Reader Mail – 6/4: Pocorn is evil; Cyndere’s cover art; Derrickson on gradual bedazzlement; Bob on the iTunes lecture

from Julie:

What do you eat at the movies?

MY RESPONSE:

I try not to eat while I’m watching. I don’t like popcorn. It gets stuck in my teeth, and then I’m annoyed throughout the movie. Plus, it’s noisy. I especially don’t like butter flavoring on popcorn. I usually pick up a water bottle or coffee. Water’s best, as moviegoing can be dehydrating. Most of the time, I have a pen in one hand and a notebook in the other, and I’m anxiously scribbling down notes in the dark.

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from Bruce:

So… which of the covers in the Cyndere’s Midnight cover art survey was selected? (Please be “B,” please be “B”!)

MY RESPONSE:

Neither was selected. The artist was still working on the cover when the survey was posted, and I know that he and others at WaterBrook found the responses to the survey interesting. So what you’ll see on the cover will probably look a little different than either one of those options. But thanks for asking! Nobody’s more eager to see the finished art than me, and when I have permission, I’ll post it immediately.

By the way, I made my final proofreading edits on Tuesday and mailed off the manuscript. So we’re almost there!

I should also mention that there’s a Cyndere’s Midnight reading/booksigning on the calendar: November 20 at 7 p.m. at Village Books in Bellingham, Washington. I’ll also be happy to sign books when I speak at Northwestern College in Iowa on Monday, November 9.

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from Scott Derrickson, a message that borrows its title from my blog header… which borrows it from an Emily Dickinson poem:

“In art and faith, the truth must dazzle gradually”

This quote crossed my mind today, since it sits at the top of your blog which I read at least once a week (usually more). I know it’s a play on Emily Dickenson (whom I love) and I think I understand the intent of the statement — I see it as a call for Christians to more deeply understand and embrace the power of indirectness and subtlety, and that’s certainly a worthy notion. But it occurred to me today that it’s simply not true that in art and faith, the truth must dazzle gradually. Epiphany and revelation are found, as often as anywhere else, in art and faith, and epiphany and revelation typically mean truth received as shock treatment, not gradual as gradual discovery.

I’m not suggesting you lose the mantra, it’s still good, but like all mantras it’s an overstatement, and I thought I’d pass on my thoughts about the limits of this particular one.

MY RESPONSE:

Oh, yes, “Road to Damascus” moments do occur, of course.

To me, though, the Dickinson line is about how we must be “caught off guard.” If a preacher shows up on my porch, knocks on my door, and starts aggressively preaching at me, I’m not likely to be open to his words. If a story unfolds in the pages of a book, or on the screen, or if a homily is offered in the context of a liturgy and worship, that’s something different. I’ve been opened up, prepared to receive.

But I am a believer in epiphany and revelation. That was Flannery O’Connor’s m.o. So, I understand, and agree with, your assertion that it’s an overstatement. But when read in the context of Dickinson’s poem “Tell the Truth, but tell it slant, success in circuit lies…”, the line about gradual bedazzlement works for me!

Derrickson replies:

Excellent words. I really love the idea of being “prepared to receive”.

I want to shoot a short film of a Flannery O’Connor short — maybe A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND. I want to make a really horrific film from one of her stories.

I saw THE VISITOR on your recommendation, which I truly loved. And I saw a fantastic classic samurai film, sort of an anti-samurai film, on DVD called HARAKIRI. It’s fantastic.

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an email from poet (and Looking Closer reader) Bob:

Last night I was clicking about in the SPU section of iTunes and what do I find but a lecture titled “We Gotta Get Outta Here – How Tolkien, Lewis and L’Engle Help Us Hope.” [My sons and I] watched it right away. The boys were quite taken by it.

I am in firm agreement with your proposition that a good story needs no didactic justification. Plato may have disagreed with that idea as it opens the door to the imagination and “there be dragons.” To be captivated by story is a most human experience as much as it is to be moved by music. I believe that we were created in such a way that we respond to respond to the power of story. Since we are made in God’s image, it poses an interesting idea about how He responds to a good tale. Wouldn’t all of created history then be God’s ultimate story?

