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The Power of Words in “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak

It’s been a while since I published a blog post. I’ve been quite busy with work and travel (went to Spain, which was “fantastico”). Anyway, amid the craziness and busy-ness, I managed to read The Book Thief. My daughter had loaned it to me, saying that she loved the book and felt I would love it too, which I certainly did. I had seen the film, but as usual, the book was WAY better than the movie.

The first thing that struck me about this book was the narrative voice, which is the voice of Death. Omniscient narrators are nothing new, but Death as a character certainly provides a unique vantage point from which to tell a tale, particularly one set in Nazi Germany during WWII. The narrator exudes a strange sense of detachment and sadness, which if you are the Grim Reaper is probably how you would need to be. You would need to detach yourself enough to reap souls, but it would be cruel to do so without some feeling of sadness at the many lives cut short.

While this story is so rich and offers much to explore, I’d like to focus on the power of words as presented in the text.

As a writer, I am keenly aware of the power that words have. They are symbols that evoke images, sway opinions, enlighten, and mislead. When people say that the pen is mightier than the sword, what is actually meant is that words are the most powerful weapons anyone can wield.

Yes, the Fuhrer decided that he would rule the world with words. “I will never fire a gun,” he devised. “I will not have to.” Still, he was not rash. Let’s allow him at least that much. He was not a stupid man at all. His first plan of attack was to plant the words in as many areas of his homeland as possible.

He planted them day and night.

He watched them grow, until eventually, great forests of words had risen throughout Germany. . . It was a nation of farmed thoughts.

(p. 445)

The protagonist, Liesel (the book thief), loves books. But at the height of her despair, she has an epiphany where she fully grasps the power of words as tools to spread evil.

She tore a page from the book and ripped it in half.

Then a chapter.

Soon, there was nothing but scraps of words littered between her legs and all around her. The words. Why did they have to exist? Without them, there wouldn’t be any of this. Without words, the Fuhrer was nothing. There would be no limping prisoners, no need for consolation or wordly tricks to make us feel better.

What good were the words?

She said it audibly now, to the orange-lit room. “What good are the words?”

(p. 521)

Words, like swords, are double-edged. They can cause immeasurable suffering, but can also heal the deepest wounds. This is why when I see people throwing words around on 24-news stations or on social media, I cannot help but feel concerned. If people would only pause and consider before reacting with words, we would avoid a lot of pain and conflict.

We all need to choose our words more carefully. I, for one, will try to be vigilant regarding how I use these powerful tools, and hopefully I can use them to advance society and humanity.

Thanks for taking the time to read my “words.” Cheers!

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“Norse Mythology” by Neil Gaiman

I had to travel for work recently, and this was the perfect book to read while on flights and in hotel rooms. It was a quick read, entertaining, and thought-provoking. Basically, everything you expect from Gaiman in the retelling of Norse myths. He took stories from the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda and presents them in his own voice. It works really well.

There is an abundance of the usual characters that we expect in the Norse myths: Thor, Odin, Loki, Freya, and so on. But Gaiman also treats us to some lesser-known players, and some of these stories have resonant similarities to other myths. For example, in the following creation story, Ask and Embla are created from the Ash and Elm trees, and the names conjure images of Adam and Eve.

Ve carved the logs. He gave them the shape of people. He carved their ears, that they might hear, and their eyes, that they might see, and lips, that they might speak.

The two logs stood on the beach, two naked people. Ve had carved one with male genitals, the other he had carved female.

The three brothers made clothes for the woman and the man, to cover themselves and to keep them warm, in the chilly sea-spray on the beach at the edge of the world.

Last of all they gave the two people they had made names: the man they called Ask, or Ash Tree; the woman they called Embla, or Elm.

(p. 34)

It is rare that I actually laugh out loud when I am reading, but it happened during this book (glad I wasn’t drinking coffee – it would have come out my nose). It occurred during the myth about the Mead of Poetry, which Odin, in the form of a giant eagle, stole from a giant, carrying the mead in his mouth and spitting it into vats back as Asgard. But that is not the whole story.

