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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Fellowship of The King...

is an online magazine with a staff of Catholic homeschoolers and homeschool graduates dedicated to merging spirituality and creativity with a diverse array of content and subject matter. Through a series of unexpected events this past June, your lately errant blogger became the Editor-in-Chief of this worthy enterprise. Hopefully this goes some ways in explaining my tardiness in putting up fresh posts for the masses (along with an ER trip for repeated and extremely painful kidney stones and later on, a strained wrist...but I digress!).

    I plan on trying to rectify this in the coming weeks, but for now, I feel that is my obligation to assure you all that I have not been lounging in a hammock in the Caribbean with an umbrella drink in hand, soaking up the sun in the company of Sean Connery. If that were so, you would have every justification to bring Pearl to Tyburn and make hang her up by the thumbs.

     But the proof of my innocence lies in the link below, which will take you to our magazine bi-annual-themed-page-spread-issues tab, which includes a second link (this of it as a treasure hunt!) which will direct you to the issuu format of our Autumn 2015 Fantasy/Sci-Fi Issue, Part 1:

     As the first installment to be released under my leadership, I'd really appreciate it if all my loyal readers from over here would come and bask in the glow of the project, like, share, leave comments, and scream "Elvis, Elvis!"...or something equivalent to mark the occasion! Everyone involved did a splendid job making this group effort a reality, and I once again thank them all as we prepare to take the magazine to new and exciting places on the world wide web! :)

The Fellowship...that's us!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Legion of Mary...

is a Catholic Lay Organization  with the object of bringing about the glory of God through the holiness of its members developed by prayer and active co-operation in Mary’s and the Church’s work. I have been a member since I was age 7, and the following is an assortment of prayers and songs from that tradition which are utilized at their meetings.


(Make the Sign of the Cross) In the name of the Father, etc.
Come, O Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of Your love. v. Send forth Your Spirit, O Lord, and they shall be created. R. And You shall renew the face of the earth.

Let us pray.

God our Father, pour out the gifts of Your Holy Spirit on the world. You sent the Spirit on Your Church to begin the teaching of the gospel: now let the Spirit continue to work in the world through the hearts of all who believe. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

v. You, O Lord, will open my lips. R. And my tongue shall announce Your praise. v. Incline unto my aid, O God. R. O Lord, make haste to help me. v. Glory be to the Father, etc. R. As it was in the beginning, etc.

Then follow five decades of the Rosary with the Hail, Holy Queen.

Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy; hail, our life, our sweetness and our hope. To you we cry, poor banished children of Eve, to you we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn then, O most gracious advocate, your eyes of mercy towards us, and after this our exile, show us the blessed fruit of your womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

v. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God. R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let us pray. O God, Whose only-begotten Son, by His life, death and resurrection, has purchased for us the rewards of eternal salvation; grant, we beseech You, that meditating upon these mysteries in the most holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain, and obtain what they promise. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

v. Most Sacred Heart of Jesus R. Have mercy on us. v. Immaculate Heart of Mary R. Pray for us. v. St. Joseph R. Pray for us. v. St John the Evangelist R. Pray for us. v. St. Louis-Marie deMontfort R. Pray for us.

Make the Sign of the Cross) In the name of the Father, etc.


Antiphon. Who is she that comes forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in battle array?

(Make the Sign of the Cross) v. My soul glorifies the Lord.* R. My spirit rejoices in God, my Saviour. v. He looks on His servant in her lowliness;* henceforth all ages will call me blessed.
R. The Almighty works marvels for me.* Holy His name! v. His mercy is from age to age,* on those who fear Him.

R. He puts forth His arm in strength* and scatters the proud-hearted. v. He casts the mighty from their thrones* and raises the lowly.

R. He fills the starving with good things,* sends the rich away empty.

v. He protects Israel His servant,* remembering His mercy, R. The mercy promised to our fathers,* to Abraham and his sons for ever.

v. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.. R. As it was in the beginning is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Antiphon. Who is she that comes forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in battle array?

v. O Mary, conceived without sin. R. Pray for us who have recourse to you.

Let us pray. O Lord Jesus Christ, our mediator with the Father, Who has been Pleased to appoint the Most Blessed Virgin, Your mother, to be our mother also, and our mediatrix with You, mercifully grant that whoever comes to You seeking Your favours may rejoice to receive all of them through her. Amen.


Make the Sign of the Cross) In the name of the Father, etc.

We fly to your patronage, O holy Mother of God; despise not our prayers in our necessities, but ever deliver us from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin.

v. Mary Immaculate, Mediatrix of all Graces or Invocation appropriate to Praesidium) R. Pray for us.
 v. St. Michael and St. Gabriel R. Pray for us. v. All you heavenly Powers, Mary's Legion of Angels
R. Pray for us. v. St. John the Baptist R. Pray for us. v. Saints Peter and Paul R. Pray for us.

