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  • Jeff Somers 3:15 pm on 2015/09/29 Permalink
    Tags: , george bernard shaw, , , , ogden nash, , the devil's dictionary, the lord of the rings, , wedding toasts,   

    9 Incredible Book Quotes to Include in Your Next Wedding Toast 

    The chances you will at some point in your life be called on to make a wedding toast—or, perhaps, will decide all on your own to drunkenly stand up and make an unscheduled wedding toast you were not called on to make—are pretty high. The shy, the gregarious, the loners: no matter what we do to avoid them, wedding toasts will find us all.

    Of course, the vast majority of wedding toasts border on, or at least dip into incoherency, rambling, and inappropriateness. So if you have a wedding toast in your future, don’t wing it: treat it like a job interview and do some prep work, because you will be judged based on your performance. One foolproof trick? Keep it classy with some ace literary quotes. Here are a few suggestions from our infinite library.

    For 100% Ugly Cry Sincerity: Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
    Want to ruin everyone’s makeup? Hit them with this gem from Bronte’s classic: “I have for the first time found what I can truly love—I have found you. You are my sympathy—my better self—my good angel—I am bound to you with a strong attachment. I think you good, gifted, lovely: a fervent, a solemn passion is conceived in my heart; it leans to you, draws you to my center and spring of life, wraps my existence about you—and, kindling in pure, powerful flame, fuses you and me in one.”

    To Establish Yourself as The Smartest Person in the Room: The Devil’s Dictionary, by Ambrose Bierce
    Feeling a bit saucy and need to establish intellectual supremacy over everyone in the room, including the happy couple? Bierce’s fierce sarcasm will do the trick: “Marriage: A community consisting of a master, a mistress, and two slaves—making in all, two.”

    For Total Nerd Domination: The Two Towers, by J.R.R. Tolkien
    If you’re a couple—or celebrating a couple—who has a closet designated for cosplay outfits and a wedding reception theme best described as a LARP, hit them with some serious Ent love: “When Winter comes, the winter wild that hill and wood shall slay; When trees shall fall and starless night devour the sunless day; When wind is in the deadly East, then in the bitter rain; I’ll look for thee, and call to thee; I’ll come to thee again!”

    For Harry Potter Cool Points: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling
    All you need to do is somehow work up a speech incorporating the concept of the Patronus, then offer a quote about a man who knew the true nature of love: Severus Snape. “From the tip of his wand burst the silver doe: She landed on the office floor, bounded once across the office, and soared out of the window. Dumbledore watched her fly away, and as her silvery glow faded he turned back to Snape, and his eyes were full of tears. ‛After all this time?’ ‛Always,’ said Snape.”

    For 100% Efficiency: Ogden Nash
    Called upon to make a toast and just want to get in and out as quickly as possible without making a fool of yourself? Nash, the master of the short, whimsical poem, solves your problem: “To keep your marriage brimming, with love in the wedding cup, whenever you’re wrong, admit it; whenever you’re right, shut up.”

    For that Timeless Romantic Vibe: Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
    If you think there’s a more romantic couple than Jamie and Claire from Gabaldon’s time travel series, you’re lying to yourself. When trying to come up with a romantic toast, what could be better than “Ye are Blood of my Blood, and Bone of my Bone, I give ye my Body, that we Two might be One. I give ye my Spirit, ’til our Life shall be Done.” No, you’re crying.

    For Affectionately Insulting the Groom: Murder in Mesopotamia, by Agatha Christie
    Christie was a fount of quotes about marriage, including this gem from one of her classic mystery novels, ideal for tweaking the groom: “Women can accept the fact that a man is a rotter, a swindler, a drug taker, a confirmed liar, and a general swine, without batting an eyelash, and without its impairing their affection for the brute in the least. Women are wonderful realists.” That round of applause you’re getting from the women is real.

    For When You’ve Just Burst in to Stop a Wedding: Man and Superman, by George Bernard Shaw
    Did you just race across town with the assistance of a zany group of friends in order to stop someone from making a huge mistake? George Bernard Shaw, as usual, has the ideal quote for you to use after you’ve ruined the ceremony: “Those who talk most about the blessings of marriage and the constancy of its vows are the very people who declare that if the chain were broken and the prisoners left free to choose, the whole social fabric would fly asunder. You cannot have the argument both ways. If the prisoner is happy, why lock him in? If he is not, why pretend that he is?”

