Friday, February 21, 2014

Book Review: Descent Into Hell by Charles Williams

The Story: On a hill where the world of the living sometimes intersects with the world of the dead, a variety of people are brought together to put on a play written by a famous poet. As the living people struggle to face the spiritual realities of this world and the next, a dead man searches for salvation after his suicide, and an unusual woman who’s perhaps not human tries to seduce people to the way of death.

My Thoughts: As you probably guessed from the synopsis, this is a weird book. It is possibly the most bizarre book I’ve ever read, and I’m no stranger to weird fiction. Pretty much every chapter includes multiple lengthy rambles that are filled with odd ideas and references to literature. Characters frequently have incredibly unusual conversations with each other, and yet none of them ever seems to notice how unusual what they are saying is. While it was sometimes fascinating to read, much of the time it was tedious, and had this not been a fairly short novel, I probably wouldn’t have pressed on to the end. The plot is minimal, and basically holds together a series of related scenes.

I did end up enjoying some aspects of the novel. Aside from the unconventional hero and heroine, the best part was the brilliantly-written subplot of a man who comes to possess an inhuman replica of the woman he is obsessed with, only to be driven mad by this unnatural possession. If that subplot had been cut out and made into a short story, it would have been an excellent cautionary horror tale, but scattered as it was throughout the book, it just kept me from growing entirely bored. While I found this novel worth reading in order to experience Charles Williams’ unique writing style, it did not inspire me to want to read any of his other works.

Content Overview: There is little violence, but horror imagery and scary scenes are in abundance. While I don’t remember any foul language, there may be one or two mild instances. Sexual subjects come up in a few places, but are tactful enough that they won't bother most adult readers.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Movie Review: Castle in the Sky

The Story: When a young mining engineer sees an unconscious girl floating down from the sky, he puts her under his protection, and wonders what power she holds. Meanwhile, government agents and sky pirates are searching for her. Both groups want the crystal heirloom that she has, for it can guide them to a lost and mysterious city in the sky, a city that once ruled the earth and that contains incredible power.

My Thoughts: This is possibly the greatest animated movie in the history of filmmaking. The beautiful traditional animation has a greater fairy tale quality than most computer animation, and director Hayao Miyazaki uses the art style skillfully to craft the best film in his legendary career. Unique settings nearly pop out of the screen, from an apparently post-apocalyptic steampunk earth to the spectacular floating castle of the title.

The characters who inhabit this film are just as memorable as the animation and settings, from a kind-hearted princess to sky pirates to a ruthless government agent who hides his true identity. Some aspects of the story, particularly the ending, felt a bit too ambiguous in some ways, and this kept the film from achieving its full potential, but the story is well-written overall. Had the minor story flaws been fixed, this might have been my favorite film of all time. It’s still high on the list of my favorite movies, and it’s so good that I highly recommend it to anyone, not just fans of animated films.

Content Overview: There’s quite a bit of mild violence and intensity. The only notable concerns involve some briefly expressed problematic ideas, such as a pagan view of the earth.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

What Story Would You Tell To Jesus?

A long time ago, before storytellers had easy access to pen, paper, and computers, most storytellers spoke their stories. Jesus, for example, told parables to crowds of people, which meant He was physically present with every story.

Modern writers appear to have lost this connection between storytelling and speaking. It is as if we have come to see stories as separate entities that are detached from us and come to life through words on a page. I think this can cause moral confusion.

Writers occasionally have questions such as: Is the violence in this action story too graphic? Should I put foul language in the mouths of the villains? How far should I go with sexual content? And so on.

It seems to me that these questions are a lot easier to answer if we understand that our stories are a part of us. The words on the pages have to be spoken by us, through a pen or keyboard, the same as if they came out of our mouths. This does not mean, however, that our stories must avoid dark or adult subjects.

Jesus told a lot of sweet stories, including one about a kind shepherd caring for his lambs and another about a woman who found her lost coin. Yet He also told stories involving murderers (Matthew 21:33-46), prostitution (Luke 15:11-32), and a man tormented in hell (Luke 16:19-31).

A story involving murder can be just as wholesome as a story about a kind shepherd caring for his lambs. What matters is the specific way we tell a story. Every word should be tested to see if it is worthy of the standards of wisdom, purity, and excellence that God expects of us.

Imagine Jesus coming to you and asking you to tell Him a story out loud. How would you tell it? Would you describe the gory details of violence? Would you say foul language while speaking bad guy dialogue? Would you talk about sexually explicit things?

These would not be questions we could take lightly if Jesus was sitting in front of us as we spoke, His eyes fixed on us expectantly, and His ears waiting to hear us use the storytelling gift that He gave us.

Actually, for all Christians, Jesus is sitting in front of us every time we write, listening to us tell story the same as if we were speaking it out loud to Him. What story are you going to tell to Him? Answering this question and those related to it, and seeing storytelling in light of our answers, should greatly help us have moral clarity as we write.

What are your answers? Do you think your answers will cause you to look differently at some aspects of your writing?