Christianity, Plays

A Lesser-Known But Intriguing Christian Play

Book Review:

The House by the Stable by Charles Williams (Spoiler-Free)

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Intro

This is not one of those books I just picked up for the fun of it. It was actually a required text for my Modern Christian Writers class, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it!

Although some Christian works appeal to people of all religions as well as those who embrace no religion, this is likely one that will almost exclusively be appealing to Christians.

Background

Charles Williams is a British playwright, novelist, poet, and theologian. He was also a member of the Inklings, a group in which J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis were also members.

Some of his other works that I have read include War in Heaven and Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury.

Summary

The House by the Stable is an allegorical play about a man who courts Pride both literally and figuratively, and unknowingly engages in a battle for his soul against Hell. He also alludes to the innkeeper from the Bible who refused Joseph and Mary a room but offered them a place in the stable.

Pros

  • Compelling dialogue
  • Unexpected choices when it comes to characters
  • The Christmas Story from a different point of view
  • Strong message
    • Powerful understanding of how Pride can corrupt and change a man
    • A testament to the value of grace in a Christian’s life

Cons

  • A little heavy-handed with the message
  • The perfection of the good characters and the extreme wickedness of the bad ones mean that the only relatable character is Man.

Review

Dialogue

The dialogue of this play contributes to its long-lasting value and immediate appeal to readers. For instance, this is what Man’s mistress–fittingly named Pride–says when she is asked why she adores Man so much:

It is no surprise–if you think what you are. Indeed, it were stranger if I adored you less. You are Man, the lord of this great house Earth, or (as its name is called in my country) Sin; you are its god and mine.”

You can tell immediately that Pride is a dangerous character–not only does she pretend to worship Man, she also encourages him to worship himself. Her influence on Man has caused him to lose his friends and to think only of himself. This is undoubtedly a toxic relationship–and that’s the point–that humankind’s relationship with pride is unhealthy and damaging to one’s self and others.

Unexpected Choices

Having the character who represents the angel Gabriel be just a shuffling butler, “that old gossip of heaven” is an unusual choice.

It was also clever to have Pride be the literal mistress of Man, and for Man to be the man who let Mary and Joseph shelter in his stable.

Point of View

Even though Mary and Joseph and the stable where Jesus is born are all part of this play, the focus is on Man, who is a stand-in for all humans who are trapped in sin.

Message

If I had to pin down the message for this play, I would say it is that the negative aspects of pride are humankind’s worst enemy. Charles Williams treats it as one of the most terrible sins. Pride ruins one’s relationship with others and damages one’s relationship with God.

This quote offers another message that is important:

You are my worshipful sweet Pride; will you be so arrogant always to others and humble to me? Will you always make me believe in myself?”

Man

It reveals that self-confidence, while good in reasonable quantities, can be a trap if it is excessive. Overconfidence can be dangerous when it leads to pride and causes one to sin.

Conclusion

This play has some strong insights that made it worthwhile to read, as you saw above. It’s also incredibly short, so if you aren’t a fan, it’s not like you wasted a bunch of time. I would say, give it a try!

Rating System

If you’re interested in how I rate books, check out my rating system.

Shows

Korra: The Polar Opposite of Aang

Show Review:

The Legend of Korra Season 1 (Spoiler-Free)

Rating: 9.0 out of 10 stars

Intro

The first time I watched The Legend of Korra I had such high expectations because it was in the same world as Avatar: The Last Airbender, that I felt a sense of disappointment. It just wasn’t the same.

The second time I watched it, I was able to appreciate it better because I accepted that it could not be the same as Avatar: The Last Airbender. I watched Season 1 with my roommate and we had a great time.

If you go into this show expecting it to be the same as Avatar: The Last Airbender, you will not be satisfied. But if you go into the experience embracing the new and relishing the old, you will see that The Legend of Korra is a fitting sequel to Avatar: The Last Airbender.

If you haven’t watched Avatar: The Last Airbender yet, don’t watch the The Legend of Korra. Go watch Avatar: The Last Airbender first.

From now on, for simplicity’s sake, I will often refer to Avatar: The Last Airbender as ATLA and The Legend of Korra as LoK, the acronyms commonly used by fans.

