5 Books That Changed Me

March 23, 2018

  1. The Bible by God
    What if the creator of the universe had something to say to His creation and put it down in a book for us all to read? That would be some book. It would have to cover creation, explain man’s great problem with our nature, offer a solution via salvation and speak of the big ending where the universe is brought to a point of ultimate peace. The only book that can make that claim is The Bible. The more I read the Bible, the more I’m convinced of its high stature among all books. To read it is to witness an epic collection of wisdom that must have come from beyond the human hands that rendered it. No other book has changed western civilization like the Bible. I’ve read broadly on its defenders and its critics and it is the standard by which we argue theology today, as it would if it were divinely inspired. How controversial would an exhaustive book about the existence of unicorns be? Not very. But bring up the Bible and discussions erupt, rightly so.
  2. Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton
    I read this book after becoming a fan of C.S. Lewis and Tolkien and their arguments point back to this earlier source. Chesterton was simply the most influential Christian writer of the last century and nearly all of his 10,000 articles are more relevant today than the day he wrote them. That’s a sign of wisdom, when a thinker can transcend his times to reflect on what is eternally true. Chesterton has a wit that has garnered a generation of fans from Orson Welles to Ian Flemming. To read him is to be both charmed and blown away as Chesterton makes sure you are lost right up until the final sentence of the chapter where everything clicks into place. His primary goal is to re-ignite wonder in a world that is bored with the miraculous.
  3. Man’s Search for Meaning by Dr. Viktor Frankl
    Why did some survivors of the Holocaust choose to die while others chose to live? What can one do with one’s own suffering? These two questions are pondered by Frankl who survived the Holocaust. He faced starvation, betrayal and visited his fellow suffering inmates as each person made choices under the greatest stress a man can endure. His unique take on the ordeal flushes out Nazi guards who acted with compassion and fellow Jewish inmates who betrayed their fellow prisoners. His most important message is that while we can’t control when our freedom is stolen by others, they cannot dictate our response.
  4. Planet Narnia by Dr. Michael Ward
    As an author, I’ve read most of C.S. Lewis’ works, but one lone man might just have solved the greatest mystery of modern western lit. Dr. Ward proposes that The Chronicles of Narnia was not a simple, formulaic allegory of the gospel story but a complex, medieval structure that pays tribute to the cosmos. He unpacks most of C.S. Lewis’ writings to reveal an author who gave a million mile view of life by using Jupiter, the moon, Mercury, the sun etc. to tell his simple children’s fable. Ward posits that if Narnia was a true allegory, then why would Father Christmas show up as winter turns to spring? There would be no “Christmas” in Narnia, as Christ is depicted as the lion known as Aslan. They would have Aslanmas, but not Christmas in Narnia. But if The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe was using Jupiter as a template, then Father Christmas would be the perfect carrier of a jovial spirit, Jove being of the words used in medieval literature to describe Jupiter. This book changed me as a story-teller because I was made aware of building a universe using atmosphere, not allegory.
  5. The Summa Theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas
    Okay, it was between this or Moby Dick, but I assume most people already know about Melville’s masterpiece while few have tried cracking the Summa. Aquinas was a logician who became a man of faith and wondered if the two disciplines could be harmonized. Was the Bible also rational? He set out to write an exhaustive tome that covers a broad list of topics from animals to the beginning of the universe and asks questions, offers his answers then challenges his own arguments. The book is the toughest slog you’ll ever endure but it is a meticulous search for truth, and that is always to be admired.
    Go to my Goodreads Page
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Tommysaurus Rex Screenwriter Selected!

I love this screen writer/director! It means Tommysaurus will get a good treatment. I’m happy.

Inktoberfest – Day 4

October 4, 2013

Inktoberfest - Day 4

Nnewt in a craft. Pentel brush pen on photocopy paper stolen from Big Idea.

