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A Study In Comparative Fantasy

I’m halfway  to the Dark Tower, at the hub of all possible worlds.   If you look at the architecture of Stephen King’s epic series, I am almost exactly halfway, having just now started the fifth volume in the series, The Wolves Of The Calla.  Two volumes I have read deal in backstory; Wizard And Glass was almost entirely the story of Roland Deschain’s first years as a Gunslinger in the outer barony of Meijis and of his first love affair with the tragic Susan Delgado.  The other volume was The Wind Through The Keyhole, a volume written by Mr. King and published last year, which was meant to “fill a gap” between the ending of Wizard And Glass and the beginning of The Wolves Of The Calla.  The Wind Through The Keyhole is actually two stories nested inside each other like a wooden Russian babushka doll, which Roland tells as a single tale on the grandfather of all dark and stormy nights.   Since Keyhole doesn’t advance the narrative of Roland’s ka-tet at all, I feel justified in saying I am still halfway to the Tower, despite having read more than 2/3 of the material in the series.

Comparing Stephen King’s Dark Tower series to another modern fantasy which I re-read before taking up the thread of Roland’s story again, I find that the Dark Tower series compares very favorably to The Lord Of The Rings.  There are some superficial similarities.  Both series deal with an epic Quest; that of Frodo to dispose of the Ring Of Power and that of Roland to reach the Dark Tower.  Both series introduce a sworn brotherhood;  The Fellowship of the Ring and Roland’s Ka-Tet.  Finally, although I seldom see this commented on, invented language plays an important role in both series.  Tolkien’s Elvish languages, of course, form the backbone of his mythopoetic work.  Indeed, Tolkien himself claimed that he invented the elves and Middle Earth so that he would have speakers for his invented languages and a place for them to be spoken.  Stephen King, being a professional writer instead of a professor of Anglo-Saxon, uses a subtler device.   The High Speech hasn’t greatly factored into the first four books, but it appears to have an ancient Egyptian/Phoenician flavor to it.  The Low Speech, the Westron  of Mid-World, is English, but with very subtle differences.   Listening to The Waste Land and Wizard And Glass after having read them in book form, you get something of the flavor of the Low Speech.  There are words that you have to learn by context, such as “cullie“, “jilly” and “roont“.  There are repeated tag-sentences, “so I do”, “ken thee?”.  There is the non-grammatical use of the pre-Caroline English pronoun  thee, differing from the customary King James usage.  All of these, and the use of stock phrases such as “set your watch and warrant by it”, or,  “forget the face of your father”, set a linguistic tone for the series and with great economy underscore the alienness of Mid World.

For Mid-World is not a nice place.  Indeed, throughout the whole of the Tower books so far, I can almost hear Gollum hissing in the background – “We’re not in decent places”.  Mid-world has “moved on”.  Things have changed.  The relationship between men and Creation has altered deeply, and the change has not been for the better.  Time has, in the opinion of Eddie Dean, one of Roland’s companions, “gone on vacation”.  A day may be fifty hours long, or it may stop altogether, or it may fly at a furious pace.   Indeed, all of Roland’s companions have been gathered from New York, our New York, the New York of Robert Wagner, of Abraham Beame, and of Edward Koch respectively, but they are contemporaries in Mid-World.  Causality is iffy.  Things that produced a particular effect at one time may not at another time, for no apparent reason.  Directions have become unhinged, and a moon that rises in the east one night may wobble over to the southeast the next.  We are told that the Gunslinger’s world has “moved on”, but the direction it has taken is not an improvement.

Middle Earth, by comparison, is a stable place.  Even though its wars and rebellions have altered the coastlines and the continents, the fabric of space and time remains the same.  Actually, that isn’t entirely true.   The Valar and their charges removed themselves entirely from Arda (the created universe in which Middle-Earth exists), and hence are no longer directly accessible to the inhabitants, be they Men or Dwarves or stubborn Elves who continue to refuse the summons back to Aman.  Since there is a renegade Maia loose in Middle-Earth, this absence of the Valar forces the inhabitants thereof back onto their own resources.  Sauron, the antagonist of  The Lord Of The Rings, never appears directly in the narrative, and indeed is seldom referred to by name.   He has slaves to do his bidding, and his bidding appears to be entirely ruin and blasting.

