A Catholic perspective on the world and all the good things therein, especially books and food. Literature cum chocolate is the order of the day at The Crockery.

Location: A Collegetown, Undisclosed Location, United States

No longer a graduate student, Teresa is now a professional know-it-all.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Unsleeping Eye of the Defenders of Satire

Once again, I'm blogging about something that Joe Carter said. Readers may wonder "Does she read nothing else?" Yes, actually, I do read other blogs. I am often entertained and enlightened by them. But somehow, Evangelical Outpost often manages to come up with the most interesting controveries. To be fair, other blogs I read do result in long-drawn out combox arguments. I guess I've just gotten a little tired of arguments about whether spaghetti straps are immoral or whether the music of Haugen and Haas was secretly written by demons in Hell. (Come on, people, some of it's good stuff. Really! It's not GIA or OCP's fault your parish only uses the lamest of their work. Blame your music minister. . . but put down those rocks before you talk to Sister.) Evangelical Outpost often provides a fresh perspective to me. . . probably precisely because I'm NOT evangelical myself.

However, I have to admit I'm puzzled by the combox discussion over at Evangelical Outpost this week. Joe wrote an excellent post called
A Letter to the Religious Right, well worth reading even if, like me, you try to distance yourself from all politics because you secretly wish you could be a Democrat. What puzzled me, though, was that so many of the comments were about Joe's criticism of Ann Coulter. Is defending Ann Coulter really what it means to be part of the Religious Right? Yech!

No, of course, I know that there are many fine politically conservative Christians who don't care for Coulter. And some of them spoke up in the combox, too. But I'm still surprised to find that that was apparently the most controversial thing about Carter's "Letter." Who knew?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Yo soy no marino!

Today I learned the answer to the age-old question: "What is your inner pirate?

You are The Cap'n!

Some men are born great, some achieve greatness and some slit the throats of any man that stands between them and the mantle of power. You never met a man you couldn't eviscerate. Not that mindless violence is the only avenue open to you - but why take an avenue when you have complete freeway access? You are the definitive Man of Action. You are James Bond in a blousy shirt and drawstring-fly pants. Your swash was buckled long ago and you have never been so sure of anything in your life as in your ability to bend everyone to your will. You will call anyone out and cut off their head if they show any sign of taking you on or backing down. You cannot be saddled with tedious underlings, but if one of your lieutenants shows an overly developed sense of ambition he may find more suitable accommodations in Davy Jones' locker. That is, of course, IF you notice him. You tend to be self absorbed - a weakness that may keep you from seeing enemies where they are and imagining them where they are not.

What's Yer Inner Pirate?
brought to you by
The Official Talk Like A Pirate Web Site. Arrrrr!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Beowulf vs. the Dinosaurs!

I discovered this article through a list-serve I'm on. Truly, I'm in awe, because this reads at times almost as if it were a piece from Lark News. The author, Ruth Beechick, asserts that the Old English poem Beowulf is based on historical fact. Well, thus far, she's not unique: I think other people have suggested that there may have been some chief, warlord, or prince named Beowulf, hundreds of years ago. Such people usually assert that, as in the case of King Arthur, the real exploits of this character have been embellished in legend, such that the finished tale may bear little resemblence to his actual life.

Ruth Beechick will have none of that demythologizing of medieval mythology! She believes that not only was Beowulf real, but the monsters he fought were real, too. They were, you see, dinosaurs. Mmm hmm. The dinosaurs, like all God's creatures, survived the Flood in Noah's ark, and some of them lingered on in the world. Indeed, I should not say "linger," but "lingered," for Beechick claims that:

Most dinosaurs are extinct now or almost so, but now and then some sightings show that a few survivors remain in the world.

Perhaps this is a reference to the Loch Ness monster and her ilk? I grant that there have been interesting reports of sea beasts throughout the world, but I myself would be very very hesitent to claim that those reports add up to anything like proof.

