Category: Stories and Songs

Poetry, short stories or other bits of prose; critiques and reviews of books, movies and other stories.

The Nativity

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“The Nativity” from St. Dennis Basilica, Paris

Here is a poem that I wrote for Christmas. It’s in the Terza Rima style, and in it, I tried to depict something of what the Birth of Christ means to me.

 

 

 

I.

The agéd world is buried in the dust
The dust, the dust, blowing hither and yon
All of Man’s many works are draped in rust

Long have the dry winds blown, here and then gone
Scouring the high mountains, the plains, the sea
And the strong Men’s faces grow pale and wan

Many ages have wandered past, weary
Crumbling stones and temples to shards, to shards
The wonder in Man’s eyes begins to flee

Wars have come, all uncounted by the bards
Watering the Earth with blood, young men’s blood
Ah! So many dead gone past Hades’ guards

The Earth is grinding down, down to the mud
Where shadows dwell and shimm’ring mystery
Binds men in tired old ways, crushed ‘neath Time’s flood

In this aged world, at the edge of hist’ry
In a desert, the apex of all lands
Was a man and woman, going swiftly

II.

Tall and strong was that man, with gentle hands
And veins filled with the blood of lords and kings
But small in station and small in his plans

He worked with wood and made such wondrous things
Clear-eyed, swift-loving, full of all virtue
He loved the woman as hawks love their wings

Helped by angels, blessed with wisdom most true
Ordained guardian from before Time flowed
Guarding the holy and most precious Two

Little he spoke, few words, as on they rode
Harrowed by doubts, but then by God ensured
That all would be well, that grace was bestowed

III.

The woman held life in her womb secured
Placed there by the shadow of Divine Grace
For from all stain of sin she had been cured

She bore that light merrily in her face
In her face, the light of the Son come down
From the Heavens to her womb’s sweet embrace

How fine that brow, so soon to bear a crown!
Made the chariot of the Holy Son
Bearing Mercy, Woman of great renown

T’was her “yes” that brought the Heavenly One
She who had been foretold since ancient days
That dear Woman, clothed with the sun

Veins filled with king’s blood, walking in God’s ways
The old Serpent lay crushed beneath her heel
And divine love set her pure heart ablaze

IV.

Through the desert they go, the world to heal
By the Power in the woman’s sweet womb
That is stories come to life, myth made real

Angels sing above; Earth is in full bloom
All the seas rejoice, and all the winds dance
The age-old stars weave wonder on their looms

And now they reach the man’s ancestral manse
A little village, Bethlehem its name
Where kings have been born through hist’ry’s advance

And many others have come just the same
Summoned by an old emperor’s decree
To number their heads, to ensure his claim

So full the town, that not a room was free
And the man and woman went to a stable
An old stable, to birth the great baby

With beasts watching, as if t’were a fable
The Word stepped into the stream of the world
The Word made flesh, beneath a cave’s gable

Almighty, ageless God, His plan unfurled
The Eternal Spirit made incarnate
While overhead the angels joyous whirled

Now in a field, some shepherds lay in wait
Men lowborn but kindly, guarding their flocks
And Heaven broke open, to tell their fate

The angels sang, in the air with the hawks
“Glory, glory, glory! Peace on the Earth
The wolf will lay down with the ox

For now, unto you is the good God’s birth
The foretold Savior given to all men
The prophesied Child, the font of all mirth!”

So the shepherds hastened to the horse-pen
There to see the apex of the ages
The great light shone into the world’s dark den

Angels danced, despite the Serpent’s rages
Man and woman, shepherds and creatures all
Joined with the whole world, and sung His praises

V.

The newborn world shimmers in the dust-fall
The dust-fall, the dust-fall, glimmering bright
And wondering Man must no longer crawl

Long the dry winds blow, capering and light
Dancing o’er the mountains, the plains, the sea
And poor Men smile, blessed in the good God’s sight

The ages are bounding past, happily
For many Men have become God’s children
Adopted in the Son’s Nativity

Peace!

