The Wolves of Midwinter

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Grave Expectations
 Simon and Schuster graciously  provided me a complimentary copy of this book. Thanks to them for this, even if my review is not exactly positive!!
 From the outset, I was really curious about this book because its an example of a rising trend of authors rewriting certain classical works as supernatural thrillers. As I began reading the novel, my high interest decreased because it was nearly as clever nor as inventive as the title and creative premise suggested. Right from the beginning, you can see obvious parts of the original novel that remain intact and notice where certain supernatural elements substitute the more mundane elements of the originals. The writing itself is written in a more accessible, modern language than the original tales which may explain their wide appeal among readers.

   Except, the supernatural elements did not really enhance the books themselves, but rather muddled the meaning. At times, it felt like I was trying to extract the vital elements of the original story that have not somehow become elements borrowed from the large number of well-known horror stories. Certainly, the idea of Miss Havisham being a vampire appears appealing and oddly funny. Until, you remember that vampires have as of recent become so prominent in young-adult fiction that is does not seem clever anymore to add them to every book possible. (With that said, I still love Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles!)

    Instead, it just seems like these supernatural elements added to the book to appeal to a larger group of readers. Its almost as if they were redesigning it for a contemporary audience that might abhor the idea of reading the original novel by Dickens that they believe too be too ponderous and perhaps irrelevant. But, the idea of werewolves and vampires appearing alongside the original tale might prove to be too tantalizing for readers to overlook. They might very well pick up this book without even thinking of its origins as a well-known, but much hated required read in public school.

    Personally, I remember loving the experience of reading this story not because it was riveting but richly satisfying. For me, Sherri Browning Erwin's new version of the original tale seemed to be unnecessary especially since it really is the original novel with supernatural elements tacked on. Similarly, I found  Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to be a humorous idea but having it be a whole novel in of itself seemed like fruitless labor on the author's part.

    Now, I saw glimpses of Sherri Browning Erwin's skilled writing while forcefully trying to read this novel. She certainly knows how to write with an intent on clarity and flow. She also does seem to have great expertise in maintaining Dicken's tone. But, the writing was not compelling to me because it did not bear any reflection of the author's spirit. When I read books, I want not only the story but some reflection of that artist's soul. This book as a result did not have that artistic significance that I long for within a novel. Hopefully, I'll get to read Sherri Browning Erwin's other novels, besides her classic novel rewrites. These books are just not what as a I reader want to read. For me, the best part of reading an author's novel is to read the stories that are the products of their minds. Certainly, some people will disagree but personally, I don't think this particular genre is for me. I still recommend this book only because I never dissuade people from something I subjectively found not to be very enjoyable.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Review of Karen Armstrong's "History of God"

   I cannot think of anything as daunting as writing an expansive history of the development of God. To the consternation of some narrow-minded Christians, Karen Armstrong writes about the development of God from the nuanced history of human intellect. Just as science is not immutable, our idea of God has been undergoing continuous change. Thinking of God as some curmudgeonly, static is not only unwise but a dishonest caricature of a far greater agnostic God that is shrouded in mystery.

  Whenever we contemplate that nihilistic nothingness, we apprehend the unknowable reality of God. That cold bareness that  imbues our soul whenever we try to constrain God into the barriers of our "one" language, we found ourselves becoming perturbed. Why can't God simply feel characteristically jealous, incensed, or happy just like we occasionally do? But, humans feel a greater range of emotions therefore that God who seems so obtuse and trite within the Bible only exists as a particular Biblical character's projection of God. For example, Noah's God gladly does Noah's bidding by destroying the heathen that he thinks little of. Noah is plagued with toxic egotism that later reveals itself in the later verses of that story when Ham finds him in a pitiful state of drunkenness. This Noah is the result of a woeful figure whom hated himself so much that he was unloving towards other. The world itself became hostile and Noah became increasingly more fatalistic because love for either himself and others has been absent.  This tragic,insular psyche of Noah's is similar to that fish that consumes egocentric Jonah. Both of their worlds show a world without a healthy understanding of God.

