The Poet Within

Previously today I wrote about wanting to write more poetry. Today I went to Barnes and Noble and bought a notebook for my poetical playings. On the cover it says “In the midst of our lives, we must find the magic that makes our souls soar.” This for me is the perfect quote. It is exactly what I want to do: in the midst of my depression, find something that can make my soul soar and make me able to be creative and maybe, just maybe, a little bit happy.

Today I was able to do this. I found my notebook, bought it, and then found a quiet corner of B&N and sat down and worked through the first chapter of Ode Less Traveled. Fry, the author, introduced meter and iambic pentameter in particular. The exercises involved identifying iambic pentameter and the stresses in each line and then writing some iambs of my own. It was a little difficult as I am a bit rusty and unused to writing in formal meter, but I had fun. As a result, I even wrote a couple little poems. They aren’t spectacular or amazing, but they are written in iambic pentameter, an accomplishment for me. Enjoy!

The Books All Sit

The books all sit upon the shelves in rows
and wait for some to come and buy their souls
they speak with many words and some with songs
of joy or sorrowful they weep and cry
the words all run and wash away today
oh please, won’t you buy one to save its life?

Down and Out

My pencil is not full of lead or ink
but it is running out of writing steam
eraser is a nub and now I need
a new pencil to write, unwrite these lines
of poetry and nonsensical lines

That, as they say, is That. The Poet Within is coming free. 

The Ode Less Travelled

Recently I have been floundering, awash in a sea of self-doubt, self-loathing, and self-not-going-anywhereness. These are symptoms of depression and part and parcel with a life lived with anxiety. The depressed individual often finds simple tasks difficult, and finds it difficult to do anything of any import. That has certainly been me.

But lately I have wanted to break free, to really lurch forward, and make a road for myself. I wrote previously about Joss Whedon, and that somehow he found the time while filming the Avengers 2 to write a simple little folk song called “Big Giant Me”, and is collaborating with the artist who performed it to produce an EP. If Whedon can find time and energy like that, surely I, in the midst of my depression and social anxiety, can find time to make my own road.

To that end I have blown the dust off a book I picked up in college entitled The Ode Less Traveled: Unlocking the Poet Within by Stephen Fry (and yes, the Stephen Fry of staggering Twitter celebrity, of Jeeves and Wooster, of A Bit of Fry and Laurie, and of V for Vendetta and the Hobbit trilogy). In this book, Fry helps the gentle novice explore the world of poetry from beginning to villanelle.

I consider myself more than a novice in the poetical world, but the truth is, I write mainly free verse, and I’ve never labored to master meter or many poetical forms. This is something that I would like to remedy. I would like to explore and push myself to learn and to obey the rules as the masters of the craft have done. Maybe I will still mainly write free verse, but I would like to know that I have done what I can to learn the ropes, as it were.

To that end, I will work through the Ode Less Travelled with Stephen Fry and learn what I can. When I am depressed and anxious, hopefully I can push myself to create just a little. Having a guide and a path easily marked usually helps the depressed individual move along, and the Ode Less Travelled should be such a guide and a path for me. Whatever else I may be, I want to be a poet. Perhaps I can unlock my Poet Within.

I tell you about it because I have a need to share most things, and because I want this to be real. I will be sharing what I write with the world, and I am starting at the beginning. Thus far I have mastered the introduction and end user agreement of the book. Well, almost. Mr. Fry wants his readers to have a notebook to keep with them always, as well as writing utensils, and I think buying a new notebook and new pencils will make this somewhat more real to me. To that end I must do something else I am loathe to do: enter the world of men and move around, but I think I will head to Barnes and Noble, a place certain to have what I need, and also a quieter place in the wide loudness of the world.

So pray with me, as I pray to the universe, to allow me this small breakthrough of my depression, that it may lead to greater and bigger things, or a least a little poetry.

