C. S. Forester Has a New Fan

I just finished my first acquaintance with C. S. Forester in his short novel The Gun.  The story centers around and 18 pound siege gun in the Napolenic Wars in Spain, which several thousand Spanish guerrillas use to win a few victories against Napoleon’s army of occupation.  Overall, this novel tends toward precise realism and contains many exciting battles.  It’s only downside consists in it being devoid of interesting characters.  The figures peopling the novel tend more toward being types than unique persons.  As one person wrote, the cannon itself is the main hero of the story, and I, unlike Sir Walter Scott, have some difficulty in getting into inanimate objects.  (Though, as I write this, I remember thinking to myself as I read the manga Tactics Ogre today: “Wow!  These broadswords look awesome!  I’ve never seen a mangaka draw a Western sword so well!  I can’t wait to read more if only I can admire the weapons!”)

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Anyway, C. S. Forester’s extreme realism is impressive.  His descriptions of the armies arrayed in battle and precise knowledge of the various kinds of soldiers involved is absolutely impressive.  (E. g. voltiguers: “light infantry trained to be elite skirmishers.”  Never saw that term before!)  The uniforms themselves are given more physical description than the characters.  All the aspects of battle from troop movements, to wounds, to the kinds of shot used in the cannon are detailed by the hand of an avid military enthusiast.

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If any moral to be derived from this story, it lies in power corrupting and pride leading to falls.  In particular, el Bilbanito, the first guerrilla to possess the gun, gains a big head over having not any old piece of artillery, but a siege gun!  He later instigates a duel which he loses, having expected fully to win it.  What could be more prideful than to start a duel expecting to win it?  Especially when the opponent also has some courage and skill and God controls the outcome of such battles?

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Other falls from power follow in this story as power leads to insufferable acts of tyranny.  Forester describes a tyrant with great finesse.  It is interesting to see how Forester describes the various kinds of command and how they bring victory or defeat.  Most of the battles end with neither mercy nor quarter given.  Amusingly, there is even a Franciscan priest who dispatches French soldiers after performing last rights!  (Though, Forester does not appear to be completely anti-clergy.  Another cleric, a village priest, gains a rather warm description, despite his vanity of trying to seem smarter than he is.  I identified pretty well with that character!)   I believe that the 18 year old General Jorge and a certain Dutch officer give the best examples of heroism in this work.

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Overall, this is perhaps the best introduction to C. S. Forester, especially considering its short length.  The only shortcoming, the lack of characterization, is probably not as bad in his other novels.  After all, they concentrate on British officers, with whom the author must identify better–especially since he was able to make the British naval officers, in the mere 8 pages they appeared, more interesting than any of the other characters in the work.  Now, the next step for me seems to be the Horatio Hornblower novels.

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Cheering for Majestic Prince

I have already thanked the two bloggers who brought Majestic Prince to my attention; but I would like to reiterate my thanks to them, because I would have avoided this series for two reasons: 1) sci-fi is hardly my favorite genre, and 2) the character animation is especially poor.  Even compared to the usual fare of televised American cartoon, it tends toward mediocrity in this department.  Fortunately, the mecha designs and backgrounds tend to offer more variety and pleasure for the eye.  The mechs receive particular attention to detail from the animators and stand out among other mechs of the genre.

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In any event, I should like to add my own cheer to the growing number of fans.  The show’s strong point, despite the blandness of their designs, is the uniqueness of our heroes.  I am convinced that some of the minor characters must be stock; but, the writer does his best to hide that fact, and the heroes are particularly quirky.  Kei is quiet, reserved but capable of sudden exuberance, and has an unrivaled sweet tooth.   Izuru, their flight leader, openly proclaims his desire to be a hero, like those characters of his favorite manga, which he is quite adept at drawing.  Asagi appears tough, but get stomach aches at critical moments.  Tamaki ardently burns for romance and squid guts, but finds the former desire often frustrated.  Suruga happens to be a thorough gun nut and compares attractive women to his favorite firearms.

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Added to this, there is a great sense of family in the show.  The main characters all had their memories wiped out before entering the training program, so they particularly cling to their squadron members, collectively called Team Rabbits by the instructors and, literally, “the Regretful Five,” which is translated as “the Failure Five,” by their classmates due to their inability to cooperate during missions.  Asagi seems to take the place of the grandfather, Izuru as the father, Kei as the mother, Sugura as one of the children, and Tamaki as the baby of the family.  This is further stressed by how closely knit their teams of mechanics are.

