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The Dastard’s Dictionary: Biographical Section

Every good dictionary needs a biographical section (even if Ambrose Bierce left it out of his).

Alighieri, Dante. Author of The Divine Comedy. Discovered gravity before Isaac Newton, though neither of them was aware of the fact.

Austen, Jane. Author of Pride and Prejudice. Her intellect terrified people of her own day; her fans terrify people of this one.

Brontë, Charlotte or Emily or Anne or Patrick. Some of them were authors of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. To determine precisely which ones, consult an encyclopedia or an English professor.

Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan. Author of the Sherlock Holmes detective stories. Usually very good at writing bad fiction: the Sherlock stories were the exception. They have endured as a sign of the English public’s permanent shock.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Author of (rather odd) poetry; also a leading Transcendentalist. Believed to have inspired the “Where’s Waldo” books by remaining in a permanent state of confusion.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Author of The Scarlet Letter. A remarkably happy and positive person when rendered unconscious.

Homer. Author of The Iliad and The Odyssey. There is doubt as to whether Homer really existed. But even if he did not, he managed to annoy Plato and therefore deserves our admiration.

Kafka, Franz. Author of “The Metamorphosis.” A strong opponent of smashing large bugs.

Lewis, C. S. Author of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Middle-named “Staples” by his parents, leading psychologists to conclude that naming your child after office supplies may cause him to go by his initials.

MacDonald, George. Author of Phantastes, Lilith, and a number of children’s fairy stories. According to C.S. Lewis, guilty of baptizing the imagination of innocent atheists.

Morris, William. Author of The Well at the World’s End. Otherwise known for his obsession with socialism and/or household furniture.

O’Connor, Flannery. Author of Wise Blood, The Violent Bear It Away, and assorted short stories which have been confusing innocent churchgoers for the past fifty years.

Poe, Edgar Allan. Best known for his horror stories. He wrote no novels—fortunately.

Shakespeare, William. Author of Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, and so on. Incurred the eternal wrath of J.R.R. Tolkien by suggesting that elves were small and funny.

Stoker, Bram. Author of Dracula. Indirectly responsible for the Twilight series, and as such deserves the eternal opprobrium of every civilized person.

Thoreau, Henry David. Author of Walden, a book-length explanation of how the author was able to live in the woods for two years because his mother did his laundry.

Tolkien, J.R.R. Author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Believed to be the reason for a rise in pacifism among literary critics, many of whom concluded that if Elvish resulted from long hours in the trenches, trenches must be banned.

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Posted by on November 25, 2014 in Humor

 

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The Dastard’s Dictionary: Literary Edition

For those familiar with Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary (an online version is located here), this is my attempt–librarian style.

1024px-Nouveau_Dictionnaire_Larousse_pageAdult, n. Someone under the delusion of having grown up. This delusion usually develops in conjunction with a teenage effort to extend one’s curfew.

Adult fiction, n. Adult fictions may be found in three categories–that the grass on the other side is greener, that money grows on trees, and that cats are nice creatures.

Book burning, n. 1. The enraged reader’s final recourse. 2. The enraged non-reader’s first recourse. 3. What some Divergent fans want to do to Allegiant.

Censorship, n. 1. Ship sent ahead of the fleet to locate torpedoes. 2. The humane alternative to book burning.

Contradiction, n. When the features of a situation are opposed to one another. Example: The librarian shelved The Brother’s Grimm in the children’s section.

Fantasy, n. 1. The reason people repeatedly vote in presidential elections. 2. The attempts of some authors to simultaneously show multiple layers of reality while rearranging aspects of reality. See contradiction.

Fiction, n. This word is imaginary.

Genre, n. The cell block in which similar books are imprisoned.

Graphic novel, n. Cheating.

Intellectual freedom, n. The right of six-year-olds to read things that only interest their elders.

Library, n. A place where one goes to steal DVDs. Libraries own printed books, which are not as worthwhile to steal, and some also have e-books, which cannot be stolen at all.

Mystery, n. A literary genre explicitly designed to confuse the reader. Psychologists have attempted to explain the value of truthfulness to mystery writers, but without success.

Nonfiction, n. Boring, with the exceptions of tell-all memoirs, which should also be destroyed, but for different reasons. See book burning.

Oxymoron, n. A contradiction in terms, as in the phrase “a serious work of fiction.”

Pleasure, n. 1. An excuse for reading poor fiction. 2. A reason for reading good fiction. See oxymoron.

Reading, n. This phenomenon is most commonly associated with one’s Facebook feed. Prolonged reading requires concentration, which may cause furrows to appear in the forehead, and is generally discouraged for cosmetic reasons.

