April 30, 2024

The Bible is full of monsters, some of which you’ll recognize, and some of which you didn’t realize were monsters before reading Esther Hamori’s book God’s Monsters: Vengeful Spirits, Deadly Angels, Hybrid Creatures, and Divine Hitmen of the Bible (Broadleaf, 2023).

I am a biblical scholar and read or listen to a lot of books related to biblical studies, both those aimed at scholars and those aimed at a general audience. As someone whose main field is New Testament but who also writes on the intersection of religion and popular culture, I can genuinely say that I learned from Hamori’s book God’s Monsters and that it is by far one of the best examples of public scholarship that I have ever come across. I experienced it as an audiobook and the narrator captured the volume’s seriousness and humor, including the moments of deep penetrating sarcasm, just perfectly. There’s no way I could ever do justice to the humor, and trying to would probably spoil them at any rate. Much of the humor comes in the form of pop culture references. The analogies and contrasts with angels, demons, and other monsters from film and television are not just a bridge between the scholarship and the wider audience. They serve to clarify the points made and to make the experience of learning about biblical literature in its Ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean context all the more enjoyable. I was glad that Doctor Who got a mention. Even when pop culture is referenced, however, the focus is on the Bible in its ancient context. So many times I was struck by things I had missed that I feel like listening to the audiobook again to remind myself of them all. I’ll offer as one example the way that both the Song of Songs’ description of the beloved and God’s description of Leviathan in the Book of Job fall into the same genre of poem, expressing love and admiration. In more than one place in the Bible, it is Leviathan rather than human beings that represents the pinnacle of God’s creation.

What I will say is that even if you have significant familiarity with the Bible you’ll still come to understand seraphim and various other monsters in the divine entourage differently and better, and that you’ll wrestle as well with the monstrosity of God. Hamori pulls no punches and explicitly compares the apologetic attempts to claim that God deserves to get off the hook no matter what God does to President Nixon claiming that if the president does something then it’s right even if illegal. It may make you uncomfortable, but that is because the portrait of God and God’s army of henchmen has been so sanitized and domesticated that hearing someone speak about it so honestly and clearly is at times shocking. The book’s humorous side, rather like God’s loving side in the Bible, does not undermine the full expression of the book’s serious side, such as when Hamori wrestles with the way monsterization, especially in traditions about gigantism, forms a deadly rationale for genocide and conquest from ancient times down to the present day. The ways that Hamori compares God to Sheldon Cooper, Col. Jessup from A Few Good Men, and other fictional characters are simultaneously entertaining, provocative, and insightful.

Read this book. You’ll be learning and laughing out loud constantly. It’s a book that you won’t want to put down once you start. No one who reads it will be sorry they did. I’m grateful for what Hamori has provided in this important and engaging volume. If you, like me, have a particular penchant for snarkasm and appreciate when others use it effectively, you are the ideal audience for this book. I am seriously thinking that I should develop a course on religion and monsters, the Bible and monsters, or perhaps more controversially God, Angels, Demons, and Other Monsters. I would definitely use Hamori’s book as a textbook. Have any other readers of my blog taught or taken a course like that? If so, I’d love to hear about it. (I found one taught by Mona LaFosse whom I don’t know. I’m glad her university made a libguide for her course!)

I posted a shorter version of this review on Amazon. I will add that unlike many books that I review, this one was not sent to me by the publisher. It just looked like it was worth reading so I did. Hopefully that will add to your sense that this is a genuinely unbiased review.

See also the reviews by Anne Thériault and Bob Cornwall, the short recommendation by Brandon Grafius, and the brief comments by Bart Ehrman after which follow a guest post by Hamori (one of several). There is also a brief video with Dan McClellan, and Conor Hilton’s review is worth checking out for the picture alone. I hope that my friends like Steve Wiggins, Doug Cowan, and John Morehead who are interested in horror in a way that I am not will explore and perhaps review Hamori’s book as well as utilize it in their own teaching and scholarship.

October 20, 2021

Via John Morehead:

CFP Journal of Gods and Monsters Upcoming Special Issues

The Journal of Gods and Monsters is a peer-reviewed, open access journal that seeks to explore the connections between the sacred and the monstrous. “Religion” can refer to the world’s religious traditions or to ideas that are religious in a substantive sense, such as God, demons, or death and the afterlife.   However, the journal will also consider articles that explore the “religious” dimension of culture in a functional sense as relating to values, myths, and rituals.