The best team of mechanics.  Yes, this series has fanservice.

The best team of mechanics. Yes, this series has fanservice.

This series also happens to be brilliantly unpredictable in terms of how the battles will end.  So far, the audience has been treated to everything from a rousing victory to a Pyrrhic victory to utter defeat.  It keeps the audience routing for the protagonists since the outcome of each battle remains uncertain till the fat lady sings.  The mechs’ maneuvers fall everywhere from carving great swathes of destruction to hard hitting close combat.  Also interesting concerning the mechs is that the pilots’ DNA has been infused into the mechs and that the pilots’ survival instinct determines how well they fight.  If they can see survival in fighting, their mechs perform beautifully; otherwise, they might stand petrified or actually flee!  This kind of variety keeps the series refreshing.

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So, I encourage otaku everywhere to look past the simplistic character designs and give Majestic Prince a try!  And here’s a wonderful rant by Kei on the immodesty of the swimsuits which a certain company asked them to wear for publicity (the military often displays the pilots for publicity):

Off on Retreat

For the next four days, I shall be off on retreat, dear readers.  Being familiar with this retreat, I know that it is similar to a vacation, so I shall hopefully read some new things and write a few new drafts in addition to praying and trying to discern God’s voice.  Pray that the promptings of the Holy Spirit bear fruit in me!

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A picture of Padre Pio, but, I’m pretty sure that I’ve prayed like that too.

I already have a few rough drafts which just need to be typed up.  In particular, I’m giving a review endorsing Majestic Prince,  I thank the Subtle Doctor and JoeAnimated in particular for bringing this delightful new mecha series to my attention.  It ought to be my very next post when I return.

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God bless you all!

Conan the Barbarian, Light Reading, and the Wholesomeness of Myth

You know, dear readers, meditating on my past few articles has caused me to realize just how ponderously they were written.  How long back was my last attempt at humor?  (I promise to read and comment on five posts of whoever is able to find that out.)  In order to attain the proper mood, I have stuck a pipe in my mouth and positioned myself under an automatic light which periodically requires me to walk eight paces forward in order to reactivate.  The hope being that the uniqueness of my position causes humor to infect my pen.

By 1redgirl1 of deviant art

By 1redgirl1 of deviant art

(Now to take a short break to retrieve a forgotten and essential pipe cleaner.  Alright, having been delivered of the sensation of sucking the bottom of an empty glass with a straw, let the subject matter commence!)

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Anyway, reading Conan the Cimmerian brought home to me how ponderous my present reading list is.  Take a gander at these works: Cicero’s De Inventione, a book on the War of 1812, the British officer Frederick Mackenzie’s diary of the Revolutionary War, Anton Chekhov’s major plays (you know how those went from this article), E. D. Hirsch’s work on why America’s schools are failing, and An Honest President by H. Paul Jeffers.  Only the last, a biography on Grover Cleveland, may be considered light in any degree.

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Oh, this is a political cartoon of Grover Cleveland. Not a picture of Conan the Barbarian.

A certain repressed part of my mind seemed to click as I read through the adventures of Conan the Barbarian.  Who would not be stirred by reading tales of him rescuing a maiden from Neanderthals, chasing a women clothed in sheer gossamer upon snowy vasts, being captured by a voluptuous pirate queen, and being madly embraced by her after a mating dance?  Pardon me.  This list of adventures might give the impression that any stirring in me was of a localized and prosaic kind.  Let me rather point out him adventuring for treasure, slaying eldritch monsters, prowess in battle, journeying through fantastic lands, and narrowly escaping treachery.

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I had once opined that language seemed more geared to narrative than academic purposes.  I might even say that the full richness of language expresses itself more fully in myth than in even the best tales of 19th century realists.  Myth affects the psyche on the level of beauty more than goodness and truth; though, a good myth will obviously also contain the latter ideas.  In the Conan stories, one is particularly struck by the detailed depictions of the countryside, the uniqueness of the scenarios, the atavistic mindsets of the characters, and the curious utility or opulence of the apparel.  Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan the Barbarian, employs a particularly rich vocabulary to convey all of this.  Forcing even a highly literary man like me to look up at least one word per page.  (That’s not bragging if it’s true, right?)