Batman and Psychology (2012) by Dr. Travis Langley

“Madness, as you know, is like gravity. All it takes is a little push.” – the Joker, The Dark Knight 

Batman and Psychology
Batman and Psychology

Batman is one year removed from his 75th anniversary (as of 2013). First glimpsed in the shadows of 1939, Bruce Wayne’s alter ego is arguably the second most well know “super” hero, second only to his DC Comics colleague Superman. He is ubiquitous. Batman is as popular as Star Wars, as multi-generational as rock and roll, and as intricate as quantum physics. First appearing in comic books, Batman has stalked through newspaper strips, novels, television shows, movies, video games, and he even guest starred on one of Superman’s radio shows. What accounts for this incredible longevity and popularity? Probably the fact that Batman is no super hero. He is as human as any of us, he is unaltered by any fantastical phenomenon or alien technology. Unlike his Marvel counterpart, Iron Man, Batman does not rely on any implanted technology. Where Tony Stark achieves his crime fighting skills through a combination of dash and design, Bruce Wayne endures by way of discipline and hard work. Both men are multi-billionaires, both are geniuses, both wear elaborate suits, but where Tony fails to match Batman is in Batman’s sheer determination. Ultimately, Iron Man is unreachable. It would be impossible to recreate Tony Stark’s suit of armor, based as it is on fictional science technologies. Batman, however, remains within the grasp of any one of us. Given enough money, and the requisite stamina, anybody could become Batman. It wouldn’t be easy, but it could be done. And, where Tony Stark suffers from a medical condition that makes most of his tech necessary, regardless of its applications, Bruce Wayne suffers from grief and chooses freely to be Batman.

Given nearly 75 years of history and development, Batman, while fictional, is as fascinating as any living, breathing human being. Batman is an avatar of the human condition. Despite the seemingly outlandish nature of his universe, ultimately the character is as grounded in reality as anyone. Struggling with pain, loss, and anger and fighting madness and the darker impulses Batman catwalks across the night, riddling out the bad jokes of life and death. Obstacles that are the bane of happiness are foes to be crushed by a hero. Investigating the bat-detective, then, yields clues to our own psyches.

Fortunately, an actual student of the human condition has delved into the bat cave and emerged with a few answers and observations. Dr. Travis Langley, tenured professor of psychology at Henderson State University, is a bit of a nerd. Having been fascinated by the Batman his whole life, he recently published the only psychological exploration of the character that exists today: Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight. Fittingly, Langley is known as a superherologist*, one who studies super heroes.

Batman and Psychology is divided into several sections. The person, the suit, the symbolism, the environment, and the associations of the Batman are all examined in detail, and set against the criminals that oppose him and the world the defines him, and all pass under the microscope of real life, modern psychology. Langley begins by discussing the historical Batman, and narrowing down all the different iterations and manifestations of the character, who, after all, comes from a comic book world in which death and life are fluid concepts, as is the nature of the multiverse itself. The great benefit of studying a character that has been around so long is that the student can take both a longitudinal and a cross-sectional approach. Usually when Langley refers to “The Batman” he means the 75 year old character, the most concrete and unchanging person that is Batman. After all, whether he is back from the dead, back from an alternate earth, or freshly rebooted, some things about Batman never change. But, Langley also often zooms right into a very particular instance, a very exact moment in Bat-time to examine a revelation or to make an observation, whether it is Adam West’s lampooned Batman, Christian Bale’s ultra-realistic Batman, or some comic book version. The juxtaposition of the two research techniques allows Langley, and the reader of his book, to compare and contrast yielding a multi-faceted view of an incredibly complex individual.

After establishing a few parameters and definitions, Langley subsequently evaluates the trauma (the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents, a constant of the Bat-narrative) and the persona (arguably, the defining characteristic: the Bat of the Man). This comprises most of Langley’s focus, and rightfully so, it is the heart of the character. Bruce Wayne endured one of the most horrific tragedies that a person can experience, and made a rather extreme choice that most people do not make. Why is the premier question, and answering it yields the most tantalizing information.

Following from that, Dr. Langley briefly discusses the nature of evil, that is, crime and punishment in Gotham City. Here most of the psychology is brought to bear as various psychological disorders, conditions, and issues are defined and debated as they relate both to Batman and his rogues gallery. This is the technical part of the book, full of the multi-syllabic terms one expects from a doctor of psychology.

