Saturday, April 28, 2012

Book Review, Graphic Novel: THE RETURN OF THE SMURFETTE


Since her creation in Smurfs, the regular Smurfs have longed for the return of the Smurfette. THE RETURN OF THE SMURFETTE features her return to the Smurf Village and the chaos that ensues. The book features three longer Smurf stories, several one page stories, and one mid-length story.

The longer stories in this volume are:

“The Smurf Garden” – the Smurfs want to have a picnic. However, the picnic area is filled with bugs, the grass needs to be cut, and the swing and benches are broken. The Smurfs decide to come back the next day and clean the picnic area up. However, in the night Gargamel discovers the picnic area and sets a trap. The next day the Smurfs return, along with Smurfette and discover a garden that appears to be perfect. However, appearances are deceiving and it’s up to Dopey Smurf to save the day.

“The Handy Smurf” – Handy Smurf creates a drill and goes around making holes all around items in Smurf Village.

“Halloween” – the Smurflings play a Halloween prank on the Witch that gets Gargamel in trouble.

The mid-length story in the volume is “The Return of The Smurfette.” In this story, the Smurfs receive a letter from Smurfette informing them she will be returning to the village. They do everything they can to impress her and make her return special.

Some of the one-page stories are entitled “Romeos and Smurfette.” The other one-page stories are entitled “Smurferies.” The “Romeos and Smurfette” illustrate the different things different Smurfs do to win Smurfette’s heart. “Smurferies” features various day to day events in Smurf Village.

THE RETURN OF THE SMURFETTE is a welcome addition to the Smurf comics’ volumes. With Smurfette’s return things at Smurf Village become even more interesting than before.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Book Review, Graphic Novel: THE WALKING DEAD, VOL. 4: THE HEART'S DESIRE


Taking place immediately after the events of the previous volume, SAFETY BEHIND BARS, WALKING DEAD, VOLUME 4: THE HEART’S DESIRE collects issues 19-24 of “The Walking Dead” comic books. The book opens with a prologue of sorts and features a hooded woman with katanas and a couple of chained jawless zombies behind her following the sound of gunshots. The shots come from Hershel’s son Otis, who remained on the farm to take care of the animals, but is now headed towards the prison for safety. He’s surrounded by zombies, but with the woman’s help, they are able to fend them off. The woman is Michonne and she will become a major character in the ongoing storyline.

Meanwhile, back at the prison, Dexter, one of the former prisoners, has given Rick and his crew an ultimatum: leave or be shot. However, Dexter’s companions aren’t as intelligent as he is and they didn’t close and lock the prison doors after getting weapons from the armory. That forces Rick’s group and the prisoners to join forces to fight back the swarming zombie hordes. In the confusion of the firefight, Rick shoots Dexter in the head. Tyreese sees this happen, but keeps silent. Shortly after, Otis and Michonne arrive at the prison and Michonne asks if she has earned a place with the group. Rick agrees, but only if she agrees to temporarily give up her katanas and kill the zombies on chains. The rest of the book deals with the drama that has been boiling up among the group for several issues back. This volume concludes with a hard-core fight between two core members, a changeup of the group’s leadership, and the declaration that the real walking dead are actually the living humans.

THE HEART’S DESIRE moves at a slightly different pace than the previous volumes in “The Walking Dead” series. There’s not as much action as in the other volumes and, like SAFETY BEHIND BARS, almost the entire story takes place at the prison. The overarching story arc is focused more on the interpersonal relationships of the characters and there’s a lot more soap opera-type drama that happens. The main thing that makes THE HEART’S DESIRE stand out is that it is the volume that introduces Michonne.

Overall, THE HEART’S DESIRE contains more drama and not as much action as the previous volumes in “The Walking Dead” series. However, despite the soap opera feel through much of the book, the introduction of Michonne and the fight between two of the characters makes the book a worthy entry into the series.

Best Books I Read in 2011

10.

