Monthly Archives: January 2012

Ally

Ally’s #9: The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells

This was a thoroughly creepy read. The book follows Edward Prendick, and Englishman who thrice managed to be adrift in the Atlantic in the course of one year. The first was due to a shipwreck that would leave anyone with PTSD, the second due to being the unwanted guest of a drunkard captain, and the third was self-inflicted out of utter desperation to get back to “humanity.”

Just when you think poor Edward’s troubles couldn’t get any worse, they get significantly worse. From nearly dying of thirst and starvation on the seas, to being on the brink of offering himself to the sharks after just two days back on land, the reader witnesses several occasions where Edward is ready to toss in the towel and prays for his own death. There is a great deal of death in the latter half of the story, though Edward comes out unscathed. Some of the death is caused by him directly, but much of it is a result of the island instinctively imploding on itself.

Dr. Moreau, an infamous biologist and megalomaniac, has sought refuge on a tiny island in the Atlantic where he can find peace and privacy for his progressive experiments of “re-shaping” animals into human form. He has a partner, Montgomery, who seems just as mesmerized by the doctor’s power as the creatures they create. Some are crosses between animals (though not by breeding–think instead of grafting a tree branch), while others are a single species altered to walk upright and to speak. Despite his relative success at playing God and making man out of beast, there is one area he can’t affect in the manner he desires:

The intelligence is oddly low, with unaccountable blank ends, unexpected gaps. And least satisfactory of all is something that I cannot touch, somewhere–I cannot determine where–in the seat of the emotions. Cravings, instincts, desires that harm humanity, a strange hidden reservoir to burst forth suddenly and inundate the whole being of a creature with anger, hate, or fear.

In short, Dr. Moreau couldn’t transplant a human soul into the creatures he was ripping to shreds and then piecing back together (all while conscious, of course).

To keep his creations from acting out and reverting to their animal instincts, Moreau trains them to abide by a number of laws. If a law is broken, the penalty is to return to Dr. Moreau’s work station, dubbed “The House of Pain,” for further alterations. If the disruption is severe enough, the creature will be killed as an example to the others. They both feared and worshipped Dr. Moreau. But once the creatures saw that their “god” was a feeble man, all hell broke lose.

I don’t want to give away more than I already have, but I will end with a disturbing quote from Edward Prendick, who managed to make his way back to England after a tumultuous and frightening year.

My trouble took the strangest form. I could not persuade myself that the men and women I met were not also another Beast People, animals half wrought into the outward image of human souls, and that they would presently begin to revert–to first show this bestial mark, and then that.

mark

Mark’s #4 – 1984 by George Orwell

First published in 1949, George Orwell’s dystopian novel increasingly seems less like a work of fiction and more like a prophetic vision.  This book was disturbing to read on many levels.  Thankfully society as a whole has not yet reached the level of totalitarianism that the book’s ‘Big Brother’ oligarchy has imposed on Oceania (think present day U.K. and the Americas), yet there have been pockets in history and in modern life that do come eerily close to the vision.

For instance, Stalin’s communist Russia, or China’s Mao Tse Tung’s gangs of youth lynch mobs, or Pol Pot’s systematic annihilation of the urban and educated classes of Cambodia, in North Korea, every person is property and is owned by a small and mad family with hereditary power, all of which mimic elements of 1984‘s IngSoc (English Socialism).   Or, for example, when I went to school in Prague after the fall of communism and stayed in a dorm room with a built in speaker (for disseminating information/propaganda) and microphone (for listening in conversations).  Even today there is the ubiquitous ‘tele’ which controls and ‘watches over’ the people, or the gross infringement of privacy at the local airport with full body scans, all in name of ‘security’.

This is a story about the direction of human society apart from the restraining grace of God on evil.  Imagine a society without God, where sinful human nature is let loose to do it’s worst… that society is Oceania.

It is a story about a common, middle-aged protagonist, who works for the outer party, and who secretly desires to fight the system and spark a revolution for freedom, individuality, and joy… While reading the book, I longed for and waited for this to happen.  After all, isn’t this what happens in all the great dystopia movies which ultimately turn back for the good of mankind? Perhaps more realistically, this is not the case with 1984.  Instead of a revolution, our protagonist is betrayed, imprisoned, tortured, forced into false confessions, and ruthlessly brainwashed so that, in the end ‘Big Brother’ wins.

The last lines of the book grimly portray the victory and cruel march of ‘Big Brother’ on into an indefinite future:

But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.

Finally, one small example of historical revisionism similar to the scenes described in 1984:

Ally

Ally’s #8: The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

After the emotional roller-coasters of my last two books, I decided to give my brain a rest by turning to my old favorite, Sherlock Holmes. This collection of twelve short stories of the adventures of Sherlock and Watson ends with a bang–or rather, a plummet–where Sherlock defeats the most dangerous criminal he’s ever crossed. What makes Professor Moriarty the greatest danger to society in Sherlock’s mind is the fact that he has so many secretly doing his bidding that it’s nearly impossible to trace any crime back to Moriarty without finding yourself dead somewhere along the way. It’s unusual to catch Sherlock demonstrating fear, as he can typically smell danger from a mile away, but with Moriarty, we see Sherlock a little more vulnerable than usual.

What really struck me when reading this portion of the series are the uncanny similarities between Sherlock Homes and character Gregory House of the medical diagnostic series, House. From the mysteriousness of their skills of deduction, to their need to use assistants as sound boards as they walk through the facts, to their lack of “people” skills, the two seem to have been formed from the same mold.