Batman is not an island, and he must be viewed in his familial context: his surrogate sons (Robin and other sidekicks), his female associations (most notably: Catwoman), and his surrogate fathers (Alfred, among others). Human beings are social creatures and our company says as much about us as does our actions or appearance. No analysis of a person would be complete without such consideration, and that analysis Langley provides.

Dr. Langley does offer a Bat-diagnosis of sorts at the end of his book, concluding that Batman is most definitely not deranged, even if he is a little “crazy”. I mean, even Bruce Wayne would agree that “a man who dresses up like a bat clearly has issues” however, those issues are not really any different that those which affect ordinary people. Bruce’s issues are perhaps more magnified than most, but what do you expect from a guy who lives in a comic book?

I found Batman and Psychology very rewarding, in both scope and psychology. While I am not any sort of acolyte into the profession, I am a student of humanity and quite interested in the psychological field. I must say, however, that while the technical parts of the book aren’t incomprehensible, they could be confusing. [Author’s note: I don’t know if that constitutes a flaw with the book, or with the educational system of America. I have studied more psychology than the average Jane, so I don’t really know how someone with limited familiarity with psychological concepts would grasp the psychology presented.] I was also satiated with the banquet that Langley cooked up, in terms of the villains that he referenced and the many, many aspects of the Bat-universe that he referenced. Despite that, I occasionally felt like I was reading two separate books: one about Batman, and one about his antagonists. No book about Batman would be complete without at least talking about his number one adversary, the Joker, but I felt that a companion book that was focused on the rogues would have been better suited to an analyzation of their psychology and humanity. What was provided was simultaneously enough to make the point and not enough to do justice to the various characters. Granted, the Joker could be a series of books, but I felt he deserved a little more than he got, even in a book primarily about Batman. [Author’s note: I use the Joker here only as an example: he may be primary, but Batman’s other villains are just as convoluted.]

Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight is a fantastic read, and a great dissertation on a popular superhero, and I fervently hope that Dr. Travis Langley doesn’t stop here. There is much more to be said about the world of Gotham, and the worlds of Metropolis and the greater comic book multiverse. Hopefully a “Superman and Psychology” is coming soon, because if there is another guy with serious daddy/abandonment issues, it’s Clark Kent.

*You can follow Dr. Langley on twitter as the @Superherologist. [Author’s Note: Dr. Langley is my boss. This review was neither asked nor paid for by Dr. Langley. My reviews and opinions are entirely my own, and cannot be influenced by anyone.]


On Gender Inequality in Modern Myths

I am not a scholar of myth, ancient – modern – or in between, nor am I a professional historian, sociologist, or qualified authority on gender. What I am is a keen observer of people and things.

The world is changing.

In my lifetime, I have seen the rapid empowerment of women in my society go from a backswell to a prominent and unignorable fact. In like manner, I have seen the treatment of women in popular culture change radically. When I was a kid, there wasn’t much being said about the lack of female roles, or the lack of gender diversity. Today: it is sneaking in everywhere. And I am not that old.

This battle for gender equality in life and fiction started long before me, though I hope desperately that it may grind itself to a halt in my lifetime. I will be grieved indeed if it does not.

However, my own thinking in this area has undergone change, and sadly I confess that I am not completely there. But lately a few things have caught my attention and have turned the lights on for me. I want to discuss the portrayal of females in popular culture, as well as their roles in popular culture. By portrayal I mean: what they look like. By role I mean: what they do.

Portrayal. It is the stereotype, and still the dominant way of displaying a female within pop culture, as an icon of beauty, of sex, and little else. Personally speaking, I sexually prefer women, and I think the female body is powerfully beautiful in all shapes and sizes. Therefore, for me, it is very hard to separate my personal enjoyment of the female body and the effect that has on my perception of women. Generally speaking, when one objectifies something, it becomes more difficult to see that something for what it really is. When one gets into the habit of recognizing women only for their sex appeal, one has trouble seeing them as people. (I only use women here in this context, because, like I said, I am a person who sexually prefers women. That’s how I understand this paradigm best. I works for men who prefer men, men who prefer women, etc.)