The Walking Dead, Vol. 2: Miles Behind Us
by Robert Kirkman, et al.

I started reading some of "The Walking Dead" graphic novels after watching the first season of The Walking Dead on AMC in the Fall of 2010. I found the show so fascinating, that I had to see how close the story was to the comics. The first volume is fantastic, but the second volume in the TPB collections, Miles Behind Us is even better. The premise of "The Walking Dead" is centered around a zombie apocalypse. However, the books aren't about the zombies are fighting the zombies; they are about people and their relationships with each other and how those people react and what happens to those relationships in the most extreme circumstance.

9.
And Then There Were None (Also known as Ten Little Indians)
by Agatha Christie

In preparation for directing the play, I did a lot of research. Besides reading the play several times, the start of my research began by reading the novel he play is based upon. And Then There Were None is one of Agatha Christie's most famous novels. I really enjoyed the book, until the end. Christie has this annoying habit of making it impossible to figure out who the killer or villain is. Sherlock Holmes wouldn't be able to figure out most of the stories that Christie wrote because she doesn't provide enough evidence for one to figure out the case. This can make for entertaining reading and is probably closer to real-life than most mysteries. However, when you like solving puzzles, it can be really annoying, too. However, despite my annoyance, I loved the book.

8.


Mint Condition
by Dave Jamieson

I collected baseball cards from 1985-1990. Until I read Mint Condition, I didn't know that I collected during the boom of the hobby right before it busted because of over exposure. The book was a fascinating read that provides a history of the hobby as well as recognizing some key (mostly unknown) figures who made the hobby more than just a hobby. I also picked up on some trivia I didn't know before. For example, the first baseball cards were made not long after the Civil War.

7.
Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline
I am partly a child of the 1980s. Ready Player One is a book that references all kinds of things from that decade: movies, books, songs, video games, and cultural fads. It's set in a dystopian future where most people in the world spend their time living in a virtual on-line world that is completely interactive. In this world, you can be and do anything. Most of the world's populace has become addicted to this fantasy world and do everything they can to stay engaged to it. The plot of the story revolves around a puzzle and an enormous treasure. The book is well-written and fairly easy to follow once you get pass and understand the exposition.

 

6.
The Dragon's Tooth
by N.D. Wilson
The Dragon's Tooth is the first in a series of books about a trio of siblings who are fighting to keep united while discovering their parents were actually members of a super secret society that is dedicated to preserving knowledge and keeping "light" (as in goodness) in the world. A lot of the story takes place in a town called Ashtown, thus the subtitle. As for the story, think Indiana Jones crossed with all those conspiracies about Illuminati and other groups trying to rule the world and then add a dose of the supernatural. I liked this book even better than the first two Harry Potter books.


5.
The Red Suit Diaries
by Ed Butchart
 A memoir from a man who spends his retirement playing Santa Claus during the year. His own story of how he became Santa is touching, but that story becomes even more significant as he regales the reader with tales about the people he has met and the lives he has touched (and those that have touched him) as Santa. Also, though this is a book about a man who plays Santa Claus, it's not just a Christmas-time book.

4.

Primetime Propaganda
by Ben Shapiro
There is a severe liberal-progressive bent in the media. Middle-America has known it for years. Those in positions of media power usually deny that. Primetime Propaganda is the book that displays (with loads of personal first-hand accounts from the power makers as well as all kinds of statistics) the truth.

3.
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years
by Donald Miller
I've been a fan of Donald Miller's writing since I read his first book, Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance back in 2000. The guy's a gifted writer and storyteller. I don't always agree with his conclusions, but when reading Miller, I usually find myself re-examining my own life and checking myself with what the Bible says. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is the latest book from Miller. It's been out for a couple years now, but it's still relevant. The premise of the book is that our lives are a story and as the central character in our story, it's up to us to live the best story possible. I just wish I could have the resources to do some of the things that Miller does in this book (it's just not feasible for everyone to be able to take off and travel to South America or spend three months riding their bike from one coast to another).


