All posts by Avellina Balestri

Pilgrim Eagle: A Review of Charles A. Coulombe’s History Text Puritan’s Empire

“This above all: To thine own self be true.”

William Shakespeare

Puritan’s Empire by Charles A. Coulombe is a unique tour-de-force of American history from a Catholic high traditionalist perspective. Spanning the colonial period to the modern day, the narrative is tightly-woven and comprehensively arranged. The sheer length and breadth of the volume is a testament to a lifetime’s worth of research. Although some sections are dry, the colorful anecdotes and personal analysis interspersed within the book keep the reader remains engaged, regardless of whether or not they agree with the author’s conclusions.

As mentioned above, the narrative is being told from a traditional Catholic perspective, and thus is unlikely to coincide with viewpoints espoused by mainstream Catholics and those of differing religious persuasions. I consider myself to be a mainstream Catholic, so my commentary reflects both where we agree and disagree, with all due respect to the esteemed author.

I really appreciate the way Mr. Coulombe conveys the notion of sacramental kingship within a Catholic society and the nuances of the class system from days of yore. He emphasizes the nature of noblesse oblige as both a privilege and a responsibility, with each layer of the system integrally bound together through a trickle-down of interconnected duties. This was refreshing, given that I often find myself deeply frustrated by modern historical dramas which mangle the social structures of past eras by viewing them through a modernist lens and burdening the past with present perspectives and behavioral norms.

Many of my favorite characters in history came from the upper classes, and yet still demonstrated great courage, skill, and honor, as opposed to being the foppish and cruel caricatures portrayed on screen. As with all groups, they were mixed, but undeserving of the cookie-cutter negativity reflected in popular culture. While the class system is hard to defend on the basis of equality, it did prove a vital part of preserving civilization during the Dark Ages. Afterwards, it made it possible for fairer societies to emerge for future generations.

As a Royalist sympathizer, the author always sheds light on the philosophy and plight of monarchists from across the historical timeline. For example, one of my favorite sections gives a detailed overview of the Loyalists during the American Revolution. He not only covered the individual conditions of the Tories in each of the thirteen colonies, but also highlighted the Catholic support for King George III, as exemplified by the Catholic Scottish settlers in the Mohawk River Valley and the Irish Volunteers from Philadelphia.

These heroes of a lost cause are often overlooked in favor of the Catholic supporters of independence, such as the prominent Carroll family of Maryland. As a long-time student of the British perspective, it was very pleasing to see them finally getting their due.  Coulombe also gives King George himself a fair-handed and sympathetic treatment, countering the theory that this much-maligned monarch was a tyrannical madman. This is certainly welcome when most historians focus on his losses and later illness rather than his humanity.

On the flip side, the book tends towards a decidedly harsh view of the Enlightenment and the interconnected ideas that spawned the age of Revolution during the Long 18th Century. My response to this would be to point out that the Enlightenment, just like the Renaissance, was a flowering of learning and culture that in of itself was greatly beneficial. Humanism is fully compatible with Catholic teaching, so long as it does not take the place of the Divine in the hearts of men. It is all a matter of balance, just as every virtue is a balance between two opposite extremes. Indeed, the Enlightenment emphasized the importance of this, which is why the “Enlightenment Man” was quite similar in his ability to change hats as the “Renaissance Man”, learning a variety of practical and artistic skills that made him a more well-rounded human being.

With regards to Deism, while it is certainly incomplete from a Catholic perspective, it still managed to make out the divine presence revealed in the light of the sciences, mathematics, and creation. This actually fits into the “reason” part of Catholic teaching quite well and provides an ample amount of common ground to stand on. The missing component is the “faith” part, embracing the concept of divine interaction with humanity through revelation and miracles. Nevertheless, I still find historical Deism much more commendable than a denial of God of altogether, and there is always hope that faith will come forth from reason.

Another part of the book I appreciated was the author’s marked enthusiasm for the world of literary achievements. He delves into the major names and artistic movements with ease, and deftly explains the natures of the different literary inspirations and how they related to the historical periods in which they sprang up. I particularly enjoyed his description of the differences between the Age of Reason and the Age of Romanticism in art and culture. I can appreciate elements of both, and feel that they actually manage to complement each other rather well if held in check.

Again, perhaps this is another manifestation of the marriage of faith and reason that is so much a part of Catholicism. We may see God both in ordered realities and scientific precision, but also in the supernatural, the mysterious, the symbolic, and all the things that fill us with that awe before the divine which C.S. Lewis calls “numinous.”  So it is with being able to appreciate the rational elegance of the Enlightenment Period and the wild, folkloric beauty of the Romantic Age. The author accurately points out that reason without romance fails to satisfy the soul, and yet romance without reason leads to reckless abandon and spiritual anarchy.

All this ties into another fascinating topic introduced in the book, dealing with the effect of the J.R.R. Tolkien on the “hippies” and “flower children” of the 1960’s. While Tolkien himself was an orthodox Catholic with traditionalist leanings, The Lord of the Rings managed to capture the imaginations of those seeking something decidedly “out there” to fit their new identities. It was a time of change and turmoil, of both moral awakening and moral distortion, but through all of this, the story of the simple hobbits facing the depths of depravity in order to save the good in the world resonated deeply. Indeed, it tapped into an underlying need for hope in the midst of chaos that made it an international sensation.

Continuing on in the realm of the arts, the author does an excellent job covering the story of the entertainment industry in America. Similar to the mythology surrounding the Wild West, the notion of shooting to stardom has ingratiated itself into the popular psyche. As the daughter of an entertainer who spent much of his life performing for celebrity gatherings in and around Hollywood, this topic has always deeply fascinated me. Mr. Coulombe brings to light both the triumphs and tragedies of the business, as well as the massive influence it had on Americans, and ultimately world-wide cultural development. For better or for worse, it is a business built upon the art of storytelling, and as such carries immense clout. As Catholics, learning the history and nature of the craft is vital in helping change the culture for the better.

Mr. Coulombe takes an interesting view of America’s Civil War, demonstrating the many complex motives behind the movers and shakers on both sides. He accurately portrays Abraham Lincoln as being more concerned about preserving the union than liberating the slaves (although the slavery issue was still an important one to him, and he did desire it to come to an end), and the fact that many southerners who fought in the war actually never owned slaves. However, I disagree with his glorification of the agrarian life and southern aristocracy. While there are good elements present in every society, such a system of injustice built upon slave labor and impoverished tenant farmers could not have continued unchecked into the modern age. I believe the romanticism for “moonlight and magnolias” is largely misplaced, and willingly overlooks the suffering of the majority who made the pleasure of the few possible.

Furthermore, although no one doubts that the South went through a great deal of suffering during Sherman’s March to the Sea (although I have a feeling it evened the score on how much suffering they inflicted on their own people, black and white), Mr. Coulombe refers to this as “unequaled by anything in the annals of Christian armies.” I simply cannot grasp this, given how many brutal and barbaric campaigns were carried out in Europe alone, not to mention the New World continental conflicts, which involved all sorts of barbarity and blood-letting, using fire and sword to wrest control of the land. Sherman was simply following that long tradition of making war hell for the rebellious populace.

Lastly, I cannot concur with the concept of some type of Utopian settlement for the continent if the south had achieved their independence. There is no guarantee whatsoever that slavery would have ended “naturally”; given the intensity of the “states’ rights” arguments in favor of slave owning as one of those “rights”, it would likely have been an agonizingly slow death to say the least. As Lincoln himself indicated, the only way to root out the evil seemed to be through blood. If that was the price, then the blood was well worth shedding. The way of the Old South was dying hard, but the seeds of a more just society were being planted. Democracy was finally getting the chance to assert itself, and even through the torturous years of segregation and racial prejudice, everyone knew there was no turning back.

Another area of note was the way the author covered Queen Isabella of Spain. I appreciate his overview of the achievements of this very powerful and pious woman, and how her legacy affected the history of Christendom and the Age of Discovery. Indeed, he lent a fascinating background to the voyages of Columbus and others as not simply a search for New World riches but also missionary endeavors. That having been said, I strongly disagree with the author’s method of defending Isabella’s expulsion of the Jews from Spain. While Mr. Coulombe does make some valid analysis appealing to a wider historical context, he then proceeds to make a theologically-driven implication about non-Catholics being “outside salvation”, which he indicates would somehow justify them being cast out of their homes.

Firstly, I would respond that even if mainstream Catholicism backed this harsh spiritual judgment against non-Catholics, it still would never justify any physical maltreatment of the aforementioned; and secondly, over the past 60 years, Catholic teaching has embraced an ever-broadening understanding of “Baptism by Desire”, and the nature of what it means to actually be a “member of the Church”. Ultimately, this is determined by the individual’s relationship with the Holy Spirit as defined by their ability to live out the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity, not the exactness of “club membership”.

Although the sacraments are invaluable portals of grace found within the Catholic Church alone, any soul truly seeking the truth and acting upon it to best of their ability is well within the bounds of divine grace. Indeed, being human makes them inherently equal to us before God, and God is the only one capable of judging the state of souls. Some may perceive this to be an alteration of traditional Catholic doctrine instead of a broadening of understanding, a shift of interpretation, and an opening of windows to allow in a fresh breeze while still upholding the time-tested structure. But the Church is a living, breathing organism, like the Tree of Life. It is always growing, always expanding, and yet springing forth from the same seed of Truth planted by Jesus Christ.

So while Isabella was certainly a woman of her age, complete with her own unique prejudices and theological preconceptions, we need not feel the need to defend her actions on these terms. However, the author proceeds to applaud Isabella for not unleashing a Jewish genocide: “But she did not desire the death of sinners, but that they should live.” This might easily be construed as equating the practice of Judaism with sinful living, and to suggest that religious persecution of this type is somehow acceptable as long as no one dies. Other references to Christian-Jewish relations raised in this book may raise some eyebrows as well, including the injunction that Christians should send Christmas cards to Jewish acquaintances in an effort to bring about their conversion.

As someone with Jewish friends myself, I respect their own customs and traditions very much, and would affirm them wherever I can, especially where our spiritual journeys overlap in the celebrating of events from the Old Testament. While it is certainly possible for Jewish people to come to the conclusion that Yeshua is the fulfillment of their own Messianic prophecies, I would never wish to be seen as trying to force my beliefs upon them, especially given our admittedly rocky past history of mutual mistrust and prejudice. It is a matter between them and God. Furthermore, Sephardic culture of the Jewish community in Spain holds a special place in my heart, and the scattering of that culture was a tragedy equal to the misplaced Catholic Irish and French Acadians because of religious intolerance.

Following this trend, Mr. Coulombe makes reference to Protestants featured in his text as “heretics”, even those who were never Catholic to begin with, and tends to negatively portray most major interreligious dialogue efforts. This includes the efforts of Archbishop John Carroll to assimilate the Catholic community into American life and his failure to do more to convert Benjamin Franklin, although Carroll did care for him when he was ill and struck up a life-long friendship with him. Other names to be brought up disparagingly include Cardinal Gibbons and Cardinal Spellman, both pillars of the Church in America. He also expressed his view that Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen’s popular TV program “Life Is Worth Living” did not make a concentrated enough effort to convert the nation to Catholicism. The Baltimore Catechism also comes under fire as being too modernist.

In the last section of the book, Mr. Coulombe inserts Paul Blanshard’s “Catholic Master Plan”, which was originally meant to paint a mocking portrait of Catholic teaching for the benefit of xenophobic Protestant Americans. It was intended to make the Church out to be a theocratic tyranny bent on suppressing religious freedom, banning secular schooling, forbidding civil divorce, marriages with non-Catholics, etc. However, the author actually seems to support most of the assertions as being an accurate description of Catholic social teaching in action. The author states as follows: “Yet this is precisely the sort of measures Blanshard describes which are required to save the nation from the twin threats of dystopia and bloody anarchy which appear to await us. Obviously, they are the bare minimum; but think on the benefits which could accrue!”

I would counter that the primary reason for our being here is to show love through living out the virtues at the heart of our faith in Christ; He is the one in charge of any and all movements of the soul towards Him, not any force of human power. Indeed, we must do good out of love for God and neighbor, not as a slippery way of tricking people into the Church. Some things are simply good and beautiful in and of themselves, with no strings attached, and are meant to be relished on that account.

At the same time, we demonstrate the true essence of being a Catholic Christian to the world by living fully “in the world, but not of it.” To be holy is to be more fully human, and that should be the defining factor of our lives, as opposed to creating a check-list Catholics we make. It is only through this that people will get an accurate idea of what being Catholic is really all about. As St. Francis said when asked why his monks did not preach when doing good works among the poor, he responded, “We did.”

Of course, we should have the courage and conviction to share and defend our faith, and if someone expresses interest in Catholicism, we should do all in our power to aid them in their spiritual journey. But we must never view human beings as mere projects to work on, but rather truly appreciate them for who they are and develop genuine relationships with them. Each and every human being has the image of God stamped on their souls, and entering into loving relationships with them is of inestimable value in and of itself.