For most of medieval literature, there were no female elves. Tolkien was criticized by fairy-genre purists for having female elves in The Lord of the Rings because it was considered redundant. To the pre-modern mind, there were men, and the mystery of the female was represented by elves and fairies. The male elves represented women, so it breaks the genre by creating female elves. It’s like making chocolate out of chocolate.

Tolkien was the master of the genre, and knew which rules he could break and which ones to uphold. But given the liberties he took with the genre, I find his use of women and elves in that epic tale fantastic. The same rules were broken by another, C.S. Lewis who had Father Christmas show up in Narnia. If Aslan is the Christ, then Father Christmas would be Father Aslanmas… but Lewis, like Tolkien was transcending his genre in the same way. They were pointing to something higher than the boundaries even of fairy tale.

This from Tolkien on the Virgin mary:

“Our Lady, upon which all my own small perception of beauty both in majesty and simplicity is founded.”

To fully understand the Lord of the Rings, one must first understand that Tolkien was a devout, pre-Vatican II Catholic who faithfully attended the Latin Mass. As a Protestant, it’s difficult to view Mary like a Catholic. She is called “the Coredemptrix” which they believe tells of her unique role in participation of the redemption of man through Christ. So you’ll find elves in LOTR constantly co-redeeming mankind throughout the epic. It’s not specifically about Mary, because even in the language of story, Mary is just a conduit, to be blunt. It is the female mystique that represents the mystery of God, beauty and longing for glory.
Tolkien never publicly spoiled the spell of LOTR, he was even careful to ascribe future edits of the work to a failure in Bilbo’s memory when he put pen to paper. But in a private letter, Tolkien spills the beans:

“The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like “religion”, to cults or practices, in the Imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.”

This is telling, because he protected the story’s religious elements by removing religion from within the narrative. It’s also what freed him up to make female elves… for elves no longer symbolized women, but symbolized what Mary stood for to a Catholic, a coredemptrix. Similarly, it was Dr. Michael Ward in his book Planet Narnia who explains why Father Christmas can show up in a land with Aslan, because the entire book was more about Jove or Jupiter, the Christ figure of the universe who changes winter to spring in any land, not just Narnia. There is no need to have religious characters soap boxing within a fictional narrative, because the whole story is the soap box.

Examples:

Aragorn
In Middle Earth, like in our Earth, all of mankind is low, prone to the weaknesses of the male species. Man is proud, greedy, and cannot resist overt power. This is embodied in Boromir. Every man who is tested by The Ring fails, but Aragorn is the only one to turn it down when offered the ring by Frodo. Why? Aragorn was raised by elves. He inherited their suspicion of men, and it tormented him. The elves, or the women of fairy tale provided him the humility that made him resist the power of low men and made him the only worthy king of men. Being a ranger, he was still a man’s man, so he also embodies the humanity of Christ, triumphant on Earth.

A further symbol of the redemption of man, is that Arwen, an elf, gives up mortality to marry him. This is the Christ who marries the church. It doesn’t cost Aragorn anything, but it will force Arwen to experience death. When the beauty of the higher things redeems the lower, it injures the higher thing.

Tolkien’s view of women personally? No higher praise could be given to his wife, Edith Mary Tolkien where her tombstone read: “Luthien” while J.R.R.’s read: “Beren.” These are the elvish names for Arwen and Aragorn. After 50 years of marriage, Tolkien claimed he could still remember how Edith sang and danced while he sat on the grass, spellbound. This is also how Aragorn first meets Arwen in the Appendix of LOTR.

Legolas and Gimli
It’s a long story, but elves and dwarves are long rivals in Middle Earth. Elves are considered high while dwarves are considered low, not only in stature, but their own creator Vala Aulë offered to destroy them before they ever awoke. But the creator of all, Ilúvatar, offered to adopt them as his own with the condition that they were awaken after the Elves. That’s Jacob and Esau, but off topic for the purposes of this post.

