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Winter’s Tale: A Short Movie Review

I read the novel Winter’s Tale, by Mark Helprin, many years ago when I was a much younger man. While I don’t remember a whole lot about its plot or characters, I do remember the wonderful language Helprin used to describe incredible, fantastic scenes from New York at the turn of the 19th century. It was a beautiful novel and I hope to read it again someday. But until I do, there is a great film based on the novel that I highly recommend.

Winter’s Tale, the film, captures much of the magic of the book. At least of what I can remember of it. The story itself is a sort of romantic fantasy, philosophical musing on the battle of dark versus light, with a bit of C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters thrown in. A thief, Peter Lake, breaks into a New York mansion in order to rob it and comes face to face with a woman who is his reason for being. Or so he thinks. Lake is also being pursued by an evil crime boss, Pearly, who also happens to be a demon, giving new meaning to the phrase “criminal underworld.” Fortunately, Peter has divine assistance in the form of a white horse that can fly. Peter thinks his purpose is to save his love, Beverly, from his demon enemy. Of course it isn’t really that simple. As the story careens from the 19th to the 20th and, finally, to the 21st century, we see with Peter, and Pearly, that Providence isn’t always what we believe it is.

A wonderful cast includes Colin Farrell as Peter, Russell Crowe as the demon Pearly and Will Smith as Lucifer (yes, really.) Though a bit slow moving at times, the visual beauty of New York in winter and the great writing and acting will more than repay your attention for the nearly 2-hour running time. Rated PG-13, the film is about the story and not about sex or violence, which makes it refreshing. There are a few frightening parts, so keep the very young ones away. They wouldn’t understand the themes explored anyway.

For those who love good books and films based on them, I highly recommend Winter’s Tale, the film.

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2014 in Movie Review

 

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Little House in the Homeschool

Those of you who have read this blog over the past year or so know that I am a big fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie” Little House Booksseries of books. So naturally when I came across this offer I just had to share it with any of you who might be interested.

It’s from a homeschooling website and it’s full of free resources to use in your own homeschooling program based on the Little House books, including free printables and unit studies. So click here and check out these great materials to help your young ones learn and soak in the true spirit of pioneer America.

Enjoy!

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2014 in Children's Books, Uncategorized

 

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Well, Look What We Have Here!

My wife’s been gone this past week, visiting family back in Wisconsin. So, what’s an old book junkie going to do to pass the time but go book hunting at his favorite thrift stores and library book sales? Not too predictable, am I?

I won’t go into all the books I came up with, but I will brag about my favorite find of the week. Resting inconspicuously on the bottom shelf of the religion section at the Prescott Public Library was the complete two-volume set titled “The Gifts of the Child Christ: Fairy Tales and Stories for The Childlike,” by George Mac Donald, edited by Glenn Edward Sadler. It’s a collection of the shorter fairy tales and stories by this famous author who influenced such writers as C.S.Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Williams. It was originally published in 1973 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., and the two-volume set cost $7.95 at the time. Can you imagine that? I’d hate to see what it would cost today!

I’d post a photo, but my wife has the camera. I’ll try to get a pic up here soon.

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2014 in Authors, Book Hunting, Libraries, Old Books

 

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The Dark is Rising

The Dark is Rising is the second novel in Susan Cooper’s five book The Dark is Rising sequence. After the almost leisurely adventure in Over

This is the second book of a five book sequence.

This is the second book of a five book sequence.

Sea, Under Stone, Ms Cooper kicks the conflict between the Light and the Dark into high gear in this book.

Instead of a seaside village in Cornwall, this tale begins in the English countryside at the home of a large family, the Stantons. A real large family. Mom, Dad, seven boys and three girls. The story centers on the youngest, Will, who is about to turn eleven, three days before Christmas. But he won’t just be turning eleven. He will be coming of age, so to speak, as an Old One. Actually, Will is the last of the Old Ones.

Helping him in this endeavor is the one character from the first book to appear here; Merriman Lyon, AKA Great-Uncle Merry to Barney, Jane and Simon. If you’ve read the first book, you know Merriman is far from ordinary, and he makes no pretense of being some distant relative or family friend here. Will gets to know him as he really is, an Old One of exceptional power. Indeed, Merriman is a wizard of Gandalf-like stature, sharing many of the Tolkien character’s mannerisms, habits and speaking patterns. It’s hard not to think that Ms Cooper patterned Merriman on Gandalf. But, of course, he is not. He is the appearance of perhaps the most famous wizard of western lore: Merlin. Cooper never comes right out and tells us this, though she came close at the end of Over Sea, Under Stone.

Will’s becoming an Old One involves a large amount of learning and, naturally, a quest. The quest here is for a set of six signs of power that must be brought together, or “joined.” The signs are circles quartered by a cross and are made of wood, bronze, iron, water, fire and stone, respectively. Oh, and not all of them are present in Will’s own time. The Dark must prevent Will from gathering these signs, for they have the power to stop the Dark from ascending to dominate the world.

