Thursday, December 26, 2013

Friday, December 20, 2013

Contest Winner: Where She Was Waiting

A few months ago, this humorous story won first place in the Holy Worlds Historical Drabble Contest.

Billy walked slowly on the dusty road that led from the farm to town, his mind filled with nervous thoughts of the beauty who awaited him.

When he reached the town, he stared at the building where she was waiting and gulped. He had always dreamed of this moment. Now it was here.

He walked to the building and entered, knowing that after today, she would always be by his side. He would love her and take good care of her as she deserved.

Moments later, he walked out of the gun shop with the six shooter on his belt.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Movie Review: The Night Walker

The Story: A woman with a cruel husband is haunted by dreams of a lover who is kind, which drives her husband mad with jealousy when he finds out. When her husband dies in an accident, the woman finds herself also haunted by dreams of her dead husband pursuing her. As the dreams of her fantasy lover start turning sinister, she begins to suspect that all her nightmares may somehow be real, and searches for a way to prove it.

My Thoughts: As is fitting for a film that heavily involves dreams, this film has a nightmarish feel to it. Many of the “scare scenes” are quite memorable, such as a couple getting married in a chapel where the only other “people” are made of wax. Fortunately, the scenes do not cross the line into being truly disturbing, and this gives the film an edge over the many modern horror movies that tend toward excess instead of skillful storytelling.

Watching the protagonist try to sort out where dreams end and reality begins makes for a compelling story, as little clues add up and twists send her down unexpected paths. The writing isn’t good enough to make this film a masterpiece of horror and suspense, but it is still an excellent example of how a dark story can be effectively told without using graphic content or perverse scares. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys horror or thrillers.

Content Overview: I don’t remember any swearing, but there might have been one or two mild instances. Violence was mild. Seduction plays a part in the story, and there is some related passionate kissing. Scary scenes were frequent and intense enough that some viewers might be bothered.

Monday, December 2, 2013

National Novel Writing Month Update: Winner!

I won NaNo for the second year in a row! This year, I reached a little over 54,000 words in November, compared with a little over 50,000 last year.

My novel still has tens of thousands of words to go before it will be finished, so my work isn’t over yet. I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

Did you do NaNo this year? If so, how did it go?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Book Review: I Am A Barbarian by Edgar Rice Burroughs

The Story: A young barbarian is spared from death because a child named Caligula, the future emperor of Rome, wants him as a slave and playmate. As the barbarian grows up alongside the increasingly mad Caligula, he tries to stay true to his code of honor, while secretly fearing that he will one day be crucified for offending his master. When Caligula finally becomes emperor, the barbarian will see up close all the horrifying ways that Caligula’s insanity will affect the already troubled Roman Empire.

My Thoughts: I’m guessing that this book takes a lot of artistic liberties with history, but I also wonder if its depiction of the depravity of a troubled Roman Empire is somewhat accurate in spirit. It’s certainly a fascinating and disturbing read. None of the characters are paragons of virtue, but the comparatively mild flaws of the barbarian who tells the tale are contrasted effectively with the significantly more malevolent flaws of his Roman captors. I wish, however, that I could have understood the barbarian a bit better. The story ends on a grim note, so whether or not you would enjoy this book will partly depend on what you think of books with tragic endings.

Content Overview: Violence is pervasive, including the numerous cruel executions Caligula participates in, such as having people beheaded as entertainment during a meal, but it is not described graphically. The sexual promiscuity and perversity of the Romans is referenced frequently, though always with tact, and no problematic details are given. There are some mild swear words.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Movie Review: Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’hoole

The Story: When two owl brothers are kidnaped and taken to be the slaves of an evil owl king, one brother resists this tyranny while the other brother works to win the favor of his captors. The good brother escapes with a friend, and they set out to find the legendary guardian owls who defeated the evil king in the past. As the good brother learns how to better fight back against the forces of evil, his treacherous brother is surrendering more and more to the darkness, and they will meet again in the war that’s coming.

My Thoughts: This film has some of the most beautiful animation I’ve ever seen. While that alone would not be enough to recommend it to most people, the simple story is solid enough and has enough original ideas to keep the amazing visuals from being wasted. For example, plenty of family films have lessons about “unusual heroes,” but this movie puts a twist on that idea that is more unique and relevant than most. It also depicts good versus evil in a stronger, clearer way than modern family films tend to do.

The story has a few holes, but nothing that ruins the film. While the Owl City song that randomly pops up in one scene felt out of place, it is quickly forgotten after its awkward appearance. The ending demands a sequel, but due to the box office failure of this film, a sequel is unlikely to be made. Perhaps mainstream viewers were not quite ready for a serious, rather than goofy, anthropomorphic animal world, but those who appreciate animal fantasy and fantasy in general will find much to like.

Content Overview: It’s a bit more violent and scary than most animated family films I’ve seen, so parents should be aware of that. Aside from some political correctness, the film has a surprisingly good worldview.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Book Review: The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

The Story: A man named Christian learns that the city he lives in is going to be destroyed, and after he can’t convince his wife and children to leave with him, he heads off on his own. A man has pointed him in the direction of the Celestial City, where he can be saved and have eternal life, so Christian begins a pilgrimage to reach the city. Many dangers lie ahead, but he is determined to reach the end of his quest.

My Thoughts: This book is filled with numerous famous characters, from the main character Christian to villains such as Apollyon, the Giant Despair, and the nasty inhabitants of Vanity Fair. While the style of the book is archaic, which made it a bit of a challenge to read, the effort it takes to get through it is well worth it. It’s not a page-turner to modern eyes, but it is filled with brilliance that can be enjoyed and learned from.

The story’s pace wavers a bit towards the end of part one, heading off on a long series of theological rambles. Fortunately, the theological rambles are fascinating to read. The second part covers mostly the same ground as part one, but has enough unique details to keep it interesting. Everyone who likes fantasy, Christian fiction, or theology should take the time to explore this classic work.

Content Overview: This book is safe for most readers. There’s occasional mild violence, such as monstrous villains being beheaded or otherwise slain. Mildly scary scenes are common. A few vague references are made to sexual immorality and seduction.

Friday, November 1, 2013

National Novel Writing Month 2013

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or NaNo for short) starts today. I enjoyed participating in NaNo last year, so I decided to do it again this year.

Here’s a brief overview of the novel I’ll be working on.

Title: Reincarnation

Logline: After being drawn together by unusual circumstances, two strangers with similar nightmares search for the source of their dreams.

Are you going to write a NaNo novel this year?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Book Review: Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel

The Story: After a terminally ill boy is accidentally zapped into the world of ghosts by a ghost wrangler, he is quickly befriended by a skeletal horse, and it isn’t long before he’s encountered the ghost of his grandfather. As the ghost wrangler tries to get into the ghost world to save him, the boy soon finds himself a target of the dictator of this strange world, and must use the mystical power of being a living person in a world of ghosts to fight back.

