Archive for March, 2012

The first part of third book in the series of the Elysium Texts, the Books of the Dead, takes place in the mountains of Persia.  The adventurers meet up with Sufi dervishes in the mountains in their search for followers of Zarathustra and the remnants of the disbanded Assasssins.  In my research I have become fascinated with the dervishes and their hypnotic dance meditation.  Sadly, an authentic audience is unlikely for many reasons.  One can still see the tourist versions in Turkey, however, and I posted a short clip of one of those.

The Persian poet, Rumi, discovered this very zen way of communing with God in the 13th century.  The practice has ebbed and flowed over the years depending on the political situation.  Every culture has a shamanic mysticism preserved somewhere inside.  This one shares attributes with Tai Chi, Labyrinth-walking, chanting and even the modern Rave.  There is a disciplined ritual to the movements, each of which has a significance in the communion with god.  The costume as well.  Rumi’s esctatic poems reflect the insight and enlightenment he achieved by touching god in this manner.  He says,

Just like God you will rip and tear down

and at the same time sew and repair.

You will open and close

Both at the same time.

If you want you can appear and conceal yourself however you like.

You will see everyone everything bare and naked.

Yet no one can see you

In the land of soul

You will be sultan of sultans.

Wonderful things can happen when one goes ’round and ’round.

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I went to see the John Carter movie this weekend.  I had read many of the Burroughs novels when I was 12 or so and had mostly forgotten them, so it was with only a small amount of nostaligia and a large amount of expectation that I went to see this.   I remember only that Dejah Thoris annoyed me when I was pre-pubescent and I am pleased that she has been brought up-to-date and displays a bit more independant kick-ass than the 1917 version. And you can see that John Carter has buffed up a bit over the Art Nouveau version (yummy yummy).

“Get behind me, Dejah, I’ll protect you!”

In the movie when he rescues her he says “Get behind me” but then she grabs a blade and does some bad-guy carving-up…so he looks at her, mouth agape then says, “or maybe I’ll get behind you.”  I couldn’t help but think of the cover.  I’m pretty sure the screenwriters were thinking of that too.

I am also pleased to report that they stuck pretty much to the original story and the changes they made enhanced the narrative rather than F’d it up.  Burroughs tells a great story.  Leave well enough alone.  The 19th century Earth adventures and the timeless Mars adventure were both beautifully done:  gorgeous costumes and backgrounds, super-awesome CGI and a great screenplay.  Music wasn’t memorable, but that is not why I go to the movies.

The spirit of the story comes through, the characters and the intent.  There is a scene where John has led the “good guys” to the wrong city and Tars smacks him upside the back of his head.  Priceless.  I loved that…the screenplay writers (there are three of them) knew exactly what to do to maintain the feel of the adventure, the companionship and deep connection of the cadre of friends as they try to save the city and the planet.  It was obvious they had respect for Burroughs.

I give this 5 stars because it is the most fun I’ve had at the movies in years.  I had so much fun that I had the wicked wicked thought as I came out of the theatre that I wanted to turn around and go back in and watch it again right away.  I mean, right away.  In fact, I’m thinking about doing that right now.

I am just so pleased that someone, somewhere, decided to spend 250 million dollars to make me happy for 2 hours.

Addendum:  After looking at some professional critics’ reviews I had to laugh.  Some said the film was “derivative”.  Wait…I’m still laughing, let me catch my breath.  OK.  This reminds me of one of those teacher pass-arounds where they share student essays.  A high-school student wrote on his test, “I don’t see what’s so great about Hamlet.  It’s just a bunch of cliches.”

I guess they just didn’t know that A Princess of Mars is one of the first interplanetary romances written in English and spawned an entire literary genre.  Star Wars is derivative.  Not this one.  *facepalm*

There's something about a man in chains...in a pit...on Mars

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Derek Jacobi as Brother Cadfael

How can an old man and a monk be sexy?  We are talking about the two categories of men that are usually relegated to the opposite side of the word.  This was intriguing to me as I watched the 1994 Mystery series on Netflix.  Because everything I see or hear will eventually end up in a novel, I was curious to deconstruct the character to see what elements were involved that made Cadfael so appealing.

First, I will define sexy.  The simple definition would suggest that something sexy is  someone or something one would want to have sex with.  But inanimate objects are described as “sexy” all the time.  Most notably automobiles…The meaning of the word has achieved some creeping connotations with the success of the advertising industry.  For simplicity I will define “sexy” as “emotionally appealing”.  (That will cover automobiles as well.)

Cadfael is a Benedictine Brother, not a priest, in Shrewsbury (near Wales) in the 12th century and was created in the 1970’s by mystery novelist Ellis Peters. He is an herbalist and healer and finds himself solving murders in a time where justice had a very different meaning than it does today.  This is part of his appeal.

In his youth he was a soldier in the Crusades and was exposed to ideas and cultures of the Middle East when the vast majority of Englishmen rarely traveled ten miles from their place of birth in their entire lives.  This is another part: his great intelligence and worldly experience.

But how can he be so deliciously wonderful?  It is not just me, folks, so let’s get that out of the way.  The series of books was and is very popular and if you have seen the series you can see the enormous expense in filming the thirteen 90 minute episodes.  It is a gorgeous and historically rich production.

So, back to deconstruction.  First, his age.  He is older, yes, though still handsome in a Derek Jacobi way.  He is tall and has broad shoulders, so physically he is imposing and impressive.  Those attributes transcend youth and are always sexy.  He has a limp…he was badly wounded in the Crusades, so this lends an air of vulnerability as well as valor to his character.  Also appealing.

He has retired to peace and quiet, which in the 12th century means a monastery.  He had enough adventure in his youth.  He is not a priest, but has taken vows of obedience and chastity.  This makes him somewhat righteous…and I am thinking of all the youthful “bad boy” motorcycle and vampire characters that are so appealing to young women.  Why? Because bad boys defy authority and act against the social norm. They are courageous in their naughtiness.  Those boys reflect tendencies that are the opposite of a righteous monk.  Cadfael should be boring, un-sexy and dull.  But he is not.

Because Cadfael is a Bad Boy.

Yes.  That is why he is sexy.  Cadfael brings to the stories of murder and mayhem the naughtiness of compassion and intelligence that was sorely lacking in Medieval times.  He insists on finding the truth, wants justice for the dead and the wronged, and will defy the local authority figures to get it.  He does it by outsmarting them.  That is what is appealing to me.  He does not rush in with a sword and kill all the bad guys.  You do not see him walking towards you in slow motion as behind him thatched cottages erupt in righteous and vengeful flames…he outsmarts them…he outsmarts them.


And he lets a confessed murderer go free (In the episode, The Leper of St Giles).  He has a much much deeper understanding of justice than we see today, or for all time.  His compassion is the true compassion of his God, and though the Medieval Church is focused on penitence and punishment, Cadfael (who fought for those ideas in a bloody and senseless Crusade) has transcended those limited beliefs and out-Christians the Christians.  This is delicious too.

And his vows?  The conflict between his great love and compassion for humanity and the necessary renunciation of any kind of physical human contact is painfully evident in the novels and the script.  This aspect makes you want to give him a hug, because he needs a hug many times (he is haunted by the horrors of battle and the loss of his true love)…and yet hugs are not possible.  He flinches from even a touch.  So we have this chasm of compassion for him as well.

Cadfael exists beyond touch, in the pages of a novel and in the light of a screen.  But he touches our hearts.

Cadfael and Beringar discussing murder most foul

Thank you, Ellis Peters.

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