Odin, Thor, and our Christianized paganism

Lars Walker, the novelist who is a long-time commenter on this blog, has written a perceptive review of the hit movie Thor.   He liked it–as did I, actually, for the most part–but what struck me in his review is his point about how even our pop paganism has been influenced by Christianity.  Lars, an expert in all things Norse, points out that the notion of a benevolent deity–taken for granted even by atheists–is distinctly Christian, and that the actual pagan gods were very, very different:

To anyone schooled in Norse mythology, the Odin of the movie is almost unrecognizable, except for his long beard, lack of one eye, and possession of Sleipnir, the eight-legged horse (which provides an extremely cool special effects moment). Anthony Hopkins’ Odin is wise and good, full of benevolence and cherishing a horror of war. He’s kind of like a professor of English or some social science at an Ivy League university—wooly-headed enough to throw away the gods’ greatest weapon at a moment of dire military threat.

The Odin of the Vikings was most of all an extremely powerful magician, a wizard—not the nice kind of wizard like Gandalf, though he was one of Tolkien’s inspirations for the character, but the old kind of wizard—treacherous and murderous, with lies on his lips and blood under his fingernails. He delighted in war for two reasons—one in order to feed the wolves and ravens that were his familiars, secondly in order to fill his hall, Valhalla, with heroes who would stand with him at Ragnarok, the last great battle. To this end he raised heroes up and then brutally betrayed them. He was also, according to the eddas, a sexual predator and a known deviate.

The difference between these two Odins, I think, is suggestive of important—and generally unrecognized—elements in western culture. The script writers have confused Odin with the Yahweh of the Jews and Christians. It doesn’t even occur to them that a high god could be anything but kind and peace-loving, since we all have so thoroughly internalized Christian suppositions that even people who reject the Christian religion—and I assume that a large proportion of the people who made this movie do—can’t conceive of a religion founded on darkness, brute force, and the domination of the weak by the strong.

In an odd plot element (I’ll try not to spoil it) Thor submits to a Christ-like humiliation for the sake of others. This is something that would have never been said of him in the old religion, except as a joke. Even Thor has grown richer through acquaintance with Jesus.

via Touchstone Magazine – Mere Comments: “Thor”: Norse Mythology Mediated By Christian Ideas.

Let us now praise comic books

Nice article about Stan Lee of Marvel Comics, now 88, whose comic book creations such as Spider Man and now Thor, have gone from cheap pulp paper to the silver screen, making him a rich man:

Stan Lee professes no deep and analytical insight into the human soul. “I’m not a psychiatrist,” he begs off. “All I know is, the good superhero movie has got action, suspense, colorful characters, new angles — that’s what people like.”

The rangy 88-year-old — sitting poised against the leopard-print pillows on the couch in his POW! Entertainment office, several days before “Thor’s” premiere — is a natural at delivering the dramatic angle. Asked to strike a towering pose, he springs to his feet and in a blink is balancing with feline ease atop a chair.

Seventy years to the month after the nom-de-toon “Stan Lee” first appeared in a comic book, “Thor” is similarly perched atop the box office. In one sense, the origin story of Stanley Martin Lieber resembles that of the Norse superhero he co-created, only told backward. Thor is to the godhead born until, because of his impudence, he’s sentenced to a mortal existence. Lee was a mere Manhattan comics-industry mortal for decades until, because of diligence and vision, he was elevated to Marvel Comics demigod, creating — alongside fellow legends Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko — the likes of Spider-Man and Iron Man, the Hulk, X-Men and the Fantastic Four.

All those characters have already appeared in feature films, and the latest wave of Hollywood superheroes is gathering force as it rolls in this summer. “Thor’s” domestic opening last Friday will be followed in short order by “X-Men: First Class,” DC’s “Green Lantern” and Marvel’s “Captain America: The First Avenger.” Meanwhile, casting decisions for the next Superman and Batman films — as well as the Spider-Man reboot and the cinematic assembling of the Avengers — have sparked feverish online speculation and reaction.

The superhero film is still as unstoppable and resilient and globally enduring as, well, Stan Lee himself. . . .

“My theory about why people like superheroes is that when we were kids, we all loved to read fairy tales,” says Lee, beaming behind his trademark tinted glasses. “Fairy tales are all about things bigger than life: giants, witches, trolls, dinosaurs and dragons and all sorts of imaginative things. Then you get a little bit older and you stop reading fairy tales, but you don’t ever outgrow your love of them.

“Superhero movies are like fairy tales for older people,” continues Lee, whose voice envelops the listener with a raspy, lilting warmth. “All those things you imagined — if only I could fly or be the strongest — are about wish fulfillment. . . . And because of that, I don’t think they’ll ever go out of vogue.”

via In a superhero-heavy summer at the movies, Stan Lee talks about genre’s appeal – The Washington Post.

When I was a kid, I was a comic book fan.  Comic books taught me to love reading and sent my imagination soaring.  I liked D.C. comics–Superman, Batman, also Flash and the Atom–better than Marvel, whose heroes were too angst-ridden for my taste, but Dell had some good titles too:  TarzanTurok, Son of Stone.  (Somebody should make a Turok movie!  Indians and dinosaurs!)  I liked Classics Illustrated too.  They really did lead me into great literature.   In fact, I see a direct line from my comic book phase to my literary scholarship!  Comics are an interesting combination of visual art and writing.

Does anyone else have any comic book testimonials?

“Screwtape Letters”: The Movie

Yet another seemingly unlikely book by C. S. Lewis is getting made into a movie:

Ralph Winter, producer of the X-Men films and a self-professed Christian, is set to produce the film version of The Screwtape Letters in a partnership with Fox and Walden Media, the studio that produced the Narnia films, as well as Bridge to Terabithia and Charlotte’s Web.