The central metaphor for evil in The Lord Of The Rings is that of barrenness.  Mordor is a dead land.  Nothing grows there, or at least in the ash-choked Plain of Gorgoroth surrounding both the Dark Tower and Mount Doom, although we are assured that to the south, around the sad shores of Lake Nurnen, there are immense farms tended to by slaves, a prophecy of the industrial agriculture that “feeds” (or fattens) our nation.  Samwise, under the influence of the Ring, faces this temptation and masters it:

“The one small garden of a free gardener was all his need and due, not a garden swollen to a realm; his own hands to use, not the hands of others to command.”

There is a sense in which there are two antagonists in The Lord Of The Rings, Sauron and the Ring.  Sauron represents the Manichean, external aspect of Evil, the kind of evil you can, and must, resist with swords, bows, and valor.  The evil of Sauron is something that would destroy everything “that you hold dear on this green earth”, but unaided, it cannot destroy the soul.  It is the resistance, finally, of Aragorn and what remains of the West that allows Frodo and Sam to triumph, albeit imperfectly, over the Augustininan, internal aspect of Evil, represented by the Ring.  The Ring speaks to that inner voice inside all of us that if only we could have things Our Own Way, whether by persuasion or coercion, that we could put Things to Right.   Alas, it would begin that way, as Galadriel said, but in the end, the corruption of the Ring, which is the corruption of our own hearts, must be overcome by a different, but no less necessary, kind of valor; that of renunciation, self-denial, and voluntary suffering on behalf of others.

I believe that it is because we lost the struggle outlined in the Lord Of The Rings that we find ourselves, a generation and change later,  in the situation of the Dark Tower books.  Evil in King’s created universe is much more consistent than that in Tolkien’s world.  The Crimson King, the antagonist of the Dark Tower books and the Sauron of Mid-World (he even has the sigil of a single red eye) goes beyond the Maia’s hatred of the organic,  yearning for the predictability and order of  the mineral.  The Crimson King hates the very idea of order and predictability, or reason and morality.   Significantly, he is represented as the offspring of Arthur Eld and a demoness of the primordial Chaos, out of which Gan (God) erected the Dark Tower and the beams of the multiverse, and which Arthur Eld and his descendants the Gunslingers swore to uphold.  The Crimson King, like the Joker in the film The Dark Knight, just wants to see Creation burn.  Inevitably, he hates himself as well, since he reflects the order of Creation within himself.  His desire for destruction includes a desire for self-destruction.  The Crimson King is, of course, barking mad.

One of the criticisms I have of modern horror fiction is that is hard for moderns to grasp the essence of evil.   When you have no absolute values, nothing is ultimately at risk.   Most threats in film or literature deal with the loss of Stuff or of social standing, which is scarifying enough for fragile egos in an increasingly turbulent world.  Failing this, one of the most time honored ploys in horror literature is to put either children or the virginal Good Girl at risk.  But the threat is always either death or dismemberment, bad enough in itself but not ontologically threatening.  However, there is a disturbing undercurrent that one of the worst things that can happen to you is to be Found Out.  Fear not him who can kill the body and all that.   The scariest movie of all the time, The Exorcist, came close by showing its viewers a universe where good was evil, order was chaos, white was black, and worse, by telling its viewers that this is what they secretly wished for as well.

To me, true Evil is a mystery.  It is a no-thing, even less than the vacuums between stars that nevertheless pulses with energies.  I guess the closest metaphor I could invoke would be that of the Singularity, the Black Hole, a metaphor that could not have been available to Dante or Bram Stoker.  Something that wants to draw all creation to itself and to unite all distinctions, isolate all similarities, reducing all things to the primeaval chaos; confusing, changing, dividing, and separating all things in an infinite falling from which no escape is possible.

Stand true.  All things serve the Beam.