To analogize a bit, I’ll put this in other terms that I am also quite familiar with. I use, and am quite a fan of, Apple products. That is iPhones, iMacs, iPads, iPods ad nauseum. I tend to objectify them, if I am not careful, and hold them up as exemplars of modern technological engineering. In certain cases, Apple has made some fantastic products. Some of them are quite good. But I can tend to see them as objects of beauty rather than what they are: a phone, a computer, a music player, a tablet, and really, when you get down to it, no better at their job than anything any other company makes. In this modern era what any piece of technology is able to do is pretty amazing. My point is that I see my iPod as a gorgeous object for something which merely allows me to experience my music.

Yes, I just compared beautiful women to iPods. I apologize. Please don’t send me hate mail or refuse to have sex with me (simply because of that). I only try to wake up the mind to what I am realizing: women are so much more than just a hot body. They are people, precious souls, and irreplaceable members of human society and advancement.

Consider this picture, a recent comic book cover:

Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman
This is the brand new, Issue #0 reboot of DC Comics’ Wonder Woman from last year, 2012. It tells me three things, visually. One: Wonder Woman has massive breasts. Two: she has a thing for chrome. Three: she can fly? To be clear, that is exactly what I am supposed to notice and in that order. When I first see the comic book, I won’t have time or capacity to read the title. There, staring me in the face, are breasts. Then I see other things, then I read “Wonder Woman” and go “well, yeah”. This is wrong. Wrong. I shouldn’t need to have a massive pair of mammaries thrust in my face for me to be interested in a comic book about a woman. What isn’t wrong is that she is beautiful. That is all well and good. But beauty is skin deep, culturally defined, and transient. What is really important about Wonder Woman? She fights for truth, justice, and gender equality. Her magic lasso makes it impossible for anyone ensnared in it to tell a lie. Wonder Woman fights crime. Wonder Woman, being a powerful woman herself, is very committed to making sure every woman is given respectful treatment. So why show her boobs first?

I’ve been aware of images like that my whole life. It didn’t really bother me or make a dent in my brain until very recently. Sure, I had an intellectual understanding that such comic book covers objectified women and that it was wrong, but it didn’t mean anything to me until this week when I saw another image. This is entitled Miss America and comes from Fan Art Exhibit.

Miss America
Miss America
This is a digital manipulation of a shot of Captain America from the recent Avengers film. Obviously the creator has merged a female body with that of Steve Rogers to give us Miss America. I noticed two things about this picture. One, she has a bare midriff. I have no idea why she also doesn’t have a low cut top and copious cleavage as that seems more standard for female superheroes, but she does have a bare midriff, which is Item No. 2 on the “Make Her Look Uber Sexy” checklist comic book artists apparently have. This is the image that lent a machete to my intellectual thicket. Why the hell would a soldier wear body armor of any type that leaves such a vital (to life) area of the body completely exposed. This makes no sense whatsoever. The “sexy for sexy sake” did not pass the “it makes sense” test for my brain and I short circuited. I could almost buy a super hero like Wonder Woman wearing less than a bathing suit because, usually, she has a Superman level of invincibility. Therefore, armor is irrelevant (even if her wardrobe makes no sense for other reasons). But a genetically enhanced super soldier leaving the gut exposed? No way. And two, why is she called “Miss America”? The artist named her so, but why not Captain America? Captain is a rank and is gender neutral. And then the lights flashed on and I went “Ooooh.”

Don’t judge me too harshly, please. My point here is that society my entire life has been feeding me this idea of women and it is hard to break. By the way, I do want to point out that men have it no better, but it is less kosher to point it out, mostly because, as a society, men still have a majority of the power and influence so it is boorish to whine. But, do walk through a comic shop sometime and see if you can find a realistic looking man on the cover of anything. Go ahead, I dare you. I could not look like Captain America as he usually looks any more than any girl could hope to look like Wonder Woman.

