Friday, April 27, 2012

In Which I am Very Excited to Announce...

Today, my friends, is a lovely sort of day.

Because yesterday, I finished The Lord of The Rings.

And today, I get to write about Tolkien.

Granted, I am probably not as qualified as I should be, because I don't know much about Tolkien himself other than that he was a Roman Catholic and a philologist. But I can give you the impression of a common reader, and some good links to those who know more than I might. For all Lewis fans, you will enjoy journeying into the realm of Middle Earth, and meeting one of Lewis's author friends. Lewis and Tolkien were friends in fact, until Lewis made a slightly disparaging comment regarding the Roman Catholic church, after which there was a cooling of the relationship.

But welcome, welcome, into the world of Tolkien. Today's review is on a book that Tolkien wrote as a prelude to LOTR, called The Hobbit.

A Few Prefatory Remarks About This Series
I have thought long about how to do this series in the thorough way that I would like, without including too many spoilers for those that have never read the books. Concluding that this is impossible to do when addressing those who have read it, and those who haven't, I have included a special section in each article for those who have already read the story. In every article the title "Special Edition for Those Who Have Read The Books" will signal the end of the regular review for those who haven't yet. As for those who have seen the movies, but not read the books, I can't say whether or not this section would contain too many spoilers for you, as I have never seen the movie and can't share my opinion on it. But if someday you would like to experience Tolkien's works with all the suspense that is nice to have, you might want to save the section for future reading.
Due to some other things I would like to cover, I am going to do this series for the next few Fridays, and reserve Tuesdays for other articles. So Friday, until further notice, is Tolkien day.

A Few Prefatory Remarks About Middle Earth
These stories takes place in a land called "Middle Earth", a fantasy land that Tolkien spent decades creating and perfecting--maps, legends, history,  people groups, different cultures and languages, he made them all. His creation is really stunning in its detail, and gives further opportunity for rereading the books and gleaning even more detail. Any of Tolkien's books that I have had the pleasure of reading should be re-read and re-read again, so that in time I can catch his full meanings. It's impossible to catch in just one read. But I'll discuss re-reading stories in another article.  And yes, I am keeping track of all the articles I've promised my readers. :)

The Plot
The Hobbit

I had the exceeding privilege of ordering an annotated edition of The Hobbit for my first exposure to Tolkien. It added much to my pleasure, because it contained many of his philological notes in the margins. I remember the first night I looked at The Hobbit: I had just finished an Australian book, the Magic Pudding (finished it with a flashlight under the covers. I couldn't sleep.) So, still wide-awake, I pawed around my book stack. I knew what I wanted: this strange book that was supposed the be the first in the legendary Lord of the Rings series. One by one, I quietly rustled through the pages of chapter one "The Unexpected Party". I didn't really have an expectation for the story, but from what I had heard of the Lord of the Rings, but I remember expecting it to be a bit more...epic. So far, it was just about a bunch of dwarfs eating dinner with a fanciful creature called a hobbit, and planning an expedition to kill a dragon. Nice. I didn't have anything against dragons, mind you, or dwarfs for that matter, but I thought that The Hobbit seemed a bit simpler than Narnia, and I wondered what the uproar had been about. But, I determined to enjoy it, even if it was a children's book. The poetry was quite good, at least, and the British humor popped up continuously, which is a definite plus.

And then... But wait. I get ahead of myself. You really wanted to know what the plot was.

Simply put, it's about a cozy little hobbit, a creature a bit like a dwarf, with furry toes and colorful waistcoats, and a love of numerous meals all on time. The hobbit we're referring to is named Bilbo Baggins is very comfortable with the way his life is going, until one day the wizard Gandalf shows up, and his life is forever changed. The wizard Gandalf is looking for someone to go on an adventure--a burglar, in fact. And he has chosen Bilbo Baggins to fill the role. Thirteen dwarfs and a few songs later, Bilbo finds himself leaving the Shire to travel to dark and distant lands to kill a dragon and get back a huge pile of treasure that rightfully belong to the dwarfs. From giant spiders, to goblins, to fierce wolves, he has to lead the dwarfs to their ultimate destiny, and they seem to think that poor, ordinary Mr. Baggins has all the solutions to whatever problems they will face.

Now we can get to 'And then'. Innocent as this story sounds, darker strands soon begin to appear that are not usually found in children's stories. The dwarfs are greedy creatures, and the lust for gold grows stronger and stronger the closer they get to their destination. Greed is oftentimes treated as a joke in literature, but Tolkien foreshadows dark problems in the plot because of this vice. Also, among his journeys, Bilbo finds a ring. A ring that has a special power to do something (which I wont give away) and that causes him to tell a lie for the first time in his life. This small incident is what ties it into LOTR, and the whisperings of future trouble appear when Bilbo sees the strange effect it has had on its former possessors.

We'll talk about fantasy later. But for now, I would reassure you on two points in looking at reading this book: first, it's much like Narnia--not necessarily in plot, but in type of fantasy. Both Lewis and Tolkien has a Judeo-Christian background, though Tolkien was Catholic, and if you take the time to look and evaluate, you'll clearly see the biblical morality in both works.
And as for the question of Bilbo being hired for a burglar--or as Gloin the dwarf says "You can say Expert Treasure-Hunter if you prefer"--well, if he steals anything, it shall be resolved. I promise. And the dragon is the thief of the treasure. Bilbo isn't going to steal it from the dragon, but to restore to the dwarfs what is rightly theirs. No situational ethics, I promise you. :)

Score one for Tolkien. I should have trusted all those who had gone before. By chapter two, I was hooked.

