Saturday, 29 March 2008

Craigmillar Castle

On Thursday we took the day off to go see Craigmillar Castle. We had tried to see this particular castle about a month ago, but got on the wrong bus and therefore ended up on the wrong side of town. Fortunately, we found the Pentlands that day, which is a great place for hiking. But this time we decided to find Craigmillar.

The castle was built in the 15th century and was a favorite residence of Mary Queen of Scots. This castle is quite different than Edinburgh Castle in that it is quite cosy and homey, as far as castles go. It's clear it was meant to be lived in, not just defended.

When we got to the castle, we roamed around the grounds first, and ended up in the middle of bushes, thorns and trees, with no way out except over a wall or back the way we came. Some of you may not know this, but Nathan always refuses to "go back the way we came" and so we always have to find a different way. This time, it meant scaling the wall. First, he helped me over and down, then handed me Z, then handed over the stroller, and then climbed over himself. Sigh . . . the attractions of a hunky husband! We ended up on the side of a fairly busy road with no sidewalk, but managed to get back to the castle without further mishap.

Here's a few pics from the day.

Monday, 24 March 2008

And the Winner is . . .

Our good friend Susannah! After several hints, Susannah correctly guessed the movie: Nell, starring Jodie Foster. Nell is a backwoods woman raised entirely alone except for her mother and twin sister. Her mother had a stroke and therefore speaks slurred English, and Nell and her sister developed some kind of twin-speak. As a result, Nell speaks a very odd version of English. One of her signature lines in the movie is "Tay in the win'!" (tree in the wind), which she says as she sways back and forth with her hands in the air.

For you Genevans out there, I (Christina) went to see this movie with a bunch of friends, including Brian Kelly. I just remember that for the rest of semester, whenever I'd see Brian across campus, he'd drop his books, wave his arms in the air, and wail at the top of his lungs, "Tay in the win'! Tay in the win'!" Very funny.

Nathan and I saw the movie a couple of years ago, and for the next several months Nathan would spontaneously wave his arms in the air and yell, "Tay in the win'!" It's still funny after all these years.

(By the way, the picture at the top is of Nell, not Susannah!)

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

A Getaway to Perth

With limited resources but flexible time, we've tried to keep an eye out for specials online, trying to snag cheap accommodation. It hasn't worked so well, but last week we found a very reasonable hotel which offered a big room, a four-course dinner and scottish breakfast for a low, low rate. But in Perth. Perth? Like Australia? We hadn't heard of the town, but as it turned out, the town was beautiful and a wonderful place to do some r+r. Aside from a very adequate range of restaurants and shops, Perth boasted some impressive castles and hiking trails near the River Tay, the largest river in Scotland. Below are some of the highlights of the excursion.

Alright movie buffs: What movie is Christina parodying in the last picture? The prize involves immortal fame on our blog, and maybe something Scottish if we remember to bring it home in August.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Planet Narnia

Last week I (Christina) went to a lecture at New College by Michael Ward who is the author of a new book called Planet Narnia. The lecture was absolutely fascinating. Apparently the Narnia Chronicles have long been criticized as being a hodgepodge of ideas which Lewis hastily slapped together with no apparent order or reason. Tolkien himself was highly critical of Lewis in this regard. On the other side of the debate, many people believe there is some order or unity to the seven books which hasn't been discovered yet, although many suggestions have been made, including that the seven books correspond to the seven deadly sins, or to the seven Catholic sacraments, or to the seven steps of Anglican commitment, or to seven of Shakespeare's plays, and so on and so forth. However, none of these theories have been convincing to anyone.

Ward's book proposes a new unifying theme for the chronicles. He suggests that the the seven books correspond to the seven planets of the pre-Copernican universe. Each of the planets was associated with a god, and of course each god has specific characteristics which Lewis used to outline the basic plot of each book, but in particular to flesh out Aslan's character in each book. So, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe corresponds to Jupiter; Prince Caspian to Mars, Voyage of the Dawn Treader to the Sun, The Silver Chair to the moon, The Horse and His Boy to Mercury, The Magician's Nephew to Venus, and The Last Battle to Saturn. I know it may sound strange, but Ward's argument is incredibly convincing. I'm hoping to get his book soon and get a more in-depth look at what he's proposing.

Anyway . . . I had an idea for a homeschooling project in conjunction with this, and since I know some of our readers are homeschoolers, I thought I'd share it and you can tell me what you think. The idea is to study the Narnia Chronicles from this point of view, and in doing so you'd cover multiple subjects and all in a fun way. First, you'd do a study of the pre-Copernican view of the universe and what medieval people believed about the heavens and why, and how science was done, etc. Then you'd do a study of each of the seven planets and the god or goddess associated with each one. This would, of course, include studying Greek and Roman mythology. Then you'd read the chronicles of Narnia and have your students act as literary critics, examining the books for evidence for or against Ward's theory. Then you could use all of this as a jumping off point to discuss natural theology -- what it is, Lewis' affinity for it, why it can be dangerous and/or beneficial, what church traditions have embraced natural theology and which have rejected it, and so on and so forth.

So, that's my idea. I'd love to hear what you homeschoolers out there think of it!

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Warning: The Kite Runner Spoilers Ahead!

I (Christina) read The Kite Runner last week. It was probably about time, since everyone had recommended it and it's been on the bestseller list for who knows how long. It really was a good book, although disturbing in a lot of ways. But I was struck by one thing in particular. The back of the book says that, essentially, this is a story about redemption. Very true. The main character, Amir, did something as a child that has always haunted him. He never confessed it to another living soul (although he suspected that at least two people knew what he had done) and so neither did he ever ask for forgiveness. But the interesting thing is that redemption doesn't seem to be seen in terms of forgiveness anyway. Redemption is seen in terms of paying your dues, doing what you should have done in the first place. Amir should have stepped in and stuck up for Hassan in the first place, and if that meant getting a beating or losing the blue kite, so be it. He should have done the right thing and therefore been able to live with himself and with Hassan afterward. However, his inability to do the right thing to start with led to even greater wrongs in the days that followed. And as a result, Amir lost Hassan's friendship and his own peace of mind.

So, the need for redemption becomes painfully obvious at this point. Yet how can it be achieved? The plot makes it clear that the best way to find redemption is to somehow do now what you should have done then. So when Amir goes back to Afghanistan, it is specifically to look for redemption. When he decides not to leave Afghanistan without Hassan's son, it is because he knows this is the only way to find redemption, and if he doesn't stay on that redemptive path he will be haunted forever. And when Assef is beating him into a bloody pulp, Amir finally finds his peace and so begins to leaugh. The scenario in the alleyway 26 years earlier has been perfectly re-created; the only difference is that Hassan's son now stands in for Hassan. And in that re-creation, Amir manages to do the right thing -- stick up for Hassan's son and take the beating that follows -- and in doing so finds redemption.

But is that really what redemption is? Certainly Amir has done the right thing in this situation. But that doesn't change anything about the first situation or what followed from it. The only thing that has changed is that Amir now feels peace. But Assef still hurt Hassan terribly, then Amir hurt both Hassan and Ali. None of that is changed. Can there be true redemption without true re-creation?

The interesting thing is that the one time forgiveness is explicitly offered in the book, it's rejected. Now, we have to keep in mind that the ones who rejected the offer of forgiveness were not actually guilty. However, forgiveness is also offered silently to Amir, the truly guilty party, by Hassan, the truly innocent party. But again, that forgiveness is rejected. Amir refuses to confess his sin, either to Hassan or anyone else, and he refuses the forgiveness that Hassan silently offers him. Instead, he hopes that Hassan will finally turn on him, beat him up, or accuse him before his father, and thereby "redeem" him by forcing him to pay for what he'd done, or failed to do. But Hassan never does that. So Amir only finds redemption 26 years later when Assef makes him pay. But, of course, the joke's on Assef because he unwittingly gives Amir exactly the thing he craves.

The Kite Runner proposes two possible routes to redemption. The first route is forgiveness, but this path seems, ultimately, to be somehow impossible. (Although it's just occurred to me that Soraya takes this route. That's worth thinking about.) The second route is simply paying the price for your own sins. This is the path Amir takes and by which he finally comes to peace with himself. The interesting thing is that forgiveness does not exclude the paying of a price. In this story, it is Hassan who is able to offer forgiveness because it is Hassan who pays the price for Amir's selfishness and cowardice. Because Hassan has suffered on behalf of Amir, he has the authority to forgive Amir's sins. But Amir is not willing or able to humble himself to that authority, and so cannot find redemption through forgiveness. The fact that he finds redemption only through his own suffering could suggest that he is actually willing to be beaten to a pulp and perhaps killed in order to maintain his own authority and thereby earn the right to forgive himself.

The question: has Amir actually become less selfish and less afraid, or has he simply learned to manifest those same traits in a way that allows him to feel at peace?