Violence, Victims, Vaudeville, Vengeance, Victory: V for Vendetta.

v cover“The only freedom left to my people is the freedom to starve. The freedom to die. The freedom to live in a world of chaos. Should I allow that freedom? I think not. I think not.”

-Adam Susan, leader of Fascist England

* * *

“Her name is anarchy. And she has taught me more as a mistress than you ever did! She has taught me that justice is meaningless without freedom. She is honest. She makes no promises and breaks none. Unlike you, Jezebel.”

-V to a statue of Madam Justice

* * *

Note: Spoilers. If you haven’t read the book/seen the movie, and you don’t want the ending to be spoiled, stop reading. I’m not promising not to reveal anything important.

I recently finished reading V for Vendetta for the first time. A remarkable graphic novel. I think the idea that stood out the most for me, the idea I’m still pondering a few days later, is the concept of identity.

First, Evey, the first girl that we see V rescue. He takes her back to his home (lair? headquarters? whatever), and throughout the book, she becomes his accomplice, of sorts. They experience a separation when she no longer wants to be involved with V’s plans, but then, in the end, she once again subscribes to V’s ideals and eventually takes his place after he is killed.

eveyHer name, though, Evey, alludes to Eve, the first woman in the Bible, Adam’s companion. In fact, her name is Eve, which she calls herself infrequently. More often, she adds the -y to the end, a derivational ending that implies, perhaps, innocence and youth. In the fascist world in which they live, V is trying, in a twisted way, to save the citizens of England from the political slavery they are enduring. Eve is his hope for future reconstruction, his legacy, the one to even assume his identity after V is gone.

We also have an Adam–Adam Susan, the fascist leader of England. In this tale, Adam and Eve are not on the same team.

Then, of course, in regards to identity, we have V. This is an assumed identity, named for the room in which he was held in a concentration camp (the Roman numeral V). It really frustrated me at first that we never find out who V really is. I wanted desperately to know–was he Evey’s father? A high official in the fascist regime? Why could we not know? The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that we never could know V’s true identity. V was a constructed identity, borne out of the torture from the concentration camp, the vicious, mind-altering drugs that were pumped into his body (the drugs that killed everyone else involved in the experiment). V is who this person became–whoever he was before ceased to exist. Knowing the face behind the mask would give us readers no knowledge or power. We must accept V is a construction, with a brand-new identity.

v2This constructed identity, in fact, is what makes it so easy for Evey to step forward after V’s death. She then becomes V. Without knowing his original identity, it is easier for her to don the mask and take his place, to continue his plan of terrorizing England in hopes of destroying fascism. And because no one else knows who V really is, as well (he’s killed them all off–or driven them insane–at this point), then no one has to know that the original V is dead (if he is indeed the original–who’s to say he didn’t assume the identity from some predecessor?).

Beyond identity, this graphic novel also explores the idea of freedom. The first quote from Adam Susan reveals that fascism took hold in England because the leaders believed that freedom only leads to tragedy–poverty, death. They could only see the negative effects of freedom. V, on the other hand, believes “justice is meaningless without freedom.” Enslaving the citizens means that justice is a null concept. When people have no free will, no choice, then we have removed any concept of right and wrong. When people are not free to choose, then we cannot exact justice. We cannot discipline and lead them in the right direction. We can only punish again and again, as if they are no more than brainless lab rats.

The worst part about the fascist regime is, perhaps, that weak, fallible humans are the ones mandating what is right or wrong. And they screwed it up. Badly.

While reading, I definitely felt like this book had an empty, God-less feel. But God is not absent. I won’t make the argument of V being a Christ-figure (because it could really be argued either way). But in exploring the idea of freedom, one can’t help but draw correlations to slavery and freedom in the biblical sense. If Christians are enslaved by the law–by a set of rules (do this, don’t do that) supposedly governing our faith–then we cannot be fully free in Christ. And I think the enslavement of the British citizens–the hopeless, empty lives they lead under the fascist regime–is a good depiction of not fulling accepting that Christ is the only method of salvation.