– Jared

“The Nativity” © Jared Schmitz 2015

A Defense of Elves and Orcs

And so the time has finally come for me to reread The Lord of the Rings. In case you don’t already know, this is one of my very favorite stories. I’m a huge fan of both the books and the movies–this is one of the rare stories for which I feel that both versions have something great to offer, and that the movies actually did justice to the books. To be honest, I’ve generally liked the movies better than the books. They were always easier for me to connect to, so I was able to see their beauty in a clearer light than I could see that of the books. However, I have now come back to the books again. It’s been probably three years or so since the last time I read them. I attempted to start another reread much more recently, but didn’t get further than the first couple chapters of Fellowship. I can see now that that wasn’t the right time, because having just picked up Fellowship again, I have been completely pulled into it, for the same reasons I was recently pulled into The Hobbit, and more.

 

Enough has been said in praise of Tolkien’s work (although I reserve the right to say more in a future blog post). What I’d like to talk about right now is something else. One common criticism I’ve seen of Tolkien’s work, and of other fantasies influenced or inspired by it, is the matter of entire races having one moral alignment–namely, the matter of Elves and Orcs. People say that it is very unrealistic and doesn’t make sense for an entire race to be good or evil. I think that argument is bosh. It wouldn’t make sense for all humans to be either good or evil. But nonhumans do not have to and probably should never operate under the exact same rules as humans. And this is what we see in Tolkien. There are many humans in his stories, and some of them are good and some of them are bad, just as humans on earth. There are bad apples even among the nations that serve good purposes, and though we do not see any “good apples” among the men who have pledged themselves to evil, those men have so little a part in the story that it only makes sense for us not to see the exceptions. The Dwarves, who are most like humans, are often good, but also often greedy and self-centered. There are many mentions made in the books of rather shifty dwarves, though none that I can recall of any who are outright evil. Elves and Orcs, who are less like humans, are removed another level, morally speaking. The world is not the same for them. In the Elves there exists a higher good than that which is in humans, and this allowed it to be abased beyond human evil in the Orcs, who came about when Elves were twisted and broken. In this sense Elves and Orcs are a metaphor, but they are also solid and physical, as is everything in Tolkien’s work. They shouldn’t be judged by human standards because they are not human. It makes no sense to say that it’s unrealistic for all elves to be good and all orcs to be bad, because you can’t apply human logic to them. And generally in the books Elves and Orcs are held to be apart from men, unable to truly related to them or to be related to, and perhaps a large part of that is the rigid moral nature that characterizes each race.

 

It’s true that in The Silmarillion, there were some Elves who went bad, who were traitors or brigands or what have you. But those times were ages before The Lord of the Rings, and it seems to me that the Elves became gradually more rigid as the years passed, less able to change, and more and more aloof from men.

 

As far as this goes in other fantasies, I think they have to be taken on a case by case basis. It works well in The Lord of the Rings. Other, less masterful stories probably don’t pull it off quite so well. But even in those, I think the basic principle generally still stands. I think it makes for a much more interesting world when the races truly are different, on a deep, moral level, and not just humans dressed up in different disguises, as is often seen in fantasies.

 

(Disclaimer: None of this is to say that I’m sure this was Tolkien’s intention. But it seems to be the case in his books.)

 

~ Jared

The Hobbit

I mentioned in my last post that I enjoyed reading The  Hobbit by the seashore. I enjoyed it so much, in fact, and felt like I got so much out of it this time through, that I just had to write a blog post on the subject.

 

I’ve only read The Hobbit two or three times. The first couple of times were many years ago, and I liked the book very much, but it never became one of my favorites. I was always much more interested in The Lord of the Rings, despite The Hobbit being much easier to get through! I picked it up again recently because I wanted to read a good adventure story, something that I could just escape into and enjoy on every level. I became engrossed within the first few pages and spent many more happy hours reading through the rest of the book over the course of a week or so. I had forgotten how good it was; I’d known the recent movies fell far short of the mark, and had been wanting to reread the book so I could see how much they got wrong, but I was surprised by just how much fun it was to read and by how much I got out of the story.

