The Best of LHP – The Journey from Platform Nine and Three-Quarters: The Professors of Profundity

This post was previously published in June 2013. It was Part 3 in a series of posts on my journey through the Harry Potter series and the lessons the books have taught me.

Good morning, class

I have always enjoyed Rowling’s expansive world. She pulls from various myths, legends, and folktales to create her magical society. I have been thinking about the numerous authors that I have read after Harry Potter jump-started my affinity for reading children’s literature, and three authors stand out as writers who have had a personal impact on my own imagination. Basically, they have taught me everything I know….

Lloyd Alexander

BlackCauldron cvr

I read The Chronicles of Pyrdain at the suggestion of a friend. I completed the first book during February 2011 but was not able to continue the series until the following summer. I was not immediately hooked in the stories like I was Harry Potter, but Alexander is a craftsman of detail and diction, and his enchanting storytelling kept me wanting to continue the story of Taran and his companions. My favorite book of the series is The Black Cauldron, mainly because of its exploration of the conflict between personal glory and self-sacrifice. But what really enchanted me about Alexander is his use of Welsh mythology. From his books, I learned not to fear myth as inspiration, and I began to see the influence of myth on well-received authors like Tolkien, Lewis, and Rowling.

Madeleine L’Engle

81IRUqMlS-L._SL1167_I read A Wrinkle in Time in April 2011. I think this book ranks as one of my all-time favorites, and I definitely will be writing more about this book in the future. L’Engle has a different approach to storytelling, as her language seems more accessible to children than Alexander. However, I loved how she combined fantasy, science, religion, and social issues into one mesmerizing story about a young girl who learns to love even if she is not loved back. As I read further works from L’Engle, I began to notice that she uses science frequently in her stories. One might say that science is a “mythology” to L’Engle, and she adapts various theories and statistics to move and shape her worlds.

I think I’m stumbling onto a theme here….

Neil Gaiman

Graveyard BookA conservative children’s literature teacher told me to read The Graveyard Book and see if I would hate it as much as she did. This teacher disliked anything fun (Rowling Gaiman) and stuck to “safe” books like Lewis, L’Engle, and Alexander. Well, reading the book had the opposite effect. It freaked me out a bit (definitely not a book for little eyes), but I could not stop thinking about the story, the characters, and the genius of Gaiman. Really, if you want some good storytelling, pick up an audio recording of Gaiman’s books (make sure it’s read by the author himself) and witness the wonder of his craft. When doing research for a presentation on Gaiman, I found this video about his thoughts on creating the book. It all began with him watching his two-year-old son ride his tricycle around a graveyard. He then began to think of a story with a similar structure to Kipling’s The Jungle Book, and he developed probably one of the most imaginative (and ghoulish) worlds I have ever read. However, Gaiman said he borrowed heavily from Norse, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman mythology to create his universe. He said, however, you have to own the myth–make it yours.

Class Dismissed

Beauty and the Beast: my favorite fairy tale. Perhaps I'll do something with it in the future.
Beauty and the Beast: my favorite fairy tale. Perhaps I’ll do something with it in the future.

So, what did I learn from my favorite authors? First, for many of them, it all began with a picture: for Lewis, a faun carrying parcels and an umbrella through the snow; for Gaiman, watching his son play in a graveyard; for Rowling, a be-speckled boy appeared to her in a metro. Second, almost all of them use myth, or life experience, or observations of their world. Essentially, by taking myth and making it their own, they can create dazzling worlds to fix the characters and action. Thus, the stress of creating something original is gone. Just tell a story, even if it has been told before–only strive to improve it. If anything, you will at least see the mythology you have adopted mold and shape into something unique–something that is yours

In Search of the American Myth: A Galaxy Far, Far Away

star-wars-berkey“A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away….” I remember seeing the 1997 restored version of Star Wars in elementary school with my father and reading those lines for the first time. I think every day for recess we pretended to be Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo zooming across space and and battling the evil Darth Vader and the dictatorial Empire.