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So, burdening one’s mind with only works of academic rigor or factual events cannot but have a negative effect.  The mind needs to indulge in the beautiful and fantastic.  As Dostoyevsky wrote, “Beauty will save the world.”   It also saves the mind from stultification.  (That’s a real word, right?  Yes!  My dictionary confirms it and that my usage is perfect.)

Well, my pipe is done, and it’s time to step back into my nice, air conditioned house.  Good night to you all!

The Pride of Despair and Humility of Hope in Claymore

My last article comparing Attack on Titan and Claymore spurred me to re-watch the latter–the lackluster quality of much of recent anime helped me along too.  At this point, I have reached the siege of Pieta, where some of the most desperate fighting in the series occurs.  The anime brings us one poignant moment when Miria, the Claymore ranked #6 in the organization and leader of the desperate band of Claymores, utters a prayer that all the fighters might survive.  Then, she undercuts this prayer by chiding herself for thinking that there is a God.

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Interestingly, this points to a possible rift between the conscious mind and the spirit.  Hopeless conditions and misfortunes may overwhelm the mind such that it can barely or not at all cling to the the belief that God exists, but there exists something in the spirit which refuses to accept a Godless universe.  Or, the thought might even come that God does not listen to us, that we have been rejected by God.  Brother Lawrence, the famed subject of The Practice of the Presence of God, thought for two years of his life that he would be damned.  Can there be a worse feeling than this for a believer?   Yet, he entrusted his cause to God and the feeling dissipated.   In such darkness, we do not even want to pray anymore, but the cries still come, “God have mercy on us!” or “Lord, you are in the midst of us and we are called by your name.  Do not forsake us!” (Jeremiah 14:9)  We doubt the rationalism of such acts, but the deepest part of our soul nourishes the hope that these words mean something.

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Hope is the operative word: for, if God is infinitely good, we need not fear whatever happens to us.  He is a loving Father with infinite care for all His children, as George MacDonald loved to repeat.  Speaking of George MacDonald, he penned this interesting phrase in Weighted and Wanting: “The pride of despair and the despair of pride.”  Despair can only come from pride and placing our hopes in our own strength rather than in God.  If we trust in God despite our misfortunes, then we possess the humility of hope.  And, as Jesus Christ emphasized to that great apostle of Divine Mercy, St. Faustina, humility is truth.  So, we keep slogging on despite the darkness.

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Perhaps, the connection between hope and humility is best exemplified in the duel of Clare and the Awakened Being Rigaldo.  Rigaldo had just killed four of the five captains in Pieta, leaving Miria as the sole survivor.  Those familiar with Claymore know that Clare is ranked as the lowest Claymore, despite having some great abilities.  Rather than give up, she keeps striving to use her power with greater precision and refuses to accept defeat, despite being beaten down several times and being obviously outclassed.  A proud soul would have just accepted this disparity and surrendered.  But, humility forces her to keep trying, telling her that not every last resource has been exhausted–that her heart yet beats and that is sufficient reason to persevere.  The truly humble man can never despair.

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Anton Chekhov and Suicide

A while back, I took out a Signet Classic edition of the major plays of Anton Chekhov.  Having read the first two in the collection, Ivanov and The Sea Gull, these plays surprised me *EPIC SPOILER WARNING FOR THOSE WHO CARE* by both ending with a suicide.  In each play we have someone suffering from melancholy, who decides to end his own life with the pull of a trigger.  The first, Ivanov, loses his love for his wife, love for living, finds himself gravely in debt, can’t stand being home, suffers the loss of his wife to consumption, and is about to be married to a young lady who has taken pity on him–who at the same time is unsure whether or not she loves him or can make him happy.