Another good image that comes out of the book is this: when V hacks the equipment and turns off all the video feeds across the country, people experience a measure of freedom that they had not seen in years. And a girl on a bicycle stands below one of the malfunctioning cameras and spraypaints “Bolucs” (misspelled, of course) onto the pavement. She then leaves V’s signature mark on the wall. She embraces the freedom to question authority, and even to misspell a word. Did she use that freedom in an appropriate way? Perhaps not. Still, she was free in that moment.

* * *

I really enjoyed this graphic novel. Watchmen is still my favorite, but this one was really engrossing and thought-provoking, as well. I’m eager to see the film now–I’ve been waiting until I finished the book.

On a side note, my mom called me a comic book nerd after I launched into an elaborate explanation of comic books vs. graphic novels and a long-winded summary of the book. I fear she might be a little bit right. 🙂

We’re the problem, we’re the politicians.

Yes, I’m from South Carolina. Yes, I’m writing a blog with the word “politicians” in the title today. I’ll give you one guess what it’s about.

Yesterday, our governor arrived back in the States from a trip to Argentina. He then held a press conference, openly admitting to an affair with a woman who lives in Argentina.

Go to any news site, and you can find details of the whole sordid affair. I won’t bother summarizing here. I’ll just give you some quick thoughts.

First, I am not a Mark Sanford fan. I disagree with him politically on many points. But my political opinions have no place here. This issue is mostly with his personal life. I think it’s important to make that distinction. (I agree that a politician really has no personal life, as he or she will constantly be in the public eye. My point is merely that I’m not discussing his political agenda here.) The only thing that really has a political connection is that he disappeared for a few days without telling his lt. governor or anyone else where he is. A governor should not disappear like that; he has a responsibility to his constituents to be here. Moving on.

I watched the press conference yesterday. Within moments, my respect for Gov. Sanford increased greatly. The man apologized for letting down his wife, his kids, his friends, and the people of our state. I believed him. I dislike the man, and I have a tendency to criticize him, but when he choked up and had to wipe away his tears during the press conference, I truly felt his sorrow and grief at the pain he’s caused so many people.

The man is human. He reeks of humanity, in fact. He made a terrible mistake–one that many, many others have made. He just happened to make that mistake while living in the public eye. He deserves our forgiveness just like anyone else. Are we so uptight, so judgmental as to demand perfection from an imperfect creature? If that’s the case, then we shall indeed become bitter cynics–everyone will let us down, and we will be so blinded as to focus only on another’s vices rather than virtues. (For example: during the press conference, several women standing behind the governor openly smirked throughout the entire press conference. How could they possibly openly rejoice in scandal and tragedy? )

Gov. Sanford deserves to be allowed to put his marriage back together. He deserves to seek forgiveness from his family, friends, and South Carolinians. I can give him that. And–shockingly, perhaps–after some thought, I don’t believe he should resign. This is a trangression of a personal nature, one that he openly admitted to before anyone discovered the true nature of his visit. Yes, he lied about his whereabouts, which is the only reason I see for punishing him politically. Perhaps that’s enough to call for his resignation, but I disagree.

We’re all human. Let’s rejoice in that, love one another, and not feel trimphant in the face of another’s tragedy.

Quiet and Intense

Earlier this evening, I went to the Bird & Baby, our local philosophy club/awesome place to hang out for a lecture on C.S. Lewis from a man studying to be a priest who received his Ph.D. in C.S. Lewis from Oxford and was president of the Lewis club there. The speech was on Lewis’ Abolition of Man, which I read several years ago; the lecture was indeed quite fascinating. Hopefully, the audio recording will be online soon, and I’ll link to it for those of you who might want to listen, but for now, I’m just gonna talk about one comment that Deacon Andrew discussed in his lecture.

He was discussing objective beauty and truth and Lewis’ idea that we need to teach children to feel, to sense the objective beauty that is innate in everything. Lewis believed that everything has an objective beauty and truth attached and each object or person or situation deserves a certain manner of awe. We cannot react to a waterfall in the same way that we react a drop of rain. There is a certain beauty that each entity merits, but the quality of that beauty cannot be the same. God did not design each of those situations to be the same.

Deacon Andrew discussed Lewis’ idea that the ability to feel must be taught. He mentioned that today’s youth are often anesthetized to such feelings. Teenagers must have extreme experiences to feel anything these days: the loudest music, an intense movie on a huge screen, 80,000 screaming fans in a stadium.

That last one got me thinking. At 24, I’m just barely past the age to which Deacon Andrew was referring. And 80,000 screaming fans in a stadium immediately brought to mind the Muse/U2 concert that I’m so looking forward to in October. On a smaller scale, what about recently? I’ve been to four shows in the past month, two in the past few days, and the intensity and excitement always overwhelm me. In fact, this morning at work, my co-workers asked me about my birthday, and I briefly detailed the events of the past few days. I spent most of my time, however, talking about meeting Jon Foreman after the Fiction Family show or the incredible show that The Fray put on Saturday night. I am quite guilty of getting so wrapped up in the music I listen to, in experiencing the shows I attend, in (dare I say it?) worshiping my favorite musicians that those moments tend to become the experiences I focus on. It doesn’t come without a price, however. I spent both Friday and Sunday exhausted after those shows, knowing I needed desperately to do homework but just wanting to sleep. Those bursts of energy I get when hearing my favorite songs sung live are quickly followed by stretches of exhaustion and wondering what the next big thing is going to be.

Fortunately, I know I’m not enslaved to this mindset. As I sat here thinking about this topic, I realized that I have plenty of moments where I find beauty in the small things in life, and that energizes me. Check out my list of the best days of my life–many of them do involve concerts and musicians. But many more involve my best friends, just hanging out, enjoying simple things in life. And as I think back over this past week, I know that those simple moments are the ones that are going to last. Yes, I have an awesome profile picture on Facebook of me with Jon Foreman. Yes, I swooned over Isaac Slade playing the piano.

But more than that?

I had frozen yogurt from this great little place downtown–actual dessert that’s low in sugar and won’t kill me!

I got to take my brother to Falls Park and feel his awe as he saw the waterfall and walked across the bridge for the first time. He’s enamored with Greenville now; he thinks the city is beautiful, and I know he’ll be back to visit.

Chris and I made tacos and cookies and hummus before we went to Asheville for the show Thursday night; hanging out with him in my kitchen is something I’ve seriously missed since he moved home at the beginning of the summer.

Squeezed in between homework and birthdays and concerts, Harvin and I managed to watch a few episodes of Angel. Yes, it’s just a TV show. But for us, it’s this thing we’re sharing right now; watching the show gives us something to look forward to, something to share, something to continually reference and joke about to the annoyance of everyone around us. 🙂 It’s a best friend thing.

And those moments are going to be the lasting memories, side-by-side with singing along to my favorite Jon Foreman song and screaming when Isaac Slade climbed on his piano. Those beautiful, everyday moments possess a different kind of transcendental beauty and power that encompass my everyday life. When those euphoric moments fade, I’m left with the quiet, gentle moments where I can feel God’s presence and experience real beauty and truth. The goal has to be finding that balance, and giving each situation the response that it deserves.

#32: Actually speak to Jon Foreman.

fiction familyI love every bit of music that Jon Foreman has anything to do with. Seriously. So when I discovered that Fiction Family would be playing the Grey Eagle in Asheville–the day after my birthday, no less–I was super excited (which pretty much goes without saying, right?).

The show was wonderful. Sara Watkins (sister to Fiction Family co-founder Sean and fellow member of Nickel Creek) opened, and she did a fantastic job. And as her set neared its end, the rest of the band slowly joined her on stage–the drummer and bass player, then Sean Watkins, and finally Jon Foreman for the last song.

Side note: we sat on the far left side of the audience, about three rows back from the stage–I had a perfect view of the profiles of all the band members, and the stage was only a few feet away. Also only a few feet away? The door backstage. The door through which Jon Foreman came. The door next to which he stood (mere feet from my chair) when he wasn’t playing. 🙂

Okay…back to the show…

I really love the Fiction Family album, and they’re even better live. The venue is small, which lent itself to a more informal mood and allowed Jon Foreman to talk to individual people in the crowd–not me, but some people were lucky. The music was INCREDIBLE, of course. And Fiction Family covered Jon Foreman’s “Resurrect Me,” which they have recorded, but Jon also sang two other of his solo songs–“Behind Your Eyes” and “Your Love is Strong,” which is my favorite song from the seasonal EPs. Admittedly, there were tears in my eyes. So wonderful.