Special Issue #1: Religion, Monstrosity, and the Paranormal

Lead Issue Editor: John Morehead

Deadline for Submission: March 15, 2022

Although typically dismissed and viewed as fringe phenomena by scholars, the paranormal is enduring. The Chapman University Survey of American Fears, which includes survey data on paranormal beliefs, those phenomena at odds with mainstream science and orthodox religion, reported in 2018 that large numbers of people find the paranormal of interest. Some 58% believe that places can be haunted by spirits, 57% believe in lost ancient civilizations like Atlantis, and 41% believe aliens once visited the earth in the ancient past. The paranormal often functions as a source of transcendence and meaning for people, even as it draws upon various forms of monstrosity. We would like to produce a theme issue of the journal on the paranormal intersecting with monstrosity and religion.

Special Issue #2: Candyman

Guest Editor: Joseph P. Laycock

Deadline for Submission: March 15, 2022

The Journal of Gods and Monsters seeks papers for a special issue on Candyman, to be guest edited by Joseph Laycock.  We especially seek papers interpreting the 2021 film directed by Nia DeCosta.  However, we also encourage papers that consider the previous films (1992, 1995, and 1999), as well as Clive Barker’s original story “The Forbidden” (1985).

Some possible angles of analysis might include:

  • The significance of ritual and summoning in the Candyman mythos
  • Candyman as monstrous object of horror and/or prophetic agent of justice
  • The nature and function of narrative and folklore in the Candyman mythos
  • Candyman as object of worship
  • The intersection of the monstrous with anxieties over race and (in 1992 film) miscegenation
  • How the religious dimension of the BLM movement has influenced the Candyman mythos
  • Themes of damnation, destiny, and the Gothic in Candyman

Submissions for BOTH special issues:

Proposals should be submitted directly to the journal via its online system, but authors may reach out to the guest editor for more information or to submit a 250-word abstract.

Submissions for both issues should be scholarly in nature, between 5000 and 10000 words, and are requested by March 15, 2022 (submissions after this date will be considered for future issues). We encourage submissions from all disciplines, geographic areas, and time periods. Articles should be submitted via the online system at https://godsandmonsters-ojs-txstate.tdl.org after registration. In the case of questions please contact the editorial team at editorsJGM@gmail.com or at their professional email addresses. Please reach out to John Morehead and Joseph Laycock individually with specific questions or concerns on each special issue.

To inquire regarding book or media reviews for either special issue, please contact Brandon Grafius (bgrafius@etseminary.edu).

August 31, 2019

Via John Morehead’s TheoFantastique blog:

The Journal of Gods and Monsters

Special Issue: The Monstrosity of Displacement 

We are pleased to announce the creation of a new double blind, peer-reviewed, open access journal exploring the relationships between religion, monsters, and the monstrous: The Journal of Gods and Monsters. Headed by editors Natasha Mikles, John Morehead, Michael E. Heyes, and Brandon Grafius, The Journal of Gods and Monsters will be digitally housed at Texas State University and can be accessed at  https://godsandmonsters-ojs-txstate.tdl.org/godsandmonsters/index.php/godsandmonsters.

Monsters are often defined as those unfortunate beings displaced from the “normal,” and in the inaugural issue of The Journal of Gods and Monsters, we are exploring this displacement and the role of religious traditions in its construction, maintenance, and complication. Such beings labeled as monsters might be displaced from biology, such as the cynocephalic protagonist of the Greek Life of St. Christopher. Then again, a monster’s displacement could be cultural, as seen in contemporary efforts by some Burmese Buddhists to displace and monstrosize the Rohingya minority. Or it could be soteriological, like the transhistorical phenomenon of Jews and Muslims being made into monsters via their exclusion from some structures of Christian salvation.

We seek article-length contributions that address the cross-cultural intersection of religion, monstrosity, and displacement. We specifically encourage methodologically diverse submissions that tackle the issue of monstrosity and displacement from a wide range of regional and temporal arenas, such as:

  • Literal monsters (such as the shapeshifting fox Tamamo-no-Mae exorcised by Genno Shinsho)
  • Figurative monsters (as certain violent religious extremists or immigrant groups have been branded)
  • Self-proclaimed monsters (“I am the monster” declares Eleven on Stranger Things)
  • Assigned monsters (the “demonic networks” that Paula White claimed were arrayed against Donald Trump in a 2019 campaign rally).

