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Jon Davison
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Sure. You've read "The Hobbit" and the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Probably "The Silmarillion". And maybe "Farmer Giles of Ham". But can you really claim to have read Tolkien until you've read the comic book adaption of his adventures with the other Inklings to avert cosmological disaster?

That's right. In the pages of "Heaven's War", John Tolkien, Clive "Jack" Lewis, and Charles Williams leap from the pub to the paneled page and inherit the mantle of averting world disaster from teams such as the Justice League and the Avengers. Their foe: None other than Alistair Crowley.

The comic is a pseudo-historical supernatural drama. The author fuses Grail lore speculation (similar to that in Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code") with a simulated discussion on the nature of evil between the ideas all four authors represented and combines this heady intellectualism with the kind of action only made possible by middle aged intellectuals running around the country side.

"Heaven's War" marks one of Tolkien's few (if only?) appearances in comic book form. However, the author shows a more than obvious favoritism for Charles Williams and makes him the story's protagonist. Tolkien unfortunately play the role of the "straight man". His character's rigid stance on spirituality puts him in opposition to the supernaturally curious Williams who liberally sprinkled occult imagery through his fiction. Lewis is portrayed as the affable middle man bridging the gap between extremes of orthodoxy and imagination. Although uptight, Tolkien's character does get to give exposition on religious iconography, use his medical skills from the Great War, and even deliver the stinging line: "Asking me to listen to the drivel of a Mason - it's like serving ham to a rabbi!" Zing, Tollers!

I give this comic 4 out of 5 Holy Grails. The concept is hilarious and amazing. The dialogue contains numerous "in jokes" regarding the authors involved. The book even contains "Special DVD Features" - an author commentary on the ideas being discussed and the reasoning behind the story's imagery. I'm docking one Grail because the art (all black and white) is serviceable but doesn't really contain any vitality.

Here's hoping for a sequel: The Inklings vs Soulless Cinematic Depictions of Their Work!
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That, and he was an admitted pedophile of his day. 
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Books are a necessary form of consumption for me. The pleasure of seeing the author's imagination at work in the craft of writing, trying to anticipate the twists in the narrative, and the numbing drone of my inner reading voice lull me into a state of happiness. Sometimes, books are momentary diversions. The memory of the story and not the precise language lingers. But sometimes an author's use of language is shocking and changes your assumptions about language's potential range of expression and the ability to leave impressions in the reader's imagination. Both the story and precise words become equally memorable. With this said, I strongly recommend anyone read the "Gormeghast" trilogy by Mervyn Peake. The books defy easy categorization. They are not fantasy (occurring in a world built around unfamiliar, mystical phenomena) or science fiction (occurring in a world reshaped by the author's speculation of technological innovation). Yet the story's geographical or historical location is never specified. The story unravels in a crumbling castle the size of a city with miles of forgotten tunnels and secret chambers. And the narrator's lens rotates between the perspectives of bizarre characters locked into a revolving pattern of ritual and secret blood feuds. The characters have names like Barquentine, Steerpike, Flay, Cut-Flower, and Prunesquallor.

Here is the description of one wizened character - Barquentine, the Master or Ritual:

    "Barquentine, whose head was on level with the banisters, put out a tongue like the tongue of a boot and ran it along the wreckage of his dry and wrinkled lips. Then he took a grotesque hop forwards on his withered leg and brought his crutch to his side with a sharp report.

    Whether his face was made of age, as though age were a stuff, or whether age was the abstract of that face of his, that beared fossil of a thing that smouldered and decayed on his shoulders - there was no doubt that archaism was there, as though something had shifted from the past into the current moment where it burned darkly as though through blackened glass in defiance of its own anachronism and the callow present.

    He turned this head of his to Steerpike."

If this snippet doesn't have you frothing at the mouth to get this book through inter library loan your SOUL MUST BE DEAD.
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Jon Davison

Discussion  - 
 
Are there any rules for a BoL pulp/horror setting?

I've always wanted to run the original Ravenloft setting using BoL or something in the Van Helsing/Solomon Kane/horror vein.
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Jon, "PIke, Shotte, & Sorcerie" is my attempt at a Solomon Kane-esque gothic S&S game using BoL with a few bits from Honor + Intrigue.  I haven't done much with it in a while, but there might be enough to get you started... http://pikeshottesorcerie.wordpress.com
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Jon Davison

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So if Philip Dick gave voice in fiction to postmodernism's erosion of sanity, can anyone recommend any modern authors who do the same for our zeitgeist?
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I'm with you on the slow crawl of despotism going back to Nixon. But it was under Dubya that national spending skyrocketed to unprecedented levels where it's stayed. So that's why I limited my exasperation to the previous two administrations.

