Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Movie Review: Royal Wedding (starring Fred Astaire and Jane Powell)

I know this makes two reviews in a row, but this is such a fun quick one I couldn’t resist.

Last night we watched Royal Wedding for the first time (courtesy of Lady Éowyn who placed the hold at the library). It’s light humor for the whole family and packed with some hilarious lines:

“We want to get married.” “What? I thought you two were related.”

“She’s quiet, but deep. At least, I hope she’s deep.
If not, she’s just wasting her time being quiet.”

“I think we’re in love.” “Yes, I know.” 
“What shall we do about it?”
(I apologize for the color on this one.)

We skipped two of the dance numbers (the silly stage ones they like to stick in sometimes) and on the dress end, Ellen does have a couple strap-top dresses. But the skirts! I have a weakness for classy skirts with just the right amount of sparkle–especially poufy, swirly, sparkly skirts. ;-)

The acting was excellent and the brother-sister relationship between the leads was very well done. We had recently seen Jane Powell for the first time in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and enjoyed seeing her in this, too. I’ve always liked Peter Lawford as Laurie in the 1949 Little Women (which I received as a Christmas gift!) so I was glad to see how well they ended up handling his part in this (and, of course, he did a good job). The crowning fun was seeing Keenan Wynn (Alonzo Hawk in the Absent-Minded Professor) playing double as a pair of brothers–one in America and one in England (with corresponding vocabularies). Very funny.

If you’ve seen it, or have a chance to, let me know... (wot, wot?)


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Book Review: Behold the Dawn by K.M. Weiland

Marcus Annan, a tourneyer famed for his prowess on the battlefield, thought he could keep the secrets of his past buried forever. But when a mysterious crippled monk demands Annan help him find justice for the transgressions of sixteen years ago, Annan is forced to leave the tourneys and join the Third Crusade. Wounded in battle and hunted by enemies on every side, he rescues an English noblewoman from an infidel prison camp and flees to Constantinople. But, try as he might, he cannot escape the past. Amid the blood and sweat of a war he doesn’t even believe in, he is forced at last to face long-hidden secrets and sins and to bare his soul to the mercy of a God he thought he had abandoned years ago.

As my sisters can attest, I was–yes–squealing with delight the first time I read this. (In fact, screaming with delight would probably be more accurate, but we’ll leave that aside.) And–what's more–it almost made me cry, something in my life that only about three other books have ever been able to do.

First off, some particulars: it’s very well-written in an excellent style (if the two can ever be separated). There’s an occasional modernism (particularly in the dialogue), but it’s not too jarring and overall works well. I particularly appreciated Weiland’s clear-eyed, balanced view of the Crusades, and how she brought out both the strengths and weaknesses of the medieval church.

As a whole I’d say it’s for mature readers (adult or older high-school). It’s never disturbing or indecent, but it is intense and there’s quite a bit of violent action and corresponding romance. At the same time, it’s written in such a way that the exact import of certain situations would go right over your head if you didn't know what they were talking about (another instance of the excellence of the writing).

And now on to the rest of it…

My sister and I have come to the conclusion that it's a whole lot easier to convincingly incorporate biblical language and conflicts into medieval literature. Whether or not that’s accurate, Behold the Dawn is a superb example. God and the worship of God are very present–as well as each of the main characters' personal calling to serve Him.

Spoilers may be inevitable in the following and I’ll try not to give too many (hence I won’t give names), but I do want to delve a little deeper here than a basic review warrants–into the metaphors and matter that good stories are made of–the matter that calls for tears and laughter.

In Behold the Dawn the stakes are high and the characters complex. Redemption and damnation are played out together: bad characters change for the good, and good characters go downhill and stay there–highlighting the danger. It’s realistic: rosy endings aren’t handed out to everyone. It’s weighty: details are told by inference, insinuation, and allusion, creating a depth where you fill in the blanks for yourself and establishing that give-and-take between the author’s and reader’s imagination which all good literature incites.