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In the second, Trepelev, the twenty-five year old son of a famous actress, writes unconventional plays with an Eastern feel, i.e. they rely upon imagery rather than intellectual motifs–as we might find in a Noh play.  (They also have a shockingly Manichean flavor, as his first play calls the devil the father of matter.)  Anyway, his sole happiness is in his love for Nina, an actress, which brightens his impoverished and useless existence: his mother, despite having 70,000 rubles in the bank, cries at the thought of lending him anything with the result that Trepelev hardly leaves the house and gads about in a threadbare coat.  Trepelev furthermore feels down on himself because society frowns upon his literary style.  This coupled with Nina leaving him for a more famous writer led to his first suicide attempt.  Then, Nina returns two years later to Trepelev after having an affair and a child with the other writer before he tires of her.  Unfortunately, Trepelev’s assertion that he still loves her and has been waiting for her falls on deaf ears.  This destroys Trepelev’s last hope and leads to a successful reattempt on his life.  (The moral of the story is not to place one’s hopes on an actress, a profession which at one time was esteemed only slightly higher than a prostitute’s.)  By the way, the former play is described as a drama and the latter as a comedy!

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But, these two characters had striking similarities in personality to myself.  Presently, I find myself quite broke, sometimes cannot stand staying in the house, and my existence tilts toward the useless side.  Also, despite my earnest striving, the world and the people in it have felt distant and unlovable–as if there were an unscalable wall between us–and an insufferable egotism afflicted me, as if my mind were some kind of prison impeding my soul’s freedom.  Thanks be to God that these latter two symptoms are mostly gone!

There's something rather curious about this picture of St. Jerome wearing glasses.

There’s something rather curious about this picture of St. Jerome wearing glasses.

Yet, why did I not pull a trigger?  Or even ever seriously consider it?  One could take a rather banal explanation that I believe suicide to be a mortal sin unless preceded by extreme mental stress or extreme fear of physical suffering.  It would not feel comfortable arriving before the judgment seat of Our Lord and Master saying, “Well, I calculated that my stress was such as to make this action a rather serious venial sin than something worthy of hell  So, please just give me some time in purgatory.”  But, I do suppose that my relationship to God is what would prevent any serious consideration of suicide.  After all, I have shown God far too much ingratitude and would like to do at least something in return for His great blessings.  Of course, I can never adequately pay God back for all His blessings, but I would at least like to do so super-abundantly–which sounds absurd and can only be possible through the grace of God.

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Three other thoughts would also come in the way: 1) I deserve what’s coming to me either because of my sins or personal faults and mistakes; 2) God both lowers us into the dust and raises us up; and 3) God foresaw all this suffering from the beginning.  Therefore, all I need to do is progress as best as I can in full or as full as possible knowledge of my sins and weaknesses, hoping in God’s mercy.  The only outcome for one who perseveres is to be brought out of one’s misery either by one’s appointed death or that joy in living will be found again.  In either case, “Blessed are those who weep, for they shall know joy.”

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Yet, I think that neither of the protagonists of the plays were able to continue living because they had removed God from the picture.  The Sea Gull says this very plainly in the case of an old man named Sorin who is looking toward the grave, whom a friend claims is not religious; therefore making fear of death merely animal fear.  In the case of the suicides, they also seem to remove other people from the picture and have an unhealthy concentration on themselves.  People were meant to be happy in community–not isolation!  Even the hermits of early Christianity knew this as they read Scripture, prayed to God and the saints, offered sacrifices and prayers for poor sinners, and rejoiced to serve the rare visitor or traveler.

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As a matter of fact, The Sea Gull‘s happiest character happens to be a poor school master named Medvedenko burdened with serving his younger siblings and aged mother.  After he married Masha, Trepelev’s sister, he in addition must care for their newborn child.  Though, it does seem that Masha now wishes not to have married Medvedenko or to be a mother.  The folly of people!  When one is surrounded by people who have made themselves unhappy through selfishness, why not imitate Medvedenko, whose only riches are the people in his life?

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Egotism kills, especially if exacerbated by preoccupation with one’s faults.  This was the case especially with the eponymous hero of Ivanov.  Indeed, he has many faults: he’s in debt, doesn’t love his wife, is irritable, can’t stay a night at home, has lost all his dreams, and is obsessed with his failures.  But, why torture oneself with all these things?  He’s a man, not an angel!  When grieving over one’s faults leads to self-torture rather than a change of life, it is time to stop grieving for a little!  Over how much does man have control?  Before her death, Ivanov should have tried to hang out with his wife, curbed his spending little by little, and tried a few new lucrative projects!  But, when one has done everything one can, there’s nothing else to do but look with hope at a crucifix.

Well, this has been a rather reflective and meandering article, but may it have been of benefit or amusement to my dear readers!