 

There’s so much in it! Of course there’s the world, which is one of the richest storyworlds ever. You don’t find out quite as much about it in The Hobbit as in The Lord of the Rings or The Silmarillion, but what you do find is still extremely fascinating and easy enough to get lost in. And then there’s the characters. I’ve heard people say that Tolkien’s characters are flat or boring, but I’ve not found this to be so. For the most part they aren’t  loud and obvious with their personalities, but they certainly do have unique and interesting personalities (although it is true that many of the Dwarves in The Hobbit aren’t very well developed; not that I can make a fuss over that, seeing as there are so many of them!). Bilbo Baggins especially is a great character. He is the sort of hero that I wish we could see more of in modern books, especially books meant for young people–a very normal person, rather fond of comfort, plain of face, without any obviously outstanding qualities. He doesn’t look heroic, and it’s awhile before he starts acting heroic. What makes him great is his nobleness of character and especially his courage, which come out more and more as the book goes on. It’s inspiring to read about him, because if this fat old hobbit who whines about having to leave home without his handkerchief can go on such an adventure, and be so bold and strong, than surely I can, too. Bilbo shows, in a very believable way, how a normal, everyday person has the potential to be the greatest of heroes. I think that is a major reason why reading The Hobbit is such a wholesome experience.

 

One thing that I found interesting about The Hobbit as I reread it this most recent time is how many events occur in the story that were not caused  by the heroes or by the villain. In most modern writing it’s typical for the events of the story to be driven by the actions of the hero and the villain; usually it starts with something caused directly or indirectly by the villain himself, then continues to the hero’s reaction and its consequences, then back to the villain, and so on and so forth, with typically very little influence from outside forces. If a story isn’t that way, then it can run the risk of seeming random, as if too many unconnected events are occurring around these characters–at least, that’s the conventional wisdom on the subject. Yet in The Hobbit, most of the story’s major events do not happen as a result of what the characters are doing (except insofar as the events wouldn’t have happened if they hadn’t gone on their adventure), and it still works quite well as a story. The dragon Smaug isn’t even killed by one of the main characters! He’s killed by this random guy from Laketown who happens to be a good archer. In a modern story it would be almost unforgivable for the big bad monster to be killed by someone so totally unrelated to the main characters. In a modern story it would seem far too fortuitous for the adventuring party to be suddenly rescued by eagles, or to come across such helpful personages as Beorn without doing something pretty tough to earn his help. But I think the reason all this works in The Hobbit is that it’s more like real life. In real life, you have very limited control over the events that take place around you. A good deal of what happens is not very much the result of your actions, or the actions of anyone you might consider an enemy, but the result of other people’s lives crossing yours in unexpected ways. And so it feels very authentic when, after all that struggle, the dragon flies off into the blue and is killed by a random stranger, or when the very old legends about the return of the King Under the Mountain result in a warm welcome for the adventuring party in Laketown. There is a life in Middle-Earth and its characters that causes all sorts of wild events,  the same as the life in our Earth and its people does.

 

To me, The Hobbit seems a very true story. It is an excellent example of how fantasy can be as true as life, or truer. I think it has certainly now earned a place amongst my favorite books!

 

~ Jared

Furuba

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And so, for the second time in my life, I have finished reading through Takaya Natsuki-sensei’s lovely manga series, Fruits Basket. This is a special series for me, because it was the very first manga I ever read, back when I was sixteen or so and just getting interested in Japanese culture. In some ways, this is an odd series to begin with, especially for a sixteen-year-old guy. It’s shojo, or “girl’s manga”–a genre specifically targeted at girls between the ages of 10 and 18. It’s a fairly well-known series, but it’s never gained the popularity of, say, Bleach or One Piece (which is a shame, because Bleach, at least, is a far inferior story). The only reason I ever knew about it was because it was recommended to me by a dear friend, to whom I am forever indebted for introducing me to this story. When I first picked it up, I’ll admit that the cover designs made me a little dubious.

Cover art for Fruits Basket: Volume 1.
   Cover art for Fruits Basket: Volume 1.

 

See what I mean? But I quickly got over that. It took no time  at all for me to fall in love with this series and especially with its characters. I enjoyed it so much that I was inspired to go on and read many more manga, and I’m pretty sure that Furuba (as the series is nicknamed by Takaya-sensei) was the real beginning of my interest in Japan and all things Japanese. I’d been doing karate for years by the time I read Furuba, so I’d had a curiosity about Japan for a long time–but this story really inspired me. Anyway, that’s a bit beside the point. A few years went by, I moved out  on my own, and I decided upon finding out that a good friend owned most of the series that it was time  to read it again. It didn’t take me long to remember why I liked the story so much–and also to realize that I’d forgotten most of what happened! I still remembered the most important points of the story, but I’d forgotten so much that it was almost like reading the manga again for the first time. This managed to push Harry Potter aside for the duration of my reading it–which is a huge compliment, coming from me! (although I should grant that this is my third or fourth reread of Harry Potter and I’ve also seen all the movies a few times) Anyway, I just finished my reread of Fruits Basket a couple of days ago, and so, I would now like to share a little bit about why I love this story so much.

