Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thank You, Eragon

Christopher Paolini is living a writer’s fantasy. After writing a grand story, and self-publishing it, some kid read it and loved it. This kid happened to know someone who knew someone at Alfred A. Knopf, a big publishing company under Random House. A few suggestions later, Paolini’s novel hit the national scene and became wildly popular.

Now he’s working on the last installment of his Inheritance Cycle, of which Eragon was the first. They tell the story of a young man who finds a dragon egg. The egg hatches, and he winds up fighting with the dragon against a powerful tyrant. These books set the bestseller lists on fire. Eragon was his breakout hit; his very first novel. Eldest broke Random House records. So did Brisingr.

Why do we want these kind of stories? You know what I’m talking about. The Lord of the Rings. Star Wars. The Chronicles of Narnia. Transformers, even. Stories of good and evil at war, with powerful forces, vast scales, and something  huge at stake, like the fate of the world. Maybe even the universe.

How many movie trailers have you seen that try and get that mood? You know the type. Frenzied action scenes, desperate-looking heroes and heroines, ominous shots of villains and minions, and urgent choral music. The trailers for the seventh Harry Potter are perfect examples…

We are not the only generation who likes this sort of thing, ether. Cecil DeMille, if you remember him, was the James Cameron of his day; the Ten Commandments was an Avatar for sheer special effects and grandeur.  There weren’t as many movies like that in the ‘60s and ‘70s, but the rise of Tolkien and George Lucas brought it back with a vengeance.

So why do we like them?

I submit that we sense something in these stories, these specific sorts of stories- and that we want it. Badly. When I see King Theoden and his Rohirrim roar and ride upon Mordor’s army, I get this feeling roaring with them in my heart. And it’s not just because it’s a grand show. It’s something I can’t describe for sure, but can guess and be confident. It is the feeling of war. A deep war. A war deeper than any war on this earth; World War Two is a gang fight compared to what I speak of. I speak of our own spiritual struggle.

We want to be King Theoden, riding into certain death, and riding because he knows what is good and that he will fight like a madman to preserve it. We want to be Luke Skywalker, standing before  Emperor Palpatine and refusing to accept the dark side of the Force. We want that courage. We want that devotion. We want that suffering. We want that purpose.

I put up such an illusion of purpose in my modern life, but at times I sense I’m not hooked up to anything, that I am not anything at all… unless I’m hooked up to God. In the end, what I want and what you want is to be hooked up. To go on a quest. To pour out ourselves into something; something worth dying for.

Which is exactly what these heroes and heroines do. We watch them because they are the humans we know we can be, and what we want to be more than anyone else. We want to join them in the cosmic struggle, so clearly seen in the fire in their eyes and the urgency in their cries.

Look at Eragon again. If you haven’t read it and the other books, I would certainly do so. They aren’t quite as deep, original, or even coherent as The Lord of the Rings, but they still show you that quest. I cannot thank Eragon, and his creator Christopher Paolini, enough. With his first novel, Mr. Paolini wasn’t afraid to go after that quest, and try and take our breath away, and make our souls burst into flame. He didn’t do it as well as the masters, but he put in a darn good effort.

Thank you, Eragon. Thank you truly. I’ve followed you on a magnificent journey, and may you smite that foul King Galbatorix when your author comes out with Book IV.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


It’s Homecoming Weekend at Benedictine; therefore I’m choked for time. So I’m going make this quick. Since I don’t have the time to get deep into anything, I’ll leave that to you; if you care to throw in your two cents, feel free to comment. Or post my Facebook page. Or tweet me. Whatever you like.

How many of you have seen a war movie? A graphic war movie? I’m thinking of a scene from Black Hawk Down; if that doesn’t ring a bell, it’s about the Mogadishu disaster in Somalia back in the 90s. At one point, one of the men is shot from behind… and has to be operated on. No anesthetic. Just the words of his friends and their firm hands. I won’t go into any more details than that, but if you haven’t seen it, be assured it’s not easy to watch.

It’s no easier to reflect on. A while after seeing it, I went to the doctor and had to get a shot so he could fix a toe without causing me any pain. I thought about the man in the movie. People suffer pain like that everyday, and we in America have the resources to avoid it. 

Is this ultimately good for us?

