Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hypothetical future epic novel

For quite some time now, I've had an idea for an epic novel floating around in my head. I have to confess that I don't believe I have either the talent or the time to write it well but it's an idea that I'd love to sell to someone one of these days. The central idea of the book is an exploration of meta-fiction. The main character, Tom (my prologue currently gives him an Homeric epithet, Thomas the Unbound) knows that he is a fictional character.

Furthermore, he knows that he is a main character which means that he is practically invincible, since an author will only kill his main character if it serves some higher, symbolic or poetic purpose (e.g. self-sacrifice) or if the author introduces someone or something more interesting than the main character with which to replace him. The author (to whom I have been referring as Arthur) basically tells him to find his own destiny in the fictional world and provides a guide to help him in his journey - Don Quixote de la Mancha.

Don Quixote is a powerful literary figure in that his belief shapes his reality. In the first part of Don Quixote, the fictions his madness invents are only in his own head but, by the second part, they begin to transform the world around him. Thus, centuries later, he has perfected to a degree the ability to travel between fictional worlds at will. His vision, however, is limited to books of chivalry and perhaps the bible (since a good knight is also a good Christian). Tom knows no such limits.

Tom begins travelling through the world of Fiction, gaining power as he learns more control. At some point, he analyzes his own text as though from an outside perspective, unsettling Arthur no end. He decides that he wants to be truly immortal. To achieve this end, he decides two things:
1. He must be the most interesting person imaginable and do many amazing things so that Arthur cannot invent anything more interesting.
2. He must be selfish - since self-sacrifice is a vulnerability - yet he must not become completely evil or risk the hand of poetic justice smiting him. He decides that being power-hungry is a reasonable balance between the two.

To gain in power, he begins placing himself in situations in which Arthur must grant him additional power in order to preserve him. In my great, climactic example, he travels to the biblical depiction of the 2nd temptation of Christ and flings himself from the temple heights. Since, in a biblical context, Arthur cannot send angels to support someone who isn't worthy of their protection, he must instead grant him the power of flight.

By the conclusion of the tale, Tom has gained enormous power. His control of the fictional world is virtually absolute. A massive storm builds behind him as he attempts to merge all fictional dimensions into a single, great kingdom, threatening to tear apart the very fabric of Fiction as we know it.

Arthur suddenly realizes that there is only one thing to be done to stop Tom once and for all. He writes himself into the novel and traps himself in it, knowing that a genuinely all-powerful author is the only thing more potentially interesting than a virtually all-powerful character. He destroys his creation, restoring balance to the fictional universe but now cannot leave.

