Tag Archives: C. S. Lewis

Getting It Right (4)

This is my final installment concerning Black Panther (2018 Disney Marvel, Directed by Ryan Coogler), and I thought an appropriate summary would be a listing of the scenes which resonated most with me on an emotional level. Unfortunately, they didn’t involve breathless action, so I couldn’t find many pictures.

Both ancestral scenes got to me. I’m at an age where I’ve had to say goodbye to both of my parents, and that kind of experience opens up a whole new world of understanding. Here is a sequence from the first ancestral scene which really pulled me in.

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I probably need to say this for some of my Christian followers. I myself am a Christian, so I don’t subscribe to ancestor worship, transfiguration of humans and animals, or communication with the dead. Neither do I take my fantasy literally. It’s possible to take this scene as a metaphor for what a great many people feel and for what they deal with from their own pasts. Concerning the transition between men and animals, I have used this allegorically in a few of my own stories. It helps in explaining spiritual concepts which are otherwise difficult to visualize. C. S. Lewis did this as well.

I attended Shortridge High School (a. k. a. “The Ridge”), an inner city school with a good academic curriculum in Indianapolis, Indiana. I also did a brief stint as a teacher replacement at an inner city public school, and (as I mentioned previously in this series) I am currently a biology professor at a women’s college. Perhaps all of this is why I almost teared up when I saw the scene in which a team from Wakanda inspires some ghetto children not with  physical prowess, weaponry, or superhero costumes but with scientific achievement. That scene alone was worth the whole movie.

The scene in which the leader of the mountain clan shows compassion on the Black Panther’s family was particularly touching.

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This theme of reconciliation was embodied well by the scene in which Black Panther and Killmonger watch the sun setting over Wakanda (a nice methaphorical touch, by the way). Seeing bitter rivals speaking to each other with civility and a certain amount of social warmth appeals to my Christian ethics.

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I also liked the peacefulness and redemptive quality of the final outro at the end of the credits, but I can’t really describe it for fear of spoiling the enjoyment of those who have yet to see the movie.  Okay, let’s say goodbye to Wakanda (for now). It’s time to make the real world a better place.

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Recovering Ideals (2)

Immature idealism, while not without value, has some problems. Perhaps greatest of these is that it is self-aggrandizing. The immature often turn their ideals back toward a pride in themselves. As an example, helping others can be done with the aim of seeing oneself as one who helps others rather than out of a genuine concern for others. Many who claim to love the masses do not love the individuals of whom the masses are composed.


Consider the following quote from The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis:

“She’s the sort of woman who lives for others – you can tell the others by their hunted expression.”

It’s not until we get to know individuals and connect names with faces that we can experience a more genuine compassion. Superman: Peace on Earth, the first story from The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes (DC Comics) by Alex Ross and Paul Dini,  begins in this way when Superman rescues a starving girl and delivers her to a shelter where she can receive food.


This leads him, as Clark Kent, to do some personal research into the problem of world hunger and its causes. Based on his recent experience, he is particularly moved by photographs of starving individuals, particularly children, and, as Superman, he becomes motivated to seek world-wide cooperation in gathering food and solving the problem.


Initially, his efforts are gratifying.


One panel that impressed me shows him descending past Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor), the huge Art Deco statue of Jesus Christ in Rio de Janeiro, with a large container of food held above his head.


A second problem with immature idealism is impatience. This often stems from pride and the related desire for the singular, heroic act which, in turn, feeds that pride. Within the one day that Superman set aside for his task, he realizes that it will not be enough. The problem he is attempting to solve is simply too great.


Even he can’t be everywhere at once, day after day. He discovers the host of complications which frustrate efforts at charity in the real world: fear and suspicion among intended recipients, bottlenecks imposed by corrupt governments (some of which use starvation as a tool for controlling their populaces), and the unwillingness of those who are capable of lending assistance. It had been his hope that the world would follow his example, but much of the food goes to waste.


