Fairy tales and trigger warnings

Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already.  Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey.  What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey.  The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination.  What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.  Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.

—G. K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles (1909), XVII: “The Red Angel”

I thought of this quote as I read N. D. Wilson’s recent essay “Why I Write Scary Stories for Children.”  Wilson has much the same message, except that in his case, it comes as a product of his own experience as a parent.

I write violent stories. I write dark stories. I write them for my own children, and I write them for yours. And when the topic comes up with a radio host or a mom or a teacher in a hallway, the explanation is simple. Every kid in every classroom, every kid in a bunk bed frantically reading by flashlight, every latchkey kid and every helicoptered kid, every single mortal child is growing into a life story in a world full of dangers and beauties. Every one will have struggles and ultimately, every one will face death and loss.

There is absolutely a time and a place for The Pokey Little Puppy and Barnyard Dance, just like there’s a time and a place for footie pajamas. But as children grow, fear and danger and terror grow with them, courtesy of the world in which we live and the very real existence of shadows. The stories on which their imaginations feed should empower a courage and bravery stronger than whatever they are facing. And if what they are facing is truly and horribly awful (as is the case for too many kids), then fearless sacrificial friends walking their own fantastical (or realistic) dark roads to victory can be a very real inspiration and help. . . .

Overwhelmingly, in my own family and far beyond, the stories that land with the greatest impact are those where darkness, loss, and danger (emotional or physical) is a reality. But the goal isn’t to steer kids into stories of darkness and violence because those are the stories that grip readers. The goal is to put the darkness in its place.

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Antonin Scalia, RIP

I’m late noting this, I realize, but I’m just getting over a nasty bug that laid me out for more than a week.  Even late, though, I couldn’t just let this go, because I believe Antonin Scalia’s death is a great loss to the Republic.  Justice Scalia was indeed “one of the most brilliant and combative justices ever to sit on the Court, and one of the most prominent legal thinkers of his generation,” as Lesley Stahl described him in the introduction to his 60 Minutes profile.

He was also, by the testimony of his fellow justices, a good colleague and a good friend.  Though a passionate conservative in matters of law and society, his closest friend on the Court was its leading liberal mind, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, with whom he had a close relationship going back to their days on the D.C. Circuit Court.  (Hence Justice Ginsburg in the thumbnail for the first video above.)  That didn’t mean that he pulled his punches; he always treated her with respect, which meant in part that he knew she was tough enough and smart enough to argue hard.  Ginsburg once commented, “I love him, but sometimes I’d like to strangle him.”  On the whole, though, she appreciated it:

We disagreed now and then [!?], but when I wrote for the Court and received a Scalia dissent, the opinion ultimately released was notably better than my initial circulation.

Justice Scalia nailed all the weak spots — the “applesauce” and “argle bargle”—and gave me just what I needed to strengthen the majority opinion. He was a jurist of captivating brilliance and wit, with a rare talent to make even the most sober judge laugh.

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Song of the Week

This is one of my favorites from Van Morrison.  The video below, though, is of Phil Keaggy performing this song at Creation in 1992; yes, it’s a cover rather than the original, but I love Keaggy’s guitar work on this one.


When Will I Ever Learn to Live in God?

The sun was setting over Avalon
The last time we stood in the west.
Suffering long time angels enraptured by Blake
Burn out the dross, innocence captured again.

Standing on the beach at sunset,
All the boats keep moving slow
In the glory of the flashing light,
In the evening’s glow.

When will I ever learn to live in God?
When will I ever learn?
He gives me everything I need and more
When will I ever learn?

You brought it to my attention that everything was made in God.
Down through centuries of great writings and paintings,
Everything lives in God,
Seen through architecture of great cathedrals
Down through the history of time,
Is and was in the beginning and evermore shall be.


Whatever it takes to fulfill his mission,
That is the way we must go;
But you’ve got to do it in your own way:
Tear down the old, bring up the new.

