Monday, February 25, 2013

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

 A carnival comes to town and two boys couldn't be more excited. They sneak out of bed in the middle of the night to watch the workers set everything up: the carousel, the house of mirrors, mazes...

 When the carnival opens, disturbing events transpire and it becomes apparent to the boys, William Holloway and Jim Nightshade, that Cooger and Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town Illinois with a purpose more sinister than merely providing a week of innocent entertainment for the town's citizens.

When the carnival opens Jim and Will eagerly arrive at the grounds. They're the first in line to see the shows. But they soon realize that the shows are more costly than the price of the tickets.

The carousel is a wondrous device that can make a person older or younger depending on which way it turns. The House of Mirrors show people as they used to be, young, or as they yearn to be: beautiful. The Mazes draw a person in by their desires...The only problem with all of these adventures is that they give the adventurer exactly what they want. He or she then becomes imprisoned by the realization of their own fantasies, even sometimes dying for them.

Jim and Will also realize that it's not easy to escape Cooger or Dark even when they realize the dangers and try to get away. Dark is the tattooed man and his tattoos hold strange power over other people. They move and writhe, telling people's stories and sometimes determine the outcome.

Cooger is stranger yet because we can never truly understand what he is. He becomes old to entice Jim, who wants to leave his childhood behind, onto the Carousel.  He becomes young to tempt one of their teachers to enter the House of Mirrors.  He dies, but Dark tries to bring him back to life using the same method that was popular at the turn of the 19th century, with electrical chairs (also the inspiration for Mary Shelly's Frankenstein).

Jim and Will run away and hide, first in their homes, but as they realize they're being pursued by all sorts of creepy creatures, such as a blind witch in a hot air balloon who can sense their presence by clawing the air, they run to the library.  Most of the story happens at night which adds to the suspense.

In the library is Will's father. The library is Mr. Holloway's escape from his own fears and life-weariness. He spends many after hours there, reading. Will's father is old but experienced. He understands what is happening and, while striving to overcome his own weaknesses and secret desires, he helps the boys find the solution to overcoming the evil that is hunting them.

At first when reading Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, I wasn't sure what the author was trying to tell the reader. Was he sharing his worldview in metaphors? Or did he just want to create a story out of every boy's ( and girl's) dreams and nightmares?

After reading an essay by Bradbury in which he explains why he writes I now know the answer: Yes.

In the essay, Bradbury explains that all his stories are metaphors. He also describes his life as living one big fantasy. As a child he thrived off movies. By the time he was a teenager he had watched every silent film. By the time he was an adult he was watching thirteen to fifteen movies a week. His stories stem from an insatiable hunger to draw himself and others into fantastical worlds where he gets to make reality.

Bradbury is very much a humanist and the story's conclusion stems from a firm belief that, while acknowledging the existence of evil and human vulnerability, man does not need an outside source, such as God, to turn to. Man need only look inside himself to find an internal resistance to evil. 

  In his books, Bradbury reveals an almost prophetic perspicuity in understanding the dark side of human nature.  Yet he holds an unswerving faith in human goodness.  He fails to explain how an imperfect person can even know what is good without an outside Source providing a paradigm. Men aren't consistent or unified in their convictions concerning good and evil. Selfish desire can  have a corrupting influence on one's belief system.

Be that as it may, Something Wicked This Way Comes is a very enjoyable read. Bradbury's writing is fluid, poetical and rich in colorful imagery. He will always be one of my favorite writers.

I've never been to a haunted carnival such as Bradbury creates, but he certainly succeeds in making the reader feel as though he has.

Come to think of it, maybe I have in my dreams...      

Or buy on Kindle for $7.00

Other Bradbury reviews on the web site:

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Apocalypse by Camille Flammarion

Apocalypse is a  book filled with rich, gorgeous paintings from the last 1000 years of Christian art depicting different scenes from Revelation.  It is filled with the works of medieval artists, a good dose of Albrecht Durer, Peter Bruegel, Heironymous Bosch and William Blake as well as Gustave Dore who illustrated a 19th century edition of Dante’s Inferno and many others, both known and unknown.

Then there are the words that accompany the paintings.

I can’t say they grace the page.  Darken would be a better description.

The words are from Camille Flammarion’s Le Fin du Monde which is his dissertation on how Christians from the time of Jesus Christ, and including Jesus Christ, got their facts wrong and this, ladies and gentlemen, proves hands down that atheists got it right and Christians are deluded fools.

Flammarion starts with Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:24 where Jesus states: 

I tell you that some of you will not taste death until you see the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom.


