Building my Own Threshold

Early on in the maintenance of this blog, I planned a series of posts centered around Joseph Campbell’s monomyth.

The monomyth (more popularly known as “the Hero’s Journey“) was supposed to guide my own endeavors as I sought to succeed in obtaining employment.

The problem with my original set of posts regarding the subject was that my presupposed outline for my life hinged on me being accepted into the Praxis program.

After being tossed off the metaphorical threshold steps (twice!), I sank into a period of aimlessness. I took whatever work I could, trying to make sense of everything.

In many respects, I was quite lucky. I had no debt and my friends and family supported me.

Looking back on this period in my life, trying to track my life-goals according to a mythological theory was quite foolish.

Life, quite obviously, is not a story. I believe it was in the recent film Their Finest that one character stated: “Stories have structure, purpose, and meaning… unlike life.”

I should really watch that movie.

So what am I doing now?

For one thing, I have recently enrolled in fall classes at a local community college.

I’m doing administrative, marketing, and sales work at my family’s business.

I’m researching possible careers to pursue and the best course of academic study to fit such a career.

I’m reading a lot of old books, working on several creative side projects, and am writing this blog.

In a word, I’m building my own threshold, where the only threshold guardian is me.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Joseph Campbell’s theory of the monomyth, as espoused in The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

As a guide for story structure and dramaturgy, it’s an excellent tool.

But regrettably, it’s a pretty suckish model to plan your life around.

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Why Read Old Books?

Note: This post is adapted from a speech I gave to my Toastmasters club.

Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov once said, “If you want new ideas, read old books. If you want old ideas, read new books.”

Following this observation, I have made a point to read old books.

Pavlov’s maxim applies to both fiction and non-fiction, from the epic poems of Homer to the stories of Washington Irving to Greek philosophy to the Bible.

Picking up a dusty copy of The Iliad will transport to you the world of raging Achilles and bold Hector in the carnage of the Trojan War.

Or you could make a trip to rural New York, circa 1790, and become acquainted with the fearful Ichabod Crane in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Either of these books would excellently reveal to the reader that the heroes and villains of the past weren’t so different from us.

Whether it’s the wearied prince Hector’s longing for peace, or the hapless Ichabod’s unrequited affections for Katrina, we can all see something of ourselves, both admirable and repellant, in these imaginary characters and the eras they inhabit.

Reading old books is beneficial because it allows the reader to glimpse into other worlds, in order to better understand the past and to apply it to the present.

When I say you should read “old books,” I generally mean you should read the classics. That said, what is a classic?

Orson Scott Card, the author of Ender’s Game (an excellent read, by the way), once defined a classic as stories that are so good you want to share them with your children.

When I was seven or eight years old, my mother gave me a new set of books to read: The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis.

I loved those books dearly, reading them and re-reading them, and being overjoyed to hear the audio drama versions of them, before being crushed when the films failed to meet my expectations.

I later read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, eventually finding my way to Shakespeare’s plays Hamlet and Macbeth, and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. By the time I was 18, I had read the entirety of the Bible ten times.

All of these aforementioned books, written across multiple continents in the span of dozens of hundreds of years, have been passed down through the centuries to us. We can read all of them at any time on our cell phones.

But why read them at all?

The first reason to read old books is that it provides a window to the past.

At some point in time, the author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving, sat down and thought up his story.

Irving was an American, influenced by stories of European folklore that he had picked up during his travels through the continent in the nineteenth century.

Reading his story allows us to get acquainted with his thought process and walk around in his mind a little.

Imagine what could have inspired passages such as this one, describing the town of Sleepy Hollow:

“However wide awake they may have been before they entered that sleepy region, they are sure, in a little time, to inhale the witching influence of the air, and begin to grow imaginative—to dream dreams, and see apparitions.”

You see that this is a time when the majority of people took the reality of the supernatural for granted— whether that idea lay in base superstition or religious faith.

To look back on such a concept with disdain would defeat the purpose of reading old books. Our ancestors were no more ignorant than we are, and in many ways were our intellectual betters.

Instead, our goal in reading old books is to look into the past, seeing a world that is very much like ours.

Take The Illiad for example. This epic poem is one of the foundational works of the western canon.

In Homer’s poem, the warriors on both sides of the war, the Achaeans and the Trojans, frequently blame the gods for their troubles, and the gods are shown meddling in human affairs quite frequently.