2.
The Reading Promise
by Alice Ozma

A librarian single-father wants to instill a love in reading in his youngest daughter. They make a deal that they will read together every night for 100 nights. After 100, why not 1,000? And so, they continue reading every night together for over 9 1/2 years until the daughter is all grown up and moves away to college. It's a fascinating book that's not just about books, good stories, and a solid education. At the heart, the book is about the relationship of the daughter to her father and The Reading Promise is a love letter to him.


1.

Words Made Fresh
by Larry Woiwode
Words Made Fresh is a series of collected essays that tackles everything from guns to John Updike to Christianity to Shakespeare. Some of the thoughts are reminiscent of things you might have heard or read once upon a time, but those things are now restored in a different setting. Other ideas are completely new. The writing is captivating and the words are full of power. Words Made Fresh is the best book I read in 2011 and I highly recommend it.

Friday, April 20, 2012

TV Shows and Moral Contexts

"When TV shows move us to sympathize with a hero who may be an outlaw or may take the law into his own hands, they're doing something dangerous. They may teach us sympathy; they may teach us not to judge people or their actions too quickly. But they may also teach us it's okay to believe what we feel like believing in one moment, only to change our minds and believe something else in the next. We need to be careful."
  
Charlie W. Starr, "Cop Shows and moral contexts", The Lookout, April, 22, 2012, p. 14.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Book Review, Graphic Novel: THE WALKING DEAD, VOL. 3: SAFETY BEHIND BARS


At the end of MILES BEHIND US, Rick Grimes and his group of survivors come across a prison. Rick firmly believes that once it’s cleared, this place behind bars can be their new home. Featuring issues 13-18 of the “Walking Dead” comic book, the book begins where the last issue left off. Rick’s group is outside the prison, making plans on how to make the prison safe. They begin by clearing the outer fence of the prison. Once this is accomplished, the group moves inside and begins clearing and cleaning up. They discover the cafeteria has been barricaded by a police baton. Upon bursting in, they discover not a room full of zombies, but four men. The men, it turns out, aren’t guards, but former prisoners who have been trapped inside for over a month since the outbreak. There’s some tension at first, but the group forms an uneasy alliance as they work together to clear the prison and make a home. However, a horrendous crime destroys the fragile bound between the groups and Rick and his group discover that the biggest threat to their survival isn’t the walking dead, but other people.

The setting for each volume of “The Walking Dead” has largely been in a different location. DAYS GONE BYE mostly took place in and around Atlanta, particular the survivor camp that Shane established. MILES BEHIND US mostly took place at Hershel’s farm. SAFETY BEHIND BARS begins a long stretch for the series with the prison setting. One would think that with a semi-stable environment, things would slow down for the characters, but the opposite occurs. The real threat for human existence isn’t really the zombies, but other humans. This is the lesson that Rick and company learn in SAFETY BEHIND BARS and (from what I’ve heard about the rest of the series) the conflict with other humans becomes the focal point of the series from here on.

The character development of the characters introduced in the first two volumes of the series continues in SAFETY BEHIND BARS. Rick’s character begins to change as the massive amount of stress of being the group’s leader begins to fully bear down upon him. His temper rises quicker and he’s not as careful as he was in the first few issues of the series.

In one of my college literature classes, the question of absolutes would often be raised as students would often say there’s no such thing as absolutes. I had a professor who whenever someone would say this would say, “Who here believes that babies should be burnt with cigarettes?” No one ever agreed with that statement and no one ever tried to justify how and when it would be okay to burn babies with cigarettes. That is an example of an absolute. SAFETY BEHIND BARS illustrates this concept even better. Despite living in a world gone mad where the dead wish to eat the living, there are things that are absolute. SAFETY BEHIND BARS examines some of these absolutes and ascertains between some that are truly absolute and some that are not. Rick and company arrive seeking safety behind bars, but by the end of the volume fully realize that there just might not be such a thing. It’s a riveting chapter that, like the previous volumes, ends on a cliffhanger. I can’t wait to find out what happens next.

