Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Father of the ghost story: M. R. James

Last year I forgot it was Halloween  until kids came to my door and I had nothing to give them.  So this year I'm hiding at my local bookstore sipping a pumpkin spice latte and writing a review about a very scary writer.  That's my trick to the kids and my treat to you. 

(Of course if I return home to find my house covered in toilet paper the trick will be on me.)

When we think of Victorian ghost writers we may think of Mary Shelly or Bram Stoker.  Last week I introduced you to a lesser known writer of the supernatural, Sheridan Le Fanu (for the review go here).  Today's post is about someone who was inspired by Le Fanu.

   Montague Rhodes James was considered the greatest scholar of medieval manuscripts of the English speaking world. He is known for his contributions to the study of Christian art and archeology.  He also is the father of what has come to be known as the ghost story.  As an avid antiquarian, his ghost stories  can trace their roots to medieval sources. For those of us who love reading medieval literature and culture this makes his stories especially enjoyable.

    I know there are less sensitives souls out there but I must confess that getting half way through James' Complete Ghost Stories I began having nightmares and threw the book away.  His stories are not filled with graphic violence or anything that defines the modern horror story.  They are simply the scariest tales I've ever read.

     There's the story of an evil man who has the ability to cast spells over people. The spell attaches a familiar spirit to that person.  In a weird turn around, other people can see the creature walking alongside the victim while the poor person on whom the runes have been cast, cannot.  (Casting the Runes)

    Whistle and I'll Come to You My Lad is one of the more famous.  A man finds a tin whistle out on some sand dunes.  He takes it back to his hotel room and innocently blows on it.  He soon finds by doing so he has beckoned an unwelcome visitor.

    Other stories are about vampires walled up in church alters, evil monks that have achieved some kind of perverse immortality through the architectural design of their abby, or mezzotints (old prints made of sepia) that reenact supernatural crimes as the observer looks on. (Actually, the mezzotint is more frightening than that- every time the observer returns to the painting, the figures are in a different position.)

James even uses Greek mythology in a story about a man who inherits a country estate with a garden maze.  He soon discovers that the maze is designed in such a way-not to keep people from finding their way back out, but to keep other things within the maze from escaping.

I recommend his books not just because they give you a good scare, but because they are so well written.  His stories have lasted for over a hundred years because his caliber of writing is on the same level as any Victorian writer.  I think that anyone could enjoy a good scare at the hands of M.R. James'  but I think those of us who love antiquarian history stemming from a Christian heritage will especially appreciate James' use of the history and culture of the European dark ages.

M.R. James (1862-1956)
And if you're wondering why I'm recommending a book I threw away, I retrieved the stories by downloading them on my Kindle.  I feel safer knowing that they're out there in Cyberspace rather than in my house.  Hey,  I told you I was sensitive.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Book of Daniel by Clarence Larkin

Clarence Larkin (1850-1924) is best known for his copious dispensational diagrams and charts on a host of theological subjects. His The Greatest Book on Dispensational Truth in the World sits on bookshelves far and wide. Much truth is contained therein. In the quote below, the "some books that fell into his hands" were books written by the original Plymouth Brethren.  (From the With Christ web site)

 This is part of the series of books I’ve been reviewing about end times.  In addition to Revelation, the book of Daniel is one of the most important books of the Bible that prophecy about world events.  Many of the prophecies have already come to pass as history has verified.  Today Christians examine this book to make sense of what is happening in our world today and where it is leading.

     Rev. Larkin takes the reader through each chapter in the book of Daniel and their meaning as it pertains to Daniel's time as well as its relevance to us. His book is divided into ten chapters.  Chapter one describes the beginning of Gentile dominion.  This started when Israel was taken away into captivity into Babylon.  Daniel was one of the young men that was taken away.  He and his friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego so impressed the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, that they become high officials and advisors to him.

    Chapter 2 records Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and Daniel’s interpretation. For those not familiar with the book of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar dreamed of a giant image.  This image was of a man.  The man’s head was made of gold, his breast and arms of silver, his belly and thighs of brass, his legs of iron and his feet were part iron and clay. A stone hits the image and it breaks up into pieces.

