The Hunger Games

Mar 292012

Paul and I saw The Hunger Games on Tuesday. We really enjoyed the movie, and I thought it a particularly stellar adaptation of the book. (Paul hasn’t read the books yet, but he plans to do so soon.) The plot was compressed well, the violence was not glamorized or overdone, I loved much of the casting and costuming, and Jennifer Lawrence was superb as Katniss.

The movie was a really good proxy for the books, I think. So if you liked the movie, I definitely recommend reading the books. If you didn’t like the movie, don’t bother reading the books. Also, the movie was such a good adaptation that I don’t think that you need to read the book before seeing the movie. (That’s usually a hard and fast rule with me!)

On a humorous note, here’s two negative reviews that I ran across while searching for movie times:

Clueless #1

I went to go see this movie this weekend and it made me sick. Literally I got sick and had to leave the movie because I felt like throwing up. After seeing the children killing each other, it left me with a sick feeling. This is not what I expected this movie to be about and it was a waste of money. It’s sad when hit movie is about people enjoying a sport about children killing each other. Where is the American peoples morale’s? No wonder our world is in so much trouble when we are saying this is going to be the Movie of the year. We have enough killing in this world why do we need to encourage it. I strongly recommend parents not to let their children see the movie. All it is doing is encouraging violence.

Hollywood I pray you become convicted and start fearing God and change what you’er making. You may not have to answer to someone in this life, but you will in the next.

Clueless #2

This movies is full of hidden meaning. The rich politicians controlling every aspect of the working class. Then getting their entertainment from the children of the working class between a certain age killing each other. Plus they bet on which kid will win so they make more money. It sounds a lot like what is going on right now with the politicians and the wars in the middle east. They have control of our working class kids and they can fight them to death, then sit back and collect of every last bit of it. All the talk before they actual get to the arena is completely unnecessary. The set up of the training events reminds me a little of Harry Potter. The actual arena is boring and the action sucks. Don’t waste your time or money.

Sadly, these people probably vote.

On a more serious note, some people are upset that Rue was correctly cast as a black girl… which is revolting. I’m not sure whether the criticisms of Jennifer Lawrence as too “big” for Katniss are worse or not… but they’re still revolting.

Alas, these people likely vote too.

But hey, we live in a world in which awesome books like The Hunger Games are written and published, then made into awesome movies. So phooey on my gripes! To hell with the morons!

Video: The Depth of Ayn Rand’s Fictional Characters

Mar 082012

In Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Webcast, I discussed the depth of Ayn Rand’s fictional characters. The question was:

Are the characters in Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged flat due to philosophic consistency? I’m reading the novel currently, and rather enjoying it. However, I’ve heard many people claim her characters are flat, one-dimensional, etc. I usually respond to this by saying that Ayn Rand’s characters are the incarnation of her ideas, the physical embodiment of her ideas: an individual is consumed with this philosophy, so much so that they are entirely logically consistent (or at least as much as humanly possible, they are human, and do make mistakes, e.g. Rearden’s marriage), thus, because of their abnormally extensive logical consistency within their philosophy, these characters merely appear to be ‘one-dimensional’. Is this an accurate understanding of Rand’s characters?

My answer, in brief:

The criticism that Ayn Rand’s characters are flat is dead wrong, as is the response that they embody ideas.

Here’s the video of my full answer:

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Feb 162012

Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is one of my personal favorites in literature, and I’d rank it somewhere in the top ten of all literature.

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I gave myself the gift of watching my favorite of all the movie/miniseries versions of Jane Eyre, namely this version by Masterpiece Theater. The omissions from and changes to the plot are minor, and the characters of Jane and Mr. Rochester are perfectly written and acted by Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens. It was such a delight to watch again, and I highly recommend it, whether you’ve read the book or not.

(I did like the recent movie adaptation, but I didn’t think the characters were nearly as well-portrayed.)

Nov 142011

Since the movie Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 is now available on DVD (and on Blu-Ray), I thought that I should repost my video review of the movie:

For detailed analyses of Ayn Rand’s epic novel, Atlas Shrugged, see my Explore Atlas Shrugged podcast series.

My Latest Reads on Audible

Sep 272011

As I’ve blogged before, I’ve had a subscription with Audible for many years. I listen to audiobooks in my car, as well as while cooking, cleaning, and gardening. I’ve found that I much prefer to listen to fiction than to read it, because a good reader adds a rich layer of color to the text.