Furthermore, with regards to our country, I see patriotism as a true love for our land and her freedoms and people, apart from any desire that she become a Catholic state. Indeed, I prefer to live under a government unattached to any established religion so that all of may have equal opportunity and freedom to profess our own in the way we see fit. This is another piece of the Enlightenment legacy, that the law of the land should promote the common good of its citizens, while at the same time refraining from meddling in matters of the individual souls, such as religious belief or sexual morality.

Mr. Coulombe says that “error has no rights”, but the fact is that people do by virtue of their free wills. Catholicism is more than capable of flourishing in such an environment where the rights of all are suitably secured. We should not see ourselves as infiltrators at war with American society, but rather as a true-hearted part of that society with the goal of making it a better place in which to live, and by extension, to do our best to bring justice and peace to the world. The Jewish tradition of Tikkun Olam comes to mind here, meaning “to heal the world” or “construction for eternity.”

There is also an overarching attitude projected by the author that everything uniquely American is decidedly lesser that the original European version, that any achievement in favor of the American dream should be met with a mild cynicism. Perhaps I am a romanticist, but truth be told, I do believe we are a “city on a hill”, imperfect to be sure, but also a great force for good in the world and a history of tragedies and triumphs that I am nevertheless proud of to the depth of my being. My country may have many hurdles to overcome, but she has many wonderful qualities as well. Seeing all the goodness she has to offer, I do not despair of her future. I am a part of her story, the fabric of her flag. I do not worship her, and yet I love her as I love a mother, and would defend her and work to her greater good for her own sake.

I do, however, totally concur with Mr. Coulombe on the necessity of rejuvenating our Catholic culture in America by continuing to maintain our liturgical traditions and tell the most reassured stories of our heritage. I love the concept of a Catholic cultural revival, bringing back the traditional prayers, songs, prayers, and customs associated with individual feast days and liturgical seasons. We should absolutely “keep Advent until Christmas, and Christmas till Epiphany, feast at Carnival and fast during Lent.” In all this, we should enkindle a sense of community with our fellow Catholics and celebrate together the glories of our faith, and all the epic twists and turns of our redemption story. After all, our liturgy is a great tapestry of interwoven stories of heaven touching earth, and transforming it by that encounter.

Christ ate, drank, and made merry, as well as fasting and undergoing the ultimate suffering and sacrifice. We follow in his footsteps through these celebrations that mean so much to our life of faith. Furthermore, just as Christ sat at table with the most diverse array of people, we should let these celebrations be an opportunity to keep open our hearts and doors to our non-Catholic friends and neighbors to share the many moods of our faith with them. In the same way, we should also accept the invitations of our non-Catholic friends to partake in their celebrations in any way that is not contrary to our faith and to affirm the elements of truth in their own. This enables to finding of that precious common ground on which we all can stand as spiritual beings living the human experience.

So all things considered, I found Puritan’s Empire to be a fascinating read with a decidedly unique perspective. It certainly engaged me intellectually, and encouraged me to explore more deeply the role of faith in American society and beyond. I would recommend it to anyone interested in getting a better understanding of traditional Catholicism, even to outsiders looking in, such as myself. It certainly helps to open up topics for further dialogue. It is available for purchase on Tumblar House (http://www.tumblarhouse.com/books/puritans-empire.php), as are other books by the same author. In closing, I would like to remark that, in both agreeing and disagreeing, I do respect someone willing to speak their opinion truthfully, as I always strive to do in my own writing and reviews. As Shakespeare said, “This above all: to thine own self be true.”

Gambling for Eternity: An Analysis of the Apologetics Argument of “Pascal’s Wager”

“Pascal’s Wager” is a famous and controversial argument in favor of the existence of God often used by Christian apologetics. It has been called the potentially weakest or potentially strongest argument available when debating with an atheist. Basically, it runs as follows: If a skeptical person were to lay a bet on whether or not God exists, it would wiser to bet on God existing, since if this is the correct position it will make all the difference for him when the time comes to “meet his maker”. If the position is incorrect, nothing from nothing still equals nothing, and when you die and fade into nothing you will not be bothered by your incorrect calculations in the least!

The whole style of this is meant to be wryly humorous, with a touch of dramatic hyperbole for effect. It’s best described as “parliament humor”, a witty jab with a purpose to make the opponent get red in the face. And quite a few atheists do get very indignant when confronted with it, saying that it is a shot below the belt, as well as their intelligence and integrity. It is asking them to be opportunists and hedge bets on the nature of reality for all the wrong reasons. Some even make a direct of point of saying that it’s “morally wrong”, although it’s a bit amusing how morality comes into this, since without some transcendent plane of belief, human morals would be nothing more than evolutionary habits or social norms without any real authority beyond an illusionary sense of meaning.

First of all, I would probably suggest that these atheists learn to lighten up a little bit and take it on the chin, and then consider some of their own arguments, claiming that belief in God is as groundless as a Flying Spaghetti Monster or a Mystical Teapot, and ask themselves whether perhaps they might embrace a bit of hyperbole themselves. Second, I think they should come to realize that “Pascal’s Wager” was never meant to be a standalone argument, but as a part of a greater whole which they might do well to explore with an open mind before saying that Pascal is asking them to abandon “truth”. Third, I would encourage them to swallow their initial distaste for his quip and consider the deeper meaning within the “Wager”.

But before any of this, it would probably be a good idea to make sure everyone is on the same page with regards to the nature of debating for and against the existence of God. Sadly, many such debates quickly devolve into an 8th grade schoolyard squabble along these lines: “You can’t scientifically prove God exists!” “Oh, yeah? Well, you can’t scientifically prove God doesn’t exist!” This process proceeds to repeats itself until we meet with the Spaghetti Monsters and Mystical Teapots. It’s all a tad juvenile.

There are two points that need to be clarified to avoid this cycle. One is to realize that philosophical debates are not conducted by producing scientific evidence, but rather rational arguments in favor or against. After all, if there is a reality beyond the purely physical one, we would be unable to measure it with scientific instruments. There is no way of “proving” God, but there are more than enough reasons to belief. This brings us to the second point. The whole premise of God is not meant to indicate the existence of some obtuse invisible object floating around in the atmosphere, or a celestial tyrant perched on some cloud or other. Instead, He would be the very Essence of Being, Transcendence, and Goodness. He would be eternal, with no beginning and no end, from which all reality flows.

There are rational, coherent, and well-thought-out arguments for believing, and for not believing, in this Origin of All Things. Even if one doesn’t necessarily agree with them, at least there should be an admitted that there are mature analytical conclusions on both sides. Equivocating arguments in favor of the existence of God with something as silly as Spaghetti Monsters and Mystical Teapots woefully misses the whole point, and just reveals serious philosophical shallowness. After all, these debates are ultimately about whether there is any meaning in life at all, making the job of an atheist apologist fairly self-defeating if they should actually succeed.

As I mentioned above, while Pascal’s Wager needs a strong basis of rational arguments to undergird it, it still has a profound point to make about human nature and the way we live. Basically, is atheism really livable, or is it ultimately a “lost cause” in the practical flow of daily life? Looking at existence from an atheist worldview, is there any true meaning to anything, ever? I certainly know many atheists who would be quick to point out that they don’t need a God to have a meaningful life. But I do wonder what meaning actually means to them. All the things commonly associated with meaning are actually illusions if their belief that nothingness is the ultimate reality.

If we are just a combination of brain cells, our sense of identity and the ability to say “I”, is really just an illusion. Likewise, altruistic love is an illusion, because any good we do is either a herd instinct left over from an evolutionary process that helps our species survive, or we have been affected by social norms and psychologically “programmed” to behave a certain way. Hence, free will is actually an illusion as well, and some atheists are quite comfortable with admitting it. Some have even postulated that some people’s brains are wired for love, and some are not. Lovelessness is just the way that blind forces set them up; with this view in mind, it is not right or wrong. It just is. But I wonder…do they also believe that bad behavior can be explained by programming? Were Hitler and Stalin just born to behave the way they were? Do we really have a right to call them “evil”?

Without believing in the transcendent meaning of identity, love, free will, and morality, what meaning is left in life? Only embracing these illusions of meaning can give us even a taste of happiness. Or perhaps happiness is the wrong word…I am thinking more of joy. It is that inner wonder when struck with the majestic grandeur of nature, or the resonant beauty of music, or the extraordinary skill of dance, or the rhythmic weave of poetry, or the rousing heartbeat of a heroic story. This can often lead us to what C.S. Lewis calls the “numinous”, or the awe felt when encountering an unknown power that cannot be explained. We take it all in, and for that moment, we believe unquestioningly that it has meaning, that it is real, that it taps into some essence of transcendence that will never diminish. But if we are atheists, we must inevitably “check our brains at the door”…this is all just an illusion. Even, or perhaps especially, our own thoughts are illusions.

So even if “Pascal’s Wager” was used strictly in the perspective of our own earthly lives and not in reference to the possibility of Judgment Day, I think Pascal would still have made a very good point. Basically, if atheists follow their own logical conclusions, they wipe out all sense of meaning from their lives. The worldview grows so dark it melts into a realm beyond despair. Who the heck could bear to live like that? Of course, the majority of atheists do not. Most of the atheists I know are caring, sensitive, passionate people who act just like they believed in a transcendent truth and beauty within the world and every human being. But according to their worldview, that must be embracing a sense of “illusion”. How tragic.

To cover a final objection, it has been said that one cannot simply decide to believe something out of the blue, even if it might be desirable, or even necessary. This is true to some extent, but admitting doubt can actually be the first step towards true faith. At a certain point, there is some degree of choice involved in taking a leap off the ladder of pure logic into the spirit realm that necessitates an embrace of mystery. It may be fraught with risks, but in the end there is nowhere left to climb. I think many agnostics simply refuse to make that choice. In other words, since we will never have conclusive proof one way or the other, many simply will not believe anything. They prefer to sit on the fence indefinitely.

. Even most atheists believe in the spiritual qualities of man, and show it by the way they act. In a sense, all of these impossibilities of believing in nothing make believing in something the only livable option. And somehow I think most of us would find it extremely hard to swallow that the Truth with a capital T could possibly be so empty as if the tenets of atheism, or even loose-leaf agnosticism, were followed to their logical ends. We would have truly killed God in our own hearts, and in the process, they would have been turned to stone.

Ironically, this sort of takes the atheist objection to the wager full circle. Atheists will say that Pascal is asking them to abandon the truth in exchange for a safe conduct pass to Paradise. Actually, the wager could just as well be pointing out the sheer senselessness of living as if there is meaning in life, when your worldview asserts that there is none. As creatures of hope, we must embrace some sense of meaning and transcendence, or we would be unable to survive in any meaningful way. Even our demand for truth infers meaning. So yes…if you were to take a gamble, would it not make sense to cast it on the side of hope instead of despair, something instead of nothing? As a character in the 1978 movie The Nativity aptly said when questioning the coming of the Messiah: “If you cannot believe in His coming, at least hope for it!”

He Is Who He Is: A Review of The Bernie Sanders Visit to Gettysburg College

In my capacity as a magazine editor and correspondent, I had the intriguing experience of attending a town hall meeting hosted by Gettysburg College. The guest of honor was none other than the ever-eye-brow-raising Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont (well, from New York really, but he represents “White Christmas” country so…yeah!). As it was quite the memorable excursion, with historical connotations, I shall give it a brief run-down with some of my spiritual take-aways to boot.

My first brush with Bernie came early on in the election cycle, when I heard his voice emanating from the radio in our kitchen during the first democratic primary debate. My ears immediately attuned to the Brooklyn accent so thick you could cut it with a knife, and a certain sense of familiarity swept over me. At first I thought it was simply because my parents and their extended families both came from Northern NJ/NYC. While my parents’ own accents have lessened greatly and I sound like a true native of Maryland (well, except for perhaps the odd word!), there is something about those guttural tones from “the old country” that continue to strike a deep chord.

However, during one of Bernie’s later speeches to his adherents, I came to the conclusion that the sense of subconscious connectivity also derived from the fact that he actually sounded a lot like Readily-Deedily, the dragon puppet character from a NYC-based kids’ show that helped teach me how to read as supplemental viewing! These zonky associations aside, I admit that something about his general demeanor made me feel that, policies aside, there was a certain sincerity and determination about him that was bound to win grudging respect from both sides. This was heightened all the more by the prospects of Clinton and Trump looming large as the front runners.

So as time passed, there was something of a *wink, wink* joke in my house whenever Bernie was heard. And funnily enough, the more we teased, the more he seemed to appear everywhere! On FB, “Feel the Bern” videos popped up aplenty, the most memorable being the famous incident involving a disoriented bird flapping around on stage and landing on Bernie’s podium while he was in mid-speech. The most hilarious part of this was the intimidated grin plastered on his face, as if the “wittle boid” (his words!) were some carnivorous canine preparing to nip of his nose unless he could successfully mollify it!