By the beginning of The Two Towers, Legolas and Gimli have struck such a rich friendship that when Eomer the Rider of Rohan threatens to kill Gimli, Legolas points an arrow at him and says, “You would die before your stroke fell.” Gimli the low is defended by Legolas… womankind. It is Gimli who is completely smitten by Galadriel upon meeting the highest elf of all. It’s no coincidence that the highest elf is a female. At the end of the age, it is Legolas who builds a boat and brings Gimli with him to the Grey Havens (heaven).

Frodo and Arwen
When Frodo is sure to die by a mortal wound from a Morgul Blade (the weapon of the most powerful of men, the Witch King) Arwen shows up just in time to save him. (Correction: since I posted this, reader Jenni Noordhoek corrected me that it’s not Arwen who waves Frodo in the book, it’s Glorfindel who saves Frodo. But the point still stands, because it’s an elf who rescues Frodo.) When Arwen gives up her own immortality, she gives Frodo her place on the boat to the Grey Havens. Enough said.

Eowyn and Theoden
When King Theoden is crushed by his horse from a blow by the Lord Nazgul, it is Theoden’s niece Eowyn who stands between the King and death. The Lord of the Nazgul is the most powerful man, brought down by a woman who was forbidden to join the battle. She wears the armor of a man to participate. Eowyn is womanhood militant on earth, forced into battle.

Shelob and Sam
Contrast the soaring beauty of elves with Shelob. Older than Sauron, she is the last daughter of Ungoliant (the devil) known as the giant spider Shelob. There is no character described by Tolkien as more gut-wrenchingly foul than Shelob. Female gone wrong is a horror far worse than even that of the greatest failings of mortal men. The oldest, most powerful female of Middle Earth is defeated by the lowest, most humble male character: Frodo’s gardener, Sam.

Female as the North Star

The three great females of LOTR are named after lights and stars. Stars are fixed ideals by which we can guide a ship, measure the size of the universe and keep from getting lost in the woods. Their names: Galadriel, the Lady of Light, Arwen, the Evanstar and Luthien, the Morning Star. Each of these characters play a role in guiding men. Even Galadriel has Gandalf’s number. He may be a wizard, but he is subservient and knocked off his feet by the highest elf.

Tolkien was criticized by feminists for his lack of female characters in his books. I don’t have go into how thin that view is, but I believe it proves how Modernity forces us to not only miss what would be obvious to a pre-modern mind, but by addressing those false problems it ruins good story telling technique. Women weren’t short changed in Tolkien’s world, they were the firm backbone of that entire work, elevated to the highest place in a Catholic, pre-modern, story-teller’s mind: the magic redeemer of fallen men.

 

I got this question from a pal on Twitter about my Kickstarter campaign:

 But may I ask how you were able to get so many backers? It’s incredible! How did you promote, advertise and spread the word about your project? What’s the trick? I would really like to know how this works.

Any help would be hot. :)

I didn’t go into Kickstarter knowing anything about the process. I was in contact with a few friends who had successful kickstarter campaigns: Kazu Kibuishi, Jake Parker and Jason Brubaker. They didn’t make it sound easy, but they made it sound possible. That was all I needed. At the time that I launched my own campaign, I looked up every project that launched within my category of book making and comics and I looked at what failed and what succeeded. The problem is that most of the things that succeeded weren’t necessarily the kind of project I was thinking of, while the projects that fail are from every type and style of book imaginable.

There’s one great thing about Kickstarter, which is that it doesn’t cost anything to fail. There aren’t a lot of things in life that are like that, so all I had was my pride at stake to get kicked if it didn’t work, and my pride has a lot of scar tissue on it by now, so why not?

My backers aren’t entirely from my list of Kickstarter friends (4,000) or from Twitter (5500), but that gave me a good head start. About 500 of my donors came from those lists. One thing I didn’t anticipate was that I would gain about 1,000 followers on Twitter from having run my Kickstarter campaign! It was the new people that spread the word to their own networks that I didn’t have access to. They did it, not me.

The project itself is what ends up driving the donors, because people don’t buy things from me they don’t want. I could just as easily have made a different project and the exact same bidders would have said, “We don’t want this.” I’ve thought of doing a board game, a card game, a video game and an animated short, and it didn’t seem like the right timing, the Sketchbook seemed like the best idea… and my audience confirmed my hunch.

