Book Review: Mere Christianity by C S Lewis

I had read the first few pages of this book many years ago, but it was too difficult for me to wrap my head around then. Now, after having taken a Dostoyevsky class in college and having graduated, I came back to it to find it much easier, almost /too/ easy, to read. Of course, through the years I have read many, many quotes from this book posted on social media, so that may also have made it easier for me to follow the book as a whole. Being able to read the quotes in context has been very interesting and enrichening, too, because a quote by itself may be profound, and still even more profound when reading it in context of the paragraph and page it showed up on.

The first third of the book is a good introduction to Christian apologetics, though after reading some of Dostoyevsky’s works, I felt Lewis had passed up some great opportunities to delve more deeply into some of his arguments for Christianity than he did, and it left me feeling a little disappointed. As an aside, if you like Lewis, I highly recommend reading at least Crime and Punishment and the Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky sometime before you die because both of them explore several arguments of Lewis’s for Christianity far more in-depth than in this book. According to my Dostoyevsky professor, C S Lewis was highly inspired by Dostoyevsky, and now every time I read one of Lewis’ works, I recognize Dostoyevsky’s influence. If you are already familiar with/have already read Lewis’ works and want more, Dostoyevsky is the next step up in terms of reading level.
Okay back to the book review:
The middle of Mere Christianity I found a bit more tedious, and I found a couple points I disagreed with, or the argument seemed underdeveloped to me or not thoroughly enough explored, almost too simple in black and white. I felt as though if Lewis had written this book later in his life, he might have had even more wisdom and the ability to better articulate and explore some of his points. These were only one or two points on one or two pages. After I got past that, the book got better again for me.
I found the last several chapters of the book the most rewarding and helpful to me personally, as they are focused on what it means to be a Christian and how to live life as a Christian.
God’s main desire is for us to know Him personally and become like Christ. God wants to make us perfect. Lewis’ chapters on this really helped me grasp the Christian life and the Christian aim better. Some may find these last chapters hard to understand, especially anyone who is not already familiar with Christianity. It is definitely a book to revisit to better understand it, because every page is rich with different ideas. Just about every sentence makes a striking point.

After thinking this was The book to recommend to non-believers, but then actually reading it for myself, I feel like this book is better suited for people who are already Christians who want to deepen their faith journey, though if you came across a curious, intellectual atheist or agnostic person who would be open to Lewis’s writing style and worldview, this would be a good recommendation for them too.
Mainstream though, I feel like there may be more accessible books on Christianity now that could be recommended to and more easily understood by non-believers, though I’m not sure of any specific ones off the top of my head.

Book Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas

I read this book because a friend who loves the series gave it to me. This is my first Sarah J Maas book to finally read.

I have an interesting history with this author. At first, I was curious about her Throne of Glass series because so many people had recommended it to me over the years, but then I got bored of people recommending it to me so I decided not to read it. Then several years ago, someone told me this series reminded them of my writing (we had had a short story class together where we read and critiqued each other’s short stories), which made me curious, but I never looked into it because it seemed like a scandalous series. Then people started telling me not to read Sarah J Maas’ books for one reason or another. The controversy intrigued me.
When the book plopped into my hands earlier this year as a gift from a different friend who loves the series, I figured I needed to read it to come up with my own conclusions instead of relying on what other people were saying.

First off, as I had heard others say, yes, this is more of a New Adult/Adult book than YA. There are a few sex scenes/some adult stuff in it so content warning there. Some mild language and some Lord of the Rings-level of violence.

Secondly, I can see why so many people like this series. It hits all the emotional beats of a good Beauty and the Beast retelling and then some more–I loved all the other fairy tale and folklore references in it that showed up. And I should have seen something coming that I won’t say but it made me really happy and now I can reread the book and get a different experience than the first time I read it.

The reading experience: The first half of the book is slower, but yesterday and last night I finally sat down and finished reading the entire second half of the book (yes I stayed up late to find out what happened next). This is after not having read much at all in the last couple months.

Personal opinion: I really enjoyed this book overall, and the things that may be issues that I have may be either clarified and resolved or confirmed as I read the rest of the series. I don’t want to say any more than that because I don’t want to spoil anything. I’ll be reading more of the series.

