Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Book Review: Alice in Wonderland/ Through the Looking-Glass, by Lewis Carroll

I adore this book, which surprises me because much of it doesn’t have a real goal or plot, and usually that sort of thing looses my attention so quickly. Instead I discovered that the word-plays on each page kept me endlessly amused, and the non-sensical rules of the Wonderland world are so cleverly counter-productive that they almost make sense. In the words of Alice (after the "Jabberwocky” poem, which is- according to many critics and I would agree with them- the greatest nonsense poem written): “Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas- only I don’t know what they are!” Beneath all the strangeness, there’s a treasure trove full of meaning, if you just know how to look for it.
I may be reading far too much into this, but I found it curious that Dodgson stayed so clearly away from anything religious in this work (I am not sure about others- I haven’t read anything else by him, so I can’t say). The reason I found this so curious was because Dodgson’s father was actually a clergyman, and Dodgson himself attended college pursing a religious degree. Eventually he became clergyman, too. So one would think that his work might, if not point to something Christian, at least elude to it. Contrariwise, there isn’t a thimble of anything like that to be found, unless I have missed it? I once heard (from a debatable source) Alice’s near-drowning in her own tears described as a “baptism” but I find this difficult to believe in the context and also in light of the lack of other evidence to support this claim. In fact, I think there is evidence to support that Dodgson avoided Biblical references on purpose, but I could be wrong, of course. When Dodgson wrote Alice, he wanted an artist to illustrate his book even though he had drawn up some of his own illustrations. He felt someone professional could do it better, so he hired Tenniel. Tenniel appears to have worked closely enough with Dodgson that he followed Dodgson’s instructions for each piece and Dodgson frequently critiqued Tenniel’s work. According to some notes made on the text, there were even several illustrations that Dodgson had Tenniel do over for various reasons. In one of these pieces, the illustration depicts chesspieces, one of which is the pope, holding a newspaper. This may be significant in that it shows how Dodgson views men of the church, or at least a lack of respect for church leaders. Again, it’s possible that I am wrong, but it is rather odd that Dodgson would request this, or even if Tenniel drew it himself that Dodgson would not scrutinize it or ask Tenniel remove it.
I am also well aware of the speculations surrounding Dodgson and the real Alice Liddell, but beyond that are a great many things that appeal to children in this story and spark the grown-up child of adults, too. It is interesting that Alice feels she cannot control anything about herself throughout the stories, yet it is the scatter-brained adults who supposedly can. Remember, this is all from Alice’s perspective. To her eyes, everything should be one way, but contrariwise, it ain’t. Did not we, as children, have a view of the world that we felt our peers could not possibly see? And did we not become so terribly frustrated with their control over us at times? The book was written for children, and I think it appeals to them in a different way that it would to an adult. As a child, often times you did not understand everything around you, and yet you accepted it- I think that is a huge part of understanding this book. The logic of this world makes little sense, but Alice is again and again faced with the decision of whether or not she will accept it. There are rules given to us even as adults that feel ridiculous, and we must decide how we will react to them daily. Will we take it out on someone else, or will we look to Christ as devotedly as Alice looks up to the Queen in Through the Looking-Glass? (I'm talking about the Queen in the book, not the movie versions.)
The puns and word-plays are witty and sharp, sometimes referring to things that are inside-jokes with the Liddell children, thus leaving us a vaguely out of the loop but the meaning as a whole is usually grasped with little trouble. These word-plays are actually my favorite parts of the book, as they are something over which I puzzled over at times, or even giggled (outloud, a few times). It’s generally a work which requires you to think, but not think too hard. Sometimes the characters say things that make you just want to roll your eyes, but mostly you are captured by their silly, illogical seriousness.
This is such a nice, relaxing, trouble-less book that I think it is perfect to read during a summertime vacation. It is best enjoyed in a golden afternoon on a soft grassy bank. Sometimes, nonsense is just what one needs to relax and banish all the overly-thought-out problems in the world. And other times, you can find the sense in nonsense if you know how to look for it…

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Book Review: Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein

          Stunning book, simply smashing. I couldn’t even begin to review the plot here since it is so wonderfully told that even a hint of it could give away the twists at the end. To sum it up, however, it’s a great tale of incredible loyal friendship, bravery and cleverness, with sprinkles of wit. The story centers around Verity and Maddie, best friends during WWII separated in Nazi occupied France. Verity makes a deal with the Gestapo in exchange for a few more weeks of life. She tells them she will down everything they want to know on whatever paper they can give her. Strangely, though, this “everything” is not scribbled out in a list, but written in third person about herself from her closest friend, Maddie’s view.
          At first I was slightly skeptical, thinking that this book may be a little scary, but instead by Chapter 2 was I simply riveted on every page, even when Verity rambles (because you just keep getting this feeling that the rambling is somehow important, *hint hint)*. I would have to mention that I do not really think this book is best suited to teenagers, even though it is put in the Young Adult section at libraries. I do feel that it is more of an adult book. While the story itself is not true, Wein does draw from true events to make it as real as possible, and much of what occurs to and around Verity was very real, though sometimes startling and bleakly so. There are a few places that are a little graphic, but I think Wein’s last words sum it up: “LEST WE FORGET.” It’s important not to forget the terribleness of the second World War; if we forget, we won’t remember why it was so wrong in the first place and what the war was fought for.
          To all those historical accuracy nerds, please don’t pick on this book for any inaccuracies. I think Wein did one spectacular job on her research, doing her best to make it as accurate as possible, but she does say in her Afterward that mistakes may have been made (we’re all human, right?). The historical accuracy of the book is not the point. The point is the characters of the story and it’s plot. It’s a story, for goodness sake. Wein has a certain gift for character development that is to be treasured on any book worm’s shelf. This is one of the best books I have read yet this year. It reminded me not to take friendship for granted and not to forget even the darkest moments in our lives, because that is what God uses to turn on the light through us.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

An Article on Modesty

I have never appreciated it when women have worn yoga pants in public. Even women that I think would agree with modesty seem to think that just because yoga pants aren't tiny shorts, they are okay.
But I would disagree.
I think they're too revealing, and I think this article is excellent. I admire modesty, and personally, I want people to like me for what is in my heart, not what I wear (or don't wear). I think the following article also points out some very important misunderstood conceptions about modesty. Too many people think that if you believe in modesty, you must think that all women are more wicked than men for seducing them, or perhaps that men are more wicked than women because they look at a woman. The truth is, we're both equally sinful, and modesty is not only a choice but a battle tactic that we use against Satan's attempts to drown us in sin. I want to fight with all my armor on, don't you?

That Day I Wore Yoga Pants: 5 Myths About Modesty

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Perspective on Homosexuality (John Piper)

This is just an article I wanted to share. John Piper writes some good stuff; it is definitely worth taking a look at his blog and his books. I was sent this article in my email, and found it very interesting. I think that too often we are so caught up in pointing out other's sins we don't remember that we are sinners, too. We say that we're all alike but we forget what that means. It is good to be reminded of our brokenness, and I think this article's perspective on homosexuality is notable.

We Are All Broken. What Then? (John Piper)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Book Review: Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte

This book will always have a little place in my heart. I love how it is written in a femenine voice with intrigue and mystery behind it. There comes a moment when you are horrified at the choice set before the heroine and you know that she must do what is right no matter how difficult. For me, it felt like it epitomized the fight between our human nature and that journey towards perfection in Christ we Christians live for. I loved how the hero knows “how great her sin and misery” are, and is yet confident in who she is. She will not waver. Though she knows she is a sinful being, she does not make excuses for herself or others, and she expects nothing less than perfection and purity from all, and mostly herself. You don’t get that from modern writing; the world would be utterly stumped at what I am saying. No one expects perfection anymore. It's just "Do your best, it's all you can do," but I believe that lowers the standards, and it is not all we can do. We can do more with Christ! 
Despite how dire and helpless Jane's life is described as, or how depressing you might think it, Jane still finds comfort in her lowliness. Jane understands that  her "only comfort in life and death [is] to my faithful Saviour… who has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood and set me free from the tyranny of the devil.” How sweet those words are! It was refreshing to read a novel whose heroine understands higher things, whose outlook is not bogged down by petty worldly concerns but a greater concern that will affect our future now and forever. It was a good break from my usual reads, and I really enjoyed it. 
As for Mr. Rochester, I do not think that I could ever understand why on earth she fell for him and what for. Although I loved the book, I loathed him from day one, and. You'll just have to forgive me for that!

My only criticism is that it is a bit long-winded, but I suppose that that is to be expected. ; )

*Note that I did attempt to read something by Jane Austen after this, thinking getting "into the mode" would help, but alas, it did not. I could not even finish the first chapter of Northanger Abbey. I went back to sci-fi after that for just a little while.