We don't know the specifics unless we look at the importance of metaphorical language in the Bible. Karen Armstrong's book skillfully elaborates on the importance of understanding the artistic quality of the Bible's figurative language. Some Christians have artlessly leeched the Bible of any such subtlety and beauty by making the Bible become support for denouncing certain minorities or superficial causes like the supposed menace that Harry Potter poses against young, impressionable readers. These Christians sadly besmirch Christianity and give it a public reputation for being as obtuse as God appears within some of the Bible stories. Unfortunately, these Christians make the same mistake that the very human Biblical characters make in following their ego-God rather than a true enigmatic God.

Many people find fault with Karen Armstrong's depiction of an enigmatic God. Yet, we are being wholly dishonest by pretending that we have crafted some personalized view of God. Sadly, my experience with Christianity has been less about the merits of compassion and more about the importance of rightful belief as if your religious experience can be condensed to forcing your mind to accept abstruse doctrines about an intangible entity such as God. There are many emergent Christian groups that are struggling to make the Golden Rule a more dominant force within the religion. Far too many moral people, like Karen Armstrong, have found themselves being the enemy of Christianity for being intellectually humble and dangerously inquisitive. Sadly, our churches are as cavernous and dark just like the abysmal darkness that resides in that fish that swallowed Jonah.

Karen Armstrong's History of God serves as the thoughtful book that helps us leave that apocalyptic, egotistical Christianity that thrives on sinful certainty. It helps us realize that we are minuscule in the scheme  of the cosmos. More importantly, it shows that the current predicament Christianity and other religions face are caused by clinging to archaic, childish ideas of God. When Christianity makes scientific reality something that should be ignored rather than revered, Christianity causes itself to lose credibility among anyone who strives to be both honest and humble. Interestingly, much of the Bible cautions against things like pride and meanness. Prudence was often a celebrated virtue by some Christian philosophers. Yet, when some Christians advocate believing in literal translations, they are doing something is both imprudent, dishonest, and prideful. If we ignore the many revelations God has shown us in the form of history, art, philosophy, and science, we deny a more fulfilling idea of God.

For Karen Armstrong, this book serves as a way for us to appraise the complexity of our ideas of God. Many conservative Christians are fearful of such a limitless idea of God. But, we have caved into their demands;we have  given them the license to dictate how God should be viewed and worshiped.   In our polarized world, we need to develop more admirable forms of religion that respect the mystery of God, acknowledge scientific and historical reality, and uphold compassion and humility as the best virtues. Many people are disillusioned with a religion that often vilifies people for being human beings that doubt, postulate, and imagine greater unseen realities. History of God has helped me to achieve a richer view of God that was denied to me at church where I was forced to repress doubts and make myself as vacuous as possible.

I highly recommend this book to any curious seekers that find their seeking abilities being limited by the barriers of institutional religion. As someone who has been unable to believe in God until leaving the church, this book was a necessary step in recognizing that the grandeur of God dwells in those doubtful thoughts that the church identifies as being blasphemous.
"Hellmouth" Republic School District Maligns and Repeatedly Punishes Rape Victim:
(A Response to these two news articles-posted below)
 Article 1:

2. Details of Righteous Lawsuit, from parents of the victim:

   In our supposed morally ambiguous world, we are constantly in doubt about the psychological makeup or the characteristic signs of evil. Evil always seems boisterous as it boasts about its unpunished evil act. For this school district, they are certainly not wearing somber faces but smug ones because they know that they knowingly endangered a rape victim with a mental handicap. They are well aware that they took no preventive steps to insure this girl's safety. Instead, they are acting legalistic to the point where they are publicly making their indifference known about the matter.

   What is this maleficent school district showing this girl who lacks certain cognitive powers? They are showing that superior mental powers do not always translate to acute moral senses. Occasionally, it makes someone more malicious to the extent where they can endanger this girl's life without a shred of remorse. To me, these sorts of stories make it known to the world that sadly evil is existent and that it sometimes has no recognition of its self. Instead, this school continues to defend its insidious actions as though its reputation in the end is more important.

 We are witnesses to this same sort of defense of  institutional reputation within the Catholic Church which slowly, but surely is realizing the immorality of pretending that evil cannot penetrate its walls. (There are many moral champions inside and outside of the church who many are deeply grateful for!) In this frame of mind, from these institutions, the bearers of truth are vilified for standing up for justice in the face of an overwhelming amount of evil that vies for victory. In these cases, the small person like in many Charles Dickens stories are the ones who are honorable as they face opposition in the form of a depraved institutions.

