26 July 2016

I finally got around to watching Zootopia this past weekend. I enjoyed it, but I wasn't overly enthusiastic about it when the credits started rolling. But it's stuck with me, and I've been thinking about it a lot in the past few days, so I figured I'd jot down a few thoughts:

Thought 1: Zootopia has a remarkably tight plot

This didn't jump out at me as I was watching it or even right after it was over, but the more I think about it, the more I realize--man this is a quality flick!

For example, the scene where Judy's chasing that weasel: as I was watching it, I thought, "Well, here it is--that old classic scene where the underdog protagonist tries to make a hero of themselves and ends up making a huge mess of things and getting in trouble. Ten bucks says the next scene has her landed in the chief's office getting put on some kind of probation."

And I was right--to a point. The scene played out as expected, and the next scene was indeed inside the chief's office for the very reason I had predicted. And yet it was different, too. When it looked like the little rodential apartment buildings were going to topple like dominoes, Judy righted them. In the end, she actually handled things quite well and didn't make much of a mess at all. She even made a friend with a little vole by complimenting her hair--and that ends up being really important later on.

"Huh," I thought. "Kinda clever that the vole showed up again later."

But that wasn't the end of it--not by a long shot. In the third act, when Judy finally solves the mystery, that weasel turns out to be the key. In the end, that scene played an entirely different (and surprisingly crucial) role in the total plot structure.

And that seems to be how the whole movie works. I've only seen it once, so I can't say for sure, but I think pretty much everything that happens early on comes up again recently. In fact, a sound bite uttered in the very first scene is, I think, repeated exactly in the climax. And the twist that happens in the climax--totally built up to, but still completely fooled me. Very impressive.

Thought 2: Zootopia has a lot to say about race

I haven't checked, but I assume other people on the internet have discussed this. It was, in some places, extremely overt. And yet, here again, the more I thought about it, the more layers I found.

You can't just say, "The predators represent Black people." They do for sure at the end of the movie, but remember that Judy only became a cop through an affirmative action program. So Judy is also Black, or at least a minority of some kind. And then she ends up perpetuating racism against the predators.

I think rather than interpreting bunnies or predators or any other group of animals as representing particular minorities, I think it's best to accept the movie as a separate world that is dealing with similar issues. When you do that, it'll give you a lot more to think about regarding our own world.

Final Thought: That world is pretty stinkin' cool

The detail that really sticks out to me is the sprinklers in the Rain Forest District during Judy's initial train ride into Zootopia. I'm a bit sad we didn't get to see all 14 districts, but we should appreciate the writers' restraint in this regard. Still, if this was the 90s, I'd be totally stoked to watch the spinoff TV show that inevitably would have explored all 14 districts.

All in all, a solid flick. Don't know that I'll get around to revisiting it myself, but I'd say it's well worth multiple watchings.

05 May 2016

In defense of passive voice

Okay, I get it--passive voice tends to make things wordy and convoluted. We all hold our breath when our boss says "a decision was made" because it means the decision was made anonymously, which doesn't bode well. Fine. But passive constructions can help out stylistically in many cases, and sometimes they even help simplify your prose.

Don't believe me? Well, let's take my previous paragraph as an unwitting example: "...because it means the decision was made anonymously." Any volunteers wanna find a non-awkward way to scrub that passive construction out of the sentence?

(There isn't a way to revise what's there and get an active construction; you'll have to start entirely from scratch and say something like "...because it mean whoever made the decision is going to remain anonymous"--not terrible, I guess, but not exactly what I was saying before, either.)

But passive voice isn't only for when the subject is unknown. I love passive voice because it gives me a lot of power over the flow of information. Check it out:
Active: Usain Bolt broke the world record.
Passive: The world record was broken by Usain Bolt.

Okay, yes--the active version is shorter and more direct. That should definitely be your default setting. But consider this context:
After getting a bronze medal in Osaka, Asafa Powell swore he would break the world record for the 100-meter dash. And he did: in September 2007, he set a new world record of 9.74 seconds. Nine months later, that record was broken by Usain Bolt.
This is nice because, stylistically, it's generally best to give old information before new information. In this paragraph, our focus shifts from Asafa Powell to the world record and then from the world record to Usain Bolt. The passive construction helps with this flow.