Here's what I have written so far - it's only bits and pieces but I'd love to have the chance to make it more. One meta-fictional twist to it is that "I" shifts between Arthur and Tom as they struggle for power.
Sing to me, Muse, of Thomas the Unbound, of his glory and power that transcend understanding.  Speak to me that I may write his tale and do justice and honor to his name.  Fill me, oh Muses of Fiction and Fantasy with the power of pen to create new life.  Oh patron saints of madmen, artists and inventors, grant me thy gifts and bless me with the talent to bring him to life, to give him a voice and a will.  
I set pen to paper and began to write.  "Thomas was a perfectly ordinary name, one that would fit well in almost any book.  This is precisely why it was a perfect name for the moat extraordinary figure ever created on a page." 
Yes, that's a good start...   
Chapter one:  the birth of a legend  
I blinked open my eyes as if awaking from a long sleep which I knew I could not have had since I had never slept.  I looked around me, expecting nothing since nothing was precisely the sum total of my experience up until that moment and thus, nothing is exactly what I saw.   
Nothing is quite so difficult to describe as nothing.  Except perhaps for eternity.  You may imagine, if it comforts you to do so, a field of white, glowing haze, a dark abyss or a simple, flat, gray plane but each of those is still something.  They have a color and a shape and so cannot be considered nothing.   
I knew, though, that I could not be blind and that I ought to see something - even in the darkest chamber one can perceive the dark.  With that thought, I saw Him.  Arthur, His name came to me, was my creator, perhaps something akin to a father except with no possibility of a mother. 
"What I'm telling you," replied Arthur calmly, "is that your destiny is completely your own.  As a fictional character, you have the freedom to do anything you can imagine."  
"I haven't exactly had a lot of experience with imagining anything yet," I answered.  "How am I supposed to know what to do with my life without any experience to draw on?  I know nothing beyond my immediate context and those gifts of language you've given me."  
"While I wish I could be your guide on your journey of self-discovery," said Arthur as he shook his head softly, "I am rather Ill-equipped for the task.  My life's experiences are those of a student, a writer and a simple father of a small family.  However, while I, myself, can only be your chronicler, I know the perfect guide to help you to find your own voice and lead you the rest of the way."  
With that, Arthur bent once again over his notebook and began writing with his original furvor.  An admittedly overused (though no less impressive for that fact) swirling blue and purple vortex appeared providing a convenient image to accompany the appearance of a new figure onto the scene.  
What first appeared through the portal was the head of an old, grey nag, well past its prime, whose decrepit body soon followed, bone by protruding bone.  Atop the horse sat a tall, gaunt figure dressed in a dirty, rusted suit of armor cobbled together, it seemed, from old kitchenware and a dingy yellow wash basin for a helmet.  For a moment, I doubted Arthur sanity as the weatherbeaten tail of the old gluepot passed into existence through the portal.  This was to be my guide?    
My doubts were quickly put to rest, however, when the figure atop the horse raised his visor and said,"¿Quienes sois vosotros que me paréis aquí?". He glanced then at Arthur and inclined his head, his tone softening.  "O Sabio Encantador, escritor de la historia de mis hechos y aventuras en la Mancha, ¿que requiere vuesa merced de mi?"  
I turned slowly to Arthur, certain now he had, indeed, lost his grip on reality or, rather, what passed for reality in a fictional context.  He returned my glance with a look of confusion.  He snapped his fingers as realization dawned on him.  "Of course, you don't understand Spanish.  Yet.". This last was added with a rueful grin and a quick scribble.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Heroes in a Colorful World

Hi, everyone. It's been an exceptionally long time since my last post but I felt as though I had to stand up and say something today about racism. In a recent discussion, one of my colleagues, believing himself to be surrounded by fellow liberals (I am beginning to believe that I am the only conservative in the state of Connecticut) declared that those from the Right ignore racism and pretend that it no longer exists in our society.

At least in my case, this is most definitely a false perception of conservatives. I think the problem here, though, is one of how we define success in this area. Liberals, in general, seem to be very concerned with tracking numbers and percentages. "This percentage of CEOs are white males," they declare, for example, or "This percentage of black kids drop out of school compared to this percentage of white kids. And let's not forget the Hispanic kids, Asian kids and (more recently) homosexual kids," stating that this must change. The way they decide to change it is by fiat - the government declares, "thou shalt have no fewer than X percentage of employees be of Y racial background or thou shalt lose much money." Colleges are praised for their ethnic diversity and racially-based scholarships abound. If you can prove that you have Native American ancestry, even if your family is otherwise like every other family in your local corner of suburbia, you are presented with a cornucopia of opportunities unavailable to your Caucasian neighbor. Thus, for the liberal idealist, a perfectly racism-free society would have those numbers balance perfectly - if 15% of the population is *fill-in-ethnic-backgound* then they'll be happy when they count that at least 15% of CEOs, managers, politicians and major league baseball team owners are *fill-in-ethnic-background.*

I remember a time when I was blissfully unaware of the issue of race or racism. I was a middle-class kid attending a private school in Los Angeles. One day, I noticed a girl in my 1st grade class who I thought was cute which, predictably, instantly made me uncomfortable talking to her. Noticing my discomfort, she declared, "Well, you just don't like me because I'm black." My mind was completely blown. First off, I *did* like her - that was precisely my problem. Secondly, and this is the part I expressed, "What does that [being black] have to do with anything?"