Role. Most women in popular culture are eye candy, the damsel in distress, or non-existent. They exist to look pretty, to be rescued so the man looks heroic, or they simply aren’t there. I really, really enjoy the Lord of the Rings, both in book and film form. Do you know how many females there are in the main cast, in the Fellowship of the Ring? 0. Nine males. How about the Hobbit, how many women in the main group? Yeah, 0 again. There are 13 male dwarves, a male hobbit, and a male wizard. Even in Star Wars the ratio is still 5 to 1. (Han, Luke, Chewie, R2, C-3P0 to Leia). And what does Leia do in the first film? Gets captured by men and gets rescued my men. In the Empire Strikes Back? Gets rescued by men. In Return of the Jedi? Tries to rescue a man, gets punished by way of brass bikini, gets rescued my men and male ewoks. I love Star Wars, but it has a gender equality problem. Only recently, and very slowly, has this changed. Even the mighty Joss Whedon, who elevated women so spectacularly in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was shackled when he made Avengers because, yep, women were outnumbered on the super hero team 5 to 1. But Joss did what he could and made that one woman one of the most important and smartest of them all. Men break things, men fix things, men are the heroes. That is the message I’ve heard my whole life. And not only does it not make sense, it is stupid, and ignores completely the role women have wrested for themselves at great cost. Even in our long, patriarchal history there were women who did great things and stood high above men, but mostly they are ignored or marginalized. For shame.

How did this happen? That is a very long discussion. But, I blame two things: biology and laziness.

Not to ruffle feathers, but you can’t argue with evolution. The male part of the human species, rather generally, has more muscle mass than does the female part. Way back when we were fighting for evolutionary survival, that mattered. Men led because men could kill more, hunt more, build more simply because they were stronger. And, because all who gain power fear to lose it, once women let men fight for the power, men never gave it up. The majority of societies built since our meager beginnings have been male dominated (to my knowledge). Once we, as a species, kill our predators, kill our food, and build a fire, we like to be entertained. So we tell stories. We are smart, but not that imaginative, so our stories reflect everyday life. They are about warriors, hunters, builders. And, since what we see every day are men in those roles, men take those roles in our stories, our legends, our myths. Hence, laziness.

Since the dawn of history, until now, very rarely have we as a species deigned to allow women into our myths in any significant way, just like in real life. Sadly, it is only recently, and then only a little, that this is changing. Modern comics, tv, film, books are the myths of old retold again and again. Why else is Wonder Woman the lone female member of the Justice League (in popular consciousness) why else is Black Widow the only female member of the Avengers (again, in the popular consciousness, I am vaguely aware that in the comics Wasp was also a founding member)?

Humanity is a species slow to change. It has taken me 25 years. It has taken us millennia. I hope not much longer before women are in power, realistically portrayed, alongside realistic men is simply the way of everyday life and the stuff of legends. I advocate not for a reversal of the binary, but a destruction of it. Men and Women are equal in every way that matters biologically speaking. We should be socially and mythologically as well.

The Hundred and One (Sexist) Dalmatians?

The Hundred and One Dalmations by Dodie Smith is a delightful children’s book that I read as a kid (many times) and haven’t read since. I decided to read it again to see if it held up and was still fun. It definitely was an entertaining read.

101 Dalmatians
101 Dalmatians

When I was looking it up on my favorite social networking site for books,, I was surprised to see so many reviews complaining of sexism or anti-feminine views being presented in the book. This was certainly never anything I noticed as a kid, but then, how many kids are clued in to that sort of thing? I found myself reading to enjoy, and also to examine, and my findings are that this book is hardly demeaning of women.

To be clear, I mostly focused on gender roles and the differences portrayed between the sexes, and judged the book thereby.