Republic School District, for this matter, has surely shown themselves to be clearly depraved. Their decision to punish the victim of sexual abuse not once, but numerous times is indicative of their failure to protect the innocent. It's proof that sadly some people are still adherents of the corrupt "rule of silence," for any victims of rape. We thought that this truly malicious rule was restricted to the fifties but it still dwells in the minds of some people. Some people are so convinced by its legitimacy that they would ignorantly punish this girl to only safeguard the reputation of their school district of ill-repute.

Below, I have provided a link to the school district's home page. I ask all of you to consider writing a thoughtful email charged with incendiary words to describe your anger over this school district's horrific offense of human rights.
The Link to the School district located above the famed Hellmouth (Buffy allusion):
Superintendent Email 

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Discussion about Danny Boyle's Frankenstein Play Part 1:

   Frankenstein  happens to be one of my favorite novels because it reflects our need for companionship and inclination towards arrogantly knowing everything about the cosmos with certainty. As with the Greek tragedy, Frankenstein shows the dangers of pride. Throughout the Old Testament of the Bible, we are shown the dangers of being prideful. Oftentimes, prideful figures face repercussions that display to them the grave moral dangers of pride.

    Within our modern world, Frankenstein  continues to remain highly relevant. Recently, Danny Boyle deftly directed a London theater adaptation that focused on the universal human theme of disorientation within the world. Fantastically, the play began with a highly symbolic scene where the recently conceived Frankenstein feels unbalanced upon birth. Above him, the stage has countless light bulbs that signifies the one elusive mystery of the force of light. Strangely, its visible through certain scientific processes that allows it to be viewed by other components within our eyes that allows that particular type of energy to be recognized by our brains. Without that ability, would we really see the light? If we didn't have consciousness, would we really perceive that light in the same way that we take for granted daily. We accept that light exists as it is. But, if we were daring enough, we could uncover the more complicated scientific nature of light.

Our life is framed by this mystery. That light brimming above the newly developed Frankenstein shows the equally elusive mystery of our existence. Like light, we are simply visible but questionably existent.     What power beyond ourselves granted us this ability to perceive this existence yet have doubts about it? In us, why do we have cognitive powers that enable us to make things deceptively meaningful? Yet paradoxically, the predominant nihilistic view of things contradicts all meaning by making the universe an accidental, meaningless body of existence.

As Frankenstein begins to explore his existence, he happens upon the cottage where an old man along with his son and wife live. There, Frankenstein makes himself known only to the blind old man. Within these tales, blindness symbolically relates to open mindedness. Having the world's viewpoint, we see things limited and even superficially. Due to the old man's lack of this worldly obtuseness, he accepts Frankenstein initially because he is able to discern past Frankenstein's grotesqueness and realize that Frankenstein is both loving and inquisitive by nature. He hasn't been tainted by the evils of baser feelings yet like vindictiveness, greed, and superficiality. For now, Frankenstein inhabits a state of mind that perhaps the Jew scribes felt that Adam and Eve symbolically inhabited within the Garden of Eden Story.

Within the garden, they could have a thriving life where they were able to inquire and explore their world freely. They viewed the world beyond the surface-level descriptions we limit our worldview like race, religion, political ideology, gender, and sexual orientation. Within their world, there only lived the beauty of human existence and the inexorable world of God's creation. They haven't mired their world yet with greed, pride, or vengeance just yet. As Frankenstein finds himself betrayed by conceited humans, he'll find himself psychologically leaving the serenity of being loved and accepted for someone beyond the superficial level of existence. Aristotle depicts this as the deepest level of friendship that no longer cleaves to the base generalities of  vacuous friendship. Instead, it realizes the opposite person as something of mystery. In Hamlet, there's a wonderful quote that refers to every person being a mystery in of themselves. Frankenstein was treated as a astonishing mystery by the older man therefore Frankenstein can reciprocate those views and experience the ecstasy of recognizing that we are being "known" fully rather than known partially through a stereotype.