Dan Brown's very controversial mystery thriller novel "The Da Vinci Code" is one which at points in my life I refused to read. Having watched the movie version, I had a general idea of what it was about. So I felt no need to read the book itself to decide whether it had any merit or not.
Essentially, the story follows the actions of protagonist Robert Langdon, a symbologist who studies religious symbols and their meanings. He is framed for the murder of the curator at the Louvre museum in France. This is where many famous works of art, including the "Mona Lise" of Leonardo da Vinci, are on display. The murdered man leaves clues as to who the murderer is. His granddaughter, a very intelligent cryptographer and code breaker, is brought in to assist in solving the mystery.
The story turns into a search for the missing Holy Grail. Supposedly, it has been kept hidden by the Catholic Church, for fear it would overturn all that the Church teaches as true. The secret is supposed to be that instead of having been crucified a bachelor, Jesus Christ had actually married Mary Magdalene. It's also said that he had children, leaving a bloodline that lives on to this day.
It is claimed that the Church has slandered Magdalene as a prostitute, doing everything it can to hide this secret that she was really the wife of Jesus and mother to His children. There is a lot of dialogue regarding this. Also, there is talk of the Gnostic gospels and other literature proposed for the Bible, but rejected by the Church as having been inauthentic. Essentially, it was not written by the authors they are claimed to be written by.
There is also the claim that it wasn't until the 4th century that Jesus was only believed to be divine. This was many centuries after His death, around the time of the rule of Constantine and the Nicene Council. Before then, all His followers believed He was merely a mortal man, and not an immortal incarnation of God. There are also claims by the characters that the Bible had been altered, mistranslated, and ultimately tampered. Over time, this was done to obscure and falsify the "truth" about Jesus, especially about His relationship to Mary Magdalene.
While these ideas are interesting and make for an intriguing story, I find them unconvincing. Having studied the Bible and Church teaching, I can assert that the author has not really studied Catholic theology very much. He is trying to promote an idea of "the sacred feminine" and claims the Church regards females and sexuality as dirty and inferior. He tries to turn Jesus into a mere mortal man, and Mary Magdalene into a divine God. He does not pay attention to the reverence given to women by the uplifting of Mary as Mother of God. The book talks about Eve bringing humanity into its downfall. But it says nothing of the ascension brought to humanity through the Blessed Virgin Mary and her cooperation with the salvific plan of God.
Having studied a lot of the issues that are touched on in "The Da Vinci Code," the alternate theory of Jesus and His supposed descendants, the novel did nothing to alter my beliefs in the orthodox teachings of Christianity. The release of this book spurned a huge reaction from Christians of all denominations. This lead to all kind of books debunking the claims made in Brown's novel, such as "The Da Vinci Hoax", "Debunking the Da Vinci Code", "The Da Vinci Fraud", etc. I think the dialogue is a good one, and I will suggest that you do take the time to read Dan Brown's novel. You also should look into some of the opposing claims made in books that criticize and argue against the main premise of the Code.
At the very least, reading books like this can demonstrate how wild alternate versions of history can be concocted and developed. There are stories that can convince lots of people of something that just isn't true or never happened. Brown says Jesus was married to Magdalene and had children. I say someone made it up. Even in the study of history, it is important to know that lies or fabrications can be made up. These lies can be meant either to tear down ideas one does not like, or to promote and build up ideas that one wants to become fact.
You can purchase "The Da Vinci Code" on Amazon here.
It has taken me a while to get to actually reading any of Dan Brown's widely read novels. Tonight I just finished reading "Angels & Demons", which I will follow up with the more well known "The Da Vinci Code".
Angels and Demons is a book I find myself having difficulty reviewing. The story is very compelling, interesting and exciting in the action and fast paced puzzle solving required of the main character, religious symbologist, Robert Langdon. The story is laid on a backdrop of a debate about the supposed harmony, or incompatibility, of religion and faith with science and reason. Basically, the story is about a scientist, who is also a Catholic priest, who discovers a way to create antimatter, and supposedly proving that the act of creation of something out of nothing is possible, therefore proving the existence of a Creator God. But apparently someone has taken this antimatter and hidden it somewhere in the Vatican, where all of the world's Catholic cardinals have congregated to elect a new Pope, the most recent Pope having died of a sudden stroke 15 days previously. Robert Langdon is called in to help solve the murder of the priest scientist who created the antimatter and he must solve the riddles left behind by members of the secret society and enemy of the Catholic Church, the Illuminati.
A lot of the characters in the story represent different views on the relationship of religion with science, of faith with reason. Some characters believe they are harmonious and complementary, while others belief they are contradictory and at odds, the worst of enemies to each other, with one being better than the other. The novel contains a lot of interesting historical information and interpretation. I don't know how much of it it true, and how much either concocted or embellished to create a more compelling and dramatic story, but I think the historical tidbits make it more interesting, regardless of how historically accurate they are. The action of the novel is fast paced and exciting. The dialogue is usually interesting. I found the book to be hard to put down.