Details: Submissions should be scholarly in nature, between 5000 and 10000 words, and are requested by January 12th, 2020 for inclusion in the Spring issue (submissions after this date will be considered for future issues). We encourage submissions from all disciplines, geographic areas, and time periods. Articles should be submitted via the online system at https://godsandmonsters-ojs-txstate.tdl.org after registration. In the case of questions, please contact the editorial team at editorsJGM@gmail.com or at their professional email addresses.

To inquire regarding book reviews, please contact book review editor Brandon Grafius (bgrafius@etseminary.edu).

Of related interest, see John’s interview with Matt Brake.


February 5, 2019

The Monsters and Religion group at the American Academy of Religion has announced an ambitious five year period of analysis and discussion that will begin with the meeting in November 2019. I really like the topic for year four, and am hoping someone presents on how we construe religious others as monsters as part of a process of dehumanization that then facilitates public rhetoric, limits on religious freedoms, and even violence. Here’s the announcement from the AAR website:

New Directions in the Study of Religion, Monsters, and the Monstrous Seminar

Statement of Purpose:

The Mission of the New Directions in the Study of Religion, Monsters, and the Monstrous Five-Year Seminar is to facilitate dialogue between different areas and methodologies within religious studies to arrive at a better theory of the intersection of religion, monsters, and the monstrous. Due to the diverse nature of our topic, we encourage proposals from any tradition or theoretical perspective. Each year of the seminar will focus on a different theoretical problem as follows:

Year One –– Taxonomy. The first task of the seminar will be to explore the taxonomy of “monsters” as a second-order category. What defines a “monster” and what are we talking about when we talk about monsters?

Year Two –– Theodicy: What role do monsters serve in explaining misfortune? Are monsters a source of injustice or do they create justice as agents of punishment?

Year Three –– Cosmology: How do monsters function to map out reality, including time and space?

Year Four –– Monstrification and humanization: When, how, and why are other people and their gods “monstrified?” How does racism intersect with the discourse of the monstrous? Conversely, when, how, and why are monsters humanized?

Year Five –– Phenomenology: How should we interpret narratives of encounters with fantastic beings? To what extent are reductionist readings of these narratives appropriate and helpful? Are there viable approaches beyond reductionism?

At the conclusion of the seminar, our findings will be published as an edited volume or otherwise disseminated to the scholarly community

Call for Papers:

New Directions in the Study of Religion, Monsters, and the Monstrous is a new five-year seminar dedicated to developing a better theoretical foundation for the study of monsters and the monstrous in the field of religious studies. The first year of our seminar will consider the problem of taxonomy: What is a monster, and what do we gain by categorizing an entity as such? We invite papers from any discipline or subfield that either take on this question directly or else consider an illuminating case study. On what grounds should a particular creature, character, or god be classified as a “monster?” What is revealed when these entities are compared across cultures? Where do the limits of this category lie and what is revealed by pushing them? What are the benefits and pitfalls of applying the category of “monster” to contexts beyond Western culture?




Proposals are anonymous to chairs and steering committee members until after final acceptance/rejection

ChairJoseph Laycock, joe.laycock@gmail.com
Kelly Murphy, kelly.murphy@cmich.edu
Steering CommitteeEric D. Mortensen, ericdmort@yahoo.com
Michael Heyes, heyes@usf.edu
Natasha Mikles, n.mikles@txstate.edu

HT John Morehead. Of related interest, do check out the new SBLCentral website.

October 21, 2018

I find myself really challenged by something Mike Duncan wrote on his blog Bad Rhetoric recently, noting the number of university-educated people who voted for Donald Trump. He writes:

I used to think my teaching was formative of critical thinking and ethics and built at least a motte and bailey defense against the worst excesses. Writing needed teaching to all comers as a communicative civil right. All that seems dangerously stupid now. Increased writing skill does not magically lead to responsible citizenship. If you knew 42% of your composition class was going to note your citizen-building pedagogy and vote for Donald Trump, would you not change your strategy? Or would you “do your job” to “teach writing” like thousands of others, especially as an adjunct or lecturer if you did not have a reasonably secure job or control over your curriculum?

