Review: Danse Macabre by Stephen King


I loved reading this book again after so many years. I did not realize how much of his analyses I have stolen for use in my classes I teach. I have learned so much about not only literature from Stephen King, but about writing as well. What I would have given to be sitting in one of those few classes he taught. But that is what this book is-it is sitting in a Stephen King lecture on the horror/science fiction/fantasy genres. It may even be a film class as well. His insight into the socio-political messages in these works, and his relating it to the current social situation of the times add so much more depth to understanding this genre.

I did, however, find myself disappointed that this book had not been updated in more than just the foreword though. It seemed very dated and, of course, did not include analyses of more modern works. I can certainly understand why King only added the foreword, rather than re-writing the whole book. That would have been an undertaking. My only other complaint about this novel, and the reason it did not receive a 5-star rating, is that King is quite repetitive throughout the novel. It seemed like he belabored his points on many occasions. I think this book could have been much shorter, even with King’s tangents and asides (which I love by the way). All in all, it is a grade read and even an education. Four out of five stars.

C.S. Lewis on Socialism

Recently, upon sharing that I had lost my faith in God, and even the belief in God, several people suggested that I read Mere Christianity by CS Lewis. Although I do not find his rhetorical argument for the existence of God sound, I found his arguments about free will intriguing and definitely his critique of the modern Christian.  I know when I was a Christian, this is how I interpreted the ideas of social behavior in the New Testament. It is very curious, then, as CS Lewis is admired by many modern Christians, and this very book recommended by them, that they choose to ignore this part of his argument as well as this part of the New Testament.  Socialism is the great evil according to many Christians. Capitalism and financial success are literally worshipped in this society, and by none more so than Christians. From CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity:  

“The New Testament, without going into details, gives us a pretty clear hint of what a fully Christian society would be like . . .a Christian society would be what we now call Leftist . . .If there were such a society in existence and you or I visited it, I think we should come away with a curious impression.  We should feel that its economic life was very socialistic and, in that sense, ‘advanced,’ but that its family life and its code of manners were rather old fashioned. . .That is just what one would expect if Christianity is the total plan for the human machine.  We have all departed from that total plan in different ways, and each of us wants to make out those bits and pieces and leave the rest.  That is why we do not get much further; and that is why people who are fighting for quite opposite things can both say they are fighting for Christianity.

Now another point.  There is one bit of advice given to us by the ancient heathen Greeks, and by the Jews in the Old Testament, and by the great Christian teachers of the Middle Ages, which the modern economic system has completely disobeyed.  All these people told us not to lend money at interest: and lending money at interest—what we call investment—is the basis of our whole system” (Lewis, pp. 65-66).

To Elucidate Further on the Feeling of Awe in Beauty

A while back, on another page, I quoted CEM Joad (philosopher) on the inability of science to account for the appreciation of beauty.  By appreciation of beauty, I mean specifically, the awe or wonder beauty inspires, which as far as I can work it out in my mind, has no specific purpose in evolution.  I do not attempt to discredit evolution in general, but it occurs to me that it might not be all that explains us.  Joad makes some good points in this regard, which actually led me to further explore these ideas in the ancient writings of Plato, which in my opinion, further supports this conclusion. I should not say conclusion, exactly, in that these are just beginnings of ideas in me so far. Although I have read Plato before, I did not read it with the same interest or thought as I do now.  Because this book, The Recovery of Belief, is rare and hard to find, I would like to quote directly from Joad, who illustrates this feeling more than I am able.

On the three Values of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty:

“They include the experience of a sunset or of a great view from a mountaintop; they include, also, some great act of heroism or self-sacrifice, and they are illustrated by a life which is devoted to the disinterested pursuit of Truth.

Of these experiences, four characteristics may be predicated. First, they are not merely contingent but convey a sense of their necessity; we realize, in fact, that they could not be other than they are, the universe being what it is.

Secondly, they are not arbitrary but are felt to be significant, significant of something beyond themselves. We feel that the reason why they could not be other than they are is that they reveal something of the nature of the universe. . . Now these experiences, when we have them are strangely moving.

Thirdly, they bring with them a sense of release, release from the needs and desires, the wants and cravings, the driving impulses of daily life. . .Wishing, fearing, craving, hoping, and willing, we may never, except in the rare moments of aesthetic enjoyment or the secure possession of truth, be at rest. We must be forever doing and stirring, meddling, changing, and improving.  But in the appreciation of pictures, of great music or of nature . . . we get a momentary and fleeting glimpse of the nature of that, the full knowledge of which may be conceived as constituting at least in part our true end. For that moment, and for so long as the glimpse persists, we realize in anticipation and almost, as it were, illicitly, the nature of the end. We are, if I may so put it, for the moment there, just as a traveler may obtain a fleeting glimpse of a distant country from a height passed on the way, and cease for a space from his journey to enjoy the view. And since we are for the moment there, we experience, while the moment lasts, that sense of liberation from the drive of life, which has been noted as one of the special characteristics of aesthetic experience. We, who are part and parcel of the evolutionary stream, are permitted for a moment to be withdrawn from the thrust and play of impulse and desire. We feel neither need nor want and, losing ourselves in the contemplation of a reality which is other than ourselves, become for the moment selfless. When we experience those significant combinations of forms or sounds to which we give the name of beautiful in art, our contemplation is, in a word, will-less in its character.