What first caught my attention was the fact that Mr. Dearly was the primary caregiver to the newborn dalmatian puppies (beyond their mother, Missis). He crawls into the cupboard for two days feeding the puppies constantly while working long distance over the phone. If traditional gender roles are in play, shouldn’t this be Mrs. Dearly’s job? This is clearly an inversion of the binary. Secondarily, of the two female nannies, Nanny Butler insists on wearing pants after the Dearlys are married, and back when this written, this was hardly the social norm. Again, a seeming inversion of the stereotype.

What I looked at next was the differences between Pongo and Missis. Pongo can understand human speech, can read, and thinks faster and clearer than Missis. On a cursory reading, it does appear that Pongo is presented as superior, and Missis as inferior, but that isn’t the case. It is a clearly established conceit throughout the book that dogs differ in intelligence, and in human understanding. It is also quite clearly stated that Pongo played with alphabet blocks and volumes of Shakespeare (thus accounting for his English comprehension) and is even referred to as the “keenest mind in all of dogdom” which establishes his peculiarity in both intelligence and human understanding. If one considers that a dog learns English much as any other non-native English speaker, this lines up exactly with human experience and is not sexist at all. After all, how much English would you learn if the most common word you heard was your name, and the rest was in condescending baby talk? Probably not even as much as Missis. Also, she clearly seems to be personally disinterested: she simply does not bother or care to learn more, which seems to be a personal choice.

Now, one could make a case for sexism based on the fact that it is Pongo to whom these advantages are given and not to Missis, and if all the dominant traits were Pongo’s, I would agree, but in almost all other cases, the two dogs are equal. They share equal affection and concern for one another. They equally adopt and feel ownership for all of the other dalmatian puppies, they are equal in their strength and determination throughout their desperate journey. In fact, Missis even rescues Pongo when he is injured by the little boy who throws things. She restrains him from acting against the child in anger; she finds the haystack and forces him to rest; she finds the Spaniel and secures food and lodging for them both. Again, if this were clearly sexist, he would be rescuing her instead of the other way around. In this episode, she is the hero, not the male dog.

There is one instance with the Spaniel in which Missis tries to learn her right from her left and ends up horribly confused and unable to get the two straight, and that could be seen as an indication that the female possesses less intelligence, but abstract concepts are hard to grasp for someone that isn’t introduced to them from a young age. I am a male, and I am an adult, and I frequently have trouble telling my right from my left. This is humiliating to admit, but it is true. I never bothered to learn them when I was a child, and as an adult, the concept is more difficult to grasp. There is clear research showing that much learning is cemented in the early ages, and the brain becomes more rigid after that. I have managed to decrease my ambiguity about right and left, but it has taken practice and focus. In the story, Missis has much more on her mind, is emotionally stressed about both her husband and her puppies, and is short on time. It is no wonder, then, that during the heat of the moment she simply became frustrated and couldn’t grasp the concept. Again, why her and not Pongo? I think this is part of staying consistent to character rather than making a sexist statement about the inferiority of women. If anything, Missis’ lack of education is more Mrs. Dearly’s fault that her own for not providing her with Shakespeare to chew on, but then while Mr. Dearly is given barely a few sentences to round out his job and life, we are given almost nothing about Mrs. Dearly. This is, after all, a story about the dogs and not their pets, and so there is precious little from which to draw conclusions. In order to remain un-sexist, one does not have to always choose the female over the male, but must show equality and fair treatment. In all, Missis is Pongo’s equal in practically every way that matters. I get the feeling that if Pongo chose to teach her, Missis would learn quite aptly.

Lastly, some reviewers got upset about the fact that the one puppy who was obsessed with television was the youngest female puppy, Cadpig, who was also the weakest, and they called this sexist. I disagree. In fact, this lone, apparently weak female made for the narrator the most important observation of all. The narrator of the story appears to be religious. The last building in which the puppies take refuge is a church. Cadpig becomes more obsessed with the nativity on display than she ever was with the television. In the end, she concludes that whoever “owned [the church] – someone very kind she was sure” had set out that refuge for them, complete with puppy sized beds. Clearly she is misinterpreting the reality of a church, as only a young, uneducated puppy can (female or male) but the narrator is using her to make a statement about God: the kindest person who looks out for even the most lost and destitute soul, according to most Christian theologies anyway. It is not insignificant, then, that the smallest and weakest character, through her obsession to the television, is the only one to realize the ultimate reality of good triumphing over the “de Vil”. To the woman is given the realization of the theme, plot, and message of the entire story. Sexist? hardly. If it were, it would be Pongo making that realization. There is every indication that he missed the implication entirely.