Confer, O Lord, on us, who serve beneath the standard of Mary, that fullness of faith in You and trust in her, to which it is given to conquer the world. Grant us a lively faith, animated by charity, which will enable us to perform all our actions from the motive of pure love of You, and ever to see You and serve You in our neighbor; a faith, firm and immovable as a rock, through which we shall rest tranquil and steadfast amid the crosses, toils and disappointments of life; a courageous faith which will inspire us to undertake and carry out without hesitation great things for your glory and for the salvation of souls; a faith which will be our Legion's Pillar of Fire - to lead us forth united - to kindle everywhere the fires of divine love - to enlighten those who are in darkness and in the shadow of death - to inflame those who are lukewarm - to bring back life to those who are dead in sin; and which will guide our own feet in the way of peace; so that - the battle of life over - our Legion may reassemble, without the loss of any one, in the kingdom of Your love and glory. Amen.
May the souls of our departed legionaries and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

Make the Sign of the Cross) In the name of the Father, etc.

Crowning Song

Who is this that comes forth like the dawn
As beautiful as the moon
As shining as the sun
Like a rainbow in the cloudy sky,
Like blossoms on the branches
In the springtime?
She is the mother of fair love and of fear
And of knowledge and our Holy One!
Who is this that comes forth like the dawn
As beautiful as the moon
As shining as the sun
Like a rainbow in the cloudy sky,
Like blossoms on the branches
In the springtime?
In her is all grace of the way and the truth
All hope of life and of virtue!
Who is this that comes forth like the dawn
As beautiful as the moon
As shining as the sun
Like a rainbow in the cloudy sky,
Like blossoms on the branches
In the springtime?
Hail Queen of Mercy! Protect us from the enemy
And receive us at the hour of death!
Who is this that comes forth like the dawn
As beautiful as the moon
As shining as the sun
Like a rainbow in the cloudy sky,
Like blossoms on the branches in the springtime?
Like blossoms on the branches in the springtime...

Listen to the BlessTree rendition of this hymn on BandCamp:

"Like blossoms on the branches in the springtime..."

Meditation on the Coronation of Our Lady...

from In Conversation with God, Vol. 7 by Francis Fernandez:


     Pius XII instituted this feast day in 1954 in response to the unanimous traditional belief in the Mother of the King of King and Lord of Lords as Queen. All graces come to us through the intercession of the Blessed Mother, the most accessible ruler of all. Her coronation as Queen of all Creation is intimately connected to her Assumption into heaven. We contemplate this wonderful scene in the Fifth Glorious Mystery of the Holy Rosary.

 17.1 Mary is Queen of heaven and earth 

     The Mother of Christ is glorified as as ‘Queen of the Universe’. She who called herself the ‘handmaid of the Lord’ at the Annunciation remained faithful to what this names expresses throughout her earthly life. In this she confirmed that she was a true ‘disciple’ of Christ, who strongly emphasized that his mission was one of service: The Son of Man ‘came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Matt 20:28). In this way Mary became the first of those who, ‘serving Christ also in others, with humility and patience lead their brothers and sisters to that King to serve whom is to reign’ (Lumen genitium, 36), and she fully achieves that ‘state of royal freedom’ proper to Christ’s disciples: To serve Christ is to reign with Him… Her ‘glory in serving’ is completely compatible with her royal exatation. Taken up into Heaven, she does not cease her service for the sake of our salavation. 

--John Pual II, Redemptoris Mater, 25 March 1987

     The dogma of the Assumption which we celebrated last week leads in a natural way to the feast we celebrate today, the Queenship of Mary. Our Lady departed for heaven to be crowned by the Blessed Trinity as Queen of all Creation: The Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all guilt of original sin, on the completion of her earthly sojourn, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen of the universe, that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the ‘Lord of Lords’ (Rev 19: 16), and the conqueror of sin and death. (Second Vatican Council, Lumen gentium, 59).  

     This truth has been affirmed since antiquity by the piety of the faithful, and taught by the Magisterium of the Church. St. Ephriam puts these beautiful words ont eh lips of Mary: “Let heaven hold me in its embrace, for I am more honoured than heaven since heaven was only your throne, not your mother. Of course, how much more worthy of honour and verneration than his throne is the mother of the king!”

     It has been quite popular to bestow Queenship on Mary through the custom of canonically crowning her images, with the express approval of the Popes. Since the first centuries of Chrsitian art has represented Mary as Queen and Empresss, surrounded by angels and seated on a royal throne, with all the accoutrements of such majesty. Sometiems, she is shown being crowned by her Son. The faithful have long had recourse to her as Queen through popular prayers like the Salve Regina, the Ave Regina Caelorum, and the Regina Coeli. 

    Frequently we have sought her protection, reminding her of this beautiful roayl epithet. We have pondered it in the Fifth Glorious Mystery of the Holy Rosary. Today, in our prayer and throughout the day, we will do so in a special way: You are all Fair, and without blemish. You are a garden enclosed, my sister, my Bride, an enclosed garden, a sealed fountain. ‘Veni: coronaberis…Come: You shall be crowned’ (Song of Songs 4:7, 12; 8). 

     If you and I had been able, we too would have made her Queen and Lady of all creation. 

     A great sign appeared in heaven: A woman with a crown of twelve stars upon her head, adorned with the sun, and with the moon at her feet (Rev 12:1). Mary, Virgin without stain, has made up for the fall of Eve: And she has crushed the head of hell’s serpent with her immaculate hell. Daughter of God, Mother of God, Spouse of God…The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit crown her as the rightful Empress of the Universe. And the angels pay her homage as her subjects…and the patriarchs and prophets and Apostles…and the martyrs and confessors and virgins and all the saintas…and all sinners, and you and I.  