Is it really MY responsibility? Maybe so. But in step with the zeitgeist I'm outsourcing my job duties. On my Google+ brethren! :)
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Jon Davison

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So ... Hobbit Tales: Tales from the Green Dragon Inn.

It's a card game that can be used independently or with The One Ring designed by Francesco Nepitello. Has anyone here played it, used it, ever heard of it? Could it be used as a learning tool to hook in new players?

http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/145475/hobbit-tales-from-the-green-dragon-inn
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I actually bought the game for my weekend gaming group. We haven't had much luck starting our TOR campaign, since we all have shifting schedules most of the time, but we love trying out new games when we can. We played Hobbit Tales and had a blast. Although most of us agreed that it would be twenty times better drunk, trying to find suitable lead-ins to the next adventure card and reacting to the other player's interjections with hazard cards is great fun. Especially when the hazards can be ridiculously out of place and the player playing the hazard has a sense of humor.

Example:
Storyteller: "The two hobbit approached from the woods and saw a hut nearby. They approached the door places adventure card and walked through... pauses for hazard cards

Hazard Player: rolls die, succeeds, places card "Aaaand, there's a half-naked two-headed troll."
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Jon Davison

General Discussion  - 
 
I just read "Paul: In Fresh Perspective" by N. T. Wright. Has anyone here read anything by Wright or have an opinion on his ... novel ... perspective on justification?

I really enjoyed the broad sweep of Wright's summary of the Old Testament themes in Paul's writing and how Paul's reverence for Jesus fulfills/enriches those themes rather than replaces them. And it was intriguing to hear Wright describe how the Old Testament metaphors laced within Paul's writing organically develop into the familiar doctrinal categories of our creeds.

However, his perspective on Justification as a declaration of inclusion in God's community and NOT a declaration of one's freedom from the law's just penalty was hard to swallow.

1) Wright's opinions were somewhat muddled. On the one hand, he emphasizes our sole hope for salvation in Jesus. On the other he mentions that we are to be judged according to the "whole life lived" rather than a single moment of proclaimed faith. While I fully embrace the idea that true faith WILL manifest in external signs (without works after all, faith is dead) I was unsettled by his insinuation that external works in some way feed into the balance of our final judgement. In particular, how would you apply Wright's perspective when attempting to reassure someone grappling with insecurity over their faith? "Consider your works. Not done enough of them? ...Sorry."

2) If "justification" has become so maligned by the Reformation's doctrinal squabbles as to lose its Pauline meaning, then when are we saved? That is, what is the formal term for when we are we shifted from the category of condemned to liberation? The lack of formal terminology might be covered in his other writing if not in this book.

Overall, I found Wright's ideas invigorating because they challenged the status quo. But was overall unconvinced by his reevaluation of Reformed doctrine. The traditional concept of Justification seems to express Paul's ideas with greater clarity than what Wright has managed. Anybody else read this/have an opinion?
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I believe that John Piper has given a response to Wright and other's of the New Perspective. Go to Desiring God and see if  you can find the book.

It's true that we become part of the covenant community when we are justified. But our sin issue has to dealt with first.
I appreciate some of the things that Wright has written. Given that he is in the Church of England which has gone of the rails, he comes across as being somebody who is holding the line Theologically. 

But I had to break with him on the issue of Justification.
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"I Want To Believe" was the last X Files story told in film. Previously, I asserted that the X-Files show was only possible because of the technological limitations of the 90s. In the 90s the world was interconnected but still hazy around the edges so monsters could plausibly lurk unseen. Cell phones existed but without built in cameras, GPS coordinates, and constant internet connections. Camera film was still a tangible medium and digital manipulation of imagery was of minimal concern. And overall surveillance (by satellite, drone, or browser cookies) was at a minimum.

However, "I Want To Believe" was a story out of time. A story occurring in a space more familiar to our own. And as a result, we can see the script writers struggling to preserve that old 90s mystery within the technological advances of our era.

The story begins with our heroes in new roles. Scully is now a practicing doctor in a Catholic hospital. Mulder is a bearded recluse. They both apparently live in West Virginia but rarely stop over to say "hi".