    For Cracking Up the Entire Room: The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
    Want to bring the house down? Clink your glass, wait for total silence, and announce you’d like to share the very wise words of the very wise man the Archdean of Florin. Then take a deep breath and say “Mawidge is a dweam wiffin a dweam. The dweam of wuv wapped wiffin the gweater dweam of everwasting west. Eternity is our fwiend, wemember that, and wuv wiw fowwow you fowever.” Prepare to be carried out of the room by a cheering crowd.

     
  • Jeff Somers 3:15 pm on 2015/07/16 Permalink
    Tags: , close reading, , , , , the lord of the rings,   

    The Narnia Effect: Secret Religious Themes in Novels 

    By now just about everyone knows C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia has a lot of Christian themes; Lewis himself wasn’t exactly shy about his faith and its impact on his writing. Only people who read the books as kids, with no clue as to their background, are shocked to discover a magical lion who is the son of the “Emperor Over the Sea,” and who is killed in a ritual and then resurrected to set his kingdom right, is an allegory.

    However, what is often surprising is just how many other novels have secret (or at least infrequently discussed) religious themes. A novel, after all, is the product of someone’s imagination, and if that person is religious, or honestly interested in philosophical questions concerning existence, morality, and a higher power, those threads are going to weave themselves into their work. Here are five books that might surprise you with their secret (or not-so secret) religious themes.

    Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke
    On the one hand, much of the religious (chiefly Christian) imagery in Childhood’s End is very obvious—the Overlords, after all, resemble traditional devils and hail from a planet that is very hell-like. What some miss is that the whole story resembles the Christian concept of apocalypse: not only does the Antichrist swoop down to govern the world prior to the end of days, but the innocent and faithful (children) are then raised up and taken on to the next plane. The implication that these images and events have been broadcast backward in time somehow through our genetics means most of the world’s religions are based on future events—that sound you heard was your brain exploding.

    The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
    It’s interesting how many fans of Tolkien’s books are surprised to discover the fairly obvious Christian skeleton under the elvish skin of his classic epic; Tolkien himself wrote that “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.” Tolkien wrote a work of immense complexity and depth, and avoided obvious symbols, but the Catholic values are there: from the way the meek and the humble (i.e., hobbits) are the one who must save the world while the proud and the powerful are doomed to fail, to the implication that worshipping false idols (the One Ring, Saruman’s technological foibles) leads to desolation, to the use of resurrection as a way of achieving salvation—the themes are there. Tolkien’s genius was evident in how he incorporated them without bogging down the story.

    Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl
    The religious themes of this classic novel are obvious the moment you think about it: a powerful and mysterious figure who has grown unhappy with mankind and retreated inside his amazing factory invites several children and their families inside, where all are faced with various temptations that cause them to one by one break the rules and be punished in colorful and appropriate ways. The childrens’ sins are of the Seven Deadly variety (gluttony, pride, greed, etc.), but what really seals it is the fact that Charlie himself commits a sin (stealing) and is punished for it—until he demonstrates true remorse, at which point all is forgiven all and he’s named the winner of Wonka’s competition and (none too subtly) whisked up into the sky. While Dahl may not have intended this to be an overtly religious story (his struggles with his own faith after the death of his daughter are well documented), it fits the mould far too closely to be entirely accidental.

    The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
    Plenty of kids, having read this classic book for the first time, will be happy to tell you the titular garden is supposed to be the Garden of Eden—but while there is a link, that’s not the main religious theme hidden in the book. Few are aware that Burnett became a Christian Scientist in the early 1880s, and that these beliefs permeate the classic story of a hidden garden symbolizing the health and happiness of an entire family and estate. Not only does Mary Lennox begin to grow into a better and happier person when she begins setting the Secret Garden right after its decade of neglect, her cousin Colin is actually healed when his time in the garden drives out negative thoughts and fills him with strength—a very obvious theme considering Christian Scientists believe faith is the most powerful weapon in healing sickness or injury.