– Escriva’, Holy Rosary

The Crowning of Our Lady as Queen of Heaven

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Once Upon a Dream: A Magical Disney Movie Montage

       In way or another, all of us have been deeply affected by the legacy of Walt Disney. Maybe we fell in love with the magical animated features as kids, or wound up visiting the mega-theme-parks in Florida or California, or perhaps bought sparkly franchise trinkets to adorn our rooms. Maybe the historical adventures in the live-action feature films got us interested in our country’s past for the first time, and the enchantment of the Disney princesses prepared us to leap into the grown-up world of fantasy and mythology. Perhaps the songs inspired us to start singing ourselves, the artwork inspired us to draw, or the stories and characters enabled us to identify with them and rise to the challenges in our own world.

     Perhaps, in some subtle way, these “childhood epics” truly defined who we would grow up to be. They have a very real magic about them. For all the faults that many of these productions may have (especially, I would say, the later ones, which occasionally muddy the moral waters), there is still some goodness about them that makes them many of them timeless. Indeed, Disney movies are often used as therapy for children with autism, down syndrome, and other health challenges, and have been able to help many express themselves and come out of their shells. The profound healing power truly of these simle little stories and songs truly makes them “a fragment of the true light”, and a blessing in disguise.

    The following is an assortment of  some of my top personal favorites among the Disney animated and live-action feature film collection. While there are a slew of others worthy of mention, and I do not claim this an any sort of definitive list, I hope you will enjoy perusing and be inspired to look up some of the flicks you may not have seen, and re-watch old favorites that you have many times before!       

    Robin Hood, the 1973 animated feature film, has undoubtedly been one of the most singularly influential movie in my life. As a little girl of 6 years old, I was instantly absorbed by the heroic story-line portraying different animals as the main characters in the classic tale. My first crush was on that clever, good-hearted, English-accented fox, and through him, my love of England sprouted and grew. The other characters were so memorable as well: Little John the Bear, Friar Tuck the Badger, Maid Marian the Vixen, Ala a Dale the Rooster, etc. etc. They were all wonderful friends brought to life through gorgeous animation, and forever associated with the many songs laced throughout, such as “Love Goes On and On”, “Robin Hood and Little John”, “A Pox on the Phony King of England”, etc. etc .! The fact that I have a shelf loaded down with Robin Hood memorabilia, including books, VHS and DVD movies, Disney puppets, lunchboxes, comic books, etc. is a testament to the life-long effect one little movie can have on a girl!  

     Sleeping Beauty, the 1959 animated feature film, was another life-changing film from my youth. Countless times as a child, I would get together with friends to put on plays and recite those wonderful, pseudo-Shakespearian lines from the film. In fact, if you asked me to do it now, I would put on my most villainous voice and quote Maleficent: “Forest of thorns shall be his tomb! Go through the skies with the plot of doom!” I would also quote the good fairy, Mistress Merryweather: “O Sword of Truth, fly swift and sure! Let evil die, and good endure!” For me, it is the quintessential fairy-tale brought the screen. I mean the music is from Tchaikovsky, and the artwork is gloriously neo-gothic in feel. “Once Upon a Dream” is still a favorite in my show-tune repertoire. And the characters are delightful: Aurora, Prince Philip, Mistress Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather, and the oh-so evilly elegant Maleficent. It really can’t be beat.  

     Pocahontas and Pocahontas II, from 1995 and 1998 respectively, are probably my favorite animated features from the Disney Renaissance. They may be historically inaccurate in many places, but I actually find them less offensive my sensibilities than many period piece mini-series that purport to be telling the truth as it happened! At least they had the heart of the stories in the right place, and tried to be fair to both the English and the Native Americans. Plus, the characters are attractive, and the side-kick characters are actually cute instead of being annoying! More than any other Disney animated production, this is a Broadway-style musical, complete with some beautiful songs such as “Just Around the River Bend”, “Colors of the Wind”, and “Where Do I Go from Here?”. Plus, I must admit a liking for John Rolfe…he’s just superior to John Smith, and it was historically accurate that she should wind up with him in the sequel…even though he didn’t really rescue her from the Tower of London! But hey, it’s all in good fun! 

     Mulan, from 1998, was another unique exploration of a broadly historical theme, and got me more than a little fascinated in Chinese culture (in addition to my previous love of Kung Fu and Sagwa!). Mulan is really the Joan of Arc of Ancient China, and her heroic decision to take her father’s place on the battlefield to drive back to invading Huns is based off of an ancient poetic saga that was just dying to be made into a motion picture. There are sections of the cartoon that are a tad crude and incongruent in mood, and the magic dragon side-kick can be a tad annoying. But still the overall storyline and animation (check out the 3-D charge sequence!) are excellent. Also the rousing theme song “Be a Man” is always a catchy aside, both in English and Chinese, as provided in the special features!

    The Great Mouse Detective, from 1986, is an adorable, little-known gem that plays out a clever spoof on Sherlock Holmes…in mouse form! Olivia, a spirited Scottish mousling, sets out to find Basil Mouse, the greatest detective in London, in hopes of rescuing her toy-maker father who has been kidnapped by the evil Professor Ratigan and his scurrilous Cockney mouse minions! Along the way, she meets the bumbling Dr. Dawson who teams up with Basicl to uncover the kidnapping…and unmask a sinister plot against the Queen on her Diamond Jubilee! All the characters were delightful, and the humor managed to achieve a spoof on Sherlock without being cynical. The only problem I really had with it was the “dancing girl” sequence in the seedy tavern, which I thought might have been a bit too suggestive for little kids. Otherwise, this is a must-see. 

    The Jungle Book, from 1967, is an entertaining romp, which may not be Kipling…but it’s a lot more fun! In fact, I would go on to say that it is quite possibly one of the “bear necessities” of any Disney list! A classic growing up tale with another elegant villain, Sheer Kahn, and a troupe of lovable sidekicks from panthers to bears to wolves to elephants, Mowgli finds the place where he really belongs among his own kind, through the intervention of an adorable village girl. Musically, this is another film that cannot be beat for catchy tunes, most notably the beloved “Bear Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You!.” This was the last animated feature to be made with Walt Disney’s personal touch, as he died soon after release. Indeed, it was in many ways the end of a generation.  

        The Little Mermaid, from 1989, was the grand kick-off to the Disney Renaissance, and sparkled with a charming story-line and lovable characters. While I have reservations about Ariel’s bikini, it must be admitted that Hans Christian Anderson’s original mermaid was depicted naked (check out the Mermaid of Copenhagen if you don’t believe me!), so technically Disney made an improvement! Besides, she’s not actually in a bikini the whole time…she winds up in a nice frilly dress on land, which fits her becomingly. King Trident, her long-suffering father, actually turns out to be a Christ-like figure who sacrifices himself for his daughter who sold her soul to the devil in the form of Ursula the sea-witch, all in pursuit of love with a human, Prince Eric. The loss of Ariel’s voice is also very symbolic of the loss of her soul and her self. The rescue could have been more allegorically profound that ramming into evil witch with a boat, but at least Eric gets to do something to make himself useful after all the trouble he inadvertently causes over the course of the tale!

      The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, which ran from 1988 to 1991, is an innovative and thoroughly delightful take on the original Pooh stories. As a little girl, it was one of my all-time favorite TV shows, and I still own much of the series, to watch someday with my own children! Pooh and his pals become more Americanized in this version to better suit the audience, and the mood takes on a more comic tone, as their adventures branch out in into an array of themes and story-lines, all light-hearted and warmly rendered.  Whether the subject matter is the Wild West, wishing wells, super-sleuths, falling stars, house-warming parties, or cross-country racing, this series pretty much has it all! As a side-note, I would like to say that the series is *much* superior to the later “Pooh Movies” put out by Disney, which were far too dark and emotionally heavy, distorting the character interaction and the clean style of the animation. So yeah, just stick with the series! ;-) 

     Tangled, from 2010, is a gorgeously animated modern manifestation of the classic Rapunzel story. It’s all about an adorable blonde princess with magical glowing hair, which has the power to heal and restore youth. However, a miserly old lady named Mother Gothel wants to hoard her magic, so she kidnaps her and takes her to live in a tower where no one can find her. It is only through the intervention of Flynn Rider, an unlikely hero, that she is able to find her true place and emerge into the sunlight! Blending the best of old and new artistic techniques in a 3-D production, some have hailed it as the beginning of a “neo-Renaissance” for Disney. The floating lantern sequence is especially stunning. Among the most recent “princess” films, I would definitely say its has the most originality and style, and the best plot construction.  
     Frozen, from 2013, may be the victim of an over-kill hype, but it is still a “cool” little Nordic-style frolic, in the spirit of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen”, if not by the letter of the book! This feature film stand out for having two princesses instead of one, and for having a unique twist on the meaning of  “true love.” Elsa makes an elegant if paranoid accidental ice queen, and Ann her sister is an adorable heroine. Kristoff, Sven, and Olaf add to the fun in the supporting cast, and while Prince Hans winds up being a different type than of character than we might have hoped for (I do my best to avoid spoilers here!), he too has an integral part to play in the plot to get the main message across. Magical animation and music score (love “Let It Go”), and the moral that true love really does win over all because, to quote Olaf, “some people are worth melting for.”  

      Brave, made in 2012, is a film with mixed reviews to its name. I must include it in this list for the glorious Scottish setting and magnificent art-work alone. Its story-line has interesting elements, involving a fiery read-haired, Scottish accented princess Merida who refuses to be wed to a man against her will, and competes in an archery contest to win her freedom. And yet the whole dynamic of having her mother turned into a bear (and back again!) kind of underwhelmed me and proved a bit confusing. Still, it had quite a few good messages to share, including the importance of understanding in a mother-daughter relationship, the value of unity and working and together, and the necessity of balancing tradition with innovation and grace with strength. It also had a very Celtic take on mystery, magic, and destiny bound up with the land. This film also has a beautiful Celtic score, with the song “Touch the Sky” sung by Julie Fowler.
     Old Yeller, from 1957, is one of Disney’s most beloved and simultaneously tear-jerking live-action features. Its about a Texan Confederate family struggling to make ends meet in the aftermath of the Civil War. The two boys, Travis and Arles, find a stray “yeller” dog, who Arles takes into his heart. Although it takes Travis a longer time to warm up to their new family member, he eventually does and “Yeller” goes on to save both their lives. He will go on to be their beloved companion and protector until tragedy strikes, and Travis must perform the most difficult act of love. A powerful story of love, sacrifice, and what it means to become a man. Excellent acting of both humans and animals, and just the right southern accents, I reckon! 

     The Parent Trap, from 1961, is a heart-warming tale of a full-scale “family reunion” when long-lost twin-sister, Sharon and Susan, rediscover each other at a summer camp and launch an ingenious plan to bring their divorced parents back together. But first they have to switch places – a mission easier said than done! While they may be identical in appearance, their personalities and habits are diametrically opposite! Meanwhile, the money-grubbing opportunist Vicky is making a pass at their father, and they launch a plan of defense to foil her schemes in the mountains of California! A terrific family film with great cast and story-line with an important message that marriage matters. It’s a blast getting to watch a “double-header” of Hailey Mills playing both the girls, and heralded by the memorable rock n’ roll song, “Let’s Get Together”. 

     Johnny Tremain, from 1957, is one of the few films set in the American Revolution which actually tries to be fair to both sides. In this way it keeps faith with the book of the same name by Esther Forbes, even though it is largely condensed. The story follows Johnny, a silversmith’s apprentice in Boston, who finds himself drawn into the revolutionary fervor sweeping the colonies. He also learns about some long-buried secrets concerning his own identity , as he struggles to rise above the difficulties of having a handicapped hand after an accident in the silversmith shop. I’m pleased to report that the redcoats were actually portrayed as human beings, including General Thomas Gage and Major John Pitcairn. The battle sequences are quite good as were the acting, plot, and costume design, plus the memorable song “Songs of Liberty.”  

     The Light in the Forest, from 1958, is a rare film set during the French and Indian War, and deftly touches on the complexities between whites and Indians on the  colonial frontier. The main character is a young white man, John Cameron Butler, who has been raised among the Lenelanape People from the time of his capture as a small boy. When the British agree to a peace with the natives, only after they surrender their white captives, John is brought back to his white family against his will. Ultimately, he finds himself pitted against his sadistic uncle as he struggles to discover his true identity and a place to belong. This is a unique movie which, like Johnny Tremain, is admirably historically accurate. Great acting, complex characters, terrific costuming and scenery, and a great finale fight scene. Loved the Lenelanape language clips used as cues for fist-fighting!  

     The Hunchback of Notre Dame, made in 1996, has a quality that surpasses most cartoons. It must have been a daunting task for the Disney team to try and recreate Victor Hugo’s classic sage of unrequited love, prejudice, and tragedy, and give it a reasonably happy ending, but they managed to do it, and do it fairly well! There are some beautiful 3-D visuals, especially during the crowd scenes (notably when Quasimodo whisks Esmeralda to safety and cries “Sanctuary!”) and the Cathedral shots (check out Esmeralda standing in the center of light being reflected from the rose window overhead). Also, while it certainly has its problems (some crude inferences, etc.), the plot was considerably improved by having Quasi be able to hear and speak, enabling him to emerge as a real and relatable character. His friendship with Esmeralda and Phoebus is touching and uplifting, and the music score underscores the theme of unconditional love, especially the beautiful solo for Esmeralda “God Help the Outcasts”.  

     The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, produced in 2005, does an admirable job of bringing C.S. Lewis’ classic fantasy story to life for whole new generations to fall in love with. Indeed, considering the painfully memorable BBC adaptation from the 80’s (“sock puppet city”), this could be called a bone fide epic! The story revolved around the four Pevensie children as they discover the magical realm of Narnia in the back of a wardrobe, and proceed to fulfill an ancient prophecy involving the return of Aslan the Lion and defeat the evil White Witch. Through it all, a profound Christian allegory retells the story of Easter. The blend of live action and CGI effectively captures the fantastic nature of the film, and the music score is deliciously evocative of the setting, especially the theme for the colossal combat between the forces of good and evil called “The Battle”.  All in all, it’s a heart-warming family film that also is shot through with powerful meaning.  

     Tales of Robin Hood, from 1951, is the live action counterpart of the carton, starring Richard Todd as R.H. A lush and lively adaptation that primarily sticks to traditional story-line with a few twists, we get to meet Robin and Marion as young lovers who were childhood sweet-hearts from the time before all the troubles started. In this one, we also get to see Marion clad in Lincoln Green tights among the Merry Men, caring for a wounded (and cranky!) Robin in Sherwood, just before King Richard returns to set everything to rights. Also loved the humorous portrayal of Friar Tuck, and the scene where he carries Robin across a river. There are also memorable musical interludes from Alan a Dale, nice archery/fencing sequences, and good character development. As one friend pointed out, while Errol Flynn’s portrayal may be the quintessential one, Todd manages to capture more of the depth and complexity of moods, as opposed to grinning all the time! Also, this version makes a point of having the Sheriff of Nottingham meet a unique doom on the draw-bridge (easy come, easy go…) 

     Mickey’s Christmas Carol, created in 1983, is a shorter feature that demonstrates how Disney’s magic touch can turn just about any classic tale into a new and delightful experience. This one, in the spirit of Robin Hood, recasts Scrooge and the others as animals, and not just any animals – but a roll-call of illustrious names including no less than Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Jiminy Cricket, and friends! Of course we get to travel with Scrooge McDuck (yes, he’s a duck, and a hilariously Scottish one) to visit his Christmas ghosts and see just why he turned into a miserly wretch to begin with, before giving him a chance to re-enter the human (or should I say fowl?) race before it’s too late! It’s a wonderful holiday classic, perfect for the kiddies and fun-loving adults still young at heart! Note: look out for some characters from Robin Hood, who make a debut in the backdrop!  

     Maleficent, made in 2014, is one of those controversial re-make films which I really expected to hate. After all, it was messing with my favorite Disney Princess film, Sleeping Beauty. However, I must admit that, taken on its own terms, this film has a an entertaining premise, a creative plot reworking, impressive acting, and some marvelous special effects and costume/set design work. Personally, I would have just preferred they disassociated the film from the original movie altogether and made it a stand-alone with a different title. Indeed, having it still connected the previous feature made it hard to swallow at times, especially when they messed up the three fairies (made them into dumbbells!) and King Stephen (made him into an incorrigible villain). But I did find Maleficent’s back-story to be intriguing and redemption to be moving. Having her portrayed as a powerful and fearsome Celtic-style fairy defending her people and terrifying fit her well, and I was quite satisfied with how the conclusion brought the story of Aurora full-circle.  

        That Disney has managed to capture the hearts of the public for so many generations is because they have never lost their willingness to be be creative and color outside the box. They are always seeking new forms of expression and entertainment, and yet at the heart of it all, they also manage to tap into a certain level of depth and meaning that will continue to make their movies fall into the classics category. No matter their failings, and the commercialism of their merchandise, they have enabled us to wish upon a star, once upon a dream. And I for one believe that is a priceless gift to be treasured. So…what are your favorite Disney movies to share?

"Once Upon a Dream..."








Monday, July 20, 2015

Finding Romance in Daily Life....

is made just a little easier when reading the following poems that reveal the magic in the mundane. The first one is by G.K. Chesterton; the second from Dorothy Sayers.

(by G.K. Chesterton)

When we went hunting the Dragon
In the days when we were young,
We tossed the bright world over our shoulder
As bugle and baldrick slung;
Never was world so wild and fair
As what went by on the wind,
Never such fields of paradise
As the fields we left behind:
For this is the best of a rest for men
That men should rise and ride
Making a flying fairyland
Of market and country-side,
Wings on the cottage, wings on the wood,
Wings upon pot and pan,
For the hunting of the Dragon
That is the life of a man.

For men grow weary of fairyland
When the Dragon is a dream,
And tire of the talking bird in the tree,
The singing fish in the stream;
And the wandering stars grow stale, grow stale,
And the wonder is stiff with scorn;
For this is the honour of fairyland
And the following of the horn;

Beauty on beauty called us back
When we could rise and ride,
And a woman looked out of every window
As wonderful as a bride:
And the tavern-sign as a tabard blazed,
And the children cheered and ran,
For the love of the hate of the Dragon
That is the pride of a man.

The sages called him a shadow
And the light went out of the sun:
And the wise men told us that all was well
And all was weary and one:
And then, and then, in the quiet garden,
With never a weed to kill,
We knew that his shining tail had shone
In the white road over the hill:
We knew that the clouds were flakes of flame,
We knew that the sunset fire
Was red with the blood of the Dragon
Whose death is the world’s desire.

For the horn was blown in the heart of the night
That men should rise and ride,
Keeping the tryst of a terrible jest
Never for long untried;
Drinking a dreadful blood for wine,
Never in cup or can,
The death of a deathless Dragon,
That is the life of a man.

(by Dorothy Sayers)
Christ walks the world again, His lute upon His back,
His red robe rent to tatters, His riches gone to rack,
The wind that wakes the morning blows His hair about His face,
His hands and feet are ragged with the ragged briar’s embrace,
For the hunt is up behind Him and His sword is at His side, . . .
Christ the bonny outlaw walks the whole world wide,

Singing: “Lady, lady, will you come away with Me,
Lie among the bracken and break the barley bread?
We will see new suns arise in golden, far-off skies,
For the Son of God and Woman hath not where to lay His head.”

Christ walks the world again, a prince of fairy-tale,
He roams, a rascal fiddler, over mountain and down dale,
Cast forth to seek His fortune in a bitter world and grim,
For the stepsons of His Father’s house would steal His Bride from Him;
They have weirded Him to wander till He bring within His hands
The water of eternal youth from black-enchanted lands,

Singing: “Lady, lady, will you come away with Me,
Or sleep on silken cushions in the bower of wicked men?
For if we walk together through the wet and windy weather,
When I ride back home triumphant you will ride beside Me then.”

Christ walks the world again, new-bound on high emprise,
With music in His golden mouth and laughter in His eyes;
The primrose springs before Him as He treads the dusty way,
His singer’s crown of thorn has burst in blossom like the may,
He heedeth not the morrow and He never looks behind,
Singing: “Glory to the open skies and peace to all mankind.”

Singing: “Lady, lady, will you come away with Me?
Was never man lived longer for the hoarding of his breath;
Here be dragons to be slain, here be rich rewards to gain . . .
If we perish in the seeking, . . . why, how small a thing is death!”

Hunting of the Dragon
"For the hunting of the dragon...that is the life of a man!"

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Scour the Horse Anew: An Analysis of “The Ballad of the White Horse”

     For years, friends urged me to read The Ballad of the White Horse by G.K. Chesterton, which I proceeded to put on the back burner for far too long. It was the poem said to have been a major inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien when he wrote The Lord of the Rings, and heralded as one of the last epic poems to be written in the English language. But all this had little effect on me. I knew Chesterton was one of those literary names that loomed large on any stage, and was the subject of posh intellectual conversations and scintillating sound-bite quotations. But having already read through some of his prose, I found it hard to relate to his writing style and felt detached from him as an historical figure. His poetry, I feared, would do little good for me.

     I don’t mean to be dismissive here. There is no doubt that Chesterton was among the Greatest Christian Thinkers of his Age, and some would say in the history of Christendom, for his ability to bring freshness and flare to theological deliberation. He was one of those rare and wonderful Catholic converts who sprang up in England in the wake of the Oxford Movement of John Henry Newman, and was marvelously unafraid to proclaim it to the world. Among his distinguished round-about contemporaries were C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and George MacDonald, just to name a few, all of whom shared similar beliefs and styles of expression.

     But all this having been said, Chesterton proved to be the hardest nut of the bunch for me to crack in a personal reader-to-writer-relationship context. It was difficult for me to warm up to him and take him into my heart, as much of his prose felt rather heady and academic, long-winded and disorienting, and even a bit cynical and grouchy at times. Some might say these are just the down-sides of “British style”, and yet C.S. Lewis, who had the same penchant for paradox and dry witticism, comes off more fluid and readability, meant to reach out with warmth to the public at large, and not just an exclusive circle of Super-Nerds at Oxford U.

    I have spoken to others who feel similar about Chesterton’s prose style, especially in his biographical works, but they tend to be intimidated to say it out-right, less they be shunned by scholastic literary circles for lacking intelligence. Perhaps it is just a matter of taste and preference, as opposed to any sort of mental keenness or lack thereof. I have heard that one can better adapt to Chesterton over time, and perhaps I will be one of them. But for now, C.S. Lewis is still my main man from the “classic” group, and while I may relish a spangling of Chesterton snippet quotations, I am not quite ready to wade through actual volumes of his musings and meanderings.

     But in spite of misgivings about a Chestertonian plunge, when I found myself with nothing better to do but finally read  The Ballad of the White Horse by the light of a battery-operated lantern during the great black-out of February 2014, I was  immersed by the epic scale and deeply Catholic resonance of the piece. While Chesterton failed to win me with his prosaic ramblings, he was winning me now with his delicious unraveling of poetic romance. Those who have identified The Ballad as one of the last great epic poems to be written in English. Indeed, it does seem to draw the same breath of life as Beowulf, with a panoramic scope for the historical blended with the mythological. It breathes new life into both.

     The main character is Alfred, the King of Wessex, who must battle the invading Pagan Vikings in order to save his kingdom and preserve Christianity in the land. But while Alfred may fit the stereotypical larger-than-life hero from mythology, he also has all the human complexity of real history, with a less-than-admirable past. Indeed, his youthful rowdiness and debauchery is reflected on in the poem, even as Alfred comes to terms with the fact that he must put himself right with God if he wants to truly embrace the sacramental understanding of Christian kingship.

    At the gathering of the chiefs, he shows true sorrow for his past sins and laments: “I wronged a man to his slaying/And a woman to her shame/And once I looked on a sworn maid/That was wed to the Holy Name…People, if you have any prayers,/Say prayers for me/And lady me under a Christian s tone/In that lost land I thought my own/To wait till the holy horn is blown/And all poor men are free.” Indeed, like King David, it is this heart-felt repentance that makes Alfred the leader he is, for he learns to humble himself before God and seek his guidance and grace when raising to a challenge that is far beyond his own strength and abilities to accomplish. He must transformed to become “the Great.”

    Through Alfred’s experiences as a hunted vagrant in the marshes, disguised sometimes as a shepherd, sometimes as a minstrel, he get up close and personal with friends and enemies alike, and learns about his subjects from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds. Famously, in one peasant woman’s cottage, he is asked to watch cakes baking on the hearth. When he forgets his task and lets the cakes burn, she promptly strikes him in the forehead with her brand! Although initially infuriated by this assault, he soon realizes it was well-deserved, and uses his “mark” to rally his men and illustrate the vital importance of humility: “Pride juggles with her toppling towers/They strike the sun and cease/But the firm feet of humility/They grip the ground like trees….He that hath failed in a little thing/Hath a sign upon the brow/And the Earls of the Great Army/Have no such seal to show.”

     Hence, it is Alfred’s own flaws, and realization of those flaws, that are embodied in the “red star” on his forehead…and yet also make him a man worth following, in the fullness of his humanity and humility. He has his feet on the ground, and is not blinded by pride. In fact, he bears the mark of a peasant woman’s wrath as a badge of honor, vows that as that “if the red star burn”, he will strike back against the haughty foes that come against him, for the sake of that blow which he did not return. He then urges his men to follow him: “I call the muster of Wessex men/From grassy hamlet or ditch or den/To break and be broken, God knows when/But I have seen for whom…For I go gathering Christian men/From sunken paving and ford and fen/To die in a battle, God knows when/By God, but I know why.”