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Due to a change in my external circumstances, and the necessity of two hour commute (both ways) daily, I have been glutting myself on imaginative literature in the past few months.  There is a wealth of good stuff on audio, and it is a very good way to ‘catch up on your reading’, if you define reading loosely enough.  Since the commute began, I have been fortunate to acquaint and re-acquaint myself with some of the great names in imaginative literature; JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, George Macdonald, Ursula LeGuin, Stephen King, Tim Powers, ER Eddison, Jack Vance, and many others too numerous to mention.  In a way, it has been kind of an exercise in “comparative fantasy”.

One of the most frequent objections to fantasy literature is that it lacks ‘depth’, that fantasy literature is an endless repetition of a “good vs evil” theme that resurfaces in book after book, series after series.  Usually, the critics blame Tolkien.  The contrast between Good and Evil that Tolkien traces in his epics are as sharp as shadows on the moon. It is not nuanced enough to reflect the “real world”.  Then, to hear some people talk, all writers of fantasy literature written since The Lord Of The Rings have slavishly followed Tolkien down the path of rewriting Paradise Lost according to their own moral vision.

The critics are wrong.  Prior to Tolkien, fantasy literature, what there was of it, was strangely amoral.  James Cabell’s Jurgen was a flighty rascal.  Dunsany’s little fables were as likely to celebrate hashish eating as martial courage.  Mirlee’s Lud-In-The-Mist incarnated no Manichaean vision of good and evil.  The resolution of her tale was a satisfying Hegelian synthesis between the quotidian comfort preferred by her Whig protagonists and the whimsy of the Jacobite fairie folk they so disdained   E.R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros was thoroughly aristocratic both in tone and aspect, a sort of a High-Tory-on-LSD ‘romaunce’, peopled by proud-speaking haughty grandees entirely dismissive of the pettier sort of folk and their concerns. There was no room for hobbits in Ouroboros.  Indeed, inasmuch as fantasy literature dealt with Good and Evil at all, it was to offer an escape from the stultifying decayed-Evangelicalism public morality of the day into an earlier, more permissive world.

Tolkien’s great achievement was the creation of a morally consistant parallel world.  To me, the single brilliant imagining of the race of hobbits brings his re-creation of the Good into sharp focus.   The hobbits are good, almost Pelagian, although some of them can be better than others.  There are individual hobbits that appear “spoiled” (or ‘bent’ to borrow from Lewis’ mythology), such as the Sackville-Bagginses or the Sandymans.   These two families, however, were introduced as foils for the healthier Bagginses and the Gamgees who good-naturedly suffer their trepidations.  Because the Sackville-Bagginses and the Sandymans are so rare, the Shire appears to govern itself.  The rules are unwritten, all offices are mostly ceremonial, and the canons of good behavior are everywhere acknowledged and practiced.  As fantasist Gene Wolfe  observed in a clairvoyant essay; living under what Mr. Wolfe calls Folk Law in a face-to-face society may be the most salutatory framework for human life, much in the same way that folk tales have the deepest resonance, and folk tunes have the most haunting and unforgettable melodies.

Yet, the Shire is not good in a vacuum.  The hobbits are King’s Men in the very best sense of that word.  The King, although absent by the time of the narrative recorded in The Lord Of The Rings, serves as a locus for the values of The West.  ‘The West’ is shorthand for all those parts and peoples of Middle-earth not yet seduced or tyrannized by Sauron, although it can include more easterly populations such as the Beornings, the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain, the Wood-elves of eastern Mirkwood.  Although the King has been absent from the government of the Shire for more years than separate us from the Battle of Hastings, his health is toasted at every meeting of the Shiremoot and his will is followed as best the hobbits can in their political vacuum.

Even the West is not good in and of itself, though.  It is good because of the loyalty of the remnants of the Numenoreans and their allies to that which is Beyond the Sea that ‘the West’ stands as a bulwark to the trepidations and contaminations of Sauron.  The weight of this allegiance is never explicitly explained within The Lord Of The Rings itself, but its presence can be felt in the same way you can tell where the sun is with your eyes closed.  Tolkien’s continual references within the narrative to older, more primordial material; even Gondolin being mentioned in the first few pages of The Hobbit, weave a web of numinosity about his tale whose nexus is the Elder Race, the immortal Elves, who had opposed Sauron (and his greater master Morgoth Bauglir) in the past.

