Resurrection Sunday Blessings

31 March 2013

Christ, the Lord, is risen today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth, reply, Alleluia!

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Lo! the Sun’s eclipse is over, Alleluia!
Lo! He sets in blood no more, Alleluia!

Vain the stone, the watch, the seal, Alleluia!
Christ hath burst the gates of hell, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids His rise, Alleluia!
Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!

Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

— Excerpt of "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" by Charles Wesley (1739)

I pray your Lord's Day has been a blessed one filled with rejoicing in the resurrection of Christ! He is risen! He is risen, indeed!
 But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay." —Matthew 28:5-6

Book Review: The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper

26 March 2013

He has . . . endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontier, the merciless Indian savages whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions.
The Declaration of Independence

I'm not quite sure how to begin this post. I normally try to adopt a professional and coherent tone when I write up book reviews, but as my feelings about The Last of the Mohicans are certainly not professional and anything but coherent, it's going to be a difficult task to translate them onto the page. If you were to ask me absentmindedly what I loved most about this book, I would have a horrible time of it trying to pin my opinion on one word. The setting is both lush and savage. The romance is pure and sacrificial. The heroism is heart-wrenching. The battles and skirmishes are horrific and bloody. The characters remain forever branded on your heart. It is a story of such journeys, kidnappings, rescues, escapes, massacres, and sacrifices as cannot be put into words. Upon finishing it, I could only form one thought: "Oh, such a book!"

Such a book, indeed.

The Last of the Mohicans
The Last of the Mohicans By James Fenimore Cooper
*Summary taken from the back cover

Set in 1757 during the fierce French and Indian wars, Cooper's classic novel of adventure follows an android scout and his companions as they weave through the lush and spectacular wilderness of upstate New York, fighting to save the beautiful daughters of a fort commander from a treacherous Huron renegade.

With its death-defying chases and teeth-clenching suspense, this historical romance established many archetypes of American frontier fiction: the brave, skillful loner (Hawkeye), who rejects white civilization while aiding the settlers who spread it; the noble savage (Chingachgook) who becomes his deepest friend; a plot involving chases, epic battles, and lovely heroines (Cora and Alice Munro) menaced by an Indian renegade (Magua); and the central role played by the most important "character" of all, the awesomely beautiful but dangerous wilderness.

My Thoughts: Contrary to the impression you may have gained from my brief introduction, I did not always find Cooper's novel intriguing. The first one hundred pages in particular were slow and, to quote Abigail, dull as sand. (Just one of the reasons it took me about three months to finish this book.) The author allows no check on his verbosity, and subjects his reader to long historical discussions and descriptions as a result. It wasn't until my tutorial released for spring break that I gave myself a certain amount of pages to read per day, determined to finish the book at long last. What originally started as a personal assignment soon became much more, however, as I found it difficult to put this book down, lest Cora and Alice meet some new atrocity while I tarried. Though he takes his time getting around to it, Cooper definitely knows how to layer the tension and intrigue.

One of this book's most controversial facets is the way in which it portrays the Indians of colonial New York. The Last of the Mohicans presents a view of the Native American savage both old and new in nature. The author shows him in his most violent element, scalping enemies and friends alike with cold-hearted indifference, and then gives the man an artificial sort of holiness above that of the "pale-faces" because he is better acquainted with the ways of nature. The characters themselves are rather ambiguous on this subject, especially Hawkeye, who both commends and convicts the "red man" for his ways. Such an image falls short of the modern opinion, which depicts the Indian as an innocent and forsaken creature who was forced from his land by the domineering white man. While it certainly sounds heartbreaking and tragic (and perfectly fulfills their political agenda — shocking, no?), history's records do not agree with this faulty depiction. Cooper displays his Native Americans as capable of both shocking brutality and heart-rending sacrifice, painting an image conjured less by fantasy and more by reality. A good portion of the book is drenched (and I mean, drenched) in the violence and gore produced by the natives, but it does not keep the author from dropping obscure references to an Indian's supposedly superior knowledge and understanding. These opposing views are not easily reconciled with one another, and the worldview they present is ambivalent at best.