In any case, Beechick makes this bizarre claim about Beowulf scholarship:

Why, then, do so many literature critics say that Beowulf is fiction? It is because they do not believe that dinosaur creatures lived at the same time men lived. Their evolutionary worldview says that dinosaurs lived long ages before men evolved on the earth. Therefore, in their minds, this all must be fiction. But with a Biblical worldview, we can see that dinosaurs entered the ark with Noah—land species at least—and they lived on the earth again after the Flood. But the post-Flood earth was not so hospitable to large creatures and they eventually became almost extinct.

Of course! Our readings of Beowulf have been completely warped by our belief in evolution! It's so simple, once you stop to think of it. Oh, those evil liberal academics, denying the truth of this great Christian hero's exploits! Shame on them!

No, of course I don't mean that. Shame, rather, on for publishing such bullshit. And shame on "scholars" like Ruth Beechick who are so blinded by a pet theory about the development (or non-development) of life on earth that they not only produce shoddy readings of literature, but then insult all dissenting Beowulf scholars. I pity any children who may be taught from the book Beechick is currently writing, if this is a fair taste of her work over all.

Friday, September 15, 2006

So, let me get this right. . .

. . . Pluto isn't a planet anymore, but suddenly, Fluffy is? Make no mistakes, I would back cats against dogs any day, but this seems like a clear-cut case of discrimination to me. Unless, of course, by "Fluffy," they mean a pomeranian.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Binding of The Blade

For some time, I've been meaning to blog about L.B. Graham's Christian fantasy series, the Binding of the Blade. Now seems as good a time as any, since I've just finished the third book. (I'll try not to drop any spoilers!)

First, the good stuff:

What attracts me to Graham's book is his strong sense of myth. Making use of stock fantasy narratives and elements (the boy who discovers his powers; dragons, giants, and talking animals) in addition to Judeo-Christian imagery, he has created a rich and unique world. Many fantasy writers try to achieve the deep historical sense which undergird Tolkien's _Lord of the Rings_ trilogy. Graham comes closer to most in achieving it. What he has done is simple: he took the Christian narratives of Fall and Redemption and set them in a new world, one in which men coexist with various other creatures. There are no magicians as in secular fantasy, but prophets who work God's miracles fill that role. Overall, the world Graham creates is rich and full of possibility.

And now the criticism. . .

One of the downsides to Graham's use of stock narratives is that at times, his plotting is cliche. Nearly every writer's first fantasy novel centers on a young protagonist who discovers abilities (usually but not always supernatural or magical in nature) he or she never knew existed. Through the course of the novel--sometimes through the course of the series--the protagonist learns to use his/her newfound abilities, and ends up saving the day. Beyond the Summer Land offers a new and unexpected twist to that narrative. However, I see indications that the fourth book is going to repeat a now-standard narrative twist borrowed from Tolkien. I hope I'm wrong, however.

I can forgive Graham for a lot of the problems caused by his use of generic cliches, both because there's so much else that IS unique about his mythic worldbuilding, and because those cliches are so hard to avoid. There are archetypal narratives which get repeated precisely because they are so powerful, and it is no disgrace to make use of them if one can do so in a way which is "fresh."

I don't know that I can be as easy on him with regard to his writing style. As other readers have pointed out, his dialogue is often stilted, and he struggles with the "show-don't-tell" principle of fiction writing. Exposition seems to be a real problem for him: description and backstory get awkwardly tucked into dialogues in which characters sit around telling each other things they ought already to know.

And now I'm about to make some sweeping generalizations. . .

Perhaps it's unfair to speculate, but it seems to me that these problems with writing are common in Christian fiction. I'm really not sure why. Is it simply that the writing standards are lower in Christian publishing, because the pool of authors from which to draw is smaller? This has been operating assumption until now. Now I find myself wondering if there's some deeper problem at work. On the Binding of the Blade forum, Graham explains that he sees himself as a storyteller rather than a writer. It seems to me that this characterization might fit many of the rising Christian fantasy authors. They have bright, exciting visions of a world in which good and evil are at war; they may have a strong sense of epic narrative; but they don't really have the ability to craft those visions into well-written fiction. Perhaps their abilities are ultimately better-suited for an oral storytelling format. Perhaps, in other words, at their core, the current crop of Christian fantasy authors are preachers rather than novelists.

Maybe I'm getting goofy here. Perhaps the problem is much simpler: perhaps these authors simply saw a demand for inspirational fantasy and rushed in to supply it, despite not being gifted in all areas of creative writing. If so, there's hope that a second generation will be able to step into the literary/marketing territory which has been newly opened up and offer something more polished.

In any case, I'd recommend Graham's work to all those with an interest in "inspirational fantasy," but I recommend it with the disclaimer that it should be read not for the writing itself, but for the vision behind it.

Return of the Apple Cider

Last night, at the vigil mass, the new assistant pastor mentioned in his sermon that fall was here. Leaves are starting to change colors, children are going back to school, and football season was starting up. I couldn't help but think something along the lines of "I wonder when the apple cider will return." You see, when the days get cooler, I start longing for something warm, spicy, and tasting of autumn: apple cider, to be precise. I even sent my husband off on a cider-buying expedition a few weeks ago, but to no avail. Cider is a seasonal beverage, only available during autumn and winter.

But it must really be autumn now, because as of today, apple cider is appearing in grocery stores, at least in my neck of the woods. There's a medium-sized crockpot full of it in my kitchen right now, prepared from the directions given in my very first blog entry. I can't wait for the wonderful smell that will arise as it heats. Spiced apple cider smells a little like incense or pot-pourri, but it's an edible incense, offered to the God who makes the seasons change, year after year, whether we want them to do so or not.

I can't imagine living in a climate without the four seasons I've grown up knowing and loving. I'm sure that southern California and Florida are lovely places, but for a person drawn to familiar rituals and traditions, living there would surely be depressing. The holidays and the seasons are mingled together in my memory. To every thing there is a season. . . and to every season there are certain foods which never seem as fitting or taste as good served out of time. Autumn is the time for scary costumes, ghost stories, and apple products. (Cider is just the beginning: at some point this year, I want to curl up with a gourmet candy apple and a scary movie.) As October turns into November, and autumn fades into early winter, thick sweaters and thick stews will appear. Around Christmas, I'll stock up on Mexican chocolate . . . and dark molasses, a necessary ingredient for hot gingerbread cake. Some like gingerbread cookies, but we like the cake, served with real whipped cream. In late winter, perhaps I'll grow desperate for color and spice, and reach for the chili section of my favorite cookbook.

I admit it, I have more trouble coming up with good spring and summer dishes. We don't have a grill and we're not into salads. Autumn and winter, however, are ideal times for a slow cooking fan. I like to think that at this time of year I excel at coming up with comfort food to battle the gloomy clouds that settle over town about now. Last year my stewmeat of choice was veal. Who knows what I'll manage to put into a stew this year?

I predict that in the upcoming weeks, I will blog about: Halloween and the need cultures have to be scared now and then; oxtail stew, if I am brave enough to try it; Nosferatu and the genre of silent horror; more apple products; hot soups and fresh breads and warm, filling desserts; Victorian ghost stories, famous or not; and perhaps the quiet power of the Christian Year, which moves us through our lives, sometimes without our noticing it.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Sweet Home Kansas City

I am not, in fact, from Kansas City, but the my barbecue sauce is. Tonight, I've decided to utilize that sauce in combination with my favorite type of sausage, in what I hope will be a tasty variation of a common dish at the Tulip house: kielbasa in barbecue sauce.


1 lb of kielbasa, cut into bite-sized pieces

1/2 of a medium-sized onion, sliced (You may cut the resulting onion rings in half to create onion crescents, though as far as I know, no one else calls them that.)

1/2 cup marmalade (This is what makes "Sweet Home Kansas City Kielbasa" a unique dish. Marmalade is said to go well with barebcue sauce, but I've never tried it.)

1/2 cup plain ole barbecue sauce
(In other words, you don't have to get a fancy shmancy flavor. Just pick the "original" of your favorite brand.)


Combine ingredients in a small or medium cooker (small cookers may work best). Cook on low for 3-4 hours, or on high for about 2 hours. Serve with warm rolls, vegetables, and perhaps a cheesy side dish. Plain, cheap, comes-in-a-box macaroni and cheese makes a good companion for this meal, but you can be more creative if you like.