The Movie

You might enjoy seeing the trailer for the upcoming movie release of The Hobbit. Peter Jackson, the same man that produced LOTR is doing this adaptation. With Andy Serkis as Gollum (Blandois in Dicken's Little Dorrit, Screwtape in the radio dramatization of The Screwtape Letters), and Benedict Cumberbatch (William Pitt in Amazing Grace) as Smaug, it looks like an excellent cast. But can anyone please tell me who the blond-haired woman is with Gandalf? Is it Galadrial from LOTR? And why Baggins is looking at the sword that was broken--in a house? And where Gandalf is in that grey stone steps scene? After all, his meeting with the Necromancer wasn't even part of the story, as Tolkien himself said. I see issues. But we shall have to wait and see. :)

And here, my friends, I leave some of you who have not yet read the books. I hope you enjoy The Hobbit, and I hope you also come back to read the rest of the article once you are finished. :) Thanks for stopping by.

Special Edition for Those Who Have Read the Books
I have to say, I would only criticize Tolkien for giving away so much before he gets to the end. He gives away the final battle. He gives away the fact that Bilbo makes it to the end. He gives away quite a few events by saying, "but they were wrong, as you shall see". I didn't even notice this until I read the book aloud to my family, but they kept laughing when he killed all the suspense. I was happy to find that he didn't do this in LOTR nearly as much.
The humor was so funny, and I loved Bilbo's lines. They in themselves made the book, much like A.A. Milne's humor turns Pooh Bear from a cute Disney creation to an intelligent fairy tale.
There were quite a few talking animals. I was glad LOTR didn't rely so heavily on those for the climax rescue points as The Hobbit did. Not that I mind talking animals so much, but personally, I think it's more epic when the characters have to work themselves out of the ditch. It's the point that you are taught at writer's conferences, the point that says when the character reaches the darkest moment, the helper comes not to solve the problem for them, but to point them in the right direction. At first, all the climaxes were solved for Bilbo, but later on he had to work to find solutions for them. But in saying that, I'm not criticizing the element of providence that Tolkien includes. Bilbo finding the ring in the dark is Providential. Bilbo thinking of the key to open the door in the mountain is providential. I think the providence theme shines thorough not when Bilbo is picked up out of his problems without a bit of effort on his part, but when he is given a piece of knowledge or help that he could not have gotten on his own, and helps him to make the final leap to success. It's a bit like overcoming temptation--God gives us a way of escape, but we have to choose whether we will follow it or not. We're given everything we need for life and godliness, but we still have to practice it. So my favorite parts were when Bilbo had to put forth a little effort in the critical moment--like putting the dwarfs in barrels, or the riddle competition with Gollum.
By far, my favorite theme in The Hobbit is the fact that is so clearly expressed: God uses the weak things to shame the strong. There is no allegorical representation of God in Tolkien's works, but you still see the Christian influence shine through. When we first meet Bilbo, he doesn't think he can do it. But by the end, he's looking beyond what he thinks he can do to what needs to be done. And in the end, when he's a bit proud of his success, Gandalf reminds him fittingly that all his 'good luck' wasn't really his at all: "You don't really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!"

I am exceedingly glad to have met this little fellow. Because he's an essential prelude to the events yet to come. And without humble Bilbo Baggins, we could never have enjoyed the Lord of the Rings. :)

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Way We Live Now

Some of you will smile when you find that this book was published in 1875. Because, as my friends and family know, I am much more likely to be reading a tome on the worlds ills from two centuries ago, than any carefully crafted critique on the present day.
This novel I am actually quite excited to share about, because The Way We Live Now is a satirical tirade upon society written by Anthony Trollope, and considered to be one of his masterpieces.
I first heard of this book when surfing through period drama movies on Amazon, and upon seeing the BBC movie cover with Matthew MacFadyen and David Suchet, I was immediately curious to learn if it was an actual book. It was, I found, and I promptly put it on hold at the library, in December of 2010. Unfortunately, having a injurious habit of checking out more books than I can possibly read, simply to enjoy their company, I didn't have time to read it throughout the whole nine weeks I had it. And it wasn't until December of 2011 that I checked it out again.

In a way, I am glad. In December of 2010, I did not enjoy the process of constructive evaluation that can be enjoyed  when reading a story. I would have either thrown it aside, as of little value, or not evaluated it as properly and thoroughly as I should. But by December 2011 I was much more ready--or should I say willing--to do this, with the result that I discovered a treasure that ranks with my top favorites.

Proceed, and you shall discover why.

Trollope and His Work
Bullied and snubbed at the high-brow schools he attended, Trollope contemplated suicide at the age of 12. Fortunately for the literary world, in the case of this book at least, he overcame the impulse. Fortunately also, he created vivid imaginary play worlds in his times of daydreaming.  Francis Trollope, his father, fled to Belgium due to a failing legal practice and creditor's threats, where his wife and children joined him, and Anthony took a clerkship in a post office, beginning to rack up debts of his own.  In 1841, at the age of 26, he volunteered for a transferal to an office in Ireland, where he met his future wife, Rose, and married her in 1844. Due to the long train rides necessary to his duties as postal clerk, he developed a disciplined writing routine, and began in earnest to perfect the talent that he had already begun before his marriage. After writing several novels based in Ireland, and the first of his Barsetshire Novels from an inspirational trip to England, he returned to England with another postal position in 1859, along with his family. After a varied nine years of his postal duties, and writing short stories and novels, he resigned his position in the postal service to run for a seat in the House of Commons. He finished last of four candidates. Continuing to focus on his career as an author, in 1871 he travelled to Australia, both to visit his son and to collect material for a new book. And in 1872, upon his return to England, he wrote and published The Way We Live Now as a satirical hand-slap to remind his fellow countrymen to focus not so much on the gold gilding, as to realize the value of solid gold character. To use his own words:

Nevertheless a certain class of dishonesty, dishonesty magnificent in its proportions, and climbing into high places, has become at the same time so rampant and so splendid that there seems to be reason for fearing that men and women will be taught to feel that dishonesty, if it can become splendid, will cease to be abominable. If dishonesty can live in a gorgeous palace with pictures on all its walls, and gems in all its cupboards, with marble and ivory in all its corners, and can give Apician dinners, and get into Parliament, and deal in millions, then dishonesty is not disgraceful, and the man dishonest after such a fashion is not a low scoundrel. Instigated, I say, by some such reflections as these, I sat down in my new house to write The Way We Live Now.