Book Review, Graphic Novel: THE WALKING DEAD, VOL. 2: MILES BEHIND US


THE WALKING DEAD, VOL. 2: MILES BEHIND US collects issues 7-12 of the “Walking Dead” comic book. The first part of the story (DAYS GONE BYE) introduced us to Rick Grimes, a small-town police officer who awakens from a coma to find the world he knew has been replaced by a world ruled by zombies. Rick set out to Atlanta to find his family and actually succeeded in being reunited with them. After having their camp attacked by a roving group of zombies, the group decides it would be best if they left and searched for a better, more stable place. That volume ended with the shocking murder of one of the lead characters by someone completely unexpected.

MILES BEHIND US picks up shortly after the events of DAYS GONE BYE. The group is burying one of their members and Dale informs Rick that everyone in the group wants him to be their new leader. Later the group is joined by three stragglers, Tyreese, Julie, and Chris. Together they try to find a place to weather through the winter. Lori reveals to everyone that she is pregnant. First they believe they’ve found safety in walled subdivision called Wilthshire Estates. The next day they discover the place is overrun by lurking zombies and are attacked. The group barely escapes, but not without suffering casualties. Another featured member is shot by a hunter in the forest which leads to Rick’s group meeting up with the family of Hershel Greene on his farm. At first, Hershel’s farm seems like a perfect location to start a new life and rebuild society. However, Hershel is quite convinced the world has changed so much and the old barn on his property contains a secret.

Tyreese and Hershel’s family are an interesting addition to the group of survivors. Both men have similar personalities to Rick, but both men have some very different views and beliefs about particular things. For example, Tyreese is more forceful than Rick, but suffers from the same temptation as the Biblical Samson; women cause him all kinds of trouble. As for Hershel, the way he reacts and handles is much different than the way Rick and Tyreese and the other survivors do, but it illustrates how not everyone has reacted to the zombie outbreak in the same way. Both Tyreese and Hershel become key members of the group and the events that unfold in this volume have ramifications that influenced the series for dozens of issues.

I really enjoyed DAYS GONE BYE, but I felt that MILES BEHIND US was an even better volume. There are a couple of brutal zombie attacks/outbursts, but this volume even more so than the first, really explores the characters and their relationships with each other. Rick is now established as the overall protagonist, so the story is able to focus more on other characters. Also, I really enjoyed the introduction of the new characters, Tyreese and Hershel. Kirkman could have had the group meeting a couple of groups of evil survivors, but instead from the outset had these three groups of “good” survivors meet each other. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when they meet a group of “evil” survivors.

My Favorite/Best Movies of 2011

Most people do these lists sometime in the first of half of December. I never understood that. A year doesn't end until December 31st. Unless you're a critic who gets special viewing privileges, you can't really say what the best of something in a year was until the year is over. I normally do this earlier, but I got involved in a show, got busy, etc. So, without delay, here's my list of the best and/or my favorite movies from 2011.

10.
Tree of Life
I'm a film junkie. I love movies and even though there's still a huge gap in my film repertoire, I know who Terrence Malick is. Terrence Malick movies might not always make much sense, but at a pure cinematic level, they are works of genius. For a film lover, watching a Terrence Malick movie is like a baby watching the colorful mobile above his crib. There's usually some substance of a plot in a Malick piece, but it gets lost in the visuals; the story in a Malick movie isn't told through the dialogue or even the actions. It's told through the visuals. Tree of Life is his best work, yet. It deals with the grand struggle of life: that of grace (or good or love, if you will) versus nature (or evil or hate).
9.