My Thoughts: This wild and weird graphic novel was quite fun to read. The author’s storytelling and art are filled with amusing and original touches. The colorful art adds a lot to the story, with monsters and creepy settings and spectacular battles all brought to life on the pages. Without the pictures, I wonder if it would have been just a slightly above average dark fantasy story, but with the pictures, the tale has what it needed to be something special. Those who like horror or dark fantasy that isn’t too grim will enjoy this whimsical journey through a dark but hopeful world.

Content Overview: Violence is mild and often goofy. Scary scenes likewise are more on the light-hearted side, though some children might still be frightened by them. The bizarre world of ghosts is obviously far outside of Christian theology, but it’s not meant to be believed in.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Book Review: Fair Blows the Wind by Louis L’Amour

The Story: A boy of the Irish nobility is the only survivor of the conquest of his family and their property, which forces him to flee to England. He searches for a way to make a living, hoping in time to become wealthy and be able to take back his family’s land. As his adventures carry him from England to the European mainland, and then to America, he will meet a colorful variety of friends and foes, including one foe who is determined, no matter how many years it takes, to kill him.

My Thoughts: While this book is written in an unusual way, with much of the book being a flashback after some early action scenes, it works for the story. The episodic way the story is written also works pretty well. I was amazed at how many interesting characters are woven into this book, which is less than three hundred pages long. There is, unfortunately, not a lot of depth, and the story weakens a bit towards the end, but since it’s so entertaining and well-written overall, I recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical adventure novels.

Content Overview: There is frequent mild violence as well as infrequent mild swear words and vague references to adult subjects such as sexual immorality. The hero seems to believe that all remotely civilized roads lead to heaven, but this at least makes him seek to live a moral life.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Double Movie Review: 101 Dalmatians - Animated Versus Live Action

The Stories: A single man and woman are brought together by their two dalmatian dogs. After their owners marry, their dogs have puppies, and both dogs and humans are happy until the puppies vanish. An evil woman has stolen the puppies in order to make clothing from their soft and unique fur, and it’s up to the two dogs to rescue their puppies. Such is the simple and somewhat strange plot of both the original animated classic and the more recent live action version of 101 Dalmatians.

My Thoughts: I had fond childhood memories of the animated version, but the live action version made little impression on me as a child. Recently I decided to watch the two and compare them. Which is better? Both films are fun family adventures. While the animated version has some plot holes and runs out of steam towards the end, the way it wraps up the story makes more sense than the live action version.

On the other hand, up until it falls apart towards the end, the live action version has a stronger plot. Cruella deVil is a memorable villainess in both films, but of course it’s the cute dogs that you’ll remember the most. As to whether animated puppies who talk are better than live action puppies that don’t, and which film has more amusing hijinks involving the puppies and other animals, it’s pretty much a tie.

Overall, I found the animated version to be the most charming, largely because the ending was better written and thus the movie didn’t end on a disappointing note. If you’ve seen them both, which is your favorite?

Content Overview: Both films are safe for most viewers, though the crazed villainess and other scary elements, such as criminals who plan to skin puppies, might bother some children. The live action version had much more kissing, and if I recall correctly, the animated version had an immodest advertisement.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Book Review: John Ploughman’s Talk by Charles Spurgeon

In this amusing series of rambles, Spurgeon gives plain advice about life to the average person, telling things as they are, warning of vices, giving encouragement, describing common problems and blessings that people may encounter, with all of it pointing to the importance of faith and personal responsibility.

The book is filled with thoughts such as these:

“To know how to read and write is like having tools to work, but if you don't use these tools, and your eyes, and your ears, too, you will be none the better off.”

“A home should be a Bethel, not a Babel.”

“If we never have headaches through rebuking our little children, we shall have plenty of heartaches when they grow up.”

“The way to avoid great faults is to beware of small ones.”

The way that Spurgeon tosses in numerous common sayings tends to not add much to his own witty thoughts, and sometimes even distracts from what he is saying. But, that said, it is still pleasant to read, since Spurgeon’s insight frequently reveals itself--just in a slightly less effective way than in his usual writing style.

Those who are fans of Spurgeon’s writings will probably be curious about the rustic way of writing that he adopted for this book, and want to read it for that reason. For those who are new to his writing, his sermons would be a better place to start: Charles Spurgeon's Sermons

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Monday, September 16, 2013

Movie Review: The Guns of Navarone

The Story: Some of the best Allied soldiers, each of whom has a special talent, are called together for a seemingly impossible mission: To infiltrate a heavily guarded island held by the Germans and destroy the dual anti-ship guns that can sink any battleship which gets near the island. They have only a few days to pull it off, or else thousands of Allied soldiers will be trapped on a nearby island.

My Thoughts: This war movie is excellent in just about every aspect. The story is fast-paced and filled with suspenseful and elaborate action sequences. Its exploration of the darkness and the flickers of light that exist in war adds a lot of depth, and it’s not often that a film can be this entertaining and thought-provoking at the same time.

It also focuses just as much on character development as it does on explosions and fights. The characters are a memorable bunch, and while they are rough around the edges, they try to do what’s right even if they occasionally fail. The special effects are sometimes dated, but that’s only a minor flaw in this classic action film.

Content Overview: While little blood is shown, the grim tone and pervasive violence might bother some people, but morality and hope balance it out. There’s a small amount of mild swearing. The back of a woman’s dress is ripped open, briefly revealing part of her bare back, but the scene is non-sexual in nature.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Thoughts on Christian Horror: The Villains of Horror

Horror is a genre whose antagonists are divided between the speculative and the terrifyingly real. On the one side are vampires, ghosts, Lovecraftian dark gods, and all sorts of fantastical creatures of the night. On the other side are serial killers and other chilling dangers that we might see on the nightly news, such as killer bees.

These two sides are not opposed to each other. They are both filled with nightmarish characters who have only one purpose: To frighten, harm, and if possible, kill any humans who they can get into their malevolent grasp.

Some people may wonder why horror authors write about such grotesque characters. If an author has the right motives, one of the reasons he will delve into the darkness is because, whether they are real or imagined, the villains of horror remind us that we all have a real villain in our own lives: The devil.

The original villain

The devil is the original villain. He sucks the life out of people like a vampire, seducing them into sins that destroy them. He haunts them like a ghost, reminding them of past sins and continually seeking to tempt them.

Perhaps what he loves most of all is to get us to worship him instead of God, promising endless pleasures that he will never deliver. He’ll dangle sinful bait in front of us, set his hook, and then starting reeling us towards hell.

The devil, like a serial killer, tries to murder your family and friends and neighbors and even you with lies that cut deeper than the sharpest knife. He’ll say that God isn’t real, that the Bible can’t be true, and that sin won’t hurt you. Hell is filled with human trophies from his ongoing killing spree.