Romance, n. The literary genre in which bad titles result in higher library circulation.

Thriller, n. Genre designed to increase adrenaline while one slouches on the sofa.

Western, n. A literary genre frequently written and read by people who have never ridden a horse. See wish fulfillment.

Wish fulfillment, n. Achievable by fairy godmother.

Young adult, n. An adolescent under the delusion that he is growing up, but ought to be treated as if he had grown up already. That this is strictly a delusion was made clear by the marketing of Twilight as young adult fiction.

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2014 in Humor

 

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How to Protect Christians from Intellectualism (in Ten Easy Steps)

Before I student taught, I was required to take a largely useless class called “Teaching Bible Principles.” (A Reformed friend quipped that classes with “Bible principles” in the name tended to be useless in general.) The class was taught by a good professor (poor man) who had been saddled with a textbook that nearly all the students hated. (Of the four history education majors in the class, three objected to the chapter on history.) The book also warned against the dangers of intellectualism. At the time I thought the warning ridiculous, since most of the people who would read the book were more in danger of ignorance. But it occurred to me that people concerned with the problem of intellectualism in the church could use some guidelines for combatting it. So here they are.

  1. Do not define the word “intellectual.” This one is perhaps the most important. Maybe you’re really upset about higher criticism of the Bible, but don’t simply say you have a problem with higher critics. “Intellectuals” is much broader and includes more. Never mind that some scholars don’t like to be identified as “intellectuals.” And never mind that most ethnomusicologists have no opinion on the date of the Exodus.
  2. Do not distinguish between a veneer of intellectualism and actual intellectualism. In some Christian circles, sounding “intellectual” is popular. This can be most easily accomplished by constantly quoting from C.S. Lewis’s simpler works. Never mind that being an actual scholar—as Lewis was—might involve some less-than-easy things, like reading through Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy. Make sure that people do not know the difference between the two.
  3. Avoid acknowledging that American culture is anti-intellectual already. The intellectuals that Americans are most likely to respect are scientists (especially those involved in medical research) and computer scientists (so teenage girls can listen to One Direction on ever-more-efficient devices). Intellectuals are partly to blame for the situation, since reaching out to the public is frowned on in some academic circles. But scholarship has never been America’s strongest point. It’s easy to criticize something that most people don’t like anyway.
  4. Warn against the dangers of intellectual pride. Although some intellectuals do get stuck up, pride doesn’t magically appear after you write that thesis on the Peloponnesian War. But don’t acknowledge this fact. Never mind that getting stuck up is a good way to ensure that all your future ideas are junk. Never mind that the more you know, the more you should realize you don’t know.
  5. Do not warn against the dangers of anti-intellectual pride. Yes, this exists. Some Christians are very cocky about the fact that they are not intellectuals. Being glad you’re not an intellectual when you never really liked school may seem pointless, but if you word things right, most people won’t notice.
  6. Do not acknowledge that the Bible includes many godly “intellectuals.” Their number includes Moses, Jesus, and Paul. They weren’t ivory tower intellectuals, so sometimes their scholarly knowledge gets overlooked. Make good use of this fact.
  7. Avoid understanding the intellectual ideas you dislike. You never know—understanding the ideas could be dangerous to your spiritual health. Misunderstanding things will keep you from becoming interested in them. It also will help you make fun of them.
  8. Make fun of intellectuals and their ideas. This works best if you don’t actually know any.
  9. Avoid meeting any orthodox Christian “intellectuals.” If you make fun of them enough, most will just avoid you. And if they are avoiding you, your assumptions about them will remain safe.
  10. Never, never let scholarly types warn against intellectualism. They actually know what they are talking about, which is obviously a weakness in opposing something so insidious.

Sarcasm aside? The Western academic world isn’t exactly healthy today, so it’s no wonder that many Christians have been turned off by it. But I’d like to offer two cautions: first, if you don’t enjoy academics, avoid intensively criticizing “intellectualism.” That’s like a miser trying to offer advice on overcoming greed. Instead of criticizing “intellectualism,” try reading a book and critiquing that instead. You might develop a little insight along the way.

Second, we live in a culture that values entertainment and instant gratification, not wisdom. Most Christians don’t struggle with being too academic. And the few who are of a more scholarly bent tend to suffer from “uprootedness,” to use Simone Weil’s terminology. Already feeling alienated from mainstream culture, these Christians desperately need the support that the church can provide. And learning to serve in community with other followers of Christ is one of the best correctives to intellectual pride available. But that won’t happen if you make “intellectual” Christians feel as though scholarship is somehow unholy.