A powerful being can control humanity about as effectively as a human can control ants. They just don’t follow orders very well. Should one leave the ants to work out their own issues or choose to crush them? This hints at the difficulty absolute power might face in persuading people to receive help and to stop harming and exploiting each other. This reminds me of when I was in track practice at my high school and saw a friend of mine being jumped. This had happened to me one year earlier, and I had ended up with my jawbone being kicked into three pieces (prior to having it wired shut by an oral surgeon). A teammate and I rushed to break it up, and we were joined by a star player from our state-ranked basketball team. The three of us had a devil of a time getting the attackers to stay off of their intended victim. We simply didn’t have enough hands, and they kept going around us. To use our fists would have been to become what we were fighting. A passing motorist even tried to help us, and we eventually succeeded. My teammate and I were not small, but I remember feeling inadequate despite our superior size and strength (one of the young thugs only came up to my shoulder). I wonder what God must think whenever we act out. I’m glad he doesn’t just crush us.


Solving human problems requires the coordinated and persistent effort of other human beings: human beings with ideals, the courage and commitment to act in accordance with them, and patience for the long haul. Even at that, we can only help and influence those we can, and some still might not respond. Using this as a major component of a superhero story is a challenging approach because it puts responsibility right back on us, including those of us who believe in, and pray to, God.

Mythology In Space: Part 8

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The final book of the space trilogy by C. S. was for me the most absorbing. I found That Hideous Strength to be a true page turner. It describes a cosmic battle between diabolical sterility (symbolized by the moon and championed by a secretive organization) and the blessed messiness of life (championed by a group of inspired refugees in an old English house with a resident bear named Mr. Bultitude).

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The conflict is waged in an English university town which serves as a microscosm for the world. The characters and the plot take the reader through feelings of apprehension, fear, introspection, relief, and elation.


Some masterfully timed humor precedes a satisfyingly climactic resolution. As any good fantasy should be, this is a very human story, and its impact is enhanced by supernatural elements. Featuring sinister entities known to certain characters only as Macrobes, the Oyeresu from multiple worlds, a resurrected Merlin, and a nearly perfected Elwin Ransom, this is a story unlike any I have ever read. So slow down, dig in, and enjoy the ride.

Mythology In Space: Part 7

Perelandra is the second book in the Space Trilogy by C. S. Lewis. Originally, this was my least favorite in the series, but my appreciation for this work has grown since then.


When I first read this story, I didn’t enjoy the planetary landscape as much as that of Malacandra (Mars), but the author’s description of Perelandra (Venus) was more appealing on my second reading years later. The key was that I had to stop thinking like a scientist and, instead, simply enjoy the fantasy. The entire planet is portrayed as a maritime Garden of Eden, complete with floating islands, dragons, fanciful aquatic beasts, and a newly created Adam and Eve.


Eldil and and an Oyarsa are also involved in the affairs of this planet, but the main plot element is a temptation saga in which Dr. Elwin Ransom and Dr. Weston engage in debate as the agents of God and Satan (the Bent One). Some reviewers have expressed the same criticism I initially had: that the dialogue was tedious and slowed the development of the story. Nothing could be further from the truth. By the time I read these passages again, I was more familiar with the writings of Plato and John Milton, and I could recognize these exchanges as a brilliant adaptation from Platonic dialogues and Paradise Lost. Rather than a weak link in the chain, this book stands on its own strength.


Mythology In Space: Part 6

I found Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis to be an intriguing mix of Greco Roman mythology, Christianity, and science fiction. The pacing is slower than what contemporary readers have been conditioned to expect, but this is an example where I believe patience will be rewarded. The prosaic style for me was reminiscent of science fiction classics from the nineteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries.


Early on, the story introduces three characters. Dr. Weston and Dick Devine are of the villainous sort and apparently exemplify what the author saw as wrong (or “bent”) in the way of modern ethics. Dr. Elwin Ransom is the focal point, and he begins a transformation which reaches its culmination by the third story of the space trilogy.


The descriptions of the landscape and inhabitants of Mars are clearly inaccurate, but they work for the kind of story this is: a fantasy. What are hrossa, pfifltriggs, sorn, and hnakra? Read the book to find out. It’s a pretty good ride.