I tell you the truth, this generation shall not pass away until all these things have happened. (Matthew 24:34)

According to Flammarion, that generation came and went and Jesus didn’t come again so Christians, starting with St. Paul (who Flammarion asserts is the “real” founder of Christianity) had to “reinterpret” scripture and thus set a new date.

The entire book is devoted to naming various religious leaders, popes, apostles, evangelists, and cults that have predicted the date of the end of time for the last two thousand years.  Each and every one of them got it wrong. Case closed. Flammarion ends the book with his coup de grace:

This theological aspect of the last day of the earth has given way to the scientific study of the duration of our solar system....which makes man the centre and end of creation, has gradually transformed and eventually disappeared, for we know that our humble planet is but an island in the infinite, that human history has thus far been founded on pure illusions, and that the dignity of man lies in his intellectual and moral worth.  (pg. 246)

Flammarion’s sole premise is this:  Because Christians are wrong, atheists are right.

My question to the publishers  is this:  Why devote a book filled with fantastic Christian art while listing (carefully selected) people through out the years who practiced the un Biblical teaching of predicting the day and hour when Christ would return?  Why didn’t the publishers (and Flammarion) explain all the reasons atheism is right accompanied by art created by atheists? 

Let me explain what I mean when I say that Flammarion carefully selected his “witnesses” or should I say straw men?

Flammarion quotes part of Christ’s words but stops short.  In the same sermon Jesus goes on to say:

No one knows the date of hour, not even the angels in heaven nor the Son but only the Father.  (Matthew 24:36)

And in Acts 1:7:

 And He said to them:  It is not for you to know the date or the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority.

There are other passages as well but this is enough to show that anyone professing to be a Christian but thinks he knows the date and time of the end of the world (can we say Harold Camping?) are not following the teachings of Christ.

I’m not impressed that Popes and other religious leaders have tried to do so.  They weren’t basing their predictions on Scripture.  Many of these so called religious leaders in the Middle Ages were despots in disguise who used fear and intimidation as a means to maintain control and power.  It’s no surprise that Dante depicted more than a few of them suffering in his “Inferno.” 

Jesus spoke of false teachers and prophets as well: 

Then many false prophets will arise up and deceive many. (Matthew 24:11)

Finally this is my response to Camille Flammarion (were he alive) and to the publishers of Apocalypse:

They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation."

For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God,

By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed.

By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the Day of Judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives

as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.

But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. 2 Peter 3:4-14)

That’s a lot of scripture but at least it’s all in context which is more than Flammarian was willing to do.

Camille Flammarion was a French 19th century astronomer. He was the author of many popular books on astronomy, including The Atmosphere (1871), Popular Astronomy (1879), and Astronomy for Amateurs (1904). Flammarion contributed to the study of multiple stars and made careful observations of the solar system. He believed that Mars was inhabited and that there was vegetation on the moon. He also made many balloon ascents, studying the upper regions of the atmosphere. (From the web site, How Stuff Works)

It’s interesting to note that Flammarion was highly interested in the occult and attended séances.  One quote seems to imply that he may have believed in reincarnation.  Strange contradictions in a man professing to rely solely on man’s intellect. I’ve included a web site that has a biography of him that was written in 1894.

In conclusion, Apocalypse is a great book as far as its collection of Apocryphal art.  I would have preferred different written content.

Biography of Camille Flammarion

Other links on End Times:

The Book of Daniel by Clarence Larkin

The Book of Revelation: Four Views

The Second Coming by John MacArthur

The False Prophet by Ellis Skofield

The Harbinger by Johnathon Cahn

The Apocalypse Code by Hank Hanegraaff

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Travels of Sir John Mandeville translated by C.W.R.D. Moseley

 I found this book in a school library. It had been donated.  The school was private and didn’t mind donating the book to me.  It’s a pity this book is obsolete because it is not only interesting but offers an invaluable insight to the workings of the medieval mind.

    Sir John Mandeville wrote this book around 1356 AD.  He claims that the book is a collection of his journaling while he traveled from Europe to the Holy Land and beyond across the Middle East, India and eventually ending up in China.

     While some scoffers think his travels went no further than the nearest library, one cannot deny that his book is filled with a fast flowing narrative providing plenty of rich detail of every place he visited.  Reading Mandeville’s writing is like experiencing a viewfinder flashing its pictures quickly past your eyes. 

       A dry account it isn’t.  Suffused with the value of relics and Holy Places only a medieval Catholic could endow, one learns not only of all the places in Israel and Palestine that were important to a Christian of the Middle Ages but all the relics and miracles that give each place its value.