He proceeded to attach an off-the-cuff application to the event that identified said feathered guest as “the dove of peace”. My thoughts: “Dude, that ain’t a dove. Check out the Dictionary of North American Wildlife.” But still, I along with the rest of the online world had to admit it was kind of cute…even if it did sort of resemble William the Conqueror taking a tumble after disembarking from his ship, and then proceeding to convince observing troops that the ground of England was really trying to embrace its rightful king!

Nevertheless, the media exploded with references to “Feel the Bird” and “Vote for Birdie”, brandishing a whimsical warbler with spectacles! Some even went so far as to say it was “a sign from above” (some of the Pagans who back Bernie’s environmental policies insisted it was a cue from the Mother Earth Goddess), and a proof that animals are good judges of character…er, I guess because the bird *did not* bite off his nose?? Lastly, there was the inevitable Hunger Gamesconnection, saying that he had been selected to be America’s Mockingjay and was destined to challenge Capitol corruption. Win, lose, or draw, his gallant up-hill battle and victories in the face of the political machine make the connection all the more viable.

There were other Fandom reactions to the political goings-on as well. More than a few online communities of Trekkies, suitably dedicated to the Universalist ideals of the fictional Federation, seemed quite enamored with Bernie, and posted out plenteous posters on his behalf. One involved an image of Spock telling Kirk that this was the moment when one of the most powerful earth republics finally embraced the principles that would usher in the era of the Federation. Given that Bernie’s viewpoints do rather resemble those of both Gene Roddenberry and Leonard Nimoy, I can’t say this is totally out-of-turn. But in Middle Earth loving centers, I was rather surprised to see a photo-shopped image of Gandalf as Bernie, wielding a staff and bellowing “You shall not pass!” as a giant Balrog with Trump’s head on it lunged towards him! Can’t say how the traditionalist Tolkien would handle having his works hijacked for far left promotional purposes, but it did give me a good chuckle.

Lastly, who could ever forget the folk songster efforts of said candidate, whose tones bear such a strong resemblance to Leonard Nimoy’s flat-as-a-squirrel-run-over-by-a-truck vocal range which he exhibited when taking a hiatus from being Mr. Spock of the Enterprise? For Bernie, it was a matter of ancient flower child tradition, and he inevitably participated in a folk album in which he “sang” (more like orated, in flawless Brooklynese) “This Land Is My Land”, which turned into his unofficial campaign anthem. However, it’s worthy to note that at one of his televised rallies, the folk band on stage seemed hesitant to incorporate Bernie in their performance. Even when the eager-beaver senior meandered towards the main mic, mouthing the words, they seemed to have made a pact to ignore his efforts to join the fun altogether! Nevertheless, as one YouTube observer remarked, Bernie’s music videos were so un-cool, they bounced off the Richter scale, boomeranged back, and became ultra-cool!

With all these amusing connotations fresh in my mind, I learned that Bernie would be making a visit to Gettysburg College a mere 20 minutes from home (on Earth Day, of all days). So, with nothing better to do, I decided I might as well get a piece of the historical action. Thus, brandishing a media pass, I headed off with my dad to see what could be seen at the campus, as a representative of the Catholic youth of the Harrisburg Diocese. There are a number of things that left an impression on me during the experience which I shall do my best to list. Firstly, I was pleased to discover that our local Bernie supporters, while certainly enthusiastic, were not the crazed revolutionaries marching through Red Square that some media sources made them out to be. Actually, by and large, they seemed quite friendly and welcoming, even though it was clear that were not endorsing their candidate.

Interestingly, in the top bleachers, a certain sense of camaraderie developed as everyone tried to save each other’s seats, and I ultimately wound up baby-sitting for the children of one of the Sanders Delegates. The three of them (two girls and a boy between the ages of 5 and 9) were really quite fun to “state out” with, as we held the seat for their mom out preparing for Bernie’s arrival. The little boy was actually celebrating his 5th birthday, with an appropriate sign declaring it to the world! This also resulted in a cupcake devouring fest, although the 11 year old was technically “cheating” as she had just had braces put on her teeth after a recent jaw operation, and her dad, who was one of security volunteers, had beckoned to her repeatedly to come down from the bleachers to take her medication (which she did, deftly navigating the tricky stairs that we warned her to go slowly on lest she take a tumble). But hey, you know, for special occasions and all…cupcakes go a long way!

Later on, some young guys from the college wound up sitting in front of us. In souvenir hunting mode, my dad and I had been trying to obtain a Bernie sign to prove we had been there, but they had all been handed out already to the real supporters. Leaning over to the dudes in front as they chatted about hanging their signs in their dorm, my dad teased, “Do you guys have a monopoly on those?” Without a second thought, a curly-haired, fresh-faced young man had given us his sign “for the memories.” Of course, it could have been because the kid was secretly smitten by me (*blush*), or dad managed to shame his socialist conscience into redistributing, but even after I inquired if he was sure about his decision (after all, he was a fan, and I didn’t want to deprive him!), he still insisted we keep it.

We had the same positive experience with the members of the Sanders Campaign. As opposed to scruffy looking radicals, we met several young men in suits and ties, brandishing Bernie buttons but not seeking to force their preference on us. They were courteous and respectful, and were invaluable in helping us obtain some more souvenirs such as a pen and a sticker, and helping us get our bearings in general. The Gettysburg College staff was also highly professional during the course of the event, making it clear that the college made no political endorsement, but rather was hosting this event for the education of anyone who wished to participate. However, one of glaring down-sides of the event however was the unexplained and extended tardiness of the guest of honor! Not only was he “a little late”…but a good 3 hours overdue! Indeed, the Bernie-loving natives and unbiased observers alike were getting quite restless. I can’t count how many times the cry of “Let’s go, Bernie, let’s go!” rose from the throng. Seriously, I’ve never seen such a fuss as when the guy with the water pitcher came out to the fill the glass set up for speakers!

When Bernie finally did show up, it was something of an anti-climax. Truth be told, those expecting to encounter a wild-eyed firebrand would be sorely let down as he hobbled around on stage reciting a segment of “The Gettys-boig Ad-wess.” Frankly, by all accounts, he seemed pretty dang normal and only as inspiring as a bowl of vanilla yogurt. Besides the sheer normality, he seemed to have little sense of crowd interaction and/or manipulation. He didn’t even seem particularly moved by the love-fest of the face-painted Bernie fan-girls cheering wildly as if the curmudgeonly senior citizen with messed up white hair and monotonous voice that could be called “the lullaby of Broadway” (as in, it would put anyone to sleep) was actually Elvis reincarnated!

Instead, he dutifully paced about on stage, looking and sounding pretty bushed (if I had one practical thing to give the man, it would have been Ricola cough drops), with as much enthusiasm as if he were speaking before an inanimate blackboard. But perhaps therein lies the charm: in sharp contrast to Trump’s proclamations about how everybody loves him, how they would vote for him even if he shot somebody, and he alone can save America, Bernie does not seem to have let the attention go to his head and inflate it beyond recognition. What you see is what you get. As my dad aptly summed it up, “He is who he is.” For good or ill, there is a certain amount of comfort in that.

He’s out doing what he sees as his job, getting across the message that he sincerely believes in, but still readily admits that no president, whether his name is Bernie Sanders or anything else, is capable of fixing all the problems in the country on his own. I thought that was refreshingly honest compared with Trump’s braggadocious stump speeches. Another thing that contrasted the two campaigns was that the Sanders campaign seems to really put out to accommodate the disabled, including such things as set up wheel chair ramps and sign language interpreters, whereas the Trump rallies/events are rather infamous for having minimal accommodations of this kind.

Of course, there are his controversial policies, which have been called everything from insane to disgusting. He is an unabashed Democratic Socialist, and given the state of Socialist countries such as Venezuela, it certainly has made many eyes roll. But I find it very hard to decry the concepts of universal health coverage (providing private practice is also allowed), tuition-free schools (this is not novel; there were “free schools” in existence as far back as the 18th century), higher wages for the working class (yes, it might cause an economic chain reaction…but is it not fair?), back pay for parents with newborns (also a very fine thought), veteran programs (but of course!), and putting more effort into cleaning out environmental waste (snicker about Earth Day if you must, but there truly is abuse of the environment in various sectors, and Pope Francis leads the way in heightening the Christian consciousness about responsible stewardship of Mother Earth).

Mind you, I said the concepts, in and of themselves, not necessarily the means of implementation. When it comes to numbers on paper, his plans often unravel as simply monetarily impractical. But the bare essentials of the ideas are certainly valid to raise from the perspective of Catholic social teachings, and he does us all a service by doing so. We are, after all, living a land where different ideas for the common good are free to be spoken openly and debated. Indeed, Sanders himself says he applauds the fact that his ideas are disagreed with so often, because it is good to hammer things out with others. Indeed, the emphasis on “hammering things out” inspired me to submit a question from the audience, inquiring as to how he would “hammer things out” with the Catholic community if he came into power. Since we had to leave early, I don’t know if he got around to answering it publically or not, but I should like very to found out someday if the question ever hit home, and how he might respond to it in his own words.

But after all this deep analysis, and holding my arm extended with a hand-held recorder to take notes for far too long (it hurt!!), my dad and I decided to try and get a quickie pic of the event to prove we had been there. It just so happened that my dad’s 1980’s camera decided to give up the ghost on the spot (maybe it was a Trump supporter!), upon which one of the Bernie supporter kindly offered to take pics of us with her digital camera and then promptly followed up and emailed them to us, showing me standing with Bernie on stage in the background. Afterwards, we decided to truly follow in his presumed footsteps prior to arrival (famous as a diner-hopper and fast food consumer as he is) and settled in for the odd-ish combo meal hamburger, a chicken salad, and a pistachio sundae. Hey, watching those kids devouring cupcakes proved mouth-watering…

So what did I take away from this whole experience…I mean, in the broad sweep, and in addition to the edibility factor? I suppose that one we should open to new experiences outside our comfort zones and be willing to hear someone out, even if rumors rail against him. Also, we should never be ruled by stereotypes, thinking that people on “the other side” of the spectrum are not orcs marching out of Mordor. I certainly cannot judge the Sanders followers in total, but the ones I met in my own local vicinity seemed like perfectly good citizens who displayed Christian civility towards us. Indeed, one man in the bleachers who saw my cross commented on how this “Socialist Jew” seemed to him to have the most Christian heart among the leading candidates. I cannot read hearts, but compared to what I have seen and heard from Clinton and Trump, I would have to agree to some extent.

I am still deeply dismayed at his advocacy of abortion, even up to partial birth, and that will always be a major stumbling block for Catholic voters considering candidates such as Sanders, whose democratic socialism, contrary to common belief, does not instantly blacklist him on the Catholic voter’s guide. But abortion is not a matter of economic or governmental systems, nor is it a “liberal” or “conservative” issue; it’s a human rights issue, and it can’t simply be overlooked as besides the point. In his advocacy of it, he contradicts all of his life-affirming ideals by supporting the killing of the most innocent. And yet in spite of this glaring incongruence, I still feel that his intentions are far more honorable than those of his competitors. Viewing him as a man of integrity in a swamp of corruption, I would be happy to shake his hand.

A final item that stands out in my memory is a comparison video between Sanders and Trump. I know these things are publicity gimmicks, and can be taken with a grain of salt. And yet, from my experience and with my sentiments, this one somehow rang true. While Trump’s inflammatory “us vs. them” language flies, a clip from Sanders speech is played: “Love trumps hatred.” Is this not similar to so many things that Pope Francis has been trying to tell the world? But this follows suit, for whatever else Sanders may be, he has shown an appreciation for at least some elements of traditional Catholic social teaching. Indeed, coming from a lower income background himself, and struggling to find his career niche for many years, I believe his sympathy for the underprivileged and his desire for them to have suitable dignity is a sincere one. That he is mocked for taking a long time to find his place in the world just reflects poorly on the mockers, not on his own hard-fought climb and discovery of his talent in the political sphere.

Sanders himself is ethnically Jewish, but also seems to be a spiritual searcher with a social conscience, akin to actor Leonard Nimoy in Universalist outlook. He believes in God, but just not “everyone else’s God”. But his Irish wife is Catholic, and it is clear from his speeches while in Rome that he has at least some handle on Catholic terminology, drawing from both the catechism and encyclical documents. He has made clear his admiration for Pope Francis, and told him so in their brief encounter in Italy. His emphasis on the “common good” and the fact that we are “all in this together” is something that joins them together, and I think we should all be able to find some commonality in that, whatever our individual beliefs on his wider policies may be. And if that makes Bernie Sanders a rarity in the American political system, then it is a blessed rarity at that.