With my super-fancy “Platinum Annual Membership,” I receive 24 books per year for just under $10 per book. (I’ve used it so much this past year that I’m likely going to need to renew early, since I’ve almost run out of credits!) For the less devoted, you can try Audible for free, then choose your preferred type of subscription.

Audible is part of the advertising network to which I belong. By using any of these links to purchase a subscription, you support my work without costing yourself an extra cent.

Lately, I listened to pretty much everything by Wilkie Collins (1824-1889) available on audiobook. Some were merely so-so, but I’d definitely recommend A Rogue’s Life, The Moonstone, and The Woman in White. Here’s the full list:

  • A Rogue’s Life by Wilkie Collins (5 stars, terribly witty and entertaining, very benevolent)
  • The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (4 stars, wonderful mystery)
  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (4 stars, very enjoyable mystery, fabulous heroine in Marian Halcombe)
  • The Frozen Deep by Wilkie Collins (3 stars, worth hearing, but not fully satisfying)
  • The Two Destinies by Wilkie Collins (3 stars, enjoyable listen)
  • Mr Wray’s Cash Box by Wilkie Collins (3 stars, okay)
  • The Evil Genius by Wilkie Collins (2 stars, too-didactic story on the evils of divorce, and horribly read by John Bolen)

In addition, I just finished Middlemarch by George Eliot. I didn’t like that as much as The Mill on the Floss, because the plot never reached a proper climax. However, the story was engaging throughout, and the depth of insight into the characters was truly remarkable.

What’s next for me? I’m not sure!

NoodleCast #86: Interview with Ari Armstrong about Harry Potter

Jul 132011

Yesterday, I sat down with Ari Armstrong to discuss the Harry Potter novels, given that the final movie will be released this week. As you might already know, Ari is the author of the excellent (and recently expanded) book Values of Harry Potter.

Here are the questions that we discussed:

  • How good can we expect the final movie to be, given the franchise’s history?
  • Why do so many people love Harry Potter?
  • What are the basic values promoted by the novels?
  • Are the Potter books religious?
  • What are the psychological themes of the Potter books?
  • What are the political themes?

Then, on a more personal note:

  • What character do you most identify with? Why?
  • What characters do you most admire? Why?
  • What scene from the books most captures your imagination? Why?
  • What do you say to someone reluctant to read the books?

Beware: The interview contains some major spoilers, so don’t listen to it unless you’ve read all the books.

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40:37 minutes

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My Latest Reads on Audible

Jun 282011

As I’ve blogged before, I’ve had a subscription with Audible for many years. I listen to audiobooks in my car, as well as while doing mindless chores and gardening. I’ve found that I much prefer to listen to fiction than to read it, because a good reader adds a rich layer of color to the text.

With my super-fancy “Platinum Annual Membership,” I receive 24 books per year for just under $10 per book. For the less devoted, you can try Audible for free, then choose your preferred type of subscription.

Audible is part of the advertising network to which I belong. By using any of these links to purchase a subscription, you support my work without costing yourself an extra cent.

Here are the audiobooks that I’ve read lately:

  • Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy: Painfully naturalistic and malevolent, yet also epic and unforgettable.
  • The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather: Also naturalistic, although more benevolent, but ultimately lacking in needed psychological depth.
  • The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins: Compelling dystopia written for young adults, with shining and complex heroes.
  • The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot: Compelling but heart-wrenching, definitely recommended to fellow fans of Jane Austen.

Horcruxes and Harry Potter

Apr 222011

In this video, Ari Armstrong of Free Colorado delves into the deeper meaning of a “Horcrux” in Harry Potter by contrasting it with that of the Christian cross, then explaining why the latter does not represent the values in the novel. It’s well-worth watching, as I’d never noticed the parallels he explains here so clearly.

On a related note, Ari just released an expanded version of his excellent book Values of Harry Potter. Here’s his tour through the book:

The release of the Expanded Edition of my book Values of Harry Potter offers a good opportunity for me to walk people through the book.

In the Introduction, I quickly review my own history with the Potter series and introduce the main topics of the original edition. I also summarize my take on the religious themes of J. K. Rowling’s novels: “Some people argue that the books should be avoided because they oppose Christianity. Others argue that the books should be read and praised because they promote Christian themes. My claim is that the Christian elements of the Potter books are real but disconnected from the broader moral themes of the books.”