As an adult, Star Wars has become less important in my life, but I see its impact in our culture, especially to our American mythology. In fact, Star Wars and science fiction films have almost become quintessential American myth tales, though they America did not originate the science fiction story or film. Again, we can thank Europe for that. Tales by H. G. Wells and Jules Verne remain some of the best science fiction literature to date, and Germany’s Metropolis practically is science fiction’s capstone film.

luke__skywalkerBut these films, like Westerns, seem to fit well with our paradigm of expansion, progression, and independence. While Westerns look to the wild west to fulfill these values, science fiction looks to the stars. Indeed, Luke Skywalker embodies any typical young American: an average Joe who leaves his home to fulfill his destiny to become something greater. Interestingly, the story practically begins in the desert with our young hero encountering two rustic droids, a old wizard, and a space cowboy with a furry friend. They enter the cold, metallic belly of a vast space station (which represents technology and innovation put to evil purposes) to rescue a beautiful, yet fiercely capable princess, who provides female audience members a role model of aptitude and independence. The underdog rebels then turn and destroy the the same spaceship, a symbol of oppression and tyranny. Sounds like our own Revolution to some degree, right?

Speaking of another scifi-western connection, did anyone besides me notice how Avatar closely resembles Dances with Wolves?
Speaking of another scifi-western connection, did anyone besides me notice how Avatar closely resembles Dances with Wolves?

Thus, as Disney and Westerns have incorporated so well, Star Wars and many science fiction films capture the American ideal and contribute its mythology. Recent success in science fiction films is evidence of this. Avatar is the most successful film to date and the newest Star Trek films have shown that science fiction films can be stylish, yet thought-provoking storytelling. And do it need to go into detail about the moral and cerebral depth of films like Blade Runner, Brazil, E. T., Aliens, The Matrix, and Inception? Although Disney may have established the American myth and the Western may be the nation’s mythic original, science fiction films would probably remain America’s most beloved and well-received myth.

 

In Search of the American Myth: Go West, Young Man

Clint-EastwoodLast week, we discussed Walt Disney’s influence on American mythology, establishing myth and story through America’s central medium, film. Disney, however, borrowed heavily from former stories from Europe and the East and looked at them through an American context.

Yet, one particular American myth, the Western, we can say is ours. The themes of the Western definitely fit our American paradigm of progress and self-improvement as individuals looked westward to fulfill their vision of independence and success. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness meant expansion, and the stories of wild frontier and the dangers faced by brave pioneers enticed Americans for decades.

Hollywood capitalized on the Western, turning thrilling stories of the West into probably one of the most recognizable genres of American film and television. Probably the foremost filmmaker to effectively capture the Western myth is John Ford, who sparked a rival in Western film with Stagecoach in 1939. He also created other classics such as She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, My Darling Clementine, The Grapes of Wrath, The Man Who Shot Liberty Vance, and probably his most famous Western, The Searchers. Other famous Hollywood directors found success in Westerns: John Huston with The Treasure of Sierra Madre, Fred Zinnemann with High Noon, George Stevens with Shane and Giant, George Roy Hill with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and the Coen Brothers with No Country for Old Men and True Grit. Some Westerns were adaptations of Akira Kurosawa films, such as John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven (Seven Samurai) and Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (Yujimbo).

Clint Eastwood sticks out in my mind as the greatest director for a Western, with bleak, haunting films like The Outlaw Jose WalesThe Pale Rider, High Plains Drifter, and Unforgiven. He acted in all of these films in addition to acting in what is considered the greatest Western trilogy: A Fistful of Dollars; A Few More Dollars; and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

DesertThe actor-director, with the iconic John Wayne, immortalized the morally-complex, socially-distant cowboy hero that we so often find in Westerns. For some reason, this elusive hero and his fight for justice and freedom resonates with Americans, most likely because the hero really is a man without a country and a king, a person who is his own man. He embodies freedom, the ability to roam and settle where he pleases and to protect and defend himself and his loved ones with almost superhuman cunning and speed. Essentially, the cowboy or Western hero was the original Superman. 