The Silmarillion revealed plainly what The Lord Of The Rings only hinted at.  The Elves are good because they  revere the Valar, the preserving and governing Powers of the World, who came into it at the behest of the world’s Creator Eru Iluvatar, a monotheistic deity.  It is this realm, the realm of Valinor across the Sea, whose values are echoed by the denizens of ‘the West’.

In a sense, you have a kind of a neo-Platonic universe obtaining in the Tolkien legendarium.  The Elves know next to nothing about Eru, the One, except for what they have learned from the Valar.  The Men of the West have no direct access to the Powers in Valinor.  Everything they know about it has been mediated to them by the Elves, who are abandoning Middle Earth.  The hapless Hobbits, in their turn, would not have survived as long as they had in the rough and tumble of Middle earth without the constant protection and supervision of the Men of the West, the Dunedain.

You can hear all three layers in a musical representation on the soundracks to Peter Jackson’s films, especially in the Council of Elrond.  First, there is the Elvish theme; atmospheric, ascetic, and other-worldly.  Then, there are the virile horns of the theme of the West, vigilant and ready for action.  Finally, there are the homespun strings of the Shire theme.  They blend and fade into each other by the end of the piece.  I don’t know how deliberate that was on the part of the composer, Howard Shore.

Wheels within wheels, indeed.

Immediately post-Tolkien, there were a lot of Good-vs-Evil sagas, most very derivative, retelling Tolkien’s story after him.  Others, like Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea series, eshewed binary Good vs Evil to create a more nuanced, more Buddhistic unary moral Universe.   LeGuin’s emphasis on “balance”, as if good and evil were polarities like male and female or acidic and basic, came to be echoed in a lot of fantasy worlds, such as the Star Wars universe with its depiction of the Bright Side and the Dark Side of the Force, or the recent popular animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender, where all the tension in the series is caused by the Fire Nation getting out of balance with the other three elemental nations;  the Water Tribe, the Earth Kingdom, and the Air Nomads.  Fire Lord Ozai is not Satan or even Sauron.  Ozai’s opponent is not Avatar Aang, but rather his son Zuko who, through the tutelage of the saintly Uncle Iroh, can restore the Fire Nation’s necessary line to the spectrum that is the Avatar universe.

I didn’t like Star Wars, and although I dearly love the Avatar animated series, unary, “balance”-based moralities don’t seem to produce satisfying eucatastrophes in the same way that fantasists are able to when good is truly good and evil is truly evil.  I haven’t read, or even followed the movies inspired by, the Harry Potter novels, but I think I am correct in assuming that Rowland’s moral compass is more like Tolkien’s and less like Lucas’, which makes the opposition to her tales by conservative Christians even more puzzling.

Finally, there has been a movement within the fantasy genre itself away from a strict good vs evil paradigm and more towards what TV-Tropes.com defines rather pungently as Crapsack World, where all the choices are between real-l-l-ly bad, bad, and not-so-bad-but-still-iffy. I have digested several works of this sort, some of which are very good; China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station and The City And The City (both of which are brilliant), Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy, and of course, the Crapsack World to end all Crapsack Worlds, George R. R. Martin’s Westeros.

Funny thing about Westeros, though.  Just when I was beginning to tire of Martin’s unrelenting cynicism, the pointless violence, and the continual betrayal which punctuated life in his series, Martin showed a bright little corner where life was good, men were fair, and decent people could live decent lives.  It was buried deep in Brienne’s arc in A Feast Of Crows, when she accompanies the septon Maribald from the ruins of Saltpans to the Isle of Silence, where a strong abbot has created an island of peace, faith, and rest in the turbulent sea of conflict, cynicism, and blasphemy that was the norm in Westeros.

