The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Saturday, April 29, 2017

"Fear Makes Companions of us All": Doctor Who--The Cave of Skulls/The Forest of Fear/The Firemaker

Barbara Wright: [to the Doctor] Why? You treat everybody and everything as something less important than yourself.

Dr. Who: You're trying to say that everything you do is reasonable and everything I do is inhuman. Well, I'm afraid your judgement's at fault, Miss Wright, not mine. Haven't you realized that if these two people can follow us, any of these people can follow us? The tribe might descend upon us at any moment.

I don't remember where I ran across it, but there's a fan theory that the Doctor and the Master are in fact the same entity, with the Doctor representing the later, more civilized regenerations of the Time Lord. (Admittedly, not all that far off from the planned end game for Delgado's portrayal of the Master). Well, the best canonical evidence for the theory is the storyline beginning with An Unearthly Child and continuing with these three episodes.

In all the episodes I've viewed so far, the Doctor is affable on the surface (as his default), but condescending, manipulative and selfish. He tricks a frightened Ian into grasping an electrified TARDIS console--in order to leave the Doctor and Susan alone, like the Doctor says he wants--threatens to abandon Susan, if she won't leave 20th Century earth, and, in these three episodes, manipulates the cavemen to get what he wants (OK, mostly to be left alone), tries to murder a injured caveman, and is generally snarking about in the background while Ian and Barbara (oh, and usually Susan) try to help. (Shades of the Master's perfect response to the Brigadier's demand on how to cope with being at ground zero of a forthcoming nuclear explosion: "You could take the usual precautions...sticky tape on the windows, that sort of thing").

No, the Doctor is, at this point, at best an antihero. Far from his "never cruel or cowardly" ethos, the Doctor has moments of both in this introductory serial. If there's a hero to be found, it's Ian, with Barbara playing the moral conscience of the group of travelers.


There's a reason why most discussions of "An Unearthly Child" spend most of their time on the superbly effective first episode. It's tight, economical, well acted, and pretty creepy at moments. Then we go back to the Age of the Low Budget Cave Dwellers. The choice of warfare between cavemen as an initial storyline was a peculiar one, in that it's hard to think of a way to frame a prehistoric story in really compelling way, particularly when it's being shot in a small studio with early 1960s resources.

And yet, even if you (like me) hate the whole caveman drama genre, it kinda works.

Kind of.

Partially because as children's TV goes, this story is pretty dark--the Cave of Skulls is just that--filled with skulls caved in by crude weaponry. The first world the Doctor's magic box visits is literally Hobbes's State of Nature, a time "where every man is enemy to every man," and life is "solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short."

The cave-people look duff, but the notion of a nascent society, just slowly beginning to contemplate more than bare survival, unable to understand mercy or compassion is an interesting concept, and the main guest actors successfully sell it. (Partially because the cast is really quite good, out of place though the actors are--to give one example, Eileen Way, who plays the thankless role of Old Woman (really) was a major theatrical performer. How'd they get her?) Also Waris Hussein and Douglas Camfield direct the hell out of this thing. No budget, no real props, no effects worth a damn--and something else they didn't have: anything to lose.

There's a reason Verity Lambert was a legend. Hussein and Camfield make almost all of it work, even 54 years later. (Except the "climactic" fight between Kal and Za. Yeah, not so much.)

The story postulates that having reached self-consciousness, the human race has not yet found a way to understand feeling, or affection--they're too busy trying to not get killed, and self-awareness seems to have inhibited them. So it's genuinely interesting that the nicest of the people the TARDIS party meet, Za and Hurr, are completely thrown when the TARDIS crew save Za's life when he's injured in pursuing them (so they can teach him how to make fire and win leadership of his tribe against his rival, Kal--whom Za let stay with the tribe when his tribe was, seemingly, wiped out by cold). In other words, Za had a rudimentary twinge of mercy and spared the man who would become his rival, and yet he can't understand Ian's sparing him.