Westerns have since fallen out of favor with American audiences. However, it seems that with the resent scattered success like Dances with Wolves, Unforgiven, and True Grit, America has not completely forgot its original myth, the one we call ours.

LXXVIII

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

Cassandra was a character from Greek legend, a prophetess who carried the curse that she would always tell the truth but never be believed.  As what was once a Christian civilization slips back toward barbarism with seeming inevitability, one cannot help but identify with her.  What would she say if she were with us today?

June2010 011
Balaam’s Ass also knew what it was to tell the truth without being believed.

Epistle from the Limbo of the Righteous Pagans

(Cassandra Speaks)

We were very ignorant, but there were some things we knew.

We knew that life is a narrow Bridge of time,

That both ends lie beyond the sight of men,

And the fathomless abyss lies before, and behind, and beneath.

The rails on the Bridge are Morality and Custom,

And they are all that stand between us and Chaos.

Freedom is found only on the Bridge,

For there is no freedom in chaos and destruction.

We also tried to find the thing that you call freedom.

On the other side of the rails there is Nothing.

Would you also be free from earth, and sea, and sky?

Would you walk without the earth beneath your feet,

Breathe without air, swim without water?

Breath apart from air is suffocation:

Such is freedom from morality and custom.

So I say to you, get married and have children,

And teach them that doing right is the only thing that matters,

But that all the right they do will be insufficient

To cover all the wrong.  This is why

The sacrificial blood must always flow.

We did not know from Whom it had to flow,

But the blood that splashed our altars was far wiser in its way

Than your sky-topping prayer-towers of glass and steel and concrete

Dedicated to the praise of perfectible Man.

GordonsCalvary1
“We did not know from Whom it had to flow” . . . Gordon’s Calvary [“Place of the Skull”], possible site of Christ’s crucifixion.

Raise your children, then, and teach them,

Carefully and painfully,

By precept and example that freedom cannot be found

Elsewhere than in the man who does his duty,

Who is faithful unto death, though it be hard,

And then that even this is insufficient.

That was all the freedom we knew how to find.

I will not say that there is nothing better than this

(You perhaps have heard strange stories of a Hope we did not have),

But we tried also all the gods that you are looking to

And found them nothing, Nothing, dust

And ashes,

Dust and ashes.

 DanceofMuses@Helicon

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest book from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

Donald T. Williams, PhD

A Month of Ireland: The Faeriescape

It’s March, St Patrick’s month, so why not do a few posts on Ireland to celebrate?  I personally have a heavy dose of Northern Irish on my mother’s side (as I discovered when I found her maiden name on nearly every tombstone of a church in Portadown).

And of course, there’s the fact that I am very, very fond of early Irish literature. So was the poet William Butler Yeats, who, aside from poetry, wrote a book called Celtic Twilight, which explores the existence of faeries (Yeats was a believer) and their connection to Ireland.  Yeats’s fascination with Irish magic came through into his poetry as well. I’ve always enjoyed one in particular, haunting and mysterious, about a child being lured away by the faeries.  When I was in Ireland, I was amazed at the enchanted landscapes that we passed through.  It was much easier to see why Yeats was so convinced that faeries lived in the forests.

So, to start the month of Ireland off right, a poem about faeries and some lovely pictures.

(And for a real treat, listen to Loreena McKennit’s version of this poem set to music!)

misty mountains ireland

“The Stolen Child”

WHERE dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water rats;
There we’ve hid our faery vats,
Full of berrys
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

pond portadown ireland

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim gray sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

tree tunnel northern ireland

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

mountain of mist northern ireland

Away with us he’s going,
The solemn-eyed:
He’ll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal chest.
For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than he can understand.

~ William Butler Yeats