I think my favorite story from this collection was “The Yellow Face.” It was about a husband and wife who are happily in love until a secret pushes them apart and drives the husband mad. The secret moves in to the cottage just down the road, and despite his wife’s pleas, Mr. Munro can’t control himself any longer–he has to figure out who or what his wife is hiding and won’t wait until she’s ready to tell him the truth. Munro finds that a young, African-American child is living in the cottage, his wife’s child from her first marriage to a wealthy man in Atlanta. Mrs. Munro feared her child would be rejected by her new husband, but couldn’t suppress her motherly affections for her daughter any longer and desired to have her close. This is how Mr. Munro responds as he scoops the little girl up in his arms to take her home:

I’m not a very good man, Effie, but I think I am a better one than you have given me credit for being.

Not only did it melt my heart, but his words cut deep and made me question how often I underestimate my husband.

I think the Sherlock Holmes series, like the Chronicles of Narnia, will be a series that I will revisit again and again, though the former I might not read to my kids until they’re a little older!

Ally

Ally’s #7 So Long, Insecurity by Beth Moore

For a while, I was too insecure about what people might think of me reading this book to actually buy it. I knew I really needed to see what Beth had to say, but made excuses because I didn’t want what I read to force me to deal with some of my junk. But God knew my tendency to hide, and gave me grace and the opportunity to go through this study in a group setting where I could not ignore or avoid what was uncomfortable. Our group at PWOC (Protestant Women of the Chapel–Fort Riley) hasn’t even had a chance to discuss chapter one yet, and I’ve already plowed through the book. That’s how good this book is, and that’s how much I needed to hear what Beth had to say–all of it.

Several things hooked me right off the bat. First, Beth’s writing style is witty, powerful, and encouraging. A number of times, I felt like her words were hijacked straight from my brain…from somewhere in the deep recesses where I really don’t want anyone to venture, myself included. I felt exposed, yet empowered. Second, Beth said this is the closest things she’s ever written (or ever will write) to an auto-biography. I was intrigued to hear more about her past and was curious to see what this women, who epitomizes Christian womanly I’ve-got-it-all-togetherness, had to say about insecurities. How much, after all, did she really have to be insecure about? I barely made it through the first chapter before comparing myself to her (sound familiar?) and wondering if her pains were as deep as mine or if her insecurities as difficult to shake as mine. Here’s what she says:

I’m a common woman sharing common problems seeking common solutions on a journey with an uncommon Savior.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter who Beth is, who I am, or whether or struggles align. What matters is that we have Jesus, an uncommon Savior who is the only source of the security we are seeking. This book addresses the topic of insecurity so thoroughly and holistically that I don’t really know where to start. Beth discusses insecurities that are rooted in unhealthy view of men, cultural pressures, lies we believe about who we should be, insecurities in our relationships with other women, and how we seek the face of God to find relief from the mess. To put it succinctly, Beth’s goal is to help readers realize that we place too much of our identities (which should be wholly in Christ) in things that only make us feel worse about who we are. It’s a vicious cycle, and Satan loves when we get stuck in it.

Ladies, there is so much insight within these 350 pages that I’d be hard-pressed to sift through all of my highlights to give you the best nuggets. Please, just take my word for it. And men, don’t think this book wouldn’t be helpful for you. Have you ever been confused by a woman’s response that seemed a little insane or crazy and didn’t understand where all the emotions were coming from? Don’t blame it on estrogen, blame it on insecurities. Yup, we’re jacked up, but there are ways you can help and encourage us in our jacked-up-ness. If you love us, please read this book.

I want some soul-deep security drawn from a source that never runs dry and never disparages us for requiring it. We need a place we can go when, as much as we loathe it, we are needy and hysterical. I don’t know about you, but I need someone who will love me when I hate myself. And yes, someone who will love me again and again and again until I kiss this terrestrial sod good-bye.

ron

Ron’s #2: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

When I was in Mrs. Neidz’s 9th grade English class, I tried to bluff my way through discussions using only the Cliffsnotes version of reading Huck Finn. I hoped it was good enough to help me pass the quizzes. During the class, I found myself interested in the story and actually wished I had read the book. Never enough to actually read it, though. It took me over ten years to actually read it for myself. I earned a D in 9th grade English, by the way.

Huck Finn is a classic for a reason: it is really, really good. Part adventure down the Mississippi, part friendship between Huck and Jim, part social commentary on the treatment of blacks in the South. It is an important book, and no high school student should graduate without reading it. Sadly, many teachers today shy away from it because of the overabundance of the use of the N-word, a hyper-reaction to political correctness. Most educated readers will quickly see that this is as racist as Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” is cannibalistic.

I’ve taught Huck Finn many times, and I still find new aspects to appreciate and enjoy about the book. And for those familiar to the story, the scene when Huck tears up the letter and decided to “go to Hell” is perhaps one of my favorite moments in literature.

Huckleberry Finn the boy is the prototype of all teenage angst characters. There’d be no Holden Caulfield with Huck. No young adult fiction without him, although I think that might be a good thing.

Do yourself a favorite and listen to what your high school English teachers probably told you: Read Huck Finn. You will enjoy it.

Cool kids who have already read the book understand what this means:

In case you are wondering what my teaching handouts for students look like, here they are:

Unit 6: To Read or Not To Read Huckleberry Finn part 1
Unit 6: Huck Finn part 2

Huck Finn App for iPod and iPad 
Huck Finn audiobook for iPod

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