And up on the hillside it’s quiet,
Where the shepherd is tending his sheep.
And over the mountains and the valleys,
The countryside is so green.
Standing on the highest hill with a sense of wonder,
You can see everything is made in God.
Head back down the roadside and give thanks for it all.

Chorus out

Words and music:  Van Morrison
© 1989 Barrule UK Ltd.
From the album
Avalon Sunset


Photo:  “Lofoten Sunset,” © 2013 Sø Jord.  License:  Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic.

Song of the Week

Tip of My Tongue

There’s an oasis in the heat of the day,
There’s a fire in the chill of night,
And a turnabout in circumstance
Makes each a hell in its own right.

I’ve been boxed in in the lowlands, in the canyons that think,
Been pushed to the brink of the precipice and dared not to blink.
I’ve been confounded in the whirlwind of what-ifs and dreams,
I’ve been burned by the turning of the wind back upon my own flames.

Knock the scales from my eyes,
Knock the words from my lungs.
I want to cry out,
It’s on the tip of my tongue.

Oh, I’ve seen through the walls of this kingdom of dust,
Felt the crucial revelation;
But the broad streets of the heart and the day-to-day meet
At a blind intersection.

I don’t want to be lonely, I don’t want to feel pain,
I don’t want to draw straws with the sons of Cain.
You can take it as a prayer if you’ll remember my name;
You can take it as the penance of a profane saint.


There’s an oasis in the heat of the day;
There’s fire in the chill of night.
When I know them both I’ll know your love—
I will feel it in the twilight—

As circumstance comes crashing through my walls like a train,
Or like a chorus from the mountains of the ocean floor,
Like the wind burst of bird wings taking flight in a hard rain,
Or like a mad dog on the far side of Dante’s door.

Chorus out

Words and music:  Mark Heard
 © 1992 iDEoLA Records
From the album 
Satellite Sky

Photo:  “Alcoholic Insomnia” ©2007 Kristaps Bergfelds.  License:  Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

Remembrance Day

Remembrance Day

In your fine green ware I will walk with you tonight
In your raven hair I will find the Summer night
Upon far flung soil I will run you through my head
In my daily toil all the promises are said

For I know the weary can rise again
I know it all from the words you send
I will go, I will go, I will leave the firelight
I will go, I will go, for it’s now the time is right

I will sing a young man’s song
That you would sing on Remembrance Day
I will be the sacrifice
And bells will ring on Remembrance Day

I must leave this land and the hunger that is here
But the place I stand is the one I love so dear
Like a flower in some forest that the world will never see
I will stand so proud for I know what we can be

For I know the weary can rise again
I know it all from the words you send
I will go, I will go, I will leave the firelight
I will go, I will go, for it’s now the time is right


This day I will remember you
This way I will always return
This day I will remember you
This way I will always return

Chorus out

Words and music: Stuart Adamson
From the album
The Seer

Over the Hills and Far Away

Here’s forty shillings on the drum
For those who volunteer to come,
To ‘list and fight the foe today
Over the hills and far away

O’er the hills and o’er the main
Through Flanders, Portugal and Spain
King George commands and we obey
Over the hills and far away

When duty calls me I must go
To stand and face another foe
But part of me will always stray
Over the hills and far away


If I should fall to rise no more
As many comrades did before
Then ask the pipes and drums to play
Over the hills and far away


Then fall in lads behind the drum
With colours blazing like the sun
Along the road to come what may
Over the hills and far away

Chorus out

Words:  John Tams / Music: traditional English folk song
From the album Over the Hills and Far Away:  The Music of Sharpe


Photo:  Tombe du Soldat inconnu, 2007 Leafsfan67.  Public domain.