 
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Posted by on April 24, 2014 in Humor

 

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The Hobbit Movie (and Other Psychological Disturbances)

The Hobbit Film: 13 Dwarves

DSM 5, the American Psychological Association’s new manual, is coming out in the near future, and a surprising last-minute change has been reported. Psychologists have added a new category, broadly labeled “literary disorders.” And apparently the first and largest subcategory has been titled “Severe Tolkien Inundation Syndrome (STIS).”

STIS is associated with the following symptoms:

  • Repeatedly reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, particularly The Lord of the Rings
  • Reading any of Tolkien’s works but The Lord of the Rings and/or The Hobbit
  • Memorizing Tolkien’s poetry
  • Repeatedly watching The Lord of the Rings movies
  • Attending the midnight showing of The Hobbit
  • Hating The Lord of the Rings and/or The Hobbit movies for being too “inaccurate”
  • Ranting about “what Peter Jackson did to Faramir”

In teenage females, STIS can be accompanied by temporary Orlando Bloom obsession, which may eventually be followed by permanent hatred of Orlando Bloom. STIS is also associated with depression, largely initiated by the departure of the Elves.

Well—that isn’t quite accurate. Psychologists haven’t actually labeled STIS as a disorder (yet), although I expect at least some of them find it disturbing. Personally, I love Tolkien. And I show some of the signs of STIS. But my ability to quote “The Fall of Gil-galad” from memory doesn’t quite match up to a real Tolkien obsession. Enter my teenage brothers.

The younger of the two has what amounts to a level 10 Tolkien obsession. As in, that’s what he wants to talk about at least 50% of the time. Unfortunately he has a very unique way of interpreting The Lord of the Rings. He says that the Balrog is his favorite character and wishes that Frodo had turned into a wraith so he could destroy Rivendell. He is also the one who managed to get the Twin Towers confused with The Two Towers. He’s reading The Silmarillion right now, and that seems to have cooled him down. But I’m taking him to see The Hobbit when it comes out, and my mom fears that she’ll hear about nothing but Tolkien until long after Christmas.

The older one doesn’t have quite the obsession with all things Tolkien that his younger brother does, but he remembers more from the movies and has a tendency to quote them at inopportune times. I can’t even safely threaten to kill him any more. His latest retort: “You would die before your stroke fell.” (For those who haven’t memorized the movie, that’s a quote from Legolas in The Two Towers.) He also makes regular use of Gandalf’s opening statements: “A sister is always late. She arrives precisely when she intends to…. A brother is never late. He arrives precisely when he intends to.”

That’s when I redirect my attention to the younger brother, who starts talking about how he likes the orcs from Moria best. I suppose I should feel some guilt for his situation, since I was the one who started it all by reading him The Hobbit. So far I don’t feel a lot of guilt, although sometimes I do feel like fleeing to another room and shutting the door.

And then, afterwards, putting a warning sign on his door. Something like “One does not simply walk into Mordor.”

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2012 in Fantasy, Humor

 

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A Very Happy Death

Albert Camus, 1957.

Disclaimer: this is probably a very unfair synopsis of Camus’s early novel, A Happy Death. But I will synopse (is that a word?) it anyway. Another disclaimer: I am more irritated with Camus’s publishers than with Camus, who never meant the novel to be printed.

Enter Act One. Patrice Mersault is a young man who is very dissatisfied with his life. But he likes his girlfriend Martha. Make that he likes showing off with his girlfriend Martha. Or that he likes showing off with his companion—interest—image—Martha whatever. Then he finds out (gasp!) that his girlfriend has a past. The mirror smudges. He wants a list of boyfriends. Martha gives it to him. He doesn’t know one person on it. He wants to meet him. Boyfriend is a very thoughtful amputee. Mersault likes talking to him enough to come back and shoot him. Curtain.

Enter Act Two. Mersault visits Europe to find happiness. He hates Europe. Mersault visits friends to find happiness. He gets bored. Mersault goes home to find happiness. He buys a house in the country and achieves a new sense of reality. He gets sick and dies. He feels connected to Martha’s boyfriend as he is dying. Curtain. Applause.

Camus’s writing style and imagery are remarkable. And the first part of the book is fairly good—the death of Zagreus, Martha’s boyfriend, feels real. But the second part of the book feels disjointed, and Mersault becomes extremely irritating—walking around trying to achieve a higher level of reality while writing off his murder to “innocence” since it doesn’t disturb him.