Like killer bees, he buzzes all through our lives, stinging us with trouble and tricks, trying to take our eyes away from God. He promises honey, then paralyzes us with his venom, and pours bitter sticky consequences down our throats to try to make us choke to death.

Anyone can become a villain

One of the tricks the devil tries to pull is to make us into villains like him. He wants to turn us into vampires who suck the life out of people with cruel words. He wants to turn us into ghosts who haunt others with bitterness and selfishness.

He wants us to see ourselves as gods and get us to look down on others with pride and hatred. He wants to turn us into serial killers who slaughter each bit of our innocence and righteousness with blades of lust and greed.

He wants us, like killer bees, to gather into mobs of self-righteous sinners who tear down the truly righteous and who push other sinners into deeper sin. If we fall for the illusions of the devil, we’ll become monsters just like him.

If all the villains of all horror stories ever written were combined, they would still not be as diabolical as the devil himself. All villains owe their villainy to their dark master, for they display some of his hellish characteristics.

The devil beside us

Christian horror should remind us to watch out for the ways the devil tries to lead us astray, whether it be through tempting our hearts with his own whispers, or through sending a variety of angels of light to try to lure us into unending night.

Whether the villains in horror are speculative or based on real threats, they give us a glimpse of what the devil is truly like. This should not lead us to despair at such evil, but should instead cause us to lift our eyes to the light and salvation of God.

Though the devil is beside us, God is not just beside us but within us, and He will watch over us and help us resist temptation. God wants us to do our best to fight and destroy evil with the sword of His Word. Ultimately, Jesus will return and cast all evil into hell with the devil.

Christian horror must not have monstrous villains for the fun of it, but for what such villains can teach us about the devil, about ourselves, and about salvation. We live in a sinful world, where a villain wants to destroy us and will try to recruit us to be villainous just like him. Thankfully, we have a Savior.

Do you agree?

The previous article in the Thoughts on Christian Horror series: The Wages of Sin

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Book Review: The Homelanders Series by Andrew Klavan

The Story

After waking up strapped to a chair and about to be killed, a teenage boy escapes from his captors, only to discover that he has lost his memory. As he tries to discover how he ended up a captive, he finds that not only are the men who captured him on his trail, but that he is also on the run from the police, who believe he murdered his best friend. With nowhere safe and no one to help him, he tries to evade the agents of both the good and bad guys as he searches for a way to prove his innocence, recover his memory, and defeat an organization that wants to destroy America.

My Take

After hearing quite a few friends rave about this series, I was eager to read it, and snatched up all four books when they were on sale. The first book, The Last Thing I Remember, was mostly an excellent thriller, though it weakens a bit towards the end. However, since the story continues through the next few books, I assumed that this would not be a major flaw, and kept reading the fast-paced story.

In the second book, The Long Way Home, the action sequences were just as solid as in the first book, and were more realistic than many action scenes in entertainment these days. The characterizations were good in the first book, and they continue to deepen in the sequel. As with the first book, the ending was a bit weak, but it was obvious by this point that this was due to the episodic nature of the series, which was building up to the big climax in the last book.

The third book, The Truth of the Matter, reveals a lot more of the information that the protagonist has lost, and if you have enjoyed the series up until this point, you’ll enjoy this book. It’s a relief to read a book series that actually promotes good values, with characters who are truly heroic in spite of their flaws.

As I expected, the last book, The Final Hour, provides a big climax for the series, with things getting even more tense than before. While any of the books in the series might not seem that impressive in and of itself, all four book read together combine into an exceptional adventure that is well worth reading for any fan of action and thrillers. The author has a better understanding of the way the world works than most authors seem to, and this, along with a variety of other virtues, give the series a depth and warmth that is often lacking in modern fiction, even in otherwise skillfully crafted stories.

Content Overview

Not surprisingly, violence is pervasive, but it is not graphic. There is no swearing or other problematic content. Things can get intense, and some adult themes come up, but teen readers and older will be fine it. The series is clean enough that parents might even consider giving it to mature children who are advanced readers. I highly recommend this wholesome and well-written thriller series to everyone who’s interested, and I hope it reaches many more readers.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Double Movie Review: An American Tail and Fievel Goes West

An American Tail

The Story: A mouse family heads on a voyage to America to escape oppression by cats in their homeland. Along the way, the boy mouse is washed overboard and feared dead by his parents and sister. However, he manages to stay afloat in a bottle and make it to America, where he struggles to survive in this strange land. While searching for his family, he will face many dangers, including discovering that even America has cats.

My Thoughts: This was one of my favorite movies as a small child, and as I watched it again recently, there were many brilliant scenes that are the equal of Pixar’s best. The characters were vivid and the songs were memorable. The unusual depth of this film is sometimes credited with making people realize, in a time when animated movies were languishing, that animation was not just for children.

Some of the scenes, however, are creative but don’t quite work, such as a scene where waves in the ocean are perceived as water monsters. The story has as many holes in it as Swiss cheese, and this mostly ruined the movie for me. While the enormous amount of brilliance in this film was enough to dazzle me as a child, the lack of a solid story to hold it all together left me feeling disappointed in the film as an adult.

An American Tail: Fievel Goes West

The Story: After the events in the first film, more cats have moved into the area to oppress the mice who have immigrated to America. One particularly villainous cat decides to trick mice into believing that cats and mice are friends out in the West, so he can get mice to go there and use them as laborers, then eat them. However, the young mouse from the first film catches on and sets out to stop the evil scheme.

My Thoughts: This is the only An American Tail sequel that I’ve seen, and like the first film, part 2 was a childhood favorite of mine. Unfortunately, like the first film, the many brilliant scenes and vivid characters can’t save it from its story holes. The most memorable thing about the film is that James Stewart voices a dog sheriff.

Content Overview: Due to the menace of a variety of cats and other threats in both films, there is a lot of mild violence, as well as some scary scenes. Rebellious attitudes and romance among some of the young mice might bother some parents. In An American Tail, a sleazy mouse ogles and then tries to grope a female mouse, but she slaps him away. In Fievel Goes West, several characters dress immodestly, and this is used at least once in a bad attempt to be humorous.

Have you seen any of the An American Tail movies? If so, what did you think of them?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Is That Celebrity A Christian?

As a child, I enjoyed wondering if my favorite actors, musicians, and other celebrities might be Christians. Then I grew up and learned the Biblical principle that you will know them by their fruit (Luke 6:43). It became pretty clear which celebrities were saved and which weren’t.

Many Christians do not seem to grasp the principle that the actions of celebrities will generally show what is in their hearts. They haphazardly claim various celebrities as one of their own, while refusing to look at the actions of the celebrities.

What does their life revolve around?

Imagine a young pop star who sings about fornicating, fornicates in real life, and who poses with few clothes on in magazines. But if she occasionally goes to a church that hasn’t preached the Gospel in twenty years, many people will decide she’s a Christian.