The Plot
The Way We Live Now comprises the stories of three families. Oh, yes, there are numerous subplots. But for the sake of simplification, I shall condense the synopsis into the points below.

Lady Francis Carbury, very poor and aspiring writer of trashy novels, is out to make sure that her children are well settled in life. With a dissipate son, Felix, who spends his time at the 'Beargarden' gambling; and a stubborn daughter, Hetta, who simply will not marry for money; the poor lady is constantly harried in her attempts to give her son just a little virtue, and her daughter just a little vice to settle them properly in life.

Paul Montague, friend of Hetta's spurned lover Roger Carbury, is involved with an American firm trying to raise money to build a railway company that will stretch across the United States. He can't get out of the firm--he's in a bit too deep financially, and he can't say 'no'--so he comes with a fellow partner to help raise money for the railroad in England. Which will bring huge profits to all aspiring Londoners, of course. In between his frequent trips to America and England, he meets and engages himself to a beautiful--and possibly wicked--woman from the southern United States. Unfortunately for him, his rash love begins to wane as soon as he meets Hetta Carbury, and he breaks off the engagement. Weak-willed and compassionate, he cannot refuse when the woman pursues him to England and pleads for just one more meeting...and just one more...and just one more...

So these two situations go, until one man brings the whole of London together in a frenzy to fall at his feet. The insanely rich Augustus Melmotte sets up house in town after a long bout abroad. This accounts for his foreign accent, because he claims to be an Englishman, and of course he wouldn't lie about that. This man, with a rich only child Marie, and an obedient and submissive wife, scatters his favors and sets about raking up capitol while society treasures his every condescension. And as he takes an interest in Montague's American railroad--establishing himself as chairman of the English branch, in fact--he is soon on the front page of the newspapers.

Felix, attracted by Melmotte's daughter Marie and her prospect of being the inheritor of vast sums, makes secret love to her, only to be discovered a payed off by the father with a position in the railway firm. But Marie won't give up, and Felix isn't indifferent to breaking his word as long as he receives the cold hard cash.

Melmotte rises higher and higher, securing a position in Parliament...Hetta refuses to marry her mother's choice...Paul Montague cannot tear himself away from his ex-fiancee...and Felix Carbury is simply happy to spend his days and his cash at the club...

With laudable skill, Trollope weaves a masterpiece of political, social, and personal drama.

The Movie
BBC adapted this work with Andrew Davies, but they didn't do a very good job according to reviews on Amazon. They added in themes of adultery, which Trollope didn't include at all, and they preferred to leave some of the endings darker and more hopeless than Trollope did. I have not seen the movie myself, but I read all the reviews, and very few of them gave it a favorable rating. All in all, the casting is excellent with Matthew MacFadyen as Felix Carbury and David Suchet as Melmotte (some of you will think of Aslan in the Narnia audio dramatizations.) But characters should go a little farther than accurate looks, and include accurate portrayal. Beyond those few points I couldn't say as I've not seen it myself, but with what I have read I am content to stick with the book, and I wouldn't give the movie a very high recommendation ethics-wise.

My Thoughts
He's not a page-turner like Dickens. Or rather, I should say he gives you just enough to keep you reading, but not the excess of drama that is Dickens's trademark. But I found him to be highly enjoyable. Also he writes his conclusions quite fast. You'll be strung along and strung along, and then in a couple of pages he makes an end to that particular character. He doesn't believe in standing and lamenting over what he leaves behind. But don't let that put you off, as he takes care of everything thoroughly. :)
He had a little language here and there, but not as much as Dickens might, and much less than is typically found in the works of his day.
I don't know what Trollope's religious beliefs were. He mentions God in the text a couple of times, and not in a bad way either, but I can't really see from that what his worldview is. He did manage to catch two great Christian values, though, in the conclusion to his plots: number one, when children do not honor their parents, it does not go well with them. And number two, you reap what you sow. Good works produce a good crop, and bad works produce a bad crop. I've never read another fiction book that expresses the moral of the story so clearly, without ever putting it into writing.

To conclude in Anthony Trollope's own words: "I by no means look upon the book as one of my failures...."

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, April 20, 2012

In Which Bibliophiles Again Forsake Literary Pursuits

Today, this particular bibliophile takes a break to play again. Kaleigh and Anna, from Facing The Waves, responded to my tag from a couple of weeks back and returned the compliment of tagging me again. :) And here are my answers to their questions, though I fear that I cannot pass the tag along this time.

So here, my friends, are 11 MORE random facts about me:

1. I am learning privately, instead of going to college.
2. I am currently reading three books at once.
3. I am not fond of Ents in any way, shape, or form. (Tolkien)
4. I am currently listening to A Bride Goes West, by Nannie T. Alderson, and read by Victoria Botkin. Check them out here.
5. I am currently experimenting with soaking flours, using the GNOWFGLINs e-course.
6. I just found out recently how fun making earrings can be...
7. I am currently reading through the book of Job in my daily bible reading.
8. I consider Friday to be 'library day'--and even if we don't get to the library, I always spend a little extra time with a book. :)
9. This week marked the third year anniversary of my playing the harp (and I forgot to mark the exact day for the third year in a row.)
10. Reading The Two Towers is not a good idea when one is supposed to keep track of time.
11. I realize that randomness is not in my make-up as much as I would like to think.