Overall, and interesting and fun book to read. Being Catholic myself, some of the jabs to my Church were a little annoying, but I can take a punch, and so can the Church. I probably don't agree with a lot of the author's own opinions and beliefs, but that is ok. I still think I could get something out of this book. I plan to read "The Da Vinci Code" next, which, having seen the film version, I know there will be a lot which I will find inaccurate and untrue. But I will read it, so that I have a better idea of what I am critical of.
While you can probably find an inexpensive copy of this book in your local thrift store, if you want to buy it online, you can find it at Amazon here.
I just finished reading Book 7 of the "Harry Potter" series by British author J. K. Rowling. Overall, I think I would describe the stories as tedious and long winded, but ultimately delightful and satisfying. The series of very long child and young adult friendly novels is about the secret world of magic, wizards and witches, and the years they spend studying their magical craft and talents in the schools of wizardry and witchcraft, under the noses of the largely non-magical "Muggles", who are unaware of their existence for the most part.
Rowling's story is mostly set in the British magical school called Hogwart's. It begins with title character Harry Potter being put under the beastly care of his vicious aunt and uncle in law, after his parents are murdered by the evil and power hungry sorcerer Lord Voldemort, constantly referred to as He Who Must Not Be Named. Potter is notified that he is a wizard and will be attending the school of Hogwart's, which is under the management of noble wizard Dumbledore. Each of the novels describes the events of one year of time at the school, as various professors and fellow students are introduced and the progress of their education in the magical arts is elaborated.
As the books progress, there is unfolded a plot of very sinister plans of the attempted return of the evil Lord Voldemort, and his scheme to create a world of Pure blood wizards and witches and the subjugation, eradication, and extermination of all non magical Mudblood and Muggle humans. The story essentially lays out a plot similar to the history of Eugenics, racial "cleansing", and other genocidal movements in the real life history of Earth. It turns out that Harry Potter is the one destined to end the evil plans of Voldemort once and for all. Helped by his friends, especially Ron and Muggle born Hermione, he seeks to understand the forces at work in this epic battle between the powers of evil and good, and figure out how to end the oppression that is taking grip over the world.
There are many characters, and they are believable and interesting. I particularly like the character of Hermione, who although born of non magical human parents, is very talented in the magical arts and very astute. She loves to study, learn, read, and gain knowledge, and plays a very important role in the story and her intelligence and wisdom are very necessary to the success of Potter and his friends and allies.
There is a great deal of mischief and elucidation of the various spells, jinxes, hexes, curses, and other magical objects and works that are available to the wizarding world. There is humor and silliness in abundance throughout, even as the plot begins to thicken and the story becomes more and more dark and the situation becomes very dire and dangerous in the later volumes of the series.
The books are very long, some volumes extending to over 700 or even 800 pages, and, to be honest, at some points it is tedious and boring. I would say that the plot starts to become more interesting around the end of Book 4 (Goblet of Fire) and the beginning of Book 5 (Order of the Phoenix), but there is a lot of development of various characters, magical spells and lore, and there is a lot of dawdling and elucidation of typical nonchalant casual events and dialogue. I won't say it is unnecessary to the story. I think it helps to change the pace of the story so that when it gets interesting, you are rapt with attention, and as I got into the later books, I really wanted to know what sort of twists and surprises were in store. There are a lot of secrets to uncover, quests to conquer, and mysteries to solve, and by the end, the tapestry of all this mystery and adventuring is brought to what I consider a fairly satisfying conclusion and wrap up.
When I began to read these stories, I only did so because they were extremely popular, especially amongst young children and adolescents, and I wanted to see what the big deal was. For the first few books, I felt like I was wasting my time, but as I delved further into the series, lent to me by a long time friend of mine, I began to notice that the story was more compelling and the theme more epic than I could have expected. Although I do not think the Potter series rises to the level of other fantasy stories written by British authors such as "Lord of the Rings" by Tolkien, and "Chronicles of Narnia" by C.S. Lewis, the Potter story was very intelligent and compelling. It is not just a popular story. It has been woven into the fabric of English literature and world culture, having been translated into many languages. It is a good demonstration of the power of universal love and critique of the evils of Eugenics ideologies and the philosophy and theology of genocide and racism. If you do decide to start reading, I hope you don't get bogged down in some of the sections where the action drags on. It is worth it to slog through the slow parts and ultimately read it to its dramatic conclusion.
At the time of this writing, I have only seen the first four films. I might update this after watching the rest. The only big criticism I have of the movies so far is that there can seem to be a tendency on the part of many of the actors, particularly the extras and minor characters, to overact their parts. But it is OK, I think. The story, while serious in many ways, has its elements and threads of comedy and silliness, which probably anyone acting in would have the tendency to overdo. I expect that the rest of the films are even better, and become more interesting as much as the books progress in their intrigue and ability to grab the attention of the reader. Also, the films have great special effects and visual profundity and beauty and imagination-inspired. The visual effects bring the text to life in a wonderful way. And the sound and music is well composed.