Fox has owned the film rights to The Screwtape Letters since the 1950s, and adapting Lewis’ 1942 satirical novel for the big screen has been an endeavor of epic proportions. The book is composed of a series of letters from the veteran demon Screwtape to his junior “tempter” nephew, Wormwood, on the best ways to bring about the spiritual downfall of his target, a British man known simply as “the Patient.”

Winter told The Christian Post last year that producers hoped to attach director Scott Dickerson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) to the film, which likely be rated PG-13, because it is “edgy, serious material.”

While the film is on a “fast track” and a 2012 release is likely, Winter is in no hurry to get it into theaters. “I don’t want to be known as the guy who ruined it,” he said. “So I’m gonna go slow … We’ll get there in God’s timing and when it’s right.”

via Cathleen Falsani: Christian Film? What Should Be Coming to a Theater Near You.

“Great Divorce”: The Movie

C. S. Lewis’s Great Divorce is getting made into a movie!  That symbolic/visionary/satirical/fantasy of a bus trip from Hell to a too-solid Heaven would seem to be hard to render in a film, but that’s part of what makes the prospect interesting.  The writer tapped to write the screenplay?  N. D. Wilson (the son of Douglas Wilson, whom some of you may know of).  Justin Taylor interviews him about  the project:

How do you take a set of episodes and turn them into a coherent story while being faithful and without ruffling too many feathers?

Oh, I’m not afraid to ruffle feathers. But any nervous fans out there should know that I’m as dog-loyal to Lewis and his vision as any writer could be. Where I’m adding and expanding and shaping, I am constantly trying to check myself against Lewis’ broader imagination as represented in his collected works—not simply this little volume.

I will admit that when I began the adaptation, I felt like I was jumping off a cliff into (hopefully deep) mysterious waters—you can never completely predict what will happen on impact. But now that I’ve impacted and finished the first draft of the script, I can say that (as a Lewis fan), I’m really, really happy with it. And from here, I hope it only gets better. . . .

The Great Divorce has been referenced a fair bit lately in the Christian blogosphere, with the suggestion that there are similarities between Lewis’s “supposal” and Rob Bell’s “proposal.” And Bell himself recommends the book in Love Wins. Any thoughts on that?

At times Rob Bell (like in the Love Wins video) sounds exactly like the kind of character that one could expect to find in the pages of The Great Divorce. He seems to enjoy chasing and massaging ideas and questions for the sake of the journey of it all and not for the arrival. Landing on objective concrete answers isn’t exactly the goal. That’s not meant as a comment on whether or not Bell is regenerate (we’re graciously saved by faith not works, luckily enough), but it is a comment on where Bell would sit with Lewis in this whole discussion.

And, of course, Lewis put the universalist George MacDonald in Heaven and made him watch the unrepentant damned get back on the bus to Hell. A little wink and gloat at one of his favorite authors. . . .

Assuming you would have done things differently, can you summarize why the Narnia films have not had the same effect on children as the books?

No movie is going to have the same effect as a book (nor should it). Movies are transient singular experiences. They last longer than a stage production, but they should be viewed the same way—as a particular rendition of a fixed story. Someone else can do it again later (differently), but the book will be the same.

As for the Narnia movies in particular, I think they’re doing service to the books (hundreds of thousands of additional units moved), but yes, I would have done things a little differently. But more power to them.

via An Interview with N.D. Wilson on Screenwriting The Great Divorce – Justin Taylor.

C. S. Lewis translates Virgil

Is it a good idea to publish EVERYTHING that a good author wrote?  His notes, scraps, unfinished projects, and what he never intended for publication because it wasn’t good enough?  I have my doubts, but it appears that we are getting virtually everything from C. S. Lewis.  Just out from Yale University Press, no less, is C. S. Lewis’s translation of Vergil’s Aeneid:  C. S. Lewis’s Lost Aeneid: Arms and the Exile.

Well, it’s actually only the first book of the Aeneid, along with fragments of the other eleven.  Still, a true Lewis fan can’t help but be interested.  It would be worth tracing Virgil’s influence on Lewis, and a work like this can show us Lewis’s imaginative response to the great epic in ways that may illuminate its translator’s own original work.

Sarah Ruden, herself a translator of classical literature, likes Lewis, but she doesn’t think much of this work as a translation of Virgil.  She does, though, have some interesting things to say about both writers.  See  C. S. Lewis as Translator from Books and Culture.

Atlas Shrugged, said, “whatever”

Christians sometimes sit around hoping that if we just had a hit movie that would communicate the Biblical worldview we would impact the culture and bring the secularists to Christ.  Ayn Rand fans, despite their atheism, apparently have the same fantasies.  The much-anticipated movie version of Atlas Shrugged, Rand’s novel on the virtue of selfishness, has come out.  Apparently, like other “message films,” including those about Christianity, it doesn’t really work.  So says conservative film critic Roger Simon, who then offers some specific critiques:

Regarding character, the two leads are less than paper thin. We know little of them other than their willfulness and their pro-business ideology. No much for the actors to play. This is fine for subsidiary characters but fatal in protagonists. Still, this might be okay if this were in the service of a compelling plot. But the plot of the film is worse than silly. It is politically wrong-headed. A movie about super trains in the American West in 2016? Unlike when the book was written, these days that is the very thing that Barack Obama is proposing – with government subsidies – and conservatives are currently opposing for good reason. Super trains don’t work in the Western states economically. We need better roads. But not in this movie, which seems stuck in those fifties while pretending to be 2016 (a weirdly non-technological 2016 I might add). As a business movie, it fails. The whole concept needed rethinking.

via Roger L. Simon » What Conservatives Can Learn from the Atlas Shrugged Film Fiasco.

Have any of you seen it?  Would you agree on its badness?

 


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