    The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling
    At first the Christian motifs in the Harry Potter books seemed fairly obvious and common, the sort that pop up everywhere by a kind of cultural osmosis: the chosen one designated to save the world, the evil one, that sort of thing. Then J.K. Rowling more or less came out and said that while she herself struggles with her faith, the Potter books are in fact filled with religious themes on purpose—most notably, perhaps, the concept that people can be saved by a loving sacrifice, as Harry is saved several times via the loving sacrifice of his parents.

    Any other books we should know about that include obvious religious themes?

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  • Jeff Somers 3:30 pm on 2015/07/09 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , the fellowship, , the inklings, the lord of the rings   

    4 Ways The Fellowship Shows Us Middle Earth and Narnia Are Two Sides of the Same Coin 

    For a reader only casually aware of “fantasy” works, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings might be lumped together as “Fantasy.” For those who are familiar with the books, however, they’re often placed on opposite sides of the fantasy spectrum, with Lewis’s books regarded as lightweight, overtly allegorical children’s books, and Tolkien’s epic viewed as ponderous and weighty, what with its constructed languages and deep field mythology.

    But if you read excellent new book The Fellowship, which explores the relationships between Tolkien, Lewis, and other writers as part of their informal group The Inklings, which met near the University of Oxford from the early 1930s until the late 1940s, you’ll understand Tolkien and Lewis had an immense influence on each other—and thus on each other’s creations. Once you understand the relationship between these two writers, it’s easy to see Narnia and Middle Earth are fundamentally linked. Here are five ways The Fellowship shows us Narnia and Middle Earth are cut from the same cloth.

    Both are Christian works
    The latent Christian themes and symbolism in the Narnia books has been discussed many times. Lewis came to his faith with difficulty; raised Protestant in Belfast, he was a troubled atheist when he met the Catholic Tolkien in the mid-1920s. Tolkien himself was instrumental in bringing Lewis back to Christianity, and he also influenced Lewis’ conception of allegory and symbolism. Like the Narnia books, The Lord of the Rings can be viewed as essentially Christian in its philosophy: from the long-awaited return of the King (the second coming) to Saruman’s fall that is essentially Lucifer’s failed rebellion, to Aslan as a Christ figure, both men imbued their most famous works with distinct—if obscured—Christian themes and symbols.

    Both draw on existing mythologies
    Lewis and Tolkien developed a deep friendship over the years, bonding over a shared love of old myths and a refutation of modernity—both preferred to read ancient works and both disdained many of the trappings of the modern world. Both the Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings take many of their elements from the ancient myths our culture is based on—often the same myths, leaving us with two magic horns that summon help, two sets of living trees that march as an army to defeat evil, and even two similar creation stories, as both worlds are sung into existence from a void.

    Both underscore the fragility of evil
    In both works, descriptions of evil are only superficially impressive and frightening. Sauron and the Ringwraiths, the White Witch or the god Tash are all initially creatures to be feared, but are eventually shown to be little more than our own frailties and weaknesses. Sauron’s power depends entirely on man’s vanity and quest for importance. Lewis’ ultimate evil—the evil that brings about the end of the world—is a talking ape dressed in a lion skin. Lewis and Tolkien were each other’s primary audience before they found publication, bouncing first drafts and ideas off of each other (and the other members of the Inklings), and their shared view of human nature is clear.

    The heroes are the small and the weak
    The Inklings was as much a social group of friends as it was a writing group, and they knew each other intimately—and did not always agree. Arguments and bitter disagreements weren’t uncommon, but both Tolkien and Lewis shared a fundamental belief that even the small and “unimportant” could have a positive and possibly transformative effect on the world. In both stories, it’s the weakest who triumph over the powerful: in Narnia, mice and children save the day. In Middle Earth, Hobbits make for the most unlikely heroes.

    The Inklings was one of the most erudite and talented groups of friends to ever gather in a local pub to drink, smoke, and discuss writing, religion, and everything else. We would not have the stories of Middle Earth or Narnia without this group—at least not in their final versions—and The Fellowship offers a deeply researched and detailed account of this most extraordinary gathering. When viewed through the lens of the most famous works produced by its members, we can glimpse the brilliance that gathered in Oxford nearly 80 years ago.

