Genre Conflation and the Uncertain Future of Fantasy

As Outlaw King reminds us of the effects of Game of Thrones on modern entertainment, we must ask questions about what artful fantasy will look like going forward.

Chris Pine as Robert the Bruce in Outlaw King

Netflix looks ready to make an Awards season splash with The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (a Coen Brothers Western) and Roma (from Alfonso Cuarón) due for release in the next few weeks. But first, the streaming giant released David McKenzie’s Outlaw King, similarly positioned by the company as serious prestige content. The film was released last Friday to a response summed up well by Vann Newkirk II on Twitter:

Outlaw King is not a great film – though it isn’t exactly bad either. British character actors, Scottish vistas, and some passable action set pieces can go a long way, and – as many have noted – the film works as a casual action epic for a weekend night, even if that is not how Netflix promoted it (more on that later).

Outlaw King is bland, but not for lack of effort. Rather, it is bland because it tries to hit an impossible range of notes, and fails to convince on all fronts. It touts its historicity, but but the briefest Wikipedia excursion undermines these claims. It weaves in palace intrigue and political drama, but lacks the time to make the players significant. Its reliance on a titular character suggests a biopic, but we never learn much at all about the Bruce’s life and character. The film also seems to know the certain beats and conventions expected from a medieval mud and blood film, but after two hours of feasts and castles and peasants and plenty of mud and blood, these moves seem arbitrary and dull. And then there’s the echoes of Braveheart, for better and worse: sequences of war which are almost distractingly violent; a gratuitous but still restrained though ultimately awkward sex scene; a surprise penis; a battle speech that is kinda badass but also kinda cheesy; James Cosmo; lots of yelling men; and, of course, a depiction of being hung, drawn, and quartered that I hope the kids are not around to see.

When Braveheart did it, it was wired. Outlaw King is tired. And thus, this film is the latest in what has been a line of disappointing medieval war epics which have all been inspired by Braveheart in the way all World War II films changed after Saving Private Ryan. Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven and Robin Hood come to mind, and in each the lack of historicity is notable, and Outlaw King is the latest reminder that “we” have a piss-poor understanding of the medieval world. I’d go so far to say that no era of history has such a disparity between its hold on the Western imagination and the accuracy of that imagination. Well, that and anything undergirding American exceptionalism.

However, as much as Outlaw King fits in this tradition of history-illiterate entertainment, the Braveheart comparison has been matched by the inevitable reference to Game of Thrones. Just as every tall European who can shoot 3’s is compared to Dirk Nowitzki – despite there never being anyone else who has ever really played like Dirk – every show or movie featuring swords and horses and castles and political intrigue in the last 6 years has been in some way linked to Thrones, even though the series’ excellence has proven to be inimitable. The influence is obvious, of course, as one cannot watch a minute of Vikings or Knightfall or, indeed, Outlaw King without noticing glaring similarities.

But herein lies one of the faultlines in the tectonic plates of genre: the most recent medieval epics are related to Game of Thrones both by creators and consumers despite the fact that Game of Thrones is fantasy, not historical fiction. There are dragons and magic in Thrones, and Westeros is not medieval Europe despite the obvious congruence. Thrones has helped to cast a light on one of the most bizarre conflations in our collective imagination, which is the blurring of lines between medievalism and fantasy. In our imagination, knights are for slaying dragons as much as they are for scheming their way to lands and lordships, and the mysterious puppet masters are wizards as often as bishops. There are reasons for this conflation, some of them good. But the fact remains that, while Thrones has many of the elements which should, in theory, make for a compelling medieval tale of war and politics, and while, as many have noted, the showrunners are much more adept at handling political intrigue than the fantasy elements of the story, the show belongs to a different genre.

Now what remains to be seen is what Thrones, which is perched on this faultline, means for future works of fantasy. Projects like Outlaw King have made Thrones’ effects on medieval epics clear (backstabbing, shocking violence, nudity, grime, etc.), but will these elements find their way into works of high fantasy as well? Will the conflation between these genres mean audiences will expect works of fantasy to look like Game of Thrones (and thus Outlaw King), and will creators try to capitalize on those expectations?

This is especially relevant as Amazon’s play at creating the “next Game of Thrones” (remember now what I said about Dirk Nowitzki) is a billion dollar Lord of the Rings series. Perhaps the similarities to Thrones will only be superficial, but it’s a safe bet whatever Amazon comes up with will feel more like Thrones than the original trilogy (and certainly the Hobbit films) ever did. The Amazon Rings series (focusing on young Aragorn) is also one of a bevy of fantasy shows due for release in the next few years, including Wheel of Time on Amazon and The Witcher on Netflix. Attempts to replicate Thrones make sense based on the series’ commercial and critical success. This success is staggering by any standard, but especially so set against fantasy projects in general. For, like their medieval epic counterparts, almost every work of high fantasy in the last 20 years has been a critical and commercial failure (with the notable exceptions of Rings and Hobbit).

I’m not wringing my hands over a more violent battle scene in Middle-Earth or even a gratuitous Aragorn and Arwen sex scene, but I am keen to discover how the Thrones effect will impact the fundamental aspects of different fantasy worlds. By that I mean it might be obvious what will be added to fantasy worlds (violence, scheming, sex, grit), but it is uncertain whether or not these additions will be at the expense of the elements which make each work its own fascinating story and world. After all, works of fantasy literature are already rife with complex plots, graphic violence, and explicit sex and nudity. Thrones is actually less violent and sexual than the books, if you’d believe it. Moving from PG-13 to R is not necessarily out of step with the source material, but there is the risk that the move will coincide with a departure from the stories’ critical themes.

While the integrity of fantasy source material rests in the creative capabilities of the people who end up as showrunners, it is also subject to the vision of studio heads. Outlaw King works as a violent, good-looking action movie rather than serious prestige film-making, and yet that is what Netflix envisioned it as. Why? Presumably because it looks and feels a bit like Braveheart, Gladiator, and – yes – Thrones. There is still a sense that such content demands the seriousness which usually accompanies any costume or period drama. Once we go back in time, once we lean on British character actors and stunning vistas, once we delve into topics of war and power, we must do so with careful craft and a serious attitude. Conversely, fantasy is often cast as unserious or as “merely” a work for children. In the popular imagination, fantasy is for kids and then for nerdy boys and men living in their parents’ basement. Thrones is, I think, the first series to really and truly bridge the gap between nerdy subculture and popular entertainment (even Lord of the Rings maintains a stigma). If studio execs are faced with a choice between prestige awards-fare and niche Ren-fair, what do you think they’re going to do? It is, of course, a false dichotomy, but it is doubtful if the people making decisions can adroitly maneuver these nuances. Many modern fantasy adaptations have exhibited choices which show either an ignorance of or apathy towards the source material, and often to devastating effect. Some of the Harry Potter films are offensive in their lack of fidelity, and while I understand why it isn’t there, how can Lord of the Rings be Lord of the Rings without the scouring of the Shire?

Outlaw King is not worth much consideration on its own, but, as this blog shows, it prompts some important questions about the future of the fantasy genre. As a lover of that genre, I look forward with guarded eagerness to seeing what Amazon, Netflix, and others come up with. And, as it turns out, we won’t have to wait long, as we will see in April how the final season of Thrones looks in response to its own legacy and the unfinished work of its source material.

In the meantime, Bud Light is dilly-dillying around with that idiotic Bud Knight ad campaign and even that idiocy is incorporating medieval backstabbing with the old invite-your-enemies-to-a-feast-and-attack-their-castle move.

Which, now that I think of it, is a depressing mix of gritty medievalism and silly fantasy, and maybe another reason to be just a little anxious about what’s in store.

Forth now, and fear no darkness.

Soli Deo Gloria

-Peter

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Spirituality, Sitting, and Stillness

Sometimes I find everything and nothing in the same place.

As I sit on the porch of my coffee shop, on a cool and overcast morning, sipping a pistachio latte earned by ten coffees[1], I’m thinking about how I sort of fit the stereotype of the “Reformed” “Calvinist” Guy. I have tattoos and a beard (sort of), wear skinny jeans and big glasses, read Puritans and watch R-rated films, use strong language and brew stronger coffee, and of course I drink (yes often craft beer) and smoke (yes usually a tobacco pipe). I’m not really an RCG though, because, for one, I’m lowkey Arminian[2], and two, I don’t think anyone wants to date a real RCG.

This is where I curtail discussion of Calvinism vs. Arminianism. You’re welcome.

And so here I sit, watching the cars go by and listening to the shop’s very nice playlist and greeting the friendly baristas and reassuring myself I’m not an RCG, and I’m thinking about how overwhelmed I’ve been by the kind words I’ve received from so many people since my post about the beauty of walking around received a second life when a local artist painted his interpretation of a picture I took for that piece. And as I think on these things, I’ve decided to undertake writing something similar. Which, of course, is not about walking, but about sitting. Because I really like walking. And I really like sitting.

Sitting. Like I do so often. But do better some times than others.

I am sitting – or was sitting – on the patio in the back yard of the house I grew up in, doing those very RCG activites of drinking a craft beer and smoking pipe tobacco. Alone in the evening, the house empty besides my parent’s yappy dogs, who are – mercifully – being quiet. The air is warm and still, birds continue singing but it’s late enough that crickets are too. It’s an evening for cool sips of ale and the languid unfurling of smoke. It’s an evening to let the mud settle and see myself in the clear water, to find that water reflecting whatever passes overhead, untroubled by anything I brought with me to the edge.

I’m in the balance – the balance between a long journey and a new beginning, between anxiety and apathy, between mastery and monotony. This space is unstable, and the deck pitches and sways as I lash the helm into the teeth of a nor’easter and rush to let down more sail, only to find I’ve entered the doldrums. Still, balance is what I need. I need to see it, to feel it, to find it no matter where I am. But some places make it easier to perceive this delicate energy which courses through the universe. Places like the patio in the back yard. And, so sitting here, in the midst of flitting birds and racing rabbits and climbing squirrels and sacred trees and open sky and sleeping dogs, I pursue balance sitting still.

Breathe in. Flame. Heat.

This is Yin.

Breathe out. Spirit. Smoke.

This is Yang.

I’m tired. More and more, these days, I reach the end of the day emptied of the energy which used to course through me like electricity. Living can be really heavy. The obstacle is the path, which is reassuring but also exhausting. I will eat something soon to feel restored, but not just yet. There is a space for wisdom as well as weakness in an empty stomach.

Sip. Swallow.

Om.

Bitter. Smooth.

Om.

Light. Heavy.

Sometimes when I sit in prayer, my thoughts suddenly veer off or crash through some soundproof barrier which threatens to drown out a holy conversation. Some force within or without acts to block this connection, the opening of chakras and Trinitarian communion. I feel this same threat of haste, this same incursion of worry, when I sit on the patio. Sitting can be hard work. It’s hard to sit with proper posture to save the back and neck and hips, harder still to sit and resist the temptation to be somewhere else, racing after tomorrow’s possibilities, backtracking to today’s failures, or shooting up a rechargeable mobile drug. I’m in an unhurried space, where the birds and beasts and the sky and trees move in a delicate balance. Even beyond this sanctuary, the cars roaring across the distant highway bridge and the hum of an evening lawnmower and the percussive bark of a neighbor dog fit into the greater mosaic, and when I reach out I can see the thousands of people so nearby coming and going melt into the flowing stream which goes on and on. Of course, some of these animals are endangered, some of these cars will crash, some of these people weep, and yet the chaos is still knit together with some unspoken order.

But even as this balance plays out around me, even as I can feel myself grow into it, something – something – threatens to shatter me.

Is this why we can’t sit still? Is this the impetus for distraction, for altered states, for virtual spaces? Is this why we can grow bored of the sacred and blind to the spiritual? Is this why we clock in and clock out for the sake of profit margins and call it freedom? Is falling the only alternative to climbing?

It’s a something that could be anything. I might reassure myself of a hundred different things, and then something so small and insignificant lodges itself and festers. It threatens to upset the balance, to chase me into flight, to make me hurry to some false promise of safety. Telling me to walk faster, even though the rain is everywhere.

I strike a match.

Spark. Flame. Heat. Life unbounded.

Breathe in.

This is Yin.

Breathe out.

This is Yang.

Deep breath. Sigh. Sip. Swallow. Blink. Blink. Eyes closed. Eyes open.

And then I see it. Passing from over my left shoulder across the patio and away. A monarch butterfly. Floating and gliding, everywhere and nowhere at once, a living canvas, an orange ocean with black and white flickered songs[3]. And it takes my breath away. My eyes glow and the knot in my chest is undone and the river runs clear. The monarch alights on the limb of a lilac for a moment, a moment that might as well last a lifetime, and then embraces the air once more and is gone.

It is gone, but the moment remains. And moments like this extend forever because they are nowhere in the course of time. Time is no longer of the essence, it’s free of commodification and divested of its authority. And creation speaks in this language not so concerned with reaching punctuation.

This evening eventually ends. I did eat a dinner[4]. And, actually, the peace did not last. The dogs started barking again. I remembered the things I had to be stressed about. I began to strive after wind and grew fearful of the lion in the street. Such is the struggle for balance, the imperative to continue to preach to oneself. The temptation is to meet this failure with a redoubled effort, to chase after some antidote, to close my eyes tighter when I pray, to insist on artificial solitude, to grasp at some sort of salve. True, sometimes the answer is to live, to live with all our might, to run in such a way that we might win, but this is, again, the balance. To know how to fight and how to surrender, to run and to rest, to speak and to listen.

God moves through the unexpected and unlikely, through mind-blowing coincidences and against-all-odds moments of shock and awe, but for as much as we might feel God speak in the gusts of a sea-change, I believe God speaks to us still more in the gentle breeze in the leaves and the hum of a bumblebee in overgrown Russian sage. God was not in the strong wind which broke rocks, or the earthquake and fire which followed, but rather in the still small voice which reached Elijah outside the cave on Mount Horeb.

My life is changing again. It does that every few months these days. And as I worry about food, drink, and clothing, I have to continue to go down to the water to sit and be still and consider the lilies and the ravens. I must take action through inaction and find wisdom in not knowing.

When I wrote about walking, I was talking about walking, and I was also talking about awareness. I was writing about me and my world and my own personal pain, and I was talking about you, too. I’m doing the same thing now. You should literally sit and listen and be meditative, but this is about more than how to spend your evenings. I’m working through my own anxiety and uncertainty, but I hope it makes you look inward, too.

And then maybe someday we will sit together in the flooded ruins of Isengard and share smoke and stories in the stillness of the evening. Sometimes the sacred is found in silence and whispers; it’s found in the voice of companionship, too.

Until then –

Forth now, and fear no darkness.

Soli Deo Gloria

– Peter[5]

 

Notes

1 It’s a damn good latte. 10/10 would recommend.
2 Arminian, like the Dutch theologian, not Armenian, like the Kardashians.
3 That last part is straight from a Zach Winters song called “Monarch.” I will reference him again later when I write about going down to the water to sit and be still.
4 Leftover rice and ham and it was one of the best-tasting meals I have eaten in my entire life. This is part of the wisdom in drinking and smoking (in moderation) on an empty stomach. Don’t say you don’t learn anything reading this blog.
5 I’m not still sitting on the porch at my coffee shop, if you were wondering. That was days ago. I can’t spit these things one take like Jay-Z and Mozart.

Look What You Made the Academy Do

We demanded the Oscars try to be more relevant. I don’t know that we’ve earned that right.

The-Oscars

If you hadn’t heard, a few changes have been approved for the 2019 Academy Awards and the Oscars awards show. The show will be shorter, some of the tech awards will not be aired live, and – most significantly – the Oscars “will create a new category for outstanding achievement in popular film.”

Some excellent pieces have already been written about the Academy’s struggle with relevancy and ratings, and this ongoing dilemma joins recent controversies about fair representation of the work of minorities in film. The Academy is, without a doubt, flawed, and while at times popular opinion and critical consensus have smelted a little golden man which is apparently much heavier than some recipients were expecting, the Oscars has the age old problem of not being able to say no to artistic renderings of fish sex.

But it’s worth considering what part we play in this. Because, as out of touch as the Academy appears to be at times, this push for relevancy and popularity is just as much an indictment of the viewing public at large. Perhaps the Oscars is disconnected from its audience, but so too is the audience failing to connect with the Oscars.

I know this because the Oscars is that special night where everyone roots for the two films they’ve seen, scoffs at the ones they haven’t, and rolls their eyes at the Hollywood elite and artsy liberals.

And then the next week they have family movie night and no one knows what to watch as they scroll through Netflix’s confusing and poorly-curated menus. If they all agree, it’s probably on a Marvel movie or another blockbuster. If they don’t, either someone proposes a comedy which ends up being too raunchy for either the eldest or the youngest, or someone suggests a film on the recommendation of “someone” who wrote “something” “somewhere” and it turns out to be a trash film that just happens to champion a certain religious or political worldview. Anything “sad” will be vetoed. Perhaps most likely, they forego a film to watch a few more episodes of a series they know they can rely on.

It’s little wonder that younger people are drawn to TV over movies, older people will say they don’t make movies like they used to, and Hollywood will continue its land grab for bankable intellectual property (IP).

And so the public goes on to mock the indie films and awards season darlings that get Oscar noms and nods while also being dissatisfied with what qualifies as popular film outside of a select few franchises. Do you see where this might not be the Academy’s fault? Perhaps the problem with the Oscars is not that the awards show fails to cater to popular opinion, but that popular opinion is so porous and predictable that any show awarding excellence in film would implode if based in earnings over excellence or even buzz over beauty.

The perception that the Academy is out of touch with the viewing public perpetuates a lethargy when it comes to seeking out new films to watch, and this new award recognizing excellence in popular film will only make this false dichotomy worse. There are, it seems, two kinds of films in the culture’s imagination: artsy Oscars films with billboards and fish dicks and popular blockbusters with starships and superheroes (that the people complaining probably never went to go see either). Viewers become frustrated either because they don’t “get” the one kind or because they aren’t interested in the other.

But these are not the only options when it comes to movie viewing. There are dozens of truly fantastic films released every year. Only ten can get nominated for Best Picture, and only a handful of those really get much buzz, and often (though not always) they are not among the highest-earners. The zombie hordes of moviegoers who only come out to feed during Oscar season and are attracted to the smell of box office reports are bound to miss out on these, either because they spit upon their status as arty films or because they flat out don’t ever hear about them. But these movies are still there to be seen. Even if they don’t take home a trophy. Or make a splash at the box office. Or fight their way through witty comedies, cooking shows, and stand-ups to appear on the hallowed “Trending Now” of Netflix. There are quality films released all the time that we can watch, quality films that can deepen our appreciation of film and move us to seek out other films like them. But people are too lazy, it seems.

I’m not. I don’t want to give myself too much credit, but I’m really, really good at suggesting movies for family movie night, and I’ve made an absolute killing on these films that go largely unnoticed while occasionally leaning right into the arty award-winner which no one watched: Paterson, Lady Bird, The Big Sick, Moonlight, Manchester By The Sea, A Man Called Ove, Goodbye Christopher Robin – all recent films which my family thoroughly enjoyed, but might not have ever heard of, let alone sought out, if I hadn’t made the suggestion. I absolutely love that they continue to trust me, but it says something about the movie-watching culture that these movies were more or less not on their radar.

We can already see how this is going to work out in 2019: a film like First Reformed is going to be the award-season darling, and for one reason or another the masses will scoff at this little movie that no one went to see getting so much attention; Black Panther will be recognized for its excellence as a “popular” film, and many will be unmoved by another superhero movie, especially one that doesn’t speak to their….economic anxiety. But, among those ten nominated films, there will be Annihilation, a film which *nobody* watched, which will be given some credit by way of a nomination, but which will still go unwatched because the same people who reject elitist award-season films will assume it’s not worth seeing because no one has seen it. The Academy makes its mistakes, but it’s a tough crowd.

It’s no secret, of course, that the best of anything rarely gets its due credit. Comedians, authors, musicians, athletes – often times the best are not the most popular or the most awarded. Yet, if the Grammys has shown us anything, it’s that an awards show cannot be taken seriously if it completely ignores popular opinion (it’s a bad joke at this point). But, in the case of the Oscars, it’s damned if you do damned if you don’t: The Academy can’t keep nominating Room over Straight Outta Compton, but pandering to the opinion of an ill-informed viewing public will rot the institution entirely. The point of the awards will be lost, and probably without any gains in ratings.

The Oscars may be the film awards show, but it’s important to remember that it is only that: an awards show. It means something, but our film opinions and Netflix selections should not be dominated by one institution. At the same time, we should not let our opinions demand what that definitive awards show must look like.

The Oscars needs to change, for its own sake, but these proposed changes make it seem like it’s changing for our sake.

And I don’t think we’ve earned that.

Forth now, and fear no darkness.

Soli Deo Gloria

Peter

 

Legit Devorator

Read. More. Books.

reading books

twilightbeta on DeviantArt (Link)

The other day[1] I was walking from my coffee shop (it’s not mine but I’m very proud of it so I say “my” in the same way I call Everton “we”) to the library, and on the way I stopped by a recently-opened bookstore. I was curious to see what was there, and while I have plenty on my reading list, I had just finished Annihilation that morning and was looking for something new to start, and one never knows what someone might find on sale.

I didn’t find anything to purchase, but my ignorance of what I would find was well-met. The store is in a mall of sorts – a dimly lit building unit downtown that used to be home to offices for the town’s giant shipbuilding company, but which is now partitioned into a handful of spaces for a hodge-podge of businesses which rarely succeed. It’s like a really sad bazaar.

There were a few shelves of new and used books, magazines, and comic books, with plenty of room for more inventory. There were also some model train sets – which I had really, really not expected. Being one of just two customers in the store, I was soon accosted by the proprietor, who gave me a thorough sales pitch on the shop and its merits, one I must assume he gives to everyone who stumbles in. He informed invited strongly suggested I come to a card game event at the store later that night. As I browsed the sparse bookshelves, I understood why he had made such a point about their willingness to do special orders. And, while I browsed, he mentioned to me and to the other customer that – if we were thirsty – the store had soda on sale. Because of course it did.

I wanted to buy a book to support the store, but I couldn’t find one that fit the bill. Slightly embarrassed that I had spent so much time browsing every single shelf only to come up empty, I headed for the exit, but not before the proprietor gave me a business card and reminded me about the game night[2].

I tell this story not just because I think people should always recount tales of their journeys to strange places, but because it was a vivid nexus for the thoughts about reading that have been pinging around in my head for a few days. I had been doing a lot of reading, some writing, and a little reading about reading, and I was hoping to do some writing about reading[3]. I had actually been trying to wrangle some of those thoughts into writing at the coffee shop, but was not having much success, in part because each angle I took crumbled into a ruinous heap of generica echoing with cries of “reading is good you should do it” and I didn’t know if I started sorting through the wreckage if I would find something that was really worthwhile.

But my visit to the bookstore was another reminder – made potent by immediacy – that reading is good and you should do it. I don’t think I would be friends with the shop owner. I don’t think I would hang out with him (I didn’t go to the game night, for those of you holding your breath in suspense). I’m not about model trains and he wasn’t carrying anything I was particularly interested in buying. But we were both there, in that sad little mall, approximately a million miles from the rest of civilization, because reading means something to us – enough to enter into a dying industry or walk into a strange building. And if reading can mean that much and bring the two of us together in that space at that time, then it’s worth trying to articulate these erratic thoughts of mine.

While reading has always been important to me, that importance has increased over the last few months. Evenings alone during the school year tended to be anxious times, and I made a decision to spend the last hour or so before bed reading books rather than watching Netflix. And so I did it – I actually started reading for fun on top of all the reading I had to do as a graduate student. Now that school is over, I have re-entered the ranks of the voracious readers. It helps me fill the hours in a time of transition, a transition which includes a crossroads in my writing. I am writing regularly, but not as much as I would like, and hardly at all on this here website of mine. At times it is easier to just return to my book rather than search for words of my own. This transition is also a time of identity-building, which I alluded to in my last post, and reading is part of my attempt to make up for what feels like lost time. For, while I remained interested in books, I really didn’t read very much in high school or college besides what I had to do for class (which was a lot and often included novels, being an English Major).

This lamentable dearth of reading experience is coupled with my personal quest to increase my geek. For, while I am and have been a geek, there are some very underdeveloped aspects of my nerdiness, and during my formative years it never really defined me or my social interactions, and I often chose to keep it under wraps. My personality was so dominated by sports: playing sports, watching sports, playing sports video games, writing about sports, talking about sports. I’m still a big sports fan (albeit in a very different sort of way), but now I am putting serious effort into becoming the geek I was always meant to be. And geeks read.

As is often the case, this personal change has coincided with an increasing awareness and involvement with others who are also doing a lot of reading. I am a fan of the podcast Binge Mode, and I continue to listen even as they turn their deep-diving attention to the Harry Potter books, of which I’ve only read the first two. Mallory and Jason are a delight to listen to, and part of the reason for this is their infectious love of reading. Their defense of fantasy – while inspired by Game of Thrones – is clearly based in their love of books.

I notice with what seems like increased frequency people posting this or that about reading on social media, and right now on my feed there’s a book cover sharing thing going on. Sometimes it seems like “no one” reads anything besides online articles anymore, but these posts and conversations online remind me that people are reading, and they put my reading into a social context of discussions and recommendations.

Speaking of book recommendations: they are great. There is a moment in Game of Thrones where Samwell enters the library at the Citadel for the first time[4]. Faced with this unfathomable amount of books, Sam the bibliophile is clearly pleased, but also awed and daunted. Where is he to begin? Which books will he have to neglect? Choosing the next book to read can feel like this, but getting a personal recommendation can help us go forth and read without worrying about what we aren’t reading. It’s even better when someone gives or lends you a book, and so, looking for a new fantasy novel to read and overwhelmed by the choices, I was happy to take on the 1,000 pages of Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings when my friend handed me his copy after bringing it up in conversation the day before.

Now’s the part where I turn this on you. I beseech you to read. You’re reading this, and that’s great – thank you – but read some books when you are done. Please trust me and my reading friends when I tell you to do it. And, if you do read, read more. Talk to others about reading. Share recommendations. Share books.

Reading books is good for you, as this article from the New Yorker explains so well. It is not mere escapism, even if it can help relieve the stresses of our lives. It is not anti-social, even if it is something we usually do alone. I know you’re busy. Really, I do. But you can find the time. My unsolicited advice: start by reading books instead of – not in addition to – some social media posts and online articles. I’m not asking you to ignore the world’s problems or be uninformed or stop supporting any sneaky good bloggers out there – far from it – but consider the amount of manic whirling your brain does as you speed-read 1,000 tweets, scan a few comment sections, glance at headlines and first paragraphs of daily news, and skim a couple of articles (one from your echo chamber which makes you feel invincible and one from the other side which makes you hopping mad). Perhaps this doesn’t apply to you, but many of us (me included) spend way too much time looking at our phones. Slow down, focus your mind, be present, and immerse yourself in an extended text. This is Tao.

Sure, reading takes time and it’s possible to read too much and not all books are created equal. But I sincerely believe that more reading of books has the capacity to make us better people, and the benefits of reading are in many ways well-suited to the particular ailments of the contemporary moment.

We’re way into summer already, and maybe you haven’t made the desired dent in your summer reading list. That’s okay. Start now. And if you don’t get to it until the leaves change color, okay. Start then. Try it, please. Even if you didn’t grow up with Reading Rainbow and Between the Lions, even if your elementary school teachers didn’t instill an interest in you, even if your parents didn’t buy you books (thank you, Mom and Dad), it’s not too late to pick it up now. There are entire worlds out there, and in exploring them you may just come to understand this one a little better. You’ll develop yourself too. And, along the way, you will come into contact with others who are spending their time the same way.

And as you walk out of their strange little store into fresh air and natural light, you can smile knowing it’s for good reason that your paths crossed.

Forth now, and fear no darkness.

Soli Deo Gloria

-Peter

Notes

1 As opposed to what? Why do we say “the other day?” Is this a colloquialism, or is it a useful distinction? And why don’t I just tell you which day it was? It was July 23, 2018.
2  If you’re in the area, please, please visit Other Worlds Books & More at Park Place Plaza on 3rd Avenue and see if you can find a way to support your local bookstore.
3 The one I haven’t done recently is reading about writing. I have done a fair amount of that though. Douglas Wilson has a lot of very trash opinions and he is kind of a jerk, but he wrote a good book about writing called Wordsmithy. Stephen King’s On Writing is worthwhile. But most of all I suggest Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.
4 There are a number of great moments about reading and stories in Game of Thrones. Of course there’s the famous “Why do you read so much?” exchange between Jon and Tyrion, but so much good stuff with Sam and I love Bran’s openness to the idea of the blue-eyed giant.