Glorying in Glass: A Movie Review of “Snow White and the Huntsman”

Year:  2012

Filming:  Color

Length:  127 minutes

Genre:  Drama/Adventure/Fantasy

Maturity:  PG-13 (for intense themes, scary images, and fantasy violence)

Cast:  Kristen Stewart (Snow White), Chris Hemsworth (the Huntsman), Charlize Theron (Ravenna), Sam Claflin (Prince William), Sam Spruell (Finn), Ian McShane (Beith), Bob Hoskins (Muir), Ray Winstone (Gort), Nick Frost (Nion), Eddie Marsan (Duir), Toby Jones (Coll), Johnny Harris (Quert), Brian Gleeson (Gus)

Director:  Rupert Sanders

Personal Rating:  2 Stars

***

Fantasy films are admittedly hard to produce. The real challenge is making them different yet the same as our own world, employing both originality and realism to achieve visual marvels and emotional intensity. Sadly, all too frequently the results of these efforts fall short of the goal. The temptation to splurge on CGI creatures and special effects often proves too powerful to be resisted by the studio geeks, and meantime the story is allowed to fall into a disjointed disarray. This is especially the case when trying to modernize a classic legend or fairy-tale, such as Snow White and the Huntsman.

Once upon a time, in an unidentified yet very scenic kingdom, there dwells a beautiful queen who pricks her finger on a rose and seeing the blood against the snow, decides that if her infant daughter has pale skin and red lips, she will name her Snow White. (Yeah, kind of a macabre origin of the name, but anyway…). Such is the case, and little Snow grows up as a happy and mischievous child, spending her days with her best friend Prince William from a neighboring kingdom.

Unfortunately for all, things take a turn for the worse when Snow’s mother dies and her father becomes enraptured by a mysterious yet dazzling woman named Ravenna captured in battle after smashing her army of glass soldiers…yeah, it’s a rather complex relationship. Anyway, before you can say “really bad move”, the king marries her, and is subsequently stabbed by her on their marriage night! Then, lickety-split, she takes over his kingdom, wipes out most of the inhabitants, and imprisons his young daughter in a high tower where she will be left to rot. Or at least that was the original plan…

Time passes, and Ravenna learns how to use her dark powers to preserve her beauty by sucking the life out of beautiful young women via their breath, or else forcing them to disfigure their faces. Yeah, totally charming lady. But when Snow White has blossomed into a beautiful young woman, Ravenna’s magic mirror informs her that Snow is actually fairest in the land, and the Queen, clearly rather touchy about being top notch in the looks department, orders that the girl’s heart to be cut out. But Snow manages to escape her tower prison and takes shelter in the woods. Ravenna is not about to let her escape, and sends a disgruntled huntsman to track her down. But instead, he befriends the runaway and teaches her to defend herself.

Snow and the Huntsman also make pals with a bunch of Cockney dwarves (kind of akin to the incongruently Cockney stow-away on the ark in Noah) who realize Snow White is destined to fulfill a prophecy to save the kingdom and agree to help her on her quest.  Meanwhile, in another part of town, a grown Prince William is trying to make his mark on society by becoming a Robin-Hood-esque figure, shooting arrows in the forest garbed in a super-cool hooded cloak and harassing Ravenna’s henchmen. Ultimately, he and Snow and Co. meet up…only to face an interesting hurdle in the form of the shape-shifting Ravenna who disguises herself as William and entices Snow White to eat a poisoned apple! (Sound vaguely familiar now?) But never fear…Huntsman’s here! Oh, what a smooch can do…

Snow White and the Huntsman could have been much better than it was. But sadly, it was lack-luster on multiple levels, mainly because the methodology of the whole production was off-base. If given another title, maybe it would have a better chance of developing its own sense of identity as a motion picture, but it just wasn’t Snow White, and the fact that it kept trying to be something it wasn’t prevented it from becoming something it actually could have been. Thematically, I do understand that the Brothers Grimm were pretty true to their names, so perhaps this variant is closer to the original dark mood as opposed to the Disney cartoon. But almost the entire tale is altered beyond recognition, with token fill-in characters popping up in order to maintain the title. At the same time, the plot did not feel original, but more of a randomized alphabet soup of other films and stories, including The Chronicles NarniaThe Lord of the RingsJoan of ArcThe Hunger Games, etc. etc.

The acting was so-so, with telegraphed dialogue running throughout. Kristen Stewart is not my favorite actress by a long shot, and along with Keira Knightly, carries a modern attitude into all the period pieces she embarks on. Also, the monsters and special effects were pretty silly. Like, the rock-monster-thing Snow and the Huntsman battle after getting out of the woods was on a par with the rock-monster-things in Noah…and don’t even get me started on those! Also, the glass army seemed like a vain attempt to reproduce the fright of the skeleton army from Jason and the Argonauts and later The Lord of the Rings. It was all a general computer generated hodge-podge.

To make up for that, though, I will admit that the scenery was pretty impressive, as the majority of the picture was shot on location in England. Part of me wonders if perhaps Germany would have been more appropriate given the origins of the original tale, but it had the right feel overall. The costuming was fairly good as well. Also, the music score is quite epic, especially accompanying Snow White’s inspirational speech after returning to life and the grand charge of the knights on horseback.

There were a few innovative visuals, including the way the mirror spills out in a molten liquid and takes the form of a hooded figure when the queen summons it. I also enjoyed the scene with the mystical white stag that blesses Snow White and convinces the dwarves that she is indeed destined to save the kingdom. I found this interesting because in Pagan and Christian mythology, this animal is meant to represent spiritual power, and Catholics particularly identify it with the Eucharist. Notably, Snow White is shown reciting the Lord’s Prayer in her prison cell, and it is emphasized that her purity of heart is the key to overturning evil and fulfilling the prophecy. The Huntsman comments, after her death, that she will no doubt be a queen in Heaven even if she could not be one on earth. For a mainstream fantasy film, these overt Christian references make it unique.

The downfall of Ravenna is based on her false assumption that beauty is the gateway to power and power to a meaningful life. She uses her dark magic to destroy the life of the king and the kingdom and suck the life out of beautiful women because of her own vicious insecurity. As a result becomes the symbol of death itself, donning herself in dresses decorated with beetle shells and skulls. They symbolize the emptiness that she has allowed to befall her own soul, personified by her army of cold, unfeeling glass. Indeed, she glories in glass, as she derives assurances of her own supremacy from her ego-reflecting mirror…but even that ultimately betrays her vanity and speaks the truth. She thinks that by possessing the heart of Snow White, she will put an end to this threat to her supremacy. But in the end, she cannot conquer the spiritual heart of Snow White nor the love that restores her to life.

Despite these moments of thematic grace, the plot itself was awkwardly constructed, with multitudinous loose ends and concepts that are never properly fleshed out. For example, the love triangle between Snow White, the prince, and the huntsman drags on drearily but is left unresolved by the end of the movie. Also, there is a plot glitch with regards to how the evil queen finally meets her Waterloo. Hasn’t it already been established that she cannot be killed with a knife during whole scene in which the guy tried to stab her, and she just pulled the blade out of herself, unharmed? But then Snow White winds up doing her in using the very same method!

Furthermore, after Snow returns to life, she makes a rousing speech saying that through her death, she has been shown the method by which the queen can be killed, which indicated it was something extra special. Actually, the whole scene reminded me a lot like Gandalf the Grey fromThe Lord of the Rings, who dies and returns to life as Gandalf the White with enhanced powers to combat the forces of darkness. But there was never any follow through on the part of Snow, who uses no new methods of overcoming Ravenna. I was half thinking she was going to have to go in search of a super-special sword or something to use as warrior princess, but none of thing ever came into play. I will admit, for all the inconsistency, her hype-up speech after returning to life was probably the best part of the film.

The depiction of Ravenna herself was too gruesome for my tastes in this portrayal. There were some scenes I just had to fast-forward, like some of the life-sucking sequences, and when she bathes in that oily substance for her really obtuse beauty treatments. I mean, I know she’s supposed to be evil and ghoulish and all, but I think this depiction went over-the-top in its efforts to be visually disturbing and creepy. Also, we must wonder what exactly her relationship is with her brother. I mean it’s obvious he’s as blood-curdling as his sweet sis, but their relationship is…decidedly weird (*cough* Cersei and Jaimie Lannister from GoT-type weird *cough*). But then again, he does try to make advances on Snow White…maybe he just can’t make up his warped mind?!

Snow White as a Warrior Queen is woefully old hat as a plot twist and uncomfortably out-of-sorts for her character. Joan of Arc imitations are plentiful enough, from Turiel in The Hobbit to Guinevere in the 2004 King Arthur to Marian in the 2010 Robin Hood – as if the only useful things heroic leading ladies can do is wield a sword! Eowyn, Mulan, and Katniss are three femme fatales who manage to do their warrior thing with some originality and style, but after a while the repeat treatment is just trying to push a tired agenda about woman being as good at warfare as men. Frankly, I feel like…let the big tough dudes knock themselves silly in physical combat if they feel the need. As a woman, I don’t really care to compete in that field unless absolutely necessary to defend hearth and home. We can have all the power we could ever want by utilizing our feminine genius and intuition to heal the world through a union of heart and mind.

In short, Snow White and the Huntsman was simply cracked up to be more than it was, although I didn’t hold out much hope for it from the get-go. Instead of taking its place side-by-side beside a quality Tolkien-esque fantasy, the plot had the depth of a low-budget TV movie, and a very convoluted one at that. As with King Arthur, Robin Hood, and Biblical figures, this modern reboot of Snow White was pretty much up a creek without a paddle as soon as it set sail on its maiden voyage. However, it should be noted that there were some rays of light in the darkness, mainly the on-location shooting, music score, and message that true beauty is always found within…and love penetrates all, even the depth of death.

An Eerie Stillness: A Movie Review of “The Day the Earth Stood Still”

 

Year:  1951 

Filming:  Black & White 

Length:  92 minutes 

Genre:  Drama/Sci-Fi

Maturity:  G (Suitable for All Ages)

Cast:  Michael Rennie (Klaatu), Patricia Neal (Helen Benson), Sam Jaffe (Professor Jacob Barnhardt), Hugh Marlowe (Tom Stevens), Lock Martin (Gort), Frances Bavier (Mrs. Barley), Billy Gray (Bobby Benson), Gabriel Hatter (Himself) 

Director:  Robert Wise 

Personal Rating:  3 Stars

 

***

 

Spaceships? Check. Aliens? Check. Robots? Check. People running around like chickens without heads for fear that the sky is falling? Super check. For all these reasons and much more, the 1951 production of The Day the Earth Stood Still is a prototypical sci-fi flick, covering a variety of important themes including nuclear war, pacifism, human nature, and the mystery of the unknown. While I may not agree with every conclusion drawn or insinuated, and Spock is still my favorite alien, I will agree that it is, in every sense of the word, a classic.

Our story begins with the landing of a spacecraft in Washington D.C., bearing a messenger of warning: a spaceman named Klaatu, starring Michael Rennie. He gets a rude awakening to the less than welcoming spirit of humanity when he is shot in the shoulder by an army machine gun upon emergence. However, his menacing robot companion named Gort promptly melts all the weaponry before more damage can be done. Rushed to the hospital, Klaatu declares that he must speak with the people of the world about the dangers their nuclear experimentation presents to the other planets.

Realizing that no one will heed his plea for a global summit, he escapes his hospitalization and goes on the run under the alias “Mr. Carpenter”. Now, for the first time, he gets the chance to mix and mingle with average humans going about their daily lives. Moving into a boarding house, he meets Helen Benson, a widowed single mother played by Patricia Neale, and her precocious son, Bobby who takes an instant liking to the new boarder. The feeling is reciprocated, and Klaatu even takes him out on the town, visits his father’s grave, and treats him to a movie by exchanging diamonds for money! He and Bobby also try to visit the renowned Professor Jacob Barnhardt, and Klaatu solves a complex equation on his chalk board.

Later, Klaatu is summoned to visit with Professor Barnhardt and the two devise a solution to get the world’s attention on the very serious breach in interplanetary relations without the loss of life. Klaatu will neutralize the world’s electricity using Gort and his spaceship, affecting everything from elevators to roller-coasters to radios, and only sparing specified items like planes in flight and ventilators in hospitals. The plan goes over perfectly, but when Helen’s boyfriend Tom begins to suspect “Mr. Carpenter” of being the space man, an all-out man-hunt in launched by the US government to capture this “dangerous creature”.

Helen begins to realize just how serious the situation is for the human race, and just how much of an incorrigible mercenary Tom is, and decides to help Klaatu escape from the boarding house in a taxi. But after an epic chase across the city, army tanks cut off every escape route and prepare to descend on their prey. Klaatu quickly instructs Helen that she must go to Gort and talk the robot out of liquefying the earth by saying a special space phrase, then bolts out of the taxi and is promptly gunned down. Now Helen is the only one who stands between Gort and an interplanetary Armageddon.

The Day the Earth Stood, like all other Sci-Fi movies of its kind, hinges on poignant what-ifs, specifically how humanity might handle the discovery of intelligent life on other planets. It was a ground-breaking film that laid the foundations on which Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek would be built a decade later. While the latter has the existence of other species of intelligent life as a given, the former is still focusing on the “first encounter” moments between two peoples. Furthermore, it is not set in the distant future, but rather set in the decade in which the film was made, even using real news casters to lend an edge of authenticity to the production.