If you decide to read the books or watch the films, and I recommend both, as a result of reading this review, I hope that by the end you do not regret having done so.
You can find the complete series of Harry Potter books, as well as the Harry Potter movies on Amazon.
I recently watched the final movie installment of the "Hunger Games" trilogy, after having read all three books and watched the first three movies. I think I read the first book, then watched the first movie, and then I read the second ("Catching Fire") and final ("Mockingjay") before watching the last three movies. At the time, I believe that the books were free to borrow on Kindle to Amazon Prime members.
First off, I will say that I believe the books are much better, much more interesting, than the movie versions. But also, I do not think these stories are very great. They are somewhat mediocre, and I had the hope for something more that was not satisfied. This is one of those works of fiction that I can't really seem to put into words what it was I didn't really like about it. It is not horrible, but just leaves me feeling like I didn't get much out of it. I thought it was worth reading, although I probably would've been better off not watching all the movies. This is one of those books/movies that I watch simply because it is popular and I want to know what the big deal about it is. At least I can say I gave it a shot and wasn't impressed.
The story is of a dystopian future, where the citizens of Panem, are split into districts and are forced to send their children into an arena like competition where they have to kill each other off, to win the prize of food for their district. It's a pretty gruesome concept, but I suspect that people like the books and films because they enjoy the gruesome violence instead of abhorring it. It's cool to put a bunch of kids in an arena and have them kill each other off, and in different and exciting ways as well. At least, that is the feeling I get out of it. It reminds me of the game Mortal Kombat, where the best part of the game is to watch characters perform bloody vicious Fatalities where they rip off their limbs or cut them in half or crush their skulls or or set them on fire or whatnot. Perhaps Hunger Games is criticizing violent competitions such as this, but I just have the suspicion that part of the fun and popularity of the series stems from the excitement of watching people killed in different ways. I do hope that we never actually come to a point where games and competitions such as this are tolerated and enacted. Let the Hunger Games serve as a warning to us and future generations such that we never actually enter an era where games such as the Hunger Games are thought to be fun or cool or entertaining.
Overall, it is worth reading. It is less worth watching, except for the ability to have a visual presentation of the events. I think all the actors in the film versions do a good job, and the effects and everything can bring a little life to the story as it is translated from written novel to full blown motion picture. Read it, watch it. Let me know what you think of it, what it is about, and if you agree of disagree with some of my hypotheses about the usage of the violence in the story. These kinds of stories are becoming very popular today, with franchises such as "Divergent", and "The Maze Runner" and I am sure there are more and will be more of these dystopian survival stories in the future. Let me know if you are aware of any similar stories, especially if they are better than Hunger Games or other such stories. I would love to read different takes on this kind of theme.
The Hunger Games trilogy in book form can be purchased here.
Finally, I have finished reading the original Sword of Shannara Trilogy and the followup quadrilogy, “The Heritage of Shannara”. There is a story behind how I was introduced to these novels by Terry Brooks. When I was in 4th grade or so, I was really into the Goosebumps books. I would read really fast, often reading a whole book in a single night. My aunt noticed I read really fast and recommended I read the Shannara books, of which she had the first 7 volumes. At this time, these were the largest books I had ever tried to read, with the first book “The Sword of Shannara” being over 700 pages. It took me a long time to read the first book, and I found that I often would read 20 pages and not remember anything that had happened in them, and have to backtrack to concentrate on them. My reading comprehension skills were very poor for a long time. But these books challenged me, excited, and inspired me. I read the first three books, doing a book report on the second one, and my favorite of the series, “The Elfstones of Shannara” for an 8th grade English paper. Years later, about a few years ago, I decided to read them again and try to break into the followup four book series “The Heritage of Shannara”. I got into the second volume of this series “The Druid of Shannara” and put it down, having lots of other reading to do. Once again, a year or so later, I picked them back up, rereading from the beginning and finally tonight, finishing the last book of those I am reviewing here.
The Shannara series is a fantasy series, being something like Tolkien's “Lord of the Rings”, including elves, dwarves, magic, demons, and sword-fighting. While I enjoy Terry Brooks fantasy world, I find that Tolkien is far better. But Brooks is very good to read, in my view. I know some people who do not like his writing, but I enjoy it. The plot is essentially about the powers of magic, and the use or misuse of magic. That is the theme that runs throughout the series. Essentially, an order of Druids who practice and develop magical powers, is split, where one druid seeks to much power and is corrupted with the power they use and try to destroy the world and rule it. It is somewhat like the Darth Vader and Sith storyline from Star Wars, but this is not an interstellar galactic empire, but a world-bound army where there is no advanced technology, mostly medieval level society and there is magic.