Chapter One, “The Heroic Fight for Values,” first discusses the major values that Harry Potter and his allies pursue: their lives and the lives of loved ones, their liberty, and their ability to live and work in peace. In contrast, “all the villains achieve is misery and self-destruction;” they destroy the values that make life worth living. The last part of the chapter, “Values in the Face of Death,” reviews the stories of Lily protecting Harry with her life, Dumbledore doing the same for Draco, and Harry confronting Voldemort thinking he’ll die in the process. I argue that these cases, too, illustrate the heroes acting heroically for their values.

Chapter Two, “Independence: Mark of the Hero,” explores the virtue of independence in Rowling’s heroes and the vice of dependence (or, to invoke Ayn Rand’s term, second-handedness) in the villains. Independence in this context means approaching “all of life…according to one’s own considered judgment of the facts,” not “ignoring others, disdaining them, avoiding their company, or rejecting their help.” Key examples of the second-handed approach are the Dursleys and Gilderoy Lockhart. The section, “Second-Handers and Power,” discusses how power-lusters such as Minister Fudge, Dolores Umbridge, and Voldemort himself embody the second-hand mentality. By contrast, the heroes of the novels, particularly Dobby, Hermione, and Harry, maintain a fierce independence.

Chapter Three, “Free Will: ‘It Matters Not What Someone Is Born,’” considers the similarities and differences between Harry and Voldemort. “Rowling shows that choice is key” to the very different paths they travel. The chapter also reviews the cases of Sirius Black and Severus Snape as illustrations of the power of free will. However, free will also has its limits, and the chapter explores these as well, as illustrated by the cases of Ariana (Dumbledore’s sister), Merope (Voldemort’s mother), and the house elf Kreacher.

Chapter Four, “The Clash of Love and Sacrifice,” grows more critical. Is Lily’s act of protecting Harry an example of sacrificial love in the Christian tradition? Invoking the wisdom of Aristotle, I argue that it is not; instead, Lily acts to protect her most cherished value. Though Rowling herself injects Christian symbolism into her stories, her characters actually show that they act in pursuit of their own values, and calling that “sacrifice” makes little sense. The chapter also considers the cases of Ron “sacrificing” himself on the chess board, Harry rescuing his enemies, and Dumbledore caring for his sister.

Chapter Five, “Materialism and Immortality,” examines the significance of the Horcrux, an object of great evil. Central to the plot of the novels is Harry’s quest to destroy Voldemort’s Horcruxes. I argue that, while Rowling suggests belief in an immortal soul is necessary for virtue, her characters actually demonstrate otherwise.

For the Conclusion to the original edition, “Mischief Managed,” I discuss Rowling’s work as an example of Romantic literature. I argue, “The deeper magic of Harry Potter flows through our world, too.”

Part Three: Additional Essays consists of eight essays new to the Expanded Edition.

The Psychology of Harry Potter reviews Rowling’s experience with depression and relates it to the dementors of the novels. The essay goes on to explore the psychological significance of boggarts, the Mirror of Erised, the Resurrection Stone, and the scar that Voldemort gives Harry.

Wizard Law and Segregation reviews the various roles that government plays in the novels. In brief, the government protects wizards from harm, oppresses other races (which the heroes condemn), and regulates various behaviors. Notably, Rowling creates a world in which wizards forcibly segregate themselves from Muggles, something that seems at odds with Rowling’s broader themes of political liberty.

News Media in Harry Potter counters criticism of the novels’ treatment of journalism. I argue that Rowling actually presents a “constructive view of journalism within the series.” I conclude, “The novels encourage readers to critically examine claims, regardless of their source, for internal consistency and adherence to the facts. Most importantly, the series urges readers to fight for the truth.”

The final five essays review The Tales of Beedle the Bard, contrast Rowling’s use of magic with the magic of fantasy writers J. R. R. Tolkien and Lloyd Alexander, recount “Harry Potter’s Lessons for Muggle Politicians,” discuss some similarities between Rowling and Ayn Rand, and review the Potter films.

If this seems interesting to you, I invite you to read my entire book!

I’ve not yet read the expanded edition of the book, but I really enjoyed the original version. In case you missed it before, here’s the endorsement that I wrote for the original edition:

I’ve read all the Harry Potter novels multiple times, discussed them at length with friends, read essays analyzing them, and even published an essay of my own. Yet Ari Armstrong’s Values of Harry Potter offered me a delightful array of fresh insights into J. K. Rowling’s works. It offers fans of Harry Potter a unique opportunity to explore the core values of the novels, to discover why we find them so captivating and so inspiring. Readers will develop a deeper appreciation for Rowling’s achievement in portraying life-loving, courageous heroes. They will discover compelling answers to any half-formed questions and doubts about the significance of her Christian themes. When I re-read the Harry Potter series — as I’m eager to do again — I will gain far more insight and inspiration from them than ever before, thanks to Values of Harry Potter.

If that sounds interesting, you can buy the paperback for $14.99 or the Kindle edition for $8.99.

Note to Appease the FTC Thugs: Ari sent me a free copy of this new edition of his book. That, plus our criminal history together in Mexico, is my sole reason for this blog post. Granted, any commissions earned from purchases thereof goes to Greg Perkins, my other partner in crime, due to Colorado’s Amazon Tax. However, I’d find some way around that were it not for that Las Vegas caper involving the hooker, the truck driver, and the one-handed midget little person. He knows too much, dammit!

Elizabeth Gaskell: A Taste

Dec 102010

Lately, I have been voraciously reading Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865). I started with North and South, then read Cranford, and I just finished Mary Baron. North and South are full-fledged novels, with gripping plots and striking characters, set against the background of the Industrial Revolution. Cranford is a interwoven series of gently satirical vignettes. I’ve enjoyed them all immensely, and I strongly recommend them heartily, particularly to fans of Jane Austen.

As usual, I’ve been listening to what I can on audiobook from, and then I’ll read the rest of her collected works on my Kindle.

A few days ago, I dug up the following story from Cranford to send to Katie Granju, who recently lost her son teenage son Henry.

“Have you been in India?” said I, rather astonished.

“Oh, yes! many a year, ma’am. Sam was a sergeant in the 31st; and when the regiment was ordered to India, I drew a lot to go, and I was more thankful than I can tell; for it seemed as if it would only be a slow death to me to part from my husband. But, indeed, ma’am, if I had known all, I don’t know whether I would not rather have died there and then than gone through what I have done since. To be sure, I’ve been able to comfort Sam, and to be with him; but, ma’am, I’ve lost six children,” said she, looking up at me with those strange eyes that I’ve never noticed but in mothers of dead children – with a kind of wild look in them, as if seeking for what they never more might find. “Yes! Six children died off, like little buds nipped untimely, in that cruel India. I thought, as each died, I never could – I never would – love a child again; and when the next came, it had not only its own love, but the deeper love that came from the thoughts of its little dead brothers and sisters. And when Phoebe was coming, I said to my husband, ‘Sam, when the child is born, and I am strong, I shall leave you; it will cut my heart cruel; but if this baby dies too, I shall go mad; the madness is in me now; but if you let me go down to Calcutta, carrying my baby step by step, it will, maybe, work itself off; and I will save, and I will hoard, and I will beg – and I will die, to get a passage home to England, where our baby may live?’ God bless him! he said I might go; and he saved up his pay, and I saved every pice I could get for washing or any way; and when Phoebe came, and I grew strong again, I set off. It was very lonely; through the thick forests, dark again with their heavy trees – along by the river’s side (but I had been brought up near the Avon in Warwickshire, so that flowing noise sounded like home) – from station to station, from Indian village to village, I went along, carrying my child. I had seen one of the officer’s ladies with a little picture, ma’am – done by a Catholic foreigner, ma’am – of the Virgin and the little Saviour, ma’am. She had him on her arm, and her form was softly curled round him, and their cheeks touched. Well, when I went to bid good-bye to this lady, for whom I had washed, she cried sadly; for she, too, had lost her children, but she had not another to save, like me; and I was bold enough to ask her would she give me that print. And she cried the more, and said her children were with that little blessed Jesus; and gave it me, and told me that she had heard it had been painted on the bottom of a cask, which made it have that round shape. And when my body was very weary, and my heart was sick (for there were times when I misdoubted if I could ever reach my home, and there were times when I thought of my husband, and one time when I thought my baby was dying), I took out that picture and looked at it, till I could have thought the mother spoke to me, and comforted me. And the natives were very kind. We could not understand one another; but they saw my baby on my breast, and they came out to me, and brought me rice and milk, and sometimes flowers – I have got some of the flowers dried. Then, the next morning, I was so tired; and they wanted me to stay with them – I could tell that – and tried to frighten me from going into the deep woods, which, indeed, looked very strange and dark; but it seemed to me as if Death was following me to take my baby away from me; and as if I must go on, and on – and I thought how God had cared for mothers ever since the world was made, and would care for me; so I bade them good-bye, and set off afresh. And once when my baby was ill, and both she and I needed rest, He led me to a place where I found a kind Englishman lived, right in the midst of the natives.”