What grabbed my attention the most were the spiritual beings of Mars. C. S. Lewis invents a new nomenclature for them as well as some abstract philosophy on their properties and on the nature of space and motion. If you have not yet read this book, would you like to know the identities of and meanings behind Oyarsa and eldil? Good. I’m not going to tell you. I wouldn’t want to destroy the pleasure of gradual discovery during a journey on Mars.

Mythology In Space: Part 5

This week, I turn to what I consider a more complete synthesis of mythology and science fiction: the space trilogy by C. S. Lewis. I believe that some of the modern day criticisms of this series (which are relatively few and minor) have arisen from unfamiliarity with the literary works which Lewis apparently used as sources for some of his ideas.  Familiarity with Platonic and medieval concepts of the universe goes a long way in helping with the understanding and appreciation of the three books in question. The author also works in some influences from Arthurian legend. Then, of course, there is the author’s Christian perspective, so at least a nodding acquaintance with theology is helpful.


Stylistically, the series is a good example of science fiction from the first half of the twentieth century. As such, it is outdated and inaccurate in light of the extensive data produced by various NASA missions, but this is alright. I mean, it’s science fiction, right? More accurately, these are fantasies disguised as science fiction. They were written at a time when historical limitations in knowledge and technology left more room in the solar system for the exercise of the imagination.

From the September 8, 1947 cover of TIME magazine.
From the September 8, 1947 cover of TIME magazine.

And the author’s imagination was prolific as well as being informed by his scholarship and understanding of classical works of literature. He was the product of a school of thought so aptly described by Dorothy Sayers in her essay entitled The Lost Tools of Learning. This shows in the quality of his thoughts and the effectiveness of his written expression. Overall, I found this trilogy a refreshing and unique blend of Greek philosophy, Christian theology, Arthurian legend, and science fiction.

The three books of the trilogy are (in order) Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. In the next few weeks, I will briefly examine each of these stories.

Liebster Award Nomination

I need to insert this between posts for my Modern Pantheon series so that I may thank Kgothatjo Magolego (KG’s MOVIE RANTS) for nominating me for a Liebster Award. I understand that this is an honor, and I am happy to play along. Here is the information he sent me:


Liebster Award Nomination


I’d like to thank Hammy Reviews for nominating me for this award, please do check out his blog by clicking here. I’d see blogs I was following, writing about receiving these awards and wondering if I’d ever get one. So this is really a honour. I’d also like to thank everyone who reads my blog and chimes in with a comment or a like. I might forget to reply to a comment once and a while but I appreciate your presence.

The Rules:

  1. Acknowledge the blog that nominated you and display the award.
  2. Answer 11 questions that the blogger gives you.
  3. Give 11 random facts about yourself.
  4. Nominate 5-11 blogs you think are deserving of the award that have less than 200 followers (decided to keep it strictly WordPress blogs cause I can’t tell how many followers bloggers on other servers have).
  5. Let the blogs know you have nominated them.
  6. Give them 11 questions to answer

*See above for my acknowledgement of KG’s Movie Rants.

Here are my answers to Kgothatjo’s questions:

Your most embarrassing moment?

I think that would have to be high school basketball practice when I guarded a teammate. Everyone in the gym was laughing, and there was no way to hide or get out of it.

Favourite movie and why?

This is impossible for me to answer. I’m suffering from choice anxiety here, so I’ll narrow it down to my favorite monster movie: The Water Horse. It’s a charming location and period piece, and I thought the child characters were adorable. Plus, the special effects were convincingly good.

Marry, kill, sleep with: Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Tom Hiddleston?

I’ll have to be a bit of a buzz kill. I wouldn’t marry any of them because I am already married to my wife of 36 years, and she is the love of my life. I would not kill any of them, either, since I’m a Christian, and – well – that’s just plain bad. I’m also afraid sleeping with any of them is out of the question since I’m a dedicated heterosexual and have promised my wife that I will never sleep with anyone but her. I would like to have a conversation with Tom Hiddleston. My son-in-law, Michael Greenholt, helped animate Tinker Bell: The Pirate Fairy, for which Tom provided some vocal work. Mike said that this excellent actor is an interesting, gracious, and pleasantly mannered gentleman, so even Loki can’t be all bad.