Repeatedly, we have thrown the difficult and lengthy task of teaching skilled writing to instructors that were underprepared, underpaid, and overworked. When we surrendered collectively and unconditionally to the conclusion that the task was not important enough for the best trained, best paid, and best-motivated instructors – who got to become “scholars” with minor teaching responsibilities – that was when the seeds were planted. Now the entire country pays for our neglect; a constitutional crisis that makes Nixon look like a paragon of integrity. If we could have taught just 1% more responsibility – just 1% – Trump would not be president…

A college education, on the front lines of voting, may be the best hope for holding the democratic line, but blind idealism, our old pedagogical strategy, is not enough in the face of an evil that conceals its true nature all too well. There are many “anti-citizens” out there that think Trump is the second coming. Lower taxes, reduced immigration, tough trade talk, white male Supreme Court justices, racism and sexism carefully enshrined – all the little things they want, and at what they think is a great price, their souls bundled with the future.

You may note that I used the word evil. I did so purposefully. This is a path of evil we’re on. The election of Trump in 2016 was not a blip. It was a game-changer, a culmination of decades of poor education and careful politicking. Whatever happens in the midterms next month, even a Democratic takeover of both the House and the Senate, will not reverse it. It takes decades to make this kind of mess, and it will take decades to change it. I wonder, though, if we have decades left.

On the other hand, Steve Wiggins wrote recently:

[T]hose on the opposite side of the political spectrum rending the United States into shreds aren’t evil.  They’re doing what they believe is right, just like the lefties are.  The evil comes from forces trying to tear good people on both sides apart…Evil is the desire for political power that draws its energy from making each group think the other is evil. 

I appreciate both points, and they lie at the heart of the challenge of formulating a Christian (or more generally, an ethical) response to the current political climate. We are supposed to love all and forgive enemies. We are supposed to treat those who treat us poorly with kindness. And we are also supposed to actively seek justice and peace. How are we supposed to navigate those two commitments?

Adam Serwer wrote an article about something that can, I am sure, be found across the political spectrum, but is predominating very clearly on one side more than the other these days, namely the penchant for outright insult and mockery of those who appear to be not merely disagreed with, but hated or viewed with contempt. And so the fact that Christians must be committed to loving enemies, to seeking the redemption rather than the destruction of evildoers, doesn’t mean that we evaluate all politicians, all parties, or all people and organizations of any sort as though they are alike. The differences matters, even while so too does recognizing our common humanity and that we all have sinned and all have value.

Being politically, socially, economically, and/or technologically engaged is messy and seems to inherently involve compromise. One can go live in the wilderness in remote regions and not be implicated in the economic wrongdoing that is inherent in the processes that put food on our tables in the nations we currently live in, and cut ties with all social media that are doing wrong. But cutting all ties does not challenge, much less change or bring about the downfall of, these problematic institutions and corporations. And so the effort to remain personally innocent in one sense makes us culpable of not getting into the messy trenches of combating injustice in another. Just as not voting because no candidate is perfect may let greater injustice prevail.

Bill Heroman shared this image (the source of which I could not initially trace, but then had a commenter helpfully track down as coming from Pedro Arizpe):

That’s one of the reasons that I love Doctor Who (and other science fiction that does something similar) is its penchant for helping us to see beyond appearances that might lead us to stereotype others as monsters – or to assume that those who resemble us and seem attractive are not monsters. We cannot forget that those we are inclined to view as monsters and/or demonize are human beings like us. In most instances, they do not think of themselves as evildoers. They think they are being caring, protecting their own group at the expense of others, often assuming that is the only way to proceed in a hostile world.

Returning to the topic of university education which was our starting point, it needs to be pointed out nowadays that the “liberal” in “Liberal Arts” is not about political or theological liberalism. But that doesn’t make them “value free.” The very act of appreciating genuine diversity of thought, open dialogue across difference, and critically evaluating one’s own views in addition to those of others involves a value judgment and commitment.

A great many sources have been discussing why the humanities and the liberal arts matter now more than ever. But is the reason because they lead us to include those who would seek to exclude others, because they enable us to combat exclusivism with a different sort of exclusivism, of because they help us to recognize that the complexity of balancing and at times prioritizing multiple goods and values is challenging and not susceptible to easy answers?

At a time when a number of institutions are cutting core curriculum, general education, liberal arts, and/or humanities programs, my own impression is that we need them more than ever if we hope that our students’ technical and professional skills are going to be used in a compassionate, caring, and ethical manner.

