Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Theological Virtues

In hearing Patrick’s paper today in class, I got to thinking about the various virtues present in the stories we read. He touched on the cardinal virtues, but I see that the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love are very prominent in C.S. Lewis’s the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It can even be further isolated that all three virtues are present in the scene in which Aslan is sacrificed and rises again the next day. Aslan displays the greatest portion of faith and hope. He has faith that the Deeper Magic exists, but he is still scared. As he walks with Susan and Lucy before he is to die, “He did not talk very much and seemed to be sad.” His faith still carries him to the Stone Table to be killed, and there enters hope. Aslan has hope that his faith should not have fooled him, that he will indeed be saved the following morning. The girls also hope that he is not really being killed and that he will survive. The element of love enters as the girls weep for Aslan after he has died. They are sad as they have lost someone that they had faith in and that they loved. For this they mourn heavily: “and down they both knelt in the wet grass and kissed his cold face and stroked his beautiful fur– what was left of it– and cried till they could cry no more.” Their love is deep. Another example of love in this part of the story is the action of the mice. The mice, in their reverence and love for Aslan, chew away at the cords that tie Aslan: “they could see the mice nibbling away; dozens and dozens, even hundreds of little field mice.” Here, love can come from what seems the most lowly. Through all of these things, faith, hope, and love are present in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Science fiction or fantasy?

In class today we discussed whether or not the works of Madeleine L’Engle could be considered science fiction or fantasy, or a combination of the two. After much thought, I have determined that because of the great presence of science or an exaggeration of science, her works meet the criteria for works of science fiction. When I think of children’s fantasy, I first think of the beloved Harry Potter series. The inventions in these books are hardly realistic or feasible. Spells are the main form of magic and mystery. The magical objects used, such as flying brooms and watches for time travel, have no scientific explanation behind how exactly they work, but more the effects that they create. There is a great deal of magic left unexplained, left to the imagination, and perhaps this is why it appeals to a younger (as well as an older) audience.
In A Wrinkle In Time, science is a most prevalent thing. Tessering, the main mode of travel in the book, is itself the practical use of a scientific theory. It is the fifth dimension, which of course we so far do not have the capability to comprehend or to use. Mathematics, Meg’s academic strength, are also frequently used, and she recites the periodic table. Her parents are recognized scientists. In A Wind In The Door, farandolae are an unproven part of the mitochondria, but are active characters in the book. L’Engle uses unlikely, but possible and previously suspected scientific theory to build her literary world, and for this reason, she could be considered more of a science fiction author than a fantasy author.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Your School Principal Could Save Your Life!

Upon first examination, I did not think that Mr. Jenkins was an appropriate character to play such a pivotal part in A Wind In The Door. He had only been a mild and frustrating authority figure at school for the children, not so much someone who would be given more than an annoyed glance. When I examined who else was evil in the book who played a regular, though minor, role in the book, there really is no one. Though they may at times be annoying and not really the main focus of the Murry family, the twins are still lovable and innocuous. Everyone else is a protagonist except for those obvious enemies, such as IT and the Man with the Red Eyes. These enemies had already been defeated regardless. With the only other characters being family members or friends of the family, Mr. Jenkins is really the only choice for the unlikely and heroic travel companion.
Because he already has a tendency to feel evil from time to time, Mr. Jenkins is imitated and essentially inhabited by echthroi, bringing his involvement with the children in their task to save Charles Wallace. He does not have to go with Meg and Proginoskes after she Names him, but does to the benefit of all. He is rather confused all along the way because no one has had faith in him for years. He has been a failure, a nobody with a power trip. When he finally finds how dire the situation is and that he is needed to save Charles Wallace, he springs into action: “We must save Charles Wallace! What can we do, Proginoskes? What can we do?” Later, he saves Meg when she is having the life sucked out of her. She is giving up her life in order to save the fara and in turn, her brother. She is saved by this unlikely hero: “Then arms were around her, holding her, pouring life back into her, Mr. Jenkins’s arms, the real Mr. Jenkins. His strength and love filled her.” She returns the favor later, but to see such an unlikely character become a hero is one of the greater lessons that children can reap from L’Engle’s work. Who knows when your school principal could save your life?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Adaptation Among the Children