      Mandeville leaves the Middle East and moves on to Persia, India and China.  One can verify his veracity as far as historical leaders go.  We know that the Kahns did rule most of Asia and Russia at the time but one has to wonder about the fantastical places where he purports to meet humans who have bodies and abilities that sound as though they come straight from Greek and Roman mythology.

        Whether Sir John actually traveled as he claims or the book is a product of a vivid imagination, his writing is fluid and eloquent and it is worth noting that the likes of Christopher Columbus and Leonardo da Vinci as well as many others possessed copies of his book and relied on it for hard geographical information.

       And as the back cover says,

 Sir John’s book demands that, as well as enjoying it, we take it seriously as an indispensable aid to our underwstanding of the world picture of the late middle Ages and the Renaissance.

For more information:

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Five books on Writing and Grammar

I have a vast assortment of grammar and writing books in my personal library. Every morning I read a chapter from two or three at a time.  After reading them, I post a review on my blog. I hope other writers find these reviews helpful.  Here are five books I've just finished reading.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr.  and E.B. White 

     William Strunk, Jr. was E.B. White’s language professor at Cornell at the end of WWI.  After White became a famous writer, he brought his former teacher’s textbook out of obscurity and revised and updated it.  The result is an amalgam of both Strunk’s original text book and White’s own expertise on how to write
 It includes the basic grammar rules that are essential to know and chapters on how to compose something as brief as a sentence or paragraph to something as large as an entire novel.  Their best is advice is on how to rid your writing of pretention.  They devote a chapter on using definite, specific, concrete language and another on how to omit needless words.  I found the chapter on where to place the emphatic word of a sentence to be especially helpful. 

An enormous section in the middle lists pages of words and expressions that are commonly misused.  The remainder of the book gives specific directions on how to approach style.  They discuss how to think out the background of your story, how to revise, not overstate or explain too much plus many other invaluable advice that have guided many successful writers for the past several years.  I bought this book because it was recommended by so many other “how to write’ authors.  I also recommend it.

Writing Tools:  50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark

Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark is divided up into (naturally) 50 chapters that each deal with a specific topic on writing.  The chapters are short and include exercises in order to practice what you learned. 

  Like Strunk and White, Clark’s first section concerns itself with mechanics:  order of words for emphasis, activating your verbs, minimize the use of adverbs, and so on.  The next section goes into coloring your language and giving it a unique voice.    Part three lists techniques that help the writer differentiate between reports, stories, how to use dialogue to move the story along, how to generate suspense-to name a few.  The final section discusses how to create a backdrop for your writing environment and how to develop useful habits to become a disciplined, successful writer.

 Writing Tools is a quick read.  Clark’s fluid and witty writing is a testimony to his own ability as a writer.  I highly recommend this book as a valuable addition to the writer’s working library.

Writer to Writer:  a Practical Handbook on The Craft of Writing from idea to Contract by Bodie and Brock Thoene.

A good friend of mine moved to another country.  Before she left, she let me take any books of hers I wanted.  One of the books was Writer to Writer by Bodie and Brock Thoene.

Writer to writer was written in 1990 so it’s important to read the book inside the context that some of the content is a little outdated.  Nevertheless, they still have a lot of good, encouraging advice to the aspiring writer.  Their own story is very inspiring on how they started out as unknowns and, through definite strategies and perseverance came to be scriptwriters for Hollywood as well as successful article writers for magazines.  They give a lot of concrete, no nonsense, advice about querying agents and submitting articles to magazines.  

English Handbook for Christian Schools by Grace C. Collins
This is a grammar book from Bob Jones University.  The director of a Christian school gave me the book because he knew I was a writer.  As dry as this book sounds, it’s a great book that covers every part of the mechanics of writing and uses quite a bit of humor to boot.  Since it's a grammar book for students, there are a lot of exercises to practice what you learned (answers are in the back). It is probably about the best book on grammar I’ve read. One thing it includes that the others lack:  The flyleaf contains correction symbols.

One more:  My Grammar and I...Or Should That Be Me?:  How to Speak and Write It Right by Caroline Taggart and J.A. Wines

This is a great book filled with all the common sense grammatical rules that we learned at school but aren’t sure about anymore.  The writers cover all the basics from spelling, parts of speech, punctuation and elements of style and they do it with a great sense of humor.  My Grammar serves as a great refresher and does it in a way that is a lot more fun than I ever remember it being in school.  This book should also be on a writer’s reference library. 

With the exception of Writer to Writer and English Handbook for Christian Schools, I bought all of these books.

Buy on Kindle for $2.99