Don’t miss that I’ve included lots of links to articles about these and related topics throughout this post. I also want to mention how much I valued the institute focused on diversity, civility, and the liberal arts which The Council of Independent Colleges held in Atlanta, Georgia over the summer. I was delighted to have been among those chosen to represent Butler University there, and it was an honor and privilege for Butler to be chosen as one of the institutions to participate. I learned a lot, including things that proved relevant to the work on ethics and computer science that I have been engaged in. The topic of prioritizing values is continuing to be to the fore in things that I am thinking and writing about.

Also of related interest, John MacDonald shared some thoughts on evil and chaos, Darth Sidious vs. the Joker.


February 2, 2016

This was a great episode, of the satirical and self-parodying sort that the X-Files regularly offered throughout its history.

Early in the episode, Mulder reflects on how much of the unexplained has been explained since he previously worked on the X-Files, often in terms of pranks by college students. He uses a phrase from the New Testament as he considers that perhaps, as a middle-aged man, it is time to “put away childish things.”

The individuals who claim to have seen the monster are all drug users, and so the influence of narcotics as an explanation for certain experiences is mentioned. Mulder has a camera app in his phone, although he isn’t sure how to work it properly. Everyone carries phones these days, and so the implications of that for unexplained phenomena is also raised. Mulder manages to get some photos, but they are blurred or otherwise imperfect, and would not convince a skeptic – not that a better photo would, in our era of photoshop.

Scully says at one point, “The internet is not good for you, Mulder.” Later, Mulder has a conversation with what he knows Scully would say. He considers whether some legends were based on realities which have the potential to expand our scientific knowledge. That is a key element at the heart of the X-Files – how do we distinguish between ridiculous nonsense, and those rare glimpses of something real yet startling which drive our understanding of our universe forward?

Mulder goes to speak to a psychologist, who says it is easier to accept monsters out there, than to accept that the real monster is in us. He also asks who needs an antipsychotic drug more – a man who believes himself to be a were-lizard, or a man who believes that man.

The story the man called “Guy” tells is inverted from what was expected: it is the story of being a lizard creature, who gets bitten by a man, and from then on starts transforming into a human. He becomes aware that he is naked, and through a primordial human instinct he clothes himself (another nice Biblical reference). He talks about the human instinct to BS our way through anything (which may or may not involve a Biblical reference).

When Mulder says “I want to believe” towards the end of the episode, it has the same connotations as the New Testament plea, “I believe! Help thou mine unbelief!”

This satirical episode did a wonderful job of showing that the lives we live – the ties we wear, the jobs we work, the lies we tell – are no less ridiculous than the stories of monsters we weave. It explores in an entertaining and comical way the things that drive us to tell stories and enjoy myths.

What did you think of the episode?









June 3, 2014

The episode “The Monster of Peladon“sees the Doctor return to Peladon. The daughter of king Peladon (whom the Doctor met in the earlier episode “The Curse of Peladon“) is now reigning.

Superstition is a major focus in the episode, the plot of which revolves around a rebellion by miners and political machinations that are instigating and using those popular forces to their own ends. People with power or influence are getting people united against a common threat, in a manner that is reminiscent of how Chancellor Palpatine and his apprentice worked behind the scenes to manipulate things.

The Doctor insists that the apparitions of the spirit of Agador that people have been seeing are technological trickery. His response to the locals’ religious beliefs varies from being adamantly skeptical to being more humbly so, expressed in phrases ranging from “I don’t believe any of that” to “Maybe so.” A high tech alarm system that disrupts the mind is likewise viewed as “magic” by the people of Peladon, but not by the Doctor, who understand the technology behind it.

The complaints of the workers are ones that are familiar from the experience of humans on Earth. They say that there has been no benefit for the common people from the progress made as a result of interstellar collaboration. The episode thus explores colonial and postcolonial themes, in which new technologies arrive from elsewhere, and the result is largely increased profits for the foreigners and the rulers, rather than for those whose work generates the profits.

Women’s liberation is also a major theme. After the queen says she is “only a girl,” Sarah famously retorts that “there is nothing ‘only’ about being a girl.”

In connection with this emphasis in the episode, it is worth noting the recent study of sexism in more recent seasons of Doctor Who, the data from which has been turned into this infographic by Rebecca Moore (whose blog also includes the final report from the study in more detail):

Although I have no quantifiable data to offer, I suspect that, Sarah’s character and her quip notwithstanding, there was at least as much if not more sexism on classic Doctor Who.

The Doctor says at one point that there is nothing he would like more than a quiet life. I’m not sure why the character was made to say this, but I presume that no one in the show or in the audience believed him.