I read somewhere that George R. R. Martin is the son of a dockworker from Bayonne, New Jersey.  True to his working class roots, Martin teaches us that the good is not something that occurs haphazardly.  It is the result of consistent effort over an extended period of time by people who actively desire to be good and just, and it flourishes best where the eyes of the powerful are elsewhere.  It also seems to me that Daenarys Targaryen’s extended and somewhat tedious sojourn in the Slavers’ Bay is to allow her to learn the difficult lessons in statecraft that will make her the kind of queen Westeros so desperately needs.  As a wise man once told me, good works do not make you righteous the way paying your bills makes you solvent, but  they do make you righteous like exercise makes you strong.

I can live with that.   I can more than live with it, I can applaud it.


This is from my son’s Tumblr page.  I hesitate to call it a blog because Tumblr is just a couple of steps above 4chan and people have been known to post some really objectionable and unedited material there.

For some reason, my son’s discussion of American director Whit Stillman’s film Metropolitan tweaked the nose of the hipster-gioisie milieu in which he lives and moves and has his being.  I’m just impressed that any 21 year old knows who Wit Stillman and Chris Eigeman are.

Who knows.  Maybe soon he and his friends will be discussing Charles Fourier.

 

now im going to make an AMV using clips of chris eigeman and chief keef

okay alex i will tell you my feels on Metropolitan and Stillman in general

~


In a way, I think American cinema needs a director like Stillman. Irony has been kind of a constant in a lot of popular film here and most of our beloved films have had some ironic schematic orchestrating a lot of a movie’s interactions with the audience, especially when addressing the class system of the United States. That’s why I think a lot of people enjoy Anderson because his films are really biting of the American upperclass and utilize a lot of ironic movement to generate humor. As American movie goers, we’ve become desensitized to the “plight” of the American bourgeois, a reality to people like Stillman and a welcomed circumstance that has been lampooned by people like Franzen in The Corrections and by Wes Anderson over the years, and its common for us to treat people who have definitive power and influence in our society with a lot of derision. However, the way we do this is by introducing our own vocabulary, our own manners (an important word to use when describing Stillman) and making it the primary lens from which we view this world. We view these people as alien, kind of remote, and the only way we have of relating to them is through antagonism or by taking the rich out of their frame of reference and putting them in ours, because it reflects the struggle of rich vs. poor that we’ve been taught is the reality (“the rich raise your income taxes, they live better than you do and don’t care about you, kim kardashian spent a ludicrous amount of money for a wedding and got divorced in three months isn’t that fucking ridiculous i could have paid off my student loans with 1/64th of her budget for that wedding”). And because these feelings or conceptions are the immediate response to imagery exemplary of the upper class, it is easier and simpler to make film that takes them out of their context and places them in our own and makes fun of them. Stillman proves that you don’t have to go through the effort of taking the rich out of context to make fun of them because the rich are capable of doing this on their own homefield.

I can understand why people dislike Stillman. He isn’t ironic in his films at all. This goes against our expectations of depictions of the upper class in film to be! Stillman isn’t crude, ironic, or chastising of the upperclass in his film and we absolutely, positively despise him for it sometimes. We want to see these people punished or stumble because it makes us feel better about our selves (this is some pretty basic shit that goes all the way back to Aristotle’sPoetics and what not) but Stillman won’t let us have the satisfaction. That’s because Stillman is a part of that world and that world has its own rules on how and why people fail, and to have his characters fail to such a point that they’d be brought to our stature is disingenuous to his characters, his experience, and to the rules of that reality. Really, when you first watch his films you feel a bit uncomfortable and annoyed that these people who clearly live better than you do and dress better than you do are having a good time and aren’t suffering, but then you watch them do things and talk about interesting things and you start laughing because, jesus christ these people are doomed and they know it.