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  • Jeff Somers 5:00 pm on 2015/05/22 Permalink
    Tags: , , , kai bird, martin j. sherwin, , , , , the lord of the rings,   

    7 Books In Which Technology Goes Horribly Wrong 

    Anyone who has suffered a computer crash that deletes seven years’ worth of emails, photos, and Word docs knows technology doesn’t always work as planned. Sometimes our GPS steers us into a lake, sometimes we butt-dial exes, and sometimes the machines attain sentience and rise up to exterminate us. That’s the risk we take in exchange for being able to order sushi from anywhere.

    Some of the best novels ever written are based on the idea that technology not only can but will go wrong—and they’re not all science fiction, either. Here are seven novels exploring what might happen when technology betrays us.

    Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton
    It’s a tale as old as time: Man figures out how to clone dinosaurs, dinosaurs turn around and eat man. The idea that there are things mankind was not meant to investigate is an ancient one, that has served as the basis for horror novels since time immemorial. Jurassic Park updates this concept of forbidden knowledge and the rotten fruits it yields with the slick idea of cloning dinosaurs from residual DNA traces—with predictably horrific results. If only people would stop thinking cloning is merely incredibly creepy and realize it could also knock us all down a notch on the food chain.

    The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
    An odd choice, you say? That’s because you’re not paying attention. Sure, for the most part Tolkien’s masterpiece doesn’t have much to do with technology—unless you consider Saruman and his despoliation of Isengard, which is couched in clear technophobic terms. In short, Saruman the Many-Colored leaves behind the wisdom and power of his fellow Istari and begins industrializing, raping Isengard of resources, cutting down trees, and embracing technology. And it’s this embrace that leads to his downfall, as it angers the Ents and in ways large and small causes the series of events leading to Saruman’s death. The moral of this bit of the story? Ensure no immortal tree beings live nearby when you decide to salt the earth in your backyard.

    The Hunt for Red October, by Tom Clancy
    Sure, you could make the point that a nuclear submarine loaded with missiles and designed to be nearly invisible is actually working as intended when it comes very close to sparking World War III. But the genius of The Hunt for Red October is, in many ways, the fact that the technology at its center would not be nearly as “gone wrong” without the fears and desires of its human crew and the Americans trying to claim it. The motto of the book seems to be “nuclear submarines don’t kill people, people (in possession of nuclear submarines) kill people.”

    Reamde, by Neal Stephenson
    Software has given us so much: Angry Birds, cat videos, Britney Spears albums. So it’s easy to forget software isn’t magic, it’s technology, and technology that could so easily go wrong. In Reamde, Stephenson drops a computer virus into a virtual world and lets the ripples extend into the real one, leaving death, property damage, and awesome gunfights in its wake. Considering the story delves deeply into an imaginary massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) that helps spread the virus, this is actually a case of two technologies gone wrong.

    Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace
    The Entertainment is the ultimate betrayal. As Homer Simpson once said of television (and by implication, all entertainment), it’s our teacher, mother, and secret lover—so the idea of an entertainment so perfectly constructed people would gladly cut off their own fingers (or, if possible, someone else’s fingers) in order to watch it just once more cuts to the core of our streaming, downloading, and always-entertained society. If entertainment itself turns against us, we’re doomed.

    The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
    For a lot of people, the idea of immortality is exciting stuff. Except when it means you’re actually dead, and cancerous cells taken from your body without your consent live on forever as invaluable material for laboratories around the world. The story of the Lacks family’s pursuit of justice after discovering the ongoing use of Henrietta Lacks’ immortal cells is a stark reminder that even the technology we rely on to keep us alive and healthy can be turned against us—even after we’re gone.

    American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin
    If you want to talk about technology gone wrong, you can’t avoid the atomic bomb, as there are very few ways for technology to go more wrong than the potential end of the world. It’s the worst-case scenario of the fundamental forces of our universe being used not to feed the hungry, or to build incredible things, but to destroy in one tiny sunburst of energy. Again, it took human intention to turn this technology against us, and this incredibly rich and thoughtful biography of the man who led the way and his regrets and reactions to the consequences of his research puts a serious spin on an idea that’s usually exciting and fun in tension-filled thrillers.