Pros: The Last of the Mohicans remains the quintessential example of a historical romance. Despite the slow beginning, it soon draws the reader in with its depictions of daring escapes, bloody massacres, valiant sacrifices, fearless heroes, lovely heroines, and every other element that classifies a page-turner. Even Cooper's prose, tedious at times though it may be, lends a sort of arresting beauty to the feral wilderness he describes. The male characters are gallant and fearless, repeatedly setting aside their own lives for the security of Cora and Alice. In the same vein, the two sisters act in a manner both modest and feminine, and entirely appropriate in nature. In Cora especially I found a refreshing balance between the fainting maiden of old and the overbearing feminist of modern culture. Both demure and strong-willed, she remains the voice of reason throughout the story, and her pure, wholehearted faith in God stood in sharp contrast with the shaky, practically nonexistent dogma of Hawkeye.

Cons: Besides the graphic violence native to its subject matter, the author also presents a vague image of morality between the spiritual clash of Yahweh, the One True God, and the Indians' Great Spirit. Hawkeye claims that the two are one and the same, and while they share a few similarities, such a view is obviously false. David Gamut, a devout Protestant and master of psalmody, is made to look quite ridiculous in his seeming lack of knowledge of all matters concerning warfare and wood-dwelling. To borrow others' words, he's so heavenly minded that he's no earthly good. Hawkeye also debates whether there will be a separate Heaven for the white man and the red man. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
I recommend this book for ages 15+ because of the violent content and confused morality.

A Bit O' Reading For the Day:
“History, like love, is so apt to surround her heroes with an atmosphere of imaginary brightness.” — The Last of the Mohicans
P.S. In case you're wondering, yes, you are in the right place, though it may not seem so at first. Brianna Wachter, a dear friend of mine and graphic-designing extraordinaire, kindly installed a new design for Literary Lane, and I must say that I am quite satisfied with the result. As a sort of heads-up, I'll be moving over to a custom domain in a couple days, which means that when you visit my blog, it will redirect to the new address.

Sunday Blessings

17 March 2013

via pinterest
I know that my Redeemer lives;
What comfort this sweet sentence gives!
He lives, He lives, who once was dead;
He lives, my ever living Head.

He lives to bless me with His love,
He lives to plead for me above.
He lives my hungry soul to feed,
He lives to help in time of need.

He lives triumphant from the grave,
He lives eternally to save,
He lives all glorious in the sky,
He lives exalted there on high.

He lives to grant me rich supply,
He lives to guide me with His eye,
He lives to comfort me when faint,
He lives to hear my soul’s complaint.

He lives to silence all my fears,
He lives to wipe away my tears
He lives to calm my troubled heart,
He lives all blessings to impart.

He lives, my kind, wise, heavenly Friend,
He lives and loves me to the end;
He lives, and while He lives, I’ll sing;
He lives, my Prophet, Priest, and King.

He lives and grants me daily breath;
He lives, and I shall conquer death:
He lives my mansion to prepare;
He lives to bring me safely there.

He lives, all glory to His Name!
He lives, my Jesus, still the same.
Oh, the sweet joy this sentence gives,
I know that my Redeemer lives!

— "I Know That My Redeemer Lives" by Samuel Medley

Have a beautiful Lord's Day, ladies!

A Villain With a Smiling Cheek

14 March 2013

The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose. An evil soul producing holy witness is like a villain with a smiling cheek, a goodly apple rotten at the heart. O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!
William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

Back in August during my blog tour for Violets Are Blue, I wrote up a guest post for Scribbles and Ink Stains in which I mentioned how most villains require a reason for their villainy. At the time, and within the context of the post, I was not at liberty to go into extensive detail, and so the topic was kept to one paragraph among many others. Several of Abigail's readers commented on that aspect of my post afterwards, though, and I thought I'd take this opportunity to expand upon my thoughts that I only briefly mentioned last summer.

As a young child first writing overtly dramatic plays à la Josephine March, I had a tendency for dropping haphazard and altogether deadly antagonists into the plots of my stories. The logic behind this endeavor was simple: what is a book worth without a good villain? Pulling names and titles from Little Women, I would build a world in which innocence was thrown against turpitude and delight in the conflict that resulted. (Rodrigo always came to the rescue in the nick of time, of course — what else would he do?) 

My short stories often began with a humble setting, typically a small town right outside the woods, and the characters with which I populated my tales were just as modest and unassuming as their homes. Going about their everyday business with no particular vigor, they would be startled by the sudden entrance of a messenger whose sole purpose in coming was to announce the approach of a horrific monster (also known as an earl) who desired to pillage and plunder the town, slaughtering and feasting on its inhabitants as he pleased. (I never promised that I was a normal child.) About ten minutes later, the villain himself would arrive and go about the business foretold by the distressed messenger.