There are messy, sinful situations, but the writing tone never crosses the line of dignity, descending into mush. The romance between the main characters is powerful, clearly (and pointedly) coming to what it should be between a man and wife, but never going blatant. Also (and this is very well done), their relationship isn’t in an encapsulated bubble, but is a part of and affected by the entire overarching story as a whole.

Now–all that being out of the way–we come to the part that really starts to thrill. The protagonist is a sinner, but due to metaphor (for which you can check out last week's post), he is also a Christ-figure and through the entire story the glimpses of a redeemer-kinsman are absolutely incredible. He literally covers her and–in essence–really does die for her–laying down his life as a faithful husband–passing through death for her.

And of course, there’s the redemption aspect: the tingly, knock-you-down, hard-as-rock redemption–played out in time and space with mounting tension. The climax hits and you’re caught up in a breathless whirlwind of joy–the joy that calls for tears. Joy at the root of which lies grace–pursuing, cutting grace, razor-sharp–the grace that grabs hold and will not let you go.

P.S. K.M. Weiland is a Christian author living and writing in Nebraska. On her writing blog, Helping Writers Become Authors, she describes herself as, “A fighter, a writer, a child of God.” Isn’t that a wonderful description?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Redemption, Damnation, and Metaphor

A bit of groundwork for a book review I'm hoping to post next week...


All good story is really either about redemption or it's antithesis–damnation. And oddly enough often done unintentionally on the author's part (another of those fascinating quirks of the creative process). But an honest author–even if he is rebellious–cannot avoid it. It just happens. As part of the way in which God has made the world it is the vast pattern by which everything else is shaped–the deep running vein in the rock of creation.

Granted, sometimes the message is skewed, i.e. the characters seem to “achieve” the redemption through their own merits or actions. Though this interpretation can sometimes itself be a little skewed. In other words, “achievement of redemption” is often just that, a reverse image of reality, but sometimes, on a careful rereading, it can turn out to be something quite different–particularly taken on a symbolic level. Still, in the best stories, the redemption comes from outside the character–a lightning stroke, an unexpected act of grace and mercy.

Now, in real life, no man can save his brother or give a ransom for him, but within the confines of a story's world every character carries a burden of meaning greater than himself. Because of this–and because of metaphor–brother can pay for brother. The imaginary world of the story shows us the tangible grace in ours–helping open our eyes not only to transcendent realities, but to the small mercies given us every day by those around us. And of course, ultimately, in a well-written story (returning to the great pattern and transcendent realities) it gives us a glimpse of Christ–the friend who spent his life, the brother who paid the costly ransom, the bridegroom who redeems his bride. In flying from damnation, redemption often confronts us in odd, startling, unforeseen ways.

All of this is played out in concrete time and space and as an ongoing process; ultimate redemption and ultimate damnation taking place in the actions and decisions of everyday characters. And in the best stories they are played out side by side. Safety is not seen as safety when danger is non-existent or invisible. Redemption comes into its fullness when the alternative stands, in all its terror, immediately opposite.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Constant and the Changing

Moving house presents all sorts of opportunities–opportunities to build on what has passed and create something new. Most of all opportunities to work with people: to show kindness, patience; to bide your tongue and actually listen to all their ideas–to think before replying–to find their ideas are wonderful. Opportunities for exciting jobs like moving books and cupboards, and also for less glamorous tasks like washing the ever appearing mountain of dishes and baking potatoes to make sure that–in all the flux–everyone stays fed.

It all seems to fit: moving house and into a new year at the same time. Our lives are always full of the ever-constant and the ever-changing. God is constant and calls us to be so likewise–living out our faith–and at the same time He has decreed we be constantly changing–growing and maturing as He shapes us more and more to the image of His Son. That shaping process is sometimes painful, but at the root of it is joy–the joy that lies beyond smiles and beyond tears.

In entering a new year–yes–we leave behind the past, but at the same time, we don’t. Everything it was has become a part of us and we step into the future with it–with all God has worked in and for us over the past year, and looking forward to discovering the joy of what He will do in the next. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

All seasons shall be sweet...

We’re into the second week of Christmas (!)
and Happy New Year!!!

“Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eve-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.”
Frost at Midnight – S.T. Coleridge

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