Thinking Out Loud

September 24, 2015

Tolkien and Lewis Unlikely Choices for Sci-Fi and Fantasy

by guest book reviewer: Ruth Wilkinson

A common piece of advice given to young writers is, “Write what you know.”

So how did a couple of turn of the century, word-geek, English academics become the preeminent fantasy and science fiction writers of the modern era?

Joseph Laconte - A Hobbit A Wardrobe and a Great War - Thomas Nelson In A Hobbit, A Wardrobe and A Great War (Thomas Nelson) History professor Joseph Loconte traces the parallel stories of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien through the cataclysm that was World War 1 and beyond to their shared discovery and exploration of epic fiction and alternate history.  Drawing from many sources – including historians, biographers and original writings – he connects the two young men’s experiences in the trenches, mud, fire and disease of The Great War with themes, characters and landscapes found in the Narnia series, Lord of the Rings and their other writings.

We come to understand what the fierce friendships, values and personal strength of the characters they created have to teach us about being human and at war.  Quoting Lewis, “For let us make no mistake.  All that we fear from all the kinds of adversity, severally, is collected together in the life of a soldier on active service.  Like sickness, it threatens pain and death.  Like poverty, it threatens ill lodging, cold, heat, thirst and hunger.  Like slavery, it threatens toil, humiliation, injustice and arbitrary rule.  Like exile, it separates you from all you love.”  And when Tolkien writes,”I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory.  I love only that which they protect,” is he writing about England or Middle Earth?

And we see the world through the eyes of Lewis, a teenager who had written off Christianity as “ugly architecture, ugly music and bad poetry”, and Tolkien, a young man of faith whose Catholicism survived the war intact, when his peers and culture had found God to be uninterested and absent, and therefore nonexistent.

Loconte examines the spirit of an age that worshiped science, eugenics, industrialization, technology and related forms of ‘progress’.  He lays out how those forces were put to use in a war that was more destructive and devastating than any in the past, and the profound disillusionment and cynicism that were born out of it. And, yet, Lewis is able, through his friendship with Tolkien, to rediscover “…the myth that has really happened” – the story of Jesus Christ – to turn from his skepticism and to write stories that “offer the only possible escape from a world divided between wolves who do not understand, and sheep who cannot defend, the things which make life desirable.”  Loconte writes, “Against the temper of their times, these authors dared to reclaim some of the older beliefs and virtues.  Their common Christian faith had much to do with this…”

This book challenges:  both to look back at the horror that humanity is capable of, and to look forward to the hope that Christ brings – when “everything sad will come untrue.”

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August 10, 2010

The Last Christian: David Gregory’s Brave New World

The year is 2088…

Any kind of futuristic writing — both fiction and non-fiction — requires taking a great deal of risk.  Especially if you incorporate technologies that some readers find just plain silly.   What if the audience doesn’t see your vision of that era as plausible?   A few bad reviews and your book is fodder for recycling.

Fortunately, David Gregory (Dinner With a Perfect Stranger, A Day With A Perfect Stranger) is able to navigate the future just fine, thank you.   While he hasn’t lost the heart of an evangelist that so characterized his shorter works mentioned above, any apologetic in Last Christian is weaved into a much larger, much more complex plot.

That plot concerns biomedical advances that are becoming reality towards the end of the 21st century.   But it’s the absence of religious ethics that characterizes the world in which these so-called ‘advances’ are taking place.   Into that environment steps a character who is almost literally from another time.  Someone who doesn’t fit into such a world.   Someone who discovers that the unease is mutual.

As a mostly non-fiction reader, I now fully understand the meaning of the oft-used, “that was real page-turner.”   This is a book possessing a literary intensity I have not experienced in a long, long time.  Each chapter — and the narrative moves along quite rapidly — ended with a surprise, driving me deeper into what followed.   That pace — and those plot twists — continue right up to the end.

But don’t take my word for it.   Allow me to do something I’ve never done before here, and steal some consumer reviews from a retail website:

  • As I read the back cover’s description, I thought to myself, “Yeah, right.” Then I read the book. Gregory’s use of existent technologies, experimental technologies and not-too-far-distant-future-type technologies renders this fictional work very believable. As for there only being one Christian left in America in 2088? Well, even that isn’t so hard to imagine if you see how rapidly we’re following Europe’s footsteps, using no discernment governmentally, socially and even the evangelical church seems to be losing it’s bearings on the gospel and God’s Word…
  • This book was full of nail biting edge of your seat suspense, with a few twist and turns you won’t expect or see coming! … I would love to see this as a movie!
  • Christianity has died out completely. The mega-churches of the 90’s are now schools and malls. While all this sci-fi stuff is entertaining to read, the heart of the book goes much deeper. Gregory makes a really important point in his book. The reason, he writes through one of his characters, that Christianity died in the US early in the 21st century is because Christians didn’t look any different than non-Christians. Their lives hadn’t been transformed by the power of the Gospel.
  • David Gregory’s America seems so far removed from our current way of life, but it’s easy to see how we could easily venture down the same road. The Christian worldview is becoming an object of disdain for many, and technology is advancing at an incredible rate. The Last Christian was a fun and entertaining read. It’s a science fiction thriller with Christian apologetics mixed in. Although it was certainly a page-turner, it also caused me to really think about some serious issues in our culture today
  • Christian fiction has taken a direction that is wonderfully exciting and The Last Christian is a fantastic example!
  • I was shocked by the many things that are slowly taking root even now in America, despite the book’s setting being in 2088. At this time, Americans have become accustomed to feeding their desires and pleasures through entertainment and enjoyment. …many live in virtual reality more than they do in the “real world”. In the name of tolerance and acceptance, all things are acceptable and morality is something each individual decides for his or himself…

I compared these reviews to a few from “the usual suspects” list of bloggers, and while I recognize that some of these reviewers’ blogs as well, I think they said it best.

