not the Messiah for whom I had asked.