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REVIEW: LAST JEDI

REVIEW LAST JEDI (generic spoilers only):
Best Star Wars film since the original trilogy, but marred by PoMo cynicism. In the original trilogy, you could celebrate the defeat of the Dark Side unironically, shout “Harelukiah!” with the Ewoks with unmixed joy after the destruction of the Death Star. Now we have to question whether there is any real difference between Jedi and Sith, whether it really matters who wins. In one way, this is an improvement, because the original’s unironic battle between Good and Evil (as if they were ultimately really different) was inconsistent with the metaphysics of the Star Wars Universe, where Light and Dark are merely two sides of the same “Force.” The latest installment is more consistent with its own premises than the original–but less consistent with the moral order of the real universe. There are positive aspects to the new perspective: It is good for a Jedi to question his own hubris–but not to the point where he questions whether there is a real difference between Good and Evil.
 
Contrast Tolkien, who is no Pollyanna. He has good people being corrupted (Theoden almost, Saruman and Denethor finally). But he does not have Gandalf ever wonder if the battle against Sauron is worth fighting or leave the readers wondering if there is really any difference between Gandalf and Sauron. That kind of moral clarity is only possible in a universe with the biblical foundations of Middle Earth. Star Wars can only get there by cheating with its own metaphysical foundations. In the 21st Century, it remains to be seen in episode 9 whether it can get there at all.

Donald T. Williams, PhD, is R. A. Forrest Scholar and Professor of English at Toccoa Falls College.  His most recent books include Mere Humanity: G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien on the Human Condition (Broadman, 2006), Stars through the Clouds (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2011), his collected poetry, Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of Letters, 2nd ed., revised and expanded, and Reflections from Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2012).

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

 Also, check out Dr. Williams’s latest book:  Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Square Halo Books, 2016)!

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CLXXIX

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

TAKEOFF FROM LAGUARDIA

April, 1988

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The contrast: nothing could be more alluring

Than New York City shining in the last

Light of evening; nothing less enduring,

That vision off the wing-tip sliding past.

Her own lights are emerging like the slow

Stars above, but eyes are mainly drawn

To buildings like great tongues of flame that glow

Awhile in gathering darkness, and are gone.

At twilight, Manhattan resembles a vast living organism with ribbons of energy pulsing through its streets and up into its hundred thousand buildings.

At twilight, Manhattan resembles a vast living organism with ribbons of energy pulsing through its streets and up into its hundred thousand buildings.

We all have strained for visions in the embers—

They augur something, but who had the codes?

The eyes enjoy the sight; the mind remembers,

Below, the litter blowing in the roads.

The Light, then, and the Dark: but as we flew,

The vision slipped away; the darkness grew.

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Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, from Square Halo Books!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

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XC

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.” I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

What is it about the moon and stars that fascinates us so? (If you have not felt the fascination, you have been cheated of a great mystery by light pollution.) One partial answer may appear below.

MoonfromOrbit

The Contribution of Lesser Lights
Sonnet XXIX

For a while he could almost count them as they came
Like scouts, but then the whole vast army stepped
At once into the sky and into flame.
Like a poem he could not understand, they kept
A vigil in his spirit while he slept
And swift were vanishing when he awoke.
But the more garish light of day that swept
Them from the sky swept no soul’s darkness, spoke
No lightning lines, no secrets could uncloak.
Oh, it shone bright and clear, there was no doubt,
And glanced gold fire from off the dull-leaved oak.
But though man has it in him to blot out
The sun, these lesser lights still often find
The chinks in the dark armor of his mind.

starry-night

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

Reflections-Front Cover-2013-6-4

Christmastide: Naughty much?

First-starIn the final week of Advent the focus of the daily readings turns decisively toward Christmastide, which is now upon us.  And so I take up a theme little considered in connection with Christmas, but which, in that specific connection, may be uniquely instructive to us: namely, judgment.[1]

In one of the traditional Christmas texts[2] in the gospel according to St John, we read the following:

This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.  For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.[3]

Sometimes the most effective judgment is simply to turn the lights on.   Flick the switch in the kitchen and the naughty cockroaches scurry for the dark underbelly of the refrigerator.  Publish the content of the shady backroom deal and the naughty politicians scurry to the comforting darkness of their war rooms and lawyers’ offices.  Let a six-year-old speak simple Sunday School truth to an erudite middle-aged sociologist, and watch the hedges magically appear like Jack’s beanstalk.  Those whose eyes have adapted to see in thick darkness do not take kindly to the curtains going up in the morning.

