Thoughts on “The Iceman Cometh”

As a die-hard advocate of self-awareness, The Iceman Cometh was an interesting challenge to my current creed. In this play, Hickey, a reformed party animal, tries to sell a new philosophy to his old friends.

“Give up your impossible dreams,” Hickey urges his friends (paraphrased, of course), “reclaim the identity you’ve hidden from so long–be free. Free from yourself, free from nagging pipe-dreams, free from escapism.”

Buying his philosophy, however, leads them to a state of suicidal nihilism–even beer can’t get them drunk. O’Neill is, perhaps, then suggesting the importance, then, of pipe dreams to the human being–or, at least, to the human being’s  survival, however dark and hopeless that survival may be.

From a Christian perspective, though, the fascinating thing is that coming to the nihilistic rock bottom place that many of the characters do is when most people learn to lean on Jesus–when most people decide to change the direction in which they’re heading.

Not these characters.

Pearl and Marjory admit that they’re prostitutes, but don’t find the ability to change where they are in life. Harry and Jimmy Tomorrow come to the realization that they won’t be able to get the jobs they want but refuse to look for new ones.

“I was born this way,” the saying goes, “I can’t change.” But the thing is, everyone has a choice–especially when Jesus is brought into the picture. I wonder if, without Jesus, mankind needs some sort of pipedream to keep them alive.

Unorganized Thoughts on the Philosophy of Horror

Most Christians I am familiar with wince or scoff at the idea of reading horror. They see it as demonic–and in some cases, I am prone to agree. But in many cases, I find that the genera of horror contains within in many opportunities for good philosophy–especially for Christians.

The Horror genera often employs the idea of a world beyond the physical.
This is what makes the horror genre so terrifying–everything we as readers know is yanked from underneath us and we are sent plunging into a drop of the unknown, the metaphysical, the uncertain. Nothing mankind has developed–no laws, no expectations–carry over into this new realm, a realm the protagonist hadn’t thought imaginable.

To the Christians, we are well familiar with this idea of a “spiritual” or “different realm”–mostly because we live in it. While our realm doesn’t require us to fight off long-dead serial killers or grapple with vengeful ghosts, we live in a world separate–yet entwined–with the secular one. Like the protagonist with a sixth sense, we are able to see the darkness of this world–a darkness others aren’t often aware of–and the havoc it wrecks. Also like the protagonist, we are fully capable of being assaulted by this darkness, being strangled by it. We must remember that we are no better than anyone else–no purer. The only difference is we can see something they can’t–and we have to deal with it.

Unlike the horror protagonist, however, Christians do not depend solely on their own cunning to free themselves from this darkness–we depend on Jesus. On our own, we can’t survive constant waves of darkness striking us, we can’t be the ones to make the brave decision to take the haunted house down with us. We need Jesus.

The Horror genre strips humanity to its bare bones.
To me, this is one of the most fascinating aspects of the Horror genre. We often begin with a character to whom anyone can relate to. Just like us, he or she has grown up with the secular world, with science, with its expectations–and then he or she is thrown into hell.

There are no more comforts and there is no more civilization: what is the protagonist going to do about it?

From a philosophical standpoint, people have been arguing over this for years. What is man like without civilization? Honestly, I would like to see Hobbs and Rousseau write their own horror novels to back up their claims.

That would be awesome.

I, personally, want to try and write from the perspective of a Christian. How, for example, would you reveal Christ to that vengeful ghost? What about Freddy Krugar? In the midst of a war between vampires and werewolves? To pick the most unlikely situation, the most unlikely people–that is what I would like to do.

As Authors, We Must Be Careful

In their book, The Myth of the American Superhero, John Shelton Lawrence and Robert Jewett discuss something they call “the Werther effect.”

In the Werther effect a [reader or audience member] (a) experiences a work of fantasy within a secular context that (b) helps to shape the reader/viewer’s sense of what is real and desirable, in such a way that , (c) the reader/viewer takes actions consistent with the vision inspired by the interaction between his own fantasy and that popular entertainment. (Myth, 10)

In other words, the readers (or audience members) experience the story in a personal way and shape their opinions, beliefs and desires from these false experiences as they would real ones. For example, if there is a movie or novel that promotes war, the Werther effect would instill upon its readers/viewers this pro-war sentiment. The same goes for anti-religion or anti-establishment–through the Werther effect, any philosophy–even if not consciously propaganda–is absorbed and adopted by the readers/viewers.

The namesake for this effect comes from an eighteenth century author, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who wrote a story about a young man named Werther. Now Werther was a romantic fellow who only had eyes for one woman–and she denies him. So he commits suicide. “Within a decade of this novel’s publication,” the authors explain, “it had become an international sensation.” (Myth, 10) Young people loved the book–they could relate well to the protagonist and his deep desires for another. In fact, they loved the book so much, they could relate to the protagonist so well, that they decided to immitate him.

They committed suicide.

“All over Europe large numbers of young people committed suicide with a copy of the book clutched in their hands or buried in a pocket.” (Myth, 9) Walter Kaufman explains.

That is why Lawrence and Jewett call their condition “the Werther effect.”

Every book–however cliche and contrived–has a philosophy to it. Harry Potter, among other things, stresses the importance of equality, The Dresden Files praises the strength and cunning of the individual, Beowulf teaches the qualities of a “good king”–no book is without its Philosophy. A good book, however, often creates its own Werther effect–the readers relate to the main character, live through the story themselves, and adopt the character’s own conclusions.

This is why we as authors must be careful.