Or imagine an actor who regularly stars in R-rated movies filled with extreme foul language, sex scenes, nudity, and gratuitous violence. But if he sometimes makes vague spiritual statements about Jesus in between “f” words in interviews, many people will decide he’s a Christian.

I’m not saying for certain that such people aren’t saved. All I’m saying is that, if they keep living the same way without a change, the evidence starts mounting that they aren’t saved. An encounter with God will change how you live.

Jesus said that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments (John 14:21). This doesn’t mean that we will keep them perfectly. We’ll fail sometimes. But if peoples’ entire lives revolve around sin, a bit of superficial spirituality does not change the reality of their lack of repentance.

Who should be called by God’s name?

I’m not sure why people frequently try to claim obviously unsaved celebrities as fellow Christians. Does thinking that they have their favorite celebrity on their side make them feel cool and like they fit in? Or are they just naive?

Whatever the cause, it is foolish for Christians, including those in the Christian media, to cling desperately to every wearing of a cross, mention of God, prayer, Bible reading, and other similar activities among Godless celebrities.

There are indeed some celebrities who claim to be Christians and whose actions show that they are seeking to live out their faith, and it’s fine to be interested in them. They can use our encouragement, and we can often learn from them, including from their mistakes.

We must be discerning, however, about what celebrities we consider Christians (1 Corinthians 5:11-13). If they are not living as children of God, then we have no reason to believe they are saved. Only those who are truly trusting in and seeking to be like Jesus should be called by His name.

Do you agree?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Book Review: A Summary of Christian History by Robert Baker

As the title indicates, this book summarizes Christian history from the time of Christ to the present day. It is meant to give readers a basic understanding of the history of Christianity in a relatively short amount of time, and from this foundation they can explore the fullness of Christian history in other books if they so desire.

While the plain style this book is written in took a little while to get used to, I soon found it pleasant to read as it carefully laid out the facts in an easy to understand manner. At less than four hundred pages long, I expected to finish this book quickly, but the amount of detail crammed into each chapter caused me to have to read slowly to take in as much information as possible.

I had not read a full account of church history in a long time, so many of the details were hazy in my mind, including how the major denominations came to be. Reading this book helped me better understand the light of the spread of the Gospel and righteousness, as well as the darkness of persecution and erroneous theology throughout the past two thousand years.

The book ends its summary of Christian history in the 1950s, and some big things have happened to Christianity since then, but its record up until that point is fascinating to read. I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn about Christian history, either to give them the basics they need to know, or to help them begin a deeper exploration of Christian history.

There is an updated version out now which I assume goes to the present day.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Movie Review: Robin Hood: The Disney Animal Version

While I had never wondered what the tale of Robin Hood would be like if the characters were portrayed by animals, Disney apparently decided that people would be interested in such a twist on the legend. After seeing Robin Hood and Maid Marian as foxes, Little John as a bear, Friar Tuck as a badger, and other similar animal versions of characters, I have to admit that their experiment was a success.

This gimmick would not have been nearly enough to sustain a movie in and of itself, but the animals are given various adventures to go that are just as entertaining as the characters. Many of the scenes are brilliantly crafted, and the music is good. All of it adds up to make this a Disney classic. A few random anachronisms and plot flaws distract from the story, but otherwise this is a fun animated film that is far more amusing than the strange premise might suggest.

There is a bit of cross-dressing and related humor, some of it mildly inappropriate. Violence is minor and often more silly than realistic.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Triple Book Review: The Door Within Trilogy by Wayne Thomas Batson

After his family goes to live at his grandpa’s house, a young boy feels lonely due to leaving behind his best friend. When he comes across a strange scroll and gets drawn into a magnificent other world, he finds himself on an incredible adventure that will change him forever. Soon two other people from our world will join him in this magical land, and the three of them will face the evil warrior who wants to rule the other world.

The Door Within, the first book in the series, left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, the plotting is not the best, with characters who abruptly change their mind for no apparent reason, scenes that are overly rushed through, and a climax that wasn’t very exciting. On the other hand, the book has a fascinating premise, quite a few memorable scenes, and numerous brilliant fantasy ideas. While I was left disappointed with the book as a whole due its flaws, the potential of the author made me willing to give the second book in the series a chance.

The plotting turned out to be a bit better in The Rise of the Wyrm Lord, and I don’t recall ever noticing a serious issue like those in the first book. The story switches to a different main character, which was a bit jarring at first, but worked fine once I got used to it, though I would have liked more depth in the characters. As with the first book, there are a lot of brilliant fantasy ideas, and these, combined with the improved writing, were enough to convince me to finish reading the series.

Just as the plotting got better in the second book, it also got better in The Final Storm. The main character from the first book was brought back, along with the main character from the second book, and a new important character, though the way that the story frequently switched to the point of view of side characters sometimes slowed the story’s momentum.  If you like the first two books, you’re pretty much guaranteed to like the third book, which managed to gloss over most of the weaknesses in the story, and wrap up everything fairly well.

Despite its flaws, I enjoyed The Door Within trilogy. The Christian symbolism was generally more unique that in the average Christian fantasy series. My favorite thing about the trilogy was the high quantity of brilliant fantasy ideas that are scattered throughout the three books. A maze made from a living giant serpent creature’s coils was one of the most memorable ideas, and the series was filled with such originality, which makes it worth reading for fantasy fans.

There are a lot of violent and scary scenes, but nothing extreme, and anyone who can handle The Lord of the Rings movies should be fine with it. Some feminism might annoy readers on both sides of the issue. An example was a female warrior who could unrealistically beat massively muscular male warriors, but who got captured when a male warrior needed someone to rescue.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Movie Review: Mighty Joe Young (1949)

A young girl who lives in Africa buys a pet gorilla while her dad is away from home. He reluctantly lets her keep it, and years pass, with her father dying, leaving her alone on her farm with her now huge pet gorilla. Meanwhile, an American businessman comes to Africa searching for a sensational act for his night club. When he stumbles upon the girl who can control a gorilla, he hires her and her pet to be his night club’s star attraction. However, the girl and the gorilla soon discover that fame and fortune does not bring happiness, and wonder if they will ever be able to make it home to Africa.

The action sequences involving the gorilla might seem to be the main draw of this movie, and they are often spectacular, despite the special effects being less refined than they are today. A scene involving a burning building collapsing around the protagonists is rightly legendary. Fortunately, this movie has more to offer than just good action sequences. The story is simple but deep, with plenty of fun and heartwarming moments, marred only slightly by an ending that is too tidy. I recommend this movie to anyone who isn’t bothered by old-fashioned special effects.

Content is limited to mild violence and scary scenes, so it's safe for most viewers.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Book Review: Charles Haddon Spurgeon: A Biography by W. Y. Fullerton

Charles Spurgeon was a pastor whose writings have been sadly neglected in our day, but I enjoy reading his masterful works. When I wanted to read a biography of him, I came across this one, and the author says this about it:

The contemporary sketches of the life of Spurgeon are an interesting conglomerate of significant facts, but they scarcely give an adequate picture of the man as he lived and laboured with such prodigious energy. It seemed desirable, therefore, that before those who knew him and shared in his ministry had passed away, someone who had the privilege of his friendship should say the things about him that still needed to be said, and place the familiar things in truer perspective than was possible at the time.