 

Where to even begin…? Well, I suppose I’d better start with a short plot summary. This is how the story goes: a young girl named Tohru is living by herself in a tent on the edge of town, because her mother recently died in a car accident and she has nowhere else to go (although that isn’t quite true–more on that later). She discovers, while exploring around, a house belonging to fellow named Shigure Sohma, who is living with two other members of the Sohma family, Kyo and Yuki. They take her in when they realize she was living by herself in a tent, and all they ask in return is that she keep the house clean and cook their meals. She’s grateful to accept, and the story proceeds from there. It follows Tohru’s various trials and travails as she gets to know the members of the troubled Sohma family, who are afflicted with a curse: when hugged or held by a member of the opposite gender, they change into one of the animals of the Chinese zodiac. Over the course of the story, Tohru decides to break the curse on the Sohmas, and also eventually falls in love with one particular Sohma, Kyo.

 

Now I’ll get some technical stuff out of the way. For one, the anime: in my opinion, it’s hardly worth mentioning. It condenses the entire 23-volume story of Fruits Basket into a 26 episode anime series, and has to leave out so much that it’s hardly the same story. It’s still enjoyable, but, to use a reference to the character of Hatori Sohma, it’s the seahorse to the manga series’ dragon. The other technical aspect I want to touch on is the art–it isn’t terribly impressive. The best part about it is the expressiveness of the faces, which are admittedly some of the most naturally expressive faces I’ve ever seen in a manga. But other than that, the art is nothing to get excited about. Backgrounds are minimal enough to make me think that Takaya-sensei is either plain bad at them, or dislikes drawing them as much as I do. Characters are sometimes awkwardly proportioned, beyond the usual distortion of manga style, and the bare feet of the figures are always just a little bit “off”. But neither the lackluster anime nor the somewhat lackluster art are anything to judge this series by. The most important part of the artwork–the faces and body language of the characters–are done superbly, and that’s really all that matters.

 

So probably one of my favorite aspects of this series is its characters. There’s quite a few of them–the fourteen characters who are part of the Zodiac curse, Tohru herself, her friends, the student council at her high school (a group which Yuki Sohma eventually becomes part of), and a handful of other side characters. Without exception, they’re all fleshed out and complex. Most of them have painful pasts and, as the series begins, are living in confusion or struggle. Even the unpleasant ones are easy to fall in love with, because they all just hurt so bad. The main trio of the story–Tohru, Kyo, and Yuki–are developed the most, and it’s a mark of Takaya-sensei’s skill that they remain fascinating characters throughout the series, even once we know all their secrets. The characters and their relationships are the most important element of the story. Once you look a little bit under the hood, this story is really about a brilliant  beam of light–Tohru–shining in and dispersing the clouds that have gathered over the Sohmas. The whole meaning of the story could be best expressed in the simple phrase, “Love conquers all.” That would be an easy thing to overdo or to make sappy or to ring false, but Takaya-sensei expresses it beautifully through her story. Tohru is, for the purpose of this story, love. She is able to love truly, in a way that is very rarely depicted in fiction. She isn’t blind. She sees the faults of those she loves, maybe more clearly than anyone else does–and she forgives them. She would sacrifice anything for the people she loves. She is so kind, but she is also courageous, and even implacable. She will stop at nothing to show love to the people around her. I’ve heard it said that the depth of her love, combined with her humbleness, make her seem a little too good to be human. I disagree; I think it is possible for real people to love like she does and to be humble like she is, although that’s an ideal that might be reached for over the course of one’s entire life. But more than that, I don’t think Tohru is meant to be just a normal girl. I would say that she is a saint, and this story shows what might happen if a saint were to come along and impact the lives of a broken, hurting family. But her saintliness is balanced by her humanity. She has flaws and she’s always afraid. But she is still strong and admirable.