Words are powerful. Powerful enough to destroy establishments, change cultures and take lives. We must be careful what we write, what we promote, in case our readers experience a Werther Effect when reading our work.

Poor Johanne Goethe was held accountable for all of his readers that committed suicide. Preachers, families, friends, all of them chastised him and threw the blame of these suicides on his shoulders. Goethe hadn’t wanted to promote suicide–of course he hadn’t–but it was his writing that twisted these youth’s hearts to the point of suicide. It was his writing. What a terrible thing to live with.

As authors we must be careful. We aren’t simply writing something we find “fun” or “interesting.” We are writing a scenario for our readers to live through, giving them a chance to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.” They gleen their own conclusions, their own beliefs, from what they read, but we need to be very careful as to what we promote. We don’t want it blowing back in our faces.

What I Learned From Reading “The Shining”

Oh boy, where to start. There were so many things in this book that I learned from–probably because I had trouble putting the book down as a reader. Stephen King knows how to work suspense, that’s for sure. I would plan on reading three chapters and stop for the day, but he’d build up so much tension, so much suspense that I had to read on. One more chapters, two more chapters… I almost wasn’t sorry that I went to work sleep deprived.

Almost.

1) Always get people invested in your characters

I loved each and everyone one of King’s characters in The Shining even though they were hardly perfect. Jack’s temper and Wendy’s naggy-ness (word?) did bring quite a bit of judgement on their characters, but they were so human. I could feel Jack’s desperation to stay sober and calm for his family and could relate to Wendy’s need to have a semi-normal family.

I absolutely loved them and so when conflicts arose (Jack losing his mind to the house, Wendy and Danny’s nearly fruitless attempts to survive) I suffered with them. I silently urged Jack on as he battled with temptation and I think my heart froze as I read about the horrors of Room 217 and Danny’s narrow escape from the horrors on the playground.

I wanted the characters to be happy, to survive.

That’s why it’s important to spend the time to acquaint the readers with the characters–a book with loveable characters practically reads itself. And I don’t think the characters have to be perfect either–but there has to be something in them that we can relate to, that we love.

2) Never make things too easy

It was impossible to put the book down when any of the characters were staring death in the face.

Impossible.

I’m the kind of person who skips to the end of the book at the first sign of tension, but I still had to read on during conflicts. Even if I know the ending, I don’t yet know how things turn out that way. If the conflict is boring, if the answer to the conflict is obvious, I shrug my shoulders and give up on the book.

Sure perfect characters are easy to write and sometimes it’s satisfying to keep conflicts small and easy for them to solve–but those are the most boring stories to read. The best books–the ones I have to devote an entire day to reading because I know I won’t be able to set them down–are the ones where the characters MESS UP, where they’re thrown in the middle of hell and have to find their way out.

Of course, as a Christian, I don’t agree with the solution of non-Christian authors. They think that men can solve the problem. That if we gird our loins and think outside the box, we can do anything. I don’t think so. I can’t think so. It’s insanely fun to read, sure, but I know the only one who can get you out of a hole is God, so it will be interesting to figure out how to create tension in a Christian novel.

3) Evil is more terrifying when it’s human

This I don’t think King emphasized, though he did employ it. He gave Jack a personality, a character, a past. Jack was a person. A person with flaws, sure, but a person, none-the-less.

And he succumbed to the house’s corruption and malice. It was terrifying to see him do so too. I love how the evil seeps into his brain through the house and yet he accepts these warped ideas without a second thought.

Beautiful.

I do think it might have been more terrifying if the House (or, rather, Hotel, I suppose) had a hold on him, but it hadn’t killed Jack. If each of his choices had been fully his–even the one to kill his son. That would have been terrifying–especially if King had created a rational path between the loving father and the murderer rather than falling into dementia and irrational thought.

Still, his methods were terrifying and I learned a TON.

There’s so much I still want to touch on, but I need to be sure that I don’t skip another night’s sleep for this book. 🙂

Christians and Racism

Christianity stirs up a lot of feelings in people. Some feel immense guilt at the mention, others are shaken with anger or filled with passion. Somewhere a long the line, Christianity has become the grounds for a war. Christians feel as if they must  defend their faith and some non-Christians feel the need to demolish Christianity, as if it’s the final obstacle in mankind’s epic journey to happiness–a seven headed hydra of sorts. Why is this?

Most non-Christians I have spoken with relate Christianity with a white supremist bastard with no common sense. Christians, in their opinion, have no interest in Science–and if they do, their religion hinders them in the field. They are uneducated, pompous and live their life with an eternal “holier than thou” attitude.

As Christians, we really don’t do much to help Jesus’ PR, either.

Throughout history, there have been records of Christians who abuse the faith and twist it into a method for raising themselves above others. “We’re Christian,” some people wrongfully think, “and you aren’t, which makes us better than you.”

But where is that in the Bible? Where is the Bible verse that says it’s okay to hate people because of their sexual orientation or their addictions or their skin colour or their religions or their culture? Where does the Bible say that Christians are better than non-Christians? I don’t know where these scriptures are, but I do know in Luke Jesus warns us that “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11) and the Bible prizes humility over pride. “After all,” Jesus says, “if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!”

As Christians, we are called to mirror Christ into the world–and Christ never looked down his nose at people. He stayed true to God’s priciples and laws–as should we–but he ate with sinners and outcasts, he befriended the least likely in his society and he saw women as something other than just belongings.

Being a Christian, therefore, is not an excuse to mistreat others or to see yourself as better than the rest of humanity but a promise to God that you will mirror His Love into the world.