I found this biography a fascinating read, though sometimes a bit slow. It examines different aspects of the man and his life in each chapter, rather than being entirely chronological. Those who have no particular interest in Spurgeon are likely to be bored by the way it carefully lays out the facts, but those who are interested in him will likely appreciate the fairly thorough overview of his story. I enjoyed getting a fuller understanding of this man of God, including learning more about the two biggest controversies of his controversial ministry. His heroic stand for truth, even when it was unpopular, is inspiring.

This book is safe for all ages, and can be read for free online: Charles Haddon Spurgeon: A Biography

Whether or not you read this biography, you should at least read some of the writings of the man himself, such as this brilliant sermon: The Talking Book

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Thoughts on Christian Horror: The Wages of Sin

Is there such a thing as Christian horror? Can Christians write horror stories, or is horror always a bad thing? In this series, I am exploring those questions.

Horror can be useful as a way to tell cautionary tales. Don’t commit sins, or they may consume you--literally. Don’t abuse the environment that God gave us, or it might abuse us in return. Don’t ignore or lack discernment about the evils of the world, or they will rip your pretty little whitewashed world to shreds and destroy you.

The Bible says that the wages of sin is death. That is a sobering reality. Every sin, no matter how small, would ultimately lead to death and eternal damnation in hell if God did not intervene. And every sin, whether or not the person sees the consequences on this earth, causes harm. The fact that sin exists at all has twisted the world and filled it with evil things, many of which bring death.

Horror gives Christian authors the opportunity to explore this frightening fact in light of the truth that is revealed in the Bible. Some specific possibilities are:

- A man who commits adultery can discover that his mistress is a vampire who is sucking the life out of his flesh just as his sin is sucking the life out of his spirit.

- A businessman on a camping trip can be hunted by a ravenous mutant creature he unintentionally created by pushing his company to illegally dump toxic waste into a lake.

- A man could sell his soul to the devil to become president, but then see the country collapse under his diabolical policies, with him being killed by a mob of demon-possessed citizens.

- Neglectful parents could send their children to a school where the principle runs it like a cult and begins taking over their children’s minds.

The possibilities are nearly endless.

While simply showing the wages of sin is sometimes enough to make a story effective, in general it’s best to explore the Bible’s joyful conclusion: The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23). Don’t just focus on the perils of evil. Also show redemption.

To continue with the examples I gave before, a man can break free of adultery before it kills him and become a good husband. A businessman can be changed by his experiences with the consequences of his reckless behavior and be environmentally responsible. An unscrupulous vice president can learn to have unshakable principles based on the Bible. Parents who neglect their children can be forced to nearly give their lives for their children and learn to protect them as God intended.

All of us make mistakes, and all of us need God’s help to survive, change, and do better. Christian horror can warn us of sinful mistakes and their consequences, while also showing us that Jesus and the salvation He brings will help us overcome the dark things of this world. Do you agree?

The next article in the Thoughts on Christian Horror series: The Villains of Horror

The previous article in the Thoughts on Christian Horror series: Five Ways to Use Fear

Friday, June 21, 2013

Book Review: The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald

A bit of time has passed since a young miner rescued a princess from an underground kingdom of goblins, and since then, the miner’s morality has begun to slip. An encounter with a mystical woman from his past sets him back on the right path, and she sends him on a quest to help the king. The strange threats he encounters, and the yet stranger allies that join him, will change his life even more than rescuing a princess.

Despite being a sequel to the excellent The Princess and the Goblin, which I reviewed last week, the two books are quite different in tone, perhaps partly due to this one being written more than a decade after the first. Where the previous book was a fun fantasy adventure, this book is darker and occasionally grim. It is not as well-written as the first book, and rambles about more, with the scattered good ideas it has, such as some unique monsters, not being enough to make it a classic. Fans of the first book will likely be disappointed.

There is some mild violence and scariness. It has more weird ideas and mysticism than the first book. Like the first book, it should be fine for anyone old enough to read The Chronicles of Narnia, though the dark tone might bother some children.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Book Review: The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald

After the death of her mother, a young princess lives on a country estate while the king travels around his kingdom helping his subjects. The king thinks his daughter is safe, but the goblins who live under a mountain near the estate have long wanted to take revenge on the king for something done to their ancestors. As they scheme about how to kidnap the princess, a young miner stumbles onto their plans while mining in the mountain, and he may be the only one who can save the princess and many others from the goblins.

This is one of the best fantasy novels that was written before The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. It has monsters planning evil deeds, colorful settings, some unique fantastical ideas, vivid characters, and a fast paced story. Perhaps a good way to describe it is as a novel length fairy tale. A few silly ideas involving the goblins fall flat, but other than that, it holds up well. While the story is fairly simple, the author found ways to give it quite a bit of depth, and weaves in a variety of original touches, bringing the story to life and making it worth reading for any fan of classic fantasy.

There is a bit of mild violence and scariness involving the goblins. It has a few weird ideas, some of them involving mysticism. Anyone old enough to read The Chronicles of Narnia should be fine with it.

I've also reviewed the sequel, The Princess and Curdie.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Thoughts on Christian Horror: Five Ways to Use Fear

Is there such a thing as Christian horror? Can Christians write horror stories, or is horror always a bad thing? In this series, I am exploring those questions.

The horror genre is meant to inspire fear. Fear of hideous creatures on the hunt. Fear of supernatural attackers. Fear of the serial killer who might live next door. Can inspiring fear ever be a good thing?

Horror tends to focus on using fear to thrill readers, allowing them to feel the excitement of dark and twisted things without actually experiencing them. Many horror authors and filmmakers like to exploit this to its fullest, often managing to find new devious ways to entertain horror fans.

The horror genre can easily veer into excess, with graphic violence and sadistic ideas which promote empty sickening thrills and dark worldviews. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Christian authors can also use horror to promote good kinds of fear.

You might be wondering: How can fear be good? I’ve thought of five ways that using fear in stories can be good.

#1 Fear of the Lord

For Christians, the fear of the Lord is more a reverent fear than terror, but it is fear none-the-less. For unbelievers, especially those who commit the worst sins imaginable, the wrath of God and His punishment of such sinners will be a fearsome thing with nothing to temper it. Think of God bringing the plagues upon Egypt and finally drowning the Egyptians who pursued the Israelites in the Red Sea. Christian horror can teach people the fear of the Lord by showing aspects of His holiness, power, love, and judgment.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. -- Psalm 111:10a

#2 Fear of the Wages of Sin

Sin is something to fear. If we are Christians, we do not have to fear sin damning our souls to hell for all eternity, for Jesus has saved us. But for those who are unsaved, their sin will destroy them and drag them down to hellfire and brimstone. And for everyone, saved or unsaved, the world groans as the results of sin cause disease and crime and death. Christians who sin can bring down terrible harm upon themselves, even though their souls will ultimately be saved.