And here are the answers to Kaleigh and Anna's questions:

1. Do you like your Mac or PC? Why?
I have never used a Mac, except in the case of my brother's IPad, so I would have to like our PC. Why? Well, simply because my brother prefers PCs, and I'm a loyal kind of sister.

2. Do you like to listen to music when studying? If so, what kind?
Yes, I do. But I can't concentrate very well when I'm listening to music while studying, so I don't indulge often. Probably because I prefer music with singing, which makes multi-tasking difficult. As for the kind, well, I love Jane Austen movie soundtracks, Charlie Zahm's Celtic songs, and actually over all, I prefer listening to book dramatizations. :) Plus, you should never talk secrets when you see me with my headphones on, because often times I forget to play anything, so it just looks like I'm listening. (Weird, I know. My family was surprised when they heard this.) 

3. Do you play any instruments? If so, which ones?
I do play an instrument. The harp. :) Most of my resources I collect from Sylvia Woods' Harp Center, and I enjoy her beautiful collections of music. Also, the good thing about a lever harp is that you can often play piano music on the harp as well, so I have infinite options there.

4. Can you describe each of your siblings personality/character? (doesn't have to be a long answer ;))
I compare my brother to several speakers: Ken Ham, Kevin Swanson, (merely referring to personality) : namely, a persevering reformer who fights uncompromisingly for the truth. He's more introverted than extroverted, but when faced with a false doctrine or false teacher, he is on fire for the truth. :)
Carrie-Grace? Well, she's a bit like me--though not quite as heavily into books. She brings the special glitter to my and Collin's deep theological discussions... And she gives me hugs...and she draw anything I ask her to (very good drawings, I might add)...and she makes sure I don't read too much...and she loves hearing about the gospel, and has a strong desire to see others come to Jesus.... 

5. What do you like about our blog?
YOU. I love seeing you share your hearts with all of us; you've given me a lot of encouragement in the articles you've written to keep living for Jesus, keep holding his hand, and never give up amidst the trials of our faith. :)

Photo Credit
6. What's your favorite color and why do you like it?
I go for anything pink or purple. Pink, because it means 'femininity, compassion, tenderness' and I like to think that I sometimes express those things. :) Purple, because it means 'drama and sophistication' and who could like Dickens without having a private little love for dramatic incidents--or colors, as the case may be?

7. What book besides the Bible has changed you spiritually in some way?
Guns of Thunder, by Douglas Bond. It showed me Christ's true grace, that I have to surrender completely to him, that there is no possible way I can save myself from my sinfulness. Only Christ.

8. What books of the Bible do you tend to read from the most?
Select portions of John, Isaiah, and Romans, probably.

9. In what way have you grown the most spiritually in the past year?
Finishing highschool. Going against some cultural trends in post-secondary educations. Seeking my future direction from the Lord, and trusting it, even when people I met didn't believe in my vision. Learning to find my joy in the Lord alone. Trusting Him to hold me, and never let me go. Loving my family, and thanking God for their support. Preparing to disciple younger girls, and all the spiritual responsibility that entails.

10. Who is your favorite Bible character? Why?
David. I love his story of killing the giant, even when others didn't believe in him, against all odds. And I am so grateful even that God included the account of his sin and forgiveness in the Scripture, so that I can turn to the very psalm he wrote, and pray for forgiveness when I sin. His story gives me the hope that I can be a woman after God's own heart just as David was a man, even when I am imperfect and sinful.

11. What event/circumstance made your favorite Bible verse(s) "favorite"?

(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)
 Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. -2 Corinthians 10:4-5

This verse became one of my favorites when I was evaluating my reading material, and trying to figure out how to take the bad language captive to the glory of God. It also grew dearer to me in various spiritual struggles when I could remember that the weapons God gave me were able to demolish strongholds.

And there, my friends, you have even more of my deep dark secrets. :) I don't know about you, but I think that Tuesday would be a good day for a book review. (Not Tolkien. I'm not finished yet. I know....)

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tall Tales: The Book Made Me Do It (Part Two)

You see, the phrase 'the book made me do it' is an abdication of our responsibility to take our thoughts and actions and conform them to the image of Christ. We like passing the blame on our circumstances. Then nobody can hold us to blame.
While this concept is challenging, it should also be encouraging to us. The book can't make us do wrong. And while this means we have to take responsibility, it also means that we can rest in the assurance that the pages don't hold some magical power over our ethics and morality.
-The Book Made Me Do It (Part One)

Dubious encouragement, some might say. But really, my friends, we do need to take personal responsibility for the books we read, rather than allowing ourselves to drift here and there, picking up whatever catches our fancy, and then blaming any ill effects on the book, rather than ourselves.

There. That almost summarized this entire post. But don't worry; I won't end it this soon. :)

The questions I ended with last time are as follows: Does that mean we should pick up just anything? Shouldn't we call the limit at some point? After all, we may make the choice, but we still need to be careful with the influences we're feeding our minds with.

Very good points. Let's start with the last one first.

Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.
-Proverbs 4:23 (NIV)

The Hebrew word for 'heart' in this passage is leb, which means, according to Strong's, the heart; also used (figuratively) very widely for the feelings, the will and even the intellect; likewise for the centre of anything.* We're to guard what goes into our intellect, the knowledge that affects our will and our thinking, because of the consequences of perverted knowledge:

 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.
-Romans 1:23, NIV

The Greek for 'heart' here is kardia, which refers to the thoughts or feelings.
And the result of this folly and blindness is found in Romans 1:28:

 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.