October 18, 2013

Yesterday I posted about theology and epic fantasy. Today we cross over (at least partly) into science fiction, with an article that talks about the roots in classic mythology of several Star Wars monsters. In the first part of their article “Drawing on the Imagination” on the official Star Wars blog, Tim Veekhoven & Kevin Beentjes focus attention on a range of monsters inspired from a variety of culture’s classics. But those with Biblical roots are given particular attention. Click through to read it!

In related news, conflicts seem to be hitting the Noah movie. Also, there is a new movie about Jesus in the works, and so if you see headlines proclaiming “Son of God to be Released Next Year,” chances are that is what it is about. And The Guardian has a piece on why we still need fairy tales.

July 23, 2013

The episode Carnival of Monsters is wonderfully subversive in many ways. It begins with some humanoid but blue-grey aliens on the planet Inter Minor discussing the imminent arrival of “aliens.” Those aliens turn out to look like humans. They are in fact the traveling Lurman entertainers Vorg and his assistant Shirna. (Humans from Earth are referred to as “Tellurians” later in the episode.)

The entire episode is about power, how we treat others, dehumanization/depersonalization of other sentient beings, and having an inappropriate sense of superiority particularly on the part of colonial powers. Vorg has a miniscope, in which he has captured specimens of all sorts of beings from around the universe – humans, Cybermen, Daleks, drashigs. The ruling class of Inter Minor has another species which is clearly considered inferior and who take care of the manual labor tasks. And the supposed superiority of the ruling classes of Inter Minor is undermined not only by their disregard for the rights and even the lives of those they consider inferior to themselves, but also their political wranglings.

Reference is made to the Tellurians in the miniscope as “the only Tellurians in captivity.” And when the Doctor realizes what sort of machine they are in and explains it to Jo, she objects that “We’re not animals,” to which the Doctor responds, “We are to the beings out there.” But again, those treating the captured beings “like animals” are themselves “animals” in the same sense. The Doctor indicates that he persuaded the time lords to work to ban miniscopes, since they were an offense against the dignity of sentient creatures.

The Doctor’s unwillingness to admit when he is wrong is explored in an entertaining manner at one point. And there are some interesting details related to science and technology. Vorg says at one point that the resemblance of Tellurians to his own species grabbed the attention of Lurman scientists, since it seemed to challenge the idea that life in the universe is infinitely diverse. He also makes reference to the “Eternity Perpetual Company” which built things that last forever – and thus went out of business.

For those interested in religion, there is a moment when a hand from outside the miniscope reaches into the machine, and I could not help but think that this represents a “Deus en machina” moment. It has sometimes been suggested that having the status of a god, or of a “mere animal,” and the issues of both theology and morality related to either, have to do with perspective and size more than anything else. That, and power.

Have you seen “Carnival of Monsters”? What did you think of it?

June 20, 2013

This classic episode of Doctor Who, “The Time Monster,” is arguably one of the best for discussing the show’s interaction with religion. It has points at which ancient Greek mythology, Buddhism, and Christianity are in view.

The story focuses on the attempt by the Master to summon Kronos, the Greek god who apparently really exists as a dangerous chronovore in interstitial time. Here, as in The Daemons and many other episodes which intersect with classic mythology, the answer about the reality of those entities is ambiguous. It is thus in the episode’s dialogue:

RUTH: Are you trying to tell us that the classical gods are real?

DOCTOR: Well, yes and no.

The episode connects the present day with ancient Atlantis, where a crystal existed that made it possible to summon Kronos. The Master seeks that power.

One of the best characters in the episode is the king of Atlantis, Dalios, who interacts with the Master in several scenes of which this is particularly significant:

MASTER: You will obey me. You will obey me!

DALIOS: A very elementary technique of fascination. I’m too old a fish, too old in years and in the hidden ways to be caught in such a net. You are no emissary from the gods.

MASTER: But you saw

DALIOS: Tell me, then. What of great Poseidon? What did he have for breakfast? Fish, I suppose? And what of Zeus and Hera? What is the latest gossip from Olympus? Do tell me.

MASTER: I underestimated you, Dalios.

DALIOS: I’m no child to play with such painted dolls. Kronos is no god, no titan. I know that and so do you.

MASTER: The king is old in wisdom.

DALIOS: Now you try to flatter me. You’ll pull a string and want to see me dance. You shall not have the crystal.

MASTER: I shall go now. I have nothing more to say to you.

DALIOS: You have said nothing to me yet. When you find the true words to speak, I will listen.