There. That is the story of the mead of poetry and how it was given to the world. It is a story filled with dishonor and deceit, with murder and trickery. But it is not quite the whole story. There is one more thing to tell you. The delicate among you should stop your ears, or read no further.

Here is the last thing, and a shameful admission it is. When the all-father in eagle form had almost reached the vats, with Suttung immediately behind him, Odin blew some of the mead out of his behind, a splattery wet fart of foul-smelling mead right in Suttung’s face, blinding the giant and throwing him off Odin’s trail.

No one, then or now, wanted to drink the mead that came out of Odin’s ass. But whenever you hear bad poets declaiming their bad poetry, filled with foolish similes and ugly rhymes, you will know which of the meads they have tasted.

(p. 151)

I will forever have this image in my mind when I read a bad poem!

Many of the myths in this book are symbolic for issues that we as conscious beings have to grapple with. A great example of this is when Thor wrestles an old woman and is unable to defeat her. This tale is symbolic for how we, aware of our mortality, have to wrestle with the knowledge of our impending death as we enter into old age.

“And the old woman?” asked Thor. “Your old nurse? What was she?” His voice was very mild, but he had hold of the shaft of his hammer, and he was holding it comfortably.

“That was Elli, old age. No one can beat old age, because in the end she takes each of us, makes us weaker and weaker until she closes our eyes for good. All of us except you, Thor. You wrestled old age, and we marveled that you stayed standing, that even when she took power over you, you fell down only to one knee. We have never seen anything like last night, Thor. Never.”

(p. 176)

Something that has always fascinated me about mythology is how recurring themes appear across various myths, regardless of the time and place in which those myths originated. A great example is the river which the souls of the dead must cross. For me, it symbolizes the crossing of the stream of consciousness, which we must undertake in order for our consciousness to return to the divine source.

Hermod the Nimble rode for nine days and nine nights without stopping. He rode deeper and he rode through gathering darkness: from gloom to twilight to night to a pitch-black starless dark. All that he could see in the darkness was something golden glinting far ahead of him.

Closer he rode, and closer, and the light grew brighter. It was gold, and it was the thatch bridge across the Gjaller River, across which all who die must travel.

(pp. 242 – 243)

This book is outstanding on so many levels. It is simple and accessible, yet brimming with profound wisdom for those who want to dive deep into the text. I highly recommend this to all readers.

Cheers!

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“Promethea: Book 5” by Alan Moore: On Consciousness and the Apocalypse

This is the final book in the series and the focus is on the shift in human consciousness that accompanies the apocalypse. In order to fully grasp what Moore is expressing, it is important to understand that the apocalypse is a symbolic end of the world. It is the end of reality as we perceive it and signifies the crossing of the threshold into the new stage of human evolution.

“It’s like she’s had some massive breakdown in her sense of what’s real. Maybe that’s what ‘end of the world’ means.”

Reality as we know it is only a shared perception. We are taught that a table is a table and a building is a building, and we filter our sensory input accordingly. The apocalypse, therefore, will be a collective shift in how humans perceive the world around us.

“Yes, space and time, our selves, our whole world… these things only ever existed in our perceptions. Now those perceptions are changing.”

There is a conception that when the apocalypse occurs, that it will signal the end of humankind, that we will all be magically transported from the earth to a heavenly place. This will only occur symbolically. We will still exist on this physical plane, we will still have to deal with life, but our perceptions will be vastly different.

“”I mean, it’s not like there weren’t going to still be questions and choices after the apocalypse. What, did we just think we’d all just go to heaven and there’d be no more problems, or diseases, or earthquakes? No, we all woke up one day after the world ended, and we still had to feed ourselves and keep a roof over our heads. Life goes on, y’know? Life goes on.”

The final chapter in this book goes deep into the exploration of consciousness and the symbols used to express it. Since it is impossible to study consciousness using the scientific method, we must turn to art and mysticism as ways to explore this aspect of ourselves.

“Both angels and imaginative thoughts, being phenomena not highly reliable under laboratory conditions, are equally outside the province of empirical science. Consciousness, unprovable by scientific standards, is forever, then, the impossible phantom in the predictable biologic machine, and your every thought a genuine supernatural event. Your every thought is a ghost, dancing.”