The all-too-real horror of families torn apart by alcoholism is but one of many sins to fear. Reminding people of the wages of sin is important, and since it offers many potential ideas for Christian horror authors, I will probably explore that topic in greater detail in the next article in this series.

The wages of sin is death. -- Romans 6:23a

#3 Fear of Hell

Hell is a troubling thought, even to the Christians who are saved from it. It is a place of eternal torment, where sinners suffer without end. The fear of hell and the judgment of God can help point the lost to salvation, while Christians can be reassured that they need not fear hell, since they are saved through the blood of Christ.

If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. -- Revelation 20:15

#4 Fear of Dark Forces

Many people struggle with anxiety in their daily lives. Murderers, monsters, demons, sharks, hurricanes, diseases, and many other scary things can be effective tools to encourage people to trust in God instead of being afraid, by showing people overcoming these dangers with God's help.

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me. -- Psalm 23:4a

#5 Fear of Foolishness

Just as seeing someone get burned will likely teach a child not to touch a fire, seeing someone reap the dark consequences of foolish behavior is a good way to warn people away from such behavior. Foolishness leads people to do many destructive things in real life, and horror can help remind them to be wise and therefore safer. Proverbs, in the Bible, warns of many horrific things that happen to those who live foolishly.

The simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them. -- Proverbs 1:32

When Jesus spoke in parables, many of them could be considered horror stories, since He used fear to warn the listeners away from various evils. His stories often involved a sinner being sent to hell or executed for evil deeds.

Jesus was not doing this to thrill the listeners. He was telling them these things out of love, encouraging them to turn away from the darkness that would devour them and look to the light that would save them.

And that is what horror should do: Use fear to warn people about the dark things of the world, and remind them to look to the light. Jesus is mighty beyond our comprehension, and He can overcome sin, hell, dark forces, and foolishness, if we will repent and look to Him. Do you agree?

Can you think of other ways that fear can be used for good?

The next article in the Thoughts on Christian Horror series: The Wages of Sin

The previous article in the Thoughts on Christian Horror series: Living in a Nightmare

Friday, May 31, 2013

Spurgeon on the Habit of Singing

While I’m not particularly fond of singing, I do enjoy listening to songs, and I think that the following Charles Spurgeon quote can be applied to listening to music as much as to singing it. Being able to listen to recordings of music is a great blessing, and we should take advantage of it. And if you want to sing, then do so!

“Let me encourage you, Christian people, to sing a great deal more than you do. Of old London, in the Puritan time, it was said that you might have heard songs and prayers in well-near every house as you walked at the breakfast hour from St. Paul's to Eastcheap. Family worship was then the prevailing custom! It would not be so now in any town in England—the more the pity.

“I hear the wagoner in the country, and the costermonger in the city, humming a tune or singing a song. Why should not you, my friends, enliven your listless intervals with a hymn? The world has its popular music—why should not we stir up some soul-inspiring melodies? Soldiers go to battle with martial airs—let us go to our battle with the songs of Zion!

“When the sailors are tugging and pulling at the rope and weighing the anchor, they send up a cheery shout and they work better for it, too. Christian friends, while you work, lighten the toil with sacred song! Serve God with gladness!

“I have often been charmed at eventide on the canals at Venice to hear the gondoliers sing in chorus some glorious old chant. So, Christians, as you steer your vessels to Heaven, and tug at the oar, sing as you row, sing as you work! Sing, for you have much to sing about! Be glad, and praise the Lord who has delivered you!” -- Charles Spurgeon

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Movie Review: Shipwrecked

After his father is injured while on a voyage and can’t continue to pay the mortgage, a young man decides to become a ship’s boy so he can make enough money to keep his family from losing their house. While he finds being a sailor to be hard at first, he soon settles into life at sea, glad to be helping his family. Meanwhile, a notorious pirate who is thought to be dead has stolen the identity of a British naval officer in a scheme to reclaim his hidden treasure. When the fake naval officer gets onto the same ship as the young man, the ship’s boy may be the only one who can stop the pirate’s murderous plans.

Aside from some brief content issues that will be noted later, this is an ideal family adventure film. The plot is fairly simple, but has enough depth and swashbuckling action to make it fun. The protagonist’s devotion to his family is refreshing to see. While the story has a few rough spots, such as a silly subplot with a friendly gorilla, there is nothing that causes major damage to the film. Some people might find elements of the story towards the end too similar to Treasure Island, but overall this is a fairly original pirate movie, and can be considered a classic of the swashbuckling adventure genre.

A sailor takes God’s name in vain once. Some prostitutes proposition the sailors, including the young cabin boy, a scene which includes some brief innuendo. Both of those issues should have been left out, but are significantly milder than similar issues in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. There is also, of course, some mild violence involving clashes between sailors and pirates.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Book Review: Angel Fall by Coleman Luck

Three siblings awake in another world after the plane they are on crashes into the Atlantic Ocean. Before long, they are separated on their journey through the fantastical world. Wondrous sights and terrifying enemies await them, and as they slowly come to realize the truth about the nature of good and evil, their part in the war that is tearing the world apart is revealed to them.

While this novel started out slowly, seeming like many other dream-like fantasy tales, I had been assured by a friend that this novel was a masterpiece, and kept reading. I’m glad that I did. Soon wildly original scenes and ideas were flooding the pages, some of which were unlike anything I’d ever encountered before.

One of the most memorable scenes involved a giant spider whose enormous web was a harp that played mystical music, and such memorable scenes occurred again and again throughout the story. A unique fantasy world is witnessed from its youth, through epic fantastical wars that cover the world for millennia, and all the way to its rebirth.

By the end of this book, I had been so amazed by what was described within its pages that I have to agree with my friend’s assessment that this novel is a masterpiece. An imperfect one, yes, with a slow start and some theological murkiness, but the many moments of brilliance make it well worth reading for any fan of fantasy.

While the protagonists in this novel are young, this novel is probably best for older teens and adults. The dark lord figure’s violence causes a lot of people to die and a lot of blood to flow, though it is always described in a way similar to that in Revelation in the Bible, rather than being gratuitous. Sexual sin is addressed tactfully. Some euphemisms are used, but there is no swearing.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Thoughts on Christian Horror: Living in a Nightmare

Is there such a thing as Christian horror? Can Christians write horror stories, or is horror always a bad thing? In this series, I am exploring those questions.

When I was in my mid-teens, I became severely chronically ill, and the shallow faith that I had got by on as a preacher’s son crumbled. Feeling abandoned by God, with no hope, it seemed as if my life was a horror story. I was living in a nightmare.