Background

The Legend of Korra was created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. It is a sequel to the TV show Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Characters in this show are either benders, who can control one of the four elements, or non-benders, who cannot control any elements.

It is a unique blend of anime style with the style of American cartoons. It draws from Inuit, Japanese, Chinese, and Tibetan culture.

Summary

Beginning 70 years after the events of ATLA, LoK follows the journey of 17-year-old Korra, who is the new Avatar and grew up in the Southern Water Tribe. In Season One, she travels to Republic city seeking to learn airbending.

Pros

  • Entertaining, appealing characters
  • Character who has the same voice actor as Zuko
  • In some ways it is the same world as ATLA, but it has changed
  • Considers how those without bending ability live in a world of benders
  • Creative ways of using bending
  • New types of animals unique to the world, old ones make a reappearance
  • Fitting villain who is both charismatic and frightening
  • Catchy music

Cons

  • Because of ATLA, LoK was held to a very high standard that it couldn’t quite reach

Review

Characters

Korra is not just a reiteration of Aang. She is strong-willed, often defiant, powerful, and very much a teenager. She’s not afraid to say what’s on her mind, and she’s willing to take chances.

Korra’s biggest obstacle at the start of the series is her struggle to airbend. In ATLA, Aang struggled to learn earthbending because it was so different from airbending. In LoK, Korra struggles to learn airbending because it contrasts so strongly with her personality.

Mako vs Bolin - Battles - Comic Vine

Mako is a firebender who is typically untrusting, aloof, and somewhat short-tempered. He will often act without thinking in a way that hurts or offends those around him, even though he is a good guy at heart.

Television Screencap Image For The Legend of Korra Season 1 | Fancaps.net |  Legend of korra, Bolin legend of korra, Korra

Bolin is a fun-loving guy who is more laidback than his brother Mako. He’s a strong earthbender. If you’re thinking he’s just a replacement for Sokka, he really is not. He might have the best sense of humor, but he’s not the sarcasm guy.

Asami Sato | Asami sato, Legend of korra, Korrasami

Asami is sweet but tough, a non-bender who came from a rich family.

Tenzin and his family are helpful mentors to Korra as she seeks to master airbending and figure out how to be a good Avatar, but they also serve as comic relief!

There’s also a character voiced by Dante Basco, the same voice actor as Zuko from ATLA. Listening to him is a nostalgia overload.

Worldbuilding

Avatar The Legend of Korra Newbie Recap Pilot | The Mary Sue

The most notable way LoK differs from ATLA is the advanced technology that has allowed cities like Republic City develop. Sato-mobiles are the cars of the Avatar universe. Radio and telephones have become the major way people hear the news and communicate.

There is also a police force mostly comprised of metal benders. Seeing them in action is actually pretty cool.

Lin Beifong | Avatar Wiki | Fandom
Lin Beifong, Head of the Police

Another thing I love about the worldbuilding of LoK is the inclusion of modern spectator sports–namely, pro-bending. The game is more than just two teams beating each other up with fancy elemental bending. There are plenty of unique rules and ways to incur penalties. Watching it is more exciting than seeing an actual sports game, at least to me.

Korra and friends in pro-bending garb

Animals

The animals of LoK are just as lovable and fun as those in ATLA, although there are not many introduced in the first season. We meet two animals who are pretty much mascots for the main characters.

Naga
Pabu

Naga is a polar bear dog that belongs to Korra, while Pabu is Bolin’s pet fire ferret and the mascot for the Fire Ferrets probending team.

Villain

Amon is the major villain of Season 1, and without spoiling anything, I can only say that he is basically the leader of a militant group of non-benders. He is formidable and terrifies Korra despite her usual courage.

Music

The music is unique to LoK, completely different than ATLA. There’s some jazz music, for example. It’s all instrumental, which I prefer for shows like this.

Conclusion

A lot of people hate on Korra and complain that LoK is not as good as ATLA, but I promise you, it is well worth it even if ATLA was better. ATLA was a hard act to follow, but the creators did a good job nonetheless.

Rating System

If you are interested in how I rate shows, check out my rating system.

