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Friday, October 9, A.D. 2020
Magic in Fictional Fantasy

Recently, John C. Wright considered the problem of magic for Christian fantasy writers in “The Poet and the Magician,” to which he posted a follow-up where he links to two essays that address the issue while comparing Rowling’s Harry Potter series to the fiction of Lewis and Tolkien. I recommend these essays.

“Harry Potter vs. Gandalf” by Steven D. Greydanus (2001)
“The Taste for Magic” by Tom Simon (April 2008)

Simon’s article comments on Greydanus’ treatment, and Wright compares his own ideas to theirs. The lot of them makes for a fascinating read.

What the articles fail to explain, however, is what underlies the traditional Christian proscription of magic. They mention the dangers of power seeking and of not resting content with prayer, but this same argument sounds a lot like certain Protestant sects’ rationale for refusing modern medicine. Christianity does not require a passive stance toward the shifting circumstances of the world. We are called to act, and action requires the means of acting—power. Yet, certain types of power are off limits. Why? In Lewis, we get to see explicit parallels between ancient magic and the our own age’s magic of modern technology. Both appear to manipulate the world in order to accomplish desired ends. Where are the proper limits, though, of such manipulation? If witchcraft and necromansy are against true religion, why . . . and how do such rules apply to the Cartesian project of mastering nature? Wise minds in the Roman Church have carefully considered ethical issues when it comes to bio-technology, but they do not reject modern medicine completely or interdict advanced research in genetics. What makes the old magic so harmful?

I cannot remember exactly now, but I think that I read something by Lewis wherein he touched on this issue, having noted that the prohibition against magic was a safeguard for human beings whose spiritual faculties and maturity had become significantly enfeebled by the fall. There was something about the danger of allowing men to see the spiritual realm in their current state. I recall similar ideas concerning monastics, especially the great saints who entered aware into that arena. Normal men and women are still in the milk stage; they are not ready to digest unshielded encounters with spirits. Saint Anthony of the Desert, however, had upped levels and battled some big bosses.

Does magic, though, require intercourse with spirits? Couldn’t the mage simply know the nature of things and how to affect them according to that knowledge? If we consider Kristor’s theory about forms (metaphysically speaking) as angelic beings, then perhaps all magic, as all thought and action, involves spirits—but our normal methods, at least while we look through the glass darkly, keep us insulated from being overwhelmed. The magical way may remove some protective coating on that window. Even if Kristor’s idea is mistaken, perhaps using magic places one in a dangerous proximity to ghastly intersections.

Greydanus’ essay contains this delightful paragraph:

Moreover, if the reader is at all attuned to the real magic of Tolkien’s work, his imagination will be less preoccupied with such things as the wizardry of Gandalf than with, for example, the elusive grace and poetry of the Elves; the earthy austerity and hardiness of the Dwarves; the ineffable stateliness, the sheer antiquity of the Ents; the battle-hardened majesty of Aragorn; the playful, fathomless mystery of Tom Bombadil; and, perhaps most of all, the Hobbits themselves, with their quiet and humble ways, their unassuming, humorous, gregarious, homebody, pipe-smoking, meal-loving, comfort-seeking, Shire-dwelling hearts, and, hidden just beneath the surface, their unguessed depths and disreputable capacity for heroism. Here is the true center of gravity in Tolkien’s Middle-earth: not the world of magic, but the magic of the world.

Wonder is the proper initial response to seeing God reflected in his creation, followed by gratitude and praise. The magical—in fiction or in reality (meaning the spooky, the weird, the “supernatural” [a term which I loathe using] . . . not necessarily according to a strict, refined definition of magic)—elicits wonder, as do miracles and other wonder-working acts. However, an honest, perceptive consideration of the world as we experience it everyday should move us in the same way. How manifold are thy works; in wisdom hast thou made them all; the earth is full of thy riches! Our excitement in response to novelty in tandem with our nonchalant boredom with the marvels of daily life is a sign of our fallenness—of our decay and stupidity.