Za learns from Ian that "Kal is not stronger than the whole tribe," and the wheels start turning in his mind; he becomes a leader in fact, and not just the loudest bully. But he breaks his word to the travelers--he will not let them leave. He shows a little uneasiness at this--he expects them to be pleased with the meat and fruit he brings them, and wants these clever strangers to stay, but still has no appreciation of freedom, or of a word given, So the TARDIS crew have to find their own way out. They escape not because of the Doctor, but because Susan has the germ of an idea, and Ian perfects it.

And yet the Doctor is not entirely useless--he handily fakes Kal out and gets him to reveal (by pulling out his bloody knife) that he has killed an old woman of the tribe (in fact, it's Eileen Way as "Old Woman," but you probably guessed that), and then the Doctor whips the tribe into an angry mob to drive Kal out.

The Delgado Master could hardly have done better.

Also, while Ian, Barbara, and Susan are trying to find a way to save Za, the Doctor tries to bash his head in with a rock, to resume the escape. Caught by Ian, he unconvincingly stammers an excuse, which, William Russell's performance makes eminently clear, does not fool the young mathematics teacher.

That's more Ainley Master, really.

The Doctor does have a few sympathetic moments--he comforts Barbara by thinking up a job for her to do, leading to the famous epigraph to this post, he apologizes to his three companions, blaming himself for their predicament. (Actually, only partly correct: The Doctor is abducted by Kal, who knocks him unconscious, but Ian, Barbara and Susan launch what really has to be the Worst. Rescue. Ever.

Yes, worse than this:

An eccentric story that should not have worked, but does. Doctor Who comes out punching above its weight.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Classic Who: The Beginning [An Unearthly Child]

Courtesy of BritBox, I am doing the sort of beginning to end view of classic Doctor Who (1963-1989) I always wanted to. Oh, there's a bunch of unavailable episodes and missing episodes too, but as a long-time fan of the show, I only have seen the Pertwee Era through Sylvester McCoy, and now I can make serious inroads into the Hartnell and Troughton eras, of which I've only seen isolated stories.

(Any idea where I can find the dreaded recons, y'all?)

So, to make the exercise more edifying, I'm watching only as I work out (yay, reason for fitness!), and will add some thoughts on each story as a recurring feature on the blog.

Tonight: An Unearthly Child

Properly speaking, the first episode is part of the larger story called by this title, or 100,000 BC. Improper speaking has its uses, however; I actually think that Phil Sandifer is right to break out this first episode from the larger story:
An Unearthly Child was rewritten by Anthony Coburn from an original script by C.E. Webber, and was reshot before transmission, both facts that I think serve to separate it in a meaningful sense from the three episodes that follow. Thus I, in a viewpoint that has essentially no credibility in mainstream fandom, opt to treat An Unearthly Child as a one-episode story preceding a three-episode story entitled 100,000 BC.)

An Unearthly Child is a simple character piece. Only four characters meaningfully appear - Susan Foreman, a teenage girl, Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton, a pair of her teachers, and The Doctor, her cranky old grandfather. The story is mostly about Susan - the eponymous child lacking earthiness. Her teachers are at once enamored with her and scared of her. Enamored because she is a genius, and they know it. Scared because she is the wrong sort of genius. She knows things that people aren't meant to know. She speaks of the future - at times quite rightly. In a moment of inadvertent brilliance that makes this episode sing nearly 50 years later, she predicts the decimalization of British currency, though the writers could not have possibly known about it.

So this is where it starts. A mysterious Police Box, and a magical girl, and a mystery that two regular, unimportant people can't quite get over. A mystery that brings them out on a cold London night to 76 Totters Lane to try to find out where this girl came from. There, they meet an old man. Smug, superior, and unfriendly, he does not want them there. This is his mysterious girl, and his mystery.