Another case where passive voice is handy is when you want to really emphasize the subject. That seems counterintuitive because the subject is often omitted in the passive, but there's this thing called end weight that give the most oomph to the thing that comes last.

(There's another unwitting example: "...the subject is often omitted in the passive...." I suppose I could have said, "The passive often omits the passive," but, again, look at the flow of information: case-->subject, subject-->passive.)

This technique is used a lot in humor, as in, "I can't believe it--I'm getting beat by a rug!" For more examples, just Google this phase (and include the quotation marks): "by a freaking"

The point is, the passive voice does have a place. Yes, it's often used unnecessarily, unwisely, and unwell. Yes, checking your prose for passive constructions will reveal many places you can tighten things up. But that doesn't mean passives don't have their place. As with most grammar and style advice, the real rule isn't "Thou shalt not" but "Stop and think."

28 June 2015

Regarding the Supreme Court's Ruling on Marriage

I should admit up front that I've been a bit of a flip-flopper on the topic of same-sex marriage. For most of my life, I was unthinkingly opposed to it because, as a straight man, it's hard for me to understand same-sex attraction. But then I got married, and I got to enjoy marital bliss, and I began to consider what a miserable place the world would be if the laws of my country had barred me from that bliss. But my internal pendulum has been swinging back the other way, and now, as my fellow Americans rejoice over a hard-won victory, I realize I have no idea what they were fighting for.

Anyone want to enlighten me?

Here's where I have trouble:

1) I got married for religious reasons in a religious building by a religious leader. The only reason I bothered with a state marriage license was because... well, actually I don't know why. I got married the way I did because I wanted God to recognize my marriage; I really didn't care about the government. Honestly, I doubt I would've bothered getting married if I hadn't had religious reasons for doing so. I can't wrap my head around the interest people have in getting the government to recognize their marriages. "Love has won" is the thing everyone keeps saying, but as far as I know there was never a law against loving somebody. Being in love with somebody--that's something I understand. And committing to spend your whole life with them--that's something I'm happy every day that I've done. But if you love somebody, and you swear lifelong devotion to them and they to you--what's it matter if the government recognizes it or not?

2) In answer to #1, I imagine a lot of people will point to all the reasons I should be happy the government recognizes my marriage. I've heard some of these, but I'm not persuaded by them. When I was first married and my ponderings on the greatness of marriage made me think that maybe I should be in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage, I was laboring under the misconception that marriage was a Big Important Thing in the eyes of the law. Turns out it isn't, really. Several months back, my wife and I went to a community-sponsored informational event about the legal aspects of marriage, and we came away feeling pretty somber. I don't know how state laws vary, but here in Massachusetts, if I get hit by a bus today and wind up in the hospital, my wife will have no legal right to make medical decisions on my behalf. Sure, she's my wife, but I haven't gotten around to officially designating her as my medical proxy, so she has no legal basis for advising my doctors. Similarly, if the bus hits both of us and we die, our son doesn't automatically inherit our stuff because we haven't gotten around to writing a will. (He will inherit my student loans, though, per their terms and conditions.) Basically what we learned that night was this: outside of tax laws, marriage doesn't have a lot of legal oomph. I did see a headline recently stating that same-sex couples can expect to collect a lot more social security benefits now, but I just assume everyone in my generation will get the same amount of social security when it comes time for us to retire: $0.00. As for the benefits I receive through my work, it isn't really much harder to get coverage for a domestic partner than a spouse (I actually accidentally signed my wife up as a domestic partner rather than a spouse, and I corrected it, even though I don't think there was a difference in coverage)--but that's a matter of company policy and not a legal matter, I think, though I'm sure the two interplay. I'm not saying marriage is legally worthless; I'm just saying I'm not sure it's worth all the fighting that we've seen.

Well, I've got places I need to be going to, so I'll leave it here. But if anyone can show me something worth celebrating, I do enjoy rejoicing.