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Few Rules You'll Always Fail

I know I'm never going to fully live up to them. Nevertheless I'm putting them up; one of my college friends brought up the idea and I'm running with it. Be advised that you're about to read the life rules of an adult who has only recently become an adult after eighteen years of a loving family and a material world; they are incomplete, but they've gotten me out of a pickle or two (or, more precisely, were the lessons from the pickle).

Think. You've heard this before, and it's a cliche, and it's undeniably true. There are times where snap descisions are crucial, but if you can possibl take time to ponder what you're doing, ponder away. And not just your actions. Question everything! Question yourself. Question your motives. Question your beliefs. Question your religion; if they're all as good as you think they are, you have nothing to worry about.

Never presume on anyone, except close friends. Defer to them in everything you can; do that "love thy neighbor" thing; don't ever expect them to do something to give something to you unless you have no other option. Close friends can be an exception, since they know you better, but use your head. You know when you cross the line.

Be sincere. Don't bottle up your doubts and your frailties. Don't hide yourself; don't copy other people to get their respect, their friendship. If you're angry, or feeling any other dark mood, don't keep it inside. I'm not telling you to punch the school bully; find a way to express it that will bring it back down. Prayer, writing, and good counsel have done well with me in dealing with this.

Be open. Another cliche is that it takes all kinds of people to make a world. A new way to say that is that your view of the world is never going to take in everything. People don't do things for a bad reason unless they are so savage they aren't people anymore. Even stupid or pointless things may have a purpose we can't see. Wait until you understand something before you decide whether it's good or evil.

Be patient. I don't know if you believe in God, but even if you don't, things have a way of working themselves out over time. Trust in the Lord if you believe He exists; trust that bad things aren't going to last if you don't. Thousands of years (and my life) have shown our race (and me) that bad things always wither away with time. Do you seriously think that something that is wrong will last forever? The fact that it is wrong implies that there is a right, and we would not have named them, and made the right superior, unless it was going to stand over wrong and defeat it in the long run.

It's gonna be alright. Really. It is. Life is a sweet thing once you get through those wrongs. I'm going to step on some toes and say that God is the light of my life and He loves me and He loves you and He's working us all to the point where we can truly step into Him and feel joy. Pure, everlasting joy. It’s worth sticking it out through whatever horrors may come.

Take all that as you care to take it. You won't truly enjoy any of it if you don't believe it. And don't let anyone convince you otherwise. No one can be forced to live a good life. Those that try tend to get their victims in even worse messes than where they found them.

Have the time of your life today.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


(And the title is weird because it's in Facebook language)

As a man, I confess reluctantly that I watched Glee the other night. Tuesday, October 5, to be precise. At 7pm Central Time, along with millions of other pieces of humanity, not a few of whom are buzzing more than usual about the new episode (Please note I don't usually watch this. I wanted to see why it was a phenomenon.)

If you aren’t familiar, let me bring you up to speed. Curt, a homosexual who seems to be the glee club’s Adam Lambert without the perverted sex acts, has a tough mechanic daddy who has a heart attack. Curt is, of course, distraught, and then dramatically furious when his Christian friends sing about God to try and comfort him. Thus ensues a series of arguments and more dramatic “Well, I don’t believe that and you don’t have the right to…” standoffs. Oh, and Curt winds up going to a church. And everyone sings their little gleeful hearts out at the end.

But that doesn’t explain the title. That would be the subplot of one of the jocks, Finn. After discovering the burn mark on his grilled cheese sandwich looks like a typical, bearded rendition of Our Lord and Savior, he commences praying to it with a remarkable fervor. And like a typical television teenager, he prays that his girlfriend might let him touch her breasts. And in typical television fashion, she does.

For some odd reason, this sent the Internet into a frenzy.

And now I’m joining in. Let’s get back to the drama, since that takes up most of the episode. I personally found it shallow and slightly stupid. I counted three moments where Kurt stands up, all in a huff, and icily snaps something that is a formal “buzz off” whenever anyone brings up religion. Like I said, he’s an atheist. And I’m not downing him for that; just the way he does it is amusingly melodramatic, especially when done over and over again, just about in the same tone. It’s almost narcissistic. “Don’t step on my toes! Let me believe what I want to believe!” I got a strong connotation of that from the guy. Now it could be he’s uptight because of tough mechanic daddy, but still.