And then it goes wrong. They force themselves past him, into the blue box, and fall out of the world and into another. It is another triumph of design in the show - a stark white of iconic 60s futurism would age gracefully into retro-futurism. And, of course, bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.
A long quote from another writer in what purports to be my own reaction. But Sandifer puts it very well. A few thoughts of my own:

1. The atmospheric opening, with the Delia Derbyshire version of the theme, complete with that really nifty middle eight, is both unlike anything else I've ever seen on Doctor Who, and yet somehow prophetic of the show as a whole. What with the foggy night, the helmeted policeman, and the dingy grey palate, we could be watching Odd Man Out, the morbid noir featuring--oh, right, that'd be William Hartnell. So right off the bat, we're off-balance. The Doctor in his first appearance (billed, as he would be for much of the old show's run, as "Doctor Who"), is everything Sandifer says, but he doesn't mention the hint of cruelty in the Doctor's electrification of the console, and stepping away from it to let Ian try to open the door. The Doctor is uneasy, afraid, and to cover his fear, he is mocking and derisive--almost all his lines are gibes at Ian and Barbara, and even Susan.

2. Or he's genuinely mean. We don't know, yet, not really. I mean, we're a grand total of 25 minutes into the longest serialized sci-fi show in history. Maybe the hints of fear and concern I'm reading into Hartnell's performances aren't really there--I could be retrojecting elements of the Doctor as he becomes into this maiden voyage.

We're in the land of C.S. Lewis; like Aslan, the Doctor isn't tame.

But he may--just may--be good.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Oh, as usual, dear....

A story in two parts:

1. Back in Kate Bush's heyday, I dated an avid fan, who sought to bowl me over with "Wuthering Heights."


2. Hadn't thought about the song since, but after a colleague at a conference vowed that any workout would be improved by listening to The Puppini Sisters, I tried an album of theirs off Apple Music.

Song no. 6:

It's rare for a song to make me laugh aloud, while actually admiring the artistry.

Their cover of I Will Survive was every bit as enjoyable, if you are, like me, a person of peculiar tastes.

Apple Music has their entire catalogue, I'm pleased to report.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Do Not Doubt, But Believe: A Sermon on John 20:19-31

[This is the manuscript of a sermon I delivered at the 5:00 pm service at St. Barts tonight. Unusually, I went a bit off-text on this one, as I thought the text was a bit too academic for a sermon. So this is more an essay that was extemporized into a sermon, and hopefully none the worse for that.]

Poor St. Thomas. Seriously, I mean it. There's a lot of theological meat in today's Gospel, but I can never resist speaking up for St. Thomas. St Thomas the Apostle, forever known as “Doubting Thomas,” gets a raw deal, I think.

Ok, sure—after Jesus’s death, he doesn’t believe the other apostles when they tell him that, when they were hiding in a house in Jerusalem, Jesus appeared to them.

But all they tell him is “we have seen the Lord.” It’s not like they give him a lot of detail.

Also, let’s point out that Thomas has been out and about, while they’re all hiding.

Thomas may not have been the most spiritual of the disciples, but he’s got courage. And in fact he’s pretty bright. Because when Jesus tells the disciples about the death of Lazurus, and that he is going to Lazarus’s family and then back to Jerusalem, Thomas is the only one who knows what’s coming next.

Grim but loyal, Lazarus says only, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (Jn. 11: 16)

So Thomas is skeptical of his ten friends, who are still hiding away, while he’s doing whatever needs to be done in the city.

And Thomas’s courage, and his loyalty, are rewarded. Jesus comes back for him, to make sure that he doesn’t miss out on the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Of course, like any teacher, he answers Thomas’s challenge. He says to him, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

Thomas doesn’t take him up on the offer. Instead, he answers him, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus then says, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

That, in case you haven’t worked it out, is us. You and me.

We haven’t seen Jesus in the flesh. We’re two whole millennia removed from anyone who has.

So Jesus is holding out to us the hope that we can be blessed in a way one of his most loyal, brave disciples was not, simply because we have come to believe.

What does that mean?

In Alcoholics Anonymous, “come to believe” occurs in the Second Step -—we “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

But that belief isn’t just an abstract proposition. In Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, we are told that “coming to believe” requires more than that; prior intellectual embraces of God fail because “In no deep or meaningful sense had we ever taken stock of ourselves, made amends to those we had harmed, or freely given to any other human being without any demand for reward. We had not even prayed rightly. We had always said, “Grant me my wishes” instead of “Thy will be done.”