Scully is confronted by a child patient afflicted by a rare, brain disorder. The cosmic injustice of such an act unsettles her religious devotion. Despite being surrounded in her workplace with looming icons of religions devotion, her faith begins to wither.

At this point, we begin to see the script writers trying to fit the old X-Files formula into the contours of the information age age. In defiance of the hospital's resignation regarding her patient, Scully decides to resort to drastic measures. And so she turns to the place of first and last resort, that oracle of our time - Google. In a montage sequence Scully runs some searches, scans the article contents, sends them to the printer and, picking up the still smoking print jobs from her printer tray, resolves to try a reckless procedure. Based on nothing more than a quick internet search, Scully has moved from the realm of general practitioning to mastering brain surgery. This is the first sign that the storytelling of the X-Files has changed. The internet, when last we left it, was a command line interface that only served to spout the usual government controlled jargon or allow fat vampires to score meals. But now the internet is a medium which conveys instant authority on any subject.

However, the potential of the internet must be restricted so that the protagonists have limitiations. Later in the movie, Scully finds out that her previously submitted print jobs have stalled. Upon resuming them, she discovers a Vital Plot Point that exposes the nature of the villains and their methods. The internet is a vista surveying a landscape of potentially infinite knowledge. However, for the sake of drama, that view is obstructed by a hardware error.

Meanwhile, Mulder lives in isolation, clipping newspaper articles regarding the paranormal occurrences he once investigated in the FBI, and, pasting them on his wall, turns his office into a living scrapbook. But, despite the growing layer of misinformation and distortion that frame his world (Literally. The newspaper clippings cover his windows.), his iconic UFO poster ("I WANT TO BELIEVE") remained uncovered. His belief, unshaped by formal creed or icon, is unwavering.

What does he do now while cut off from the resources that once fueled his personal crusade? Unite with the Lone Gunmen via an internet blog hosted by an offshore server free from America's clutches? Compulsively edit the wikipedia articles on alien related topics? From what we see in the movie, he sits in his office clipping newspapers (a paper based medium) and munching sun flower seeds. The Mulder character is made impotent and lives within a shrine to a dying medium. Rather than transform the Mulder character through technology, the writers purposely lock him in the limitations of the past.

The next time technology lurches to the forefront is at the movie's climax. Mulder has traced the evil cabal of Russian organ thieves to their hideout. He has slain a two headed dog. He now lies comatose on the cutting block, helpless to stop his executioner's sharpening of the axe. Scully (accompanied by Skinner) is meanwhile tracking down Mulder's location. Aided by the modern era, she tracks him down by pinpointing his phone location via satellite. At this mention of technology, the shrouded realm of 90s mystery begins to shudder in defeat. However, Mulder's phone is found abandoned. Without a technological tether, Mulder's location is unknown. The shadows reassert themselves. How then to find our hero?

Previously a psychic gave Scully a cryptic prophecy via a Bible verse. With a glance sideways at a nearby row of mail boxes, Scully realizes that the bible chapter and verse is a veiled reference to the address on the villain's mail box. God still speaks through his Word. In particular, through the numbers that weren't a part of the original text. And so a miracle proves that mystery isn't completely dead in our technology drenched world. Or you could say instead, the script writers carved space for miracles to even be necessary. But as if in defiance, Skinner pulls out a cell phone and says about the newly discovered address, "Where's that? Maybe I can Google it." Mystery has no escape from technological intrusion. The revelation of miracles only gets you so far. The rest is up to Google.

In the end the greatest threat to the X-Files wasn't a monster. It's the technology that strips the world of isolation and shadowy corners. And without their habitat, monsters (and the people who chase them) are driven into the extinction of irrelevance.
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Jon Davison

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Anybody in the area ever play The One Ring RPG?

I bought a copy but I DON'T UNDERSTAND the rules. I think I need to play a session to see how all the parts work together.

Anyone? Anyone?
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Yeah, they are bringing about a revised edition that puts the rules in a more sane format.
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Check it out. Grant Morrison on BBC Radio 4.

He rehashes a lot of ideas expressed in other interviews.