War Horse
There really aren't very many good movies about World War I out there. The few that exist are from over fifty years ago. Leave it to Stephen Spielberg to make a good WWI movie, but instead of being about humans, it's all about a horse. If you like animals, particular horses, you'll like War Horse. If you aren't a big animal person, you will probably be indifferent to the film.

8.


Soul Surfer
Most movies made with a Christian message nowadays aren't very good. The best Christian movies, aren't really Christian movies (e.g. Signs or The Book of Eli). Soul Surfer is an exception. There is a definite Christian message in the film. The character's faith is central to their story. However, even if you aren't a Christian, Soul Surfer is a movie you could enjoy on it's own just as a movie. Christian filmmakers and those who wish to make Christian movies should take note of Soul Surfer.

7.
Super 8
I'm not a huge fan of J.J. Abrams. Beyond a few episodes, I thought Alias just kept repeating itself. I didn't think Mission Impossible 3 was as good as most people; it had a great villain that was underused. And Abrams single-handedly destroyed the world of Star Trek with his new version that makes a completely different universe; I keep wanting to know what's happening in the real world of Star Trek, but it might be 50 years or more before anyone knows.

With that said, Abrams is a good director and sometimes writer. I might not like many of his previous efforts, but the direction in them is good.

Super 8 is, perhaps, the best example of how good a director Abrams is. In style, it's pure Spielbergian, but it's full of unique twists that make it an uniquely Abrams picture. If you grew up in the late 1970s or during the 1980s, Super 8 is a movie that will probably remind you of your childhood. It's the cinematic equivalent of nostalgia.

6.

Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen is a filmmaker that seems to keep getting better with age. Allen has made some great films, but breaking free from the confines of New York City and exploring Europe, his movies have also broken free from the conventionality that stifled most of his films from the 1990s. Following a man living in present-day Paris who yearns to live in the past, Midnight in Paris was a pure joy to watch. I know there are times I've felt like I've been born in the wrong time and Midnight in Paris is the best film I know of that deals with that theme.

5.
The Muppets
I grew up with the Muppets. I mourned when Jim Henson unexpectedly died in 1990. I watched the last Muppet movie to hit theatres, Muppets in Space, in 1999 in a small theatre in Whitewater, Wisconsin with a group of co-workers from the camp I worked at that summer. For twelve years there was no new Muppets. Sure, there were a few Internet videos and an occasional appearance on the Disney Channel, but that was it. Now, they're back.

I probably would have liked The Muppets regardless of how it was as a movie. However, the movie is a surprisingly good film all on it's own. Many of the film's themes are similar to those in Toy Story 3 (which was the best movie of 2010). However, instead of told through an animated tale about toys, this one takes place in a the real world (mostly) and stars Muppets. Am I a Man or am I a Muppet?

4.

Captain America
Based upon the previews, I wasn't sure what to think of Captain America. It was the movie I was most surprised about the whole year. It's not only just a good action movie, but one that has a great character arc.
3.

The Artist
I'm one of those rare people who actually enjoy watching silent pictures. The Artist is an almost entirely silent movie that illustrates all the great things that can be done in filmmaking, but aren't anymore because of CGI and special effects. You don't have to have a huge SFX budget or an all-star cast to make a great movie. Heck, you don't even need sound. You just need a good story.
 
2.

Hugo
Hugo is like watching a fairy tale, but one that's wrapped around a mystery that's tied to the origins of cinema. It's about a boy searching for his place in the world after the sudden death of his father. I can relate to that on so many levels. Added to this are the gorgeous visuals.
1.


Drive
Drive shares something with Best Picture winner, The Artist: they are both movies where the protagonist hardly utters a word. It's a movie that the screenplay was probably only ten pages long. It's also an incredibly dark and violent movie. Yet, there is also light. The protagonist of the film sees himself as a modern-day knight, complete with white scorpion jacket for armor and a super-fast car for a horse. The film is stylized like a 1980s Michael Mann movie and moves at the same pace. It's slow and brooding. And, once again it's a tale of good versus evil. I'm not sure why, but I've been haunted by this movie since watching it.