In other words, “coming to believe” means trying to live in accord with what we believe, not just holding it in our minds.

Ah, but what is it we must come to believe?

Well, we say the Creed every week. Is that what Jesus is referring to here?

Hard to believe. For one thing, it doesn’t actually tell us very much, does it? As Charles Gore pointed out ninety years ago, the Creeds aren’t actually a summary of what Christians believe, they just knock out, one-by-one, all of the early heresies that tried to downplay either Jesus’s humanity or his divinity.

Not either or, the Creed insists, but both. Always both.

So, no. Not the Creeds, then. Or, at any rate, not just the Creeds.

So we just believe in the name of Jesus. It’s an intellectual proposition—Jesus equals the Son of God, therefore we are saved.

We-ell, I certainly don’t disagree with that statement, but I have to tell you, a lot of people have adhered to that abstract article of belief, and done terrible things with it.

And on the flip side, many people who have never heard the name of Jesus, or who have encountered it only through the distorting lens of those who use it to justify the sort of domination system that crucified Jesus, may exemplify the sort of love Jesus taught and lived.

My go-to source for old-school Anglican orthodoxy, C.S. Lewis, wrote that “every prayer which is sincerely made even to a false god, or to a very imperfectly conceived true God, is accepted by the true God and that Christ saves many who do not think they know him. . . . In the parable of the Sheep and Goats those who are saved do not seem to know that they have served Christ.” [1]

So, I can’t help but think that there might be a little more to it than just intellectual adherence to the name of Jesus, or any intellectual concept for that matter.

No, I think we have to go all the way back to the very beginning of this Gospel to see what it is we must come to believe. Or, just maybe, how we must come to believe.

In the very first chapter of this Gospel, we are told that “to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” (Jn 1: 12-13)

Right, that’s not exactly self explanatory, is it?

Maybe we need to dig just a little deeper.

The Fourth Gospel, traditionally attributed to John, the son of Zebedee, is sometimes a very challenging one. It has dense, theologically rich discourses by Jesus about His role as the Bread of Life, or the vine to which we—that’s right, you and me—are the branches.

John’s Gospel demonstrates what’s called a very high Christology, by which we mean it depicts Jesus as one with the Father, more consistently and more often than any other Gospel.

Add to this that it has been considered “the charter of Christian Mysticism.”[2] In saying so in his classic lectures on mysticism, W. R. Inge explained that “Christian Mysticism, as I understand it, might almost be called Johannine Christianity,” or rather that “a Johannine Christianity is the ideal which the Christian mystic sets before himself” or herself.[3]

This sounds pretty daunting, especially if when you think of mysticism the first thing that comes to your mind is Doctor Strange, the Master of the Mystic Arts, who is always battling all kinds of supernatural threats when he isn’t busy solving mysteries with Bilbo Baggins.

But that’s a movie, based on a comic book written in the trippy 1960s. What Inge means by mysticism is what he calls “the raw material of religion,” the experience of the immanence of the temporal in the eternal, and of the eternal in the temporal.”[4]

Or, put another way, it’s what some people make of those fleeting experiences we all get of the presence of God. Abraham Maslow documented them, and called them “peak experiences.” He described them as sudden “feelings of limitless horizons opening up to the vision, the feeling of being simultaneously more powerful and also more helpless than one ever was before, the feeling of great ecstasy and wonder and awe.”[5]

Mysticism isn’t about power, like Dr. Strange—it’s about perception. Openness to the fact that life isn’t just getting and spending, but, ultimately, about love, and that in the experience of love is the ultimate truth about not just our own lives, but the nature of God.

And how do we make this a part of our lives?

First, what we are called to believe is, as Jesus summarizes it, as we heard throughout Lent, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

But how can we love on command? I’ll steal a sentence from Steven Moffat: “Law isn’t an emotion—it’s a promise.” Like it says in the Second Step, we act lovingly—we try to walk in the path of Jesus. Always remember that the early church didn’t see itself as a structure of belief but as a way—it’s even called The Way, in the Acts of the Apostles.

And there is, I think, where we find the ultimate clue to what it is to come to believe.

