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Thursday, November 08, 2007

And then Diana failed all her classes

I have come to the conclusion that the nature of writing and authorship is cyclical, particularly in the case of C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman. I have also concluded that I would like to have Mr. Pullman's babies.

See, His Dark Materials are pretty brilliant books and the saucy Sally Lockhart Victorian thrillers are also quite capital. But it wasn't until I read part of Thomas Huxley's Evolution and Ethics that I realized the scope of Pullman's authorial slyness. It occurred to me that perhaps C.S. Lewis had been reading Huxley while writing the third book of his Cosmic Trilogy, That Hideous Strength--the basis of Huxley's argument is that human evolution is a constant struggle with nature (he's very pro-pruning). The text of Evolution and Ethics reminded me strongly of the aims of the antagonists in That Hideous Strength; Wither, Frost, and the mad priest wish to advance the evolution of man to the point that all natural processes (food consumption, waste production, copulation and birth) are unneeded. They wish to set up Man as God: fueled by brainpower, worshiper of intellect: and to "cleanse" the Earth of erroneous life, plant and animal alike. Obviously, Lewis doesn't agree with this line of philosophy.

That actually has nothing to do with Pullman's book, not really (other than the fact that Pullman too would not want to see the Earth erased of all life but human); but thinking about the possible connection between Huxley and Lewis made me think about those people who call Pullman the "anti-Lewis". This title is due chiefly, I believe, to certain surface similarities in the two men's most famous books. The Chronicles of Narnia and His Dark Materials are indeed possessed of some plot similarities, including talking animals and a famous wardrobe scene. Also, some fundamental Christians see Pullman's books as diametrically opposed to Lewis's--the fact that Pullman kills God is a sore point. However, I think that the two sets of books are similar on deeper levels, and that the similarities (and differences which are revealed by the similarities) bring Lewis and Pullman closer than a casual glance would show.

The real meat of this is found in The Amber Spyglass. I recently reread it and the Cosmic Trilogy, and found some startling plot points in all. In The Amber Spyglass, the character of Mary Malone finds herself alone in an alien world, forced to make contact with the residents of the place--large elephant-like creatures who move on wheels. While animal, these creatures are "people": the moral and emotional equivalent of any Homo sapien. Mary learns their language and customs, and grows to love them, when another human arrives, who brings fear, hatred, and death to their world. This plotline almost exactly parallels that of Out of the Silent Planet, wherein the protagonist Ransom arrives on Mars, finds three species of life who are sentient and capable of language, science, and art, and are for all points and purposes "human". Ransom, a philologist, learns their speech and becomes very fond of one species in particular, the hrossa. As he grows to know them, two other humans with whom he had been traveling kill one of the hrossa. Altogether they refuse to regard any of the Martian inhabitants on a "human" level.

This first similarity is fairly straightforward. It is the second which makes things interesting. Pullman's Mary Malone is told that she must act as tempter (the serpent of the Bible)--for Lyra and Will, the two heroes of the story. In order for all the universes of His Dark Materials to be redeemed, the two must be tempted into what the Church would regard as sin; they must fall in love and they must realize it. Likewise, in Perelandra, the second book of Lewis's trilogy, Ransom is sent to Venus to act against the tempter who is there to make certain that Venus, like Earth, falls. Reading Lewis, you yearn for Perelandra to remain pure, paradisiacal, untainted by the diseases of mortality; reading Pullman, you plead for Mary to remain alive long enough to show Lyra and Will the way into love.

How then is it possible for the same reader to enjoy both series? For I certainly do. When I first read about Ransom and his exploits on alien worlds I was glued to the page, aching for his great good to triumph. When I read about Lyra and Will and their worlds I cheered when they realized that they loved one another and cried at their inevitable separation. The two themes of the books are seemingly disparate, but at the same time strikingly similar. I would submit that Pullman is only the "anti-Lewis" in his treatment of certain subjects. His Dark Materials is like the photographic negative of The Cosmic Trilogy--everything opposite and the same.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The kids are alright

This post was supposed to about this brilliant insight I had last night concerning Thomas Huxley, C.S. Lewis, and Philip Pullman, but that can wait, because right now, I'd rather write about the epilogue of Fargo Rock City.

Yes, I'm sorry. Once more you will be subjected to ramblings about Chuck Klosterman.

In any case, the epilogue of my favorite heavy metal examination leaves me with the wondrous, glowing feeling that I, personally, validate my one of my favorite writers. See, in this postscript Chuck mentions a book which was published at the same time as his--a little something called Our Band Could Be Your Life. Maybe you've read it. Most people (read: hipsters) have. I have. Chuck has. And the way he describes it, the aesthetics of these two styles of musicians are desperately dissimilar. Incompatible, even. The artists of Azerrad's book consciously attempt to be "important", while the bands of Klosterman's are simply concerned with being "cool". Chuck makes sure to point out, however, that the fans of these musicians are probably not that dissimilar--that kids like Black Flag for the same reason that they like Van Halen ("Man, these guys fucking rock!").

Why yes, Mr Klosterman. You are correct. At least for me.

See, not only have I read both Fargo Rock City and Our Band Could Be Your Life (numerous times each), but one actually led to the other. I read Our Band Could Be Your Life when I was fourteen, a massively uncool, reclusive ninth-grade bookworm. I loved it immediately and it made me install Kazaa on the family computer so I could download lots of Black Flag and Fugazi and Minor Threat, et cetera (Interestingly--perhaps tellingly--the only bands featured in the book which stuck with me were The Minutemen, Big Black, and Mudhoney. But that's a different story). Another group that piqued my interest, though it was merely a throwaway mention, was Queensryche.

Downloading Geoff Tate due to a sideline note in a hipster Bible led me to a fully-formed metal appreciation, which in turn made me buy Fargo Rock City.

So stick that in your juicebox and suck on it, critics the world over! Music really is simpler than you people want it to be! The same pseudo-intellectual kid who listens to Steve Albini and his thunderous drum machine can appreciate "Girls Girls Girls" (even if she is a girl). The vast, vast majority of music listeners, be their drug of choice rap, country, math rock, or glam metal, listen to their favorites for one reason: it fucking rocks.
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