That day, this girl taught me 2 lessons I wished I had never learned with that simple statement. First, she taught me that there was some sort of fundamental difference between black people and white people. I hadn't even considered breaking people up by their skin tone before that moment. People were people, end of story, right? Apparently, this little girl thought otherwise.

The second lesson of that brief exchange, even more damning than the first, was that being black was a reason to not like someone. Now, it's important to note here that this message was not being touted by a white supremacist or a redneck but by a 7 year old black girl. Obviously, our social programming starts very early and happens on both sides of the "tolerance" line.

The next year, we moved to Santa Barbara. A new school brought new friends and new, interesting social situations. My first best friend in Santa Barbara was a kid by the name of Paul Gosh (I apologize for not remembering how to spell that last name). I would come home and tell my parents about what I had done with Paul today at recess or what have you. Then one day he came over. My parents were somewhat surprised to find that my friend was quite dark-skinned, a fact which I had never once mentioned even though I spoke of him frequently. Despite my paradigm shift from the year before, I was still pretty darn colorblind with regards to race.

Over the next couple of years, though, a particular ethnic group started getting my attention. While I should stress that this is a viewpoint I no longer hold, I decided at that time that I had a problem with Mexicans (to use the overly generalized concept graspable by a 9-10 year old). Why, you may ask, would I develop that kind of prejudice? The answer is quite simple. While I tried to be a friend to as many people as were willing to be my friend (which were, admittedly, not very many people), they consistently traveled together as an exclusive and unapproachable gang around the playground. They set themselves apart from everyone else and made it clear in no uncertain terms that they really didn't want or need anyone from outside of their racial profile. This was my first encounter with "*Fill-in-the-minority-or-ethnic-group* Pride" and I. Really. Didn't. Get it. I still don't! Why, I thought, would you ONLY want to make friends with people with the same racial background and exclude everyone else? I was being taught segregation in reverse - rather than keeping *them* separate from *us,* they kept their *us* separate from all of *them* (their Them being our Us - if that makes any sense which it probably doesn't).

Fast-forward through the years a bit and you'll find all of the race-specific clubs, assorted "Pride" groups and a really frustrated/frustrating Mexican Spanish teacher who hated white guys (it's documented, folks!) reinforcing this idea that we are not all the same and that the difference between races is more than skin-deep.

Even as a missionary in Guatemala, I found various kinds of racism all around me. Among them, while the way the Ladino was viewed by Latino society was a shock, the most striking to me was that same paradigm I had encountered in elementary school being repeated among my fellow missionaries. While we were often placed in multi-racial companionships (I actually had more Latino companions than Gringos), there were always the zone meetings where all the missionaries from a large area got together for training and, usually, pizza. During the social pizza-consumption portion of the program, I realized to my dismay that, every time, all the Gringos would gather together in one room and all the Latinos would gather in another room, usually with the Gringos staying in the room with the pizza and the Latinos filtering out. It's obviously hard to point fingers in this situation as to who is at fault - I really felt as though this minor xenophobia was some kind of "natural" (in the sense that the natural man is an enemy to God) process that I had somehow missed out on. Of course the English speakers want to hang out with English speakers if only so they can get a break from Spanish, right?

I made my choice then. When groups started separating, I always followed the Latinos. Even if I stuck out, even if I maybe even made someone uncomfortable by my presence, even though my grasp of the language wasn't all that great, I refused to be party to segregation, no matter how voluntary. I believe that any advantage I have/had in Spanish over my fellow Gringos is due, at least in part, to that choice. While I once hated the Spanish language because I associated it with those kids who ganged up on me in dodgeball and that Señora with her issues, I came to embrace it as a means of bridging the gap, of crossing into the space of "the other" and becoming one with them. While I have instructors here at UConn who dismissively decline to so much as comment on the idea (raised by my classmates) that we Gringos in the masters' program might be part of Latinoamerica, by choice rather than by birth, I truly feel that part of my heart is Latino. Okay, specifically Chapín but that's another story.