Saturday, April 14, 2012

Media Consumed: December 2011

Books Read
*Brightest Day, Vol. 2   by   Geoff Johns
*Larry in Wonderland   by   Stephan Pastis
World War Z   by   Max Brooks
Frogs are Funny!   by   Brandon Snider & The Muppets
Goosebumps #3: Monster Blood   by   R.L. Stine
*Big Nate and Friends   by   Lincoln Peirce
The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership   by   John C. Maxwell
*The Walking Dead, Vol. 4: The Hearts Desire   by   Robert Kirkman, et al.

* = denotes graphic novel, TPB, or collection of comic strips

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership is highly overrated.

Movies Watched
The Muppets (twice)
Bonnie & Clyde Vs. Dracula
Hugo
That's What I Am
Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows
The Adventures of Tintin
Women Haters
Alvin and Chipmunks: Chipwrecked
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Super 8

I loved The Muppets so much, I saw it two more times in theatres in December.

Bonnie & Clyde Vs. Dracula has a great title, but it's a horrible movie.

Hugo is another one of my favorite movies from 2011.

I felt The Adventures of Tintin was technically a great movie, but it lacked emotion.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol was a surprisingly good movie.

Super 8 was another one of my favorite movies of 2011.

Media Consumed: November 2011

Books Read
Mint Condition   by   Dave Jamieson
Squiggle   by   B.B. Wurge
The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions   by   Julia Suits
*Tales from the Crypt, Vol. 2     Ed.  William Gaines
Crazy 4 Cult: Cult Movie Art   by   Gallery 1988
*How's That Underling Thing Working Out for You   by   Scott Adams
*Never Bite Anything That Bites Back    by   Jim Toomey
*Cut! Baby Blues Scrapbook #27   by   Rick Kirkman & Jerry Scott
Gossip Girl   by   Cecily von Ziegesar
*Cat Vs. Human   by   Yasmine Surovec
*Mo and Jo: Fighting Together Forever   by   Dean Haspiel
*Reheated Lio   by   Mark Tatulli

* = comic book collection, TPB, or collection of comic strips

Mint Condition is a book about the history of baseball cards. I collected baseball cards from 1985-1990. I found the book fascinating.

The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions is a book that is loosely about the DeMoulin Brothers and the crazy inventions they were making at the turn of the 20th Century. It's not as good as another book on the subject: Catalog No. 439: Burlesque Paraphernalia and Side Degree Specialties and Costumes.

Tales from the Crypt, Vol. 2 is a collection of the old "Tales from the Crypt" comics by EC comics. If you have any interest in popular culture, you should read old EC comics. The influence has been massive.

Gossip Girl was crap. I can't believe an entire series and a tv show came about because of this book.


Movies Watched
The Immortals
The Muppets
The Thing (1982)

The Muppets was one of the best movies of 2011. I was glad to see them back on screen again after a twelve-year absence.

The Immortals was pretty, but that's about all.

The Thing is one of the best sci-fi/horror movies ever. It's a great movie.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Flannery O'Connor and the Christian Artist

I am a Christian Artist. This is something I have had to struggle with for most of my life (since I realized in the first grade that I had a knack for acting and wanted to be a movie star). The World doesn't treat Christians very well and ostracizes them. Meanwhile, unless an Artist is creating "Christian" art, the Church tends to shun and ostracize the Christian Artist.

Since a freshmen in college when I first read one of her short stories, I have been a fan of Flannery O'Connor. I wish she would have lived longer so she could have written more. Recently I came across an essay O'Connor wrote entitled "Catholic Novelists and Their Readers." Below are just a few excerpts worthy of sharing. You can read the whole essay here.
**********
"Every day we see people who are busy distorting their talents in order to enhance their popularity or to make money that they could do without. We can safely say that this, if done consciously, is reprehensible. But even oftener, I think, we see people distorting their talents in the name of God for reasons that they think are good—to reform or to teach or to lead people to the Church. And it is much less easy to say that this is reprehensible. None of us is able to judge such people themselves, but we must, for the sake of truth, judge the products they make. We must say whether this or that novel truthfully portrays the aspect of reality that it sets out to portray. The novelist who deliberately misuses his talent for some good purpose may be committing no sin, but he is certainly committing a grave inconsistency, for he is trying to reflect God with what amounts to a practical untruth....