 

It’s the light of love shining through Tohru that softens and heals the Sohma family. She utterly changes their lives, turns their world upside-down. And it’s beautiful. This story is such a powerful expression of the strength of love and forgiveness, of the redemptive power of love, that I can’t help but be a little awed. As a Christian man who wants to write stories that can show those same truths–because they are truths central to my faith–I find this incredibly inspiring. Whether or no Takaya-sensei is a Christian, whether or no her characters have any belief whatsoever in God, there’s still a good deal of holy truth shining through this story. I can’t recommend it enough. The time reading through those 23 volumes of manga with girly fronts and painfully ridiculous blurbs on the backs will be most definitely time well spent.

 

~ Jared

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Them Doctors–Part V

Here we go, another installment of Them Doctors. I know in my last post I said I’d try to write a longer section and get the plot moving more, but I’ve decided instead to leave off here for now. It could be awhile before I post another section of this story… I don’t think I should write anymore until I’ve actually come up with a plot for it. I don’t want to just keep stalling, don’t wanna ruin the story, you know. Anyway, for this section, I must thank my best friend, who advised me on the herbal stuff. Thanks, best friend! :D

 

Sec.5.

 

It burns. My stomach’s on fire, like someone took a red-hot brand and jammed it down my throat. My throat’s raw, too, from the screaming. It’s hard to remember a time before the pain. That woman–I think her name was Birch–brought us to a room. We spent most of the next day in there, resting up, and in the evening Mama went out to talk to people and learn things. I think by then I’d already started feeling weak. I held my little brother in my arms and curled up on the bed, little drops of sweat beading on my forehead. That was the beginning.

It ain’t possible for me to say how long it’s been since then. Days and nights of fire, that’s all I’ve seen, pain and screaming and sweat. People sometimes come shuffling around the bed, old women who chant and mutter and burn things to make smoke. Sometimes I think they’re burning me. I tell them to stop but they never listen. Sometimes they force liquid down my throat that makes me feel funny, and other times they put cool pastes on my skin. The coolness almost seems to burn. I hate the old women. They won’t leave me alone! But I ain’t strong enough to struggle and fight them off. I hope Mama’ll come along and rescue me, but she don’t.

Sometime, I start dreaming. I see colors mostly, but that ain’t all; I also see Pa, but with horns coming out of his head. Mama’s there too, and my little brother, but they don’t look like themselves. They look like monsters and they want to eat me. I scream and try to fight them off, then the pain comes back in and wakes me up. I’m staring up at the dirty ceiling, panting, soaked in sweat. One of the old women comes over then and spoons something into my mouth. It tastes awful, but I barely have time to notice the flavor, because I’m asleep a moment later. Next time I wake up my belly don’t hurt as much. My throat’s dry, though, parched, and feels cracked. I croak for water. This time a different person comes. It’s a young man, and his brow wrinkles in worry as he tips a cup of water down my throat. Too late, I taste the bitter taste in the water and go back to sleep. I dream again, but this time it ain’t the same. I see a little boy. He must be younger than my brother. He takes my hand and leads me off into a field of flowers, and I feel like there’s gotta be something special on the other side, but we don’t get to it before I wake up again.

Fever’s gone away, I find myself thinking as I wake up. The sweat’s stopped pouring down my face, my stomach ain’t burning. It’s rumbling something fierce, though. I sit up, my head spinning. My arm almost gives way, but I ain’t a weak little kid, and I stay upright.

“Good morning,” someone says.

I turn and see him there, that young man who gave me water. He’s sitting in a chair next to the bed and he’s got a book in his hands. It says “The Lord of the Rings” on the cover. Pa’s told me that story. The book ain’t allowed to be read anymore, but he told me the story. It’s one of my favorites.

“You seem to be feeling much better,” the young man says, sliding a ribbon between his book’s pages and setting it aside.

“I’m starving,” I said.

He laughed. “I’m sure you are. I’ll bring you some food, stay there.” He gets up and strides out the door, his long white coat trailing behind him. It’s the same kind of coat doctors wear. They got a doctor in here? That don’t seem right, somehow, but I’m too tired to worry about it.

I lay back on the bed and stare at the ceiling. There’s little white roots poking through it, like so many tiny hairs. I imagine what it’d be like if they got big and grew down into me and my body, and shudder. That ain’t gonna happen. They’re just tree roots, nothing evil or dangerous. I look away from them. The room’s tiny, and I realize it’s different from the one Birch first brought us to. Mama and my little brother ain’t there, for one, and it’s much smaller. A dresser sits in the corner with a lamp on it, and the chair the young man was in is snuggled into the alcove between my bed and that dresser. Ain’t much else in the room. Seems homey. Anyway, there ain’t an Eye in the corner, and that makes me feel safer. I always hated the Eyes they have in houses back home. You could never get away from the feeling of being watched.