Boiling all this back down and bringing it back to my original point, my experiences have led me to a quite different conclusion regarding how we can measure success in combating racism. Instead of changing numbers it involves a change of heart - truly loving all people equally as God has commanded us. If you love your neighbor as yourself, you won't care what color they are, what their ethnic background is. You'll support them, share with them, raise your children together in harmony, not "in spite of" racial differences but because they really, honestly don't matter to either of you. If you truly love all of God's children the way we should, there will be no *us* and *them.*

It involves parents not teaching their children hate, but love, and I'm talking about both ends of the equation here. While I know that there are many white supremacist groups out there teaching their kids a gospel of hate - and that clearly needs to come to an end - I have to ask where that 7-year old girl learned that white people wouldn't like her because she was black? She certainly didn't learn it in school and she didn't learn it from me. Combating racism is a struggle for every home, every parent and every child. Once a parent has taught their child to hate or that they will be a victim of hate at the hands of white oppressors, as soon as a parent teaches their child a dichotomy between *us* and *them* along those lines no governmental edict or fiat will change their heart. Teach the parents to teach their children that love.

This change of heart won't be something you can measure, count or calculate percentages on precisely because that would defeat the purpose. As soon as you start thinking in terms of race, of comparing and contrasting along racial or ethnic lines, you are perpetuating the problem.

In my heart, I stand together tonight with Dr. King: I have a dream that one day all of God's children will be as equal in each others' sight as we are in His. I have a dream that every man will love his neighbor. I have a dream that we can start working towards that today. To quote Dr. King:

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that my . . . children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."

Friday, May 7, 2010

Four Years and Six Flags

For our anniversary, Emilee and I decided to go to Six Flags, New England and check it out. It just barely opened for the season a short time ago so we knew there would be few crowds, making it an ideal time to test-drive a new theme park. While there were some disappointments, we decided at the end of the day that we had had enough fun to upgrade our 1-day tickets to season passes.

When we first got there, the coaster name that was blared at us from all sides was Bizarro. This mammoth purple contraption had guests streaming towards the back of the park and looked like a lot of fun. We zipped through what little line there was at that point, secured our loose articles (not doing to can result in being ejected from the park - trying to take a picture or use a cell phone on a ride can get you banned for 5 years) and climbed aboard - only to find that the ride's restraints were insufficient for my girth. Even having lost somewhere between 40 and 45 pounds since August, the seatbelt didn't simply not fit, it was several inches away from it. Even Emilee, far slenderer than I, just barely squeezed into the restraint. We were encouraged to try "another, less restrictive ride, like Batman" by the ride attendant who helped me out of the restraints I had managed to get on.

After this quite disappointing beginning, we tried another ride - Thunderbolt, oldest coaster still in operation at the park. After squeezing my hindquarters into the seat, I found that this belt, at least, was quite accommodating. While the squeeze was a tight one, I quite enjoyed this ride, helping to lift the dark mood, especially when Emilee helped me realize that I might not have been able to ride it 45 pounds ago. "We've earned a coaster!" became the rallying cry. At this point, Emilee recalled that a list of girth-restrictive rides was available at Guest Relations, so we headed there. I asked for that list, which prompted several minutes of searching in various cupboards and drawers, after which the young woman helping me simply jotted down the rides she hears a lot about - these were Bizarro, Tomahawk, Twister and Scream, the latter three of which weren't that interesting to us anyway. She mentioned that "Any ride with a shoulder harness might be a problem, but some of them, like Batman, have a modified belt in the middle so they're less restrictive."

We began wandering at random at that point and found Houdini's Great Escape, which turned out to be a very fun little thrillusion to which we returned at the end of our stay. Further description of the ride would spoil the surprise for anyone interested in going but it's a lot of fun. Pandemonium was also fun, a fairly standard small coaster setup but with spinning seats, adding a fascinating element of unpredictability to the ride.