Artistically, the movie is well-crafted. The stark black-and-white filming and eerie music enhances the effect of both realism and otherworldliness. There is a lot of camera play with regards to the effects of light and shadow, exemplified by the shots of Klaatu and Helen getting stuck in an elevator when all the electricity dies. Even though they are in the dark, light shines through the grate, creating a striped pattern across both their faces as they eye each other warily. Complimenting this, there is the spacing out of the musical score with long periods of silence that build the tension.

The acting in the main is good. Michael Renee really does look suitably otherworldly and/or supernatural to fit the bill, which is also why he managed to land the previous roles as Fr. Junipero Serra in The Seven Cities of Gold and St. Peter in The Robe. Patricia Neale is stoic and sensible, as well as being attractive enough to make us think Klaatu might begin to have eyes for her. Also, Frances Bavier, who played Aunt B. from The Andy Griffith Show, and Billy Gray, who played Bud from Father Knows Best, both make appearances in the boarding house where Klaatu is staying, leaving me jumping up and down on the sofa shrieking, “It’s…it’s…it’s…what’s-her-name and what’s-his-name!!” This just lends to the creepy feel of the picture, since we are seeing characters that are “normal” in every sense of the word confronting the totally abnormal!

Unfortunately, the character development tends to be a bit shallow. Even though he looks just like us (and the use of humanoid aliens was somewhat new for the sci-fi of the time), we don’t really get to know Klaatu as a person, mostly because he is not being treated like a person, but rather a creature. Unlike the (un)emotionally complex yet universally beloved Spock, Klaatu comes off as seriously less “fascinating”. The same goes for the development of Spock’s Vulcan culture in comparison with Klaatu’s. We are also told little to nothing about Klaatu’s home planet, except that it is highly technologically advanced and law and order is maintained by a race of programmed robots.

But I for one want to be told more about these things: what are the people emotionally like? What is their way of life like? Do they have any religious or spiritual beliefs? How do they measure time and the calendar year? What is their main source of sustenance? Do they have holidays, and what do people do for fun? Are there multiple political entities up there, or one “world” order? Without the answers to these questions and others being provided to flesh things out, the story feels rather flat, and in need of being boosted by creative fan-fiction supportive beams. The reason for this seems to be the emphasis on larger themes but not personal development.

Furthermore, the good aspects of humanity are basically left in the shadows. Instead, the story focuses almost solely on the fractious and paranoid elements of human behavior, with splatterings of superior intelligence (such as the professor, and even Helen when she realizes where things are going), but not courage or nobility or love. I know the movie was supposed to be a critique of intolerance and irrationality, but I can’t help but desire a more well-rounded portrait of earth life. There are so many opportunities that are missed to show this interplanetary visitor our good side, and they just slip right by. For example, when Klaatu is shot, Helen doesn’t even try to stop the bleeding or comfort him in any way. She doesn’t even seem particularly disturbed by the prospect of his death…except for the fact that a monster-robot-thing will go bananas if he croaks!

What does shine through is a clear anti-war and anti-nuclear agenda championed by the producer. This is all well and good in its own right, but while the goal of global (or galactic) peace is certainly a laudable one, as creatures with free wills, we are bound to find ourselves battling through life in one way or another, and atomic energy can be used in beneficial ways, as well as to secure the balance of power that is necessary for peace. And in reality, is the concept of forcing people to behave through a regime of terror, executed by machines, such an enlightened plan? I for one don’t see how ethical it is to wipe out a whole planet unless they comply with such a policy. Lastly, I really am rather sick and tired of the worn-out premise of perfectly enlightened aliens who don’t have problems like us miserable earthlings. Percentage- wise, if we find aliens out there somewhere, they’ll probably just be dealing with problems of their own.

There are a few questions about the plot as a whole that I still have. Why were the cars and motorcycles stymied when the electricity is neutralized? I mean, don’t most of them run on gas? How does Helen remember the magic space-words “Klaatu Barada Nikto” to turn off the zap-happy-robot after Klaatu just blurted them out to her in the taxi? Why didn’t Klaatu say a proper farewell to Bud, one of his only real human friends? I admittedly let out a long “awwww” when Klaatu gives a cutesy smile and farewell wave to Helen (hey, after Tom, Mr. Space man is a knight in galactic tin foil armor…there *is* hope for those two yet!).

One humorous foible in the film has to be mentioned: notice the film speed as everyone flees from the landing spaceship in the beginning! Apparently, the extras appeared to be moving too slowly and lackadaisically in the original take, so it was decided to speed up the clip to add to the element of fright! Also, have you ever wondered why Gort disappears behind a wall when he goes to pick up Helen? Well, evidently, Lock Martin, the very tall actor portraying the robot, could not bend over in his stiff space suit to lift her, so they rigged her up with wires and used the wall to avoid shooting the pick-up sequence!

There is a definite aura in this film that indicates near-supernatural forces are at work in the grand scientific achievements of Klaatu’s planet. Bishop Fulton J. Sheen once said that the modern fascination with UFOs could serve as something of a replacement for genuine spirituality, especially among the atheist community, and there is certainly a flavor of this to be found here. The quirky thing about this attitude is that if there were other beings possessing an intellect and will, they would say it proved humans weren’t special at all, and if none were found, they would probably say we must certainly be accidents of chance! But one thing is certain: human beings love the mysterious, and if materialism is the name of the game, well, we will likely embrace belief some materialistic mysticism…if that makes paradoxical sense!

However, one scene in the film makes clear that spiritual and physical manifestations should be put in separate departments. When Klaatu is shot and then revived by the robot, a startled Helen inquires if it has the power over life and death. No, says Klaatu, only the Almighty Spirit holds that power. This is merely an advanced scientific method for restoring the breath of life that sometimes works, just like reviving a drowning person with C.P.R. It was said that this little clip of dialogue was added in for the specific reason that Christians complained about the murky implications associated with the various allegorical connections that can be made between Klaatu and Christ. After all, he does come to earth from another realm; walk among humans without arousing suspicion; uses the alias “Carpenter”; and is killed and brought back from the dead.

Of course, the comparison is imperfect, but some still wondered if Klaatu wasn’t in fact supposed to be a “new and improved” materialist Christ. Then and now, people who appreciate and imaginative and far-reaching nature of the sci-fi creation process roll their eyes at such complaints, but I can still understand the crux of them. The fact is that the exploration into hypothetical alien life, no matter how far-reaching their potential technology, just doesn’t cut the mustard when trying to explain and/or fulfill the spiritual essence of humanity. For that matter…our presence would fail to explain and/or fulfill the spiritual essence of any aliens who might show up on our futuristic radar screens. So perhaps the inserted clip actually made all the difference after all.

Beyond all this, The Day the Earth Stood Still remains an all-time classic, and is definitely worth a viewing (or two!). It does leave one with quite a few profound thoughts to unpack about the importance of being responsible stewards of our man-made nuclear resources, the importance of understanding in the face of unreasoning prejudice, and the realization that whether or not there are any other intelligent beings floating around in the galaxy, we must always be respectful of all living creatures, especially those with consciousness, free will, emotions, and all the attributes that apply to spiritual beings such as ourselves. Also…learn memorization skills. Who knows when you might be tasked with saying the magic words to turn off a microwave-monster on the rampage?

Our Lady of Britannia

Thou stood on Newgate Arch and graced Pendragon’s shield
Cardigan bore thy taper and Walsingham thy seal
Humbly we now beseech thee as at thy feet we kneel:
Our Lady of Britannia, ora pro nobis!

From Scotia’s misty moors, to Albion’s fertile plains,
From Cambria’s mountain climes, to Erin’s emerald glens,
We offer thee these lands to be thy own again
Our Lady of Britannia, ora pro nobis!

When Alfred led his warriors to battle for the land
Within the White Horse Valley, thou gave him strength to stand
Seven Swords were pierced through thy heart, and one was in thy hand
Our Lady of Britannia, ora pro nobis!

Thy hands are in the Highlands to show us how to pray
Thy footprints are in Cornwall to guide us in Christ’s ways
Direct us, Holy Virgin, if God forbid we stray
Our Lady of Britannia, ora pro nobis!

Thy beads hung from the sword-belts of Locksley’s Merry Men
Thy hymns were sung by choirs, O Mother Free from Sin
This land was once thy Dowry; pray make it so again
Our Lady of Britannia, ora pro nobis!

Thy name was oft times chanted by peasants and bold knights
Preparing for the harvest, or arming for the fight
Though centuries have elapsed, thou’st kept us in thy sight
Our Lady of Britannia, ora pro nobis!

Thou art the Dove of Peace for Ulster’s troubled sons,
The Queen of Thorns and Blossoms, whose seat was Avalon
Look down on us from Heaven, Most Highly Favored One
Our Lady of Britannia, ora pro nobis!

Through persecution’s fury, thou still remained the same,
A constant source of succor to those who called thy name
Thou art the Gilded Lamp that held the Burning Flame
Our Lady of Britannia, ora pro nobis!

Recall the martyrs’ deaths in Christ’s own imitation
Come rack and then come rope, they braved the tribulation
The ruby blood they shed cries out in supplication:
Our Lady of Britannia, ora pro nobis!

Remember these, thy isles, amidst the stormy sea
O may they stand united, a stronghold for the free
But foremost make them faithful to Jesus Christ and thee
Our Lady of Britannia, ora pro nobis!

The Marriage of the White Lady: A Lord of the Rings Fan-Fiction Story

It is one of those damp and foggy days, with sporadic rain pattering on the city of Minas Tirith. A poor time to have a wedding celebration, in my humble estimation. But here I am in one of the chambers of the royal palace, being adorned in all sorts of bridal finery by a bevy of giddy, chattering maidservants. And I hate it. My skin feels scratchy, and I yearn for the feel of armor against me, to lock myself up tight inside of it and hide myself from the world. I have worn the warrior’s garb only once, and yet I feel that part of me has gone into it and part of it has remained behind within me.

Now I am to be married to a man who knows what it is to charge into the barbed tips of a thousand arrows, driven on by a senseless heroism that cannot be quelled. A man whose quiet nature often keeps his deepest thoughts a secret. A man who I can call with all sincerity one of my dearest friends. That’s saying quite a lot, considering the assortment of new friends I made just a year ago. And these were not just random acquaintances. These were blood-brethren. Soul-savers. Keepers of a code that rescued our world from the edge of night. And yet, even so, I wonder what marriage to this man will entail and fear being restrained by anyone, like these bridal garments are restraining my ability to breathe.

While I muse upon my unalterable course, a messenger approaches. One of my ladies begins to deride him for interrupting their efforts to prepare me for the wedding.

“But there is a visitor I believe the Princess Eowyn would be most anxious to see,” he insists. He doesn’t have to say any more.

“Merry!” I squeal, flinging a burgundy robe over my underdress, and running out of the room, despite my ladies’ protestations. I have been waiting so long to see my hobbit friend again. It seems like forever since we last saw each other at the great coronation feast before he headed back on the return journey to his country Shire. And even longer since we rode together in the headlong charge of the Rohirrim at Pelennor Fields.

When we were both unhorsed that day, I was sure we would never live to see the night. But wounded though we were, we still took on the Witch King, me, a mere maiden along with a tiny hobbit whose life had been spent tilling the soil! But by sheer luck, or some force greater, we killed the beast that no man could slay.

My wartime memories give way to happier thoughts as I see my friend standing in the corridor, his green traveling cloak draped across his back, his bundle of gear still slung over his shoulder. His small eyes light up as he sees me.

“My lady!”

“Merry!” I lean down and press him tight against me. We are past the point of formalities. “It’s so good, so very, very good to see you! Where are Pippin and Sam?”

“Pip got himself intercepted by Lord Faramir at the gate, being a knight of Gondor and all,” he explains. “Sam wanted to come, truly he did, but his Rosie’s well on her way to having twins and…..”

“You be sure to tell Sam that he has all my best wishes, and I expect to be meeting the little ones one of these days. Until then…”  I take Merry by the hand and genially drag him into the nearest chamber. Then we sit down and start talking. It is fast, silly talk. And the kind of glistening laughter that could easily melt into tears of joy for the living and sorrow for the dead. Old battle scars heal ever so slowly.

When the emotional excitement finally winds down, my hobbit friend gazes at me oddly.

“Lady Eowyn…I mean, Princess…how you have changed.”

“Changed?” I repeat, standing up and swooshing my petticoats. “Did you expect I would be wed in armor? Or is it the fact that my brother Eomer is now the King of Rohan and I am princess, heir apparent?”

“It’s not that; it’s you. You’re all burnt up inside.”

I stop short at Merry’s simple summary of the inner turmoil that I have been trying so hard to suppress. In truth, my heart has felt like a dying ember, my body like a broken clay vessel. Sometimes at night, I lay shivering for hours after being roused from sleep by fearful dreams. In my nightmares, I feel myself being thrown from a war horse and hear the bones in my arm split under my weight. Once again, I am searching desperately for Merry. I am thrusting my weapon into the head of the beast. My uncle is dying in my arms. And then comes Aragorn. The magical touch of his hand on my forehead, his noble voice murmuring the words of life.