Links

  1. Review of ATLA Season 1
  2. Review of ATLA Season 2
  3. Review of ATLA Season 3
Books

My Favorite Book: Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis

Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold: Lewis, C. S.: 9780062565419: Amazon.com:  Books

Spoiler-Free Book Review:

Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold by C. S. Lewis

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Intro

In my book reviews, I consider the literary merit of the book by examining aspects such as character development, world-building, illustrations, and storytelling.

Just as a precaution before you delve in–my opinion and preferences have an impact on the rating. When it comes to judging literature, it is impossible not to let personal biases interfere.

I will, however, honestly evaluate the aspects of the book to the best of my ability so my review can help you determine if it sounds like it’s the book for you.

If you disagree with my evaluation for any reason, feel free to leave a comment.

Background

C. S. Lewis is a Christian writer and theologian. He has been extremely influential to Christians of all denominations and has written over 30 books.

Till We Have Faces was written in 1956 and was the last of Lewis’ fiction. Although it was unpopular at first, Lewis said it was his favorite of his fictional works. Lewis felt that all myth had some rudimentary truth to it, a certain value that people could receive from it. His book, Till We Have Faces, is a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche.

Pros

  • Creative and unique character name choice
  • Tough and relatable protagonist with a strong voice
  • Benefits from the structure of the Psyche and Cupid myth with an unexpected point of view
  • Engaging storytelling style
  • Clever descriptive language
  • Tone like all those fairy tales and myths I used to be so pumped up about
  • Yet defies common fairy tale expectation
  • Setting has own culture and mythology
  • Demonstrates how even positively-viewed emotions such as love can be twisted and abusive
  • Considers our relationship with fiction and why stories are important
  • The name of the book holds powerful meaning

Cons

  • I cannot think of any cons. Obviously this book isn’t for everyone–but really, what book is?

Review

Character Names

The names of the characters are creative and unique, such as Orual, Redival, Barda, Undit, and Batta.

Protagonist

The point of view character is Orual, the sister of Psyche. While in the myth of Cupid and Psyche the sister has a very minimal and cruel part, in this story she is humanized.

Orual has a strong voice with daring opinions. She rails against the gods themselves and is the sort of person to take her life in her own hands. She claims to be objective, but it is clear she is swayed by her emotions at times.

The story starts with her as an old woman looking back on her life. These are her first few lines:

I am old now and have not much to fear from the anger of the gods. I have no husband nor child, nor hardly a friend, through whom they can hurt me. My body, this lean carrion that still has to be washed and fed and have clothes hung about it daily with so many changes, they may kill as soon as they please.”

Orual

Storytelling

The way that C. S. Lewis tells the story makes it hard to put it down. It has the tone of a fairy tale or myth, with the qualities of an epic story.

For example, Orual describes Psyche like this:

When she trod on the mud, the mud was beautiful; when she ran in the rain, the rain was silver.”

Orual sometimes speaks directly to the reader, giving it more of that oral storyteller vibe.

You know how it is when you shed a few tears or none, but there is a weight and pressure of weeping through your whole head.”

The seeming indifference or hatred of the gods is a source of conflict and struggle for many of the characters. This reminds me a lot of epics like that of Odysseus.

We are their bubbles; they blow us big before they prick us.”

Orual

I wonder do the gods know what it feels like to be a man.”

Barda

The way Lewis uses descriptive language is also unusual and interesting, such as when he says something is as “quick as thought.”

Expectation

With its fairy tale tone and its status as a retelling of a myth, there are certain expectations readers may have. Many of these expectations are subverted. One of the more minor instances of this happens in the first chapter when a stepmother comes into the picture. Anyone who has read fairy tales can’t help but think stepmother = trouble, but this stepmother is young, frail, and terrified.

Culture

The way Orual describes the kingdom of Glome (where she lives) makes it seem like a real place. She speaks of it in the way someone might if they were describing it to a traveler.

The city of Glome stands on the left hand of the river Shennit to a traveler who is coming up from the south-east, not more than a day’s journey above Ringal, which is the last town southward that belongs to the land of Glome. The city is built about as far back from the river as a woman can walk in the third of an hour, for the Shennit overflows her banks in the spring.”