Now, back to our good, simple friend Finn. Oh dear. Understand I am a sincere, practicing, trying-to-be-devout Catholic, and that I am determined to meet with seriousness anything that blasphemes any part of our faith. I grinned like an idiot watching this guy. Absolutely hilarious. "God works in all kinds of mysterious ways, but I'm pretty sure he doesn't spend a lot of time trying to speak to us through sandwiches." The teacher telling this to Finn has a wide-eyed, deadpan mock-sympathy that is hysterical. And when Finn is kneeling in front of the sandwich, praying so intently, with his dumb-jock voice… I was sold. I laughed. Hard. It has this simpleton, naïve appeal to it that’s priceless. 

Let’s keep in mind, though, that his intention is somewhat less innocent. Groping his girlfriend, for instance. They talked about marriage right before they started to cuddle; I doubt his wedding night will be quite as satisfying now that he’s already done half the job (They didn’t have sex, to clarify. They were doing pretty much everything else, though, so they might as well have been).

I could go on even longer, but as a college student, I have many things I must do. And thus I must leave it at that. Take it as you will.

P.S. They did an astonishing cover of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

I Was Delighted Until They Cut Someone's Head Off

As a college student with an awesome college professor, the Romantic poets have started looking… well… awesome. We’re covering them in my British Literature class. And by covering, I mean plunging a hand into a world behind wondrous words, and yanking out all sorts of intriguing information.

One of which was that the Romantics applauded the storming of the Bastille. Some of them even wrote poems about it. Wordsworth even lived in France from 1791-1792, after the storming. 

It was just their thing. The English Romantic was much like the modern liberal (or at least the image I have of one). They championed freedom, expression, imagination, and things like that. The revolution, in their eyes, was the triumph of the common man over his cruel, powerful oppressors. It was a dream come true.

By the Reign of Terror, those effusions had gone the way of a reindeer in a meat grinder. I don’t think I have to tell you the kind of carnage went on, but I’ll go ahead and re-cap. The common men started cutting heads off. A lot of heads. They started out with the lords and those other rotten beasts; soon all that was left was their spies. Oh, of course there had to be spies. And all sorts of enemies like that. This is the era where the guillotine became famous. They needed its efficiency for the thousands of victims that came to the scaffold in this time.

The Romantics weren’t as joyful about this. You’d have to work a lot harder at this point to find one of those ecstatic poems. You must admit their hearts were in the right place, though. Most of their beliefs were perfectly alright, and in fact noble. I personally have a problem with their idea that nature and the primal things bring out the best in men, but that’s beside the point.

The revolution, at the start, was their dream come true, and a good dream. Name for me one barrier stopping their pens in support of it. Just one. I can’t think of any, myself. Were I they, I would have seized my pen like it was Excalibur and wrote, wrote, wrote all England into a frenzy until they stood with me. This was a great cause! And then it wasn’t. Imagine the poets’ horror, and their dejection.

We can learn something of caution here; of thinking before talking. I’m not an expert by any means about this event, but it doesn’t seem to have been well-planned. Especially compared to the American Revolution. Perhaps the poets should have compared the two. Did they? Did they take a moment to wonder if it would fail? What could have gone wrong? Could it have seemed so foolproof? They must have seen it wasn’t hateproof. If they didn’t believe revenge is ugly, they sure learned it after the Reign of Terror.

Whether or not they thought, we can learn from their failure of foresight to take some time ourselves. To think. To question. To doublecheck. Question even our Catholic Church; you can do nothing worse than find how true it is. And always question causes and charities before you give yourself to them. What happens when you throw yourself blindly into such things?

I think of it like surfers; a group of surfers, floating on the calm, open ocean. They all want a wave. They all want movement, to be uplifted and to move with the wild waters.

At last a wave comes; it’s higher, broader, faster, and louder than anything they’ve ever seen before, and they’re no amateurs. This is a magnificent wave! And it’s still forming; they can get right on it if they paddle now! And so they paddle, until they see where the wave is going. There’s a wall of sheer rock, many yards away; the wave is making for it, and it might or it might not smash them into it.

How close might it come? Can they maneuver away; is there enough room to maneuver; is it even possible to maneuver? Is it worth it if they die?

But oh! they must choose quick, for the wave is seconds away! It’s picking up speed!

I thank the following site for refreshing my knowledge about the facts of the French Revolution, I thank also the Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume Two, 8th Edition.