"Whatever the novelist sees in the way of truth must first take on the form of his art and must become embodied in the concrete and human. If you shy away from sense experience, you will not be able to read fiction; but you will not be able to apprehend anything else in this world either, because every mystery that reaches the human mind, except in the final stages of contemplative prayer, does so by way of the senses. Christ didn't redeem us by a direct intellectual act, but became incarnate in human form, and he speaks to us now through the mediation of a visible Church. All this may seem a long way from the subject of fiction, but it is not, for the main concern of the fiction writer is with mystery as it is incarnated in human life.

"The novelist is required to open his eyes on the world around him and look. If what he sees is not highly edifying, he is still required to look. Then he is required to reproduce, with words, what he sees. Now this is the first point at which the novelist who is a Catholic may feel some friction between what he is supposed to do as a novelist and what he is supposed to do as a Catholic, for what he sees at all times is fallen man perverted by false philosophies. Is he to reproduce this? Or is he to change what he sees and make it, instead of what it is, what in the light of faith he thinks it ought to be? Is he, as Baron von Hugel has said, supposed to "tidy up reality?"
Just how can the novelist be true to time and eternity both, to what he sees and what he believes, to the relative and the absolute? And how can he do all this and be true at the same time to the art of the novel, which demands the illusion of life?...

"There is no reason why fixed dogma should fix anything that the writer sees in the world. On the contrary, dogma is an instrument for penetrating reality. Christian dogma is about the only thing left in the world that surely guards and respects mystery. The fiction writer is an observer, first, last, and always, but he cannot be an adequate observer unless he is free from uncertainty about what he sees. Those who have no absolute values cannot let the relative remain merely relative; they are always raising it to the level of the absolute. The Catholic fiction writer is entirely free to observe. He feels no call to take on the duties of God or to create a new universe. He feels perfectly free to look at the one we already have and to show exactly what he sees. He feels no need to apologize for the ways of God to man or to avoid looking at the ways of man to God. For him, to "tidy up reality" is certainly to succumb to the sin of pride. Open and free observation is founded on our ultimate faith that the universe is meaningful, as the Church teaches....

 "This is no superficial problem for the conscientious novelist, and those who have felt it have felt it with agony. But I think that to force this kind of total responsibility on the novelist is to burden him with the business that belongs only to God. I think the solution to this particular problem leads us straight back where we started from—the subject of the standards of art and the nature of fiction itself. The fact is that if the writer's attention is on producing a work of art, a work that is good in itself, he is going to take great pains to control every excess, everything that does not contribute to this central meaning and design. He cannot indulge in sentimentality, in propagandizing, or in pornography and create a work of art, for all these things are excesses. They call attention to themselves and distract from the work as a whole....

"The fiction writer has to make a whole world believable by making every part and aspect of it believable. There are many Catholic readers who open a novel and, discovering the presence of an arm or a leg, piously close the book. We are always demanding that the writer be less explicit in regard to natural matters or the concrete particulars of sin. The writer has an obligation here, but I believe it can be met by adhering to the demands of his art, and if we criticize on this score, we must criticize by the standards of art. Many Catholic readers are overconscious of what they consider to be obscenity in modern fiction for the very simple reason that in reading a book, they have nothing else to look for. They are not equipped to find anything else. They are totally unconscious of the design, the tone, the intention, the meaning, or even the truth of what they have in hand. They don't see the book in a perspective that would reduce every part of it to its proper place in the whole....