The people of Glome worship an assortment of gods, but especially the goddess Undit, who can be equated with the Greek goddess Aphrodite. They also acknowledge the power of Undit’s son, the god of the Grey Mountain.

There are little aspects of culture of Glome that come out over time, such as the fact that grieving women cut their hair. There is a special oath taken with a sword blade, called an “oath on edge,” that it is sacrilegious to break. There are many other interesting things about Glome that you will figure out if you read the book.

Treatment of Love

Love is rarely acknowledged to be capable of causing great harm in the same way that other emotions like anger are. C. S. Lewis, much like he does in his other book The Great Divorce, demonstrates how love can be corrupted and abusive even when it claims to be for the loved one’s good. I think this is an important message that adds depth to the book.

The Value of Fiction

There is a character named the Fox who has a great love of poetry and yet is ashamed of it when he teaches it to Orual. He frequently brushes off comments about fictional works, saying:

It’s only the lies of poets.”

It is clearly his background in reading myths, poetry, and other works of fiction that contributes to his wisdom, however. This part of the story is relevant to readers because at some point any reader of fiction will wonder–what’s the point?

The point is that it helps one to grow and mature as a person who is able to understand others, to value different points of view, and to think creatively. There are many lessons that I have learned from reading fiction that would have been much hard to learn otherwise–such as the fact that even love can be corrupted and evil, as I mentioned above.

Title

Without spoiling anything, all I can say about the meaning of the title is that it has partially to do with knowing oneself and not masking one’s intentions. Other than that, it suffices to say that it was a profound and well-chosen title–to see why, you should read the book.

Conclusion

I read this book this semester and it has become my favorite book.

It has so much to offer–teaching lessons without beating you over the head with them.

Its powerful storytelling swept me along until I had finished the book. This is a book I would say is far better even than Lewis’ acclaimed Chronicles of Narnia series.

While this book would be more appealing to a Christian audience, I see no reason why people who follow other religions or no religion would not be able to read and appreciate it.

It is the only book thus far I have rated 10 out of 10 stars, and I did it for a reason.

If you have any questions or comments about the book, feel free to leave a comment.

Rating System

If you’re interested in how I rate books, check out my rating system.

Anime, Shows

RWBY Volume 1: A Shaky Start to a Great Anime

Anime Review: RWBY Season 1 (Spoiler-Free)

Rating: 6.8 out of 10 stars

Intro

Let me start by saying that RWBY is one of my favorite anime. However, even I have to admit that the quality of the first volume is lower than the quality of later volumes.

Basically,

Low Budget + Slow Start = Lackluster Beginning

Yep, it’s the same issue as with the original trailers. For my review of the trailers, click here.

RWBY Volume 1 is available on Crunchyroll and Amazon Prime.

Background

RWBY is an American anime. Some people say anime has to come from Japan to be legit–I disagree. I share the opinion of many others that say anime is a style and not limited to the products of any one country.

The creator is Monty Oum, who developed the plot for the company Rooster Teeth. Originally the anime was an indie miniseries with a low budget, but it has become largely successful.

Season 1 was released in 2013, preceded by four color-themed trailers that established some character development and worldbuilding.

Summary

A young hero, an exalted heiress, a troubled rogue, and a party girl–These are the four members of RWBY, a team brought together and trained for the sole purpose of combating the rampant evils that plague the fantastic world of Remnant. If these four girls want to graduate Beacon Academy they’ll have to learn to work together both on the battlefield and in the classroom.” (1)

Rooster Teeth

Basically, RWBY is about four young women who seek to become huntresses and defend the world of Remnant from shadowy creatures called Grimm.

Pros

  • Fantastic worldbuilding with mythological inspiration
    • A world with its own mythology
  • Memorable characters
    • Character names and design that allude to fairy tales
  • Unique weapons
  • Elaborate fight scenes
  • Original music
  • Humorous dialogue
  • Creative design for the monsters called Grimm
  • Groundbreaking American Anime
    • Helping to define a new category of anime

Cons

  • Poor animation
    • Merely shadowy silhouettes of non-essential characters
    • Very little detail, especially in backgrounds
    • Occasionally very awkward movement
  • Ridiculously short episodes
  • Cliché aspects of the plot

Review

Worldbuilding

Map of Remnant (2)

The map of Remnant was developed by squirting ketchup on a napkin at an IHOP restaurant (3). As such, the landmasses are complicated shapes that make up a creative, unique world.