To me, Stillman’s documenting the fall of an empire. He’s a chronologist of the privileged in America and he knows that the upper-class identity has been smudged by popular culture. I don’t think he’s trying to defend it in any way, but he is definitely trying to preserve some truths about that culture that the American audience isn’t exposed to. Metropolitan is a funny movie because it’s 100% American bourgeois and it’s genuine in its depiction of both the good and bad of that culture and does so without taking the culture out of context. I think a lot of people complain about the movie being 90% conversation, but fuck Louis Malle took a movie about two friends eating dinner and talking and made it really captivating so don’t tell me shit about how a movie about people talking is boring okay last time i checked people thought lost was a great show and you can literally reduce it to a clip reel of people reacting to shit. These conversations were definitely ones I could see myself having with people if I ever had the chance to run into such opinionated, quickwitted young people, or made the effort to leave my bedroom to see James, Andrew, Cass, or Galeon more. Really, it’s watching these people who have this structure of manners in place and seeing them being so unmannerly by it that makes Metropolitan such a great film. I think Nick has some great moments in that film that make you really sympathetic to him as a character and sympathetic of his awareness that his world is becoming more and more ephemeral with each passing day.

At the same time I’m really attracted to Carolyn Farina.

tl;dr i can understand why people hate stillman and Metropolitan but that is because he isn’t playing by our game in the first place and we want him to because we think our game is the only one worth playing


Look To The Skies!!

The Last Starfighter – 1984      It was 1984.  The original Star Wars trilogy had just completed, with Return Of The Jedi having left an awful taste in everybody’s mouth after the gee-whiz fireworks of A New Hope,  followed by the masterful chiaroscuro of  The Empire Strikes Back.   Indeed, I think a good case can be made for TESB as the best science fiction film ever made, and for ROTJ as one of the worst.  Maybe it was the unsatisfactory resolution of the Star Wars trilogy that predisposed me to appreciate this goofy, well-meaning film that came out the next year.

There isn’t much to The Last Starfighter, but what there is is great fun.  If you can praise Breaking Away as the best film ever shot in Indiana (it is leagues better than the histrionic Hoosiers), you can similarly praise The Last Starfighter as the best film whose protagonist lives in a dead-end trailer park.  But what a trailer park!  there is community, romance, challenge, and galaxy-saving, all within the [terrestial] confines of a few scant country acres.

Alex Rogan lives in said dead-end trailer park.  All of his friends are going off to college, but he missed his chance at a scholarship and is stuck serving as a handyman for the Starlight Starbright Trailer Park.  His widowed mother and porn-addled little brother are no help at all.   The only bright spots in his dismal existence are his girlfriend Maggie (Catherine Mary Stewart, my favorite among the Starlets Referred To By All Three Names), and the  Starfighter, a stand-up arcade game at the park’s office where the player defends “the Frontier” from “Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada”. Eventually he becomes the highest scoring player of the game. Thereafter he is visited by the game’s inventor Centauri (Robert Preston, basically reprising his role as Harold Hill from The Music Man).  Centauri whisks him away to Rylos, an embattled planet, where Alex learns that Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada are real, and a real threat.

The Rylosians attempt to recruit him as a Starfighter, an elite corps of fighters who maintain the Frontier against the a rogue Rylosian noble and his Ko-Dan handlers.  Alex begs off, and Centauri returns him to Earth, but when the Ko-Dan threaten people dear to him;  his mother, Maggie, and other people in the Starlight Starbright Trailer Park,  Alex mans up and saves the Universe.

Yeah, it’s a coming-of-age story, one of the oldest ever.  But The Last Starfighter accomplishes for Alex Rogan in one film what the Star Wars trilogy fails to deliver for Luke Skywalker in three.


8. The Iron Giant – I didn’t see this on the big screen because I allowed my children to talk me into going to Inspector Gadget instead.  For the next three years, the reputation of this movie percolated in the back of my mind until I finally saw it on VHS.

 

Hogarth and the Giant

 

This movie astounded me.  It is still  my favorite animated feature film of all time, and was my first introduction to the humor of Brad Bird, who was one of the writers for the Simpsons.

I loved The Iron Giant‘s take on the 50s.  I think it helps to remember that the stifling conformity of that era was far from universal.  There were single mothers [like my own] struggling in a world far less supportive of them, and anti-establishment types whose questioning of authority eventually led to the upheaval of the 60s and beyond.   The Iron Giant is widely praised for being slyly anti-authoritarian and anti-military, but I found it to be a deeply patriotic movie.