The young man comes back then, with a tray in his hand. Steam’s rising from the tray and it smells so good I want to faint. My stomach rumbles so loud the young man laughs again.

“Here,” he says. “Sit up.”

I do and he puts the tray on my lap.

“Enjoy.” He sits down and crosses one leg over the other. “That’s garlic bread and stew enriched with herbs. Goldenseal, elderberry, ginseng to strengthen your immune system, a bit of cayenne for your heart, some ginkgo and dandelion… sounds weird, but it’ll make you stronger.”

I don’t even say thank you, I’m so hungry. I just tear into that stew and bread, slurping and chomping like there ain’t no tomorrow. And in this world, who can say that there will be? I’ve almost finished the food before I even notice what it tastes like. The bread’s good. Very strong, but good. I’ve never tasted food so flavorful. The garlic tingles my tongue and almost makes my stomach churn because it’s so strong, but it smells so good. The stew is the same way. Full of vegetables and little chunks of meat, with all sorts of strange flavors swirling about it, it feels like an explosion of color and life in my mouth. It’s so good I have to close my eyes to taste it better.

When I finish, I hand the tray back to the young man. “That was amazing,” I say.

He grins. “You like it? Magdalene’s a great cook. I was surprised by how good the food is here. They don’t eat proper food back in… well, back home. We’ve got our own farms here, hidden in the forest, and our food’s got real flavor. Not that we never have to steal from the outsiders, mind you.”

I nod and smile, not sure what to say.

“I used to be a doctor,” the young man continues. “Well, I was about to graduate from medical school, not quite a doctor yet. Then I did some digging, found out what they really put in all those drugs they tell us to give people. You know they’re designed to weaken you? To addict you? To make you easier to control? It’s despicable. It’s–well, that’s why these last days have been the way they were for you. The withdrawals, you know.”

I blink. “Withdrawals?”

“Yes–of course–I forgot they don’t teach you about those anymore. Your body had come to rely on those drugs. I used to think people needed so many because of all the diseases, but… you know the drugs and pills and such cause more diseases than they prevent? I had to leave when I found that out. They tried to kill me, of course, but I escaped and found my way here. All those poor people.” He sighed and stared at his hands.

I feel sick to my stomach, and all that stew I ate churns around. I’ve been poisoning myself all my life? My whole family has been. Everyone I knew has been. And them doctors, they’ve been the ones telling us to do it, telling us it would be all right. My fingers curl into a fist.

“They lied to us,” I say.

“Yes.” The former doctor sighs again. “They lie. The longer I spend with the Underground, the more I realize how much they’ve lied.”

“I hate them.”

He looks at me then, raising an eyebrow. “Hate? I don’t know. Most of them are just doing what they’ve been told. Following tradition. I used to hate them, too, but now….”

“Well, I hate them anyway.” I swing my legs over the side of the bed and stand, but fall backwards a moment later, the room doing circles around me.

“Be careful!” the young man says. “You’re still weak. The drugs have left you a shadow of yourself. Your immune system is almost nonexistent. Your muscles are atrophied. You need rest, and you need to heal.”

“I… I don’t want… what about my Mama and little brother? Is the same thing happening to them?” Little dancing lights fill my vision. Somehow, I can’t make out the room.

“Yes,” the former doctor says. “But your mother is stronger than you. She’s recovering faster.”

“And… and my little brother?” I swallow.

“He… we aren’t sure. The witches are with him night and day, but….”

My vision starts to clear. “W–witches?” I ask. Could they be anything like the old woman in the woods? My old friend I don’t know anymore.

“Yes,” the young man says, a hint of distaste in his voice. “I don’t believe in their ‘magic’ powers, mind you, but their skill with herbal healing… it is unsurpassed. They won’t teach it to me.”

“Why not?” But I only half care. My brother’s the one I’m really worried about. Is he all right? He’s always been sickly. But he’s got to be all right. We came all this way.

“They say they won’t share their secrets if I don’t become a warlock,” the young man muttered. “Birch has taught me a little, but she doesn’t know as much as they do, and… well… I can’t become a warlock. I can’t forsake my beliefs. Not when I know them to be true. Sometimes I ask Jesus–”

A shiver runs down my spine. “Do you worship the Old God?” I ask, sitting up again.