After the show, we chatted with Tim and Betsy Hendrix (Tim is a huge Nickel Creek fan, so he brought Betsy mostly to hear Sara open for Fiction Family). Then I bought a FF t-shirt, of course. Then I stood with Jess, Harvin, and Chris and admittedly lost it a little bit when Jon Foreman walked into the room.

Then Jess stood in line with me as we waited to get pictures, and I actually spoke to Jon Foreman this time. Not a long conversation, and I certainly said nothing brilliant, but he shook my hand and asked my name, and I told him the show was amazing and asked for a picture. MUCH BETTER than the last time I met Jon Foreman outside the Bi-Lo Center in November 2007, when I couldn’t even open my mouth to say “Hello” or “Thank you.” Improvement was all I was really looking for. 🙂

I know I’m ridiculous and fanatical. I know he’s just a musician, and I shouldn’t get so excited. But it’s Jon Foreman–the man who wrote the lyrics to most of my favorite songs, the frontman to the only band I don’t think I could live without anymore. He’s amazing, the music is incredible, and he’s a really swell guy. I’m glad I have a decent photo now, and I’m glad that I’ve improved enough not to be rendered completely speechless in his presence anymore.

And, of course, I’m glad to have marked something else off my List.

The Sea of Trolls

sea-of-trolls“It was a world of loss far more terrible than the songs of vanished Utgard. It was more devastating than the destruction of Gizur Thumb-Crusher’s village. It was Everything Gone. The voices of the Norns whispered about the passing of all that was bright and brave and beautiful. You could only watch it die. You could only go down to defeat and darkness. [ . . . ]

It came to Jack that they were not pawns in a game that only led to destruction. The Norn’s way was not the only one. There was the Bard sitting under a tree in the Islands of the Blessed. There was the sad-eyed woman Olaf had slain during the storm. She surely was on her way to Heaven with her lost daughter. And Mother believed, though she hid this from Father, that souls returned with the sun to be born anew into the world.

I serve the life force, Jack thought.”

* * *

It’s 793 A.D., and Jack is an 11-year-old apprentice to a Bard when his village is plundered by Northmen (or Vikings). Jack and his younger sister, Lucy, are kidnapped by the Northmen, and subsequently brought into a fantastic adventure. Jack must learn to rely on the lessons the Bard taught him in order to save himself and Lucy. He must learn to tap into the magic of the life force he serves, and he must also believe in himself enough to be the hero of his own life.

The passage above comes pretty late in the novel, as Jack is attempting to find Mimir’s Well and drink the song-mead contained within. He will then be able to reverse some accidental magic he invoked upon the wicked queen of the Northemen’s land, and save his sister Lucy from her fate as a sacrifice to Freya. The passage is beautiful in its structure and parallelism, but it also brings up an interesting conflict in the novel: who controls fate? Are the trolls right in protecting their land and casting a vicious, deadly winter on any human who gets too close to their lands? Are the Norns right in controlling who gets to drink from Mimir’s Well? Is the life force that Jack serves the one, true Being controlling everything, or are there multiple gods and realities?

These are excellent questions, and I would love to be able to teach this in a classroom and have my students debate these questions. I think it’s great when a book can be entertaining and humorous, but also leave the reader pondering philosophy and reality. I also learned a lot about Norse mythology–Yggdrasil, Valhalla, Thor, Odin, and others play pretty major roles in the plot.

Another cool thing about this book? I picked it up during the second week of summer school–the week we began studying Old English in HEL. This book occurs during that time period. I read about the Viking invasions and the influence of the Northmen on the English language, and the very next day, I began reading a novel about Viking conquests. I could read some of the Saxon language that the characters spoke because of my class. I knew who the real Ivar the Boneless was after reading about it in my textbook. It’s so cool when a book I’m reading for fun is actually relevant to something I’m studying in school.

Anyway, The Sea of Trolls is an excellent, adventurous novel. It’s gripping and humorous, and truly literature written for young adults. This is the second novel I’m read that she’s written (the other one being The House of the Scorpion), and I highly recommend both of them to you if you’re looking for great writing and thought-provoking literature.

May Books

It’s June 1, so that means it’s time for my monthly update on my book challenge! Here are the books I’ve finished this month:

1. The Body Artist, Don DeLillo. You can read my thoughts here.

2. 3 Willows, Ann Brashares. The newest book by the author of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series. It was decent, but I feel as though she tries to make her 13-year-old characters far more mature than actual 13-year-olds are. And with the subtitle “the sisterhood grows” and mentions of the characters from the previous series, it seems as though she’s trying to grasp hold of the popularity of a series that’s already run its course. Nonetheless, I mostly enjoyed this for a little light reading, and I really liked the design and layout of the book itself–cover, chapter headings, etc. That’s a plus.

3. Anne of Green Gables, L. M. Montgomery. About once a year, I pull these books out and re-read them. They are my favorite, and in my humble opinion, the most delightful books ever written. I never, ever tire of Anne Shirley and all her amazingness. 🙂

4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8. Volume 1: Issues 1-5. In 2007, Joss Whedon published the season 8 comic books, which, obviously, pick up after the seven seasons that Buffy aired on TV. I found the first three volumes at the Orangeburg County library one weekend. I was so excited that I actually dropped the other books I was holding. Could I be more of a geek? At any rate, I read the first one, containing the first five issues, that night. I don’t like them as much as watching the show on TV. However, for comic books, they’re great: well-illustrated, and very true to the characters’ personalities and quirks. Joss Whedon is pretty much a genius.

5. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8. Volume 2: Issues 6-10. And I read the second volume while I sat at the tire shop for two hours on a Saturday morning waiting for them to put new tires on my car.

6. Things You Either Hate or Love, Brigid Lowry. A young adult novel by an Australian. First, Australian YA novels are fun because the vocabulary is so amusing. I’m usually halfway through the book before I can start decoding all the slang. Second, this particular book was about a girl who makes a lot of lists. I like lists. It’s fun when writers add lists to the narrative of a book.

7. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8. Volume 3: Issues 11-15. Okay, here’s where you guys lost me. I want to hope that the reason this volume was CRAP is because Joss Whedon only wrote issue 11. I have serious qualms with this volume–mostly with the plot. I won’t spoil this, so if you’ve read any of the season 8 comics and wish to talk, email me or something.

8. The Last Days, Scott Westerfeld. The sequel to Westerfeld’s vampire novel Peeps, which I read last October. I really enjoyed this one more than the first book (which has a lot of scientific info and way too much info on parasites for me to be comfortable with). To explain the plot of the stories would take more effort and words that you, dear readers, probably wish to read, so I’ll just say that the coolest part about this book is that it’s about a band whose members are living in the last days of the parasite epidemic. And all of the chapters are titled after bands–including one called “Massive Attack,” which made me seriously happy. (Doesn’t take much, does it?)

9. Jinx, Meg Cabot.

10. Shem Creek, Dorothea Benton Frank. This book came highly recommended from a co-worker, and it’s about Charleston, one of my favorite places, so I really looked forward to reading it. Unfortunately, I was highly disappointed. Frank is a terrible writer! She uses pointless dialogue way too often; she uses that dialogue to give the readers backstory when a simple summary from the narrator would have sufficed; she overuses exclamation points; she uses language in her dialogue that is unnatural and strange; she gives no build-up whatsoever to key elements of the plot (i.e. a character enters and announced the death of another character/a protest outside the restaurant/a disaster); and she rushed the ending, tying up the loose ends way too quickly and making sure everyone has a perfectly happy ending. Even for terrible novels from the shelf at Wal-Mart, this was dreadful. I can’t believe I actually read the whole thing.

Wow–reading back over this list, I had some very strong opinions about some of these books. That’s good, though–last month, I felt really apathetic toward the end. I’m glad to have started reading stuff again that I can actually have an opinion about.

Ten more books. That brings my total count this year to 39. Eleven more, and I’ve completed the challenge! Think it’ll happen this month? We’ll see!