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Lars and the Real Girl October 26, 2008

Posted by sensawunda in Movies.
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If you want to see a movie with Christian values that doesn’t preach or give you a sappy, saccharine Moral of the Story, ignore the two-line synopsis and try Lars and the Real Girl.

Sensawundameter:

The Journey of Anne Rice August 29, 2008

Posted by sensawunda in Books, Other Sites, Spirituality.
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Of all the interviews with Anne Rice I’ve heard since her “Christ the Lord” series hit bookstores, Dick Staub’s is the best.

Her return to faith is truly miraculous. In addition, they discuss the history & scholarship that inspired her, her surprise at the chord her new novels have struck, the spiritual symbolism in her vampire novels… Staub and Rice just have a great conversation, and we get to listen in.

Tune in at www.thekindlings.com — the interview was posted on Aug. 28, 2008.

Imagination and Story August 16, 2008

Posted by sensawunda in Other Sites, Quotes, Sensawunda 101, Spirituality.
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Here is an excellent post on the place of imagination in Christian life, our need for Story:

Hayhow’s Review.

The Dark Knight and the dark side of sensawunda August 14, 2008

Posted by sensawunda in Movies, Sensawunda 201.
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At first blush, it might seem Batman: The Dark Knight would be a candidate for the “Not Sensawunda” category. It’s not about the wonder of being Batman, not even in the obligatory Bat-gadget scenes with Morgan Freeman channeling “Q”. In many ways it has the feel of act two of a trilogy, when everything goes wrong. Now, Bruce Wayne—with his friends and all of Gotham—begins to reap the tragic consequences of his choice to don a disguise and go vigilante.

However, the story hearkens back to traditions that parallel the roots of sensawunda. One of these days I intend to write about how sensawunda descends from the Romantic-era concept of the sublime. At the same time the Romantics were developing the literature of the sublime, they were also developing its dark side—the Gothic.

To quote the Wikipedia article linked above, “the literary Gothic embodies an appreciation of the joys of extreme emotion, the thrills of fearfulness and awe inherent in the sublime, and a quest for atmosphere…. Prominent features of Gothic fiction include terror (both psychological and physical), mystery, the supernatural, ghosts, haunted houses and Gothic architecture, castles, darkness, death, decay, doubles, madness, secrets and hereditary curses.”

I’m no expert on Gothic literature, but when I ran across that Wikipedia article in my quest to characterize The Dark Knight adequately, it seemed to fit better than anything. It may not have all the trappings, but it has the feel. That being said, I welcome comments from anyone who knows more about Gothic than I do. (It wouldn’t take much.)

Heath Ledger’s jaw-dropping portrayal of madness as the Joker elevates The Dark Knight to the top shelf of Gothic-style terror. I watched him with a horrified fascination that could almost be called sublime, although the term properly refers to feelings inspired by nature’s vastness. In a way, the Joker was like a force of nature: unpredictible and terrible.

Where the Joker’s involved, nothing can be taken at face value any longer, not even his madness. Gotham becomes a hall of mirrors that transforms light into darkness and good into evil. It is the sublime terror of watching this unfold that makes The Dark Knight a textbook example of the dark side of sensawunda.

Where’s the wonder in magic realism? July 21, 2008

Posted by sensawunda in Books.
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I have just finished the seminal work of magic realism, One Hundred Years of Solitude  by Gabriel García Márquez (tr. Gregory Rabassa). Of course it’s a brilliant novel, and I’m not just saying that because it’s made all the lists of the top 100 novels of the 20th century and Márquez has a Nobel Prize for Literature. My tastes aren’t THAT easily swayed. ;-)

In the context of a blog on sensawunda, though, the remarkable thing about magic realism is how the characters in a magic realism story don’t seem to realize anything wondrous is happening. The supernatural is as much a part of their lives as the natural.

 The edition I bought has an appendix that quotes Márquez explaining the effect he was striving for.

The tone… was based on the way my grandmother used to tell stories. She told things that sounded supernatural and fantastic, but she told them with complete naturalness…. What was most important was the expression she had on her face. She did not change her expression at all when telling her stories…. In previous attempts to write, I tried to tell the story without believing in it. I discovered that what I had to do was believe in them myself and write them with the same expression with which my grandmother told them: with a brick face.

It’s a far cry from the way most fantasy uses wonder. Usually the wonder is signalled with elevated language and a rarefied atmosphere, or in movies with a swell of music, unusual lighting, special effects. Or if nothing else, at least some gosh-wow behavior on the part of the characters.