This human tendency to want to assign direct blame for misfortune and injustice to an ethereal, all-encompassing source is not new.

If there’s one thing that I took away from listening to The Iliad on audiobook, it’s that people have been saying, “It’s not fair!” since 800 B.C.

So whether you’d like to peruse the works of Washington Irving, Charles Dickens, or C. S. Lewis, or perhaps more ancient writers like Homer and the multitude of authors responsible for the Bible, I cannot recommend reading old books more than enough.

For there is no better way to enrich your mind, discipline your imagination, and open your eyes to another way of life than to turn the pages of a classic tome.

If any of you have children, grandchildren, or young nieces or nephews, your duty to pass on these great books is crucial.

The older generation must teach the younger generation of this important pastime. Otherwise, we face a new age of darkness, chained in the bonds of ignorance.

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Thursday Roundup

Sorry for the irregularity of posts lately, but I’ve been distracted by other concerns.

I recently did a brief survey of the works of Gail Simone. I never paid much attention to her work before, but when I found out about her unused “Angel of the Bat” idea, I began to wonder why she was such a “fan favorite.”

After consulting a list of her best stories and doing some reading, I was left thinking that perhaps Simone is more of hit-or-miss writer similar to Judd Winick. Combined with her admittedly genuine love for the characters she writes, and she’s not exactly bad at her job.

I would wager that she’s earned her status as a “fan favorite” primarily due to being an outspoken feminist. That, I believe, appeals to a certain quarter of comic book fandom which I do not claim an overall familiarity with.

My Goodreads.com reviews for the three stories of hers that I read are here, here, and here. If any in the audience would like to suggest any further reading of Simone’s works, please comment below.

In other news, I’m making progress on a webcomic I’m working on. I’ve finished the second draft of what I hope will be the first chapter of an ongoing webcomic, titled “The Overlord.”

Now all I have to do is find an artist, an inker, and a letterer. I’ll have to start putting together a marketing plan to start promoting it. In terms of story, I’ll have to start mapping it out a little further, but I’ve got a lot in mind.

In addition, I’m getting feedback on my scripts in the workshop forums of Comics Experience. It’s been very encouraging, getting honest advice from fellow comics creators.

I even got a question answered by the one and only Chuck Dixon! Man, that was a dream. That month-subscription has easily been the best thirty bucks I’ve spent in a long time.

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Goodreads Review: Showcase Presents: Justice League of America, Vol. 1

Showcase Presents: Justice League of America, Vol. 1Showcase Presents: Justice League of America, Vol. 1 by Gardner F. Fox
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was my first taste of Silver Age comics, I having only previously read as far back as the Bronze Age story “Superman: Kryptonite Nevermore!” It’s definitely a change from modern comics, what with all the heroes speaking with perfect grammar and long-winded exposition accompanying every other panel.

But reading this made me remember that in the old days, comics were written for kids, plain and simple. I imagine how your average ten-year-old boy might get a kick out of seeing all these colorful heroes and villains cavort about on the pulpy magazine pages. I actually caught myself laughing at some of the cornball dialogue and over-the-top visuals.

But as I slogged through this phone book-thick digest, I realized that if a kid is going to read something, this is a pretty good thing to have them read. Us jaded adults might find it a tad dull, but a kid is going to see well-mannered heroes fighting wacky crooks while learning how to read in a fun way.

They’ll pick up all sorts of unique vocabulary words, such as “experimental” and “gladiator.” It will also turn on those little tykes’ imaginations, getting them to think outside-the-box and develop creativity. Plus, it will be just darn fun.

So if you’re thinking of a fun Christmas present for your kids, consider a bona fide comic book classic. Maybe they’ll even let you borrow it! If they watch any of the animated TV shows, such as “Young Justice”, they’ll get a good idea of where it all came from.

View all my reviews

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Never Judge a Book by It’s Cover. Seriously, Don’t Do It.

I recently finished reading a book called The Sales Bible by Jeffrey Gitomer. My dad bought it and gave to me, instructing me to read it and glean whatever sales knowledge I could from its pages.

I took one look at the book, and I thought, “Are you kidding me? This thing’s a McBook!” McBooks. The real-life, physical equivalent of clickbait.

This book had the all the indications of such a book. Chapters containing lists. Multi-colored contents. Lots of exclamation points. A writer with a smarmy sense of humor, no doubt a pretentious blowhard who thought he was just so clever.