So, perhaps, such underlies Tolkien’s insistence that only certain races in Middle Earth wield magic. Men—and hobbits—are not among them. In this, they are not inferior but simply different. They have their own proper glories, their own marks of wonder in how they reflect Ilúvatar. This rings true; it is how the world operates—among species and individuals. We all have our special natures, our special ends, and it is a mark of sickness and depravity to desire another nature and another end than those bestowed by God Almighty. Maybe, magic simply isn’t proper to men. Instead, we have our own proper means to knowledge and power (in the neutral sense of being able to get that which is willed accomplished). Take, for instance, mathematics. That’s quite a gift . . . though we apparently must assume that any intelligent creature would also have access to mathematics. Maybe that is not true. Perhaps, following scholastic musings, numerical nature and relations are like demonstrative reasoning—proper to human beings but not to angels. I find that hard to believe, but maybe that is simply homo sapientive bias about the nature of sapiens.

This route would explain the difference in prohibitions with respect to magic and modern technology (or any human technology). God has given man the ability to become an engineer; (human) wizards, by contrast, are (in the current year’s woeful jargon) dynamically-appropriating another type of being’s way of life. Their enchantment is not your shortcut.

Posted by Joseph on Friday, October 9, Anno Domini 2020
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Friday, October 4, A.D. 2019
Moreno’s Quizás, Quizás, Quizás

A few months ago, I watched Peter Chang’s Cuba at Union Terminal’s IMAX theater for the first time and became enchanted by its opening music—a lovely, sultry Afro-Caribbean ballad. I tried to identify it afterwards with no success. I watched the film a second time and paid attention to the credits, but they did not list the film’s songs. I couldn’t find anything about it online. Well, this week, I saw Cuba again and memorized some phrases. Lo and behold, the song is “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás,” written by Cuban Osvaldo Farrés but sung in the film’s version by Guatemalan Gaby Moreno. She is flamante.

Here is a live version by Miss Moreno at the Warner Theater in D.C. (which I fondly remember as the place where I would attend The Nutcracker each year at Christmastime).

Music for the living! By the way, I recommend Chang’s IMAX movies. I’ve seen Jerusalem at least a half dozen times and his National Parks Adventure thrice. Along with Cuba, they’re gorgeous. He captures land- and city-scapes magnificently, but his films allow humanity to shine, as well. Chang obviously loves the human face. I heartily recommend his work.

Posted by Joseph on Friday, October 4, Anno Domini 2019
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Monday, January 7, A.D. 2019
Another Sample of Rossetti’s Precious Christmas Gift

Christ is born!

For today’s Nativity feast, I wish to offer a few more samples of Christina Rossetti’s beautiful poem, “In the Bleak Midwinter,” for which Gustav Holst provided a musical setting. I wrote about the carol five years ago with different samplings: “In the Bleak Midwinter.” For this carol, I prefer female solos, and my favorite version from my personal album collection is with Kiri Te Kanawa. Here she sings for a televised holiday special.

I also found a version with Susan Boyle and Libera at Royal Albert Hall.

Merry Christmas!

Posted by Joseph on Monday, January 7, Anno Domini 2019
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Monday, January 15, A.D. 2018
Dolores O’Riordan: Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam dílis

Greetings and Merry Christmas to my fellow Orthodox readers (if any remain for this rather defunct page)!

I sadly acknowledge today’s death announcement of Cranberries lead Dolores O’Riordan. I was a fan. Six years ago, I ran a Cranberries week of posts to celebrate my attending their concert at the 9:30 Club. She was so young—such a pity. I somewhat expect the deaths of boomer celebrities, especially given their lifestyle choices over the decades, but O’Riordan’s untimely passing is a most unpleasant surprise.

Here is the Cranberries’ “When You’re Gone”:

Pray for her soul.

Posted by Joseph on Monday, January 15, Anno Domini 2018
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Friday, June 24, A.D. 2016
Rule, Britannia!

Please forgive me for my blog absenteeism, but I have been quite pressed for time (and far too sleepless) for the last month. However, I had to post today . . .

Albion, how I love you!

When Britain first, at Heaven’s command
Arose from out the azure main;
This was the charter of the land,
And guardian angels sang this strain:

“Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
“Britons never will be slaves.”

The nations, not so blest as thee,
Must, in their turns, to tyrants fall;
While thou shalt flourish great and free,
The dread and envy of them all.

“Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
“Britons never will be slaves.”

Still more majestic shalt thou rise,
More dreadful, from each foreign stroke;
As the loud blast that tears the skies,
Serves but to root thy native oak.

“Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
“Britons never will be slaves.”