Cyclone also turned out to be a very tight fit. A VERY tight fit, requiring some help from the ride attendant to get buckled. It was kind of a rough ride and a bit of a stomach turner. What really made us decide to take a break, though, was Flashback, a shoulder-harnessed ride that spins you around first going forward then going backward. My shoulder harness loosened just a click on the way up the inertia-gathering slope, causing just a bit of sheer terror as I clung to it, just in case. After returning from our lunch break, we rode a teacups ride quite similar to that at Disneyland and Catwoman's Whip, a gentler coaster which served as a good transition back into action.

From here, we headed to Mind Eraser, a dangly, twisty ride. Noting that there would be shoulder harnesses, I asked a line worker what my odds were of fitting on the ride. After a moment's hesitation, he said, "I'm sure you'll be fine." I clambered up the ride, slipped into the seat, pulled down the harness and pulled up on the belt which buckles into the harness. . . and discovered that it was several inches too short. Noting that the general statement about shoulder harnesses was true, I asked the ride operators about these rides more generally and was told that Batman had a few seats with a different belt system. Are we noticing a running theme here?

I was also too big for Batman.

Admittedly, the ride DID have a couple of more accommodating seats. If they had been about one inch more accommodating, I would have been just dandy. Ah, well. We got away from that part of town and found Splash Water Falls, a ring-shaped raft ride. A lack of seat belts made this one an attractive choice, so we got in line. We found ourselves behind a VERY dorky group of high schoolers who kept chanting random phrases and screaming at their friends who were on the ride. It was about the time they started randomly singing, "We are the champions" that I prayed for deliverance. My prayer was rapidly answered as the line worker asked for a party of two, one of several times that our nature as a small family came in handy. This ride made us dizzier than any other but it was a lot of fun.

At Emilee's suggestion, we then got on the bumper cars for a quick bout before repeating Houdini. As we began heading to that section of town, we noticed that some fellow travelers were wet, leading us to discover that Blizzard River, which had been closed when we arrived at the park, had beenre opened. Having just had a great time on a raft ride, we clambered aboard - only to find that the curse of the seat belts had come calling again. Thankfully, with the ride operator's help, we were able to bridge the gap and got on our way. The chilling mist on this ride, in addition to being a welcome change from the heat of the afternoon, was a great special effect to go with the penguins and fake ice floes. Neither Emilee nor I were the direct recipients of the waterfalls on the ride but we still felt nicely damp when we got off.

All in all, even with the number of rides we had to cross off as inaccessible, we had a really good time. It being an anniversary trip, I reflected that it really was a good synopsis of married life - there are disappointments and trials but sticking through it together makes it all worthwhile. Just as we got season tickets in anticipation of future visits, we look forward to many more years of happy married life.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Part of Your World: The Little Mermaid as a post-colonial text.

My Literary Analysis professor has decided that, instead of a final exam, we can opt to write a 5-7ish page paper on the text of our choice - we just have to clear it with him first. He's really into film so I think this idea has a shot, but in case it doesn't, I wanted to jot down my notes for a possible future topic. Plus, they're bouncing around in my head and won't let me sleep. Rather than writing the entire paper here (and being up until 5:00 AM at least doing it), I'll restrict myself to a basic outline.

Basic ideas of post-colonial lit included here: The subaltern (oppressed and voiceless) and transnationalism (border societies, border crossings).

1. Merfolk are, by nature, a transnational group: Being half human and half fish, they have the ability to exist between these two worlds but never quite be an integral part of either one. King Triton has rejected the human aspect of his origins and commands his followers to do the same. While they have many fishy friends, they are not truly fish but are seen as something greater, as demonstrated by the deference shown them by (most of) the creatures of the deep. Thus, they have set up their own nation, Atlantica, within the ocean realm.

2. Ariel's grotto as a transnational space: Ariel, in opposition to her father, actively seeks out her human origins. Long before Prince Eric enters the picture, her curiosity about the human world leads her to intensive study including the collection of artifacts and anecdotes via her transnational contact, Scuttle. (see 2.5 below) It is within her transnational space, embracing both her aquatic and human roots, that she feels "at home."