Contrary to my family's opinion, the greatest of my problems as a new writer was not the fact that I was unaware that "earl" is a formal title given to a British nobleman and not just a fancy term for a vile monster who delights in rampaging kindly village folk. Besides the marked juvenility of the plot detailed above, I rarely gave an introduction to my villain before his great hour came, and once I had made use of his brute strength, he exited as quickly as he had entered. The characters would find some way of defeating the monster, and then the air filled with the sound of much rejoicing. Never did I mention why the creature was so bent towards destruction, and for that reason, my plots remained flat and predictable.

Every antagonist, whether he's a small annoyance to the protagonist or a full-blown villain incarnate, must have two things: a motive and a guise. Without these two traits, he is nothing, and your book will never progress beyond that of a young child's. A motive pushes the villain forward in his immoral actions — it remains the single driving force behind him throughout the story — it is his reason for acting as he does. Though you may not realize it, everything you do in life has a motive. When you're hungry, you go to the kitchen for a snack. When you're tired, you lie down and rest. You eat to satisfy your hunger. You sleep to ease your fatigue and refresh your body. If you have motives for such menial, everyday tasks, shouldn't a character whose intent is to destroy your protagonist's life also have a reason for his actions?

Likewise, a villain is useless without a guise of some sort. Think about it: what good is a blackguard if he goes about revealing his intentions to all and sundry? He may still have his power and brawn, but he has lost the element of surprise, and the reader has, too. When I read Frankenstein in January of this year, I was greatly disturbed by Frankenstein's monster, and not because of his propensity for murder. It was his very appearance of goodness that so unarmed my emotions. The character pleads innocence, claiming he's only a product of his environment, and in the space of one page he spins the reader's emotions into tangled knots, twisting his or her preconceived perceptions of good and evil. The monster commits horrific murder on several occasions and deserves to be put to death himself, but the reader cannot bring himself to convict the creature because he appears outwardly contrite.

Writing villains properly, like any other writing practice, only improves with experience. I'm happy to say that the villains I've crafted recently are a deal more rounded than the ones I molded at age eight, but I still have much to learn, and only time can play the instructor in this case. At least I now understand the proper definition of an earl, which proves I've made some progress in the past eight years.

Summer in the Light, Winter in the Shade

11 March 2013

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.
Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

A writer cannot be long separated from her characters, lest she return and find she no longer knows them. Through the last few months of research, I've learned that distance does not secure inspiration, and if I do not scribble something or other each day (or each week, at least), I will find myself looking in on Rifles in the South Field like a wandering stranger out in the cold, nose pressed against the glass, seeing the book play out before me but unaware as to how to cross the great divide between us. Taking part in Beautiful People each month (which I'm not particularly good at doing) remains one of the best methods for staying in touch with your characters . . . and what is an author if she does not know her own children?

This month I'm drawing from a history that took place before revolution was kindling in the American colonists' minds. Though Elizabeth Dixon plays only a small part in the book, she is eternally at the forefront of Susannah's mind, making her an intriguing character and one I desire to know better.

the late elizabeth dixon

1. If your character’s house burned down, and they were left with nothing but the clothes on their back, what would they do? Where would they go?

Elizabeth wasn't particularly wealthy before her marriage, and thus no stranger to the sting of lye and the prick of the needle. Being of a resourceful turn, she would have most likely take up lodging at a neighbor's home until she could find some means of earning an income, either as a laundress or seamstress. The work would have chafed at her pride at first, but ends must meet somehow, and she would see herself as the one called upon to draw them together.

2. Are they happy with where they are in life, or would they like to move on?

Her station in life as mistress of a vast plantation, loving wife to a devoted husband, and mother to a young daughter was not one to often breed discontent. Being neither bold or adventurous, she never suffered from wanderlust.

3. Are they well-paid?

Samuel Dixon's finances easily satisfied any small need of hers, but she never had cause to receive wages in her life.

4. Can they read?

Elizabeth would have considered it both a curse and a shame if she could not.

5. What languages do they speak?

A smattering of French and German carried over from childhood, but not a great deal. Her ablities did not extend beyond enquiries of the other person's health.

6. What is their biggest mistake?

Refusing to heed her father's wishes as a young child when he told her not to set foot out of doors without a warm cloak. The cold that resulted weakened her chest for life, and rendered her health decidedly fragile.