12 August 2014

Why comedians commit suicide

I understand it suddenly, in a flash. It's amazing what happens when you stop to be confused for a moment. You struggle, and then the answer comes. I guess I never really stopped to wonder why so many entertainers kill themselves. The trend is so well known as to practically be a stereotype about stand-up comedians, and it's distressed and saddened me, but on some level it just made intuitive sense to me. Some of the happiest, friendliest, funniest people I know have been silently depressed out of their minds. I've been there myself, though thankfully not in the last few years. I figured it was just one of those things.

But today the funniest man in the world died, and I was amazed how hard the it hit me. I saw the headline and skimmed through the article thinking, "Please don't be suicide. Please don't be suicide," but it was. The man who made a career being zany and yet nailed so many inspiring dramatic roles was apparently dead by his own hands, and I sent my wife a text to tell her the news.

"That's so sad," she texted back. "Don't become a professional comedian."

And that's when a deep and pressing need to know why settled into my heart. I looked at my personal and vicarious experiences with depression and my meager dabbling in the world of amateur stand-up and knew that the answer had to be there. It took most the day, but as I walked home from my bus stop, I found the answer in the sight of a stranger staring Robin Williams's face on the front page of The Globe.

When you're a celebrity, there are no strangers--except for everybody. The whole worlds is still full of strangers as far as you can see, but they all think they know you, they all look at you as though you have a shared inside joke, like you're close and lifelong friends. You can never meet someone new and start from scratch. They all want to say, "Hey, remember that one time" as though they were there. They all want to be the one that you remember, the one that next time you're on stage you'll mention, even if it's just a passing or even disparaging reference. You can't make any new friends, at least not in the usual way because conversations no longer start with "Tell me a little about yourself" but now all begin with "This is what I love about you." And how are you supposed to live like that? You're walking down the road, you're Robin Williams, a man with a wife and a couple of kids, but nobody can see you. Instead, they all see Patch Adams or Peter Branning or Sean Maguire or Mork or Genie. Every human knows to some degree the loneliness of walking down the road without being seen, but most of us experience it by being completely ignored. I can't imagine what it's like to walk down the road and still not be seen and yet have to endure an onslaught of strangers trying to speak to their favorite fictional characters. I can only imagine I'd want to kill Patch and Peter and Sean and Mork and Genie all at once, but in the end, I, too, could only kill myself.

Rest in peace, Mr. Williams. I'll miss you more than I deserve to, but you won't miss me at all. I just hope that in heaven you get to know what it's like to be known or unknown, whichever you prefer, and I hope that those who have a right to miss you will find comfort in having known you at all.

22 July 2014

Real-World Fiction

I'd called off blogging. I'm too much a fan of revision. But this is coming to you off the cuff, unproofread, and public, because these thoughts belong here on The Sage.

This blog at various times years ago produced multitudinous posts that railed against fiction. I had at the time read very little (I have now read little more), but the thoughts were not entirely unfounded, even if I didn't have a good reason for the at the time. I mostly just enjoyed kicking up dust, but now I intend to say something more substantial.

When I graduated from college, I intended to do a lot of pleasure reading, but I had no idea where to begin. I asked around for recommendations and was shocked how few came. I began proclaiming very loudly that I had ample time for reading and nothing to fill it with, so a helpful friend lent me a copy of his favorite book: The Name of the Wind.

There is no genre of fiction I lambasted more than fantasy, and I had no interest in reading any upon graduating--particularly not something so big as the book offered me, especially since it was book one of a series (a trilogy, I think, though I'm not entirely too sure and too hurried to verify). But I am a man of my word, and I really did want to read something, so I gave it a good faith effort.

It was a long and mostly painful experience. My friend once asked me how I was doing, so I confessed that I wasn't enjoying it all that much, but he encouraged me, ensuring me that, though it started slow, it would get better. Under these circumstances, I did eventually make it all the way through it.

It would be wrong for me to say that I did not enjoy it at times. The author has an enjoyable voice, which I have always and still consider the most crucial part of any book, fiction or not, and I jotted down my favorite sentences in a notebook, which I enjoy glancing through occasionally. But I had a revelation as I read that book, and I discovered the reason why it is that I can be so confident that I will never really enjoy fantasy.

It has to do with the way my brain operates, though I can't be sure if this is conditioning or personality (if those things are significantly different). I am a curious person; I like to learn things, especially when a modest amount of investigation is necessary. I get great satisfaction about deepening my knowledge of specifics. Broad knowledge doesn't really appeal to me as much. Oh, I'm a dabbler, no doubt, but I like to dabble deeply.