 Daniel informs Nebuchadnezzar that this image represented the different powers that were going to succeed each other.   (For those not familiar with the scripture, go here.) Rev. Larkin breaks down each part of the body

Much of the dream has already transpired as historical events show.  Here is the breakdown:

1.  The Head of the Image:  The Babylonian Empire

2.   The Arms and Breast:  The Medo-Persian empire.

3.  The Abdomen:  The Greek empire.

4.  The Legs:  The Roman empire.

5.  The Feet and Toes:  Powers that are still to come.

6.  The Stone:  The Millennial Kingdom of Christ  (And in the days of these kings shall the God of Heaven set up a Kingdom, which shall never be destroyed:  and the Kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand Forever.  (Daniel 2:44)

Chapter 3 is about the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar erected for everyone to worship.  Daniel’s friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse and are thrown into the fire.  Their response to the king is one of my favorite passages of scripture:

    Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If it be so, Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of your hand, O King, but even if He does not, be it known unto you, O King, that we will not serve your gods, nor worship the golden image which you have set up." (Daniel 3;18)

    And, as we know, God does deliver them and Daniel records:

Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers "Weren't there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?" They replied, "Certainly, O king."

He answered and said, "Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like a son of the gods."  Daniel 3:25

  The 4, 5, and 6th chapters form the rest of the historical part of Daniel and include the Tree Dream, the Fall of Babylon and the Lion’s Den.  The final chapters analyze Daniel’s visions and how they pertain to the future and our modern day.  He explains the meaning of the Four Wild Beasts, the Ram and the He Goat, the Seventy Weeks and the Scripture of Truth.  

    He also includes charts with time lines.  It’s important to note that Rev. Larkin takes a dispensationalist point of view when evaluating these scriptures.  So he interprets the Great Tribulation as a time that is still coming to the earth.  He also believes in a thousand year reign of peace following the return of Jesus Christ.

     He writes about the regathering of Jews to the nation of Israel. He calls this a “National Resurrection”.   He quotes Jeremiah 16:14-15 and Ezekial 37:11,12.  and explains that  the “dry bones” coming back to life are Israel becoming a nation again.  What’s exciting about this is that Larkin wrote his book in 1919.  It hadn’t even happened at the time of his writing.  Little did he know it was just around the corner!

  I found this book to be eloquently written and scripture lucidly explained.  If you weren’t excited about Christ’s coming before, you should be after Rev. Larkin explains the book of Daniel to you.




Sunday, October 14, 2012

In a Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le Fanu

It’s October so I thought I’d write a couple of reviews about book collections of ghost stories.  I like to be scared as much as the next person but I don’t find the violence and gore of today’s stories about the occult scary.  They’re just gross.  Also, today everything’s been turned upside down and now “evil is called good”, as is evidenced by the books and movies whose heroes are vampires and witches.

In order to experience genuine horror one has to reach all the way back to the 19th century.  That’s where writers really knew how to write a scary ghost story.  The great thing is that not only were the stories truly scary-as opposed to today’s  predictable butchery- they held deeply psychological messages.  These authors knew how to keep you thinking about their stories for days after you’d finished reading them.

And on top of all that, they were brilliant writers.  There’s a reason why their books are still in print after a hundred years.

Everyone is familiar of course with Mary Shelley’s tragic monster created by Frankenstein as well as Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula.  What many readers may not be familiar with are the stories written by Sheridan Le Fanu.

 Sheridan Le Fanu, an Irish author born to a Protestant clergyman, grew up on the supernatural legends of Ireland.  He was especially fascinated with stories that involved encounters with demons and fairies.  Many of these stories were orally transmitted from one generation to another and are unfortunately not written down.  Le Fanu, however, has preserved them in a sense because they served as an inspiration for his own works.  There are many collections of his writings available online.  The book I bought is titled, In a Glass Darkly.

Many of his stories come from a first person’s perspective so the reader is never sure what is real or what is perceptual. Is the man truly being stalked by a demon or is he insane?  Le Fanu explores this theme in many of his stories.  Sometimes it seems there are truly malevolent forces at work.  Other times it appears the person is tormented by their own guilty soul.

In Green Tea, a pastor seeks the help of a doctor because he believes he’s going mad.  There is one scene in particular that is disturbing and I don’t recommend reading the story at night or in the house alone.

The man is sitting in a carriage in the evening and it is dark.  He comes to realize that something is in the carriage with him.  At first he sees just red glowing eyes staring at him.  To get a better look he draws closer to the eyes until he finds himself face to face with a monkey.  He doesn’t understand how the animal came to be in his carriage and pokes him with his cane.  His cane goes through the monkey’s body. The animal is actually a spectre.