Last thing that made you laugh uncontrollably?

This happens fairly often, so I can’t pin down a specific memory. I’m sure, however, that it would have been at an extended family gathering. My brothers are hilarious, and this generally happens late at night when things seem funnier.

Favourite childhood memory?

There have been so many, that it’s difficult to pick just one. One that just came to mind is when my grandfather took one of my brothers and I fishing on a permanent pier in Lake Michigan. He fell asleep on the pier, and my father took a picture of us with our unconscious Doccie. I still have that photograph framed and hanging on the wall, and it is a treasured possession.

Favourite song at the moment?

This is another hard one. It depends on the mood, so right now I’ll say Dock of the Bay as sung by Otis Redding. I play the electric bass for a hobby, and Duck Dunn’s elegant countermelody on that song might be one of the best ever recorded in popular music.

If you could be any fictional character who would it be and why?

I’m more comfortable inventing characters than pretending to be one, but I’ll pick Innocent Smith from Man Alive by G. K. Chesterton.  He reminds me of another one of my brothers, and I responded to his off-the-wall spontaneity. He enlivened the other characters around him and improved their lives. I’d like to do that, too. Favorite quote by this character: “The puppy struggles.” Read this odd story for yourselves to get the context.

Do you have any unusual talents?

I’m not completely sure. I have a very active imagination, and I have been fairly good (but not great) at a number of things throughout my life. I’ve had my athletic phase, my musical phase, and my scientific phase. I am currently in my teaching phase, and I hope to enter more fully into my writing phase when I retire.

What’s your blogging process?

Creativity is a deep well that nobody truly understands. Things in which I am interested reach critical mass until I feel compelled to write about them. That’s all I can think of to say. My mind abhors a vacuum.

Do you put your ketchup over your fries or on the side?

I used to put it on the side and dip my fries. I am now much too health-conscious to eat that kind of food. My father died prematurely of a heart attack, and it is my sincere desire not to follow in his steps.

What’s your vision for your blog?

  1. I snore, but that’s okay because so does my wife. She’s awesome.
  2. My favorite color as a child was forest green.
  3. I always had German chocolate cake for my birthday when I was growing up. My mother baked it for me.
  4. I love well-made monster movies, and I own several. It has to be realistic, doggone it.
  5. I am a fanciful personality who had to learn to be disciplined, thorough, and logical.
  6. If my teachers hadn’t forced me to read, I would have missed out on a lifetime pleasure, and I wouldn’t have developed a passion for writing. My days of skimming and faking the book report are over.
  7. I was an excellent crammer in college. This, of course, is not the same thing as learning.
  8. My favorite authors are G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, John Steinbeck, and Thorton Wilder.
  9. My favorite book by Wilder is Theophilus North, which was written very near to the end of his life. The main character is a good smart aleck.
  10. I am drawn to a good smart aleck.
  11. I speak fluent jackass. My wife will attest to this.

I would like to nominate these bloggers for a Liebster Award:

  1. The Animated Life
  2. Gabbing Geek
  3. Enette’s World
  4. Kinnerstern
  5. Wyrmflight

*Please see the rules of acceptance near the top of this post.

Here are my 11 questions for you to answer:

  1. What do you find yourself thinking about when you don’t have to?
  2. What do you love even when you fail at it?
  3. What do you hate even when you succeed at it?
  4. In your perfect universe, who are you, and what are you doing?
  5. What do you prefer to write about and why?
  6. Invent a motto for living. You needn’t be serious.
  7. You have to spend three months vacationing by yourself. How would you best use that time?
  8. The world would be a better place if everyone would just…
  9. What is a creative project for which you wish you had enough time?
  10. If you had an income of a million dollars a year, how much would you need to live on, and what would you do with the rest?
  11. Of all the announced releases for future movies, which one do you look forward to seeing the most?