But the series follows the adventures of members of a certain family, the Ohmsfords, who are partially descended from the race of Elves which has power of magic. Each volume find the Four Lands of Shannara threatened by some kind of evil, demonic, destructive force or character, and the druid Allanon charges a certain descendant of the Ohmsford, to go on a quest to stop this danger. Often the characters bounce all over the world, of which there is a map at the beginning of each novel, kind of like Lord of the Rings, but totally new, seeking out magical items and weapons and recruiting help along the way as the ever doubtful protagonists seek to bring peace and harmony back into the threatened land of Shannara.
Terry Brooks is someone whom I find to be very eloquent in his descriptions of setting, characters, and action. Especially in “The Elfstones of Shannara”, his portrayal and descriptions of battle scenes are very exciting, fast paced and visually imaginative. Whenever he described the setting or scenery or action sequences, I have a very vivid idea in my mind of what the scene looks like, what the characters are doing, and the psychological state of the characters are. The characters are all believable. There is a great variety of characters, and they are easily recognizable and distinguishable. Many of the characters are very likable, and there were feelings of devastation in my soul when certain very important characters are suddenly slain or die, sacrificing themselves to save others and keep the quest going until it is finished. There are some interesting plot twists, and the lore and background story behind the state of the world and the battle between the good magic and lust for power through destructive magic is intriguing.
One thing I would like to gladly note is that there is a “Shannara” TV series in production, which will be aired on MTV. The first season is going to cover the second book “The Elfstones of Shannara”, which I mentioned before, is my favorite in the series. I expect this will be very good, and I hope you obtain copies of these books, and enjoy them very much. I liked it, and I hope you like it as much as I did. You might not, but at least give the first book a try, and you'll get a good idea soon of whether you like the book or the author or not. The list below this review is the order in which the books should be read, just so you know.
“The Sword of Shannara”
“The Elfstones of Shannara”
“The Wishsong of Shannara”
The Heritage of Shannara:
“The Scions of Shannara”
“The Druid of Shannara”
“The Elf Queen of Shannara”
“The Talismans of Shannara”
I finished reading “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain for the first time in my 30 years of life. Twain called this novel his “hymn to boyhood” and it is refreshing to read about the carefree, adventuresome antics of the mischievous Tom Sawyer and his friends.
This novel reminds one of the days before computers, and Nintendos, iPods and Playstations, when all we as kids needed was an imagination and a story to play out, whether it was pirates, or treasure hunters, or whatever fantasy would be fun to us. These were the days when treasure hunts were real, and going out to the woods and living off the land was a grand adventure.
I think just the ability to look back to the way our childhoods were without all the electronics and gadgets and noises and beeps and whistles, makes this novel worth reading just in itself. I could describe the plot and the adventures in this book. But my main goal is to recommend you get a copy, read this, enjoy it heartily and bask in the nostalgia to when you didn't need advanced technology and remote controls and hi-speed Internet to enjoy yourself with friends.
I just finished reading “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho, which was a gift from my brother for Christmas. Most of all, I enjoyed reading it. It is about a shepherd boy, seeking out his destiny, or his “Personal Legend”, trying to find what he is meant to do in life. The book is about trusting one's instincts and paying attention to the omens that life provides us to guide us towards our calling.
It is a very simple story, and very short and quick to read, but very insightful, It demonstrates in a story form the idea that when we are meant to do something, and when we want something with all our hearts, the universe and God conspire to lead us to the realization of our deepest and most true longings. This is an excellent, readable, and inspiring story, which is well loved and read by millions since it first was published. Go out and get a copy and enjoy reading this novel at your earliest convenience. You won't regret reading it.
“The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho can be purchased here on Amazon.
“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” is a fairly short story of Sir Gawain of Arthur's Knights of the Round Table. In it, the Knights are having a party or banquet, and in barges a large green knight with his all green horse. The Green Knight is gigantic, and all his skin and hair is green. He makes a challenge to anyone in the hall to strike him a blow to his neck and then that whoever does so will seek him out in his Green Chapel to have the Green Knight strike at his neck also. Sir Gawain takes the challenge, and cuts the Green Knight's head clean off.
Strangely, the Green Knight leaves, with the agreement that Gawain will seek him out and take a blow from the Green Knight's axe next New Year. On the way to find him that next year, he meets a king and queen and is tempted. He faces temptations to his chastity and continues on his journey to meet the Green Knight. I will not give any spoilers, but hopefully you will take time to read this story someday. One impressive thing to note is that there is a lot of alliteration in the verse. I am impressed with the translator's ability to retain the amount of alliteration from the original Old/Middle English.
Simon Armitage's translation can be found here on Amazon.
A translation by J.R.R. Tolkien can be purchased here on Amazon.
I just finished reading the young adult pirate adventure novel “Pirates of Lobster Cove” written by local author S.E. Toon. Overall, it was very enjoyable to read. The story is about a group of young teens who come across a curiosity shop manager in an old ship, and learn that he is actually in fact a pirate.