No matter where the pastor goes, the monkey is with him.  At first it is silent but eventually begins to speak to him.  It urges the pastor to kill himself.  The rest of the story is extremely suspenseful and it’s ending impossible to predict.  Many of Le Fanu’s writings deal with man trying to fight against evil urges and often losing.

One of the best stories is Carmilla.  This has to be one Le Fanu’s most powerful and horrific tales.  The protagonist is a young girl who begins to fall ill.  As the story continues it becomes apparent that she is being made sick because something is preying on her.  There is one moving scene when the girl’s dead mother communicates with her through an angelic being.

I am going to tell you now of a dream that led immediately to an odd discovery. 

One night...I heard a voice, sweet and tender, and at the same time terrible, which said, “Your mother warns you to beware of the assassin.”  At the same time a light unexpectedly sprang up and I saw Carmilla, standing, near the foot of my bed, in her white night dress, bathed, from her chin to her feet, in one great stain of blood.”

This is another story that not only holds suspense but fascination because it is not merely a story of “Satan masking as an angel of light” but a study in how humans are deceived by external appearances and our own longings that we allow ourselves to be seduced by evil which can eventually lead to our own demise.

Next week, I’ll review the works of M.R. James who received his inspiration from Le Fanu and is today regarded as the foremost Victorian ghost teller.

or on Kindle for $4.99

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Revelation Four Views A Parallel Commentary ed. by Steve Gregg

Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins by William Blake (1822)

    This is the latest book I’ve finished about the book of Revelation and the end times.  I’ve heard so much about different view points I was glad to come across a book that categorizes and defines each view point.  This book takes the entire book of Revelation and outlines each verse and step by step gives each view’s interpretation of that piece of scripture.

     Before delving into the actual book of Revelation, the editor gives a historical background, the years  people believe  the book was written,  and why John the Apostle is the author.  He also analyzes its structure as to how the different prophecies were grouped and the order in which they were revealed.

   The next section describes each end time interpretation.

       The four viewpoints included  are:  Historicist, Preterist, Futurist, and Spiritual Approach

Historicist View:  Revelation surveys the whole of church history.   It aligns specific historic events with certain details in Revelation.

     Those who teach this approach today are rare but Gregg includes it in this volume because it survives today in most of the classic commentaries of the past centuries.  Historicists of the past include:  John Wycliffe, John Knox, William Tyndale, Martin Luther, John Foxe, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, and C.H. Spurgeon.

      Historicists believe that God revealed the entire church age in advance through the symbolic visions of the apocalypse.  For example, the breaking of the seven seals (chap 6-7) is often said to be the barbarian invasions that sacked the Western Roman Empire.  The Scorpion/locusts that come out of the bottomless pit (ch 9) are the Arab hordes attacking the eastern Roman Empire.  “The beast” (ch. 13) represents the Roman papacy.  (From the Introduction.)

Preterist Approach:  fulfillment is in the past, shortly after the time of writing.  There are two types of Preterism.

   The first type of Preterists are also called Contemporary-Historical.  They are also called hyper or full Preterists- and are not Preterists in the evangelical sense.  They believe that contemporary elements of John’s own day can be identified in the symbolic language he uses.  They do not believe in any actual fulfillment in ensuing events of the things prophesied in the Apocalypse.  They believe the date of writing to be during the Roman Emperor Domitian’s reign (A.D. 95-96).

 In contrast, Classical Preterism believes in the infallibility of Scripture and dates the Book of Revelation prior to A.D. 70.  Classical Preterists-also known as partial Preterists- point out many details in Revelation that they believe were fulfilled in the fall of Jerusalem, and see in later chapters the prediction of the fall of Rome and beyond to the second coming of Christ. 

   Another point favorable to the early-date Preterist approach is that the prophecies of Revelation exhibit many points of correspondence with the fall of Jerusalem as recorded by the eyewitness historian Flavius Josephus.  Since Josephus was not a Christian and probably never  read the book of Revelation, these correspondences seem to bolster the credibility of this interpretation. 