Actually, for my own part, I thought that having the villain of the story be a woman, the colorful and deliciously evil Cruella de Vil, could possibly be the strongest argument made for sexism. After all, the woman is the evil one! However, as Cruella’s cat explains, her husband was no less evil, just weaker and less demonstrative, and in that is the deconstruction of the argument: Cruella is the villain because she is much stronger than her husband, who is made out to be a mostly sympathetic character until his true nature is revealed. The only reason he is not the villain is he is too weak to be flamboyant about it. Furthermore, the devil is usually portrayed as male, so this is really a reversal of the norm.

Therefore, between Mr. Dearly inverting the nurturing paradigm, Missis heroically saving her husband, Cadpig realizing the moral of the story, and Cruella trumping her husband’s weakness, this book is not sexist in the least. (At least, in my humble opinion). Read it with an open mind, divorcing yourself of pre-conceived ideas and agendas and decide for yourself.

Over all the book was entertaining, amusing, fun, and quite well written for what is essentially a children’s novel. As much as I enjoyed it as a kid, I enjoyed it probably just as much as an adult.

Words on the Page

I’ve started reading again. Actually, I have never stopped reading once I learned how, but in recent months I have slowed considerably. However, on my brother’s example, I have joined and have set myself the goal of reading 50 books in 2011. Happily, I am 12% of the way towards reaching my goal, having finished the Lord of the Rings for the tenth time and then picked up a few new releases from the local library.

I recently finished a book, and posted this review on Goodreads:

Mysterious Celtic Mythology in American Folklore by Bob Curran
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Melodramatic and poorly written, this book is repetitive and sensationalist.

Each chapter is supposed to correspond to a different state in the United States, and is supposed to expound upon a Celtic myth which was transported to that state by Irish, English, Welsh, or Scottish immigrants. After the first several chapters, a pattern of repeated and rehashed background material emerges. There is little context, or detail, surrounding any of the supposed myths, supernatural encounters, or mysterious happenings. Mostly the tales themselves are third or fourth hand accounts. Given that the book portends to connect Celtic myths with American folklore, one would expect to see clear links between the two and delineated evidence of a natural progression, however, most of the myths and lore are connected by what can only be called circumstantial or coincidental means. Mostly I saw no clear reason to believe that the 17th or 18th century American tales were in any real way connected to the Celtic myths of the 13th and 14th centuries, as the author seemed desperate to prove without doing any sort of actual work. Pointing to extremely common and widespread themes, motifs, and images is not evidence of connective influence.

This book feels very much like a collection of campfire stories with some random historical details and facts thrown in to make it seem like a more scholarly work. While presented as the writing of an “expert” on Celtic mythology, I strongly suspect that the author is actually just a re-teller of other’s stories, which would be fine if he did it in a more original and succinct way.

I would not waste your time on this book. If you are interested in mythology and folklore, I would find one written by a professor, preferably peer-reviewed, of literature or mythology.

Basically this book promises what it does not deliver.

View all my reviews

Concerning: Faramir

I am reading through the Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien as has been my annual pleasure for the past ten years. I started just prior to the release of the film version of Fellowship of the Ring in theaters, and have just finished The Two Towers for the tenth time. Next up: Return of the King.

At the end of the Two Towers, Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee encounter the young captain of Gondor Faramir in the empty forests of Ithilian. Frodo bears the One Ring of Power, forged in secret by the dark lord Sauron, and has been sent on a mission to destroy that great physical evil forever. Earlier, at the end of the Fellowship of the Ring, Boromir, Faramir’s brother, was overcome by his need for the Ring and physically assaulted Frodo in an attempt to possess it. He was unsuccessful, and Frodo escaped.