This was hit home to me as I read The Name of the Wind. The narrator would passingly reference some historical figure or event, and my immediate inclination was always to set the book down and see if I could learn more about these people and happenings on Wikipedia. It was an impulse I had to learn to resist. This was high fantasy and had no overt ties to the real world. These people and events had no bearing on reality, and more information would only be available if the author indulged himself in writing it himself or if fan forums did it for him. Neither appeal to me.

And that's the problem with fantasy. Novelists pride themselves on "world building," and the best of them do this very well, but I love Earth and its attending universe. The world we live in is so marvelous and weird and beautiful and dreadful that I can't on any level understand why anyone wants to escape it. I want fiction that is grounded in reality. Everything else is, quite frankly, worthless.

Like that Oz movie that came out a year or two ago with what's-his-face Franco in the titular role--it was lousy for a whole host of reasons, but offensive for only one: it seemed to assume that CG landscapes are more magical and bizarre than what dear Mother Earth can provide. I can't countenance such thinking! I consider myself made from the dust of this earth--there is no particle in me that came very recently from any other place--and earth and its inhabitants define beauty in my mind. Anything that is not a part of typical earthling experience is undesirable to me.

(As an aside, if people wish to colonize e.g. Mars IRL, let them go--Earth will be happy to rid itself of any who are unhappy here. Leave me here with the snakes and spiders and fatal diseases--I do not love them, but they are my brothers. I prefer them to the heretics who think that they'll find a better home elsewhere. Let them find a rainbow anywhere else in the solar system, if they can.)

Anyway, I'm off topic. The point is, I can't enjoy fantasy--even setting aside my beyond-hippie love for the planet I was born on, I hate being teased with passing references to people, places, and events that have no ties to reality as I comprehend it. I feel like the founding principle of the modern fantasy genre is to actively divorce itself from all such things, so I am clearly not its target audience. I do not hate so much as pity the people who enjoy such pastimes.

Enough of piety. That's all background to what I have to say next:

I'm currently reading Stranger in a Strange Land. It's hard for me to say how I feel about the book as a whole--there's a lot of it I don't "grok," I suppose--but I will say emphatically that I love Jubal Harshaw. He is, I think, my favorite character in all of fiction. Every sentence he says is so well wrought, whether it's scathing or humorous or insightful or whatever--I love Jubal Harshaw. The book was exciting, I suppose, before he showed up, but the chapters in which he's played a prominent role have been delightful. In the latter half of the book, we're off on adventures with the actual protagonist (Valentine Michael Smith, the man from Mars), and we don't see Jubal for long passages. My interest waned as my suspicions that we would not return to Jubal grew, but return we did, and that's the best part:

Jubal obtains a collection of statues--replicas of famous sculptures--that another character (Ben) calls them vulgar, which causes Jubal to launch into what I considered a very moving defense of a few of his favorites. Allow me to quote at length:

"Well, that hideous thing I've seen before...but when did you acquire the rest of this ballast?"

Jubal ignored him and spoke quietly to the replica of La Belle Heaulmiere. "Do not listen to him, ma petite chere--he is a barbarian and knows no better." He put his hand to her beautiful ravaged cheek, then gently touched one empty, shrunken dug. "I know just how you feel...but it can't be very much longer. Patience, my lovely."

He turned back to [Ben] and said briskly, "Ben, I don't know what you have on your mind but it will have to wait while I give you a lesson in how to look at sculpture--though it's probably as useless as trying to teach a dog to appreciate the violin. But you've just been rude to a lady...and I don't tolerate that."


"You know I wouldn't be rude to the old woman who posed for that. Never. What I can't understand is a so-called artist having the gall to pose somebody's great grandmother in her skin...and you having the bad taste to want it around."