Literary Legislation (Part 3)

In contradiction to how I ended my last post, I had an easier time then expected in finding a commendable female character from ancient mythology. Though she did not do anything particularly heroic, Nausicaa is described favorably in The Odyssey for helping Odysseus after he washes up on the shore of her father’s kingdom. Still, she was relegated to a role which was typical of the times. At least her mother, Queen Arete, was alleged to have been wiser even than King Alcinous, her father.

Nausicaa by Frederic Leighton, c. 1878
Nausicaa by Frederic Leighton, c. 1878

The compassion and nurturing nature of Princess Nausicaa in this tale by Homer evidently inspired the title characterfrom Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, the manga comic series (and subsequent feature animation) by Hayao Miyazaki.

Color illustration from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki.
Color illustration from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki.

This character lives in a post-apocalyptic world of monsters, deities, and warring nations. Her mixture of humility, heroism, innocence, and femininity is a refreshing departure from an overworked device of more recent manufactured mythologies.

The device to which I alluded is a type of template for female heroes: sexual attractiveness (within narrow cultural stereotypes) combined with attributes more traditionally associated with men. The latter include anger, aggression, and violent capability. The right measure of tomboyishness adds nuance. Too much tends toward boring predictability and limitation, and I appreciate Miyazaki for avoiding this. As a general observation, he gets women and girls right, and he does so with insight, variety, and respect.

An example of a writer who did something similar (especially with younger characters) is  C. S. Lewis. Lucy Pevensie, Polly Plummer, and Jill Pole from various installments of The Chronicles of Narnia series are a few of the endearing and interesting personalities he invented. In The Silver Chair,  he used Jill in a subtle but clever plot development to demnostrate the ways in which adults demean younger girls. His social statement  was tangential to the main story line and not at all heavy-handed. Such critiques are often more effective when they are not emphasized.

1998 watercolor update of her 1953 original black and white rendering from The Silver Chair, Chapter 2
1998 watercolor update by Pauline Baynes of her 1953 original black and white rendering from The Silver Chair, Chapter 2
Jill is given a Task by Alice Raterree, from The Silver Chair, The Chronicles of Narnia
Jill is given a Task by Alice Raterree, from The Silver Chair, The Chronicles of Narnia

Finally, I must mention Meg Murry, a central character in the Time Quintet of Madeline L’Engle. Given the fantastic nature of these stories, she and her mother are still put across as intelligent and believable. It is good to read a constructed myth written from a female perspective in which the heroine is neither sexy nor violent. In fact, I wish there were more male figures like this as well.

The Reality of Myth?

I received a thoughtful comment to my first blog from April 13, 2015. Ali Buck (filmslur@wordpress.com) wrote that some people might object to the notion that mythology is created or manufactured because such reasoning might be used to invalidate their religion. In response to his observation, I was reminded of a quote from C. S. Lewis:

“Now the story of Christ is a true myth: a myth working on us the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened.”

The Temptation of Christ by Ary Schefer, 1854
The Temptation of Christ by Ary Schefer, 1854

By using the above quote, I do not presume to prove the truth of Christianity to all or any who might wander into this website, but it does address a point I wish to make. Although there are different definitions, calling something a myth need not inherently mean that it is false.

The Ascension by Benjamin West, 1801
The Ascension by Benjamin West, 1801

Deciding whether the myth of Christianity or any other religion is true should be a demanding and disciplined intellectual endeavor. What are the claims of a particular religion? Is there any objective evidence which confirms or contradicts these claims? What do different religions have in common? How are they different? The logical order in which one should proceed when thinking about or discovering deity is learning the characteristics and resulting actions of that deity, deciding whether this information is true, and asking what this information requires of us. Unfortunately, human beings have a tendency to think in the reverse order, often accepting or rejecting a set of beliefs as true or untrue solely because they either do or do not like the implications.

The main purpose of PNEUMYTHOLOGY is to explore new (manufactured) myths while keeping in mind the more historical kind. The angle I am particularly drawn to as a writer is the use of something I made up as a symbol for something I did not. It is especially meaningful for me to use allegory as a means of representing that in which I truly believe, and if there is a good monster in the story, so much the better.

(My thanks to Ali.)