It reminded me of the Hunger Games meets Beauty and the Beast and Phantom of the Opera, with more folklore and fairy tale references. The main character and her family situation at the start of the book reminded me a bit of Katniss. If you like any of those elements, are curious about the books, and don’t mind the content warning above, you might try this book.

Thoughts on Visualization and Writing Fiction

Something I’m noticing now is that I have a concept: A romance story like Romeo and Juliet but with a happy ending and a healthier relationship that is set in a beautiful setting.

Or, a romance story like Redeeming Love but with a healthy relationship portrayal.

The more I break down these concepts, it’s hard to visualize them and figure out how I would execute it or what the plot would be, or even if I have a plot and outline, I haven’t fleshed out scenes or dialogue in my mind and I don’t know yet how I would do it.

What you focus on becomes what you end up writing about, it seems. So if you want to write fiction, it helps to take time thinking about that and imagining everything before writing it. Or at least one scene before you write it.

That’s one way to write. For some people, the scene comes as they write it.

Anyway, I’m putting this here for future reference and reminder to self for when I do get back into writing fiction.

If you have a vague phrase idea for a story, simply take time to meditate on it and let other related ideas emerge to your mind to flesh it out better. The ideas will come. The more you think about something, the more you will notice it and attract it.

Writing Goals Self-Assessment Questions for Journaling

I wanted to make some kind of journal page for writers to use to assess where they are and how to get to where they want to be. So here you are! Use these questions, write them down in your journal, use them however you need to use them.

Where are you right now?

Take a few minutes to think about what you’ve been doing, emotionally, creatively, productively, and writing-wise.

How are you doing emotionally?

How are you doing physically?

How are you doing spiritually?

Are you taking care of yourself?

How are you doing creative-wise?

Are you taking care of your responsibilities?

Do you have a current writing project?

Do you have a consistent writing schedule?

Where do you want to be?

Take a few minutes to think about your dreams, desires, visions, and goals,.

What are your dreams and desires?

What would you like to set as a writing goal? (you can probably use this list of questions for other goals too, not just writing goals)

Is there anything in the way of setting this goal, internally? In other words, do you feel any mental or emotional blocks in the way of setting this goal?

Where did those thoughts and feelings come from?

Where did this internal programming come from?

What are three encouraging things you might tell yourself? (write these down)

Repeat as needed.

Is there anything in the way of setting this goal, externally? If so, what is it?

What are five possible ways to get past this obstacle?

Out of those five possibilities, which one is the most likely one to be of use?

Repeat as needed.

How will you know you have reached your goal? Be as specific as possible about what your goal is and why you want to set this goal. Describe what it will look and feel like.

How will you reach your goal?

What things are absolutely required in order to reach this goal?

What are five possible positive courses of action that will help you reach your goal?

What is a date you would like to aim to reach your goal by?

Who are some people who can support you in the process of you achieving this goal?

Who might be a mentor to you in reaching this goal?

What kind of writing schedule might best suit your needs in order to reach this goal?

What are some landmarks/goal-marks along the way that you can stop and celebrate along the way of reaching the big goal?

Who will celebrate with you when you complete your goal?

What day and time will you start working towards the goal?

What available times do you have to schedule writing that week?

What are some things you can do to help you persevere till you have reached your goal?

What are some things you can do to make the process fun for you?

What will you do once you complete your goal?

Have fun and be successful!

Peter Pan: The Disney Version

Yesterday, I binged the two animated Peter Pan movies back to back. First, though, I watched my favorite clips of Thumbelina. Fun thing: When I was little and first saw Thumbelina, I thought Prince Cornelius was actually Peter Pan at first, but then realized it was someone else. I think his character for the movie was inspired by Peter Pan in some ways, because moving from Thumbelina to Peter Pan, I started noticing some subtle parallels. And then after I watched the two Peter Pan movies, I watched some of the original Disney Cinderella animated film which came out a few years before Peter Pan, fittingly enough (in the book Peter Pan, the story of Cinderella is mentioned as being one of the stories Mrs. Darling tells her children that Peter Pan listened in on, and he wanted to know how it ended). This will be a rambly post that talks about details from the book and Disney movies.