They find a Manifest which contains the exploits of this and other pirates. The main character Ty, in a creative spurt, decides to erase some of the contents of the manifest and rewrite them. What him and his loyal friends come to learn is that when someone changes the story in the manifest, changes reality.
Eventually, the whole town is in trouble when the changes to the Manifest summon a whole legion of undead pirates and other nasty creatures. Ty's girlfriend is kidnapped by the undead pirate LeBouche, and Ty and his still free friends, must enlist the help of Billybones the Pirate and other crew to rescue her and turn the town back to its normal self.
This book is volume one of a projected 5 part series. It definitely is geared towards a young adult crowd, but adults can enjoy it too. I personally enjoyed the plot as it developed and the characters as they interacted with and helped each other in many haphazard and deadly situations. It is essentially an adventure novel, with lots of action and swashbuckling scenes, as the “good” pirates, face off with the evil creatures of piratedom.
I would recommend the book to anyone who enjoys adventures and pirate stories.
“Pirates of Lobster Cove” can be purchased on Amazon.com here.
I just finished reading Charles Dickens' famous work “Great Expectations” and am going to make an attempt to write a decent review of it. Being new to writing reviews, I am going to try to write whether, and for what reasons I would recommend or discourage yourself from reading this novel.
As for whether I think this book was worth the read, I affirm the case in the positive. I enjoyed the novel and consider the time spent reading it well worth it. I am going to try to explain why without giving away any spoilers.
This book I consider to be a book of persons, a book about persons, and their characters and relationships and the fruit of their virtues and vices. This being the first novel by Dickens I have read, since reading “A Christmas Carol” in the 6th grade, I was most struck by the characters.
Dickens goes to great lengths to share with you the nature of his characters. And I found that he did so, more by the actions of characters, than by their words or dialogue. There is a lot of good dialogue, but characters are known more by their actions in this book than by their words.
This book demonstrates the fallacies we can have in trying to judge the true nature of persons. Some characters are misjudged as being bad persons, when in actuality, they are better natured and charitable than those with clean reputations.
I am not really going to reveal anything here, because I want you to take the opportunity to read the novel yourself, but I will just say that Dickens does a good job of describing his characters and putting them in promising or perilous situations. Some fulfill their “great expectations”, while others find themselves in ruin at the end. Some people are not as they seem, some being the opposite of what popular opinion would have of them.
But in the end, I recommend reading this novel, and would like to hear what you think of it.
(Warning: Spoilers Ahead!)
Out of the Silent Planet was written by C.S Lewis in 1943. Most of the story takes place on the planet Malacandra. The protagonist, Dr. Ransom, is a complex character who commits both dishonorable and good deeds. He is led into a trap by Weston and Devine, who he believes are scientists. They kidnap him and take him in a spaceship to a planet that the inhabitants call Malacandra.
They were invited by a being called Oyarsa, and planned to desert Ransom there. But, the doctor evaded his captors and made it into the wilderness where he risks both his life and his chance of escaping back to Earth. Fortunately, Ransom will discover that most of the creatures are friendly on this planet.
The first group of natives he meets call themselves the hrossa. One of his first friends is later shot by his former captors, who wish to show their power. The hrossa suggest he go to Oyarsa, who lives in a valley. In order to make the journey, he must first cross steep mountains. As the cold nips at him from the altitude, he comes across a cave. In this cave, he finds a sorn named Augray, another inhabitant of this strange planet, who he finds to be friendly. This creature helps him to find Oyarsa’s valley.
Finally, when he meets Oyarsa, he finds that his captors had already been taken captive for the death of the hross. Weston and Devine confess and are forgiven for their crime, and Oyarsa frees Ransom. Their space ship only holds enough provisions for ninety days. If their spaceship does not make it to Earth by then, they would die. Under great stress, they barely make it in 88 days. After they return home, Ransom becomes extremely sick. When he recovers, he wonders if any of this was real.
My favorite character is the protagonist, Dr. Ransom. It was amazing to see how much his character changed from when he was kidnapped to the trial scene with Oyarsa. C.S Lewis does an extremely excellent job of describing him. In most physical respects, he is rather average, although he has notably high stamina. An example of the latter is the trip he made when he was searching for Oyarsa. As C.S Lewis put it, it would usually be impossible for some one “with his age and build” to stand up to the extreme conditions he faced.
C.S Lewis writes many beautifully descriptive passages throughout the book. Here is an excerpt of Ransom’s impressions when they landed on the planet:
A mass of something purple, so huge that he took it for a heather-covered mountain, was his first impression: on the other side, beyond the larger water, there was something of the same kind. But there, he could see over the top of it. Beyond were strange upright shapes of whitish green: too jagged and irregular for buildings, too thin and steep for mountains. Beyond and above these again was the rose-coloured cloud-like mass. It might really be a cloud, but it was very solid-looking and did not seem to have moved since he first set eyes on it from the manhole. It looked like the top of a gigantic red cauliflower – or like a huge bowl of red soapsuds – and it was exquisitely beautiful in tint and shape.