The Greek word for knowledge in this passage is epignosis, which means  recognition, i.e. (by implication) full discernment, acknowledgement*

So from the above we can draw the conclusion that just because a book cannot change us, we still should be very careful to guard our will, intellect, and emotions, lest we lose our discernment in what is good and what is bad.

Does anyone see a contradiction here?

How do we reconcile the two points--the fact that a book in itself has no power over our ethics and morality, and the fact that we should carefully guard ourselves lest our intellect be darkened. Does the book have power after all? Were we wrong to agree so quickly with the Jekyll and Hyde illustration?

Fear not, my friends. We were not. You will find the answer to this knotty point in Romans 1:25:

They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

They exchanged. That's the key word here. What people often blame on the book--"the book made me lose my faith in Christ" "the book made me think it was okay to lie" "the book caused me to cherish wrong thoughts towards Johnny" is really a deliberate act of our own. Notice that this first phrase doesn't contain any passive verbiage. They deliberately exchanged the truth of God for a lie.

It's still our fault.

When we pick up a book, and after reading it, find ourselves on a wrong course of action, we shouldn't blame it automatically on the book itself. It's us. We chose deliberately to exchange God's holy and righteous truth for the lie that the book presents. The thoughts about how we should place our faith in the creature, or tell a falsehood, or indulge in idolatrous thoughts towards Johnny--they're all lies that the book presented, and that we chose to accept.

So finally, do we deliberately avoid the lies--or since we get to choose, does just about anything go?

1. We'll get plenty of falsehood.
Please don't go out of your way to find some falsehood. We don't have to deliberately pick up Darwin's Origin of Species just for a little mental gladiator game. Satan is the father of lies, deliberately seeking whom he may devour. It's not necessary for us to go out and meet him, with a red target on our shirts. When we follow the concept 'anything goes' just to see how many times we can beat, we're not following a biblical pattern of caution or dominion. This leads to my next point:

2. Have a purpose to your reading.
If you pick up Origin of Species, or Mein Kampf, or any type of man-centered literature (i.e. falsehood) then don't pick it up just because you don't have anything else to read, or you want to know what it was like, or you haven't read it yet. Every book should be read with purpose (even sometimes the purpose of rest and refreshment). It is purposeless reading that opens up the way to compromise.

3. Recognize your abilities.
If you don't yet have the mental capabilities, Scriptural knowledge, or inclination to diligence required for evaluation, then simply put, wait until you do have it. Don't pluck the flower before it's blossomed. Don't go out into harsh weather unless you're properly dressed for it.

4. Realize that knowledge is a snare.
Here, I'm not talking about Scriptural knowledge. "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up." The danger with man-centered ideology in textbook or story format is that oftentimes we allow ourselves to be intimidated with the false knowledge they present. It sounds so reasonable. The Christian faith sometimes goes beyond the bounds of human reasoning. And so we look at the error, and deliberately make the exchange of a faith that goes beyond our puny strength for the depraved knowledge that looks so good to our present understanding. Satan doesn't blatantly advertise the fact that he's out to steal our faith when he presents a wrong idea; no, he mixes the falsehood with a little bit of truth so that we question in our mind. And it's after we question that we begin to make the exchange. In this day and age, we're intimidated by the string of letters after the name, and the elite publishing houses under the author, and that opens up the door for us to say "They're so knowledgeable. I'm not. They must be right."

5.Tremble at your weaknesses.
I don't have any intention at this point of picking up books like Darwin's or Hitler's or any other blantant man-centered ideology, because I know who I am. I know that I live with a sin-cursed body and a sin-cursed mind, and though I am redeemed and cleansed with the blood of Christ, I still have to fight the rest of my life against my flesh. And I think that too often as Christians, we replace "the blood of Christ cleanses all" with "the blood of Christ makes all permissible". I know that nothing--no book--can pluck me out of my Father's hand. But I also know that I have the capability to exchange the truth of God for a lie, and therefore, I keep very close to the truth. I don't need to put forth any effort to expose myself to falsehood; it's already inside me. But I need to constantly expose myself to truth so that I remember the teachings of Christ.

And thus we can end with a summary of our second Tall Tale. The idea that a book can make us sin, and can turn our minds away from the truth, is not a biblical idea. We are responsible for our sins, and we make the decision to remain with the truth or to exchange the truth for a lie. If we're not properly equipped, it's easier for us to make the exchange, and we should wait sometimes until we're mature in the faith before we try to take up and evaluate man-centered ideology--or sometimes choose not to take it up at all. 

In the end, whether they're easy choices or hard ones, we still bear the responsibility for the decisions and the results of the books we read. (And by God's grace, we can make the right ones.)

For more information about this concept of man's choices in regards to ethics and beliefs, I encourage you to find J.F. Baldwin's The Deadliest Monster. And until Friday, I wish all you bibliophiles some very happy reading. :)

Lady Bibliophile

*(Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright © 1994, 2003, 2006 Biblesoft, Inc. and International Bible Translators, Inc.)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Tall Tales: The Book Made Me Do It

Welcome, my friends, to the second in my Tall Tales series, in which we explore one of the most common conundrums of the bibliophile. Namely, can a book 'make' you do something?
Let me explain.

Especially in the area of romance (for a more in-depth dealing with that topic, check out my series on Is Love a Fancy or a Feeling?) I have often read the comment "if these romance novels are making you fantasize over young men, then you need to throw them away." Statements like these, though made by writers I highly respect, always raise the question mark in my mind. Not that we shouldn't throw away questionable material.