Moore goes on to assert that consciousness is dependent upon language and symbols, that without these tools, we as unable to grasp and understand our conscious selves. Words and symbols actually give our consciousness form and shape.

“Consciousness is an astonishing gift, too precious to be squandered on material concerns alone. And consciousness, modern theory maintains, is built on language. Before we’re conscious of something, we must have a word for it. The only reality we can ever know is that of our perceptions, our own consciousness, while that consciousness, and thus our entire reality, is made of nothing but signs and symbols. Nothing but language.”

I’d like to conclude by saying I have read a fair amount of comics and graphic novels so far in my life, and this series is by far the best that I have read. And the genre is perfect for conveying this type of deep metaphysical information, because, as Moore points out, the genre naturally communicates with both aspects of the psyche simultaneously.

“Pentagon studies in the 1980s demonstrated that comic strip narrative is still the best way of conveying understandable and retainable information. Words being the currency of our verbal ‘left’ brain, and images that of our pre-verbal ‘right’ brain, perhaps comic strip reading prompts both halves to work in unison?”

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April is the cruellest month…

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

(Excerpt from “The Waste Land” by T. S. Eliot)

Of course, since it is the first day of April, my mind inadvertently drifts to Eliot’s masterpiece. I went back and read my post on the poem, which I published back in 2013. Here’s a link to the post for those who wish to read it. Hopefully you will find it interesting. Cheers!

“The Waste Land” by T. S. Eliot

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Occult References in “Promethea: Book 4” by Alan Moore

promethea_4

As with the first three books in this series, this volume is also steeped in occult mysticism and symbols. The text and artwork are so rich that it would be too much to cover in a single blog post, so I will just touch on some of the key passages that stood out for me.

The first passage I want to discuss is the conversation between Sophia and John Dee.

Dee: Know, child, that here is understanding. That was all of what we sought, and so we crave no higher place. For my part, I communed with angels told of in the Book of Enoch, Hebrew adept sacred to this third domain. In this third realm, form becomes possible. The number one suggests a single point. With two points, we may describe a line. With three points, we may enclose a space in two dimensions. We plot a triangle. Seen thus, the triangle is symbol to the element of water. It is here are Binah that all water, all compassion, has its origin. At Binah is the cup that overfloweth.

Sophia: You mentioned the biblical Book of Enoch, and he angels it speaks of. Did they truly teach you their language? The Enochian language?

Dee: Aye. It was dictated by the spirits in my scrying glass, as too were shewn the tables that map all existence. Boards of twelve squares by thirteen, being all together one hundred and fifty six, and on each square were symbols. Viewed from o’erhead, each square appeareth like unto a ziggurat with flattened summit, all arrayed in rows, a mighty township.

The conversation takes place in the sephirot of Binah, as Sophia is exploring the kabbalistic tree. The scene draws from kabbalah, as well as from John Dee’s conversations with spirits, in which he details the Enochian language. This is all very arcane and if you are interested I encourage you to study it more on your own (to download a free copy of John Dee’s book that is referenced, go to Archive.org).

As they continue to explore Binah, the group encounters the Shekinah, which simply put is the divine feminine aspect of the godhead. At this point, the dual aspect of the divine feminine is revealed.

Am I Marie. Girded with clouds and covered with the firmament am I made Queen of heaven… In my compassion have I not stooped low, so that my aspect is cast down? Behold, I am the Shekinah, I am the Bride, and on the World’s streets ragged go I, and reviled. In me there is descended the Sophia, that is Wisdom’s female face… That understanding is poured out like unto blood from me. Like noble wine, Mine essence runneth down into the Earth, and therein is degraded and made bitter. Yet it giveth succor to all things. Mother am I, that sways the great dark cradle of the night. Then am I Isis, am I Hecate, am I Selene. Black am I, like to the hidden Moon, or as a Womb. I taketh in, and I receive.

Finally, Sophia and Barbara make it to Kether, the crown of the kabbalistic tree of life. It is here that they encounter the unity of god, the divine one as the all and source of all existence.

Sophia: Here we are again.

Barbara: Something from nothing. One from none.