I liked how descriptive C.S Lewis is in painting the scenery in my mind. The characters were realistic and believable, as well. This book was full of mystery and suspense which were well-balanced with the rich character development. The natives learned to trust Ransom, and to be wary about Weston and Devine. Ransom himself changes dramatically through the story. At the beginning, he had been dishonorable, but when his life was on the line, his values changed. The following passage talks about his encounter with a hross:
Then something happened which completely altered his state of mind. The creature…opened its mouth and began to make noises. This in itself was not remarkable; but a lifetime of linguistic study assured Ransom almost at once that these were articulate noises. The creature was talking. It had a language.
If you are not yourself a philologist, I am afraid you must take on trust the prodigious emotional consequences of this realization in Ransom’s mind. A new world he had already seen – but a new, and extra-terrestrial, a non-human language was a different matter…In the fraction of a second which it took Ransom to decide that the creature was really talking, and while he still knew that he might be facing instant death, his imagination had leaped over every fear and hope and probability of his situation to follow the dazzling project of making a Malacandrian grammar.
Readers will be delighted to know that this is only the first book of a three part series called the Space Trilogy. The two books that follow this are Perelandra and That Hideous Strength. For further reading, C.S Lewis has also written almost 30 other books that may be of interest.
Photo credit: Amazon.com, Fair Use
by Phoenix Desertsong
The World State Society of Brave New World
The World State society presented in Brave New World is radically different from our own. However, it is fascinating to see some striking similarities and, at the same time, to see how certain things in our present culture have been totally done away with in the World State. Art, as we know it, no longer exists. However, the consumption of goods and services is at an all-time high, because people are conditioned to always want the new! The World State also greatly encourages, and actually insists, on the instant gratification of desires. Supposedly, the World State has also rid the world of religion, and yet ironically their high praise of Henry Ford is in itself a religion.
The Lack of Art, As We Know It
The first striking difference in Brave New World from our own society was the lack of art, or at least, art as we know it. In our society, we for the most part place a pretty high value on our art. While not everyone goes to museums, everyone appreciates some form of art – whether it is theater, movies, or music. As a culture, we generally value self-expression through artistic media. In Brave New World’s World State, such expression is not only discouraged, but it is in fact prohibited.
Art in Brave New World has been reduced to three things. First are the sensual “feelies,” a rather base concept for entertainment. They are basically composed of cheap, corny movies where you can feel people kiss and all that junk. The second is synthetic music, which in itself doesn’t sound bad, but it has no soul or human touch to it. It would seem the only real music is at their meetings to revere Ford, the Solidarity Services, which I’ll talk about later. Thirdly, there are the scent taps, which actually sound pretty fascinating. They’re somewhat like Glade air fresheners. However, nature itself is fairly ignored in Brave New World.
Many would agree that expression through art is an extremely important aspect of our society. Taking away art takes away a big part of the individual. Our society is certainly correct on art and how necessary it is. Some people may not like particular forms of art, which may itself cause dissent, and some art may be radical in nature, but artistic expression is a natural part of being human.
If we lose the ability to express ourselves, then we cut off the better, more fascinating parts of ourselves. Our ability to express what is wonderful about us would be so limited. It would come to the point where we’d become little more than animals feeling and touching each other living in a freshly scented world with the Sounds of Nature music selections playing in the background. Unfortunately, that’s what the majority of people in Brave New World have become. Most folks would rather have a little wider range of expression than that. Taking away artistic outlets from people denies human beings of an important right – to share their own perspectives on the Universe.
Consumption of Goods and Services
However, as different as the two societies are on art, it is safe to say that the World State and America are quite similar in their ideas of the consumption of goods and services. In both societies, novelty is a must. We in America are constantly bombarded to buy new things. We are convinced that our old things are outdated and therefore useless and should be thrown away. It is much the same in Brave New World; however, the major difference there is that the people have no choice. They’re hypnopaedically conditioned to consume what the State expects of them to consume, both in goods and services.
In America, we still have choices. We can choose to be thrifty. We can choose to be economical. We can choose to ignore aggressive advertising that tries their hardest to make us purchase on a whim. In Brave New World, such choices don’t exist. You have what you have what you are offered and you consume it. There are no choices to do otherwise. Having choices of what and what not to consume are tremendously important.
It can be disgusting how many needless things we consume, and how many still useful things that we throw away. But, at least we still have free will in what we acquire and what we do with it. We aren’t forced to replace everything when newer versions come out. They say in Brave New World, “The more stitches, the less riches.” It would seem to be a better philosophy, however, to use what you have until it completely outlives its usefulness. As much as Americans both consume and waste, ours is still preferable this to the World State’s system.