Yet for all the rage against the arrival of the light, the light, like the little beam from the star Samwise Gamgee saw hanging over Mordor,[4] will find its way into and – simply by being itself – judge the darkness.

Merry Christmas to all!


[1] This could be considered a companion piece of sorts to earlier posts on judgment, which are here, here, and here.

[2] St John 3:16-21.

[3] St John 3:19-20 (ESV).

[4] J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King 199 (Houghton Mifflin 1965).

Seeing: the Light of Intellect and Desire to Ascend

– A little discussion on Dante’s Purgitorio 
Augustine teaches that believing is seeing, while Aquinas teaching that seeing is believing. The difference between these two philosophies is at once subtle and yet very distinct. Augustine’s concept relies on faith or what also could be called desire—the desire to draw near to God. If faith comes first, then it is a person’s desire that compels them to the truth of sight. However, Aquinas emphasizes sight or what could be called intellect—the truth about God. If sight comes first, then it is a person’s intellect that draws them to God and faith in him. In both instances, seeing is associated with intellect and belief is desire. Although Augustine’s view is more popular in modern circles, it is not the case with Dante. Dante uses the concept of seeing is believing in the Divine Comedy, employing it most effectively in Purgatorio as a means of describing the process of penitence “through lack or excess of light or distance, obliquity of vision, movement of the object of vision or its background, similarity of colour between the object and its background” (Rutledge 152). Light becomes synonymous with sight, and the higher up Dante climbs, the more light he sees and the more understanding he has. Dante uses three different elements of light and sight—the light of the stars and other natural light, the sight of the penitence, and the light of the angels—to reveal that seeing is the way to belief and desire.
To truly understand all of the uses of light in Purgatorio, it is necessary to explore the larger picture of the Divine Comedy and how it uses light. The three different sections of the Divine ComedyInferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso—are reflections of three different kinds of light as Scott explains:

[W]e learn from St. Thomas Aquinas that each of these three lights is natural to some order of existence. The first represents the vision of Truth attainable by the natural light of man’s intellect (philosophical contemplation); the second, the perception given by the light of Faith to the saints in this life; and the third, that contemplation of the glory and essence of God which is only to be enjoyed by the blessed in Heaven. (Scott 169)

As is seen in Inferno, man’s intellect devoid of God’s intellect is only darkness and despair. Those souls in Limbo can only contemplate the limits of their human understanding without the hope of receiving any truth. This is where Virgil suffers his eternity. The second type of light, the light of Faith through penitence, is slightly out of Virgil’s grasp as a guide but it is something he can still relate to because the suffering and the process is not unlike the philosophers pursuit. The advantage is that the saints have seen the light of God. The final light is beyond Virgil’s comprehension and since he did not know God while he lived he cannot know God know that he is dead. The contemplation of the divine truth requires a holy guide and Beatrice is that light for Dante.

Without the light of the guides, Dante would be lost in the dark wood. The light is the intellect which draws Dante out of himself and into the truth. He cannot ascend the mountain of Purgatory by himself or by his own sheer will power. His desire to ascend cannot compel him alone. Dante needs his desire to have sight and purpose. The intellect gives the desire or will purpose and direction. If the intellect is God’s intellect, it will cause a person to desire God and his good intellect as opposed to the dark meaningless intellect of man. Dante’s journey through Hell showed him the blindness of man’s intellect and man’s perverse desire. Dante’s climb through Purgatory is a reconciliation of man’s desire and intellect with God’s perfect intellect and will (Purgatorio i.4-6).

  • Hollander, Jean & Robert. Trans. Purgatorio. New York: Anchor Books, 2003.
  • Scott, J. A. “Allegory in the Purgatorio.” Italica 37.3 (1960): 167-184. Web. JSTOR. 9 April 2011.
  • Rutledge, Monica. “Dante, the Body and Light.” Dante Studies 113 (1995): 151-165. Web. JSTOR. 9 April 2011.