In the beginning, the people of Remnant were created from dust, and were forced to contend with the darkness, which took its own form in the creatures called Grimm. The power that allowed them to fight back was given the name Dust.

Dust is an energy source activated by Aura. It can be used to add elemental power to attacks, and it is extremely valuable to supplement weapons.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is dust-crystals.png
Dust Crystals

Every person who has a soul in Remnant has an Aura, though some are better using it than others. Aura is basically the energy inside a person that can be used to protect oneself or attack. A person’s aura shows a certain color–for instance, Ren’s Aura is pink and Jaune’s is white.

Ren using his Aura
Jaune using Aura for the first time

According to Pyrrha,

Aura is the manifestation of our souls.”

Aura is what lets the people of Remnant use their semblances, which are special powers. For instance, Ruby’s semblance Petal Burst allows her to turn into a fast-moving cloud of rose petals, and Pyrrha’s semblance is called Polarity, the ability to mess with magnetism.

Characters

Ruby Rose is a spunky, determined teenager who tends to be a bit silly and childish. At age 15, she is the youngest of Team RWBY, but she should not be underestimated.

She is truly what Monty Oum wanted her to be, “a badass Red Riding Hood” (4). She obliterates Grimm who stand in her way with the fighting skills she learned from her uncle Qrow.

The name Weiss Schnee comes from German and literally means “white snow.” Her name was chosen to allude to the character of Snow White.

Weiss is a bit of a spoiled rich kid. However, her childhood was darkened by the attitude of her father and the depression of her mother. She tends to think highly of herself and look down on others, but is willing to change her mind.

Blake Belladonna had a troubled past that she tries to put behind her when she enrolls at Beacon to become a Huntress.

She loves reading, which makes her awesome in my opinion. Her character alludes to both Beauty and the Beast, which is definitely more subtle than the previous two characters (5). Belladonna is a type of flower, a poisonous plant that’s part of the nightshade family.

Yang Xiao Long is a laidback party girl with an intense side. Her character alludes to the character of Goldilocks, another fairy tale allusion that is not as obvious as that of Weiss and Ruby (6).

She is the older half-sister of Ruby Rose. She is particular about her hair to the point where she will pretty much kill anyone who messes with it. When angry, her eyes turn from purple to red.

Weapons

In RWBY, weapons are truly extensions of the characters. They reveal and deepen the characters’ development and personality, and make all those freakin’ awesome fight scenes possible. Most of the weapons in RWBY can be used multiple ways and generalize in both long-range and short-range attacks.

Just weapons? They’re an extension of ourselves.”

Ruby Rose
Crescent Rose | Heroism Wiki | Fandom
Crescent Rose

Crescent Rose is Ruby’s weapon, and functions as both a scythe and a sniper rifle. What is even more amazing than seeing this weapon in action is the fact that Ruby built the thing.

Myrtenaster

Myrtenaster is Weiss’s weapon of choice – a Multi Action Dust Rapier (7). Weiss can use dust to add elemental power to her attacks. The reason it looks like a fencing sword and that Weiss fights like a fencer is apparently because of Monty Oum’s own background in fencing (8). A Myrtenaster is a flower found in Germany, and is likely the origin of the name (9).

Gambol Shroud | RWBY Wiki | Fandom
Gambol Shroud

Blake’s signature weapon is Gambol Shroud, which has two different sword forms and a gun form. Even the sheath is used as a weapon.

Ember Celica

Yang uses Ember Celica, her Dual Ranged Shot Gauntlets (10). When inactive, they appear to be bracelets, but when activate they cover her arms. The ammunition explodes on contact with the enemy. There apparently is a Celica flower that has a double bloom–possibly that’s where they got the name? Just a theory.