This too:

Believe that you are loved. Don’t doubt it.

When you doubt it, because you will, don’t let that tear you down.

Coming to believe doesn’t mean perfect certainty. In AA, coming to believe can be pretty shaky, and still get the job done.

When you doubt it, because we all do from time to time, remember that when Thomas was too skeptical to believe the Good News at second hand, Jesus came back, just for him.

If and when you can make some quiet space to be silent in the presence of God, be open to those peak experiences. If they come on you on their own, remember it. Don’t dismiss them, let them reassure you when you’re depressed, or feeling isolated.

Because they are part of our experience, and, as the novelist CP Snow wrote, “it’s impossible to regret one’s own experience.”[6] So too we should be very reluctant to doubt our own experience.

So embrace that experience.

Most of all, if you haven’t had such experiences, if you are unsure, don’t be afraid you’ll be left behind.

Jesus came back for Thomas; he won’t forget you.


1. Lewis, C.S. The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy at 244-245 (2007).
2. William Ralph Inge, Christian Mysticism 44 (1899).
3. Id. at 44-45.
4. Id at 5.
5. A. Maslow, Religions, Values & Peak Experiences (1964).
6. C.P. Snow, The Sleep of Reason 149 (1968)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Voltaire Wept

I can't think of a single subject I agree with Ann Coulter on, and, in fact, I think her ideas are abhorrent. She's not as dangerous as, say, Ayn Rand, who has found a way of justifying humanity's most base urges to many, but she's a glib bomb-thrower., and almost a living parody of everything tha's wrong with the Right.

Silencing her is not liberal. Or progressive. Or anything good.

In purely instrumental terms, it's counterproductive--it's a data point for those who claims the "left" (a unified group, right?) don't really believe in free speech, sure, but it's worse than that: It's a betrayal of what we hold dear.

If we really believe in the democratic republic created by our Constitution, then we have to believe in freedom for the thought we hate. And silencing by threat or force those with whom we disagree with, however evil we think their views, is a betrayal of the very premise of the Constitution--that We, the people, should choose what ideas to embrace or to reject.

I recently quoted Karl Alexander's novel Time After Time: "The first man to raise a fist is the man who's run out of ideas." I believe this; if violence and threats are the new response to thought that we hate, then we are saying something utterly damning about the state of our discourse and of democracy.

And admitting that we are out of ideas.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

When The Well Runs Dry: A Meditation on John 19:25b-28

[What follows is the text of my meditation given yesterday at St. Bartholomew's The Three Hours service for Good Friday. At the link, you can hear not only my meditation as delivered, but those delivered by St. Barts clergy and lay preachers. The meditations of my friends and colleagues are well worth your time.

It is an honor to be invited to participate in this service, and I am grateful, as always, to St. Barts, which has been my spiritual home for over a decade now.

“I am thirsty.”

Such a banal, boring sentence, normally.

But not here.

Not today. Not at the execution of Jesus of Nazareth.

We have heard him forgive his executioners. We have heard him promise the Repentant Thief that they will meet again, in Paradise.

We have heard Jesus entrust his mother to his beloved disciple, and the beloved disciple to his own mother. Out of the wreckage of the Jesus Movement, he has salvaged a family.

Then the hard one: We have heard him despair, crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Even in the extremity of pain, he is quoting scripture—Psalm 22. He still affirms that the God who watches him in this moment is his God.

He is still our teacher, our rabbi. Our Messiah.

But now this.

“I am thirsty.”

For the one and only time, Jesus comments on his physical state. But not on the pain from his wounds, or the exertion of keeping himself from going limp and suffocating as he hangs from the Cross.

It’s the thirst that gets under that serene confidence, that brings him to his one and only complaint through the whole bloody ordeal.

When I read this passage, Jesus always sounds a little surprised to me.

“I am thirsty.”

Maybe it’s unexpected that the normal routine needs of the body persist so far into these last hours. He expected mockery, he expected pain, he was even ready with an apt quote for despair, our rabbi was—but thirst?

Maybe the very normalcy of thirst makes him realize that this could still all end—he could be cut down from the Cross, he could still walk away from all of this—he’s still able to be thirsty, and yearn for some cool water.