The young man blinks at me. “Why, yes… my family always has. We weren’t about to give up our faith, not even when it became illegal. I’d hoped I could use my position as a doctor to… well… but that didn’t work out.”

I lay back again. “The Old God,” I whisper. Then I frown. “Do you think my little brother will be all right?” A moment passes, and I yawn. Seems like the ceiling is getting blurry. My eyes don’t want to stay open.

The young man takes a deep breath. “I… I can’t… yes. I think he will.”

“Good.” I almost smile, but sleep takes me before I can.

Avatar: The Last Airbender

Yes, I know I’m way late to be getting into Avatar. I always seem not to get into such things until after they’re already finished (Harry Potter, for example, I didn’t read until a couple years after Deathly Hallows was published). But anyway, I just finished the series. I liked it so much that I felt like writing a blog post about it, so allow me this brief bit of rambling about a favorite story, and then I’ll get back to my regularly scheduled programming (I promise I’ll write more Them Doctors! In fact, I’ve decided that the next installment will be extra-long and hopefully get the story moving pretty well).

 

Anyway, so Avatar: The Last Airbender. I’d had multiple people tell me it was really good and I needed to watch it, but I just hadn’t gotten around to it yet. I wasn’t terribly enthused, despite all I’d heard, because I’m not a big fan of American television. In fact I’m not much of a fan of television, period, and in general I only watch anime and some story-based live action shows such as Doctor Who and the BBC’s Sherlock. So I was a bit dubious. Then I started watching Avatar and got completely absorbed into it. It’s one of those stories that you can just sit back and lose yourself in, and those are my favorite kind. So many great elements to the show… I’m not even sure where to begin.

 

I suppose the characters and the way they were handled are my favorite aspects. This might sound strange, but I love that many of the characters were immature. They weren’t immature in an annoying way, though; they were immature in a realistic way. Most of them are under 20 years old, so it only makes sense for them to be so. Yet in so many fantasy stories with children and young adults as the protagonists, they’re either not immature, or they’re immature in the wrong ways. These characters behave realistically (although they’re not always treated quite as realistically, in my opinion). They act their age, yet they also show many good and strong and worthy characteristics. They act like kids who’ve been forced to grow up too fast, which is exactly what they are. Aside from that, I enjoyed their personalities quite a lot. Even Katarra’s–although for much of the series she seemed rather flat, by the end she was rebelling against her flatness, often trying to be “fun.” You’ve gotta love it when a character realizes how serious she is all the time and starts trying to act differently. Because, of course, that’s true to real life.Another thing I really loved was the treatment of Azula in the series. In the end she’s the most twisted and conflicted of them all, and she never repents as far as is shown. Her inner turmoil is never explicitly stated, never explained. But you just know she’s torn up inside, lonely, devastated, empty. I didn’t like her when she first came into the show. By the end, I pitied her as I’ve pitied few characters in fiction.

 

Anyway. I suppose all I really want to say is that Avatar: The Last Airbender had quite an affect on me. It’s the sort of grand adventure that seems to be rare these days. People often want to make their stories “gritty” or “edgy,” make them less innocent and more mature and dark. Here we have a story made for kids, which couldn’t be any of those things precisely because it was intended for kids. I think adults need more of that kind of story… that youthful, innocent sense of adventure, good striving for victory over evil, love and redemption and friendship. There’s a reason we tell those sorts of stories to our children. You don’t want to tell your child stories that would hurt his development as a person or put wrong or bad ideas into his head, or at least most people don’t. Why should something that is not fine for one’s children be fine for oneself? Now I’m not saying this applies all across the board. Plenty of good stories have things in them that you wouldn’t want your kids to see until they were of age. But never should an adult think that just because a story is “for kids,” it has no value for an adult. I think the world would be a better place if adults cared more about cultivating innocence and a sense of adventure in themselves….

 

Okay, I started rambling. Back to Avatar. There are a lot of things I could say about it, but… I think I’ll just end with this. Avatar has spirit and heart. It’s wholesome and satisfying on multiple levels, like a good savory meal. I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. And yep, I know how late I am. :P

 

~ Jared

Them Doctors–Part IV

Sec.4.

 

“Come on,” the voice says. “Come with me.”