“And you reached Calcutta safely at last?”

“Yes, safely! Oh! when I knew I had only two days’ journey more before me, I could not help it, ma’am – it might be idolatry, I cannot tell – but I was near one of the native temples, and I went into it with my baby to thank God for His great mercy; for it seemed to me that where others had prayed before to their God, in their joy or in their agony, was of itself a sacred place. And I got as servant to an invalid lady, who grew quite fond of my baby aboard-ship; and, in two years’ time, Sam earned his discharge, and came home to me, and to our child. … [In the novel, the child Phoebe is alive and well when this story is recounted.]

Literature is, undoubtedly, my most valued form of art. (By that, I mean serious literature, not popular fiction.) I could do without all other forms of art, if need be… but to deprive me of literature would be to steal my very soul! And Elizabeth Gaskell has been a most nourishing discovery for me.

NoodleCast #38: Explore Atlas Shrugged, Session 20

Oct 092010

These discussion questions and podcast were prepared by Diana Hsieh for for people interested in creating their own Atlas Shrugged Reading Groups, as well as for anyone wishing to study the novel in more depth. They may be freely used for the study and discussion of Atlas Shrugged, provided that this paragraph remains intact in any reproduction.


Atlas Shrugged, Part 3, Chapter 9 – Part 3, Chapter 10

  • Part 3: Chapter 9: The Generator
  • Part 3: Chapter 10: In the Name of the Best Within Us



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63:46 minutes

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Discussion Questions

(Note: The listed page numbers are for the larger edition, softcover or hardback.)

Part 3: Chapter 9: The Generator

Section 1: 1126-1133

  • What is Dr. Stadler’s purpose and state of mind as he drives to Project X? (1126-8) What does he find at Project X? What happens — and why? (1128-33)

Section 2: 1133-1139

  • What is the response of the looters to Galt’s exposure of the gun at the banquet? What do they plan to do? Why is that significant? What does Dagny now understand about their motives? (1133-6)
  • What is the significance of Dagny’s response to the destruction of the Taggart Bridge? How is that one last test for her? (1137-8)

Section 3: 1139-1146

  • What is the Ferris Persuader? How does Galt react to its use on him? How do the looters react?
  • How does Galt respond to the breakdown of the Ferris Persuader? How do the looters react? (1139-46)
  • Why does Jim Taggart collapse? What does he understand about himself? How do the other looters respond — and why? (1145-6)

Whole Chapter

  • What is the significance of the title of this chapter?

Part 3: Chapter 10: In the Name of the Best Within Us

Section 1: 1147-1160

  • Why does Dagny confront the guard in the way that she does? What choice does she offer him — and why? Why does she shoot him when he refuses to choose? (1147-8)
  • How do Dagny, Hank, Francisco, and Ragnar deal with the guards? What is the significance of that? What is the significance of the guards’ reactions to them? (1147-54)
  • Why does John Galt say that he had to be the one tortured? How does that serve the strike? (1155)
  • Why were so many men of the valley willing to assault the State Science Institute to free John Galt? Why does he mean so much to them? Was that self-sacrifice? (1157)

Section 2: 1160-1167

  • What is Eddie Willers’ state of mind when the Comet stalls? What does he learn? (1160-7)
  • Why does he refuse to join the wagon caravan? What will happen to him? Why does he suffer this end? (1163-5)

Section 3: 1167-1168

  • What will happen once the producers return to the world? How will they re-establish America? (1168)

Whole Chapter

  • What is the significance of the title of this chapter?

Whole Part

  • What is the significance of the title of this part?

Whole Book

  • What are the most important themes of the novel? How were those conveyed by the events and characters?
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