Either way, that moment of thirst is so concrete, so not what a storyteller or myth-maker would focus on, that it feels completely authentic.

It’s the moment when we know there’s no miracle to come. There’s no escape, no happy ending—not this side of the grave, not yet.

Throughout this Gospel, Jesus has passed through the authorities’ efforts to capture him, he’s out-debated them, out-witted them, and just dared them to act against him.

And now they have, and, in worldly terms, Jesus has gone to the well once too often.

We’ve seen him, in this same Gospel, at Jacob’s Well, where he met the Samaritan woman. Jesus asks her for a drink, and she is surprised that he crosses boundaries of gender and traditional hostility to ask a Samaritan woman for a drink of water.

He says to her “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

She asks skeptically where he will get this living water, with no bucket, and a deep well.

He tells her that “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

And then she wanted that living water.

But now, on the Cross, the man who offered the stranger, the Samaritan woman, living water thirsts for ordinary water to relieve his own pangs.

We have left behind John’s mystical discourse of living water and the bread of life.

We are in the world of harsh fact, of blood and iron.

You might say that this happened in our world. We can look around us and see injustices at home and abroad. We live in a world where a state will try to rush through a series of executions before the expiration date of the medicine made to save life that they will use to end it.

A world, in short, of blood and iron.

But we can’t blame it on the world; that’s a cop-out. Thirty years ago, I sat in a darkened theater and watched a movie called The Mission, about Seventeenth Century missionary priests in South America whose students are betrayed and sold into slavery by their government and the Church. The priests who stayed behind with the students are killed trying to protect them, some by taking up weapons, but others by standing with their students in prayer.

They all die.

The scene is watched by two men, an official of the Crown and a Cardinal. They react to the bloodshed differently.

The representative of the State tries to comfort the Churchman, reassuring him that “we must work in the world; the world is thus." But the Cardinal responds, "No, thus have we made the world. Thus have I made it."

The gift of God who offers living water is dry now, and his thirst will not be quenched until it is quenched in death.

On this day, at the foot of the Cross, it is hard—very hard—not to think of ourselves as trapped in that world of blood and iron. Thus have we made the world.

But before we surrender to that that bleakness, maybe we need to look at the response to Jesus’s confession of need, of thirst.

Where you would expect none, compassion stirs in some of the soldiers guarding the crucified. They give him a little of their own wine, It’s “a diluted, vinegary wine drunk by soldiers and laborers,” called posca, and its offered in a moment of kindness. [1]

Blink and you miss it. But think for a moment, and let it stay with you.

Hard men, living a hard life, in which cruelty was routine. A life, we could say, of blood and iron. Yet somehow Jesus touches them; compassion is awakened, and an unexpected, unlikely act of mercy lightens the darkness for a moment.

That act of mercy should remind us that the acquiescence in despair of “thus we have made the world” is a lie, after all.

Because we didn’t make the world; it isn’t ours to make.

It’s God’s world, not ours, and the men of blood and iron are not beyond redemption; they respond to Jesus’s need when they could have just mocked him, or, even easier, ignored him.

They aren’t blood and iron at all, but flesh and blood. God’s children, whatever kind of life they are living. And they are capable of being moved into a better life.

As they have just demonstrated.

As are those we fear, and those who seemingly are trying to fashion that world of blood and iron, and shackle us to it.

As are we.

Throughout his life, Jesus spread that most wonderful of diseases, a thirst for that living water. A thirst for a better world, for God’s world, not the defaced muddle we seem so often to make of it. He spoke of the blessing of a “thirst for righteousness,” even as he spread that thirst.

And so Jesus has answered his own question, “Am I not to drink of the cup the Father has given me?” He does it, in faith, even though in his case the cup is one of suffering and death. Now, in his last moments, Jesus “thirsts to drink that cup to the last drop, for only when he has tasted the bitter wine of death will his Father’s will be fulfilled.”[2] He has been faithful to the end.