Fight Scenes

RWBY blasts its way to mainstream success with side-splitting comedy,  heart-rending drama, and adrenaline-pumping action – The Reflection

The fight scenes in the RWBY trailers are phenomenal. Even though movements seem awkward during other parts of the episodes, the fight scenes are graceful, true works of art.

Music

Unlike with many anime, the music in RWBY was created exclusively for RWBY, with foreshadowing built into the songs and songs that seem linked to specific characters.

The music was composed by Jeff Williams, and his daughter Casey Lee Williams does a lot of the vocals. Jeff Williams does not regard the songs as canon and asserts that they should not be taken literally (11).

To me, that just seems like he is covering for himself and Rooster Teeth in case the story ends up veering too far from the lyrics, but I know that so far the songs fit the theme and story very well.

The best songs in Volume 1, in my opinion, are Red Like Roses Part II and This Will Be the Day (12, 13).

Dialogue

The humor of the dialogue in RWBY contributes to the lighter tone of Volume 1 compared to the other volumes.

Ruby’s dialogue reveals her childish nature. For example, when she says:

I don’t need people to help me grow up. I drink MILK!!!”

Jaune’s naïve tendencies are demonstrated by his words, such as this eyeroll-worthy statement:

My dad said all women look for is confidence.”

And how could I be a RWBY fan if I left out this quote by Nora:

We’ll break his legs!”

Monsters

The monster called Grimm come in a variety of forms and dissipate into darkness when defeated. Some are pretty puny in Volume 1 compared to the heroes…others are worthy foes.

Beowolf | RWBY Wiki | Fandom
Beowolf
Nevermore | RWBY Wiki | Fandom
Nevermore

Beowolves are pretty common in RWBY. Nevermores are not rare either, but they boast more unique characteristics, such as sharp, hard feathers that can pin prey to the ground.

Death Stalkers | Villains Wiki | Fandom
Death Stalker

Death Stalkers are ridiculously tough and take a lot of ingenuity to conquer.

Animation

Unimportant background character is a silhouette

The 3D animation of RWBY is made using Poser, and thus differs greatly from most other anime. The major consequence of a low budget combined with this 3D style was that it made the whole volume look underdeveloped.

Characters without importance were denoted using shadowy silhouettes without any details. This made it obvious from the beginning which characters would be recurring, making the series more predictable.

Backgrounds had very little detail as well, making the scenery less interesting.

The animated movement was occasionally very awkward.

Plot

The plot is similar to many magical school kind of shows. Some of its terribly predictable, such as the way the bullying episodes progressed and the way they ended. That’s not to say there’s nothing unique–it’s just that the first volume is more predictable than the rest.

Episode Length

Episode length varies from around 6 minutes to closer to 12. This is annoying, but avoidable if you watch the whole Volume as one. It is available in that format on Amazon Prime. If you try watching this on Crunchyroll without Premium, you’re in for a ridiculous amount of commercials.

Contribution to Anime

RWBY is unique because it is one of the few American anime. Additionally, it’s animation style, while underdeveloped, sets out on a separate path from typical anime.

Conclusion

If you decide to watch Volume 1 and it doesn’t peak your interest in RWBY, still give the next few volumes a chance. Most of the people I’ve talked to are more distracted by the animation than anything else. Once you get used to that, you can appreciate the rich storytelling and worldbuilding of RWBY.

Even as a RWBY fan, I rated Volume 1 relatively low because its poor animation quality and predictability. It took me awhile to get into it…but it gets better, trust me.

Rating System

If you are interested in how I rate shows, check out my rating system.

Links

  1. Rooster Teeth Quote – Source: Fandom
  2. Remnant Map – Source: Rooster Teeth
  3. Remnant Development – Source: Fandom
  4. Interview with Monty Oum
  5. Blake’s Development – Source: Fandom
  6. Yang’s Development – Source: Youtube
  7. Myrtenaster – Source: Twitter
  8. Weiss and Fencing – Source: Twitter
  9. Image of Myrtenaster Flower – Source: Wikimedia Commons
  10. Ember Celica Info – Source: Twitter
  11. RWBY Soundtrack Info – Source: Fandom
  12. Red Like Roses Part II – Source: Youtube
  13. This Will Be The Day – Source: Youtube

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