2.5 Scuttle as a self-deluded transnational figure: He believes he understands the human world through his observations but really has no clue. Living proof that living somewhere doesn't make you an expert.

3. Part of your world: Ariel recognizes that, study as she might, she can never truly understand the human world without living among humans. While she has clearly learned a great deal of their language ("What's that word again? Street!"), she recognizes that something is missing, saying "I want more." She is not speaking of adding more thingamabobs or dinglehoppers to her collection but of gaining intimate understanding of the human world. This desire becomes even more keen with the entrance of Prince Eric and her ensuing infatuation.

4. Ariel in exile: King Triton learns of Ariel's treasure(d) grotto and misunderstands it as a subversive space rather than one of expression and exploration. As any number of colonizing and governmental forces have done through the ages, Triton destroys Ariel's transnational home, forcing her to choose between her origins. Having just been betrayed by all that she associates with her aquatic roots and feeling that she has nothing left there, she chooses to cross the border.

4.5a Ursula as the Coyote: She facilitates Ariel's border crossing but, as many migrant smugglers, extorts a heavy, manipulative price.

4.5b "Don't underestimate the importance of 'body language'. . . Yes, on land it's much preferred for ladies not to say a word:" In addition to being an illegal immigrant (for whom the border patrol will come in 3 days unless she can get her green card), Ursula points out that Ariel is and will be subaltern in her position as a female in a "man's world." Being unable to speak (both figuratively and literally), Ursula proposes that Ariel's only potential for power and influence within a patriarchal human society is her sexuality.

5. Voiceless: Ariel may have felt powerless under Triton's rule, but she now finds herself across the border, truly subaltern and voiceless. By a stroke of good fortune, she finds herself being ushered into what Angel Rama called la Ciudad Letrada (the Lettered City) but it is quite obvious, mainly from her initial awkwardness with human society caused by her incomplete knowledge, that she doesn't really "belong" there. She is quite clearly a guest of this society, not a member.

6. Deportation: She begins to adapt quickly to rules of this new society but every moment she spends adapting brings the border patrol closer to her door. She is caught and deported before she can secure her green card. While she may have regained her voice, she certainly has lost any shred of influence she may have possessed in either of the two worlds, having sacrificed all she had to the Coyote.
7. My hero: Ariel, disenfranchised and powerless, lies at the bottom of the whirlpool. She can do nothing for herself but feebly attempt to survive. It is not she but Prince Eric, representative of the Lettered City, who holds the power to save the day, release her from her prison and the bonds into which she placed herself and restore order to the world.

8a. "Get everything you wanted. . .": In the end, Ariel is granted the opportunity to remain with her prince in the Lettered City. The use of the word granted is carefully chosen here as she does nothing to "earn" her place in this world but, rather, is gifted her desires by Prince Eric and King Triton, both patriarchal authority figures.

8b, ". . . lose what you had.": As Triton says, "There's just one problem left. . . how much I'm going to miss her." She gains her voice in her new nation but at a tremendous cost, perhaps even worse than that exacted by Ursula: She is forever cut off from her society of origin. As with any subaltern seeking to have a voice in the Lettered City, she must adapt to their discourse, their way of life, and sever her ties with her family and friends. She has her green card and her prince but is otherwise quite alone.

Note: Quote for 8a and 8b is from Princess and the Frog.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Semi-practical applications of what I'm studying!