Anyway, recently, I skimmed-reread through a few of my copies of Peter Pan by J M Barrie and felt the nostalgic feelings. Now I know Peter Pan was not intended to be seen as a Christ figure, but I still see some Christ-figure elements in him. He is the ruler of the Neverland island. Whenever he leaves or is in great distress, Neverland seems to turn to winter (2003 movie version). Not only is he the “Spirit of youth,” but he seems eternal because he is the one child who never grows up–even the lost boys grow up eventually, but not Peter in the book. He is victorious and a rescuer.

Some Christ-figure elements show even more-so in the first Disney animated film. In the very opening when the narrator talks about Peter Pan, he says that Peter Pan visits those who believed in him.

There is this aspect of faith in both Disney films that has always resonated with me and inspired my own fantasy writing. In the story of Peter Pan in general, the aspect of believing in fairies seems symbolic of something deeper and more significant. When a fairy dies, it is because of a lack of belief in them and a statement of that disbelief–“I don’t believe in fairies.” There is this feeling of a loss of innocence that needs to be regained. In both Disney animated films, Tinker Bell dies and comes back to life at a climactic moment where it is shown who believes in fairies and who does not. In the second film’s case, it is that Jane has a change in heart and repents of her unbelief that caused Tinker Bell to die. I remember crying during that scene as a kid seeing it in theaters. The Peter Pan sequel meant a lot to me and still means a lot to me.

Of course, in the story, J M Barrie did not explore the two sides of being like a child, that is, the side of being childlike that is good and the side of being childlike that is immature and selfish–he lumps the two together, because children are not self-conscious. On one side, it is good that this book gives representation of how children actually act, because in this time period, there were many children’s books that showed children as being like perfect angels. Also, I feel as though the story of Peter Pan comes out of a deep-seated frustration with the strictness and properness of society in 1904. Peter Pan’s character laughs in the face of society expectations of how a person should live and be. I mean, if I lived in that time period, I would probably be fed up with all the politeness and strictness of society, too. I think that may be why Captain Hook, the villain, is shown to be a character who cares about “good form” in the book–though ironically he goes against it in one or two places. However, in the Disney movies, he is portrayed as someone who does not respect good form at all.

J M Barrie, from what I’ve read, held respect for young people who “showed spirit” and who spoke bluntly.

If Walt Disney wanted people to see the darker side of not caring about “good form” and good manners, the chaos of not adhering to rules, it makes sense that he would portray Captain Hook as someone who from his introduction shows that he does not care a wit about “good form” and manners. Walt Disney understood the influence of his films on children. They would want to do the opposite of what the villain does. This is just a theory though.

One other thing I noticed that is different between the book and the movies: In both Disney animated films, the children go to Neverland and come back the same night, and there is the possibility that it was all a dream. The parents do not even know the child has been gone, so there is no problem with them having gone to Neverland at all. In the book, however, the parents know the children have gone, that they have flown, that they have gone out by the window, and they are heartbroken. There is this dark element in the book that comes out here, and the audience is not told how to interpret it: should the children have gone to Neverland with Peter Pan or should they have said, “No” and stayed home? The audience is not asked to make a judgment, but I do feel conflicted about it now that I’m older. The thing about it that may appeal to teenagers is that when the children return, there is no punishment for them having left at all. The parents are not angry, they are just thankful the children are alright. There is this sense of freedom, being able to do something even if one’s parents don’t approve, and getting away with it. I suppose that could be seen in a positive or negative way depending on one’s perspective. Of course in a literal context, it would be negative–don’t go with strangers, don’t go off without asking permission from parents first. Symbolically, it could be seen as positive only in the sense of children being able to express themselves freely and be who they were meant to be even when it goes against the expectations or labeling of the parents. There is that need to get away from society and find out who you are in an unfamiliar land. I feel like that is one reason the story of Peter Pan feels therapeutic to me in that sense.

Anyway, these are some thoughts I had while watching the movies after having skim-read through the book recently.

Growing up, I loved the book and I loved the 2003 movie and the Disney original had its moments that made me gasp with awe too. In my later teens, I started noticing different people talking about the darker side of Peter Pan, things I hadn’t even thought of, and it tainted my love for several years. I wondered if it was okay for me to enjoy the story at all anymore–the idea of Peter Pan as a “kidnapper” and “murderer.” I do not like interpreting the story that way, though the book is subtle enough that people can take away multiple different interpretations from it, and that may be a reason there are many retellings of the story.