Self-Indulgence and Gratification
Pleasure and self-indulgence is a topic which can be debated over forever. America is crazy about it. The concept of instant gratification has been bred into so many of us, a lot of it almost by accident. Today, so many of us are truly spoiled by all the sources of pleasure and entertainment available at our fingertips. We are overwhelmed by all the things with which we can quickly amuse ourselves. It may not be a good thing that both our society and Brave New World’s are very similar in this regard. Of course, our societies are far from identical in this respect. Brave New World has it much worse. In our culture, we at least realize that there is a time for work and a time for play. Instantly gratifying a desire truly is, as Bernard Marx puts it in Brave New World, “infantile.”
Delaying gratification is something we Americans can at least well understand. As much as we may want a pleasure at a particular time, waiting for it usually makes the pleasure far more enjoyable. Always getting gratification dulls the entire feeling of pleasure after awhile. Pretty soon, the only source of pleasure in Brave New World is “soma,” the miracle drug. It gives you an instant holiday. Oh, how many of us would love such sudden instant holidays! But if we could take holidays whenever the hell we wanted, after a while, we’d take them for granted.
We take so many of our pleasures for granted in America as it is, but at least the majority of us don’t baby ourselves and become slaves to our pleasures. Unfortunately some do. A society with infant-minded people all with terrible cases of the “gimme gimmes” is a frightening thought. In effect, however, that is what the World State has done, and they keep giving the babies more candy.
The Role of Religion
Last, but not least, the role that religion plays in Brave New World must be examined. Not only are Americans so entrenched in religion, but the entire world is as well. Brave New World has supposedly done away with it; it has done away with God. But as is made so apparent through out the novel, the World State simply has put Henry Ford in God’s place. Instead of using God’s name in vain, they use Ford’s. The meetings in which they praise Ford, the Solidarity Services, are very little different from modern day church services. They seem to believe in the coming of the Ford, which seems very strange. If all is so perfect, what would the coming of Ford be for?
Human beings seem to have an inherent need for divine deliverance and salvation. These meetings for Ford are simply cleverly disguised church services. It’s often been said that religion turns your brain off. People don’t even realize what they’re doing. They’re worshiping Ford as their God. They’re made to worship his machine, the assembly line. They have in a sense created a “new” God. People in general seem to have an inherent need to worship something. Brave New World ’s deity has become Henry Ford and his assembly line. They are made to worship the Greater Being, the very social machine itself. Ford, unwittingly, was the forefather of this mechanized society.
True Humanity Cannot Exist in the World State
Brave New World ’s World State can basically be boiled down to an advanced form of Communism. Not only are people told what to do, but they’re conditioned to like it. Not only are they conditioned to like it, but they’re physically built to like it. It is an impressive, ingenious social machine. But just like in any machine, where’s the heart? They’ve all become servile to the machine and they worship it. At least we’re still autonomous beings, and at least we have freedoms – overwhelming as the bevy of choices such freedoms provide. You cannot live in Brave New World and be a true human being. The human mind has a need to grow. It can’t be kept idle and at an infantile stage of development, even for happiness’ sake.
Perpetual happiness isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. The sharp edges of life are what make the moments of joy and happiness all that more special. Brave New World denies the individual the very right to be imperfect. Our imperfections are what make us what we are, human beings. We must all accept one another’s imperfections and learn to live with them. You can’t just throw all the unfortunate parts under the rug; without them, you’re not really alive. Honestly, is it not better to be unhappy and be your own self rather than be just another cog in a well-oiled machine that is little more than an everyday amusement park? Someday, you know the fun and games just have to come to an end.
by Phoenix Desertsong
The hero of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is Mr. Marlow, as he overcame the “heart of darkness.” What exactly does that mean? Sharing a perspective on everyday heroes may shed some light on this subject.
Everyday heroes are people who can make your day memorable. It could be through making you feel good about yourself or doing something to humor you. Or, in the most common example, performing a selfless act of kindness. An everyday hero is someone who daily defeats the “heart of darkness” within each of us. They do this by remaining positive and setting a fine example for the rest of us to remain positive ourselves.
Mr. Kurtz, the supposed antagonist of this tale, gave in to the “heart of darkness” that is the wild Congo of the time. It began physically, then mentally. From these infirmities, he was never able to recover. Kurtz does not seem to exhibit the qualities that allowed Marlow to succeed in the end. Yes, Kurtz had grand intelligence, many big ideas, and originally very good intentions. But, he lacked the integrity to keep his brilliant mind from being invaded by darkness.
Integrity is such an important part of a person. That integrity allowed Marlow to outlast Kurtz. Like so many other unrestrained brilliant minds, Kurtz became swallowed up by his darker side. He then performed numerous atrocities. Kurtz became quite self-centered, as he became almost sort of a god to native tribes, using that position to his advantage. Only in the end does Kurtz truly realize how corrupted he has become. He dies cursing the atrocities he committed, now unable to do anything about them.