     
  • Nicole Hill 3:30 pm on 2014/12/29 Permalink
    Tags: , , , charlotte's web, , , , , , , , minerva mcgonagall, , , , , the lord of the rings, ,   

    9 Characters We Resolve to Be More Like in 2015 

    Ms. FrizzleConsidering the sheer quantity of baked goods that has traveled coast to coast this holiday season, it would be easy to peg weight loss or fitness as a New Year’s resolution. But let’s be real: same story, different chapter. You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darlings. In fact, you can easily draw inspiration from some literary favorites. Here are but a few of the characters we resolve to be more like in 2015.

    Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee)
    As S Club 7 once said, “Reach for the stars.” Discounting the biblical, there are few more wholly, purely good characters than Atticus. The saintly Maycomb lawyer doesn’t let his children, Scout and Jem, backslide, and holds himself to an equally high standard, in more ways than just his heroic representation of Tom Robinson. For 2015, a nice mantra would be Atticus’s wise words: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

    Minerva McGonagall (Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling)
    Minerva McGonagall takes no ish, and she is glorious. Our resolution to act more like Atticus Finch does not extend to dealing with the likes of Dolores Umbridge, who is so artfully treated to McGonagall’s pitch-perfect passive (and outright) aggression: “May I offer you a cough drop, Dolores?” She is as skilled at transfiguration as she is at zingers: “I generally do not permit people to talk when I am talking.” She is wise: “Well, I’m glad you listen to Hermione Granger, at any rate.” And though she’s a strict disciplinarian, she knows how to let her hair down: see Ball, Yule. Basically, she’s perfect.

    Elrond Half-elven (The Lord of the Rings, et al, by J.R.R. Tolkien)
    The saga of Middle-earth could very well have been called Elrond and the Unending Parade of Undesired Houseguests. And he is nothing if not an obliging host, even when Boromir gets sassy at his Council or when a gaggle of hobbits are eating him out of his Last Homely House. Maybe that sense of patience and hospitality comes with being 6,000 years old, or maybe he’s got access to something better than Old Toby. However the Lord of Rivendell does it, his elvish flexibility is something to emulate.

    Arthur Dent (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, by Douglas Adams)
    Acting like Arthur Dent is a wonderful resolution simply because it seems so achievable. An ordinary (if civic-minded) man is thrust into the middle of repeated intergalactic hijinks and, if somewhat grumpily, rises to the challenge and adapts. The man just wants a cup of tea in his own house, and instead he winds up on a cross-galactic joyride to hell with history’s most dysfunctional Scooby gang (former crush, not-human-after-all best friend, manic two-headed despot, depressed robot, and all). Of course he’s a bit irritable. But overall, he handles the time-traveling, planet-exploding, and temporal-state-shifting with poise. So by Magrathea, you can make it through whatever obstacles are thrown at you.

    Hodor (A Song of Ice and Fire series, by George R.R. Martin)
    Gentle giant Hodor is, I’d wager, the most overall contented person in Westeros. I grant you, this is not a high bar to set, but that should not diminish Hodor’s loyalty, genial nature, or empathy. Bran is not always a peach to serve, but Hodor never treats the little lordling like a royal pain in the Hodor. He just keeps on plugging. He is a national treasure of endurance and goodwill.

    Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen)
    A modern woman way ahead of her restrictive time, Lizzy has a lot to teach us about being comfortable in your own skin. Unlike others around her *coughLydiacough*, Elizabeth is sharp as a tack with a quicker sense of humor and suffers little in the way of foolishness. She’s not perfect (sometimes being headstrong can be a flaw), but she’s an attainable version of confidence and clarity, which is apparently catnip to swoony country gentry.

    Templeton (Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White)
    Charlotte gets all the (admittedly, deserved) praise, but the rat is admirable in his own “carpe diem” sort of way. Life is too short, so eat the danged cake…and the cheese, and the grapes, and the corn dogs, and the whole watermelons…

    The Lorax (The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss)
    Unlike that masochistic martyr The Giving Tree, this voice of the woodlands sets nothing but a healthy example. A tree-hugger with a fabulous mustache, the Lorax is a portrait of stewardship and activism. It should be everyone’s goal this year to plant a Truffula Tree and watch it grow.

    Ms. Frizzle (The Magic School Bus series, by Joanna Cole)
    Because sometimes the hardest lesson to learn is how maintain your joie de vivre. Look to Valerie Frizzle, the world’s most reckless and popular science teacher, when you need some inspiration to make each and every day fun and educational. Forget the waivers and safety training—just dive right into life.

     
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