This year, I’ve been drawn back to the character–there’s a spark of something there that is hard to explain. I just know that this character of Peter Pan, this story, helped draw me closer to Jesus because it made me care about remaining childlike in the good ways, and then reading verses where Jesus said we must “become like children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven,” those verses spoke to me in connection to the story of Peter Pan.

And then, too, if you believe in the idea of the rapture, the idea that Jesus will one day come to bring His believers to heaven, there is the parallel of Peter Pan coming “like a thief in the night” to take away those who believe in him to another land far away. It always gave me goosebumps.

There’s a lot of psychology in the story of Peter Pan that would be interesting to analyze, and I have found an interesting though dark video exploring potential interpretations of the story from a psychological perspective.

This story is fascinating to me, and it still unlocks creativity inside of me.

In a book titled Vein of Gold by Julia Cameron, about healing your creative side, she says something very interesting. It is like our creative self has been “kidnapped,” and we have to rescue it, nurture it, and then go on adventures with it. It reminded me of how Jane is “kidnapped” in the Peter Pan Disney sequel by doubt and unbelief, but also literally by Captain Hook–who also doesn’t understand who she is and doesn’t even call her by her real name but by her mother’s name, that’s an interesting detail that could be analyzed from an identity angle–and Peter Pan, the Spirit of Youth, rescues her. Over the course of the movie, she finds a sense of belonging, how to play, and she learns how to believe in the reality of things she did not believe in before.

Man, that’s probably why I love the movie so much and identify with it so well.

Also, I really want to write a retelling of Peter Pan now that gives Wendy a better experience in Neverland because she really didn’t have a fun time while she was there except for flying and being a mother to the Lost Boys–she literally ran away from home to avoid growing up, but going to Neverland forces her to grow up anyway. She sees the consequences of immaturity and wants to escape that. From another angle, she goes to Neverland to be in a safe place where she can play-act at being an adult and navigate difficulties of growing up, which then prepares her to grow up when she returns home.

There are so many aspects of this story that are fun to analyze and interpret. These are just some of my rambly thoughts.

Book/Movie Recommendations for Enneagram Type 4s

I’m an Enneagram type 4, and I’ve been finding lots of things that feel like they were made for type 4s.

So here are some lists of things I’ve come across that Christian 4s might find meaningful.

Books–Fiction

The Auralia Thread series by Jeffrey Overstreet

Book 1: Auralia’s Colors

Book 2: Cyndere’s Midnight

Book 3: Raven’s Ladder

Book 4: The Ale Boy’s Feast

This series helped me acknowledge who I want to be–I want to be someone who makes beautiful things and makes a positive difference in the world. It’s not an allegorical series, by the way. If you try to find allegorical parallels in it, you will be disappointed. The prose is gorgeous, and it is the kind of writing style that you will want to take your time with.

Till We Have Faces by C S Lewis

This was C S Lewis’ last fictional work, arguably his best-written novel, and it is a little bit like Narnia for adults. I recommend it even if you’re not a 4. It’s not very well-known and more people need to read it. It forces you to think about common struggles of faith and what love is and isn’t.

The Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkien

Nowadays, few people read the books. I’ve only read the Fellowship so far, and it was mostly on audiobook, but it made me really appreciate the books even more than the movies that I grew up watching (extended edition). If you can find a good audiobook, you’ll be set. Or if you can handle the writing style, the physical books are great.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

You might be surprised to find this book listed on a recommendations list for Enneagram type fours, but this book was super therapeutic for me in many ways. Fours can often feel like they are beyond redemption, but this book shows that that is not the case. Fair warning for this one, it is a little bit graphic in one or two brief places in the book, as a murder takes place, and a few mentions of suicide. Also, it is a classic, so be prepared for the old writing. However, this book swept me up and while I did read it for a class on Dostoyevsky, I was pulled in by the suspense. This is a well-written book–the last half is more contemplative while the first half has more plot. This is a book for people who like to think about theology and the problem of sin, and those who seek God. Unconditional love is shown beautifully in this story in a powerful way. I feel like this book helped heal some deep parts of my soul.

