Tag Archives: prison

Doctor Strange and the Sorcerers Supreme – Issue #5

doctorstrange_sorcererssupreme_5

This installment focuses on Sir Isaac Newton and his quest to learn the secret Word of God, and by doing so, harness the power to create and destroy through the use of words.

The problem with power is that it is addictive, it corrupts, and many people feel that it is the key to provide them with what they lack. This is certainly the case with Newton, who believes that by acquiring the power contained in the Word of God, he will become free and ultimately godlike.

And when I used those words, I realized, the only true prison I’ve endured was the one of my own making. Fear that I had no choice. That I could not change destiny. But no. I am free. Truly free. Free to leave my mark on the world. Free to be what I was meant to become all along… God.

Reading this, I was forced to remember the prisons I had built for myself over the years: fear, anger, resentment, self-loathing. It took me a long time to free myself from these prisons, because the most difficult bonds to free yourself from are the self-imposed ones. I am grateful that I was shown a more positive path to freeing myself, one that did not lure me into the temptation of power and money. Love, trust, faith, acceptance—these were the keys that freed me from my cell. I think that what Newton fails to realize in this story is that power is yet another prison, just like his fear was. But I suspect he will discover this in a subsequent installment.

Anyway, thanks for stopping by, and have a great day.

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“Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens – My 500th Blog Post

GreatExpectations

My friend Jerry gave me a copy of this book since I had never read it before. I wanted to read more Dickens (a writer whose works were noticeably missing from the list of books I’d read) and this was a great one.

To briefly sum up this book, it is the story of Pip, an orphaned boy who is brought up by his harsh aunt and her kind but timid husband Joe. Pip is “hired” by the rich and bitter Miss Havisham to spend time with her foster daughter, Estella, with whom Pip falls hopelessly in love. Pip then mysteriously comes into wealth from an unknown source and moves from the country to London to become a gentleman. As the story plays out, it becomes an exploration of social contrasts: expectation and reality; country life and city life; rich and poor; public and private; free and incarcerated; and so forth.

Throughout the book, people with great expectations often suffer the pain of having those expectations crushed by reality. I found this as a representation of Romantic idealism failing in the harsh light of social realism. A great example of this early in the book is Miss Havisham, who was duped by a con-man and left on her wedding day. Her shattered dreams and expectations caused her to crumble and decay internally. This internal decay is also reflected in her surroundings, as she allows her grand home to decay around her.

“On this day of the year, long before you were born, this heap of decay,” stabbing with her crutched stick at the pile of cobwebs on the table but not touching it, “was brought here. It and I have worn away together. The mice have gnawed at it, and sharper teeth than teeth of mice have gnawed at me.”

She held the head of her stick against her heart as she stood looking at the table; she in her once white dress, all yellow and withered; the once white cloth all yellow and withered: everything around, in a state to crumble under a touch.

(p. 98)

One of the sad realities of life that I have personally come to accept is the loss of friendship, not as a result of anything drastic, but just because people end up taking different paths in life which often lead us in divergent directions. Dickens poignantly expresses this in a scene where Joe accepts that he will no longer share the close relationship with Pip because Pip’s life has taken a different course.

“Pip, dear old chap, life is made of ever so many partings welded together, as I may say, and one man’s a blacksmith, and one’s a whitesmith, and one’s a goldsmith, and one’s a coppersmith. Diwisions among such must come, and must be met as they come. If there’s been any fault at all to-day, it’s mine. You and me is not two figures to be together in London; nor yet anywheres else but what is private, and beknown, and understood among friends. It ain’t that I am proud, but that I want to be right, as you shall never see me no more in these clothes. I’m wrong out of the forge, the kitchen, or off th’marshes. You won’t find half so much fault in me if you think of me in my forge dress, with my hammer in my hand, or even my pipe. You won’t find half so much fault in me if, supposing you should ever wish to see me, you come and put your head in at the forge window and see Joe the blacksmith, there, at the old anvil, in the old burnt apron, sticking to the old work. I’m awful dull, but I hope I’ve beat out something nigh the rights of this at last. And so God bless you, dear old Pip, old chap, God bless you.”

(pp. 248 – 249)

One of the things I found fascinating about this book is how relevant it still is to today’s society. We are still obsessed with wealth and often judge individuals by their material success. We also judge people by appearance, especially those we feel fall into the category of criminal types (I’m thinking about racial profiling here). There is no doubt that incarceration in prison changes a person, but we as a society see that as a permanent stain on that individual’s character, regardless of any effort made by that individual to change. This is expressed in a scene where Pip is harboring the escaped convict, Provis. Regardless of Pip’s attempts to disguise him, he still looks like a convict in Pip’s eyes.

Next day the clothes I had ordered, all came home, and he put them on. Whatever he put on, became him less (it dismally seemed to me) than what he had worn before. To my thinking there was something in him that made it hopeless to attempt to disguise him. The more I dressed him and the better I dressed him, the more he looked like the slouching fugitive on the marshes. This effect on my anxious fancy was partly referable, no doubt, to his old face and manner growing more familiar to me: but I believe too that he dragged one of his legs as if there were still a weight of iron on it, and that from head to foot there was Convict in the very grain of the man.