The Futurist approach:  Everything after chapter three awaits fulfillment in the future.
   The futurist approach is primarily a literal interpretation of Scripture.  Most futurists believe in a dispensationalist point of view.  They believe a world leader will arise, seeming to bring peace but will eventually turn out to be a world oppressor.  He will seem to help the Jews rebuild the temple but will then set himself up as the object of worship (the Abomination of Desolation who sits on the throne).

    He will demand that everyone comply and worship him and carry his mark on his arm or forehead.  Those that don’t won’t be able to keep jobs or buy or sell anything, including food.  There will be a seven years’ tribulation followed by the return of Christ where He will destroy this antichrist Beast and will Himself reign from Jerusalem for one thousand years with all the believers.

    At the end there will be one final battle with the enemies of God before they (the enemies) are completely destroyed and thrown into the lake of fire, along with Hell and death. (Revelation 20:14)

Spiritualist:  No single fulfillment: only transcendent principles and recurrent themes. 

     Spritiual appraoch includes all approaches that do not look for individual fullfillments of the prophecies of Revelation but which believe only that spiritual lessons and principles are depicted sympbolically in the visions.   There are many spiritualists who hold Scripture to be inspired and that John had visions revealed to him exactly as he claims, but who believe that their meaning is to be spiritually understood in a way that would be edifying to believers of any age.

To give one example of the four different approaches I’ll write out one excerpt of Revelation followed by the different viewpoints.  The following are all direct quotes from pg.202-207:

Revelation 10:1-4 

       I saw still another mighty angel coming down from heaven, clothed with a cloud.  And a rainbow was on his head; his face was like this sun, and his feet like pillars of fire.  He had a little book open in his hand.  And he set his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, and cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roars.  When he cried out, seven thunders uttered their voices.  Now when the seven thunders uttered their voices, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Seal up he things which the seven thunders uttered, and do not write them.

Historicist:  After Rome fell to the barbarians in 476, as signified in the first four seals, the power of the papacy arose in its place in Western Europe.  The peoples and the system that sustained their authority became incredibly corrupt.  In fact, they became antichrist, the principal opponent of the pure faith of Christ in Europe.

   The rise of the papacy has not been mentioned in Revelation until this point.  The fall of the eastern empire in the sixth trumpet now turns our attention back to developments in the west.  The prophecies of chapters 10 and 11:1-5 are about the Reformation period in the early 16th century. This follows naturally the identification of the second woe with the fall of the Byzantine (Greek) Empire in 1453. 

Preterist:   This mighty angel is, no doubt, Jesus Himself.  His face shining like the sun is a feature mentioned in the vision of the first chapter.  The rainbow, which is now on his head, was seen around the throne of God in revelation.  The second prophecy, contained in chapters 13-19 concerns the fall of Rome, as the first was concerned with the fall of Jerusalem. The things uttered by the seven thunders could have been too horrible to record or it could have been for John’s ears only.

Futurist: The descending angel is thought to be by some Christ Himself, The little book in the angels hand is interpreted as representing the authority given to the angel to fulfill his mission.   The sealing up of the prophecy illustrates a divine principle that while God has revealed much, there are secrets which God has not seen fit to reveal to man at this time. 

Spiritual:  The mighty angel who appears here is either Christ Himself or a special envoy of Christ bearing a striking resemblance to him.  This angel has a message for the whole world, indicated by his having a foot on the land and a foot on the sea...the seven thunders represents the voice of the Lord.  The sealing of the seven thunders, leaving them unwritten, suggest that the whole counsel of God has not been revealed or that never shall we be able to know and to describe all the factors and agencies that determine the future.


I’m someone who likes to be clear on different positions and I found this book fascinating, not the least of which of how I could see the different viewpoints not necessarily contradicting each other but rather complementing different aspects.  I could see how scripture could apply to the people of John’s time period but also how they apply to us today.  I saw how certain things could be taken as meaning certain epochs in history as well as historical figures but also how it could mean actual times in the future as well as spiritual principals that could be applied everyday.

   I don’t know why God wrote Revelation the way He did but one thing I do know:  how we should live our lives and be prepared to watch the signs and times is very clear.  Like the wise virgins, we better have enough oil in our lamps to keep them burning.  (Matthew 25:1-13)

Further links:

The Second Coming by John MacArthur

The False Prophet by Ellis Skofield

The Harbinger by Johnathon Cahn

The Apocalypse Code by Hank Hanegraaff

What is the abomination of desolation