But, fourthly. . .Beauty often takes us by surprise, whether it comes to us as a sudden view of a landscape, as a harmony of shape and line, or, it may be, as music accidentally heard from an open window in the street.  Nor is the reason far to seek.  Aesthetic appreciation is unconditioned by considerations of time and space and, while it lasts, lifts us out of the arena of moral struggle and conflict in which our daily lives are passed. For this reason we are not allowed to indulge it overmuch. And so, before we are even fully assured that the vision of beauty is ours, we are caught up and thrust back into the whirlpool of want and need, of striving, loving, and fearing which is our day-to-day experience as individuals.  This no doubt is the reason for the fleeting and ephemeral nature of even the most lasting aesthetic experience; to this it owes its unsatisfactory and tantalizing character. . . The soul is at once gladdened and disappointed. The veil is lifted so quickly that we have scarcely time to know that it has gone before it has fallen again. But during the moment of lifting we get a vision of a something behind and beyond which passes, before it is clearly seen, and which in passing leaves behind a feeling of indefinable longing and regret. . .

And strangely, the longing and regret are for what is somehow familiar. There is an element of nostalgia in aesthetic experience which finds expression in philosophies of pre-existence from Plato’s theory of Reminiscence onwards. . .

These characteristics of our highest experiences, characteristics which I have tried to convey in terms of aesthetic experience, though they are by no means confined to this, are, I believe, most plausibly to be explained on the assumption that in them we obtain a fleeting glimpse,a foretaste, as it were, of the nature of that reality which is God.” –CEM Joad.

While I am sure that that there will be many who have thought of reasons to attribute these experiences to Natural Selection (I, too, have entertained some theories), this theory resonates with me, and I intend to think on it at length.

Review: The Shining by Stephen King

The ShiningI have to re-read this book every so often because I forget how very amazing it is. I, for some disturbing reason, tend to blend the absolutely hideous rendering of Stanley Kubrick’s vision of The Shining and Jack Nicholson’s dreadful, over-the-top, and unsympathetic interpretation of Jack Torrance with the much better TV mini-series version with Stephen Weber as Jack. I think I’ve seen them too many times. However, reading Stephen King’s original novel manages to erase these images, albeit temporarily. His descriptions are that good. I get a completely different picture of Danny, Jack, Wendy, and Hallorann.

This book amazes me so much because, not only is it beautifully written, chocked full of imagery, figurative language, and symbolism, but it is done subtlety, never once trying too hard. The characterization is done with such sleight-of-hand intonation, dialects, and attitudes that I don’t even have to try and imagine them. They are real.

The best thing about this book, however, is King’s ability to parallel the personality changes one experiences in the descent into alcoholism with the slow takeover of the hotel’s malevolent presences. At times, it is not clear which is worse, living with a severe alcoholic or these haunting spirits. King manages to manipulate you into fearing and despising Jack one moment and then into sympathetic compassion the next, something completely lacking in Kubrick’s version, sadly, because this gives the novel its depth and literary value.

This is definitely one of Stephen King’s best! Five out of five stars!–Christina Knowles

Read my review of Doctor Sleep.

The Island of Dr. Moreau by HG Wells

In this exciting and creepy classic, HG Wells asks us to look at ourselves and reevaluate what it means to be human and what is truly primitive. He suggests we are not separate from the natural world, and that deep inside we are still primitive, no matter how many cities we build or the advances we make. If we abandon our arbitrary morals and “law,” we will surely sink into our animalistic nature once again. In addition to these important themes, this book is just a great story and a fun read. Four out of five stars.

The Man in the High Castle by Phillip K. Dick

216363I really enjoyed this book. This is an alternate history science fiction novel that contains a story within a story. This story’s setting and premise is that Japan and Germany won WWII, and each controls a part of the former USA. “The Man in The High Castle” wrote a dangerously controversial book which is an alternate history where America and England won WWII. Various characters are all interwoven into the story and give their opinions on this book and what they think would have happened. The interesting thing is that the high castle author tells a story different from our reality.

Another common theme in the book is the use of the I Ching to foretell the future and guide the characters in the story. It is widely used by the characters, used by the high castle author to write the story within the story, and used by Dick himself to write this book. Mind-warping.

I was impressed how Dick tied all the characters together, showed themes as diverse as racism, cultural differences, war, and nationalism all the way to finding our own inner peace, spirituality, and integrity despite expectations and survival instincts.

However, I gave it three stars because I really disliked the anti-climactic ending, the unclear meaning of Julianna’s (one of the main characters who had the last scene in the novel) final words, the lack of resolution regarding two characters who I was very interested in, Frank Frink and Robert Childon. I want to know what happened to them! I do love how Tagomi’s last scene was played, however.

This is definitely one you need to read twice. I may give it four stars next time! P.S. Ignore the choppy sentence structure and lack of article adjectives in his writing! You get used to it, and adds something to the tension of the novel, I believe. Three out of five stars.

“Do I dare dist…

“Do I dare disturb the universe?”
“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons. . .”
“There will be time, there will be time/To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;/There will be time to murder and create./ And time for all the works and days of hands/That lift and drop a question on your plate;/Time for you and time for me,/And time yet for a hundred indecisions,/And for a hundred visions and revisions,/Before the taking of a toast and tea.” TS Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

This is my all-time favorite poem! I named this blog after this quote from TS Eliot because I ask myself this question every time I write. Do I really want to ask these questions? Do I dare disturb the universe? Yes, I think I will.

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