This year I was able to observe [my sons] respond to The Iliad and The Odyssey as [their mother] read it aloud to them. Stories 3000 years old, yet they still had the power to captivate 21st century teenagers. Now they have been raised on books and have been read to since infancy and their television consumption has been minimal so they are coming from an atypical background. However, they do “get” what Homer was on about. Their literary (and cinemagraphic) background allowed their imaginations engage with that material and let it come alive for them. It was a great experience.

[My wife] and I have tried impart out love of good books and of story to our sons ever since we could sit them in our laps. We have tried to communicate wisdom and discernment to them regarding the fact that not all content is in our best interest and may be inappropriate based on age or the fact that it promotes lies about God’s created order. Some material is just best to avoid. Yet that must not be confused with the fact that our imaginations are a gift should be nourished and a good story can be a banquet.

I loved your comment about how Jesus largely communicated to the masses through story and did not readily provide the meaning. I guess I still am surprised and saddened by Christians who take a predominately utilitarian approach to the arts when they assume that there must a kind of narrow purpose to the work and it all has to be “figured out.”

What I do want to say is that I am so grateful for your work in the public sphere that encourages Christians to approach aesthetics thoughtfully. With our imaginations, we have been given a blessed gift from our creator that our current modern, evangelical, American subculture has largely ignored, disparaged and/or feared. I know that you have experienced much animosity from a segment of the church as a result, but by holding firm to these principles, you help form disciples that may better see God outside of Sunday service. Thank you so much for that. You honor me with your friendship.

You might like to know that after watching your lecture last night, [my son] asked to borrow my copy of Auralia’s Colors saying that he really wanted to read it.

MY RESPONSE:

Wow, thanks, Bob! That lecture was part of last September’s “Day of Common Learning” at Seattle Pacific University. I was inspired by the enthusiastic reaction to it, and adapted the lecture into an essay called “The Eagles are Coming!” for SPU’s Response magazine.

So much of my lecture was made up of things that were said by great imaginations like L’Engle, Lewis, and Tolkien, and I was just passing that treasure along. If you’re interested in more insights like those, I encourage you to read (or re-read, most likely) Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking On Water, and her later work The Rock That is Higher. C.S. Lewis’s collection called On Stories is excellent too.

I hope your son likes Auralia’s Colors!

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, and a four-volume series of fantasy novels called The Auralia Thread, which includes Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. Jeffrey is a contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, and he writes about art, faith, and culture for Image, Filmwell, and his own website, LookingCloser.org. His work has also appeared in Paste, Relevant, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today (where he was a film columnist and critic for almost a decade). He lives in Shoreline, Washington. Visit him on Facebook at facebook.com/jeffreyoverstreethq.

  • http://opuszine.com/ opus

    And I’ll third the “Harakiri” recommendation. It’s a real fave of mine, and Tatsuya Nakadai is absolutely amazing in the lead role, easily on par with Toshiro Mifune’s finest roles.

    FWIW, here’s a review I wrote several years ago…
    http://opuszine.com/movie_reviews/review/harakiri/

  • http://www.conversantlife.com/blogs/natebell natebell

    I still remember the first time Scott mentioned doing this. I think he should go for it. He’ll probably win an Academy Award. Plus, it might help spark an O’Connor renaissance.

  • Seth H.

    Just here to second Derrickson’s recommendation of Harakiri. It’s amazing. Next to Seven Samurai, it’s the best I’ve seen in its genre. Actually one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, period.

    One other thing…I think you’ve contradicted yourself a little. In your second response to Derrickson, you say we must be “caught off guard,” then you go on to say that you must be “prepared to receive.” Perhaps I’m just misunderstanding what you meant, but I figured I’d say something anyway.

  • http://withashout.net ajamison

    Scott – please please go forward with a Flannery O’Connor project if its possible at all! She’s one my favorite authors, and I think a few stories could be incredible via film.


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