Marlow's Optimism and Constitution
Marlow never gave in, though at numerous times he could have. Part of this was Marlow’s strong constitution. Then again, he wasn’t exposed to the jungle as long as many of those in the story had been. Indeed, Marlow felt the emotional strain, but rather than being attracted to evil, he was outright revolted by what he was witnessing. He had no intention of joining this terrible invasion nor the obvious exploitation of both the land and its native people.
Fortunately for Marlow, he was able to stick to his tasks, not letting his own disgust with the situation idle him. Marlow becomes the hero of this story because he’s able to retain a positive attitude throughout the journey. In his epic case, he remains positive mostly for his own sanity.
From how Marlow tells the beginning of the story, it’s not difficult to gather that he started this journey as a young man with an optimistic viewpoint on life. Being a hero depends so much on retaining positivity. He was able to keep a connection with his civilized self and was able to hold what was good and just in him together, an integrity that Kurtz apparently lacked. In a more literal sense, Marlow is a hero by simply “winning” in the end by not being consumed by the primitive wilderness. It’s the depths of the Congo itself that become the true villain of the novel.
The trip down the Congo River begins like your typical adventure story. But, through Mr. Marlow’s narrative, we learn this journey affected him deeply. Both physically and metaphorically, he lives his way through a nightmare. He journeys into a primordial land where basic instinct thrives.
Only by remaining single-mindedly focused on his tasks at hand is Marlow able to retain his composure and faculties. This includes repairing the boat, captaining it, and proceeding on his mission to retrieve Mr. Kurtz. At times, he’s under considerable strain which may have broken many lesser men.
Marlow saw Kurtz, one who people once considered a great man, reduced to a sick shadow of a man, broken both in body and mind. All around him, people were so very corrupted. But, Marlow’s integrity prevented him from giving in to the corruption around him.
A Matter of Integrity
Sometimes, we can find it hard enough to stay cool in civilized society in our own life. If we were to be far removed from what we know as civilization and put in a world of lawlessness and chaos, the “dark side” within each of us would be extremely difficult to resist. It takes tremendous integrity to remain focused in such an alien world where it’s so easy to give in to your darker side and lose all civilized manners forever.
Marlow’s great integrity keeps him together in his case. Still, even with all his integrity, he’s forever a changed man from the epic journey. Such hardships must be overcome for one to be remembered as a hero. Marlow truly overcomes some great calls of instinct to which many other human beings would fall victim.
As great as Mr. Kurtz was, he could never be a hero because he succumbed to evil. In Marlow, Conrad created a wonderful hero and a man of great character. Indeed, his story itself is a fairly memorable one. If we can put ourselves in Marlow’s shoes, we can learn a little bit more about ourselves.
Like Marlow said himself of the journey, “It seemed somehow to throw a kind of light on everything about me – and into my thoughts. It was sombre enough, too – and pitiful – not extraordinary in any way – not very clear either.” Even though he found it impossible to put his exact thoughts into words, the story itself is an epic hero story.
A hero, through all of their hardships, comes to better understand people and human nature itself. It’s through hero stories that we learn so many things. It can also be through such stories that one generation passes on their values. Through Marlow’s example, we can see how staying focused on your tasks and remaining true to yourself can get you through all sorts of difficulties. This can even be true when faced with horrors as monumental as those of Marlow’s experience in the Congo.
But, even the most “good” of mankind are attracted to power. Marlow found that he liked Kurtz quite a bit, even as corrupted as he’d allowed himself to become. Kurtz became very selfish, and with all the power he had gained, with no one to stop him, who could blame him? Marlow and Kurtz certainly are quite contrasts in character. It’s interesting to note that Kurtz had come to the Congo with quite a bit of positivity himself, but he just could not hang onto it in the way Marlow is able to in the end. Kurtz becomes the pathetic figure and Marlow ultimately is the hero.
Marlow as The Everyday Hero
Marlow’s story is one that needs to be read delicately to fully appreciate today. While Conrad’s language is effective, it can prove dense and verbose in many spots. If you read closely enough, however, tidbits of wisdom can stand out to you. Within his impressive narrative are little insights into everyday existence, quotable and truthful.
Heart of Darkness is a fine work that can make you ponder about the darker aspects of human nature. It’s hard not to appreciate the book in its subject matter. There’s such a fascinating wealth of insights contained within its pages. It’s also a great example of not having to love a book to get something valuable out of it.
In the simplest terms, Marlow is the expression of an everyday hero. There’s nothing tremendously special about him, other than his incredible gift of expression. He’s just living day to day, getting whatever he possibly can out of each moment, sticking to his tasks and remaining true to his conscience. He does not have to agree with what’s going on to do his job; sometimes, that is just how it has to be.
After many journeys, Marlow becomes a great storyteller, doing his best to relate the complete essence of a tremendous experience; one Marlow refers to as almost being a “dream-sensation.” Marlow really is just a fellow human being with a heck of a story to tell, and it is well worth listening to, because from it, there is so much to learn.