[It occurs to me that this might be part of the reason for disappointment in the Star Wars prequels. The original trilogy had traditional wonder, as Luke discovered the Force and found himself able to do magical things. The prequels were more like magic realism, with the Jedi at their peak (or a little past it), everyone just taking the Force for granted. And yet, that could have worked…. I think the main reason it works for Márquez is that the novel is so well-written regardless.]

Many of the supernatural events are so completely outrageous that perhaps the only way to get away with them at all is to tell them with a “brick face.” He had already discovered that telling the story as if it were a “tall tale” didn’t work. Telling it, instead, as if it were dry history seems to strike the right note.

So where’s the wonder? If it’s not in the tone, or the atmosphere, or the language, or the characters, where is it? The wonder is in the reader.

In a way, the “brick face” delivery and the matter-of-fact demeanor of the characters add to the reader’s wonder. Tiny snippets of wonder emerge and flutter around your head, one after another, like the tiny yellow butterflies that always seem to appear when one character meets with her lover.

No doubt it’s a real trick for a writer to pull off. But Márquez makes you believe.

Surprised by Wonder April 20, 2008

Posted by sensawunda in Other Sites, Quotes, Spirituality.
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 I haven’t been reading much fiction lately, or watching many movies or TV shows. But I keep finding, in the most surprising places, passages in my non-fiction reading that pertain to sense of wonder.

The title of this post might make you think I’m going to write about C.S. Lewis. Actually, the author in question is John Piper, but I don’t think he’d mind; he likes to quote Lewis.

This quote comes from page 192 of When I Don’t Desire God by John Piper:

The Power of Human Words to Make the World a Cause of Joy

It is not a mistake that so much of the Bible is written in poetry. Nor is it a mistake that there are so many biblical metaphors and similes. The lesson is that God has ordained for language to pierce and portray what colorless language cannot do. The human heart moves irrepressibly toward poetry because it knows intuitively that the natural world is not all there is. The heart may not even believe that the heavens are telling the glory of God. But it knows, deep down, that they are telling something more than meets the physical eye.

Therefore, in our fight for joy it may often be helpful to read penetrating literature and see powerful drama. Not because they can ever rival or replace the Scriptures, but because they are part of the God-revealing creation and its reflection. God did not put us in the world to ignore it, but to use it wisely. From the beginning, human beings have discovered that the reflection of the world in human art wakens us to the world itself and what the world is saying about God. Echoes can waken us to the shout of reality, and poetry can give us eyes to see. If we weren’t afflicted with persistent sleepiness of soul, we might see all the glory there is in nature. But as it is, we need help from creative artists.

You can read John Piper’s book Desiring God, its sequel When I Don’t Desire God, and a number of Piper’s other books online—free!

What fiction is for March 30, 2008

Posted by sensawunda in Quotes, Sensawunda 101.
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Here’s a quote from an unexpected source: How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler & Charles Van Doren. [now my secret’s out, LOL!] This book is mostly about reading expository books analytically; by “imaginative literature” they mean anything that isn’t expository.

We owe much to the expository literature—the philosophy, science, mathematics—that has shaped the real world in which we live. But we could not live in this world if we were not able, from time to time, to get away from it. We do not mean that imaginative literature is always, or essentially, escapist. In the ordinary sense of that term, the idea is contemptible. If we must escape from reality, it should be to a deeper, or greater, reality. This is the reality of our inner life, of our own unique vision of the world. To discover this reality makes us happy; the experience is deeply satisfying to some part of ourselves we do not ordinarily touch. In any event, the rules of reading a great work of literary art should have as an end or goal just such a profound experience. The rules should clear away all that stops us from feeling as deeply as we possibly can….

The great majority of books that are read are stories of one kind or another. People who cannot read listen to stories. We even make them up for ourselves. Fiction seems to be a necessity for human beings. Why is this?

One reason why fiction is a human necessity is that it satisfies many unconscious as well as conscious needs. It would be important if it only touched the conscious mind, as expository writing does. But fiction is important, too, because it also touches the unconscious.

[from pages 205-206 and 220 of the 1972 edition]

“Hedgehog in the Fog” February 10, 2008

Posted by sensawunda in Movies.
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Here is a link to an enchanting Russian animated short film called “Hedgehog in the Fog.”

The Hedgehog discovers the sublime wonder of the world by seeing it from an altered perspective (provided by the fog). Sometimes frightening, sometimes beautiful… transformed, and transformative.