     Chesterton uses this opportunity to introduce a trio of leading characters who stand as symbols of the Saxon, Roman, and Celtic races: Eldred, Mark, and Colan, respectively. All three of them will fight under Alfred at Ethandune, and all three of them die for the cause. It is a fact that by the 9th century when Alfred fought for the throne, these racial differences would not have been as clear cut as depicted in the poem, but Chesterton summed up this period compression in his prologue: “It is the chief value of legend to mix up the centuries while preserving the sentiment; to see all ages in a sort of splendid foreshortening. That is the use of tradition: it telescopes history.”

    Some of the charactizations may seem rather prejudice…especially with regards to the Colan the Celt, who is imbibed with all the wild-eyed anger and broken-hearted cynicism that the English attributed to the ever wrestles Irish. One famous line runs: “For the great Gales of Ireland/Are the Men that God made mad/For all their wars are merry/And all their songs are sad.” This summary may be seen as profound or stereotypical, depending on the perspective. But still, the combination of Roman, Celt, and Saxon is meant as a symbolic device, demonstrating the complexity of the British identity, and Alfred’s ability to bring together all factions under a common banner.

     The Vikings, too, become symbolic of the enemies of Christianity throughout history, even though at the end of the poem, Alfred makes a prophecy that the Vikings, who at least fought like men, will be replaced by scholarly atheists who will say that life is meaningless, and turn the world upside-down through their teachings: “They shall come mild as monkish clerks/With many a scroll and pen/And backward shall ye turn and gaze/Desiring one of Alfred’s days/When pagans still were men…By this sign you know them/That they ruin and make dark…By all men bond to Nothing/Being slaves without a lord…”

     But still, in spite of all this, the Christian virtues of hope and perseverance, even when all seems lost, are celebrated. One stanza runs: “But you and all the kind of Christ/Are ignorant and brave/And you have wars you hardly win/And souls you hardly save.” Christians are able to live by this seemingly absurd, loving the unlovable, having faith in the unseen, and hoping through the darkest night. They may laugh in the face of evil, for they know that, in the end, death has already been conquered by the Victorious King.

    Perhaps Christian gutsiness comes particularly natural to the British, made manifest through their holy gallows humor. This sense of paradox and defiance is epitomized by the lines Alfred speaks to his Viking foes, disguised as a minstrel in their camp: “For our God hath blessed creation/Calling it good; I know/What spirit with you blindly band/Hath blessed destruction with his hand/Yet by God’s death the stars shall stand/And small apples grow.”

     Feminine intuition and spiritual power also play an important role in this poem. Even though all the main characters are male, the Blessed Virgin Mary makes several appearances in the poem, bringing a sense of reassurance to the combatants, and serving as a beacon in the darkness. Like Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings, she steels Alfred for the battle to come, even though she does not hide the dire nature of the situation: “I tell you naught for your comfort/Yea, naught for your desire/Save that the sky grows darker yet/And the sea rises higher…Night shall be thrice night over you/And heaven an iron cope/Do you have joy without a cause/Yeah, faith without a hope?”

     Though terror hangs heavy as the day of reckoning draws near, Mary does not abandon Alfred to his fears, but reappears to him in the midst of battle, with seven swords in her heart and on in her hand: “One instant in a still light/He saw Our Lady then/Her dress was soft as the western sky/And she was a queen most womanly/But she was a queen of men.” Her presence galvanizes Alfred to launch a final, desperate charge that turns the tide at Ethandune.

     The White Horse on the hill is the main motif, a chalk etching against a grassy backdrop of Wiltshire, continually scoured by the English people so that it would not fade. It lends The Ballad a sense of place and rollicking rhythm, and is also a symbol of the vortex of the human experience both Pagan and Christian, and yet emphasizes the reason why Christianity is bound to outlive Paganism: “Ere the sad gods that made your gods/Saw their sad sunrise pass/The White Horse of the White Horse Vale/That you have left to darken and fail/Was cut out of the grass….Therefore your end is on you/Is on you and your kings/Not for the fire in Ely fen/Not that your gods are nine or ten/But because it is only Christian men/Guard even heathen things.”

     It also brings the themes of perseverance and vigilance to the fore. It is a sign of continuity for the people fighting for their freedom and religion, and it must be maintained by each passing generation if it is to be preserved. It is also the sign of some intangible sense of identity that can never be blotted out, come time and tide. This is immortalized in the famous lines: “And though skies alter and empires melt/This word shall still be true/If we would have the horse of old/Scour ye the horse anew.”

     This, perhaps, is one of Chesterton’s most profound and timeless messages to the Christian world: Fight on, even thought he days grow darker yet, and know that the Great Battle has already been won by Christ the King. Furthermore, for the Christian, there is no such thing as fickle fate, but something with much more rhyme and reason, the stuff that both history and mythology is made of. To quote the real King Alfred, in his addition to Boethius: “I say as do all Christian men, that it is a divine purpose that rules, and not fate.”
     And that, I believe, is a very heartening conviction.

"Scour ye the horse anew..."