Throughout much of the episode, Kronos seems like little threat to the universe. When Kronos appears, what we see looks rather like a person pretending to be a deranged chicken flapping about. But at the end of the episode, when the Doctor, Jo, and the Master find themselves caught in between their own reality and that in which Kronos resides, Jo mistakes it for heaven. Then, Kronos appears as a giant female face, and she says that just as she is beyond gender, so she is beyond good and evil, and can be destroyer, healer, or creator.

Kronos of course is related to the Greek word for time, and it is on that level that the symbolism of the classic myth works. Time destroys and creates, and then eats the children it has produced. But on a literal level, the story become harder to make sense of.

The theme of the universe being easy to destroy is present. The Doctor says “The whole of creation is very delicately balanced in cosmic terms.” The unleashing of Kronos would allow chaos to reign instead of the fine balance between order and chaos that is there now. This of course raises the question of how such a finely balanced or “fine tuned” cosmos came to have such properties.

That scene in the episode includes the very famous bit of dialogue in which the Doctor talks about a hermit who lived near his home on a mountainside on Gallifrey:

JO: What happens if the Master wins?

DOCTOR: Well, the whole of creation is very delicately balanced in cosmic terms, Jo. If the Master opens the floodgates of Kronos’ power, all order and all structure will be swept away, and nothing will be left but chaos.

JO: Makes it seem so pointless really, doesn’t it.

DOCTOR: I felt like that once when I was young. It was the blackest day of my life.

JO: Why?

DOCTOR: Ah, well, that’s another story. I’ll tell you about it one day. The point is, that day was not only my blackest, it was also my best.

JO: Well, what do you mean?

DOCTOR: Well, when I was a little boy, we used to live in a house that was perched halfway up the top of a mountain. And behind our house, there sat under a tree an old man, a hermit, a monk. He’d lived under this tree for half his lifetime, so they said, and he’d learned the secret of life. So, when my black day came, I went and asked him to help me.

JO: And he told you the secret? Well, what was it?

DOCTOR: Well, I’m coming to that, Jo, in my own time. Ah, I’ll never forget what it was like up there. All bleak and cold, it was. A few bare rocks with some weeds sprouting from them and some pathetic little patches of sludgy snow. It was just grey. Grey, grey, grey. Well, the tree the old man sat under, that was ancient and twisted and the old man himself was, he was as brittle and as dry as a leaf in the autumn.

JO: But what did he say?

DOCTOR: Nothing, not a word. He just sat there, silently, expressionless, and he listened whilst I poured out my troubles to him. I was too unhappy even for tears, I remember. And when I’d finished, he lifted a skeletal hand and he pointed. Do you know what he pointed at?

JO: No.

DOCTOR: A flower. One of those little weeds. Just like a daisy, it was. Well, I looked at it for a moment and suddenly I saw it through his eyes. It was simply glowing with life, like a perfectly cut jewel. And the colours? Well, the colours were deeper and richer than you could possibly imagine. Yes, that was the daisiest daisy I’d ever seen.

JO: And that was the secret of life? A daisy? Honestly, Doctor.

DOCTOR: Yes, I laughed too when I first heard it. So, later, I got up and I ran down that mountain and I found that the rocks weren’t grey at all, but they were red, brown and purple and gold. And those pathetic little patches of sludgy snow, they were shining white. Shining white in the sunlight. You still frightened, Jo?

JO: No, not as much as I was.

The ideas of being a hermit or monk, learning to perceive reality differently, and other aspects are reminiscent of Buddhism, and this is a running theme throughout the show’s history, from the Troughton era through the Pertwee to the Davison. There is also an interesting contrast between the hermit’s “secret knowledge” and the secret knowledge the Master seeks in the hope of controlling Kronos.

The episode also tackles Christian theology quite directly. When Kronos envisages keeping the Master there to suffer for imprisoning her and trying to control her, the Doctor pleads for his freedom, which is granted. When Jo asks the Doctor why he did that, his response is telling:

DOCTOR: Jo, would you condemn anybody to an eternity of torment? Even the Master?

JO: No. No, I guess I wouldn’t.

DOCTOR: No. Well, neither would I. Even though he was responsible for the destruction of Atlantis.

This could have been discussing the Christian notion of eternal punishment directly. Even though it wasn’t doing so explicitly, it provides a wonderful launching point for such a discussion.

So, lots to talk about in this episode!

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