The plot in The Dark is Rising moves forward briskly, with nicely placed twists and turns. Along the way, Cooper exposes young minds to some important ideas, including the notion that humans are free to choose between good and evil, the nature of time and history, and the cleverness of the Dark in using people’s good emotions to accomplish evil. Even better, in this book the author sets loose the forces of magic to wonderful effect. Unlike some modern fantasy authors, Ms Cooper has respect for the magic and doesn’t use it as a sideshow. It is integral to the story she is telling. And it’s a good thing that Merriman and Will have some powerful magic available to them because in The Dark is Rising, the forces of the Dark are immensely more ominous and threatening than in the first book. In fact, as book races to its finish the sense of evil’s relentlessness is conveyed very effectively.

While this book is a good read on its own, it’s clear that Ms Cooper is still putting things in place for the rest of the series. I’m looking forward to seeing where she goes with it. Next up, Greenwitch.

__________

Here are some reasons I consider this one of the “good stories:”

          – Positive depiction of a large family and its interactions.

          – Accurate portrayal of Anglican church service. Church shown as positive aspect of family life.

          – Examines serious and important ideas about life, including free will, and the nature of good and evil.

          – Imparts a sense of wonder about the world.

          – Shows the virtues of hope and faith in the face of dire circumstances.

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2014 in Book Review, Children's Books, What I'm Reading

 

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A Quick Question

Two years ago I wrote a two-part review of a book by William Manchester called “A World Lit Only By Fire.” The book was a wonderfully written history of the early middle-ages and beyond. I enjoyed it so much that I had to write a long, two-part review. It got a fairly good response and I was happy at that. But over the past year or so, I’ve noticed that I’m getting a huge number of hits on those reviews. For example, over the past week “A World Lit Only By Fire, Part 1″ has had 177 views, and Part 2 has had 132 views.

So, what’s going on here?

Is there a history class out there that’s using my posts for study aids? Don’t get me wrong, I’m fine with that. Flattered even. I’m just real curious about the who and what and why, etc. So, if any of you viewers have a spare moment please drop me a comment and let me know where all the views are coming from.

And thanks!

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2014 in History, Uncategorized

 

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Another Wardrobe, A New Adventure

If you’ve read my previous post, you know that I’ve begun reading a new fantasy series called The Dark is Rising Sequence, written by Susan Over Sea, Under StoneCooper. The sequence consists of five books: “Over Sea, Under Stone,” “The Dark is Rising,” “Greenwitch,” “The Grey King,” and “Silver on the Tree.” The first book was published in 1965 and the last in 1977. So many fantasy book publishers these days try to claim their novels are in the tradition of Tolkien, but this lady is the real deal, having gone to Oxford and attended lectures by both Tolkien and Lewis.

“Over Sea, Under Stone,” starts out with a well-paid homage to C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” Barney, Jane and Simon Drew arrive in the quaint seaside village of Trewissick, in Cornwall, for a vacation with their parents. The highlight for them isn’t so much the location but the person who’ll be staying with them: their Great-Uncle Merry. “Gumerry,” as they affectionately call him, has arranged for them to stay in a sea captain’s residence called the Grey House, a tall, dark-grey structure high on a steep hill overlooking the harbor. The day after they arrive it begins to rain and the children are, of course, bored. They decide to play at explorers and explore the house. Beginning to sound a tad familiar? In the boys’ bedroom there’s an alcove with a wardrobe in it. No, they don’t open it and crawl in. They pull it away from the wall and find a hidden door covered in dust. Behind the door there’s a stairway that leads up into the attic and to their adventure.

Nicely done, Ms. Cooper.

While the children don’t wind up in a parallel world such as Narnia, they do find that the world they live in has changed unalterably. In the attic, they find some kind of ancient map or chart with strange writing, Latin perhaps, on it. Simon, the oldest, claims it is a treasure map, but Barney, the youngest (and perhaps the smartest!) points out it’s not so much a map as a puzzle with lots of clues to be deciphered. And the challenge begins! Not just to find the treasure – and what a treasure! – but to keep this ancient document out of the hands of others who want it also.

It turns out that Great-Uncle Merry has been looking for it too. But that’s alright. He is, after all, one of the good guys. The rest of the players the kids encounter? Well, that’s part of the fun of this novel. Trying to figure out who the bad ones are. Some are obvious, some are not. But the kids have to weave their way around these characters on their quest to figure out what and where their treasure is. They are helped along by Great-Uncle Merry, who isn’t their uncle at all but a family friend of long-standing. The most intriguing character in this novel, Merry’s full name is Merriman Lyon and he’s described as being “old as the hills.” He’s also quite striking: “He was tall, and straight, with a lot of very thick, wild, white hair. In his grim brown face the nose curved fiercely, like a bent bow, and the eyes were deep-set and dark.” He helps the children by talking with them and pointing them in the right direction, but doesn’t always accompany them in their exploits. In fact, he tends to wander off periodically to see to other matters. Kind of like another tall, white-haired character we know from Middle-Earth. No, it’s not really him. A distant cousin, maybe.