So I began reading a lot of horror stories. I didn’t notice the subtle shift towards horror stories at the time. It wasn’t intentional. But looking back, I can see how horror connected with me. It reflected the horror in my own life.

This was mostly not a good thing. As I noted in the previous article in this series, much horror says that the world is a dark and twisted, and gives no hope. This disturbing proclamation brings a tainted thrill to those who have hope in their lives.

To me, since I was living in a horror story, the thrill I got was different. Horror wasn’t something that could scare me and then allow me to go back to my happy life. It was something that comforted me by saying that yes, I was right about how dark the world was.

It was a grim and ultimately false knowledge, but it seemed to give me a foundation to stand on, since I thought I no longer had God to look to. Horror showed many people being consumed by darkness, just as I felt I was being consumed. But sometimes they managed to overcome it, and I had a tiny, frail hope that perhaps I might overcome it, too.

Thankfully, God reached into my darkness and started leading me out of it, giving me a sure foundation. While I still struggle with the darkness brought about by my illness, I refuse to surrender to the darkness any more, and seek to look to His light.

Many Christians see horror stories as having no purpose other than to scare, but my extensive experience with the good and bad sides of horror has shown me otherwise. Horror, when used correctly, has an important and beneficial purpose.

I’m not the only person in the world with much darkness in my life. I’m not the only person struggling not to give in to that darkness. Horror fiction reflects this darkness, and that is where it derives part of its power.

If an author abuses this power purely to give twisted thrills, then he will be held accountable to God for such a perversion. If, however, an author uses the darkness to point to the light, then the power of horror is valuable.

For everyone who has a lot of darkness in their life and struggles not to give in to that darkness, horror reaches out to them, agreeing that there is a lot of darkness in the world. But horror must not stop there. It must assure them that they don’t have to live helplessly in a nightmare any longer.

They can wake up from the nightmare, with God’s help. They can overcome the monsters, with God’s help. They can escape from the things that haunt them, with God’s help. They can be free from the curse of sin, with God’s help.

Few genres can present that message in such a vivid way as horror. The Bible is filled with horror stories that present hope: A valley full of skeletons that will be raised to life. Three days learning to trust God in the belly of a beast. A man who is released from the grasp of a legion of demons. I’ll probably explore Bible stories such as those later in this series.

For now, think of the darkest times in your life. What comforted you the most? Likely, sometimes it was bright and happy things. But other times, I suspect it was people telling you about dark times in their lives that they had overcome, or reading Psalms about the dark times David and other psalmists overcame.

That is what horror should do: Tell about people in dark times, and how God helped them overcome. Just as they overcame, so can you. God’s light is greater than darkness, and He can save you from any nightmare you are living in, no matter what it is. Do you agree?

The previous article in the Thoughts on Christian Horror series: Dark and Twisted

The next article in the Thoughts on Christian Horror series: Five Ways to Use Fear

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Book Review: Adam by Ted Dekker

An FBI agent is shot by the serial killer that he is obsessed with stopping, and after being resuscitated, he realizes that he has no memory of the killer’s face. Since the memory of the killer was snatched away by his previous near death experience, he induces another near death experience to see if he can resurrect the memory. It doesn’t work like he hoped, and the killer’s kidnaping of his ex-wife may force him to even more drastic measures.

After a bit of a shaky start, the story got into its stride and took off, making me hope that it would be a solid thriller. However, as the plot raced along, the story took an unexpected turn, and never felt quite as solid after that. In the end, it was a decent thriller with an adequately presented message, but probably not worth seeking out unless you’re a hardcore thriller or Dekker fan. I noticed more typos than I expected in a professional novel.

There is one swear word and two ambiguously used words that could be taken as swearing. Such language was so random that it felt awkward, and would have been better left out. There are a few non-explicit sexual references that, while not inappropriate, might go behind what most people would expect in Christian fiction. Violence is pervasive but rarely graphic. The dark tone and supernatural occurrences might disturb some readers.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Thoughts on Christian Horror: Dark and Twisted

Is there such a thing as Christian horror? Can Christians write horror stories, or is horror always a bad thing? In this series, I am exploring those questions.

Imagine a happy and peaceful small town. Life goes on like it has for many years. A family lives securely and helps their community. Then, one day, a dark presence creeps into their town. People begin vanishing during the night. Everyone is wondering if they will be next. But a few people get together to battle the darkness...

That sounds like the basic plot of many horror novels, doesn’t it? However, I wasn’t describing a horror novel. I was describing The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, a classic Christian autobiography.

The Hiding Place tells the story of a remarkable woman and her family who lived in Holland and saw the Nazis take over their country, with that dark influence steadily growing over various aspects of their daily lives. Instead of going along with the Nazis, the Ten Boom family and others fought back by helping and hiding Jews. Their true story, with its steadily mounting tension and horror, is scarier than most horror novels.

Unlike many horror novels, The Hiding Place had a point: It showed God’s power and love in the midst of frightening circumstances. And that is the most important thing that Christian horror should do: Show God’s power and love in the midst of frightening circumstances.

How Christian horror should look, and how most horror looks, are quite different. A lot of horror says, “The world is a dark and twisted place. The End.” The focus is on scaring the reader and giving them a thrill. Christian horror should say, “The world can be a dark and twisted place, but God’s light will overcome the darkness and make things right.” The focus is then on giving the reader hope.

Since the world truly is a dark and twisted place, stories with dark and twisted aspects are needed, as long as they point to the light and don’t let shadows obscure the message. Do you agree?

The next article in the Thoughts on Christian Horror series: Living in a Nightmare

Friday, April 19, 2013

Movie Review: Treasure Planet

A troubled teen gets the chance to redeem himself when he is given a map to treasure hidden on a distant planet. As he sets out on a voyage through space to find the planet, he’ll encounter quite a few colorful friends and enemies. The dangers of space turn out to be not nearly as dangerous as treacherous companions who will do anything to get their hands on the treasure.

The setting of this film reminded me a bit of Titan A.E. (which I also reviewed) in some ways, but in general the sci-fi elements are unique enough. The animation was solid. The villainous Long John Silver and his pet Morph are fairly well-done, as are his monstrous crew, and give the story more depth than it otherwise would have had.

If you watch this film hoping to see a good sci-fi adaption of Treasure Island, you will be disappointed by how many changes were made, as might be expected, during its conversion to sci-fi. If, however, you can separate it from the classic novel that inspired it, and just watch it as a light-hearted sci-fi film with some steampunk elements, it is decent entertainment.

Aside from mild violence and some gross-out humor, there’s no content of concern. Some people may be bothered by a “good-hearted” criminal being allowed to get off free with the help of a good character, since there is no clear indication that the criminal has learned better and won’t commit more crimes.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Book Review: Eccentric Preachers by Charles Spurgeon

I have published this little volume very much in self-defense.