One of the most crucial facets of the evolution of current literary criticism is the search for Meaning. During the study of it, the image comes to mind of a child asking, "Mommy, where does Meaning come from?" Not too very long ago, Meaning was thought to be tied in to the author's "intent." What the author meant to say with the text was what the text said.
Then came Barthes and said, similar to the declaration of Nietzsche, "The author is dead." According to Barthes and his contemporaries, a text, once written, is a separate entity from its author and the Meaning of the text must lie there, within the text itself, divorced from the author. While the author is alive, of course, they may write commentaries in an attempt to clarify the matter, but the text itself remains apart, as do each of the commentaries. This gave rise to the idea of the indeterminacy of Meaning, that a text can have many different Meanings embedded therein.
Following along those lines, in more recent years, the source of Meaning has been again transferred, this time to the reader. Reader Response Criticism (and other related schools of thought) state that it is the responsibility of the individual reader to, not simply find Meaning within a text but, rather, to place Meaning into the text in the process of reading it. The Meaning they find, of course, will depend upon their prejudices - not prejudices in the currently common negative sense, but with the idea of that which we are preconditioned to receive through our life experiences and the kind of person we are as a result of them.

With that out of the way, we get to the practical part of this blog entry. On a light-hearted note, Reader Response Criticism applies just as well to films and television as it does to printed media and Burton's production of Alice in Wonderland is a perfect example. Each of us comes into a theatre with certain prejudices - again, in the sense of a predisposition rather than one of bigotry, though such may be part of our prejudices - which color our viewing of the film. A person with a strong bias against fantasy films, Tim Burton, Disney or Johnny Depp is likely to find themselves disappointed. Some reviewers look to what they believe the author's intent to be, one saying "Lewis Carroll himself was not a writer but a mathematician [. . .] who liked the illogical, if that's how you wanted to approach the story then add in some of the illogical." One reviewer referred to it as "something like a post-modern tale of self-discovery." It could be interpreted as a feminist discourse as Alice becomes an independent woman freed from the shackles of her society. Emilee responded to it as a tale of courage as Alice finds the strength to be what she needs to be.

Personally, I discovered in Burton's rendition a striking lesson on the relationship between free will and divine foreordination. Alice arrives in Wonderland to find that her role has been foretold by a mystic scroll (I like that line - quite poetic, I think), an idea which she finds quite distasteful. She at first attempts to deny that role, stating, "This is my dream," and expresses a determination to reshape her destiny according to her own will. As the film progresses, however, through the guidance of the Mad Hatter and Absalom, the blue caterpillar, her determination to bend the world to her whims lessens. The White Queen's advice to her is, to my mind, the cornerstone of the message - she tells Alice that, if she is to serve in her role as the predestined hero of Underland, it must be her own choice to do so. A final push from Absalom commenting on metamorphosis and change brings her around to choose her predestined course.
We have been foreordained - predestined, if you wish - to that which God would have us do, but we always have a choice. We may choose to say, as Alice, "This is my life, and I'll do with it as I please." God's knowledge, however, is far greater than our own - His ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts than our thoughts, as Isaiah reveals. We must not seek to bend divine will to suit our own desires. We will find ourselves far happier if we learn to say, as Christ, "Not my will, but thine be done." Conforming our will to the will of the Father - making His path not only our foreordained one but also our chosen one - is the key to happiness, both in this life and in the world to come.

On that note, the Bible was a text (or, rather, a set of texts which were later compiled) which was/were written with a very specific intent, to lead people in a righteous path which would bring them back to our Father. The writings and actions of prophets and apostles contained therein demonstrated that the people, left to their own devices, found all sorts of Meanings in the text which strayed from the greater Author's intent. The leaders of God's flocks worked to give course correction through further correspondence and discourse and throughout their assorted journeys, all guided by the great Author.
But, just as Barthes said, the mortal authors of these texts are dead. Their works have been left open to interpretation and the proliferation of Christian churches and creeds which we see today are evidence of how many different Meanings can be found within that sacred text. People are ideologically tossed about by differing viewpoints and interpretations, all based on different individual understandings of the Bible. Reader Response Criticism put into practice produces a world of confusion about the Author's intent which, in the case of holy writ, is quite important, as stressed by its mortal authors.
Thus we may see the critical need, in today's world, for continued input from the Author of our souls to clarify the true Meaning of the sacred text. Thus the need for continuing revelation, of prophets and apostles "to guide us in these latter days." They provide, through their intimate revelatory connection with the Author, not simply *an* interpretation of scripture but *the* interpretation, the only one of divine origin.
Relating to my earlier point, God as our Author must be allowed to give continual input if we are to find true Meaning in our own lives. Through the guidance of the Holy Ghost, God can be not only our Author but our Authority, directing us in all things to our good. We must not simply rely on our own interpretation of the text of our lives but turn to Him and allow our story to unfold.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Reflections on the Looking Glass