Cooper has a real talent for letting us see things through the children’s eyes. As they put the clues together and grow bolder in their searching, their confidence grows. There are encounters with the dark forces, but Cooper shows us that evil doesn’t always display itself in overtly threatening ways. We also never know exactly what the ultimate goal of the dark is, which actually adds to the sense of mystery. There are touches of the supernatural in the story, but the author is wise enough to keep it brief and not overwhelming. The centerpiece of the story is the children’s quest, not someone’s magical powers. Indeed, Barney, Jane and Simon use their own wits and moxy to attain their goal. And courage. In the final chapter, Barney and Simon have theirs seriously tested in a harrowing sequence in a cave beneath some cliffs facing the sea. With the tide coming in. And matches running out. And . . . well, you’re just going to have to read this yourself.

It won’t be a spoiler to tell you that the Drew kids are successful in their quest. They find the treasure before the bad guys, but the bad guys aren’t defeated either. They disappear with the implied promise of return. But hasn’t that been the pattern for millenia? There’s also a nice surprise at the end, though perhaps not a big one for astute readers. The big surprise for me is that a story showing young people using their minds and courage to face up to evil and coming out on top isn’t more widely read.

______

As a guide, here are a few reasons I consider this one of the “good stories” for young people:

          – It shows young people using their brains and taking the initiative to solve problems.

          – It displays the virtue of courage.

          – It acknowledges the existence of evil and the need to oppose it.

          – Clever plot and likable characters.

          – Introduces young ones to aspects of the Arthurian legend and some of its themes.

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2014 in Book Review

 

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Was Lost, But Now . . .

OK. I haven’t been writing much lately. Actually, I haven’t been writing anything lately. At least not here. I’ve written a couple of articles for my

This is the second book of a five book sequence.

This is the second book of a five book sequence.

church’s monthly bulletin, but that’s about it. Why? To be honest, I don’t really know. I guess you could call it a dry spell. I’ve been told writers get those periodically. Of course, I’m being generous considering myself a writer.

At any rate, I’ve felt a need for some new direction or purpose in this blog. That last quote I posted back in May has been rolling around in my mind. We definitely need to be more aware of what we put in our heads, especially the stories we consume. Naturally, I’m referring to the books we read, but I could just as well mean the stories we watch on TV or at the movies. The key word is “stories.” We need, all of us, to be telling ourselves better stories. And if this is true for us adults, it is even more critical that we make sure our children are hearing and seeing good stories.

Part of what has brought this into sharper focus for me is a new fantasy series I’ve started reading. It’s called “The Dark is Rising” sequence, by Susan Cooper. There are five books in the sequence; “Over Sea, Under Stone,” “The Dark is Rising,” “Greenwitch,” “The Grey King,” and “Silver on the Tree.” What makes this series of particular interest is the author and her background. You can read a nice article and interview with Ms. Cooper here, but let me just give you an appetizer. She went to Oxford where she attended lectures by J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Then she worked at The Sunday Times of London where her editor was another author you may have heard of: Ian Fleming. Yes, she has the qualifications.

She also has the right story. But I’ll let Great-Uncle Merry explain that to you:

“You remember the fairy stories you were told when you were very small – ‘once upon a time . . . ‘ Why do you think they always began like that?”

Jane said, . . . “Because perhaps they were true once, but nobody could remember when.”

Great-Uncle Merry turned his head and smiled at her.

“That’s right. Once upon a time . . . a long time ago . . . things that happened once, perhaps, but have been talked about for so long that nobody really knows. And underneath all the bits that people have added, the magic swords and lamps, they’re all about one thing – the good hero fighting the giant, or the witch, or the wicked uncle. Good against bad. Good against evil.”

And these stories about good against evil are still the great ones, the ones that resonate inside our hearts and minds. The reason for this is pretty simple. To quote Great-Uncle Merry once again, “That struggle goes on all round us all the time, like two armies fighting.” Though today it can be more subtle than a knight battling a dragon, it is there none the less. We are stirred because these stories remind us there are still great things to fight for. This is something all of us need to remember in today’s secular world where the line between good and evil is constantly blurred by the pernicious idea of relativism. Yes, ideas can be evil too. And there are a lot of them out there these days.

Dean Koontz wrote in one of his books that one can spend a lifetime fighting bad ideas. This is so true, and it’s a battle all of us can and should take part in. As for me, I think I will wage my campaign by promoting the good stories, both the great classics and the newer ones that hit the mark. Let’s all of us start reading and hearing and seeing the good stories again. It will take a conscious effort, because it is so easy just to settle for what is put out by today’s culture and media. But it will be worth it.

I plan to start by reviewing the first book of The Dark is Rising sequence, “Over Sea, Under Stone,” by Susan Cooper. And, yes, I promise it won’t take me another three months!

 

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2014 in Children's Books, What I'm Reading, Worries

 

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