But having resolved to read every book on sales and marketing that I could get my hands on, I picked up the book and began to read.

A few weeks later, I closed the book, satisfied that I was mostly wrong in my prejudgment of The Sales Bible. The introduction did have a lot of fluffy, self-help, positive-thinking mumbo-jumbo that I could have done without, but in the meaty center of the book was a load of good sales advice.

For more on my thoughts on this book, please see my review on Goodreads. In the meantime, please remember that the old cliché is in fact worth heeding: “Never judge a book by its cover.”

The folly of judging a book by its cover nearly led me to ignore a pretty good amount of good sales advice. Likewise, the impulse to judge a book by its cover has led me to waste time on mediocre or bad books.

There is one such book of this sort that I have read several times, and no matter how many times I read it, I just did not find it memorable enough to enjoy those repeated readings. My only reason for rereading this particular book was that I thought I could somehow find it more enjoyable the second time around.

(If you want to know what that book was, please send me a message and I’ll consider discussing it in a future post.)

The point of this post is to read indiscriminately. If you are told to read a book for a class, read it. If there are books assigned for extra credit, read those too.

If you see a book on a shelf, and it catches your eye, read it. If you hear about a book that sounds interesting, read it. If you receive a book as a gift, read it.

If somebody else recommends a book to you, for goodness sake, read that one too. There are plenty of books that have been recommended to me that I didn’t read or read later, convinced that I knew it all and would find it dull or uninteresting, only to have my mind utterly blown over how this masterpiece almost escaped me due to literary chauvinism.

That’s how I discovered Redwall by Brian Jacques. Thank you, Emily.

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1984: A World Without God

I read 1984 earlier this year, and found it to be one of the best novels I’ve ever read.

It’s utterly bone-chilling, moves at a break-neck speed, and foretells all sorts of things happening in this day and age, from microaggressions (see “thoughtcrime”) to NSA shenanigans. It also reminded me that the novel is indeed an art form, and should be treated as such.

But my biggest takeaway from reading 1984 was on a theological level. Simply put, 1984 depicts a world without God. Such a world is a very scary place.

In this book, evil has gone ape over the whole world. The terms “true” and “false” have no meaning, because “the Party” determines by fiat what the facts are.

War, death, and sex are the primary objects of worship. The state effectively controls reality, and there is no means of stopping it from within or without. There is no hope of freedom or happiness, for the Party actively suppresses both through the omniscient Thought Police.

In this world, the character of O’Brien bluntly denies the common justification for Communist dictatorships, that such tyranny is necessary for the ultimate good. He instead states that “God is power” and that the Party seeks only to maintain its control over Oceania.

They know that they will forever remain in perpetual warfare with Eurasia and Eastasia and their people will continue to wallow in poverty. They rejoice in their evil, fully immersed in the concept of “doublethink.”

“God is power.” How appropriately demonic. Having just recently finished rereading The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis, which seems like an amusement park compared to 1984, I can see the connection with new clarity.

In a world where the Devil has won and God has no power, good has no hope of winning because He that is good, God, does not exist. If God existed, the Devil could not win.

The novel’s protagonist, Winston Smith, is asked at one point by O’Brien whether he believes in God or not. Winston replies in the negative, instead appealing to “the spirit of man” as the source of truth and goodness. But when O’Brien demonstrates from Winston’s own words that he was perfectly willing to do evil things in the name of freedom, Winston realizes that he has no moral high ground to stand on.

The book’s author, George Orwell, an anti-religious atheist and, paradoxically, a socialist, probably would not agree with my interpretation of his work. From what I’ve read of him online, his personal biography and writings are rife with contradictions and leaps of logic.

All that said, I am only encouraged to read more of his writings, namely Animal Farm and Homage to Catalonia, his autobiography. It’s important to read primary sources.

1984 is a novel which I was thoroughly engrossed by, but which I would be reluctant to read again. But Orwell was without a doubt a visionary. He wrote of a plainly totalitarian, fascist regime which is not too far off from what you might see in North Korea and China, all in the year 1949.

Orwell may not have had much affection for God, but he undoubtedly understood that the principles which spring from the Bible, on which Western civilization is built, are incompatible with Communism. If only this colorful Englishman had been able to see the full implications of this line of reasoning. Perhaps he did.

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