In the opening chapters of A Wind In The Door, the examination continues from A Wrinkle In Time of what makes a person normal and how to fit into society. The Murry family is a very unique bunch, all very intelligent in their own ways and well-recognized for such. For the children especially, societal integration is very difficult because of such intelligence and mental capacity. We find Charles Wallace entering the primary school in town and constantly being bullied for his “showing off” in the classroom. He is even misunderstood by his teacher and he finds himself, as many gifted children do, stuck between so-called dumbing down and showing off: “Nothing works. If I don’t talk, I’m sulking. If I talk I say something wrong. I’ve finished the workbook– the teacher said you must’ve helped me– and I know the reader by heart.” This is the frustrating battle that many children who are gifted face, especially in the 1970's when standards were not as clear for identifying giftedness and extraordinary exceptionalities in the classroom. This book would give kids in a similar situation something to which to relate and those kids who are bullied have their hero. Regardless, the Teacher comes along and gives Charles Wallace the task of learning to adapt as do his twin brothers (who never seem to have trouble with adjusting their intelligence for the school setting). As Mrs. Murry states, “A life form which can’t adapt doesn’t last very long.”
If the children are not exceptionally intelligent in a scholastic sense and are still the subject of bullying, then Meg would be their hero. She is also misunderstood in school and now in the second book, she is only really protected because of her alliance with Calvin O’Keefe. In the first book, she finds that though she may only be good at math and on their journey, Calvin and Charles Wallace seem to always have the advantage of intelligence and insight, she has many attributes to contribute to saving her father. Charles Wallace may seem worlds ahead of Meg, but she still has the advantage of age and experience over his intelligence at times. Regarding adaptation, her mother comments, “you know, Meg, you went through a pretty rough time at school yourself...what I’m getting at is that you do seem, this year, to be finding school moderately bearable.” Meg does mature a great deal between the two books and many children in her situation of feeling misunderstood in school could be aided by her perseverance and fortitude in finding her strengths.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Evil in L'Engle

The middle portion of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time is a good place to study the constant battle between good and evil. Defining evil is the key idea here. The first definition, one that is directly given, comes from Calvin asking what the Black Thing is other than evil. Mrs. Which replies “You have said it! It is evil! It is the Powers of Darkness!” These powers, or Black Things, lie over many planets and areas and one of the most affected, yet most persistent in fighting such, is Earth. According to the story, this is why we still have evil present in our land, because we have not yet defeated it. Many good people have been soldiers against it, but no one has yet found the solution.
The second form of evil discovered is presented in the Orwellian state of Camazotz. The children arrive to find everyone working in exact time with one another; all is the same in every way. Conformity reigns over the land. When they discover a boy bouncing a ball out of tandem and not returning to the house when all the other children do, they find that such is an Aberration and is completely unacceptable in Camazotz. They later find the boy imprisoned, tortured by being forced to bounce his ball in an exact rhythm. There is no individuality and by the example of the little boy who does not conform, it is clear that there is a desire to be free of such stifling conditions. It is often said in programs to promote diversity that “if we were all the same, what fun would that be?” Those imprisoned in Camazotz are trying to find the fun, to find true happiness, which has a converse side of unhappiness. L’Engle is pointing to the need for two extremes in order for the world to function. We need evil to be evil so that when things are good, we have reason to rejoice and celebrate.
When the children meet the man with the red eyes, he presents the next kind of evil, which is the complete opposite of conformity: individuality. After Charles Wallace is taken mentally by the man with the red eyes, he explains in many ways why individuality is the real evil. “On Camazotz we are all happy because we are all alike. Differences create problems,” Charles Wallace states. He proceeds to in a most convincing fashion prove this point:
“I’m different and I’m happy,” Calvin said.
“But you pretend that you aren’t different.”
This is true that Calvin hides his unique characteristics at school. Another valid point that Charles Wallace makes is,
“Why do you think we have wars at home? Why do you think people get confused and unhappy? Because they all live their own, separate, individual lives. I’ve been trying to explain to you in the simplest possible way that on Camazotz individuals have been done away with...And that’s why everybody is so happy and efficient.”
Yes, because of different backgrounds and ideals, we have wars in a struggle to find the ultimate good. The presence of the little boy going against the conformity shows that not everyone is happy though, and that each person still has their own need to be free. Forcing people into any certain way is bound to end in war and in fact, such force, whether is be one cultural group to another or one political group to another, is what creates conflict. All the people of Camazotz are the same and “happy,” yes, but these same ideas of conformity are what create evil, disproving the motives of the society seen in this portion of the book. Therefore, individuality is not truly a form of evil, but instead, conformity is the true evil and the one which the children must fight.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