"All right, Ben. Attend me. Anybody can look at a pretty girl and see a pretty girl. An artist can look at a pretty girl and see the old woman she will become. A better artist can look at an old woman and see the pretty girl that she used to be. But a great artist--a master--and that is what Auguste Rodin was--can look at an old woman, protray her exactly as she is...and force the viewer to see the pretty girl she used to be...and more than that, he can make anyone with the sensitivity of an armadillo, or even you, see that this lovely young girl is still alive, not old and ugly at all, but simply prisoned inside her ruined body. He can make you feel the quiet, endless tragedy that there was never a girl born who ever grew older than eighteen in her heart...no matter what the merciless hours have done to her. Look at her, Ben. Growing old doesn't matter to you and me; we were never meant to be admired--but it does to them. Look at her!"

The great thing is, not only can Ben admire the sculpture with new eyes, but you and I can, too--because it's real. Not only was Rodin a real artist (he did the ever famous "The Thinker"), but La Belle Heaulmiere is a real work, and here she is:

Ben then asks about another piece in Jubal's collection:

"How about this one? It doesn't bother me as much...I can see it's a young girl right off. But why tie her up like a pretzel?"

Jubal looked at the replica "Caryatid Who has Fallen under the Weight of her Stone" and smiled. "Call it a tour de force in empathy, Ben. I won't expect you to appreciate the shapes and masses which make that figure much more than a 'pretzel'--but you can appreciate what Rodin was saying. Ben, what do people get out of looking at a crucifix?"

"You know how much I go to church."

"'How little' you mean. Still, you must know that, as craftsmanship, paintings and sculpture of the Crucifixion are usually atrocious--and the painted, realistic ones often used in churches are the worst of all...the blood looks like catsup and that ex-carpenter is usually protrayed as if he were a pansy...which He certainly was not if there is any truth in the four Gospels at all. He was a hearty man, probably muscular and of rugged health. But despite the almost uniformly poor portrayal in representations of the Crucifixion, a poor one is about as effective as a good one for most people. They don't see the defects; what they see is a symbol which inspires their deepest emotions; it recalls to them the Agony and Sacrifice of God."

"Jubal, I thought you weren't a Christian?"

"What's that got to do with it? Does that make me blind and deaf to fundamental human emotion? I was saying that the crummiest painted plaster crucifix or the cheapest cardboard Christmas Creche can be sufficient symbol to evoke emotions in the human heart so strong that many have died for them and many more live for them. So the craftsmanship and artistic judgment with which such a symbol is wrought are largely irrelevant. Now here we have another emotional symbol--wrought with exquisite craftsmanship, but we won't go into that, yet. Ben, for almost three thousand years or longer, architects have designed buildings with columns shaped as female figures--it got to be such a habit that they did it as casually as a small boy steps on an ant. After all those centuries it took Rodin to see that this was work too heavy for a girl. But he didn't simply say, 'Look, you jerks, if you must design this way, make it a brawny male figure.' No, he showed it...and generalized the symbol. Here is this poor little caryatid who has tried--and failed, fallen under the load. She's a good girl--look at her face. Serious, unhappy at her failure, but not blaming anyone else, not even the gods...and still trying to shoulder her load, after she's crumpled under it.

"But she's more than good art denouncing some very bad art; she's a symbol for every woman who has ever tried to shoulder a load that was too heavy for her--over half the female population of this planet, living and dead, I would guess. But not alone women--this symbol is sexless. It means every man and every woman who ever lived who sweated out life in uncomplaining fortitude, whose courage wasn't even noticed until they crumpled under their loads. It's courage, Ben, and victory."


"Victory in defeat, there is none higher. She didn't give up, Ben; she's still trying to lift that stone after it has crushed her. She's a father going down to a dull office job while cancer is painfully eating away his insides, so as to bring home one more pay check for the kids. She's a twelve-year-old girl trying to mother her baby brothers and sisters because Mama had to go to Heaven. She's a switchboard operator sticking to her job while smoke is choking her and the fire is cutting off her escape. She's all the unsung heroes who couldn't quite cut it but never quit. Come. Just salute as you pass her [...]."

And we can. Come, readers; salute her and all she represents:

It goes on, but I will not. The point is, in reading fiction, I got a lesson about real works of art in the real world--my world. It makes me regret having lumped sci-fi in the same category as fantasy in the past. While they are both speculative, sci-fi sometimes speculates about the world I live in, which is the only world I care about. A tangent of this length would be reprehensibly indulgent in a fantasy novel, but in science fiction, it's educational--at least in this instance. I happily embrace any such tangent. I remember liking Hugh Laurie's novel (The Gun Seller, I think it was called?) because it had many edifying tangents in it. Since any time I read a work of fiction, I'm really just taking a tangent from my own life, I appreciate it tangenting back into reality as often as it can.

