May 2008

If you haven’t already done so, I would recommend checking out the theater adaptation of Monkey Journey to the West, which just opened in the US at the Spoleto Festival down in Charleston, SC. The costumes, sets, and character design were done by the guys of Gorillaz. Absolutely fantastic! Also, the producer hired, in addition to the Chinese opera actors, a circus and a dojo or two to do all of the acrobatics and stunts. The show has a trailer on its website, which sealed my conviction to go. Next weekend ought to be interesting…

Also, here’s to all the men and women who have protected us in the past, and to those in present service. Come home safe.

I got my first ever lab coat of my very, very own today! Then Dee and I went out and saw Prince Caspian. She and I both liked it, and I think, after I got over my initial annoyance at the plot changes and the botching of one particular line and the puerility of, well, the boys, I liked it more than the book. It stresses the changes in Edmund and Susan more, and, even though it was unnecessary and looked like the scripters were ripping a bit from Pullman, the romance was considerably more reasonable than for most t(w)een movies. When one guy I talked to warned me of a weird love triangle, I was worried that Bacchus was going to be involved, which would have been all colors of awkward. Fortunately, there was no triangle, and not a mention of Bacchus (though it’s a pity they left out all the stuff about the other gods). Still, I’m sticking to Ed’s comment on it. The humanity of some of the “villains” was a nice addition, and the pitting of English accent against Spanish accent made my inner historian chuckle.

Well, I’m back! And quite alive, more’s the pity. Normally one’s brain gets the chance to shut down right after exams, and everything that leaked in during the semester gets to slowly settle, leaving the impression to others, for a few days, that one is braindead. My brain is still working at writing essays and filling out forms, since an unfortunate turn of fate has given me another round to complete. I was gearing up for a nice, easy week of hiking and rereading the Narnia series (before going to see Prince Caspian), but the best laid plans of mice and men do often go astray. I just hope I’m not one of Steinbeck’s mice.

Speaking of Narnia, I have a few complaints against C.S. Lewis that always mar his stories:

First of all, he’s pretty racist. Although in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe he uses pallor to indicate evil, that is the whiteness of death, while the fairness of skin and hair is an integral part of his definition of good. Note especially the universal pettiness, cruelty, and ignorance of the people of Calormen—a very thinly veiled mush of the Ottoman Empire and India. Lewis even has the Tarkaans openly lust after the light skin of Shasta and Susan.

Secondly, Lewis is an unashamed chauvinist. God (ie Aslan as the son thereof) is, of course, male, and he pits himself against the evil of a woman whose primary power is her pretty face. Actually, I think they might as well go ahead and cast a giant Imelda Marcos as Queen Jadis the next time a book comes into film. The mentors are all male, and women, when not cowardly, are hushed up and shoved aside, like Hwin in The Horse and His Boy. For that matter, did anyone ever recognize Aravis’ bravery and faithfulness? Hmm, I don’t recall anything more than a short note by the author that she wasn’t really abandoning Shasta; the characters themselves never recognized the truth. Moreover, Lucy, who is accorded the highest honor among all the female characters, is “as good as a man, or at any rate as good as a boy.” Adding to this insult, Father Christmas decides that she, who has proven her valor above Edmund or Tumnus, if not the untested Peter, should not fight because war is ugly when women fight. Sure, girls can hold grudges to match a man’s, but is war not already ugly? And what’s up with Peter being High King alone, and Susan going all woozy over Rabadash? It gets a little better in Prince Caspian, but not much. I tell you, the author here did not think things through.

Finally, C.S. Lewis is far too self-conscious about the allusions and allegories in his work. It takes all the mental dexterity of an opossum to see the religious strains in each and every book of the series. If he really wants children to enjoy the books (rather than mistaking them rightfully for a sunday school text) and learn from them, he needs to let the actions of the characters speak for themselves, rather than having Aslan explain the theology every step of the way. If he wishes still to give Aslan an overtly governing role, he should at least follow the characters’ actions to their rightful conclusions! The prodigal son is all well and good, but, as I recall, the result of that story was not Job, as it is in Narnia from a developmental perspective.

Despite these rather major gripes, I do still enjoy the stories, and am looking forward to spending a little more time with them before orgo starts Monday. Speaking of orgo and theology, David brought up an interesting question in his comment, to which I reply: possibly quite well; Heisenberg and the Copenhagen Interpretation would be right up Aquinus’ alley, too. However, he’d probably have taken objection to the rote memorization approach, or else to the solidity of the subject matter. What does a mechanism matter, after all?

Although by rights I should not surface until after tomorrow’s exams, I feel compelled to share this morning’s amusement. All of the chemistry exams here are at 8:00 in the morning, so you can imagine that neither the TAs proctoring them nor the students taking them are terribly thrilled to be there. Today’s chem. lab exam was particularly nasty because the writer hadn’t proofread it, and had left out several critical bits of information scattered throughout the exam, so that you had to double check the blackboard for corrections on some of the problems and wade through confusing grammar on others. On the last page there was one question that did not have a correction posted on the board, but which asked us to calculate the morality of Mn2+ in the analyte unknown. Molarity? Fine. Molality? No problem. But morality? How do you calculate that for something that lacks self-awareness? It really couldn’t affect my grade in the course, so I jotted down a short explanation of the theological problem with answering the question for an inanimate species and tabulated it at 0 Moral.