Thee haughty tyrants ne’er shall tame:
All their attempts to bend thee down,
Will but arouse thy generous flame;
But work their woe, and thy renown.

“Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
“Britons never will be slaves.”

To thee belongs the rural reign;
Thy cities shall with commerce shine:
All thine shall be the subject main,
And every shore it circles thine.

“Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
“Britons never will be slaves.”

The Muses, still with freedom found,
Shall to thy happy coast repair;
Blest Isle! With matchless beauty crown’d,
And manly hearts to guard the fair.

“Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
“Britons never will be slaves.”

A day that I did not expect has dawned. May it lead inexorably to the destruction of our perverse new world disorder (it can happen), and may the Lord richly bless the peoples of Great Britain and Ireland! One day soon, perhaps even the micks will return to their senses and faith—and reject the godless, soulless bureaucrats who have eagerly helped to transform their beautiful island into a degenerate consumerist wasteland of the spirit.

To show that my support of healthy patriotism and my hatred of the E.U. are not based on any antipathy toward Europe as such—or even toward the Germans—I present a Kraut’s homage to the British—Beethoven’s Wellingtons Sieg oder die Schlacht bei Vittoria:

And, of course, one must showcase “Rule, Britannia,” here cheerily (if cheekily) performed on the last day of the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall by Sarah Patricia Connolly and the BBC Symphony Chorus and Orchestra:

Glad all over!

Posted by Joseph on Friday, June 24, Anno Domini 2016
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Tuesday, May 10, A.D. 2016
Dvořák on Радоница

Kristus vstal z mrtvých!

For Radonitsa, I offer some much loved and lovely pieces from Dvořák. Here is his String Quartet No. 5 in F minor (Op. 9), performed by the Prager Streichquartett (starting at 35:53):

I could not find a suitable video of a live performance.

Probably the most well known movement in the piece is the second—Andante con moto quasi allegretto (51:14-59:26 in the video). Dvořák incorporated the work into his Romance in F minor (Op. 11), which WGUC plays every single day. That’s not a complaint, by the way. After all, I love Dvořák. Here the work is performed by the Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Keri-Lynn Wilson, with the violin solo by Tanja Sonc:

And another by the Israel Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Ariel Zuckerman, with Itamar Zorman on the violin:

Zorman plays the piece more soulfully in my opinion.

I have a few curmudgeonly gripes. First, why isn’t Zuckerman in a tuxedo? He rather wears the open collared douchebag suit so favored by TED talkers and our new sartorially-challenged plutocratic overlords. I blame Al Gore for mainstreaming this unfortunate Silicon Valley trend (probably to counter his android appearance), but I really do not know who or what made that look acceptable—besides the obvious slide toward decadence in the West, of course.

Second, there should be more uniform uniformity expected of women in orchestras. From what I can tell, black and formal-ish are the only requirements for female members. I can understand special allowances for a soloist, especially a guest soloist, but each symphony should regulate their ladies better. From my personal experience, it seems that female conductors, like Wilson shown above, respect the idea of an appropriate dress code for their station. Every female conductor whom I have seen lead has worn the same (or almost the same) pure black femxedo. A quick web search proves the opposite, but perhaps there is a movement toward uniformity as respect for the profession begins to curb the narcissistic female tendency to exempt oneself from rules. We can hope.

Anyway, lovely pieces. As for the faithfully departed whom we remember on Radonitsa, may their memory be eternal!

Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, May 10, Anno Domini 2016
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Friday, April 15, A.D. 2016
From Russia with Campanological Love

The ever interesting folks at U.C. Berkeley decided to replicate the famous Tsar Bell’s sound and to play it on campus for Cal Day this weekend. From ABC 7 News:

My brother Aaron and I got to see the grand broken bell in the Moscow Kremlin near the similarly massive Tsar Cannon. Let’s hope Berkeley’s experiment doesn’t inspire copycat projects to replicate the cannon; just imagine what the mischievous cadets at the U.S.M.A. might come up with. I wouldn’t want to be near West Point on that day.

Posted by Joseph on Friday, April 15, Anno Domini 2016
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Wednesday, April 13, A.D. 2016
Tyler Mancuso’s Psalm 103

One-man quartet Tyler Mancuso sings selections from Psalm 103 (104 in the Masoretic numbering) at the Antiochian Village Summer Camp:

His YouTube page states that he doesn’t use autotune; his variations are his own and recorded separately. I don’t know how Mancuso integrates the tracks, but I find the timing impressive.

I imagine that Mancuso entertains the campers well, though here we see the superiority of a real (multi-membered) a capella quartet. Four fellows can charm and wow an audience without any additional equipment—even at a rustic auditorium in the woods. Mancuso’s gift is better appreciated online. At camp, Mancuso probably joins with other campers and staff to sing. The Orthodox have plenty of singers!

Posted by Joseph on Wednesday, April 13, Anno Domini 2016
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Monday, April 11, A.D. 2016
カントリー・ロード

Thomas Bertonneau has shared a thoroughly charming item on the Orthosphere in “Western Culture I.” It is a music video of a Japanese group named Goose House doing a cover of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Enjoy:

I thus commented on Bertonneau’s post:

I love it. (Cultural appropriation sirens go off) Seriously, how did the “multicultural” Left transform into the enforcers of xenophobia? Human culture = cultural appropriation . . . that’s a good thing, overall.

Also, I have a theory about “imperial peoples” and “tribal peoples.” The imperial folks are into cultural appropriation — they’re interested in the rest of the world and have a strong cosmopolitan aspect in their national character. This need not conflict with a healthy nationalism and sense of identity. Indeed, the latter allows for the former to be useful and strengthening (broadening those horizons). Tribal people, by contrast, are ethno-narcissists — they have little interest in anything that doesn’t prominently concern themselves. As charming as tribals can be, I confess to finding the imperials far more fascinating and worthy of breath. Yet, liberalism is far more dangerous to imperials; without a privileging of one’s own, liberal imperial societies are wont to produce strays who go native — leading Arabs into battle, wearing dashikis on campus, joining ISIS, etc.

Lastly, the Japanese appear to be a well constituted imperial people par excellence. And John Denver is super. And that is a great song. Hurray for this post!

I have loved this song since childhood—it’s the perfect American song. First, it stirs feelings of home in the soul and works well as popular poetry with the simple but impressing images that it evokes (“Dark and dusty, painted on the sky . . .”). It is also quite easy to remember and sing, which makes it a good democratic song for group participation and ongoing cultural use—and appropriation! Furthermore, it is about Appalachia, perhaps the most “Old American” part of the country, as hill people tend to keep memories longer than most folks. The song itself celebrates this grateful returning to the old. Critics call such nostalgia-kitsch. I call it human.

As Dr. Bertonneau notes in his response to my comment, the Japanese young’uns’ performance is superb. I watched the video multiple times, and the grin on my face and the warmth in my heart grew with each viewing. They harmonize well, and they certainly are enjoying themselves. That is what music, youth, and fellowship should entail—joy (not always, of course, but regularly). Joy unmitigated by self-conscious pride or fear! I imagine that such is a foretaste of paradise—of real freedom subjectively experienced. Children facilely enter into such a state naively, but then most people lose that ability as they age. The wonder in their eyes dims. Their sense of self overshadows their self. They become too comfortable in the world, which paradoxically renders them less comfortable in their skin. Sadly, children are beasts, bereft of reason and good judgment, often slaves to their passing fancies. How unfortunate it is that the experiences that form human beings and allow them to tune their moral instruments almost invariably dull the glorious qualities of their state of innocence. After the fashion of wise men and poets, we might say that the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve slowly forget Eden the longer that they stay in the world. Fools and saints may remember the voice of their shepherd, but the herd in general comes to hear only the sounds of coins jingling, sycophantic flattery, and carefully memorized insults and slander.

Posted by Joseph on Monday, April 11, Anno Domini 2016
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Friday, March 18, A.D. 2016
Lepota Iconography Studio and School

An Orthodox sisterhood that ministered to several hospitals in Minsk founded the Saint Elizabeth Convent in A.D. 1999. The nuns eventually established an iconography studio and school—a venture that both serves the practical financial needs of the monastery and provides an additional ministry by which the nuns and lay workers may share the beauty and grace of the Lord.

As Fr. Z. says, brick by brick. Christendom is slowly being rebuilt in the Orthodox lands that Communism ravaged. Thanks be to God!

Posted by Joseph on Friday, March 18, Anno Domini 2016
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