I don't know how widely I'd recommend Stranger in a Strange Land, since the plot has gone in directions I find rather uninspiring, but I do recommend Jubal Harshaw. My understanding is that he appears in other Heinlein novels as well. If he's just as good in those (which I can't vouch for, since I haven't read them), they may in fact be better books than this one. Regardless, if there was a a collection of Harshawisms published together under one cover, I would relish every word of it.

03 April 2012

The Hollywood Pinboard

A few years ago, I saw Taken in a discount movie theater with my roommates and afterward postulated that there must be a bulletin board somewhere in Hollywood where action-flick writers post sticky notes with ideas--things like "Retired CIA field agent brought out of retirement when his daughter gets kidnapped" and "American tourist sold into foreign sex-slave trade" and "Person kills roomful of enemies and hides under bodies to shoot at enemy reinforcements when they arrive"--and when the board gets full, the producer pulls down all the sticky notes, arranges them in such a way as to make them vaguely interrelate, and then sends the conglomeration to his screenwriters to add manufactured dialog and flat characters, and then sends the script to  a friendly cameraman with shaky hands. Bam--action flick.

I've decided recently that my hypothesis was unfair: Hollywood's Pinboard does not only apply to action movies, and it isn't a recent phenomenon.

I've decided I like Danny Kaye. He's an actor from the age of Hollywood musicals. I've often expressed the fact that I don't much care for musicals (except, of course, for the undislikable Singing in the Rain), but The Court Jester is excellent family-friendly fare; if you've never seen it, I recommend it highly as good, clean fun. It's also a good introduction to the sort of humor Danny Kaye excels at.

Because my wife and I like Danny Kaye, we'll occasionally pick up a movie he's in without knowing anything about it except that he's in it (when movie rentals are free at the local library, there's no real risk in random movie selection). Sometimes we do well (On The Double was a non-musical comedy that had some surprisingly hilarious moments despite its fairly straightforward comedy-of-errors formula), but sometimes we don't.

On The Riviera is a 1951 musical that stars Danny Kaye, and it made me realize just how accurate my beliefs about a Hollywood Pinboard must be. It functioned like a lot of other musicals (White Christmas, which Danny Kaye is also in, comes to mind) in that its protagonist has a career as a musical performer, so throwing unrelated dance numbers together becomes child's play, but this movie went one step farther:

There's a scene in which a party is going on, which the protagonist (Danny Kaye) was at but has left. Now, the protagonist has recently gotten a big break: a television studio wants to broadcast his stage show because his impersonations of a famous aviator (also Danny Kaye) have been making such a big splash. So he runs off to do his broadcast, and some people at the party gather around the TV to see his show. But instead of his impersonations, he does this number, which I imagine had been on a yellowing sticky note on the Hollywood Pinboard for years before someone finally said, "Okay, fine. Fine! We'll throw it in the next movie we do." This scene simultaneously demonstrates 1) why I don't like musicals and 2) why I do like Danny Kaye. It's complicated, I know. If you can sit through this video, you'll get to see Danny Kaye slaughter the pronunciation of various animals and plants, and it makes me giggle, but the song is grating and the scene had absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the movie: it was never alluded to beforehand; it was never mentioned afterward. And I imagine it was really expensive, with all the harnesses etc. How was it deemed worth the time and money?

No wonder musicals don't exist anymore....

Anyway. I give you the final death throes of musical cinema:

18 March 2012

Lancelot's Mistake

I've been reading T. H. White's The Once and Future King lately. I think Arthurian legend is worth knowing, and I thought this would be a good primer. It was actually written and published as four separate books, which were then abridged and modified and combined into The Once and Future King.

The third book is called The Ill-Made Knight and is all about Sir Lancelot's illicit relations with Queen Guenevere. I expected not to like it very much, but I actually enjoyed it more than I can say. Lancelot is the protagonist of the book, and he's a beautifully conflicted character that I connected with in a few different ways, but there's something about him that I've been reflecting on this Sunday afternoon that I think is worth sharing.