But there’s no face to go with the voice. I think it’s a tree speaking to us for a moment, before I realize a tree would have a much deeper and slower voice. Like the Ents in that one story, which is almost as illegal as the Bible. Pa told me it anyway.

Mama gets up to her hands and knees and picks a branch off the ground, holding it out in front of her in trembling hands.

“Who’s there?” she says, and she sounds more scared than I’ve ever heard her.

I sit up and wrap my arms around my little brother. He coughs. I hold him tight.

“You’re safe,” the voice says. “Do not be afraid.” Then its source comes out into our grove. It ain’t a tree, that’s sure, but it seems like it might live in one. It’s a woman, who’s wearing all green clothes and has a hat with a feather in it on her head. She’s got a holstered pistol on her thigh, and a bow and arrows slung across her back. Her hair’s brown, her eyes bright, and for some reason she reminds me of the old woman I used to know, the herbalist.

Well, she don’t look like one of the Police, that’s sure.

Mama steps in front of me and my little brother, clutching her branch. “Who are you?” she demands. I’m proud of her for making her voice so strong.

“My name is Birch,” she says. “You’re running from the police, right? We can help you.”

Mama’s arms sink down a little, and I think she might drop the branch. “We?” she asks.

Birch nods. “The resistance. You didn’t think your husband took you this direction for no reason, did you?”

Now the branch does drop from Mama’s fingers, sliding to the ground and falling beside her foot. “Oh,” she whispers. “He… I should’ve… I should’ve remembered.”

How would Pa know these people? Was he part of the resistance? Was he a criminal when he was young? How had I never known? I stood and helped my little brother to his feet, peering around Mama at the forest woman. She met my eyes and gave me a brief smile.

“Come on,” she said again. “We have no time to waste.” She turned on her heel and strode off into the trees, her steps light as a deer’s.

I took my little brother’s hand and followed her, not hesitating for one moment. Ain’t these the people Pa was leading us to? Leastaways, if Birch is telling the truth. I know I’ve got to trust her. Mama follows us a moment later, moving like she’s got a boulder on her shoulders. But she keeps up, even when Birch leads us into a dark part of the forest where the trees are so thick they block out the  moonlight. A couple of times I glimpse some people around us, who I think are like Birch: all dressed in green. But they don’t show their faces. I think they must be guards, keeping watch for monsters and Police. They must do a good job, because nothing attacks us. After an hour or so, Birch stops and talks to some men in the trees, saying who she is and who we are. Then we go into a cave, and I want to collapse, because it feels so safe in there.

“Welcome to the Warding Caves,” Birch says, turning to us with a smile. She’s got a nice smile, all straight white teeth. Her eyes seem so bright. She’s got a life to her, this one has, and it ain’t like nothing I ever seen before.

“I’ve heard of this place,” Mama whispers. “Never thought I’d see it.”

“You wouldn’t be seeing it now,” Birch says, “If it weren’t for your husband. Now come on. I’ll find you a room.”

She takes off her weapons and puts them on a rack by the entrance of the cave. There’s a man there, who hugs her when she drops off the weapons. He looks very clean-cut, not like I would’ve imagined a rebel who lives in the forest to look. It seems like he is very fond of Birch.

The green-clad woman takes us further into the cave, and leads us through some tunnels. There’s other people there, also dressed in green, and most of them look tough and dangerous. But they’d have to be, if they want to survive. Birch doesn’t show us much. All we really see is the tunnels, which are cold earth and stone without decoration. I catch a glimpse of a bigger cavern, a really huge one, bigger than any cave I ever seen in my life. There’s a whole lot of people in there, and machines and equipment besides, but Birch ushers us past before I can get a good look. She finally stops in a very dank part of the tunnels, at the end of a long row of scrap metal doors.

“You can sleep there,” she says, pointing to a door in front of us. “It’s not much, I know, but we don’t have much room here. I’m afraid we won’t be able to take anyone else in after you.” She sighs. “It’ll be time to expand soon… but, in you go.” She pushes the door open, giving us a faint smile. It creaks on rusty hinges, showing us a tiny room with a dirt floor. There ain’t nothing much in it, just a chest and a couple of beds.

Well, the beds are the most important part. I go in, feeling a little light-headed, and fall down on the mattress. I’m already drifting off to sleep, as I hear Mama thanking Birch behind me, and then telling my little brother that we’re all safe now and the Police won’t catch us….