7. What did they play with most as a child?

She had a worn rag doll called Becky of which she was passing fond.

8. What are their thoughts on politics?

The unreasonable taxes Britain was beginning to impose upon her country troubled her, but she was never so bold as to proclaim American independence. Her secret hope was always that a peaceful compromise could be reached between the Colonies and Great Britain.

9. What is their expected life time?

Elizabeth died suddenly of influenza in 1766 when Susannah was only six years old.

10. If they were falsely accused of murder, what would they do? How would they react?

She could not have comprehended such a situation occuring, and thus could give no coherent response. She would have most likely relied on her husband to plead her innocence, not trusting her own voice.

Book Review: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

05 March 2013

Perhaps it's a morbid quality to admit, but ever since reading The Scarlet Pimpernel several years past, I've had a certain facination with the French Revolution. That is not to say that I condone the bloodthirsty slaughter of the aristos on the guillotine, nor do I hold with the French revolutionaries' political thought — quite the contrary, I assure you — but one cannot observe such a tempestuous time in history without a sort of curious interest. When married with the mutual facts that this book was written by Dickens and the ending involves the tragic sacrifice of a redeemed soul, it is understandable that I anticipated A Tale of Two Cities with a violent curiosity for many months. Though perhaps not as glamorous and fast-paced as Baroness Orczy's beloved work, it was every bit as worthwhile.

*This post will contain spoilers. Read with caution.

A Tale of Two Cities
By Charles Dickens
*Summary via

'Liberty, equality, fraternity, or death; — the last, much the easiest to bestow, O Guillotine!' 

After eighteen years as a political prisoner in the Bastille, the aging Doctor Manette is finally released and reunited with his daughter in England. There the lives of two very different men, Charles Darnay, an exiled French aristocrat, and Sydney Carton, a disreputable but brilliant English lawyer, become enmeshed through their love for Lucie Manette. From the tranquil roads of London, they are drawn against their will to the vengeful, bloodstained streets of Paris at the height of the Reign of Terror, and they soon fall under the lethal shadow of La Guillotine.

My Thoughts: First of all, it's penned by Charles Dickens. Which is to say, I knew there was very little chance I would find disappointment among its pages. True to his form, the author opened with a flurry of characters, seemingly unimportant at the moment, and yet each came to play a pivotal role in his story. I stand amazed at Dickens' mastery as a penslayer each time I read another of his novels. Oliver Twist was quite enjoyable, but I believe I prefer A Tale of Two Cities (that could have something to do with the fact that Tale was written later and his style was more developed). The beginning was a bit slow, as I had expected, but once I finished Book I, the pace picked up remarkably.

From the novel's start, there was something in Sydney Carton that drew me to him. As an alcoholic and a ne'er-do-well, apathetic and slovenly in his dress, he isn't the sort of character to typically catch my interest. I normally admire the hard-working, disciplined, gentlemanly male characters; in short, those like Charles Darnay. But the very fact that Sydney's life has no vision and he believes himself to be beyond saving tore at my heart, and I wept for him through the scene in which he confesses his love for Lucie. "I wish you to know that you have been the last dream of my soul," he tells her. "For you, and for any dear to you, I would do anything . . . think now and then that there is a man who would give his life, to keep a life you love beside you!" It is his very love for her and the sacrifice he makes on her behalf that orchestrates his ultimate redemption.

Pros: Dickens knows how to quicken your pulse. He painted each layer of anticipation until I could feel the boiling blood of the French revolutionaries and the imminent, bloodthirsty revenge soon to be wreaked upon the aristos they so despised. Each character mentioned in passing he resurrected and knitted back into the threads of the story with a talent even Madame Defarge and her eternally-clicking needles couldn't manage. And then the ending came and wrenched me of all my tears with its mingled beauty and sorrow.

Cons: Not for nothing has Dickens been accused of writing flat characters. Though the people who populate this book are memorable and engaging, they're not terribly dynamic (excepting Sydney Carton, of course). Lucie Manette in particular remains the gentle, soft-spoken, loving daughter and wife throughout the entire story, with little in the way of character development, and her relationship with Charles Darnay, while genuine, isn't very deep. In addition to that, there is some mild swearing, a veiled description of rape, and a fair share of violence and bloodshed, making this a book for mature readers.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
I'd recommend this book for ages 14+ because of the violent content and more difficult prose.

A Bit O' Reading For the Day:
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” — A Tale of Two Cities
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