“Don’t worry about me, little friend,” I reassure Merry. “It is nothing that cannot be remedied with time.”

“I know your marriage is King Aragorn’s wish and that the alliance would aid Rohan greatly. But…are you pleased to be marrying my Lord Faramir?” he inquires.

“Why wouldn’t I be pleased?”

“Perhaps because…because…” he begins to explain.

I am saved from Merry’s words of truth by the arrival of another messenger. This time, one from the inner court, bearing the Tree of Gondor on his livery.

“Her Majesty Arwen, Queen of Gondor, requests the presence of Princess Eowyn, White Lady and Shield Maiden of Rohan, at the Royal Chamber,” he trumpets.

Arwen? What could she possibly want with me now? Of course, I knew she would be attending the wedding with King Aragorn this evening. After all, he was the one who had summoned me from Rohan, insisted that the marriage take place at the Royal Palace, and kept me shut up in these comfortable yet confining quarters for the past three days to get ready for the supreme event of my life that I’m having difficulty getting enthused about. But why did she want me now, before I was even finished with my preparations?

***

I see Arwen seated on one of the two great thrones of Gondor, the one set aside for queen and consort. She is, by any estimation, most regal and beautiful to behold. There is an enchantment that seems to hover over her. I have only spoken to her once before, on the day Aragorn was crowned, and that was a brief formal encounter, surrounded by crowds. I have never had a conversation with her alone.

She sees me coming towards her on the long crimson carpet and smiles. I feel a surge of so many emotions I clench my teeth. In the bitter recesses of my soul, I would think she is smiling to mock me with her success and my failure. But I know better than that by looking into her steady eyes, and seeing the sincerity beaming from them.

I see her stand up from her throne and come forward to meet me, like a friend would do. I turn my gaze down and try to make an awkward curtsy. But she takes my hands in her own and pulls me up straight.

“What is this?” she whispers, her soft Elven accent warming my cold veneer. “We have no need for such things here in this place.”

She looks about the chamber thoughtfully, and her glance settles on what looks like an old fire pit. I know she sees something in her mind’s eye, something dreadful out of the days of battle, when the minions of Sauron descended on the city with claw and teeth, sharpened metal and molten fire. Suddenly I wish more than anything to have the power of the Elves to cut through time with their piercing vision. There is something important that took place in the royal palace that I do not yet know.

But she has returned to the present now, gesturing for me to sit beside her on one of the royal thrones. It is the one belonging to Aragorn. I shake my head, hesitant to accept the honor, feeling suddenly sensitive over proper protocol with regard to the king’s chair.

“He would want to have you sit here,” Arwen insists. She gazes at me for a moment and then adds, “You hold a part of his heart, and you always will.”

I am put to shame by her gracious stance. She almost died for love of him, just as I almost did. She was willing to risk leaving this world for the hope of having him, while I was willing to risk it when I realized he could never be mine. She has him now, and could lord it over me, but she doesn’t. Instead, she concedes that there is still a bond between myself and her husband. I bite my lip and take my seat with no further fuss.

At first, our conversation revolves around slight things, the rain, the blossoms on the trees, the palace, the wedding preparations. Then we begin to speak of the homes we both left behind to come to Gondor. I speak of Rohan, great halls and wide plains, the fine steeds and the fearless riders. She speaks of Rivendell, her Elven kingdom that has now faded away, gone across the sea to the Grey Havens. Suddenly I realize that she too has lost so much, almost all that she has ever known. I sense a weakness creeping into her voice, a tremor in her hands. Court gossip says she has been ill, and I wonder if the cause is more homesickness than anything else.

“But you have him, at least,” I whisper, although I know I should not.

“As long as I do, I can have joy,” she responds, swallowing the lump in her throat. “But what of the time…when he is gone?” Her eyes are glassed over again, seeing far into the future, seeing the corpse of a king prepared for burial. I shudder.

Suddenly I understand that Elfish immortality will be her greatest torment. In marrying a man, she tied herself to the mortal world, and yet she will linger on long after Aragorn is dead. He may be part of a race with an unusually long life-span, but the end will come for him, sooner or later. And she will be left here alone, among strangers in a strange land.

She winces and touches her belly, her fingers still trembling slightly. I instinctively place my hand over hers, feeling how cold it is. Then I feel something. A movement, ever so slight. It all becomes clear to me.

“You are with child?”

Arwen nods.

“Have you told Aragorn yet?”

“I wished to speak with you first,” she states.

I am taken aback. “Why…why would you seek me out first?”

She shrugs. “There are some things a woman longs to tell another. But I have no one to confide in here. Aragorn had hoped we might become friends.” She looks at me intently. “I had hoped we might become friends. He speaks of you often, of your courage and strength and kindness. I thought I might confide in you, if anyone.”

Again, I feel ashamed. I had foolishly assumed her husband was all the companionship she would ever need. But now I realize loneliness takes many forms.

The queen looks down at her belly again, her gaze penetrating. “This was the child that brought me back,” she whispers. “I saw him in the woods. A beautiful boy with golden hair and eyes as blue as sky. And Aragorn was holding him and smiling.” She inhales deeply. “I could not leave after that, even if there was the slightest chance these things might come to pass.”

Arwen turns her eyes back to me. “I was not afraid then, but, strange to say, I am afraid now. It is all so new to me. I am afraid…afraid I will fail…”

Suddenly I am worried myself. She does look terribly pale. I can’t bear to think of Aragorn going through more tragedy, not after everything he has been through already. I try to put on a cheerful front, so as not to frighten her more.

“You have no cause for apprehension,” I insist. “It’s all more natural than it seems.”

Her face lights up. “Tell me, tell me what I must know. Everything.”

So we speak about it. Pregnancy and birthing and everything. Not that I have had first-hand experience in any of this, but I try to sound as confident as I can, hoping that my old nurse’s lessons on the facts of life were sound enough to be repeated.

At the end of my chattering, Arwen smiles contentedly. “You have given me much comfort in knowing what it to come.”

“And if you want me…I mean, when the time comes…”

“You shall be the first one I call.” I can tell she is in earnest. But, truth be told, I know hardly anything about how to behave when someone is in labor. Perhaps it is just a friend that she needs, even if that friend is generally ignorant.

She stands up, looking serene and dignified, transformed from a frightened woman back into a regal monarch. “Will you join me now in the terrace? The rain has let up for some time now, and the King and Lord Faramir are having a contest outside in honor of the coming ceremony.”

I hesitate. Honestly, I do not feel like seeing either of them, especially at the same time. I dread the emotions of my heart will addle my head. Nevertheless, I feel obliged to accept. This elf-woman is the queen, after all.

***

She’s right. The sun has come out now, turning the Royal Gardens into a sparkling, rain-splattered forest. The clouds will probably be blown back in by an uncooperative breeze, but for the moment, I relish being out of my chamber and bask in the late afternoon glow. I make the mistake of looking back towards Arwen and getting blinded by the sun’s reflection on her necklace. And then I realize that it is same necklace Aragorn had worn throughout the long, hard campaigning. That it should hurt my eyes now is too ironic to dwell on.

And I don’t have the time to, because as soon as my eyes readjust, I see Pippin standing in front of me on the terrace. Unlike Merry, he seems to have made quick work of changing into his set of Gondorian armor given to him by Faramir during the war. “Your ladyship…er…I mean, ladyships…or your princess-ship, and majesty, or…however it is,” Pippin stammers impetuously.

Arwen and I laugh in accord, then embrace him in turn. If there’s any part of my upcoming marriage I am enjoying, it is the chance to see old friends again. There are some ancient-looking stone seats outside, covered over with moss in some places and ivy in others, and we sit down on them in a semi-circle to watch as Aragorn and Faramir try their hand at archery below. And for the first time in what feels like an eternity since the days of bloody strife, I see them together.

Both are skilled veterans and match each other just about evenly with bow and arrow. They laugh together and tease each other, like little boys. I heard about their friendship blossoming back in Rohan, how the king had insisted on having Faramir join him at hunting, fencing, and archery to build up his strength. Over the course of such ventures, the rivalry of their ancestors seemed to have dissolved completely. I think back on all they have suffered, and I am pleased they are able to enjoy an hour of innocent fun.

The final arrows are loosed at the targets. Faramir wins by a slight margin. The two of them go on jesting, Aragorn insisting he had let his opponent win because of his upcoming wedding, and Faramir insisting that he would have given Aragorn the beating he deserved earlier on in the game had the king not been hosting the ceremony.

Aragorn turns towards us on the terrace and waves. I feel my blood turn hot, coursing like lava. Silly reaction. I was sure it would have died away after a year of separation. He is coming towards us now. I can see his strands of unruly hair whip across his rugged, handsome face. I see him looking to Arwen, just as he should, and Arwen smiling like an angel. I bite my lip hard, hoping the pain will shake myself out of my inner misery. He is just below us now.

“Arwen…” he calls, then jabbers something in Elvish at which she laughs. It has been a year since their marriage, and yet they still seem stuck in their own little world. I lower my eyes to my hands and keep clasping and unclasping on my lap. Finally he notices me. I know he has, I can feel his eyes on me.

“Princess Eowyn.”

“Your Majesty.” I stand and curtsy stiffly.

He chuckles and bounds up the flight of stairs separating us. “Oh, my dear Eowyn,” he whispers and grasps both my hands. I feel my face flush.

“If you will excuse me and my knight of Gondor,” Arwen mutters with an indicative glance at Pippin.

“We’re going in so soon?” the hobbit inquires dejectedly.

The queen clears her throat and turns back to me and Aragorn. “I believe you both would like some time to yourselves after so long an absence.”

With that, she gestures to Pippin and they both heads back indoors. I must admit I feel a sense of relief.

“Can you ever forgive me, Eowyn?” Aragorn inquires.

“Forgive you?”

“Yes,” he affirms. “For failing to invite you to the palace before your wedding day?”

“Oh,” I exhale. “That.”

“I would have done so, but I did not wish to interfere with your work in Rohan. Now that your brother is king and you have become the heir apparent, I know your days have become even more rigorous than before.”

“Indeed,” I affirm. “There is much to be done since…since…”

He puts his hand under my chin and gently lifts my gaze to his. “I have heard of your tireless work to make restitution to your people for the ravages of the war, at your own expense. While your brother may rule, you are the queen of their hearts.”

I blush again. “Have you also heard that I now hold a rank in the Rohirrim?”

He looks less surprised than I thought he would be. But of course, he got to know my wild ways long ago.

“It’s primarily a ceremonial position,” I continue. “And King Eomer still insists that I abstain from wearing armor. But I do oversee their training and make my reviews of them.”

“You deserve the honor more than any man, lady,” he states. “Without you, the Rohirrim, and all of us, would be nothing more than a vague memory.”

“We all did our part,” I respond, “and continue to do so. I don’t know how to thank you for the supplies you have sent to us over the past year.”

Aragorn shrugs. “I only wish I could have sent more. But Gondor, too, is in sore need of rebuilding. The damage to the city is widespread, and the widows and orphans are too numerous to count, as in your own country. Lord Faramir has done much good by them. As the steward, he has overseen their care, as well as assistance for the wounded and maimed.”

“He has told me but little about his work in his letters,” I comment. I realize suddenly how little I know about him in general, in spite of our consistent correspondence. We usually speak about our mutual interests, art and music and the great literary epics. I send him Rohanese poetry, and he sends me back Gondorian verse. Only rarely do we speak about the war, even though that was what first brought us together.

As if conjured up by my own thoughts, I see Lord Faramir headed towards us. He sees me right away and his eyes light up. Aragorn calls down jokingly, “May I kiss the bride early? As a consolation for my desperate loss?”

Faramir turns to me and inquires, “Is the lady willing?”

“I…I…”

“Oh, I’ve been put out enough for one day!” Aragorn laughs, then kisses me quickly on the lips. It is over in a flash, and it seems my fantasy is over too. It shakes me awake with the realization that he is not my own and never will be. He never could be. Sustaining the shock of long avoided reality, I feel as if I might cry over my own stupidity in ever expecting anything more. But before I can do so, I feel Aragorn’s healing hands on my face, and he kisses my forehead. There is no cynicism in it, not even a hint of jest. Then he pulls me close to him and whispers, “Oh, my Eowyn, my dear Eowyn. You don’t know what it means to have you back, my sister. My friend.”

I understand now what Arwen tried to tell me inside. He does love me, and he always will. Just not in the same as I had once hoped.

***

Faramir and I are alone in the Royal Gardens. It is the first time we have been together since Aragorn’s coronation, and now we must at least try to mentally prepare ourselves for our wedding, set to take place in a few short hours. Somehow we both seem at an unconquerable loss for words, walking along side-by-side, mutually nervous about meeting each other’s gaze.

“I know,” Faramir says suddenly, looking into my soul with his warm brown eyes.

“Know what?” I snap, startled by the connotations.

“I know what it is to love, even though no love is returned.” He sighs deeply. “Or in your case, the same kind of love is not returned.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” I struggle, but I know he has the upper hand.