But can a book 'make' me do something?

Perhaps it seems as if I'm straining at a point here. However, the question itself gives rise to an important foundation of the Christian faith. So welcome to Tall Tales: The Book Made Me Do It. Though I used the example of a romance novel above, this series is not about the romance genre, but includes genres of all different descriptions.

And to begin, I'd like to tell you two different stories, and draw a few parallels to the Christian faith.

Story # 1
Once upon a time, the friend of a brilliant scientist watched with concern as this doctor formed an association with a certain Edward Hyde. Hyde was cruel, evil,  and totally unfit for the company of a man like kind and compassionate Jekyll. But Jekyll didn't seem to be bothered by the man, and the acquaintance continued until a maid witnessed the evil Hyde murder a member of Parliament. Then Doctor Jekyll swore to break off the friendship. This friend, Utterson, comes to his house to visit him and finds the study door locked. With the help of the butler, he breaks in and finds the dead body of Hyde, the victim of suicide. And just beside the Hyde's body, they find Jekyll's written confession: He is Hyde. All this time he had been switching back and forth between his two personalities, by the drinking of a potion. Tragically, Jekyll found that the more he changed into Hyde, the more hold Hyde's personality had on him, until it didn't require even the drinking of a potion to change into this monster of a man. And terrified at what he had done, he committed suicide rather than live in Hyde's personality for the rest of his life.

Story #2
Another scientist, Doctor Victor Frankenstien, also produced a monster of his own making, but this monster came about quite differently. Due to the details, I'll omit them, but suffice to say that this monster was large, hideous, and much like humans in make-up. Dr. Frankenstien ran away, horrified at his creation, and saw nothing more of it until the murder of his seven-year old brother two years later. A woman is unjustly accused, but he knows in his heart that it is his monster that has done it,  and in a desperate sojourn away from his home, he meets the creature face-to-face. The creature tells him a tragic tale of being shunned by mankind, trying to show kindness to people, in spite of their loathing. And he finishes his tale by saying that since someone repaid a great kindness of his by evil, he has sworn vengeance on mankind. Dr. Frankenstien is faced with the further tragedies of his creation bent on vengeance.

One of these stories is based on the Christian worldview, according to J.F. Baldwin in The Deadliest Monster. It's The Mysterious Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. You see, Jekyll realized that his evil was already inside of him; he just had to bring it out. Frankenstein's monster believed that his evil was based on his circumstances--people's treatment of him. And it's only when we realize that the evil is already inside us--we are already capable without any encouragement--that we are ready to understand an important concept of the literary world.

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.
-Romans 5:12

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
-Jeremiah 17:9

How This Ties Together
You might be asking what this has to do with my original point--can a book 'make' us do something?

-Can a dashing hero make me fantasize about my perfect husband?
-Can a book make me turn away from Christ, or make me turn towards him?
-Can a book make me have a crush on someone at church?
-Can a book make me wish that my life wasn't so boring?

Simplistically, and based upon the above concepts, no it can't. Mr. Darcy can't warp our perception of men. We do it. No author can turn us away from Christ, and no human author can turn us towards him. Only we can choose to reject God's free gift, or accept it. No book can make us have a crush. (Poor Jane Austen didn't even know who Johnny was two hundred years ago!) We twist and warp the concepts of the book to encourage our own fleshly desires. And no book can 'make' us content or discontent with our situation. It's our own personal choice.
You see, the phrase 'the book made me do it' is an abdication of our responsibility to take our thoughts and actions and conform them to the image of Christ. It started right back in the Garden, when Adam said "The woman" and the woman said "The serpent". We like passing the blame on our circumstances. Then nobody can hold us to blame.
While this concept is challenging, it should also be encouraging to us. The book can't make us do wrong. And while this means we have to take responsibility, it also means that we can rest in the assurance that the pages don't hold some magical power over our ethics and morality. They cannot turn us to evil against our will.

You already have questions. I can see them. Does that mean we should pick up just anything? Shouldn't we call the limit at some point? After all, we may make the choice, but we still need to be careful with the influences we're feeding our minds with.

Excellent points. Come back for part two, in which I shall address them. :)

Lady Bibliophile

Photo #1 courtesy of MR LIGHTMAN from Not intended to imply an endorsement of all his work. Please use discretion if you follow the link, which was provided due to website requirements.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Great Expectations

In spite of my numerous references to Dickens on My Lady Bibliophile, I have never actually reviewed a book. You'll be seeing several reviews of Dickens' novels this year, due to his bicentennial, and as Masterpiece Theatre just released Great Expectations, and I just read the book, I would like to start with his most classic novel.
When I recommend Dickens to someone who has never read it before, I always tell them to start with Great Expectations. Firstly, it's only 500 pages compared to the normal 900 (this should cause you to sigh with relief and anticipation) and secondly, it's his most classic mixture of happiness and tragedy, with an ending that won't dampen your appetite for more.

So let us proceed, my friends, into the lovely and mysterious world of Pip, Magwitch, and Miss Havisham.