Straight Outta Compton and the language of lament

I’m not sure why so many people in Hollywood were surprised when Straight Outta Compton took over the box office this past August.  Interest in the movie was running high, from what I saw, and it’s not as if there was much competition in the theaters by that point.  For that matter, though there were some big hits this year, there wasn’t all that much worth watching for most of the summer.  What’s more, SOC was released by Universal, which was well into its “all your box office are belong to us” routine.  According to the Grantland article linked above,

Universal has already put together a box office year for the ages, and Straight Outta Compton notches the studio’s sixth no. 1 opener of the year. With Straight Outta Compton, Universal could release nothing else this year but a two-hour video of the staff taking selfies and it would still break Warner Bros.’ $2.1 billion record for domestic box office. By the way, that’s a record set in December 2009, which Universal will break in August.

Finally, while the main reason projections for the movie were low was that “it had no stars,” that wasn’t really true.  I understand why people would say that (since the only actor in the movie with any reputation to speak of was Paul Giamatti, and he’s not exactly your classic leading man), but it missed the point.  The stars of the movie were the characters in the story; it wasn’t the name value of the actors but their ability to bring the characters to life that mattered (as is the case most of the time).  N.W.A has been defunct for a long time, but Dr. Dre and Ice Cube still have more pull than most movie stars.  As long as they were behind it and the movie told the story in a compelling way, it had all the star power it needed.  Having Ice Cube’s son playing him only reinforced that.

While it was mildly amusing watching the commentary and analysis of SOC‘s success, I was more interested in how little controversy there was.  I’ve never been a rap fan, but N.W.A was a mammoth cultural presence in my high-school years.  I remember the fury they caused, and I remember articles over the years asserting that gangsta rap was celebrating and even inciting violence against the police.  I don’t know if those articles were correct or not, but I was surprised that when N.W.A came back in some sense with this movie, I didn’t see the opposition come roaring back along with it.  Apart from a personal essay by Dee Barnes, who was brutally assaulted by Dr. Dre in 1991, the dominant cultural response seemed to be nostalgia.

This is unfortunate, because N.W.A shouldn’t be uncritically celebrated.Read more

How’s that “changing Washington” thing working?

Judging by Gov. Christie’s experience in New Jersey, not so well. As you may have heard, the state’s Race to the Top application was disqualified, costing the state some $400 million, “because some clerk in Trenton turned in the wrong Excel spreadsheet”; out of a thousand-plus-page application, one page was incorrectly submitted, so the U.S. Department of Education threw out the whole thing. As you can probably imagine, the governor was not at all happy.

Was the administration being petty, seizing an excuse to deny funding to a political opponent? Maybe; and then again, maybe not. After all, one should never ascribe to malice what can be explained perfectly well by incompetence. Either way, though, this is exactly the sort of thing that Barack Obama promised us his administration would not be about. I don’t blame him for not keeping his promise to change Washington—it was beyond human capability; but I don’t think it speaks well of him that he made it, or of so many others that they actually believed it. And if preventing these sorts of occurrences is too much to ask, one would think they could at least show some sort of commitment to setting them right. (Unless, just maybe, they actually are playing petty politics.)

It should be noted that the DoE did have one rejoinder to Gov. Christie: they released a video proving that NJ state education commissioner Bret Schundler had not in fact verbally given them the correct information. When the governor found out that his education commissioner had lied to him, he fired Schundler after all.

Would Browncoats still have been brown in the ’80s?

This went by a while ago, but I decided I couldn’t resist posting it; as it happens, I love the real title sequence for Firefly, but this ’80s-style version from the folks at i09 is a lot of fun, too; and while they only get two cheers as a result of leaving out Simon (and no, I don’t buy the excuse), they get most of the third one back for the way they fixed that.

It’s a shame Fox mishandled the show so badly; but I haven’t given up hope. You can knock a Browncoat down . . . but keeping one down is quite another matter.

This is purely delightful

I don’t know if they were inspired by the Sound of Music stunt last year at Antwerp’s Central Station, but a couple months ago, the Opera Company of Philadelphia performed “Brindisi” from Verdi’s La Traviata in the Reading Terminal Market, during their Italian Festival. Just watch, this is too good for words: