Category Archives: pop culture

The Doctor, The Dialogue, and Dean Koontz

“The pilgrim, having passed the Bridge, arrives at the door which is part of the Bridge, at which all must enter, wherefore He says—‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, he who follows Me does not walk in darkness, but in light. And in another place My Truth says, ‘ That no man can come to Me if not by Him,’ and so indeed it is. Therefore He says of Himself that He is the Road, and this is the truth, and I have already shewn thee that He is a Road in the form of the Bridge.”   The Dialogue of the Seraphic Virgin, Catherine of Siena: Dictated by Her, While in a State of Ecstasy, to Her Secretaries, and Completed in the Year of Our Lord 1370

Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble has provided insightful reasons for Catholics and non-Catholics alike to embrace the practice of “memento mori.”   Many spiritual classics encourage us to keep ever mindful that our paths all lead to one place–to death, to God, to our final judgment.  In a world that has long valued health, fame and fortune, perfection in anything but the spiritual life, the practice of remembering one’s death, one’s judgment before Christ, will always be a challenge.

I struggle with the fear of death, both my own and my loved ones, but God granted me my husband John, now a Third Order Carmelite, whose strong faith enhanced by the extreme medical challenges from his genetic disorder, Marfan syndrome, has allowed me to understand and embrace my mortality through my Catholic faith.  

Are there days when I falter and allow fear to overcome me?  Yes, just about every day. But thanks to God for bringing John into my life, I have slowly come to a better understanding of how to climb the ladder of theosis, to dialogue with God, to explore my interior castle, and embrace the Little Way.  So many times, Christ delights me in the amusing ways He brings my interests together in my life to remind me to get back to the path that leads to Him.

Recently, John chose a book he has owned for years, entitled Praying with Catherine of Siena, by Patricia Mary Vinje, for our family Bible study and saint study.  St. Catherine is a doctor of the Church, a title given for the insights into the Faith she provided in her life and writings.  I just happened to be in the middle of reading The Silent Corner and The Whispering Room by Dean Koontz when we started the studies.  I confess I pouted about being interrupted in the midst of the thrillers when God suddenly reminded me that His Way is the only way, and that He loves irony.

I sat down with the family, and we began reading. Each chapter takes an image from St. Catherine’s Dialogue as a means of meditation and contemplation.  The first one we came to was the “inner cell.” As we pondered the life of St. Catherine who had chosen a cell for her prayer life and was called from there by God to take on politicians who were corrupting Christ’s teachings, and adjure the Pope to go back to Rome, the higher meaning of Koontz’s new series dawned on me.  

Every one of Dean Koontz’s books I have read (most of them published since 2000, the year of his reversion to Catholicism) have made me marvel, laugh at the absurdity of humanity’s pride, be filled with proper fear, squirm in my sinfulness, and repent. His work is a true horror, meant to entertain, yes, but also to bring the reader to reconciliation with God.  And he does provide some great laughs along the way–a skilled mixture of bathos and pathos. Drawing from Flannery O’Connor’s discussion of Biblical exegesis applied to literature in her essay “The Nature and Aim of Fiction,” every one of his books can be considered literally, allegorically, typologically, and anagogically. His new Jane Hawk series is no exception.  

As we read excerpts from St. Catherine’s Dialogue, my mind reeled with the understanding that Koontz’s “silent corner” is a synonym for the “inner cell.”  Thus began the revelation of the higher meanings of The Silent Corner that I would never have learned if I had tried to bow out of the saint study.  (Pray for me.)   With that realization of the parallels between St. Catherine’s Dialogue and the names and imagery in Koontz’s Jane Hawk series, I continued to find the gems of allusion he had used from Catherine’s spiritual work and incorporated into his fictional yet spiritual masterpieces.

I don’t want to give too many spoilers in my brief analysis, but I would like to provide a few key points.  In her Dialogue, St. Catherine of Siena refers to Christ as the Bridge, and she refers to the importance of having an inner cell of the soul recollected to God, essentially a “silent corner.” In the Jane Hawk series, Jane has a son named “Travis,” which means “bridge.”   The name “Jane” means ” God is gracious” and one of the meanings of the name “Hawk” is “nook” or “corner,” so, her name blended could be construed as “God’s gracious corner.” Catherine in her Dialogue refers to the sin of the world as a “river.” So, extending the imagery, Jane as the soul recollected to God’s grace can use her focus on Christ as the Bridge (Travis) who has overcome the river of sin.  Every hotel room (silent corner, inner cell) she stays in as she pursues and is pursued by the enemy, she considers her actions and inspiration (Holy Spirit) as a means to return to her son and honor his father (so, the Trinity). In that sense, Jane could be the Blessed Mother, God’s full of grace corner.  Dean Koontz made Our Lady a rogue FBI agent! Or, taken another way, Jane is Catherine herself, a soul recollected to Christ, who took on the powers that be to bring them to repentance and to bring them to Christ.

As a final insight, in St. Catherine’s Dialogue she describes the Body of Christ as the staircase to Heaven…the next Jane Hawk novel is The Crooked Staircase...and the fourth novel in the series is The Forbidden Door, yet another reference to Christ in Catherine’s Dialogue.  I can only guess what images will be taken for the fifth, sixth, and seventh books in the series. 

So, if you were looking for a unique way to practice “memento mori,” I suggest reading The Dialogue of St. Catherine and Dean Koontz’s Jane Hawk series.  All of his books since 2000 can be considered a type of “memento mori,” as he encourages us readers to see our good deeds in the work of the heroes and heroines, but also to see our sins in those of the villains, and thus consider our final judgment, all the while providing suspenseful, amusing, inspiring, sobering, and terrifying fiction.

 

—Mary Hathaway

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THE WHISPERING ROOM Review

(My wife, Mary Hathaway, was given a free e advanced reader copy of THE WHISPERING ROOM, by Dean Koontz, but due to health and other issues, she could not finish the novel until now.  This is written from her point of view and shared on Amazon as well. The links go to Amazon, but we are NOT getting any money for it.  You can find the books elsewhere and even some are free for download.  They just enrich the meaning if you have read them.)

Many read Dean Koontz for his horror and suspense. I read him because he makes me laugh, brings me hope in our very fallen world, and his plot twists and character development serve as an amazing examination of conscience, one that usually leaves me squirming and landing on my knees in repentance. The higher, anagogical meaning is what I look for and am never disappointed.

In her essay “The Nature and Aim of Fiction,” found in the collection, Mystery and Manners, Flannery O’Connor writes, “I think the way to read a book is always to see what happens, but in a good novel, more always happens than we are able to take in at once, more happens than meets the eye. The mind is led on by what it sees into the greater depths that the book’s symbols naturally suggest. This is what is meant when critics say that a novel operates on several levels. The truer the symbol, the deeper it leads you, the more meaning it opens up.”

O’Connor could have been predicting the work of one of her biggest fans, Dean Koontz, in this essay. He may be known as the “Master of Suspense,” and aptly so, but it’s his use of symbols and their anagogical meaning that has me pondering his works long after I finish them and brings me back to them again. The “suspense” of what happens after earthly life is what he wants his readers to consider and I do, with every novel of his I have read.

THE WHISPERING ROOM, the second novel in what is promised to be a 7-book series features the intrepid and determined Jane Hawk, a rogue FBI agent on the run, investigating a series of deaths while attempting to guard herself and those she loves against the unseen enemies. Having been startled, enthralled and moved to tears by the end of THE SILENT CORNER, the first book in the series, I was anxious to see where Mrs. Hawk would land next in her quest to bring justice for her husband and safety for her son and others imperiled by “them.”

While THE SILENT CORNER is meticulously crafted to introduce the Jane Hawk universe, THE WHISPERING ROOM immediately draws the reader into an intimate scene of the slowly unveiling iniquitous underground. The pace is fast and the mood sinister. Jane’s quest for justice introduces her to some of the most foul and disgusting people one can imagine, as well as some of the bravest and kind. One’s conscience is pricked and left mourning for evil and its web in which we are all entangled. Its end left me puzzling and wondering where Jane was headed next in the quest for justice, an answer that is coming in May 2018, in THE CROOKED STAIRCASE. If you have not read The Silent Corner: A Novel of Suspense yet, I strongly recommend reading it first and then reading the sequel, THE WHISPERING ROOM.

I also suggest reading T.S. Eliot’s Collected Poems, 1909-1962 or read this excellent analysis of “The Hollow Men,”  as well as reading Flannery O’Connor’s The Complete Stories (FSG Classics). A look at CS Lewis and his book The Four Loves will also provide more insight into the deeper meaning of the fantastic Jane Hawk series and the other works of Dean Koontz.

In closing, I would strongly recommend reading a novel by his apprentice of sorts, Frank RedmanELIJAH: A Suspense Novel and reading Redman’s publisher web site for his Koontz story.   Redman’s influence on Koontz’s writing and his life cannot be exaggerated, as once again, Redman’s integrity, bravery, faith, and health battle are featured in the Jane Hawk series, hidden in the characters’ names, words and actions, just as he served as the inspiration for ASHLEY BELL.

Like most adults, my spare time is limited, so I can cover all my reading needs in one of Koontz’s amazing novels– a spiritual work, a fantastic suspense, a deep romance, a political critique, a futuristic sci-fi thriller, and an examination of conscience, all in one incredible work of art.

quote from THE FOUR LOVES

“Pro-life, homeschooling committed Christians who abstain till marriage then stay married to the same person are freaks”

I tolerate a lot, maybe too much, when it comes to TV and movies, but I appreciate seeing the consequences of actions, even if the writers depict those consequences unwittingly.

20 years or so ago, when Ellen Degeneres and her eponymous sitcom came out of the proverbial closet, ABC said that LGBT were about 10% of the population and deserved to be represented on TV.  Now, most studies have said that even if those who have “experimented” to some degree or other are included, LGBT are at most 6% of the population, and really more like 3%.  Interestingly with all the propaganda in recent years, that number has risen a whole half a percent!  Amazing how the number of people who are “born” a certain way increases.

But, fine, 4%.  Yes, there are people who identify that way and yes they should be depicted *honestly*.

But a year or two after the Ellen controversy, when the Catholic League lead a coalition of pro-life, pro-family, Catholic, Protestant and Jewish organizations protesting Nothing Sacred, ABC said, “We can’t have what amounts to 10% of the population dictating to us.”  Yet *that* coalition represented the views of 50% of the population.

Close to 70% of Americans believe abortion should be illegal under at least some circumstances, yet to most TV shows, pro-lifers are a minority and freaks.

I read an article once about the unrealistic depiction of sexual relationships on TV that pointed out for example how many characters known on TV shows as “losers” who can’t find a girlfriend actually have more sexual relationships, particularly in a short time, than even relatively promiscuous people in real life.

How often, outside of sitcoms and a couple reality shows that may be exceptions that prove the rule, do you see couples who are happily married and stay married?

How often do you see people on any fictional TV show who are committed Christians and serious about their faith and love their faith?  Even The Middle and recently cancelled Last Man Standing depict religion as something important but still a kind of chore or ideology (though Mike’s monologues on Last Man Standing sometimes make up for it quoting the Bible and even the saints).  Characters who are in any way serious about religion are, again, freaks and weirdos (which, yes, many people who are serious about religion in real life are also, and should be, but not the way we’re depicted).

How often do you see families on TV with more than 3 kids that aren’t “blended”? (and yes, child labor laws come into play).

I could go on with examples, but if it’s a question of “equal representation,” all the demographics I listed are a higher percentage of the population than LGBT yet they hardly ever show up and are treated as weirdos and bigots when they do.

Meanwhile, in the inverted Natural Law, where Neuhaus’s Law is in full effect, sex is meaningless recreation.  People on TV don’t even wait for a commitment, much less marriage, sex is a “test”–and saying “I love you” is a big “event” that comes after a couple have already engaged in sex not as an act of consummation of love but as a fulfillment of desire.  And, yes it has been this way on television for decades, and in “real life” without the Biblical moral framework, but what strikes me is how, in recent years it hasn’t even been a semblance of concern for decency or depicting any kind of negative view of sexual promiscuity, but an overt sense of saying, “This is perfectly normal, and it’s Judeo-Christian morality that’s aberrant and bizarre.”gs5x4j0

When Cross Promotional Deal Mechanics Misfire

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Jen Fitz was recently shocked to see a Stranger Things branded Ouija Board at Target and asked if there was anything about the show that promoted occultism or Ouija.

  1. Jen’s post, linked above, focuses more on the dangers of Ouija boards, so I’ll refer you there.  I’ll say that one of the holiest priests I know is also an experienced exorcist, and is of the mindset that paranoia is just as bad as involvement with the occult.  He’s not against Harry Potter or fantasy fiction or trick or treating, but told us a very powerful story of one of his most dramatic “cases,” and it was a home infestation caused by involvement with Ouija and seances.  Ouija is not just a board game.
  2. In the evil realm that is capitalism, “branded” board games have been around now for quite a while, and they come in part from a Wal-Mart policy that products must change or lower prices.
  3. I don’t recall a Ouija board being used on Stranger Things, but if it was, I wonder if the FCC would require that the product placement be disclosed.  Does Netflix fall under the separate rules for television or streaming?
  4. The “connection,” as depicted on the box, is where “Joyce” (Winona Ryder) paints a giant alphabet and “Yes” and “No” on her wall, to communicate with her son, “Will,” who is not dead but is trapped in a parallel universe and able to communicate through electrical surges.  It would be really no different than someone who’s “locked in” blinking “yes” or “no” for each letter or someone who’s mute pointing to a letter board (been there; done that).
  5. On Twin Peaks and Supernatural, “aliens” are ghosts/demons.  On The X-Files and Doctor Who, “ghosts” are aliens.  Stranger Things, so far, follows the latter formula. So if there’s a spiritual danger in the show, it’s more the “Devil tricking us into believing he doesn’t exist” than it is occultism.  But it is a really good show, whose artistic merits have been widely discussed.  The most improper content on the show is a lot of filthy language which at least is realistic and sometimes has the Flannery O’Connor “showing how people talk to show why it’s bad to talk that way” function, as well as the “Are they technically blaspheming or praying in this case” function.  There is also some teen sex which still depicts some of the psychological and spiritual consequences of fornication.  Indeed, a prominent storyline spins out of an act of fornication, and the guilt of that and attempt to atone for it carries through some of the stories of season 2.  This is a stark contrast to many other shows, as I also plan to discuss in a post.
  6. One of the things that attracted me to the show was the viral story about the “cool” C&D letter Netflix sent to an unauthorized Stranger Things themed bar. The letter professes concern about “art” and “loving their fans” and having “a say in how our fans encounter the worlds we build.”  Apparently, bars are bad, but occultism is good.
  7. Ergo, if you have a relative who’s trapped in a parallel universe, and you have some way of communicating with them, maybe a Stranger Things branded Ouija board would make sense, but really paint or paint brushes would make more sense.

 

On the Fear of Trick or Treating:

As far as “secular” Halloween/Trick or Treat, I have always appreciated it as a means of building community. I remember when I was a kid, being amazed at how there was this one day a year where, ironically, people *weren’t* afraid of each other, and we were saying hello to our neighbors, not just going up to their doors and getting candy but stopping for a moment to say hello. I remember this lady inviting us in to tour her “haunted house” setup. Being Mr. Social Anxiety, I wasn’t scared at all, of the strange situation or the display, just impressed by the gesture of hospitality.
Just a few years later, everyone was suddenly living in fear of alleged Halloween poisoning….
Cut to this year: cars.

Not just “driving to another neighborhood and parking,” but driving from house to house, including cars from our own neighborhood.

Our kids, the “unsocialized” homeschoolers, the “autistics,” go up to houses, say “Trick or Treat”, “Happy Halloween,” and “Thank you.” Wait patiently for other kids to have their turn.

Car or truck piles up. Kids pour out. Don’t say anything. If they *do* say anything, their parents tell them not to. Hardly anyone smiling. It’s like some kind of automated process. No walking. No community. It might as well be practice for putting on a mask and robbing someone.
People probably spend more on gasoline than they “get” in candy, for what? Hardly the “experience.” They don’t take the time to enjoy the experience, and it’s not like anyone has time to even see the costumes, if the kids are wearing them at all (and anyone can make an effort to at least be mildly creative–our son didn’t want to wear a costume, but at least wore a jacket and carried a stuffed Pokemon so he could say he was a Pokemon trainer).
I had to split up from the family to keep Frank from tugging, and it ended up being just another walk except having to dodge more people and and cars, and having the occasional moment of joy when a little kid said, “Look, Mommy! A man in a chair with a doggy!” Oh, wait “Don’t stare.”

“Is it the End or the Beginning?” David Lynch and George Lucas, Pt 3 (of 3?)

I have had more thoughts about the mystery of Twin Peaks the show itself, but I wanted to explore another thought I’ve been having all season, regarding the nature of “art” versus “entertainment,” and the tension of the “artist”/”entertainer.”

david-lynchSteve Granitzf

It is one thing to consider oneself an “artist” and produce work to express oneself and whatnot, without concern for profit.  Even so, if you’re going to “express yourself,” you still need to use symbols that people understand.   On the other end of the scale is the “entertainer,” who uses talent strictly to amuse audiences and make money.  There is little reason to look on each other with mutual disdain.  But most creative types, whether artists, writers, musicians, or filmmakers, operate somewhere in between, and when one operates in a mass market context, there is a certain contract at work between creator and audience.  A few weeks ago, I found a blog that a younger viewer wrote several years ago, discussing how Lynch was known for completely rejecting the principle that he owed anything to audiences, and while some say that makes him a “great” director, this lady argued (and I’d agree) that that ultimately makes him a bad director.

In the 1980s, give or take, there were four great young cartoonists who often get compared to one another in terms of their impact and the extent to which they followed Charles Schulz as role models: Jim Davis, Berkeley Breathed, Gary Larson and Bill Watterson.  Davis is often used by critics, fans and other cartoonists alike as the embodiment of a “sell-out”: he embraced commercialism and licensing early on.  While Charles Schulz took years before he began licensing Peanuts and allowing the animated spin-offs, which he carefully supervised, Davis recognized Garfield as a cash cow (cash cat) and cashed in, maintaining a similar legal control to that which Schulz enjoyed but generally allowing a great deal of flexibility..  On the other extreme was Watterson: who introduced the world to Calvin and Hobbes in 1985, consistently refused merchandising or animation, and suddenly retired after 10 years, saying he’d said all he needed to say and becoming something of a reputed recluse (though those who know him say he just kept such anonymity in his career that no one knows who he is when he’s out and about), occasionally popping up for guest stints at other comics or writing a public message here and there.

 

Somewhere in between is Breathed, who has “retired” several times–Bloom County became Outland originally so he could do Sunday’s only and supposedly have more creativity; Outland became Opus as he reverted back to form but still wanted to keep an episodic format.  And a few years ago, he made another comeback, reviving Bloom County as a webcomic posted at his leisure, sometimes in color, sometimes B&W, sometimes a mix, and exploring whatever topics he wants unencumbered by the constraints of syndicates and newspapers.  Breathed, like Davis, embraced, and continues to embrace, merchandising but kept more creative control and, other than one or two outings, has never embraced animation.  He’s also explored screenwriting and children’s literature.

I see a certain parallel at work in the directorial careers of George Lucas and David Lynch.  Both are known as young directors who showed promise straight out of film school in the 70s.  Both are known for exploring New Age/Neo-Gnostic/Pseudo-Eastern mysticism/philosophy in their works.  Indeed, David Lynch was almost the director of Return of the Jedi.  However, many critics and fans might balk at the comparison, since Lucas is to Lynch as Davis is to Watterson.  My own critique of my own analogy would be that Watterson at least made a creation that people could understand beyond a select subgroup of a subgroup that probably all share the same MBTI type.

Lucas made his name, and his fortune, very early on as a master of licensing.  In  his initial agreement with 20th Century Fox, in fact, he got himself licensing rights that the studio didn’t think were worth anything–few movies before Star Wars were adapted into toys, or had hit soundtracks or had spin-off novels and comic books.  Much like the older office product and computer companies that passed on Apple and Microsoft, Fox passed on the merchandizing rights to one of the first true blockbusters, making Lucas a billionaire.

However, the success of Star Wars came from collaboration: Gary Kurtz, Lawrence Kasdan, and studio executives took Lucas’s initial ideas and shaped them into the franchise as we know it.  A few years back, the earliest known script was adapted into a comic book series called The Star Wars, and showed Lucas’s original treatment to be far closer to a blend of the original trilogy and what became The Phantom Menace.

Many years ago, I read an observation somewhere online that “Ewoks were the first sign of genius turned to insanity.”  Except maybe Lucas always was insane–it was the collaboration and “studio interference” that made him look like a genius.  The more power he achieved, the more autonomy he achieved as a producer and director, and the more audiences rejected his “vision.”

On the other side is Lynch, who was never that commercially successful but directed a few slightly more mainstream pictures like Dune and The Elephant Man (if one can call either of those mainstream), while producing “arthouse” films (few of which I’ve seen or been able to make it all the way through without significant muting and FFing).

Lucas used his financial empire to free himself from “studio interference.”  Lynch used his “artistic reputation” and “devoted fanbase” to somehow con studio after studio into funding his projects until a series of commercial failures made him more or less go into retirement, and when CBS/Showtime came knocking about reviving Twin Peaks after fans demanded a follow up to “I’ll see you again in 25 years,” he notoriously fought for more money and more time to “tell his story,” then didn’t tell much story at all.

So “Lynchians” tell us that Twin Peaks would have been a much better show if the network hadn’t interfered with “Lynch’s vision.”  Supposedly, Lynch and Frost never intended for Laura Palmer’s killer to be revealed, though they always intended for it to be her father, though it’s also unclear if they ever had any intention or understanding of how long the show would last.  Many people blame the sharp ratings decline in the latter part of Season 2 on the fact that Lynch had little to do with it, but some of the writers and directors involved with the show at that point say they were still following his orders on a lot of things.  However, as some have pointed out, the show’s creators made a huge error in not building enough interest in the ensemble. Laura Palmer was supposed to be a MacGuffin, but she ended up being the only character most people cared about.  If they had to use the “unsolved murder” conceit to keep people tuning in, they weren’t doing a very good job.

Ironically, though it was months from our perspective, on the show’s timeline, with every episode corresponding to approximately a day, the murder of Laura Palmer was solved in little lesson than a month.  Given how long murders and disappearances often go unsolved in real life, particularly headline grabbing cases like JonBenet Ramsey, a month was relatively fast, and the notion of the unsolved crime–which other shows handled with slightly more success later–was an interesting spin.

Merely doing something “different” does not make something “art.” Indeed, T. S. Eliot, to whom I just yesterday compared Lynch and have done in the past, argues that art requires doing something different in the bounds of what’s come before.  A lot of what seems “weird” or “different” in Eliot is that he’s writing of modern urban life the way the Romantics wrote of country life or of the past.  He twists traditional metaphors and uses fragments of literary quotations and allusions he expects his readers to be familiar with.  To the extent that he works, Lynch does some of that, but more often than not he seems to turn conventional techniques so far upside down as to be unrecognizable.

But as I’ve argued many times, much of what makes Twin Peaks is hyper-realism.  The oft-maligned storyline of Ben Horne thinking he’s a Confederate general is a slightly exaggerated depiction of what happens in real life: when white American men feel defeated by society, they relive the Civil War.

Nevertheless, the other part of it is that Lynch creates a world that operates according to the principles of his belief system, and that’s where people say “It’s weird.”  David Bowie’s Philip Jeffries getting reincarnated as a coffee percolator seems strange, but is that any stranger than a dead person getting reincarnated as a carpenter ant, or as the fish that Pete Martell found in his teapot? Is Philip Jeffries the fish in the teapot?  Shirley Maclaine got criticized by people who speak fondly of their jumbled pop understanding of Hinduism and Buddhism for saying that Holocaust victims were being punished for sins they committed in past lives, but that’s what karma is, according to Hinduism.  Similarly, Lynch is drawing from a lot of disparate non-Western ideas that are collectively Gnosticism, and when viewers balk, I think they’re balking at the inherent flaws of the Gnostic world view when presented without the usual corporate filters.

What most people find appealing in Star Wars and Twin Peaks is the extent to which, by authentically expressing the Gnostic worldview, they express the rays of Truth in Gnostic/New Age/Neo-Platonic/Buddhist thinking.  Where they start to get uncomfortable is precisely where those worldviews diverge from Christianity.

This is another parallel of art and liturgy.  It’s said that traditional liturgies can be reverent when said by sinners because they were written by Saints, but the Ordinary Form is only referent when offered by Saints because it was written by committee.  In the arts, committees can take bad ideas and make them into better art, or they can take good ideas and make them into bad art.  Artistic freedom only creates true success if the artist is, if not necessarily a Saint or even a Christian, he or she at leawst tries to operate with Truth.

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“Is it the End or the Beginning?” A Tale of Three Artists: Eliot, Lynch and Koontz, Pt 2 of 3

…With a mandatory touch of C. S. Lewis.
[SPOILERS for both Twin Peaks and some recent Koontz novels; usual warning]

My previous post addressed the series finale of Twin Peaks as such (given the age of the creators, the time it took to make this season, and the 18 hours spent supposedly telling this story that could have been told in half the time, it likely is the series finale).

I addressed Lewis’s argument that we should not read too much into a work of fiction that isn’t there, and suggested that Lynch’s point is to criticize his own fans, and TV/movie viewers in general, for doing the same.  He essentially says, “This is all just a fantasy.  Stop making more of it than it is.  These aren’t real people.”

Now, some thoughts on the whole “David Lynch is an artist” “argument” and the notion of “fans’ expectations.”  To this, I bring in Lewis’s criticism of the view that a poet could just say “I’m a poet,” and that makes his view of poetry superior to the view of “non-poets.”

It annoys me when I take my kids to a museum to learn about art and the curator says, “Well, art can be whatever you want.”  No, it can’t.  It has to have rules.  It has to express something.  If a person writes the word “appeal” and means “apple,” that expresses something different.  If a person draws a picture, it has to be something the viewer can understand before it can convey any message.  Most modernism and postmodernism is just the Emperor’s New Clothes: everyone saying “It’s genius! He’s a genius!  It’s amazing!” and dismissing anyone who disagrees as an uncultured buffoon because the “art” is not about expressing something so much as providing an avenue to elitism: a tendency Lewis saw in Eliot and condemned among the intelligentsia in “Lilies that Fester.”