Sophia: One… Just the idea of one, of something, for that to even exist… where there was only nothing. This is God.

Barbara: Yes, and God… is one…

Sophia: And all, God is all. One is all. One perfect moment.

As heady as the text is, the artwork that accompanies it is stunning, beautiful, and full of graphic symbolism that adds infinite depth to the story. I highly recommend reading the text slowly and spending time exploring the visual panels that are such an integral part of this book.

There is one more volume left in the series. I plan on reading it soon, so check back.

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Final Thoughts on “Don Quixote”

The Death of Don Quixote — Gustave Dore

The Death of Don Quixote — Gustave Dore

So I finally finished Don Quixote, and I figured I would give my overall impression and final thoughts, since I published a whole series of posts exploring specific aspects of the text (see links below).

As a whole, I liked this book a lot. It was funny yet thought-provoking. It’s pretty much an easy read (although quite long) and the story holds up well today, since it deals with some universal truths about humanity.

I really related to both Sancho and Don Quixote as characters, because they are essentially outcasts, as well as archetypes of creative and passionate people. And like most creative and romantic outcasts, they are picked on, ridiculed, and taunted by people who are more popular, richer, and “smarter” than they are. But in spite of all the abuse, the two remain steadfast in their ideals and follow their passions until the end. This is something I admire greatly.

It is a person’s dreams, imagination, and aspirations that make life meaningful and worth living. When deprived of these, we lose our will to live and we begin the process of dying. This is what happened to Don Quixote when he was defeated and had to relinquish living as a knight-errant.

But for all this, Don Quixote could not shake off his sadness. His friends called in the doctor, who felt his pulse and was not very well satisfied with it, and said that in any case it would be well for him to attend to the health of his soul, as that of his body was in a bad way. Don Quixote heard this calmly; but not so the housekeeper, his niece, and his squire, who fell weeping bitterly, as if they had him lying dead before them. The doctor’s opinion was that melancholy and depression were bringing him to his end.

(p. 1124)

The only way that feels right in bringing this blog series to a close is to share the epitaph for Don Quixote’s tomb:

A doughty gentleman lies here;
A stranger all his life to fear;
Nor in his death could Death prevail,
In that last hour, to make him quail.

He for the world but little cared;
And at his feats the world was scared;
A crazy man his life he passed,
But in his senses died at last.


For those of you who are interested, here are the links to my previous posts on the book:

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Thoughts on “Don Quixote” – Part 8: Anti-Government Sentiment

donquixote_cover

I think it is a pretty safe assertion that most people today at one point in their lives have had a negative view of government. We see the corruption, the bickering, the greed, and the meanness that permeates the institution. Well, if it is any consolation, these feelings have been around probably as long as there have been governments, so it’s not surprising that we find instances of anti-government sentiment in Don  Quixote.

The first one I will share is when Sancho is telling his wife of his plans to become a governor. Teresa’s anti-government stance is borderline anarchist, where she feels that no government is good.

“Nay, then, husband,” said Teresa; “let the hen live, though it be with her pip, live, and let the devil take all the governments in the world; you came out of your mother’s womb without a government, you lived until now without a government, and when it is God’s will you will go, or be carried, to your grave without a government. How many people are there in the world who live without a government, and continue to live all the same, and are reckoned in the number of people…”

(p. 574)

It is later asserted that even an idiot can become a governor, that education and intelligence are not requisite for being in the government.

… and moreover, we know already ample experience that it does not require much cleverness or much learning to be a governor, for there are a hundred round about us that scarcely know how to read, and govern like gerfalcons.

(p. 803)

And finally, one that made me chuckle. When discussing whether Sancho should bring his donkey Dapple with him to govern, Sancho point out that there is no shortage of asses in government.

“Don’t think, senora duchess, that you have said anything absurd,” said Sancho; “I have seen more than two asses go to governments, and for me to take mine with me would be nothing new.”

(p. 814)

As I watch how uncivil our government and democratic process have become, it becomes apparent that it is the loudest, craftiest, and most offensive who are winning in the political arena. With that in mind, I’ll leave you with one last quote:

God help us, this world is all machinations and schemes at cross purposes one with the other.

(p. 775)

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