What most people won’t tell you is how much Christian symbolism there is in this movie.  There is a clearer presentation of the Gospel in The Iron Giant than there is in anything coming out of the ‘family-friendly, faith-and-popcorn’ circuit.  I guess if you want to hide something, the best place is in plain sight.


Watching the recent movie War, Inc. I saw another example of a cinematic cliché  which, as far as I can tell by extensive Googling,  I am the only film fan who has ever noticed.   Now, if I am the only film fan who is aware of a cinematic cliché, can it possibly be a cliché?    Since  it appears I have few, but loyal readers, I will let you all be the judges of this.

I call the cliché “the paralyzed totalitarian”.  I have seen him now in four movies.  In Terry Gillam’s Brazil, Sam’s father’s colleague (and Sam’s mother’s lover?) Helpmann has enormous power, orders Sam to be tortured, but is confined to a wheelchair.

Also wheelchair-bound is José Lewgoy as the warden of the prison in which are being detained William Hurt and Raul Julia in Kiss of the Spider Woman.  Together with the secret policeman, he cunningly positions  the homosexual Molina to weave his way into the confidences of the suspicious political prisoner Arregui, yet he is incapable of any independent motion and is dependent on an attendant for everything.

In the recent War, Inc.,  Walken, the “viceroy” of sad Turaqistan, which has been the object of yet another American preemptive invasion, wields enormous power from his wheelchair, and the very earliest movie I in which have ever seen this “paralyzed totalitarian” figure is Abel Gance’s silent masterpiece Napoleon, in which Marat, Robespierre, and Louis St. Just plot together to eliminate enough Frenchmen to usher in the new day of la Republique juste et belle.   The actor portraying the arch-Jacobin  St. Just fidgets about in his little wooden wheelchair nervously planning the death of thousands and misery for uncounted others.

The image sticks with me, I believe, because it portrays those of a totalitarian cast of mind  as victims of their own machinations.   In gathering more and more power to themselves, they lose that which make them human, becoming in their turn as powerless as their victims.

One of the emotional objections I had to Calvinism as a system was that I always had a niggling in the back of my mind that the system would eventually  eliminate the freedom of God.   If man were not free, then I couldn’t see how God could possibly be free.  Some great awful necessity, some dreadful immutable ἀνάγκη, whether internal to God or external to Him, would demand the damnation of men.

I know there are a thousand qualifications I would have to make, and I take a great risk in mentioning this.   After all, the Christian blogosphere is about 94% Calvinists of  disputatious temperament.  I hope my obscurity saves me.

Borges says it better than I:

Lejos de la ciudad, lejos del foro
clamoroso y del tiempo, que es mudanza,
Edwards, eterno ya, sueña y avanza
a la sombra de árboles de oro.

Hoy es mañana y es ayer. No hay una
cosa de Dios en el sereno ambiente
que no le exalte misteriosamente,
el oro de la tarde o de la luna.

Piensa feliz que el mundo es un eterno
instrumento de ira y que el ansiado
cielo para unos pocos fue creado

y casi para todos el infierno.
En el centro puntual de la maraña
hay otro prisionero, Dios, la Araña

“Far from the city, from the clamorous forum and outside of Time, which is Change, Edwards, now eternal, dreams and walks forward under the golden trees.

Today is tomorrow and is yesterday, and in the serenity there is nothing of God which does not mysteriously exalt Him, the gold of the afternoon, or of the moon.

He meditates happily upon the world as an eternal instrument of wrath, and that the anticipated heavens were created for a very few,

and Hell for nearly everybody, and that at the absolute center of the maze waits another prisoner, the Spider, God.”

By the way, the movies are all  good.  War, Inc. is the weakest of them, maybe a C+.  Brazil is a B+.  Kiss of the Spider Woman is a solid A, and Napoleon is one of the best movies ever produced.

CURRENTLY READING

The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams