Author Archives: Stephen

Human Again: A Review of Beauty and the Beast

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photo by Disney UK

This summer I had the opportunity to visit Egypt, specifically Cairo. It was magical, a place I only read about in books but felt like I would never actually experience myself. I crawled into the only surviving Ancient Wonder of the World; viewed at least two dozen mummies, many of them the remains of people I learned about in history class; and explored various mosques and churches I had never heard of. I even got to view the Sahara, a vast, bright, brown wasteland stretching beyond the horizon.

When I returned to the States, I saw at least two films set completely or partly in Cairo. I could not help but be distracted by how very un-Cairo-like the movies were. The chaotic streets, the dirty alleyways, the lingering smog were all gone, replaced by a cleaner, shiner version of the historic city I visited and slightly admire.

I felt a similar feeling as I left Disney’s newest release in their live-action remake line-up. When I was a child, 1991’s animated Beauty and the Beast captured and inspired my imagination. I remember my father and I building re-creating the Beast’s castle out of Legos, and I would wonder sometimes about what household object I would be if I were turned into one. (I pose this question to my students when we read the actual French fairy tale in class. Every year, the vote is the same: a coffee mug.) To this day, it remains one of my favorite stories and one of my favorite films. So it was not with a bit of nostalgia that I walked into the theater hoping that the 2017 version would be just as magical.

It was, to some degree. It was brighter, flashier, and wittier than the original. But it was not really the same, though I still enjoyed my time.

The film was a decent remake that honored the old story we loved watching as children while deviating enough to create a new tale. The plot remains the same as the animated version, though it develops the old characters more and introduces new ones for us to enjoy. The film presents the backstory of the Beast’s parentage and reveals what happened to Belle’s mother. Maurice is an artist and toymaker, rather than an inventor, and Belle seems more assertive and independent. Almost all of the old songs are there as well as few new ones. (I did not care for the newer songs. Disney would have done well to incorporate the songs from their Broadway adaptation, which has better songs than the new ones written for this production, mostly notably the ballad “If I Can’t Love Her” sung by the Beast. Chills.) However, it is the movie’s human characters (well as one beast) that carry the movie.

The casting and acting was nearly perfect. Dan Stevens was a perfect choice for the Beast, showing emotional range in both human and beast forms. Kevin Kline was another solid casting decision as Belle’s artistic and protective father, Maurice. However, it is Josh Gad’s performance as Gaston’s sidekick LaFou that outshines in the film. Contrary to the animated film source, Gad’s character initially admires the excessively vain Gaston but slowly develops a sympathetic disposition toward Belle and Maurice as Gaston increasingly mistreats them. I did not really care for Emma Watson’s Belle. She was cute and she could sing. But that was about it. Luke Evans’ take on Gaston was confusing. I had trouble deciding if he was going for goofy (like the animated version) or terrifyingly evil–or should I say beastly (something the new version overtly stated at one point).

The chemistry between the titular characters was another highlight of the film. The story takes its time here, as the two characters interact and develop true genuine feelings for each other. Something normal people in a normal world would do. They start off bickering and hating each other, as they do in the original film. But after the Beast saves Belle’s life and she in turn heals his injuries sustained in rescuing her, they begin an honest conversation about books and learning that eventually leads to their close friendship. They eventually reveal the secrets about their past relationships with their parents, bringing them closer together. The interplay is a great set-up for the most rememberable part of both the animated and live-action versions: the ballroom dance. (Brilliantly done!) And I would have to acknowledge here the only part of Emma Watson’s performance that I think deserves the most praise. Acting against a CGI character is not easy, let alone pretending to fall in love with one.

And the effects are where the film falls apart for me. The sets and costumes were lavish and glamorous, much like the country in which the story takes place–France. And their is defintely something French about the atmosphere. But the film becomes way too glitzy at times, especially with the CGI effects. The household servants’ witty banter kept me engaged, but I did not care for their animation in this version. (I had no problems with the Beast–the Beast was fantastic.) Disney seems to have taken the success of 2016’s The Jungle Book a little too well and thought that candlesticks and clocks could translate from animation to live-action as well as panthers, tigers, and bears. The story also dragged here a bit by going into the lives and relationships of the servants, though I appreciated their response when Belle asked them if the Enchantress was right in cursing them as well–something the original movie glosses over but we were all thinking upon reflection. Their answer–which I will not reveal in this article–is deep and powerful.

But I understand what the movie was trying to do. It was trying to get to the humanity of the Beast and his servants, showing us that the relationships we develop with others and the kindness in which we treat other people make us human. And it reminds us that our choices have repercussions on others as well as others. And here, the movie could have used a song cut from the original that made it into the Broadway version: “Human Again.” In this song the servants sing about what they would do when the curse is lifted and they transform back into their normal forms. But in a small way it shows that the Beast himself must find his own humanity before he can literally turn back into a man. He must find companionship and kindness and joy and laughter that only comes when he develops a true relationship with another. And Belle is there to help him become human again.

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“YOU NEVER ENJOY THE WORLD ARIGHT UNTIL . . .” The Argument from Desire Revisited

One of C. S. Lewis’s most interesting contributions to Christian apologetics is the Argument from Desire:

“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists.  A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food.  A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water.  Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex.  If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world”  (Mere Christianity 120).

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What “other world” would you like to have been made for? Hint: an even better one than this!

I was interested to discover a respondent on an internet forum who denied having any unsatisfiable desires. He admitted that certain desires had never been satisfied perfectly, but maintained that they could be in theory, or that the satisfactions he could find in this life were good enough. How does one respond to this line of argument?  It’s rather like trying to convince the dwarfs in The Last Battle that they aren’t in a stable!

One conclusion might be that the argument from desire just doesn’t work with a certain type of person. Some of us are just too emotionally undeveloped- -or jaded–to be susceptible. But I would suggest that we make a mistake by taking such people’s statements at face value. Solomon tells us that “God has set eternity in their hearts” (Eccl. 3:11). Either Scripture is wrong or the denial of transcendent desire is a smokescreen, a defense mechanism designed to protect dwarfish atheists from reality.

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A person who is still human is not in fact satisfied by the temporal and physical, however hard he tries to convince himself that he is. But you probably can’t argue him out of his position. You can only try to arouse the desire, to fan it to the point where he cannot ignore it any more. And the best way to do that might be to talk about the foretastes of fulfillment we have already been granted in Christ, or just to live a life of transcendent openness to Joy before him.

If you can get him to read Thomas Traherne’s Five Centuries of Meditation, it wouldn’t hurt. “Things unknown have a secret influence on the soul, and like the center of the earth unseen violently attract it.  We love we know not what, and therefore everything allures us. . . . Do you not feel yourself drawn by the expectation of some Great Thing? . . . You never enjoy the world aright till you see how a [grain of] sand exhibiteth the wisdom and power of God. . . . You never enjoy the world aright till the sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars. . . . Infinite wants satisfied produce infinite joys. . . . You must want like a God that you may be satisfied like God.  Were you not made in his image?”

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Now, I desire to be here! But it’s only a sign and a symbol for something that lies down an even more enticing path.

Lewis learned the argument from desire from Augustine’s Trinity-shaped vacuum and his heart that was “restless until it rest in Thee,” as developed by Traherne, Herbert, and MacDonald. The argument will have a certain logical cogency for those in whose hearts Desire has been sufficiently aroused. The best service those earlier writers–and Lewis himself–may do us is to fan that flame. In it, let us burn.

Donald T. Williams, PhD

Order Dr. Williams’ books Stars through the Clouds, Inklings of Reality, or Reflections from Plato’s Cave ($15.00 each + shipping) at https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/.

Coming Soon: Encountering Otherworlds, Revised Edition

From “Oh, Deer! A Tiger!”

Gretchen’s cousin Hans was a fourth-year botany student at Grimmsworld University and for his senior project he decided to visit her in the Big, Scary Forest to collect leaf samples.

On the day of his arrival, Gretchen watched from inside her step-mother’s cottage’s window as he stepped off Big Scary Forest Bus #71.  With a bearish growl, the bus drove off into the trees, leaving behind a heavy cloud of exhaust.

Gretchen watched as Hans took stock of his luggage.  He had his suitcase, his knapsack, a small fanny pack, and–most importantly–his leaf book and magnifying glass, both of which he kept in his front shirt pocket.

Gretchen laughed.  He was paler than the underbelly of a fish.  He wore circle-rimmed glasses and a neat bow tie.  He wore a safari hat that in an odd way complemented his comfortable, new hiking shoes.

Halfway to the cottage door, the student spotted a leaf.  He set down his luggage, picked up the leaf, studied it with his magnifying glass, and then pressed it into his book.

For a moment, Gretchen wavered between running outside and waiting for Hans to knock.  But she couldn’t help herself.  The cottage door flew open and she ran out, her brown hair trailing behind her.  She threw her arms around Hans and shouted, “You’re here!  You’re here!”

Hans dropped his magnifying glass and hugged her back.  “Greetings, Cousin!  It’s good to see you!”

Gretchen pulled stray hairs out of her mouth and as she set them back behind her neck, she said, “You’re tall!”

“I suppose I am!  It’s been a time since I left for school after the family reunion.”

At the reunion several years ago, Gretchen had been eleven–six years younger than Hans.  That had all been before Gretchen and her father had moved into the Big, Scary Forest.  Since then, her father had married Aggy, bringing her and her daughter Ethel into the family.  Then he had died fourteen months ago leaving Gretchen alone with those two.

Hans smiled at her. “How have you been, Cousin?  Have you been brushing your teeth?”

“Of course, I have!  Have you been getting good grades?”

“Well…”

“Hans!”

“Of course I have–indubitably.  Where should I put my things?”

“I’ll show you your room.”

Gretchen grabbed the suitcase and led Hans into the cottage.  Inside they found Ethel and Aggy sitting in the living room.  When they saw Hans, Aggy sprang up and gave Hans a singularly motherly hug.

“Gretchen’s told me so much about you.  I’m Agatha but you can call me Aggy.  It’s so good to finally meet you.  How was your trip?”  The woman had dark hair and a marble-sized wart on the right side of her nose.  She was about fifteen pounds over “comfortably plump” and wore pointed shoes.

Gretchen hurried further into the house and set Hans’s suitcase in his room and then came back.

When she returned, she heard Agatha say, “Oh, Ethel, get up, girl, and come meet your step-cousin, Hans.”

Ethel did so, television remote still in her right hand.  She stood by her mother and said to Hans’s shoes, “Nice to meet you, Step-Cousin Hans.”  She was miserably thin and had no wart, but her hair was blacker than her mother’s.

“It’s a delight to meet you too, Ethel.”

“Her friends call her Ethy.  You can call her Ethy too,” Aggy said smiling.

Ethel rolled her eyes, turned around, and went back to her couch.  She turned the volume up on the TV.

Gretchen interrupted, “Come on, Hans.  I’ll show you your room.”

“I’ll come too,” said Aggy.  “Come on Ethy.  You come too.  You can show Hans our humble home.”

As Ethel sighed and pulled herself up from the couch, Gretchen led them on to Hans’s room.  Agatha and Ethel crowded in to help him order his things. . . .

 

 

Finally, Agatha asked him if he needed a few minutes to finish unpacking by himself and before he could answer, she ordered both the other two girls out and she herself left.

 

As they left, Hans called after them, “Thank you for your beneficent help.  I shall finish here and rejoin you presently.”

 

As the three females were leaving, Hans barely heard Aggy say to Gretchen, “Girl!  Does he always speak like that?”

 

“Sometimes worse, Mrs. Aggy,” Gretchen murmured.

 

“I see…”

 

While Gretchen began preparing dinner, Aggy kept talking to Hans in the living room and asking him questions.  “You know, Ethy wants to go to Grimmsworld University too.  She’s very smart.  I’m thinking she’d do best in nuclear physics.  What do you think?”

 

“It’s a good program,” Hans said.  “Though I don’t quite have the patience for that sort of thing myself.  My GPA would take ‘a-tomble’ if I tried that major.”

 

Gretchen noticed what Hans had done and smiled at Hans, but Agatha continued talking and Ethel continued being silent.

 

“So how were you able to afford it, Hans?  You see, that’s my worry mainly.  I know my dear is quite intelligent enough to learn on that level.  She started reading when she was five, you know.  But I just don’t know how we’ll afford it.  I suppose there are scholarships and things like that but it’s always so difficult to find them.  And I’m sure they’re made to favor richer families.  Could you give her some tips on essay writing?  Maybe show her some scholarships she could win?”

 

“I received several scholarships myself and I’ve been working as a research assistant for approximately six months now.”  Hans unzipped his fanny pack revealing insulin and a blood sugar monitor.  He listened as he checked his blood sugar.

 

“But do you know of any scholarships that would suit Ethy here?”
Gretchen listened with horror as the talk continued.  She saw that Agatha was doing something to the already prepared pot of spaghetti sauce and she was worried for her cousin.  But she could say nothing at that point.  Agatha would get very angry if she interfered.

Simple family drama? I’m a frayed knot! Find out what’s really going on in Lantern Hollow Press’s short story anthology, Encountering Otherworlds and the Coming of Age, arriving to online bookshelves July 15. Read stories of children entering worlds of imagination–and find out if they can make it out alive! We cannot wait to share these wonderful tales, written by our very own Lantern Hollow Press staff. Mark you calendar today!

Coming Soon: Encountering Otherworlds, Revised Edition

From “The Red Cap”

A bright red St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap glowed in the light of the morning sun as James rummaged through cardboard boxes to find a clean t-shirt, pair of jeans, and socks. His dad had bought the cap for him on the family’s last trip to Busch Stadium before the big move to North Carolina a week ago. After James got dressed, he smoothed his blonde hair and fitted the hat on his head. It made his ears stick out, but he wore it all the same.

He walked downstairs and faced the towers of cardboard boxes and plastic bins that cluttered the living room.

“Dad!” James called. His mother’s head popped over a stack of boxes labeled OFFICE.

“Good morning, love,” she said.

“Hi, Mom.” James looked around. “Where’s Dad?”

“At work.”

Again?” James groaned. “It’s Saturday. He’s worked every day since we’ve moved, and he promised he would take me to the park today to get some extra practice in before school starts on Monday.”

His mother’s eyebrows rose. “James, Dad did not make that promise. All he said was ‘We’ll see.’ We’ve told you several times his new job would make him work on the weekends sometimes. Why don’t you go outside? The front yard’s plenty big. Take your ball and bat and practice your swinging.”

“It would be better if Dad was here,” James muttered.

“James!” his mother’s voice was rising. “I’m sorry your father has to work today and can’t take you to the park. Things are not going to be like they were in St. Louis. Now, please, go outside or you can help me unpack. Your choice.”

They glared at each other for a moment. “Fine,” James huffed. He put on his sneakers and jacket and opened the front door, not bothering to take his ball and bat.

He shoved his hands in his pockets and stalked across the yard toward the oak tree next to the gravel driveway. The branches spread across the driveway, creating a canopy that barely reached the woods on the other side. The moss swayed in the cool breeze, and acorns crunched under James’s feet as he approached the tree. He slumped down at the base and tossed his hat on the ground in front of him. He picked up several acorns and lobbed them across the driveway into the trees on the other side. The acorns smacked the leaves of the low-hanging branches.

Through a gap in the branches, something moved. “Dumb squirrels,” James mumbled. He hurled a single acorn into the branches. They shuddered, and two human eyes stared back at him.

James blinked, startled. Then, the wind howled and whirled dirt, moss, and twigs around him. It lifted the red hat and carried it toward the woods. James reached for it, but the wind picked up and he had to shield his face with his arms. The wind and debris whipped around him for a few seconds, then stopped. James lifted his head to see his hat disappear into the woods beyond the driveway.  The eyes in the tree had vanished.

He sprang up and dashed toward the spot where his hat had disappeared. He crashed through the branches and stood facing the forest. The trees grew thick and tall, and James could barely see the forest beyond or the sky above. He walked through the dense woods, the twigs and leaves snapping and crunching beneath him. As he continued to walk, the forest began to change. The trees resembled wrinkly faces, which scowled at James, and he had to maneuver his way around their low bony branches. The sound of his footsteps seemed to echo among the thick, gnarled trees. He walked for several minutes until he came to space amongst the trees where a fallen elm lay. As James scanned the elm tree, he saw his hat emerge from the other side of the trunk—and so did the thing holding it.

James stepped back and gasped. A small man with a gruesome face surrounded by a thick mane of dark crimson hair stood and flexed his sturdy, hunched back. He wore a dirty, tattered traveling cloak, jerkin, and breeches, and held a walking staff with a pewter point at the end. It stared at James with unblinking blood-shot eyes. . . .

Creepy! What the heck is this thing that has stolen James’s hat? Discover the secret July 15! Lantern Hollow Press is releasing a revised edition of its short story anthology, Encountering Otherworlds and the Coming of Age. Read stories of children entering worlds of imagination–and find out if they can make it out alive! We cannot wait to share these wonderful tales, written by our very own Lantern Hollow Press staff. Mark you calendar today!

Coming Soon: Encountering Otherworlds, Revised Edition

From “Destiny, Werewolves, and How I Might Have Helped Save the World”

Some people are meant to live happy, but ordinary lives, while some are dragged irresistibly into danger, glory, and the pressures of heroism.  It’s Fate or Destiny or Something-Even-Bigger-Than-Both. And there’s nothing that person can do to stop it. Well, in this story, that person whose Fate was sealed on the first day of her junior year of high school was not me.  My life is set on a track of the happy, ordinary, and completely free from glory or heroism.  The most dangerous thing that I am facing is college applications and I am perfectly happy for it to stay that way.

The girl dragged into adventure and glory and heroism and all that other stuff, the girl with Fate written on her forehead in shining letters, was the new girl at school with the locker next to mine.  So I guess you could say I had a brush with Fate, but mostly Fate just glanced dismissively at me before shouldering me aside so that it could get a better look at Katrina Starr.  Pretty much like every jock in school would try to do that year.

With a name like Kat Starr, you knew she had to be something special.  With platinum blonde hair, blue eyes that blazed defiantly at the world in general, and a tall, slim, athletic build that simply screamed I-take-some-special-form-of-martial-arts-after- school-and-could-kick-your-butt, it was surprising that no one else seemed to notice that she was marked for Greatness. But I guess that’s how it is with these heroes-to-be.  They don’t notice Fate until it punches them in the gut. Or kisses them passionately.  Fate can be awkward like that.

On the first day of school, when it all began, Kat and I were fiddling with our locker combinations and I was chatting with my good friend Colin. Colin is a girl, by the way, but her parents are that kind of people who think that mixing up names will make their children feel unique and special instead of giving them anger management issues.  Colin has an older brother named Ashley.

Colin and I were comparing notes on our summers holidays – she spent half of hers in Europe and I spent most of mine in my room reading (but I still maintained I visited more places) –  when a mysterious Entity was suddenly looming behind me. Colin didn’t really pay attention, but I found myself listening in on a conversation between Kat and The Stranger.

 

“Hello, Katrina Starr,” he began in a deep, sultry voice.  I had never described a voice as sultry before, not being a huge fan of soap operas, but his was definitely what I think a sultry voice would sound like. Kind of… throaty.

“Do I know you?” Kat responded, flicking her silvery blonde hair over her shoulder.  I wasn’t facing them, but it’s impossible not to catch the shimmer of that hair out of the corner of your eye.  “How do you know my name?”

We know a lot about you, Kat,” The Sultry Stranger continued, sounding pleased with himself.  “We’ve been waiting for you.”

“Well, get lost, whoever you are,” Kat challenged.  I admired the new girl’s spunk.  “Whatever your game is, I’m not interested.”  And she brushed past him and walked away.

The Sultry Stranger waited a moment to contemplate her disappearing form, and then stalked off in the opposite direction.  I spared him a glance.  Oh, it was only Jake, quarterback of the football team and senior stud of Gracetree High School.  He didn’t normally sound like that, I thought.  What had made him talk so weird to Kat?  Probably just an attempt to hit on her.  Typical.

“Ugh, this year is going to be awful,” Colin groaned.  “I think I can predict the future: homework, homework, and then more homework!”

“I like homework,” I said complacently.  I meant it, too.  Homework, college, grad school, successful career, book about my successful career, retirement on a beach somewhere.  I had dreams of being normal that I was eager to fulfill.

If Kat Starr had any dreams of being normal, though, she was being forced to give them up.

After first period, I ran back to my locker to grab my calculator for my next class and there was Kat, this time with three guys and a girl standing around of her, talking very intently to her.

I sidled closer, unwilling to eavesdrop if I didn’t have to.  I’m polite like that.  But her locker was right next to mine and Jake was leaning against the door of my locker so I had to request that he scoot over so I could get in.  He did, without looking at me.

“It’s impossible,” Kat whispered, sounding upset.  I thought about humming, to block out their voices and so they’d know I was there, since Jake already seemed to have forgotten.

“You can’t deny it any more than we can,” said the girl.  That was Paige from the cheer squad.  Jake’s ex-girlfriend as of last fall. Now she was dating Jake’s teammate Andre, one of the other guys who was looming over Kat. I wondered how they could all still be friends after that much drama, but who was I to judge?

“I’m a clairvoyant,” Paige continued, perfectly serious, “and you’re a hunter.”

“I don’t want to be a hunter!” Kat exclaimed.  “I don’t believe in werewolves!”

Want to know what happens next? Find out July 15 if you order a copy of Lantern Hollow Press’s short story anthology, Encountering Otherworlds and the Coming of Age. Read stories of children entering worlds of imagination–and find out if they can make it out alive! We cannot wait to share these wonderful tales, written by our very own Lantern Hollow Press staff. Mark you calendar today!