With that line, a unique book about eccentric preachers begins. As an influential pastor in 19th century England, Spurgeon was sometimes seen as eccentric, which coming from many was neither a compliment nor a neutral observation. As he notes:

When God raises up a man of original mind who strikes out a course for himself and follows it with success, it is usual to charge him with being eccentric. If his honesty may not be suspected, nor his zeal questioned, nor his power denied, sneer at him and call him eccentric, and it may be the arrow will wound.

Spurgeon is quite clear how such attacks should be responded to:

Fear no man's frown, and court no man's smile, but say the right thing and the true, and say it as best you can, and ask God's help that you may say it so that you may make men feel it, even though you sting them into anger, for blessed shall that man be who has discharged his conscience before the living God.

He also warns against the wrong kind of eccentricity:

Find us a preacher who obtains notoriety for himself by descending to buffoonery, and who goes out of his way to say smart things, and make jokes on sacred subjects, and we decline to be his advocate.

After exploring various aspects of eccentricity, Spurgeon gives an overview of eleven eccentric preachers, some of whom were greatly slandered, but all of whom were righteous men of God. He shares many amusing stories along the way, at least one of which was from his own life. It’s an enjoyable read, and safe for all ages, so I recommend it to anyone who is interested. Its message is much needed in our day.

This book can be read for free online: Eccentric Preachers

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Movie Review: The Great Mouse Detective

After a mouse toymaker is kidnaped by a peg-legged bat, his daughter seeks out the most legendary mouse detective to help her find him. Along the way she is joined by a mouse doctor who has just returned to London from military service. As the three mice begin their investigation, they go up against the mouse detective’s greatest enemy, a rat criminal who claims to be a mouse. Soon they find themselves not only trying to save the toymaker, but also the queen of mice from the rat’s evil schemes.

This is a fun family film with interesting characters, colorful animation, and a fast-paced plot. The night setting is atmospheric, and offers a variety of memorable scenes, such as a showdown between an evil bat and several mice in an eerie closed toy shop, with mechanical toys being used by the bat to help him escape. The idea of a mouse version of Sherlock Holmes who lives under the real Sherlock Holmes’ house was reasonably well done, though whether serious Holmes fans will agree, they will have to decide for themselves.

Violence is mild, but pervasive, including a villainous rat who feeds one of his minions to a cat. The sometimes horror-ish tone might scare small children. A scene involving a mouse bar dancer who removes her dress and dances about in the more revealing attire underneath, to the lustful delight of sailors and the less lascivious enchantment of a protagonist, was cartoonish but still problematic due to its implications, and surprising in a G-rated Disney film.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Book Review: The Littles by John Peterson

Pictures by Roberta Carter Clark

The Littles are a family of people that are only a few inches tall, who live secretly in the wall of a normal family’s house. When the family goes on a trip, some vacationers from the city come to stay in the house, which shakes up the Little family’s lives. The Littles will need all their resourcefulness to survive the troubles that the visiting family unintentionally throws their way--including a cat.

While this book is filled with fun ideas about the Littles and the way they live, the story is somewhat lacking. This makes the concept of the Littles far more memorable than the book that introduces them, though the concept is a bit reminiscent of The Borrowers. Despite the shortcomings, it was pleasant enough that I found it worth reading, since I am interested in fantasy and children’s books, and if you like those two things, you may also find it worth reading. The short length keeps the very simple story from getting boring.

There is only a small amount of mild violence and scariness involving mice and cats, so it should be safe for most readers. Parents may want to read it with their children to comment on the infrequent instances of rude or unwise behavior that take place in the story. It is also worth noting that the Littles steal from humans to survive, but this problem is largely eliminated due to the Littles repaying humans as best they can, rather than feeling entitled to the things they take.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Movie Review: The Red House

When he comes to work at a secluded farm, a young man gets interested in the nearby creepy woods after being warned to stay out of them by his employer. An attempt to use the woods for a short cut scares him right back out of the woods, but this only hardens his resolve to not be afraid of them. He soon discovers that the woods hide many mysteries, and with the help of his employer’s daughter, he sets out to uncover the secrets of the woods.

This atmospheric mystery/thriller is in most ways an excellent film. The setting is vivid and is used effectively in many scenes. The characters have a lot of depth. The story itself is suspenseful, as one revelation after another is carefully revealed. However, the story also has a few weak points that keep this film from being a classic--but they are not enough to keep it from being worth seeing if you like old-fashioned mystery/thrillers.

Despite revolving around dark secrets and murders, this film is not violent, and hints at the violence rather than showing it in most cases. There are several scenes with passionate kissing. The teenagers in this film, both the good and the bad, tend towards the rebellious and reckless rather than the wise, though the good teenagers mainly succumb to this due to moments of bad writing and are less so in general.

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Biblical View of Music

I’ve been thinking a lot about music lately, and as I was exploring what the Bible has to say about it, I came across this passage:

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise Him. Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to Him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy. -- Psalm 33:1-3 (NIV)

I think we can learn just about every basic guideline for Christian music from this passage. It gives us at least eight principles to apply to our music:

1. Sing joyfully

Joy should fill our music, as we rejoice in the Lord, remembering His salvation and blessings. Music can also be used to portray other emotions. Sad songs of lamentation, love songs, war music, and many other types of music are recorded in the Bible.

2. To the Lord

Our goal in music, as in all of life, should be to glorify God. Whether this is with beautiful instrumental pieces, or songs that tell the truths of the Bible, we should always remember the One who gave us music and use it to serve Him.

3. You righteous

We, the saints, are to make music to the Lord. This can be done by composing it, performing it professionally, singing in a church, or many other ways. We can even make music to Him when we are alone with Him.

4. It is fitting for the upright to praise Him

Music that praises God is not just acceptable, but very good for us to make, and something we should not neglect. Few things are more beautiful than churches and lives of saints that are filled with heartfelt songs which exalt our Lord and King.

5. Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to Him on the ten-stringed lyre

We can use a variety of instruments to make music, which is elaborated on further in Psalm 150, where it lists all common types of instruments. From harps to electric guitars, from pianos to drums, we have a wide selection of ways to perform music.

6. Sing to Him a new song

In addition to the Psalms and songs in the Bible, we can write our own music, and we can be innovative in how we write it. Traditional and contemporary musical styles are equally capable of being used to write songs of praise, and neither type should be overlooked.

7. Play skillfully

We should seek to be skillful in our musical performances and compositions. From complex symphonic pieces to simple pop songs, from a masterful guitarist to a mom singing her child to sleep, we can never be perfect, but we can strive to do well.

8. And shout for joy

The Bible endorses lively music, the kind that leads to certain kinds of shouting and dancing, the same as it endorses more somber pieces that lead to contemplation. One kind of music is not more spiritual than the other. Each is good in its own way.

Music is one of the most wonderful gifts that God has given us, and it means a lot to me. If music means a lot to you, I hope that these guidelines are helpful to you as you explore the diversity of musical instruments and styles and use them to glorify God.

Do you agree with these guidelines? Can you find any other musical principles in the verses I quoted?