“You and I were brought together by more than our wounds. It was our reason…our reason for charging into the jaws of death, not caring whether we would ever come back. It was the same, Eowyn.”

“In one form or another, I suppose,” I concede. “I went out to aid my people, because I felt that my arm was strong enough to strike for my homeland. You went out to keep hope alive for your people.”

“It was my father who sent me out on that doomed charge. He wished for my death.”

I stop short, stunned by this revelation. I had no idea.

“Even after I was taken back wounded,” he continues, “he covered me with oil, laid me on the fire pit in the royal chamber from which you just came, and…and…if it had  not been for little Pippin warning the Wizard Gandalf, my place was in the fire…”

“No more, please,” I rasp. I am unable to process how anyone could be so cruel to him, much less his own father. Faramir is so kind and gentle. So sensitive and intelligent. Now I know what horrors Arwen was seeing in the royal chamber by the fire pit. “What evil could have poisoned King Denethor’s mind?” I think out loud.

“He…he wanted me to be like my brother, Boromir,” he explains haltingly. “I loved Boromir dearly, but we were very different. When he was killed – after trying to take the ring – my father became more obsessed with my faults.”

“Your faults?” I scoff. “It was your brother who nearly plunged us all into darkness by trying to take the power for himself!”

“No, Eowyn,” Faramir sighs, shaking his head. “He was as good a man as any could wish for, and died saving Merry and Pippin’s lives. And as for the ring…” He pauses and wipes away the drops of perspiration forming on his brow. “I tried so hard to be what my father wanted. I tried to the point of almost killing the best part of myself. I couldn’t see past what he wanted to do be, so I become hard. Embittered. So desperate to prove myself, I almost went against my own good sense and brought about the undoing of us all. Yes, Eowyn, I almost took the ring, too.”

“Then I suppose it really was too strong for anyone to resist completely,” I respond quietly.

I think of poor brave Frodo, the little hobbit who carried the ring to Mount Doom, wearing himself to the bone by carrying the evil of the world around his neck. And all he could think about was his Shire, and the simple country folk, and the hills and dales of home. Until he could not think of anything, that is, not food nor water nor the breath of life. The pulse and pull had been too strong for even him, the purest of us all, not familiar with the lure of fame or power. He slipped it on his finger before the end, only to be saved by the creature Gollum, corrupted by the ring beyond recognition, who tore it away from him and fell to his doom. And so the ring was destroyed. Now Frodo is off in the Grey Havens with the Elves, a place where the horror of what he has seen may be healed.

“In truth, we all desired to be The Lord of the Rings at one point or another,” I state. “For everyone, it might have fulfilled a desire. And we all have desires, don’t we? If it had fallen into my hands, no doubt I would have been too weak to withstand it. As you say, we are both similar in this, you and I. You would have taken it to make your father love you. There was a time when I would have taken it…” My voice trails off.

“To make Aragorn love you,” he finishes.

I nod. I feel so ashamed, so deeply pained by this realization. There was indeed a time when I would have done anything to make him love me like he loved Arwen.

“And now?” Faramir croaks.

“Now is now, and then is then,” I answer. “I have grown much since then, Faramir.”

“But have you grown…to love me?” he whispers. “You know I would never force you to be my wife, Eowyn. I would rather die than cage your free spirit.”

I approach him slowly, my heart in my throat. “You…you could never…cage me,” I realize out loud. “You would…free me.”

I’m standing just in front of him now, and I reach out and touch his face. I feel the battle scar running down his cheek, the one he got when he was dragged from his horse by the Nazgul. He takes my hand and kisses it.

“I remember when we were in the healing place together,” he whispers. “How you changed the bandages on my chest and spread ointment on my face.”

“No one else was there who was in good enough health or spirits to do it,” I respond. “It was the day of darkness, when the sun hid its face behind the mountain ash. Everyone who had legs to run had run, or arms to fight were out fighting.”

He turned his eyes down. “All the more reason you should not have had me on your mind. But you came to me in the darkness and nursed me and spoke to me kindly, you, with your shattered arm and sorrowed spirit. You are the only person who ever…”

“You forget to mention that you also bandaged my arm and bolstered my spirit with your assurance that the darkness would not last. That some greater power was at work.”

I suddenly realize as I speak how very much we needed each other at that moment, and how very much we need each other now. Arwen has her Aragorn, and Aragorn his Arwen. Now I know I must have my Faramir, and he must have me.

“Eowyn,” he murmurs. “If only I could explain…if only I could put into words…”

I stop him from trying by putting my lips to his. It is the first real kiss we two have shared. It feels so good to be in his arms, so right and fitting. “You have mended my wings,” I whisper in his ear. “All is made new.”

A Kiss Goodnight: A Game of Thrones Fan-Fiction Story

Disclaimer: This is an experimental fan-fiction one-shot based on the characters in Game of Thrones. I do not claim to be strictly following the books nor TV series, but rather elaborating on broad themes presented, and letting my own imagination take its course. That’s one of the beauties of fan-fiction; freedom of expression and expansion. Also, while there is nothing gratuitous, some references to sexuality may be inappropriate for younger readers.

***

Tyrion entered Sansa’s chamber gingerly, not wanting to make her uneasy by his presence. He simply wanted to see if she was getting along alright. Their conversation earlier that day about her murdered family had ended with her running away to find seclusion. Perhaps, he thought, his efforts to console her had done more harm than good.

But now he just wanted to be sure…she was safe. That she was not contemplating doing any harm to herself. That she was not too terribly angry with him. It was true he was a Lannister, and she a Stark, and there would forever be bad blood between them on that account. For many years he had been involved in forwarding his family’s interests, and now each killing separated them a little further. But still…they were man and wife, even if they had been forced to wed and had never shared the same bed. It was still his duty to look after her.

Inside her chamber, he found her seated in front of a mirror, with her long auburn hair flowing down her swan-white neck freely. Judging from the brush lying in her lap, it seemed it might have been her original intention to use it. But now she seemed absorbed in her own thoughts, studying her face in the reflection. Only a girl of 14, she appeared so much older now, worn down by the horrors surrounding her. Some vital phase in her life seemed to have been skipped altogether, and she had passed instantly from maiden to crone. But she was still beautiful to Tyrion.

Yes, beautiful. He felt his throat constrict. Beauty had always been a thing beyond his grasp. For all his intelligence and cunning, for all his oft-times ruthless survival instincts, he could not change the malformed body that held him prisoner. His high birth could not change the fact that he was born a half-man, a dwarf doomed to be tormented and rejected and treated as something less than human.

But he had learned to deal with his condition. He had learned that cynicism was his only refuge in a world of cruelty, and the sharpness of his wits would have to get him through the dizzying array of court intrigues in which he found himself enmeshed. There was an unquenchable power in the mind of man, and he intended to use if for all it was worth. He could numb whatever pain he might feel with these thoughts.

And yet…she was still beautiful. And this was not simply limited to appearance, he had learned. There was some spark of flame deep within her that blazed with beauty. Though he had trained himself to be insensible to such things in anything but the most shallow of ways, he found himself wanting so very much to make things right with her. As right as they could be in surroundings that were so very wrong, that is.

Tyrion cleared his throat. She made no gesture to indicate that she had heard. He sighed. “Are you…feeling better, m’lady?”

She remained silent for a long time. Then rather absent-mindedly she muttered, “I was told tomorrow is your birthday, my lord.”

“My name is Tyrion,” he chided her softly.

“And mine is Sansa,” she returned in kind, gazing at him over her shoulder. He could not read the expression on her face. Indeed, she was growing more and more adept at masking her emotions.

Good girl, he thought in his mind. She was learning the art of survival. Her youthful innocence was fast becoming a thing of the past. She was turning into a strong and formidable woman, just like her mother had been. This kitten was growing claws. And yet somehow…it still hurt him that she would wear the mask in his presence. He wanted to understand her so much more than he did, even if he was the only one able to do so.

“So then,” she continued placidly, “will you be celebrating with your wine and harlots tomorrow?”

He laughed…or forced himself to laugh. He had acquired quite the reputation for himself among women he could pay to be his lovers. The wine would flow then, until his mind became blurred, and he could, for singular moments in the midst of sensory experience, imagine himself to truly be “making love”.

Of course, his cynicism would return before the effects of the wine had even worn off, and he would mock the whole sordid affair for what it was. Indeed, no woman would touch a “demon monkey” unless they sought to gain something, whether that something was payment or power. He had learned that long ago, even as he satiated himself with imitations of that which he hungered for so desperately.

“I would be happy to indulge in the former,” he responded, in an effort to be spritely. “As for the latter…” He paused to collect himself. “I believe you know I have taken something of a respite from my toils on that account.”

“Why?” she queried.

“Because you are my wife.”

She turned around fully and eyed him. “We are play-acting as husband and wife,” she stated.

“No,” he whispered, and it burned his throat. “You are my wife.”

“Do you intend that we should bed together then?”

“I swore to you on my honor as a Lannister that I never would force you to share your bed with me…unless you yourself wanted it.”

“And I said that day might never come.”

Her words stung him with a fiercer intensity than when she had first spoken them on their wedding night. He had been drunk then…indeed, raving drunk. Looking back, he was amazed that he had managed to control his passions at the time and dared to defy his father’s command that the marriage be consummated, whether or not she was willing. But there was no alcohol dulling his senses now. This night he was sober, and the pain of rejection was acute.

“If you recall,” he continued quietly, “I drank to the day that would never come…and said there were other beds to sleep in.” He forced himself to smile a little, just to hide what he was feeling inside. “But you are still…part of me now, on a broader scale. It is my duty to care for you, and not to bring you any more shame than you have already experienced at the hands of others.”

He perceived a new shade of sentiment emanating from her eyes before she turned her head down. “When I was a little girl, I used to obsess over the old stories about honorable knights fighting for their ladies with kerchiefs tied to their lances.” She started playing with her hands in her lap. “My nurse would read them to me before I went to sleep, and whenever the players came to entertain us at Winterfell, I would have them sing their romantic ballads. I suppose it was natural for me to believe that I would have a knight of my own someday. He would be handsome, and kind, and he would never hurt me…ever…” She swallowed something back…something like tears. “And then there was Joffrey.”

Tyrion stepped towards her slowly. He wanted to do something to comfort her; he did not know exactly what. She looked back up at him, and their eyes latched onto each other. “And then there was you,” she finished.

He closed his eyes tight. “Not Joffrey at least,” he rasped. Surely she could bear up with him better than she would have with his masochistic king-of-a-nephew? Surely…after he had saved her from the evil boy’s lash and cruel tortures. Even up to their wedding night, he had saved her from Joffrey’s vile hands crawling over her body. But still…he wondered…

“I made something for you,” she blurted after a long silence between them.

Tyrion was taken aback. “You…did?”

She nodded, and pulled something from her bureau. “Surely you know one of my greatest talents has been with needle and thread.”

It was a sash…a beautiful sash, hand embroidered. It struck him as being somewhat ironic that she should make him a gift such as this, after she had hesitated to let him put the Lannister mantle over her at their wedding ceremony. He had burned red with the shame of his own short stature, and her unwillingness to bend her knee to him. But ultimately, something had taken the place of her pride and persuaded her to kneel down to his height…he assumed it was pity. That was the most he could hope for under the circumstances.

“It is truly a lovely present…if unexpected,” he remarked courteously, taking the sash from her. Then he noticed several drops of crimson amidst the embroidered design. “What is this?”

“I pricked myself with the needle,” she responded. She gestured with her left hand slightly. “I am not usually so clumsy, but…as you know, I have not slept.”

It seemed that blood would always stand like a bright scarlet barrier between them.

Rather instinctively, he touched her hand with his own. Seeing the difference between the two – hers slender and delicate, his small and misshapen – he pulled his own away.

“I am sorry it caused you pain,” he mumbled. “You know…I have never wished to bring you pain. Even on that night…had we bedded, I would not have…tried to hurt you. I would never hurt you deliberately, Sansa. You know this, yes?”

She nodded. Then she inquired hesitantly, “Would you be pleased if I were to give you an embrace?”

He looked down awkwardly. “Not if it would repulse you.”

“What if I wished to do so? Would you…embrace me in return?”

He nodded, but kept his eyes down.

“Would you mean it?”

“Of course I would,” he responded. “As I said, you are my wife. We are supposed to…take care of each other.” He cleared his throat. “I mean in a general sense.”

She got down from her chair, and just as at their wedding, she knelt upright on the stony floor. It was the only way she could match his height. She looked so comical he could not help but smirk. “We make quite the pair, do we not?”

She smiled shyly, sadly. “I’m used to having smaller siblings.”

“Much obliged for the comparison,” he twitted.

“I am sorry, I suppose I meant to say…we are supposed to be…family in some sense now, are we not?”

He rolled his eyes. “Are you sure you’re not preparing to impale me with a concealed dagger?”

Her smile faded and her face went white.

“My apologies,” he blurted, suddenly realizing his words were too close to home and to the murder of her own family. “It was truly in bad taste. Can you forgive me?”