When an entertainer/artist has a long and relatively successful career, he inevitably changes.  Either he gets “more commercial” or “more artistic.”  Either he gains confidence in putting more of his worldview into his work or perhaps he changes/matures in it.  Thus, I often speak of the three camps of Eliot fans: those who prefer the “Prufrock/Waste-Land Era,” those who prefer the “Four Quartets Era,” and those who see them as a continuum.  When I taught literature, I would point out how two writers can use very similar situations with slight differences to demonstrate their worldviews.   Flannery O’Connor and Edgar Allen Poe, for example, can use a similar circumstance to show hope and despair, respectively.

MIKE’s line on Twin Peaks: the Return: “Is it past or is it future?” recalls the famous line from Four Quartets: “In my end is my beginning.”  To the secular reader, Four Quartets is a meditation on time and destiny, while the Christian reader sees Four Quartets as Lord of the Rings: a sophisticated Christian epic deeper than a mere allegory.

Others have pointed out the parallels between Twin Peaks and Four Quartets, and someone even captured this screenshot:
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To date, I’ve read Brother Odd and Odd Thomas, and have started Forever Odd.  My wife has read many Koontz novels and told me about them, as well as interviews, discussion groups, Amazon reviews, etc., and speaks of how many “longtime Koontz fans” are disappointed by more overtly books like the Odd Thomas series and Innocence, even though the titles should be huge spoilers.
From a Catholic perspective, Saint Odd and Innocence have the happiest endings a story possibly could, like every C. S. Lewis novel.  From the perspective of someone expecting a classic horror story or a classic romance story, however, they’re disappointing.

“David Lynch fans” look at Twin Peaks: the Return and say “It’s genius,” like the Emperor’s subjects in Andersen’s fairy tale, or the snobs at Lewis’s proverbial cherry party, because they don’t want to be counted among the philistines who “don’t get it.”  Some, however, admit they don’t get it, that it should be different from a “typical Lynch movie,” or even that it is different in the wrong way from one.

However, I’d say Lynch is conveying a message.  He’s conveying the message he wants to convey, and that’s why some people dismissively say “It’s existentialism,” because it is.  To the existentialist, life is ultimately despair, and you piece it together by enjoying cherry pies and chocolate bunnies.  It is “about the bunny,” Lynch would answer Lucy.   To the Platonist and Hindus, we’re all spirits in another realm controlling bodies that are essentially avatars, reliving our lives till we get them right.  This is one possible interpretation of the tulpas in Twin Peaks.  Another is that the finale shows the “Balance in the Force.” Whether they’re all dream-selves of the same dreamer, or reincarnations/avatars of the same being in the Red Room, or something else, the lesson that evil is inevitable and needs to be balanced, not stopped, is in keeping with the Dualistic worldview of Gnosticism/Platonism/Hinduism-Buddhism/New Age/etc.

There is something Catholic in the notion that we can’t “destroy” evil.  We can’t have a magic fist that bashes the Devil into smithereens.  We can’t go back and undo the evil of the past without destroying the future because the past dictates the future.   Once Barry Allen saves his mother, the cosmos can never be completely the same, even if he goes back to let her die again, and Barry has to live in the personal hell of knowing how many times he’s changed everyone’s lives.  This seems to be the almost-tacked on lesson of Twin Peaks, not because Cooper needs to learn it but the viewer does.

Koontz gives us a similar blend of horror, mystery, humor and romance with the lesson that all this misery points to Heaven.  As Chesterton would say, Lynch gives us the gargoyles–with fragments of the Temple.  Koontz gives us the gothic cathedral.  Both draw from Eliot, and both get in their long time fans the same polarized reactions as Eliot did.