The launch of the project is when it’s at its greatest risk of failing, because after one day I might have only had 50-100 or so donors. You have to get those donors to be proud enough of the project to think their friends would also want to buy into the project. That’s why Kickstarter is just like any other free market idea… people don’t spend their money on well wishes and good intent. They really do want to be excited about something and they can’t fake their interest in something they don’t want or need.

I’d like to pause for a second and offer a consolation for projects that don’t work out. Don’t be discouraged. I have a ton of projects and ideas that I try to launch that fail or fizzle out. I’ve read enough about all of our great inventors and idea men that their past is littered with more failures than successes. The one attribute that separates successful people from failures isn’t creativity, but perseverance. Are you the kind of person to try something even after failing in a big way? 

Let me get back to answering your question. I don’t consider 1,725 people that many donors. Other guys like Jake Parker and the Creature Box guys had many MORE donors than I did and they didn’t even have the notoriety or fame of making Earthworm Jim and Neverhood in their corner. That’s how you know it’s the actual project that people want… it’s not based on the fame or marketing, it’s the thing itself that gets the donations. There are lots of great people making projects and I just don’t really want the project. Guess what? They still can’t get me to donate. It’s the project, it’s the project, it’s the project. Ask yourself if you didn’t know you, what would you buy from you?

While you can advertise your campaign, you don’t have to because Kickstarter already is a marketplace. Hot projects float to the top because even Kickstarter gets a cut of projects so that if they want to remain profitable, they want popular projects to rise up. They don’t want you to fail. If a project fails, it fails for very good reasons.

So the trick ends up being what all of us in mass media stay up at night thinking about… what do I want to make that enough people want? I’m still baffled by this and I’m the author of 14 books that haven’t lost money. My most popular projects aren’t necessarily what I would bet money would have been popular and some of my favorite “sure fire” projects were my biggest market failures.

Like everything in mass media, Kickstarter doesn’t lie. Give your best project your best shot and let the audience of donors educate you about your tastes. That’s what I did, and I was completely surprised (and humbled) by the response I got.

This is the second post on Kickstarter advice based on what I’m learning from my own campaign. The previous post was on setting a reasonable goal amount: https://tennapel.wordpress.com/2013/02/04/kickstarter/

As I ran my campaign, I made sure to regularly communicate with all of my donors through frequent updates and by responding to as many personal emails as reasonable. They don’t tell you about this part on the Kickstarter site, but maintaining communication, especially during the actual fundraising portion of the campaign, is important to build trust with donors.

Most of the donors don’t know that I’m a trustworthy person, so without going through my fiscal background, they trust me with a donation of real money. They make the first act of trust, and in my case, they were saying they would trust me with their funds for six months before they would get their rewards. The least I could do is keep them up to date on the project, even though I don’t really have time to produce constant contact.

The updates allow me to communicate with all 1,725 donors, and I can show them my due diligence by inviting them in to the process of both running the Kickstarter campaign as well as the construction of the project, in my case, a book. So I showed them images we were scanning, even showing them mistakes that we needed to fix. I got an outpouring of personal thank you’s from the donors and I was surprised to found out that other campaigns didn’t regularly communicate with their donors.

This advice comes with two warnings. 1. Some donors will send too many emails! I had to gently remind them that I couldn’t respond to every piece of communication, but I try to take care of big questions and big problems that multiple donors are asking about. 2. Don’t give too many updates! Every update sends a Kickstarter reminder to every donor and they can feel like the communication is too frequent and bothersome. If I didn’t talk to the donors for a few weeks I thought to myself, “If I donated to a campaign, I’d want to know if the guy was still alive at this point.” Usually there was some point of progress I could put together and send it out to the donors.

Doug TenNapel Commission - Black Cherry

This is a quick ink of Eddie Paretti before erasing the pencils and doing an ink wash.