I have heard one opinion that found the hedgehog character “dull.” Thinking about this, I believe it’s because he’s a more passive character than we’re used to… especially after generations of Western fiction writers have had it drummed into their heads that “protagonists must be active!” The Hedgehog does choose to enter the fog, though.

The animation is just lovely. I could watch this over and over.

Sensawundameter:

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The Smartest Book Meme in Town January 28, 2008

Posted by sensawunda in Books, Memes.
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As created by Eva, who will enter you in a drawing if you leave a comment on her post, and as tagged by superfastreader.

Which book do you irrationally cringe away from reading, despite seeing only positive reviews?

The Bell Jar or anything else by Sylvia Plath. For one thing, I have a tendency to mistrust any author who committed suicide (yes, that includes Hemingway, and Freud most especially!), and everything I’ve read about Plath makes me think her works would just depress me.

If you could bring three characters to life for a social event (afternoon tea, a night of clubbing, perhaps a world cruise), who would they be and what would the event be?

Well, this isn’t very original, but I like it: Merry, Pippin, and Gandalf, to throw me a birthday party like Bilbo’s with tons of great Hobbit food and Gandalf’s fireworks.

(Borrowing shamelessly from the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde): you are told you can’t die until you read the most boring novel on the planet. While this immortality is great for awhile, eventually you realise it’s past time to die. Which book would you expect to get you a nice grave?

I dunno, but I bet it would be a Harlequin romance. I started to read one once when I was a teen… you’d think with all the adolescent hormones, I would have gotten into it, but I couldn’t get past chapter 1.

Come on, we’ve all been there. Which book have you pretended, or at least hinted, that you’ve read, when in fact you’ve been nowhere near it?

It’s not exactly “nowhere near,” but I wrote papers on both Don Quixote and Tristram Shandy without having read more than a chapter or three… I simply ran out of time.

As an addition to the last question, has there been a book that you really thought you had read, only to realise when you read a review about it/go to ‘reread’ it that you haven’t? Which book?

I can’t recall any such occasion.

You’re interviewing for the post of Official Book Advisor to some VIP (who’s not a big reader). What’s the first book you’d recommend and why? (if you feel like you’d have to know the person, go ahead of personalise the VIP)

Hoo boy. That’s a toughie. Easier to think of nonfiction titles for that, than fiction. Let’s say the VIP is a woman. Then how about The Secret Life of Bees. I dunno, I’m just throwing it out there. It’s deep without being difficult to read.

A good fairy comes and grants you one wish: you will have perfect reading comprehension in the foreign language of your choice. Which language do you go with?

Mandarin Chinese. I know just enough to have an inkling of what I might be missing.

A mischievious fairy comes and says that you must choose one book that you will reread one a year for the rest of your life (you can read other books as well). Which book would you pick?

The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. It’ll leave me plenty of time for my other reading! :-D (gotcha, mischievous fairy!)

I know that the book blogging community, and its various challenges, have pushed my reading borders. What’s one bookish thing you ‘discovered’ from book blogging (maybe a new genre, or author, or new appreciation for cover art-anything)?

Even though I have been aware of Gabriel Garcia Marquez for a long time, it was a discussion on superfastreader that finally impelled me to buy One Hundred Years of Solitude and start reading it. (Haven’t finished it yet, though!)

That good fairy is back for one final visit. Now, she’s granting you your dream library! Describe it. Is everything leatherbound? Is it full of first edition hardcovers? Pristine trade paperbacks? Perhaps a few favourite authors have inscribed their works? Go ahead-let your imagination run free.

When I lived in Wichita, there was an artist who always took out a booth at crafts fairs. He painted colorful scenes of cats and cat-sized dragons and books and wizards. I still remember one painting of a huge library that must have been three stories high, with balconies every dozen feet or so, ladders, the walls were nothing but bookcases. A little desk in the middle of the floor, and an easy chair, and a fireplace. And cats and little dragons sneaking about. I shoulda bought a print… wonder if I’ll ever see that artist’s work again? Of course I don’t remember his name!

Plus, I just love what superfastreader would ask for, I’ll just say “me too”:

I’m going to also add a touch of magic. Bookshelves that never run out of room. Books that never go missing. Books that are always available to lend out–even if they never come back, there’s always a copy available. And a magic clock, so I can stop the hands of time and steal an hour to read.

Hold onto wonder December 13, 2007

Posted by sensawunda in Quotes.
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The Sensawunda quote of the week comes from Rachel Carson.

If I had influence with the Good Fairy, I would ask that her gift to each child be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life.

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