(p. 372)

At first, it was difficult for me to feel pity for Pip, because he is often so arrogant and treated those who loved him poorly because he was embarrassed by their social standing. But then as I thought about it, there were certainly times, particularly in my youth, when I was embarrassed by certain friends and family and didn’t want to appear to be too close with them while with other acquaintances that I wanted to make a good impression with. But like Pip, as I matured and went through life experiences, I changed and became a better person (I think). By the time I reached the end of the book, I saw more of myself in Pip, a person humbled by life’s experiences, willing to take responsibility for mistakes made, and eager to make amends to the loved ones he had harmed.

As I mentioned in the title, this is my 500th post on Stuff Jeff Reads. I have to say that this has far surpassed my expectations for this blog. At this point, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts and to share yours. It’s only because of the interesting, creative, and supportive people I’ve met through blogging that I have continued thus far. Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts and I hope your day is filled with books and happiness!

500

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“The Power of One” by Bryce Courtenay

PowerOfOne

This is an extremely powerful book. I found it both uplifting and disturbing. The book was written in 1989 and is the story of a boy named Peekay who grows up in South Africa during WWII. He witnesses the seeds of apartheid take root and turn into racial hatred. In spite of this, he manages to develop both intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually by drawing from what he calls the power of one, which is essentially self-reliance and believing in yourself. It’s a fairly long novel, but it never gets dull and it held my interest from cover to cover.

There is a lot that I can say about this book, but for brevity’s sake I’ll just focus on a few key points. I want to start on a personal note—this book hit very close to home for me. As a young boy, Peekay finds himself the target of brutal bullying. He tries various ways to placate his tormenters but at best he gets only a temporary reprieve. He carries these experiences with him and those experiences directly impact the decisions he makes. As someone who was bullied as a child, I am painfully aware of how this feels. For years I carried my pain and resentment, playing out imaginary scenarios where I confronted my tormenters and finally got even. Thankfully, I eventually realized how toxic this attitude is and learned how to let go of my resentment. But reading this certainly brought back the feelings for me. Anyone who has ever suffered the anguish of being bullied knows how this feels and will always remember it.

A significant portion of the story takes place in a prison setting. There is a great passage where Peekay describes his impression upon first seeing a prison. It is almost like the structure itself is an archetype for bondage, suffering, and the loss of freedom.

My eyes followed a long line of purple that led beyond the houses clustered on the edge of the town to a square of dark buildings surrounded by a high wall perhaps a mile into the valley. The walls facing me stood some three stories high and were studded with at least 150 tiny dark windows all of the same size. The buildings too were built in a square around a center quadrangle of hard brown earth. On each corner of the outside wall was a neat little tower capped with a pyramid of corrugated iron that glinted in the early morning sun. I had never seen a prison, nor had I even imagined one, but there is a racial memory in man that instinctively knows these things. The architecture of misery has an unmistakable look and feel about it.

(p134)

This book is rich with mystical metaphors and symbolism. One of these that I found inspiring is the cactus as a symbol for the manifestation of God. It’s a somewhat long passage but worth including in this post.

The Almighty conceived the cactus plant. If God would choose a plant to represent him, I think he would choose of all plants the cactus. The cactus has all the blessings he tried, but mostly failed, to give to man. Let me tell you how. It has humility, but it is not submissive. It grows where no other plant will grow. It does not complain when the sun bakes its back or the wind tears it from the cliff or drowns it in the dry sand of the desert or when it is thirsty. When the rains come it stores water for the hard times to come. In good times and bad it will still flower. It protects itself from danger, but it harms no other plant. It adapts perfectly to almost any environment. It has patience and enjoys solitude. In Mexico there is a cactus that flowers only once every hundred years and at night. This is saintliness of an extraordinary kind, would you not agree? The cactus has properties that heal the wounds of men and from it come potions that can make man touch the face of God or stare into the mouth of hell. It is the plant of patience and solitude, love and madness, ugliness and beauty, toughness and gentleness. Of all plants, surely God made the cactus in his own image?

(pp. 154 – 155)

Probably the single most powerful symbol in this book is the cave, which is called the crystal cave because of the mineral deposits within. It conjures images of the crystal cave from the Merlin mythology. The cave represents the inner self, a sanctuary within, a secret place of hidden beauty. It is also a place of transition, the passage between life and death. There is also an emphasis on the importance of keeping the cave secret, since your inner self and the source of mystical power must be protected. There is a great passage where Peekay uses visualization, in the same way that a shaman would, to enter the crystal cave.

I took a deep breath and launched myself from the rock; the cool air mixed with spray rushed past my face. I hit the pool at the bottom of the first waterfall. The sound of the splash drowned in the roar of the water. I surfaced to be swept over the second of the falls and then again over the third, landing in the deep pool of swirling green water. I fought my way to the surface and struck out toward the first of the black stones. Pulling myself up onto it, I hurriedly jumped from one stone to another, finally leaping for the pebbly beach beyond. I felt my toes and the ball of my foot touch the smooth round river pebbles, and as I landed I found myself inside the crystal cave of Africa.

(p. 471)

As I said, this is an incredible book and one that is worth reading. In addition, while I was in a bookstore recently, I saw that The Power of One was on the “banned books” shelf, and I have always felt that any book that is worth banning is worth reading.

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