L'Engle: An Easier Writing Style

Although Professor Sullivan said he found C.S. Lewis easier to read than Madeleine L’Engle, I found the opposite in my reading. One might assume that the reading seems to go faster because the words on the page are larger, but I found one obvious reason as to why the reading passed quickly for me. The perspective given to the reader by each author is quite separate. In Lewis’s writing, the voice is that of the narrator. This narrator focuses on the feelings of many different characters, making the perspective that of omniscient third person. For characters with whom I identify less, it becomes a little more difficult to read, more boring. Also, the narrator’s voice is grandfatherly, but as we all know the comforting lull of a wise person can sometimes also lull one to sleep. After reading two of Lewis’s works, I was craving a more dynamic and involved writing style.
L’Engle’s writing is more focused on one character, the frumpy high school girl with the dorky glasses and braces abundant. We can hear only her thoughts, feel her feelings. This promotes more character development for our previously unsung hero and allows us to deeper sympathize with her ideas and desires. Her emotions are more powerful as we can more fully see the thoughts that develop them. Also, L’Engle’s writing style includes more dialogue and less description. The conversations, especially with the intelligent language of Charles Wallace, make for more interesting reading for an older reader like myself. It can never hurt to develop the vocabulary of the young either, which is beautifully displayed when Charles Wallace gives a dictionary definition of the less elementary words that he uses, such as inadvertently and compulsion. Overall, the writing is more light-hearted and more on the level of a youngster than that of an adult dictating a story to a child. As a child, I would have more enjoyed the writing of L’Engle, unless of course it was being read aloud to me, where Lewis prevails.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Puddleglum: Not Such a Wet Blanket

In the final chapters of The Silver Chair which we were assigned, there are many significant heroic moments for our four main characters, the Prince, Pole, Scrubb, and Puddleglum. The Prince slays the evil Witch, Pole puts her head through the hole in the roof to get back into Narnia without knowing what is on the other side, and Scrubb looks upon the great river of fire without fear. The most interesting bold move to me was the speech of Puddleglum to the Witch. The Witch has been trying to brainwash and re-enchant those present with her music and getting them to forget the world above in Narnia. While the other three were succumbing to such trickery, Puddleglum is the unexpected hero, stomping on the fire which begins the enchantment despite the detrimental effects it has on the bottom of his Marsh-wiggle foot. This sends the Witch into enough of a rage, but he even goes farther, defending the world above in one of Lewis’s symbolically religious ways.
In summary, Puddleglum states that yes, perhaps their world above is fictional, but the belief in such a better world is much better than any world which she has overtaken under the Earth. He makes an argument that can be compared to living in the spirit of God, even if there is no God, a life of those three theological virtues of faith, hope, and love: “That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world (the world above). I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia...Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but it’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.” This also speaks to all the pessimists of today’s world who think we just continually degrade ourselves more and more as a planet. According to that “wet blanket” Puddleglum, we have to at least believe in a better place, or it shall never come. As for his being a wet blanket, he undergoes a bit of a character change, bringing the Greek word metanoia (meaning “change of heart”) to mind: “I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face on it.” Here he moves away from the worst and puts the very best optimism on it, making him perhaps the greatest hero of this group of four.