Now Frodo encounters Faramir, and he wonders if he must endure a second assault. However, in their discussion on such matters, Faramir comforts Frodo with these words:

“But fear no more! I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway. Not were Minas Tirith falling in ruin and I alone could save her, so, using this weapon of the Dark Lord for her good and my glory. No, I do not wish for such triumphs, Frodo son of Drogo….

For myself I would see the White Tree in flower again for the courts of the kings, and the Silver Crown return, and Minas Tirith in peace: Minas Arnor again as of old, full of light, high and fair…War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all, but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend: the city of the Men of Numenor…”

Frodo still is unsure, because Faramir does not know, at the time he said those words, that Frodo in fact carried the Ring and meant to destroy it. Later, while slightly touched by wine, Sam inadvertently reveals the location of the Ring, and Frodo’s purpose with it. Realizing his grievous error, Sam confronts Faramir:

“Now look here, sir! Don’t you go taking advantage of my master because his servant’s no better than a fool. You’ve spoken very handsome all along, put me off my guard….but handsome is as handsome does [sic] so we say. Now’s a chance to show your quality.”

And Faramir replies:

“So it seems. So that is the answer to all the riddles! The One Ring that was thought to have perished from the world. And Boromir tried to take it by force? And you escaped? And ran all the way – to me! And here in the wild I have you: two halflings, and a host of men at my call, and the Ring of Rings. A pretty stroke of fortune! A chance for Faramir, Captain of Gondor, to show his quality!

“Alas for Boromir! It was too sore a trial!…We are truth-speakers, we men of Gondor. We boast seldom, and then perform, or die in the attempt. Not if I found it on the highway would I take it [sic] I said. Even if I were such a man as to desire this thing, and even though I knew not clearly what this thing was when I spoke, still I would take those words as a vow, and be held by them.

But I am not such a man. Or I am wise enough to know that there are some perils from which a man must flee….Fear not! I do not wish to see it, or touch it, or know more of it that I know…lest peril perchance waylay me and I fall lower in the test than Frodo son of Drogo.”

Clearly Faramir has no desire whatsoever for the Ring of Power.

Yet, in the film version, Faramir’s character has changed one hundred and eighty percent. He chooses to take the Ring to Gondor, and acts no differently than Boromir. There, in the wild, with a host of men at his command, he forced Frodo and Sam all the way to Osgiliath, near to Minas Tirith, and only when pressed by attack, and at wit’s end, did he relent and allow Frodo to leave (after a moving speech by Sam).

I have no idea why Peter Jackson and company so changed Faramir’s character, and it frustrates me. Sure, many other things were changed between book and film, and needfully so, but I am at a loss to explain this alteration. It does nothing to change the ultimate course of events, only the character of one man who was written to be set apart. He was a cunning warrior who in a book of warriors did not love war, or welcome it. Aragorn, Boromir, Gimli, Legolas, Theoden, Eomer – almost every other warrior fought was one who loved war, and who fought for valor, but Faramir alone was unmoved by the call of glory, and was not compelled to advance himself or his fortunes, or even the fate of the city he loved, by stretching out his hand for the Ring. He knew that the way thereof was vain folly. Why, then, change what made him unique for the sake of the film?

In the movie, his “chance to show his quality” was nothing more than a bid to gain favor in the sight of his father, Denethor, not to stand firm and reject the seductive allure of the Ring of Power. He was so cheapened and diminished.

I freely admit that I am a Lord of the Rings nerd, and a geek in general, but as my once and future posts on Star Wars prove, I seek most ardently the truth of writing: that which is most accurately a portrayal of the human condition, and while there are weak humans aplenty, there come in every generation those who stand incorruptible, and in the context of the Lord of the Rings, Faramir was such a one.

“Sam hesitated for a moment, then bowing very low: ‘Good night, Captain, my lord,’ he said. “You took the chance, sir.’

‘Did I so?’ said Faramir.

‘Yes, sir, and showed your quality: the very highest.'”

(pages 656-657, 665-667 The Two Towers)