But on the way, he has met with an unexpected affirmation that this death will be a catalyst that will reshape the world. His very executioners have shown that the Gospel—the Good News—of love, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, can banish the Gospel of Blood and Iron. The Sun has not even set on Golgatha, and already the first hints of the Easter sunrise are mixed with the dying of that light.

[1] Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John XIII-XX1 (1970) at 909 (Anch. Bib. Vol. 29A); William Temple, Readings in St. John's Gospel: First and Second Series at 368 (1945).

[2] Brown, The Gospel According to John, at 930.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Time After Time After Time...

(Photo by Anglocat)

"The first man to raise a fist is the man who's run out of ideas"

So says H.G. Wells, at any rate, in Time After Time, of which I have been a fan since I saw it in the theater in 1979. (Yes, children, the Anglocat is past its first youth.) And that line attributed to Wells in the film, is a big part of why. The chemistry between Malcom McDowell and Mary Steenburgen, and their genuinely sweet romance. In a 2013 reunion interview, both McDowell and Warner call Time After Time a romance story at heart. It's worth watching:

And then there's this:

That's pretty deep for a low-budget high concept (H.G. Wells vs Jack the Ripper--seriously, that's clever if cheesy) film by first time director. But the movie has heart, and the actors sell it brilliantly.

But I had no idea that it was based on a novel, which Nicholas Meyer optioned before it was published. I stumbled on the fact in reading an interview with Nicholas Meyer that popped up when I verified that it had been made into a 2017 series--which has already been cancelled before I even saw one episode.

But, bibliophile raised its lovely head, and I visited my good friend Abe, and I found my prey. That is, the first edition first printing depicted above.

I'm partway through it. Author Karl Alexander's Wells is less innocent than McDowell's, and perhaps a bit less likable. The book moves briskly, though less so than the film, and Wells has a harder time acclimatizing to the 20th Century than his quarry, Stephenson.

It's a good read. It hasn't run out of ideas yet.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Ballad of Pamela Flitton: The Classic had it Coming

One of my favorite poems since my youth has been The Ballad of Reading Gaol; its strong rhythm, its depth of feeling, spoke to me right away. And the verses beginning from stanza 7 ("Yet each man kills the thing he loves...) to the end of part I were among the very few poems I had by memory.

And then, of course, I heard the bloody John Denver/Placido Domingo duet, Perhaps Love (the 80s have a lot to answer for) which, if you just add the closing line of each sung verse "My memories of love will be of you" as sung, completely scans to Wilde's text.

No, seriously, it does. Open the link to the poem in another window, click the YouTube, and sing along--and know horror that only Cthulhu can surpass.

Once I realized this, of course, I was doomed to hear the frakking song every damn time I read the poem. And so, I fear, are you now.

Sorry about that.

Anyway, years later, when as a fledgling member of the Anthony Powell Society, I was tempted by a writing contest for the annual luncheon, and was inspired to revisit Powell's Dance to the Music of Time. There I re-encountered the femme fatale Pamela Flitton (who also destroyed great art on a whim, so, yeah, in keeping with the subject of this post), and, for the contest, sacrificed poor battered Reading Gaol:

For each man kills the thing he loves.
Well, that’s what Oscar said.
But Pam Flitton never cared to love,
And still a lot of chaps are dead.
There was, we know, X Trapnel,
With his ring and fancy cane,
He could handle the wandering of the gel,
But not the papers in the Seine.

Yes, Pam ended poor old Trapnel’s plight,
With his book drowned in water cool
But the heaviest loss of those she wrought
Was that of Kenneth Widmerpool.
What’s that you cry, but poor old Ken
Lingered a volume—or was it two?
And died of spite his death at twilight
To escape Scorp’s bitter rule.

And yet I say Pam claims the palm,
For it was she who broke the pith
Of Kenenth’s soul so Scorp could calm
his followers by giving Ken the Bith.

The lady's trail of death and strife,
may have ended with poor Ken,
It's said that Powell drew her from life
depicting Babs Skelton,
Years after our dear Pam was gone,
her memoirs can be read,
The pages rich with malice,
about the men who loved and fled.

Perhaps unurprisingly, I did not win.