My recommendation here leans a little more toward Christian readers, but some other reviews spoke of possibilities in giving or loaning the book to someone outside the faith; perhaps provided they had demonstrated some spiritual openness.   It certainly speaks in a mature manner to some of the main elements involved in following Christ, as well as addressing what Christianity isn’t.   Age-wise, because of the ‘sci-fi’ flavor, I can see this book appealing to older teens as well as adults, provided they can commit to the 400+ page count.  (We’re talking about four times the word count of the two Perfect Stranger titles.)

The two of David Gregory’s shorter books mentioned above already exist as movies.   Could Last Christian make it to the big screen?   It would be an extremely fast-paced film to be sure; but for now, we have the book which earns my highest recommendation.

March 15, 2010

I Envy You, Mr. Neary

My two boys and my one wife had never seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind until last night.   It’s tough to find a film we can all agree on, and with DVDs, even tougher to find a movie where at least one of us doesn’t leave the room before the ending.

There’s a scene near the end where the French scientist — his name is Lacombe — turns to lead character Roy Neary and says, “I envy you, Mr. Neary.”

But the next line, the line that has been stored in my memory since the picture released was not heard next.    Here’s exactly how I remember the line, “I envy you, Mr. Neary; I study the phenomenon, but you have had the experience.”

After the movie, for 30 minutes, no searching the internet would reveal the phrase the way I am recalling it.   Did I invent this?   Or do I have two movies confused?   Arrrrgh!  I am so sure that line is accurate!

The inference is there anyway and the principle is valid nonetheless. Its applicability to Christians is major.   We are studied and examined by all manner of journalists, academics and those who simply find us to be a psychological curiosity.   But ultimately, their reports are lacking because they don’t have the necessary experiences to fully empathize with the Christian spiritual condition.  (In a previous generation, that sentence would simply read, ‘They don’t have the Holy Spirit.’)

You can also turn this around.

The next time you’re in discussion with someone who you don’t feel is totally on the same wavelength, ask them, “Are you a student of the phenomena or have you also had the experience?”

I maintain that many of the people we come into contact with on a daily basis are simply observers, many watching from the outside.   I often compare it to someone who encounters a log cabin filled with people on a cold, snowy day.   Inside people are standing by the fireplace, laughing and drinking hot cocoa.  The person outside watches with their face pressed against the window while the ice,  snow and drizzle piles up on their winter coat and hat.

Let me make it more personal.

Are you part of this family, or are you observing, as though from outside, with your face pressed against the window?

Why not come inside?

December 18, 2009

Another Time, Another Place

Filed under: Christmas — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:04 pm

Today, Rick Apperson and I are having a blog swap.   While I’m writing a post at Rick’s blog, Just a Thought, Rick is back here for a guest post:

I love science fiction. I grew up with Star Wars, the original trilogy, and have always enjoyed a good sci-fi film. One thing that has always fascinated me is the concept of time travel, going back or forward to a different place or time in history. What would it have been like if I was born in a different era? If I had the chance to make a decision over again would I do things differently? That is the question I hear people ask all the time. What if I had dated someone else? Moved when I had the chance? Taken that job when it was available?

Really, the fascination many have with time travel is that it would give us the chance to correct mistakes. The chance to right a wrong or to take the path that now looks better in hindsight. How many times have you heard someone say, “If I only knew then what I know now”? You might have said it yourself. I know I have.

Many of us live a life of regrets because we are always looking backwards. God the Father was a forward thinker. He had a plan in place even before He created the Heavens and the Earth. Notice how, when the fall happened, as recorded in Genesis 3, He immediately spoke “prophetic” words about Christ coming! (Gen. 3:14)

How about these words spoken in Jeremiah:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)

Look at this longer passage from Ephesians:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:3-12)

So, God was a forward thinker. He had a plan. His plan, as set forth in Genesis, was for Christ to come at another time and another place. A perfect time and place I might add. So it was that, a little over 2000 years ago, Christ was born in a manger. He came to fulfill God’s plan. He gave up the throne room of God for a season, so that He could bring us into everlasting relationship with the Father. He restored what was lost in the fall.

This holiday season, and throughout the year, don’t look back with regrets. Lay down the “what ifs” and think about the “what is”. God is directing your life. He has a plan for you. He knows what He is doing. Trust Him.

Passionately sharing Jesus at: www.apperson.blogspot.com

October 29, 2008

Great Moments in the Space Race: Colonel Steve Zodiac and Fireball XL5

Filed under: classic television — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:45 am

XL5 in Space City.

Set in the year 2063, Fireball XL5 stands by to launch from Space City.   The entire skyscraper in the background rotated.  The show was a simile to the space race between the United States and the USSR.  The show was broadcast “100 years earlier” in the 1960s when peoples’ imaginations were fired up by the possibilities in space and the space race itself between the U.S. and Russia mirrored tensions on the ground.   The show was created by Gerry & Sylvia Anderson who went on to do Stingray and Thunderbirds using the “Supermarionation” process (a nice way of saying ‘puppets’) but are best known for the live actor Space 1999 series.   Steve Zodiac’s partner was named Venus, which helps you understand the last line of the show’s theme:

I wish I was a space man.
The fastest guy alive.
I’d fly you round the universe,
In Fireball XL-5.
Way out in space together,
Compass of the sky,
My heart would be a fireball,
A fireball,
Everytime I gazed into your starry eyes.

We’d take the path to Jupiter,
And maybe very soon.
We’d cruise along the Milky Way,
And land upon the moon.
To our wonderland of stardust,
We’ll zoom our way to Mars,
My heart would be a fireball,
A fireball,
If you would be my Venus of the stars

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