Thursday, July 17, 2008

Dutch: A Review

Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan by Edmund Morris

I was only 8 years old when Ronald Reagan left office, so I felt like I was rediscovering the famed era of my childhood while reading this book. RR was such an imposing figure upon my imagination, and I remember sadly watching as Alzheimer's slowly took his faculties and he dwindled away into a shadow of what he once was, while I grew into an adult. Through this biography, I learned much about the inner-workings of twentieth-century American history, and especially about Dutch himself. Though the author clearly displays Reagan's failings as well as his successes, I came away with a sense of awe and respect for this magnanimous man who denouced the "evil empire" and dreamed of a defense system in the stars.

The best part about this memoir is the author's ability to insert himself into the narrative (which was highly controversial, since Morris basically made himself a semi-fictional character in Reagan's story), but here, it works. This is a much more literary biography than I've read before, with beautiful, haunting descriptions and creative narrative touches throughout, including (appropriately enough for an actor-turned-President), a smattering of movie script-style sections.

The only drawback, in my opinion, is that I think the author expects the reader to be more familiar with the time period that is covered; there were many cultural and historical allusions or references that were unfamiliar to me. Perhaps, though, it just means I need to brush up on my 20th Century history!

All in all, I rate this as a fantastic book, and well worth the six months it took me to finally finish (of course, I had to read the footnotes, too-- they are almost as interesting as the bio itself!). Highly recommended to all, epseically during this Presidential election year. I think I began reading this the night after the Republican primary at the Reagan library. Hopefully, you will be able to finish it much sooner than I did, though it is a whopping 841 pages!


Monday, July 14, 2008

Medieval Animal Imagery in Lewis' LWW

From the first chapter of C.S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe:

"What's that noise?" said Lucy suddenly. It was a far larger house than she had ever been in before and the thought of all those long passages and doors leading into empty rooms was beginning to make her feel a little creepy.

"It's only a bird, silly," said Edmund.

"It's an owl," said Peter. "This is going to be a wonderful place for birds. ... I say, let's go and explore tomorrow. You might find anything in a place like this. Did you see those mountains as we came along? And the woods? There might be eagles. There might be stags. There'll be hawks."

"Badgers!" said Lucy.

"Foxes!" said Edmund.

"Rabbits!" said Susan.

But when next morning came there was a steady rain falling, so thick that when you looked out of the window you could see neither the mountains nor the woods nor even the stream in the garden.

This passage immediately precedes the part where the children begin exploring the house and Lucy finds the Narnian wardrobe for the first time. I think that Lewis uses this short passage to set up his characterization of the four Pevensie children from the very start.

Now that I'm a little more knowledgeable about the use of medieval symbolism (thanks mostly to J.K. Rowling, of all people, by way of John Granger), when I read this passage, something clicks. It may seem insignificant to you, but the animals that the children name give great insight into their characters and personalities as they are revealed throughout the series.

Lewis was a Classical scholar, and I think he has each child mention those particular animals purposefully. For example, Peter, who later becomes the High King of Narnia, mentions creatures that are often seen as noble and wise, and many that are also associated with Christ, like the stag, which is a symbol of the resurrection and the "Tree of Life." And this may be surprising to many, but the badger was considered a typical English symbol of bravery, courage and fierceness in defense, which I think we clearly see in Lucy as she ventures into the unknown with a stout heart and fiercely defends her Narnian experience despite others' doubts.

I won't go into more than that so as not to bore any of our non-literary readers, but I get very excited when I research the animals' symbolism and their respective association with different temperments. Perhaps one day I will actually have the time to write and research this, but for now, it will have to be something on my back burner. I can envision an entire paper just from this passage alone, but I also see possibilities in other Narnian books. I'm not sure if anyone in the academic world has picked up on Lewis' symbolism in this earlier passage, but for now, that research will have to wait. I hope at least someone out there finds this even the most tiny bit as interesting as I do! Thanks for indulging me. :)


Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Senior Thesis I Should've Written

In January 2001, during my junior year of college, I attempted to write my "Senior" thesis paper, because the next year I wanted to join the Service-Learning Interim trip, and didn't want to have to worry about writing a paper with so many other things looming before graduation, especially since I would have an Honors thesis due as well.

However, I was very naive and untrained in the ways of large-scale research papers, and it was a miserable failure. I procrastinated for months, even sacrificing most of my spring break to do research, and finally hurried up and edited my final drafts WHILE travelling in England that summer. (I was very thankful for e-mail.) I found out later that my professor didn't read it until November, and I could've continued working on it after I returned home! Ah, well. In hindsight, my advisor did warn me not to attempt writing a Senior Thesis before taking the Senior Seminar course, and I have to admit he was right. The folly of youth.

The only good thing that came out of that fateful January term was that I got to spend an entire month reading my favorite author! It was an entire course on C.S. Lewis' fiction-- we read the Narnia Chronicles and the Space Trilogy, and I got my first taste at "teaching" when the professor turned over one whole class to each of his "senior" students. I enjoyed it more than I liked to admit at the time.

Although my first attempt at a paper wasn't a smashing success, I managed to ramble on enough and quote enough proper sources to pull a B-. (The next year I discovered that a friend of mine had been in the exact same situation, even sharing the same advisor, and he gave her a B-, too, so I think he just took pity on us both!) Still, I've always longed to make up for that first sloppy attempt somehow, and I've kept the notes and articles in the hopes that I might one day find time to reconsider my thesis and possibly write a new paper. I definitely feel much more capable now.

Especially since I think I've discovered a new topic.

Part 2, where I describe my insights, will be automatically posted later Monday morning. :) So stick around. I promise the blog is coming back to life!


Thursday, July 03, 2008

Noise Trade -- Free Derek Webb (and more!)

This is cool. NoiseTrade is an effort to connect musicians with fans, without having to deal with all the hassle of a middleman. With this site, music fans can download high-quality music for free (or at a reduced cost). Derek Webb is one of the co-founders of the site, and you can get his latest, The Ringing Bell, for free via the site.

But Derek is just the tip of the iceberg. Sandra McCracken and Matthew Perryman Jones also have albums available, and new artists are being added daily. Check it out!