The Plot
Young Pip lives with his much older sister and her blacksmith husband, Joe Gargery, on the marshes in England. In his childhood, he meets an escaped convict, Magwitch, stealing and lying for the man under threat of death, only to see Magwitch later re-captured on Christmas Day. He desires to forget this dark episode, and does so quite successfully under the influence of the bitter Miss Havisham and her ward, Estella, who 'befriend' him, and help him with his apprenticeship to Joe. Enamored with Estella, who cruelly wounds him every time they meet, years pass as he languishes under his apprenticeship and longs to come into some property, to be a 'rich gentleman' so that he can win Estella's hand and be forever happy.
He comes into his property. A Mr. Jaggers releases Pip from his apprenticeship to travel to London and set up as a young gentleman with 'Great Expectations'. And so, as he severs the ties with his past friends, and moves on to culture and wealth, he grows more and more secure under the promises of a mysterious and un-named patron.
Then he finds out who his patron is, and his hopes for Estella, his unkindness to his childhood friends, and his plethora of borrowed riches all crumble to dust as he realizes the full extent of his empty dreams, and the cruelty of Miss Havisham. Hunted and harried, in danger of his life and his happiness, he meets some of the darkest moments of his past in this stunning tale of good and evil. True to Dickens, you may find good where you would never have looked and evil where you never suspected.

The Ending (no spoilers)
Dickens had two endings for this tale originally, but I have never read his original one.  I don't consider Dickens' rewrite to be any less legitimate for being number two. The fact is, all authors rewrite almost everything in their books, and what the public receives is often the third or fourth major change from the original manuscript. The purists who complain that his original ending should have been left are generally the movie producers and lovers of tragedies. And when writing a book, you should never end it on a note of hurt, but on a note of hope. I would like to delve more into right and wrong types of endings in the near future.

My Thoughts
Great Expectations certainly left its mark on our family. You'll commonly hear quotes from the book such as "Be ever grateful, boy, to them that brought you up by hand." "Don't know ya." and "What larks, eh, Pip?" To understand their full meaning, you'll have to read the novel for yourself, and if you enjoy it as much as we did, you'll be quoting it too. :)
I used correction tape on Dickens, but find his plot lines in the books I've read so far to be very appropriate and unobjectionable. Due to the crime of London, however, such as references to murders and hangings, it might cause problems with some readers. If you like Douglas Bond's books, then you'll have no problem with Dickens' plot lines.
I like the way Dickens handled justice in this novel. He didn't excuse wrong, but he didn't deal harshly with it either. Justice mixed with mercy makes a very good tale, and true to Biblical values.

Movie Adaptations
I have not seen the newest Masterpiece Theatre adaptation, nor do I think it likely that I will at present. It is quite inaccurate to the novel, and I was rather disappointed.
If you would like more information regarding the 2012 adaptation, you can click here for an article detailing the plot of the episodes. It doesn't tell how it is different from the actual book, but I would be happy to tell you by email.
I would love to give you my thoughts on the adaptations I have seen of Great Expectations, if you would like to request a review by email. I will cover casting, accuracy, language, violence, etc. The following adaptations are available for request:

Starring Gerry Sandquist

Starring Ioan Griffudd

 Just senda request to the address on the sidebar with the name of the starring actor (or request all of the above!) and I shall be thrilled to share. Please note that there will be spoilers, so if you prefer to read the novel first, you can request a review afterwards. No expiration date to the review offer. :) (And if you don't mind spoilers, then go ahead before you read the novel.)

BBC Radio

BBC Radio produced a charming and professional adaptation brought to audio in 1994. I highly recommend that you buy or check out a copy. The only thing I remember at present is the usual objection of language. The voices were true to life, and the accuracy was excellent. I have enjoyed this twice already, and hope to hear it again, being able to find it through my library system.

Audio Production
Martin Jarvis wins hands-down for his stellar reading of this novel. You can find it on the newer Playaway technology, as well as CD.

This book ranks in my top three Dickens, and I highly encourage you, if you have never dared to read a man who was paid by the word, to start your journey with Great Expectations. It will be the first of many re-reads, and the start of a long and happy appreciation of Britain's finest author.

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Battle Won

Today, millions around the globe commemorate "Good Friday", the day on which we remember the death of Jesus Christ.

I had a book review for today, but as Good Friday drew closer and closer, my heart felt burdened with a different message. So today, for the first time, the only book I will refer to is the Book of Books--the most important one we could ever read. Today, a little less than 2,000 years ago, a Man died. He died for you, he died for me.

And the minute that Jesus died, the fight for truth became that much more brutal, because his act made truth invincible.

Think about it: when a wild animal receives its death wound, does it willingly concede the fight and slink away? More than likely, it turns and furiously attacks the one who dealt the blow. And since this is the case in the spiritual realm as well, we Christians have been fighting against the roaring lion, Satan, for century upon century. Many of us are receiving grievous wounds from a beast that is already conquered, but not yet dead.

We grow steadily more weary of the fray.

Even we, fellow bibliophiles, are fighting for truth and the Kingdom of Jesus Christ with every page we read. With every book review, with every piece of correction tape or every paper knife to remove pages, we are fighting for the truth and the Lordship of our precious Savior to prevail. But I am growing ever more aware that only the grace of God keeps us in the battle.

Think of this: if a soldier knows beforehand that his army will be victorious in the  battle, will he turn away in fear and weariness? If the runner knows that his head will receive the laurel wreath of victory, will he fall back in the race? And yet Christians are calling truce, and fleeing in despair from a foe that is already conquered. He has no sting. He cannot, for Christ is Lord and Master. Why should we fear the foe that has power only over our mortal bodies, which we cannot keep? Why not fear more the sweet Lord Jesus, who holds in his hands our very souls?

Never turn away my friends. As we fight for biblical manhood and womanhood, biblical patriarchy and economy, as the light separates ever more from the darkness in our world today, do not look upon the growing darkness, but look ever to the Light of Christ. Our fight is not in vain, for Christ himself promised that he did not come for peace, but for division. We should rejoice when the darkness fights harder and more brutally against us, for this means that we grow ever closer to the Image of our Lord.

And in the pain, we should take joy.