The only other time that I have rooted for the death of a main character is in Macbeth. I first saw the play done as a staged reading, and all the characters wore such similar costumes that by the time I figured out who Macbeth was, he had gone bad. So I spent the rest of the play enjoying my anticipation of his death. And Shakespeare did not disappoint me.

Maybe I simply have a different personality than Camus did and therefore cannot take Mersault seriously. (Thought leaks from all corners of the novel, which does not help.) But I doubt that a personality difference is the only reason I find Mersault’s meditations (read: self-absorption) annoying. I really, really wanted him to die an exceedingly painful death—perhaps not physically painful, but painful in that all his illusions are stripped away.  But no. Mersault never suffers as a result of his murder; rather, he succeeds because “he had created his life with consciousness, with courage.”

Camus’s existentialism permeates A Happy Death in a frankly ugly way. In Camus’s later book The Plague, he suggests that fighting human suffering is the way to find meaning in a meaningless world. A Happy Death is the opposite scenario—finding meaning in a meaningless world by making choices centered around yourself. Existentialism, without a basis for morality, has room for both scenarios.

The young Camus wrote this end to his book: “The ascent stopped. And stone among the stones, he returned in the joy of his heart to the truth of the motionless worlds.”

But here is an alternate ending—if not poetic justice, the justice that suits, at any rate, this very amateur poet.

“And when Macbeth awoke from the dead, he crossed the sea to North Africa and thought to commence haunting the living. Upon looking in the phone book he came upon Patrice Mersault’s name and decided that, since it began with the same letter as his own, he would pay him a visit. The ghost found Mersault sitting at his kitchen table, breathing shallowly.

“’I will be conscious without deception, without cowardice,’ gasped Mersault. ‘I shall be the blood brother of Zagreus. I who have inflicted death am going to die.’

“’Oh?’ said Macbeth. ‘What did you do it for—power? Or money? Maybe a woman? Did the witches come to you, too?’

“’I did it in the innocence of my heart,’ said Mersault.

“’You are an idiot,’ said Macbeth. ‘Have you had last rites?’

“’I wish to return to the motionless worlds in the joy of my heart.’ Mersault laid his head down on his elbows. Unfortunately as he did so his moving elbow accidentally flung a glove that had been lying on the table into Macbeth’s face.

“’Oh, so you wish to die fighting?’ asked Macbeth. ‘Good man!’ And he promptly knocked Mersault on the head.”

If only.

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2012 in Realistic Fiction

 

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Leadership–Narnian Style

While I’m not thrilled with the results of yesterday’s election–and wouldn’t have been, no matter how it turned out–I’m glad it’s over. All the lawn posters get on my nerves; and also, I’m not overly fond of suspense. That’s one reason why I enjoy books more the second time through—after I already know everything that will happen. (Yes, I’ve been told that doesn’t make sense.)

That pattern definitely holds true for C. S. Lewis’s Narnia series. I tend to read it once a year, and I enjoy it far more now than I did as a child (much as I enjoyed several of the books then). Since most of us are tired of all the campaigning, I thought that I would write this week’s post on something a little lighter—tips for leadership, Narnia-style.

  1. Carry a sword. It looks good, and anyway, you never know when you may need to kill a rampaging wolf. For maximum satisfaction, name your sword and hire a dwarvish smith to inscribe prophecies on the blade.
  2. Hunting without weapons is a wonderful leaderly pastime. It also entails the risk of being shipped back to World War II.
  3. Be suspicious of your family members. If your brother stares at hills in the distance—if your uncle seems grumpy—if your sister puts on too much make-up—be very, very careful.
  4. Leave your game pieces lying around. It could help you save your country in a few hundred years.
  5.  If you want to have a good political philosophy—base it on fairy tales.
  6.  It is all right to leave your country for months at a time. Just as long as you are fulfilling an oath to find men you’ve never seen in your life.
  7.  But it is not all right to sail off the edge of the earth. Your countrymen might miss you (eventually).
  8. Do not let your children go snake hunting. They might spend the next ten years of their lives clanking around in black armor, plotting to overthrow you.
  9. Driving a hansom cab around London is a good preparation for your political career. Particularly if you learn farming first.
  10.  Avoid being turned into a donkey—it’s bad for public relations.
 
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Posted by on November 7, 2012 in Humor

 

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Flannery O’Connor, the…Cartoonist?

Flannery O’Connor is well known as a novelist, but what your American Literature teacher might not have told you is that she originally aspired to make her living by drawing political cartoons. Here is a link to some of the cartoons she did for her college newspaper, courtesy of superitch.com.

 
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Posted by on October 10, 2012 in Guest, Humor

 

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