Yesterday, Emilee and I went to see the Disney/Tim Burton production of Alice in Wonderland. When dealing with the surreal, dreamlike world presented by Lewis Carroll, one expects to find qualities both of dreams and of nightmares. For every Frumious Bandersnatch, there's a Vorpal Sword awaiting the hand of a hero. This film, as such, is neither the itty-bitty-friendly land of enchanted princesses we often associate with Disney nor the haunting and often haunted universe many associate with Tim Burton. The tone of the film is somewhat more akin to the Dungeons and Dragons modules based on the books - nothing is quite as it seems nor, perhaps, quite as you remember (or as Alice fails to remember) and it's hard to know whose side everyone is on - all presented with the flair, panache and spectacle (including great CGI effects) of Disney and Walden Media's first Chronicles of Narnia film.

While the CGI creatures are eye-popping (those of you who have seen the film will know exactly what I mean) and the backdrops breathtaking, the crew outdid themselves with Alice's wardrobe. With the various growing and shrinking that Alice does during the film, her dress is rarely quite up to the task, but she somehow (whether by magical means or through some help from the Hatter) finds herself in a new gown, each more glorious than the last a la Dr. Seuss's 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, all while exposing little flesh below the shoulders.

And, to any of my friends in Provo waiting for the dollar theatre, I suggest that you don't. This is a film which cries out for a theatre capable of making full use of a good theatre's sound system and 3D capabilities. The clearest example is Alice's high-speed tumble down the rabbit hole, where you hear objects approaching from the back of the theatre just before they whoosh past your/Alice's head.

In summary, hats (mad or otherwise) off to Disney, Burton and the rest.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Mental Meanderings in the Morning

It has long been said that when you can't sleep because you've got too much running through your head, the best thing to do is write it down to get it out of your head. So, here goes:

I'll be administering another quiz on Monday and I keep going over the quiz in my head: Is this question fair? Did I phrase that clearly? Did I make an embarrassing mistake?

Before the quiz, there's a review activity: Did I set it up right? Will it run smoothly? Will they enjoy it as much as I hope they do? Will it really be a good enough review to be worth it?

Then I get to more general worries about teaching: How am I going to cover All This material before Spring Break? I'm SO sick of giving instructions for an activity and hearing, "So, what are we doing?" or "So, we're doing X?" in English. When they work in pairs or groups, I hear a bunch of them asking their partners, in English, what they're supposed to be doing. PAY ATTENTION! I honestly do make the instructions clear if you'll just listen up!

My thoughts about teaching wouldn't be complete without my Sunday School class tomorrow (or, every other week, leading the music for Primary). Did I plan well enough? Will the students/kids get what they need to out of the lesson? Will I make some colossal blunder and lose the respect of student/kids and teachers/parents alike?

Of course, I've got my own schoolwork to worry about. I've got a short paper due on Tuesday for which I haven't gotten beyond the planning phase. There's ALWAYS more reading to do.

Then, to top it all off, one of my friends posted a Spanish (technically Castellano, but whatever) version of Hakuna Matata on Facebook and I've got the tune stuck in my head.

Finances play a part in there too, of course, but that's more of a consistent back-of-the-head concern.

So, there's my report. Wish me luck getting back to sleep!

Which classic Superhero are you?

Your results:
You are Superman
Green Lantern
Iron Man
The Flash
Wonder Woman
You are mild-mannered, good,
strong and you love to help others.
Click here to take the Superhero Personality Quiz