The most interesting bit: Conspiracy theories and UFO abductions are all "shite". It's just the "human religious impulse directed at a secular source". Embrace chaos, my lovelies.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03nt8bk

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03phrws
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A rather startling quote from a letter to his publisher, Mr. Unwin, on the delay of the Hobbit sequel:

I have unfortunately very little time, made shorter by a rather disastrous Christmas vacation. I squandered so much on the original 'Hobbit' (which was not meant to have a sequel) that it is difficult to find anything new in that world. (Letter 24 - http://www.e-reading.co.uk/bookreader.php/139008/The_Letters_of_J.RRTolkien.pdf)

The legions of fans occupying discussion forums would seem to disagree.
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+Andrew Tawfik , I thought I should bring this to your attention. Kanye West lays out what it means to live in the "information age". Surely his keen insight could be relevant to your coursework?

Kanye West. Zane Lowe. Part 2. (if the link doesn't work, go to the 11:20 mark)
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Hey Bond! I love Bond!
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Jon Davison

Reviews/Recommendations  - 
 
“Supergods” by Grant Morrison is a book with a misleading title with a lot of other intriguing stuff between the covers. The subtitle is “What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human”. The book never approaches the philosophical concept of humanity or what might constitute that definition. What we do learn about is the history of the superhero concept and Morrison’s own philosophy on art in general.

“Supergods” is a prose history of the comic medium, moving through the Golden, Silver, Dark and Modern age with autobiographical nuggets of Morrison’s life and career interspersed throughout. In each era, Morrison gives examples of comics that expanded the medium’s range of expression and elaborated on the superhero concept’s potential meaning. And along the journey, he connects each era’s treatment of the superhero concept with the surging tides of pop culture (music, movies, fashion) running parallel in its course. That Morrison includes his own work as exemplary is perhaps telling of his own deep seated confidence in his ability. 

Some people are, perhaps, justified in declaring Morrison pretentious. However, pretentious as he may be, Morrison is never a bore. His observations are insightful. His language is colorful and engaging. And he possesses a really sharp wit. There are portions of the book that had me laughing out loud (in particular, his overview of the various Batman movies that have stained our theater screens).

For Morrison, the superhero concept is inherently absurd. But, by taking root in people’s imagination, it has become a convenient symbol for use in metaphor with as much depth as the author intends. For example, the shift from the garish 60’s Batman to the violent, mentally deranged Batman of “The Dark Knight Returns” wasn’t the original Batman concept finally being treated with respect. It was merely another phase of an evolving symbol, showing something about the era, the author, and the audience. The violence of Frank Miller’s vision settled into the norm which was then challenged by the next author’s vision. Perhaps this was Morrison himself, ripping Bruce Wayne out of the drab, noir drama of Gotham and sending him on bizarre, sizzling neon adventures through space and time. One of the most interesting disclosures is that Morrison balances his writing between conformity to the current superhero zeitgeist and intentional nonconformity, challenging readers with a new iteration of the superhero concept that pushes the medium’s range of expression. He challenges the norm while trying to anticipate the new status quo to remain marketable.

The only downside to the book is Morrison’s lingering description of his drug trips. Drug trips are like someone else’s description of a vacation or Dungeons & Dragon campaign. They are significant only to the individual and are tiresome in the retelling. Morrison reminds me of Philip K. Dick. Both toiled within a medium regarded with disdain (for Dick, it was science fiction for Morrison, comcs). And both had lacerating drug experiences they spent the rest of their careers analyzing through the lens of fiction. Morrison is lucky that his experiences, when recreated through fiction, are engaging enough to become a marketable commodity that can fund his recovery.

Morrison also explores the idea of the performance art of celebrity. He discusses how he cultivated his public image, first attaching himself to the UK punk movement before leveraging his drug trips and enjoyment of metaphysics into a role as some sort of pop culture shaman. He also discusses the evolving personas of other writers, like Alan Moore and Alex Ross, evaluating them like he would any other form of artistic expression and documenting their shift between different guises. But when personality itself is presented as fiction, it leads one to question the authenticity of the author’s own account. What truth is there in his mystical posturing? Morrison himself is a character, donning a mask like the superheroes he examines.

Morrison ends his book with a recommended reading list. He loves Jack Kirby so he’s inspired me to to hunt down collections of his work (The New Gods, OMAC, The Demon). In the list, Morrison includes his own writing. Is his place well deserved? Or is that sheer hubris? Behind his mask, Morrison is smirking.
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Great review of an utterly enthralling book.

Kevin Smith's interview with Morrison on Fatman on Batman is a "must read" too. Morrison brilliantly gets you to reappraise your views: always a sign of a great writer. 
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