She nodded slowly, and then very gingerly wrapped her arms around his neck. He felt the warmth of her body up against his own and his heart quickened. He cursed his short arms as he struggled to wrap them all the way around her waist. It was…a strange feeling somehow. He knew she was smiling teasingly. He didn’t mind really…as long as she was smiling.

Then somehow a slight giggle from her broke down into a sob…and soon she was crying against his shoulder. Yes, crying out everything…all the loss and blood and death and pain that she had learned to keep so tightly concealed within.

He let his hand stroke her shoulder gently. She was still a little girl really, only a child struggling to grow like a delicate flower in poisoned earth. “Now, now, m’lady…Sansa,” he whispered. “It is safe to cry here. Outside, when other eyes may see, you must steel yourself to never shed tears unless they may gain you some point in their game. But you may always feel free to cry in front of me…”

Suddenly he felt her lips lightly touch his check…the ugly, scarred cheek that only added to his other physical unpleasantries.

“What was that?” he queried hoarsely.

“I kissed you goodnight,” she responded, leaning away from him. “Haven’t you ever been kissed goodnight before?”

“Rarely,” he answered, “like that. Have you?”

“My parents used to kiss me goodnight,” she reminisced wistfully. “Sometimes my nurse and my siblings would.” She swallowed back more tears. “I think they are all gone now.”

Tyrion searched his mind for something that might be appropriate to say. “Not all, perhaps,” he countered hopefully. “You mustn’t give up hope on the youngest two.”

“Strange thing for me to be told by a Lannister,” she remarked, carrying with her words a touch of her inner bitterness.

“Yes, a Lannister,” he admitted. “But also a man…in spite of appearances.”

They looked at each other for a long time again.

“You needn’t go out drinking tomorrow,” she said softly. “We could…find something to do together. We could…go out to the garden and have lemon cakes and devise clever plans for paying back all the people who have terrorized us over the years.”

He grinned now. “Think about this for a moment,” he started, rekindling his acerbic wit. “Perhaps all the worst people we have to contend with will save us the trouble and destroy each other on an epic scale, and we will have missed the whole adventure whilst dallying away in the garden eating lemon cakes.” Her amused chuckle encouraged him to continue. “And then we might have the Iron Throne all to ourselves, and we could start a new ruling house of two…the Lannistarks!” He knew he was being somewhat ridiculous now, but he added in a slightly more serious tone, “And one of the first acts of that royal house, after putting down the random insurrection and stifling a few assassination attempts, would be to locate the Queen’s small siblings.”

She tilted her head. “You know I think you are the only Lannister who actually tries to be…kind.”

“I will do my best to take that compliment, although it is not always true. You know well enough I can be savage when I have to be, or when the drink is in me,” he admitted. “I can be cruel, even, if provoked to extremes.”

“Yes,” she agreed. “But you do not…wish to be cruel, do you?”

“No.”

No, it was true. He hated cruelty, even within his own self. He felt it was ugliest part of him, far beyond his face and form. If only kindness was not so likely to get one killed…

“Tyrion,” she whispered.

“Yes, Sansa.”

“Would you…kiss me goodnight?”

He swallowed hard. “You want me to do that?”

“This may sound pitiful, but today I came to realize something,” she exhaled. “You…you may be one of the only forms of family I have left…who would care about me at all.” Her eyes danced with a mix of sorrow and starlit epiphany. And it was beautiful.

He kissed her cheek tenderly, then stepped away and bowed. “Goodnight, m’lady.”

“Goodnight, my lord,” she replied.

Stepping outside her chamber, Tyrion found himself breathing hard. He did not know why. Nothing had happened worthy of such a sense of being poured out like water from a vase. Indeed, it was the least activity he had ever undertaken in a lady’s chamber. But again he felt…strange. It was a good sort of strange, as if he was truly breathing for the first time. Had he forgotten even how to draw breath somewhere between politics and parties, or gambled away the very air at some point in the Great Game?

She could have been pretending, been leading someone on yet again. He knew that well enough. She’s learned how to lie, the little she-wolf. She may well survive us all in the end…

And yet somehow…he did not believe her actions were part of any larger ruse. Not this time. He had seen many false tears, felt many false embraces, heard many false words…the last coming from her own lips often enough. But tonight…it was different. If there was such a thing as reality, it was real.

Perhaps tomorrow she might go back to lying for survival’s sake. The dice would be thrown once more into the chasm of untouchables. The Game would start again with all its shrewdness and sport. He would put back on his armor worn in the mind. He would be so very clever again, and perhaps even cruel if he had to be. He would play his part with the vigor he had always exerted…

But right now…he could breathe. That was all that mattered. For an insignificant span of moments, the Game had stopped and Life had taken its place. He knew what it meant to be alive at long last, a glimpse of some small light flickering like the Crone’s lantern in the dead of night that might somehow guide them through the winter’s dark. And it felt so very good.

 

Aragorn’s Victory Song: A Lord of the Rings Fan-Fiction Poem

I see a fire behind your eyes
That darkness cannot quell;
As ashes from the mountain rise,
You’ll storm the gates of Hell
Mornie Utulie, Horo!
 
The ancient lava from the earth
Is cool beside the flame
That burns within a faithful breast
And earns a man his fame
Mornie Utulie, Horo!
 
The Evening Star shines on my path,
Her voice rings in my ears,
Her kisses, gold, rest on my lips,
Her eyes are free from fear
Mornie Utulie, Horo!
 
These visions are my only guide
Through haunted, sleepless nights
When cold and hunger choke the soul
And swallow heaven’s light
Mornie Utulie, Horo!
 
I see the doors of Sauron’s hall
Open wide, like jaws;
They seek to grind the worth of man
And banish all our laws
Mornie Utulie, Horo!
 
The silver stroke of death is near,
And it may well claim me,
But He who calls the sun to rise
Will shape my destiny
Mornie Utulie, Horo!
 
The hall beyond these mortal bounds
Will open wide to me,
And there where light is never dimmed
I’ll spend eternity
Mornie Utulie, Horo!
 
To fight for love of all that lives
And challenge fickle fate
May prove to be our secret power
And triumph over hate
Mornie Utulie, Horo!
 
Let the howl of wolves be heard
And the clash of shattered shields;
We’ll show the world how gallant men
Can die but never yield!
Mornie Alantie, Horo!

Bound by a Seal: A Movie Review of “I Confess”

Year: 1953

Filming: Black & White

Length: 95 minutes

Genre: Drama/Inspirational/Religious/Suspense

Maturity: PG (for intense thematic elements)

Cast: Montgomery Clift (Fr. Michael Logan), Anne Baxter (Ruth Grandfort), O.E. Hass (Otto Keller), Dolly Haas (Alma Keller), Roger Dann (Pierre Grandfort), Karl Malden (Inspector Larrue), Ovila Legare (Monsieur Villette), Brian Aherne (Willy Robertson)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Personal Rating: 5 Stars

 

***

“Technically one of Hitchcock’s best”, I Confess is not your run-of-the-mill murder mystery. Instead, it reveals a little-known aspect of The Master of Suspense: his lingering fascination with and devotion to the Catholic Faith. Being a member of the endangered species of British Cradle Catholics, Hitchcock rarely revealed his religious allegiances in his productions, but this is a noteworthy exception, and his only film that can truly fit into the noble genre of “inspirational.”

Montgomery Clift stars as Father Michael Logan, a Canadian Catholic priest serving in Quebec. But his routine life takes a turn when the sacristan, Otto Keller, confesses to having murdered a prominent businessman, Monsieur Villette, and Logan is sworn to secrecy under the Seal of Confession. He tries to convince the Keller to turn himself over the authorities, but instead the penitent sets out to frame the priest as the real killer.

Meanwhile, Ruth Grandfort, the beautiful wife of a prominent Canadian lawyer, sets out to clear Fr. Logan by exposing a complex web of rumor, scandal, and blackmail that connects them both with the murdered Villette. But by bringing old secrets and new struggles to light, she only adds to the mounting suspicions that Logan was carrying on a romantic affair with her, and that he did indeed have a motive to silence Villette.

As the net closes, Logan must make a decision whether to flee the city and the false accusations or turn himself over to the police to be tried for murder. Even though he knows all the evidence is pointing against him and he has little hope of acquittal unless he reveals what he heard in Confession, he will not disgrace his priesthood by running away, and decides to stay and face his fate head-on.

Once he is brought to trial, the prosecution relies heavily on the emotionally distraught testimony of love-lorn Ruth and the blood-stained cassock found among Logan’s possessions. In a twist of irony, Otto Keller, the real murderer, is also brought forward to testify against the priest. Now Fr. Logan must wrestle with the decision whether to seize his last chance to save his own life before it is too late, or to abide by the Seal of Confession.

This movie is one of those vintage gems that leaves one speechless by the sheer impact of the story and artful depiction of the setting. The black-and-white scenes filmed on location in old Quebec are deliciously dark and foreboding, and there are some glorious scenes of church interiors with soaring altars that seem to speak of hope in the midst of desolation. All this combines to create a seamless movement from one mood to another.

There are also a lot of typical “Hitchcockian” bits involving doing weird things with dinnerware (like trying to balance a penny between two forks or a glass of water on one’s chin) and his trade-mark “walk-ons” as a parishioner coming out of church and a pedestrian meandering down a dark alleyway. There are also loads of suspenseful, dialogue-driven encounters and a big chase sequence with a lot of shooting. As I said, that’s Hitchcock.

Thanks to an excellent cast, the intensity of the characters wrestling with their inner demons is palpable. Montgomery Clift portrays Fr. Logan in a deeply human way, yet makes his devotion to his priesthood the keystone of his character. There are any number of really engrossing sequences in this film dealing with Logan’s inner turmoil and the battle that rages within him between his identity as a priest and a man, comparing his own crosses to the Cross of Christ.

The scene where he walks through Quebec, uncertain whether to run away or stay to face an unfair trial, is paralleled by the beautiful life-sized Stations of the Cross he walks past in the park. His anguished journey finally draws him back inside a church, his eyes uplifted towards the altar, before finally turning himself over to authorities. Again, in the court itself, there is a shot of Logan sitting in the interrogation box, which fades out on the face of the priest and brings into focus the crucifix hanging on the wall behind him, reminding the viewer of Christ’s own unjust trial and punishment.

One burning question remains: Is Anne Baxter always doomed to be type-cast as a somewhat pathetic, generally annoying former flame, fading enchantress, trying to reclaim the affections of her ex-boyfriend at his expense? After a while, it gets nothing short of monotonous knowing exactly what sort of character she is bound to be! That having been said, I think she grew sufficiently comfortable with these parts to pull them off quite well.

As Ruth Grandfort, she effectively makes you want to shout, “Shut up!” when she starts spilling her past indiscriminately and making things worse and worse for her Logan who she just won’t give up, even though he has clearly given her up for his calling to the priesthood. Happily, he is much more understanding towards her than Moses was in The Ten Commandments!

O.E. Hass and Dolly Haas also do an excellent job as Otto and Alma Keller. The way Otto verbally pins Fr. Logan into a corner, testing him to see if he will reveal what was said in Confession, and taunting him with the fact that he is framing him for the murder, is so blood-boiling, heightened by the look of disbelief and horror on Montgomery Clift’s face. Alma is also a wonderfully complex character, caught between her loyalty to her husband and her own guilt for helping to destroy the priest who has been so kind to them as immigrants. In the end, she will choose to do the right thing, saving Fr. Logan by sacrificing herself.

Interestingly, I Confess was initially not very well received because non-Catholic viewers had a hard time understanding the rationale behind The Seal of Confession and why it would so noble, instead of just stupid, for a priest to conceal the identity of the murderer. That is why the very sparse “romance” element in the film is often played up to the hilt, with movie covers displaying smooching sequences that never, ever occurred! There was also a move to exploit the murder mystery angle, introducing smothering sequences on the cover that never, ever occurred!

But all this beating around the bush is silly, and it belies the fact that the storyline cannot be accurately called a “romance” since one party is no longer involved in the would-be relationship, and it cannot be accurately called a “mystery” since we already know who the murderer is from the start. The truth is that Alfred Hitchcock, in spite of his other ghoulish and risqué pictures, had molded a boldly spiritual, deeply inspirational testimony to his own Catholic Faith and the priests who had educated him. It makes me want to shout, “Hitchcock, why couldn’t you have made more movies like this instead of that other weird, dumb stuff you made?”

In spite of hang-ups in the non-Catholic world, the undeniable quality of I Confess caused it to come into its own in later years, and it has come to be accepted as an excellent example of suspense cinema, complete with unusual conundrum and powerful resolution. For me, the most poignant scene of all has to be the conclusion in which Fr. Logan once again gives absolution to his tormentor, Otto Keller, after Keller is mortally wounded.

The first time I watched this, my jaw just hung open for a long time, and I knew I would have to watch it again before long. For once agreeing with the general consensus of critics, I would definitely rate this intricate study of human strength weakness and strength as the best film the Master of Suspense ever directed or produced.