Here's a summary of the story of Lancelot for those of you who are unfamiliar. If you know it, feel free to skip down to the asterisks.

Lancelot's childhood obsession was to become a knight of the round table, and while most kids are out fooling around and playing games, he dedicated himself entirely to becoming the best knight in the world. By the time he became an adult, he was an unconquerable warrior because he had done nothing but work on becoming the best. He idolized Arthur, and he went off to Camelot and became a knight of the round table, and he and Arthur became best friends.

Guenevere and Arthur were already married when Lancelot joined the table, but their marriage had been more political than anything, I think. Guenevere and Lancelot fell in love at first sight, but Lancelot was a pious knight and fiercely loyal to Arthur and refused to do anything sinful, so nothing bad happened--for a while. He decided that his burning love for Guenevere was wrong, so he went out questing and was gone for a couple years, but he found himself unable to stop thinking about Guenevere.

One castle Lancelot came to during his journeys contained a young woman who was confined by witchcraft to a boiling bath. The curse she was under could only be broken by the best knight in the world (why do witches always make provisions like this?). Lancelot was the best knight in the world, and his reputation had proceeded him, so when he came to this castle, the people begged him to help. He entered the steamy bathroom and was able to lift the damsel from her watery prison, which she had been trapped in for something like 4 years because she had been more beautiful than the local witch woman. So of course she fell desperately in love with her rescuer (she was only 18, so we can't fault her for that), but Lancelot was burning for Guenevere, so refused the girl's father's offer of marriage.

That night, the girl's butler decided to be crafty, and he got Lancelot drunk. Lancelot told the butler all about Guenevere, so the butler got him to drink a little more and then told him that Guenevere had come without the King and was in a private room and wanted Lancelot to come see her. The drunken knight stumbled into the dark room and made drunken love with the woman inside, believing she was Guenevere, but of course she was not. In the morning, when he woke up and found the girl he had rescued, he became very distraught and drama ensued, but he ultimately decided that, since his virginity was lost and his honor and virtue were destroyed, he had nothing left to lose, so he returned to Camelot and became Guenevere's not-so-secret lover, and set in motion the downfall of Arthur's kingdom.


I don't fault Lancelot for saving a damsel from a witch's power, and I don't blame him for refusing to marry one person when he was in love with another, and I don't think it's fair to say he was wrong in harboring feelings for Guenevere (at least, I wouldn't know how to tell him to smother them), and I don't think we can even point to liquor as being his failing (even though drunkenness was out of character for him and unbecoming of a knight). I'll even go so far as to say that having sex with Elaine was not his Big Mistake (though it was certainly wrong of him). No, Lancelot's Big Mistake was thinking all was lost. He woke up, realized that he had lost his virginity, and decided that he may as well give up trying.

I understand Lancelot. I know what it's like to think I've undone all my life's goodness and may as well give up. I think it's common for people who are trying their best to do what's right to feel that way. We make one mistake, and we convince ourselves that it's a slippery slope with no hope of return, and we damn ourselves by thinking we're already damned. But it isn't true. The whole point of the Atonement--its purpose, its upshot, its summom bonum, its raison d'ĂȘtre--is to save us from such a fate. If Jesus hadn't saved us, then that slippery slope would be real--one misstep, and you slide straight to hell--but a good Christian knight--particularly a Catholic one like Lance!--should understand the power of Confession and the reality of Absolution.

Now I am not a Catholic, but I do believe in the forgiveness of sins. I believe that the Son of Man has descended below all things and has created a way that all men might be saved. I believe that Satan is the sower of despair, and that fatalistic thoughts of abandon come from him, not God. Jesus Christ has already paid the price of our sins and is therefore passionately invested in seeing that we're saved--otherwise he bled at every pore and trembled because of pain for naught.

It occurs to me that the Lancelots of the world are those who reject salvation when they are standing closest to it. People who don't know God at all would not despair after one lascivious night: that despair only comes to those who have scrambled so desperately for heaven all their lives. If only they could see that they are so much closer to the mountain's top than to its bottom, perhaps they would not be so insistent upon tumbling down its side.

Forgive the mixed metaphor....