I wish that today I could see every one  of you in person to give this message. I have seen both sides of  this issue, even in my limited existence. I have seen the soldier who thirsts and the runner who stumbles, and I have seen some stand even amidst the pain and disgrace and suffering. Throughout the years, I have also seen some turn away needlessly. Are we so alone that we forsake the battle already won to join the battle already lost?

Take joy today in remembering the agony of Christ, for He won the victory that we would never have had the strength or righteousness to win. And if you are thirsty, if you are weary, if you are suffering from the death wounds of the roaring lion who seeks to devour, think not upon your suffering. Think not upon the darkness that you are fighting against or the pain of our disgrace in the eyes of the world. Think rather upon the One who was willing to bear sweat drops of  blood, who was willing to spend one agonizing night looking to the future, who was willing to have others strip the earthly body of the heavenly Son, and who was willing to go through the rejection of the Father Himself.  Think upon his victory for your sake, and cry out to the One who possessed such strength to reach down and touch your weary feet, your stinging wound, your thirsty tongue. For He has won, my friends, and throughout the rest of our lives, we can overflow with the joy of his victory.

"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God."
-Revelation 2:7

"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death."
-Revelation 2:11

 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it."
-Revelation 2:17

 "To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—
‘He will rule them with an iron scepter;
he will dash them to pieces like pottery’
just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give him the morning star."
-Revelation 2: 26-28

"He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels."
-Revelation 3:5

"Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name."
-Revelation 3:12

"To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne."
-Revelation 3:21

Never give up. Never lose heart. Never break faith. All praise and glory to Him who is able to keep us from falling and present us spotless before the throne of God.

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

When Mammoths Roamed the Earth

Perhaps you've thought extensively on the proofs for creation to be found in Siberian woolly mammoths.

I admit, I hadn't.

But it's never too late to learn. Today's review: Frozen In Time: Woolly Mammoths, the Ice Age, and the Biblical Key to Their Secrets, by Michael Oard.

Frozen in Time: The Woolly Mammoth, the Ice Age, and the Bible

Read, if you will, the following synopsis provided by

Earth's past is littered with the mysterious and unexplained: the pyramids, Easter Island, Stonehenge, dinosaurs, and the list goes on and on as science looks for clues to decipher these puzzles. One such mystery surrounds the now-extinct creature called the woolly mammoth. Author and meteorologist Michael Oard has studied the mammoth and its equally mysterious time period, the Ice Age, for many years and has come to some fascinating conclusions to help lift the fog engulfing the facts. Some of the questions he addresses include: What would cause the summer temperatures of the northern United States and Europe  to plummet more than 50 degrees Fahrenheit? Why did mammoths become extinct across the entire earth at the same time as many other large mammals? Why are the mammoth carcasses found generally in standing positions? How could large lakes exist in what are today very dry, desert-like places? What was the source of the abnormal moisture necessary for heavy snow? What caused the cold summer temperatures and heavy snowfall to persist for hundreds of years?
In logical progression many other Ice Age topics are explained including super Ice Age floods, ice cores, man in the Ice Age, and the number of ice ages. This is one of the most difficult eras in geological history for a uniformitarian scientist (one who believes the earth evolved by slow processes over millions of years) to explain, simply because long ages of evolution cannot explain it. Provided here are plausible explanations of the seemingly unsolvable mysteries about the Ice Age and the woolly mammoths - Frozen in Time.

A Few Notes:
I originally purchased this book on a very thrilling visit to the Creation Museum to learn more about the Ice Age, and after reading three chapters on woolly mammoths, I realized that this book was a little more specialized than the whole Ice Age in general. And I went around saying "This is a really easy read."

Enter chapter 6.

For the first five chapters, Oard discusses the multiple theories of how wooly mammoths could have lived in Siberia (when it is so cold in today's climate). Then in chapters 6 through 12 he immerses the reader in technical explanations of what could have caused the Ice Age (from a Creationist perspective) and how the ramifications of Noah's Flood beautifully answer the time difficulties and ice sheet formation problems of evolutionary scientists. In chapter 13 he touches on man during the Ice Age, and why this event plays such a minor role in Biblical history. And finally, he brings us to a clear and logical conclusion on how the woolly mammoths could have lived in Siberia, and what caused their rapid extinction. In the appendices, he adds the bonus feature of mammoth classification, and how it fits into the Biblical "kind" of Genesis one.

My Thoughts:
The middle chapters of this book took a strong pull to get through, but the excellent charts and illustrations that Oard provides help explain the more technical bits of the Ice Age. I have to admit, whenever anyone said "Ice Age" before, my mind conjured up a picture of huge drifts of snow and ice over the entire earth. Needless to say, it wasn't like that at all. :) He even touches on the issue of cave men and Neanderthals, as these people groups would have lived in this time period. (If you're looking for an answer on cave men, think: men who live in caves. Just like some of us are condo men, and some of us are apartment men, and--well, you get the idea.)

If you ever need a rest from deeds of derring-do, Frozen in Time would be an excellent choice. If you want a general education on the Ice Age, woolly mammoths, moraines, ice cores, and other technical subjects, this book will give you a non-threatening introduction to them, with just a little perseverance. I give five stars to Oard for his well-written presentation on why a young earth view concerning the Ice Age is Biblical and defendable.

Our faith has a foundation, and we can stand on it. Questions on carbon dating? How could a loving God allow suffering? What about those cave men? Or the issues of starlight and time? Send me an email using the address on the sidebar, or visit Answers in Genesis to find out how God has provided abundant proof for a young earth.

"But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,  keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander."
-1 Peter 3:15-16

Have a lovely day defending your faith.

Lady Bibliophile
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