Also, C S Lewis fans, I recommend this book to you as well (really, any of Dostoyevsky’s major works) because C S Lewis was inspired by Dostoyevsky’s works.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

This is a book that is commonly on the 100 Must-Read Classics lists, and for good reason. It is arguably one of the most theologically and philosophically rich books I have ever had the pleasure to read. This is not light reading, and it is longer than Crime and Punishment–it also may be a bigger challenge to get into than Crime and Punishment. I think taking a Dostoyevsky class is what really helped me grasp this book, because understanding the historical context of the book and having read a few other works by Dostoyevsky first helped me get into this one and understand where Dostoyevsky was coming from when he wrote it. It was the last book he wrote before he died–it was completed and published three months before he died actually–and it is commonly called his masterpiece.

The reason this book may resonate with Enneagram fours is the intensity and depth of it. The value of Dostoyevsky’s writing comes partially because of his profound understanding of the human soul and ability to portray human characters with subtlety and all their mannerisms in such a way that hits me hard.

Now, all of the fictional books I have just listed are books I plan on writing more in-depth posts about in the future, so stay tuned!

Books–Nonfiction

The Furious Longing of God by Brennan Manning

This book is wonderful for helping you get an idea of God’s great love and longing for you. It helped me in a hard time of my life.

Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown

This book is about finding a sense of belonging in the world. I highly recommend it to anyone who struggles with feeling lonely. This is another book that helped me during a hard time of my life.

Movies/TV shows

Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium

This movie captures both childlike wonder, melancholy, and creative fulfillment in ways that will touch and encourage Enneagram fours.

Chocolat

This movie is about someone who is different, someone who comes into a French village to make chocolate during Lent, a season where people would usually stay away from sweets. This is a movie my family and I watch just about every year, and every time, it reminds me: What you want to create matters, and you can make a positive difference in the world around you.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

I was surprised, but this movie is why I like Spider-man stories. It’s about the outsider who finds their way in the world–it’s about unique people discovering other unique people and realizing they’re not alone.

Meet the Robinsons

Man, this movie hits me hard. The theme of “Keep moving forward” and embracing your mistakes with compassion so you can let go and move forward is very important for fours. We can tend to get stuck thinking about the past and letting old wounds leave us in resentment. This movie always reminds me to look up and have hope and to do something in the present moment.

August Rush

Not only is the music wonderful, but the story gives me feelings. An orphan who is a music prodigy who is also trying to find his parents, both of whom are musicians–this is a musical fairy tale.

Whisper of the Heart

This sweet Japanese animated film is about a young girl who writes stories and a boy who makes violins. The writer deals with insecurities in her day to day life as well as struggling with the fear that she will never write as well as she wants to write. Very relateable movie.

Violet Evergarden (anime series)

This anime is great for when you want to cry a lot and feel better afterward. It is also therapeutic for those who have experienced trauma–I have read of multiple veterans coming forth to say that the depiction of PTSD is very accurate. This anime is about a girl who was raised as a weapon of war, but once the war is over, she doesn’t know how to live. She takes on a job to write letters for people who don’t know how to put their feelings into words, and as she improves at this job, by giving words to other people’s feelings, she begins to unlock her own feelings and is able to begin processing the magnitude of all she has been through. Yes, this anime has war in it, but it is not showy–it does not linger on the gore, and most of the action happens in flashbacks.

In a Time of Waiting

As much as I would love to jump back into writing, something holds me back. And that something is my responsibility as a college student. I believe I should wait till this semester is over till I dive into my next project. The reason for this is that I have a lot of trouble focusing on school whenever I try to start working regularly on a fictional book, or even a nonfiction project.

As a college student, I’ve tried experimenting over the years with writing during a semester. My first semester in college, I wrote about one scene for a story, and that was it. Later, I took a short story class twice for fun because it allowed me to write down story ideas in the form of very short stories.

Another semester, I was stuck in my creativity because of personal stuff going on, and I was given hope for my writing by an unexpected mentor who showed up in my life for that semester.

It’s hard being in a period of waiting. People say to have a steady writing schedule and write every day, but I’ve never been able to do that. Without a schedule, I write anyway–I journal, write down story ideas when they come, and sometimes I try writing a paragraph or concept scene. All this in my periods of waiting. Waiting for what? Waiting for a month, two months, or three months, that I can set aside specifically for focusing on writing a single project. Maybe I want to write one draft in that period of time. Maybe I want to write one draft, wait a few weeks, and then see how much I can edit it with the time I have left.

As much as part of me wishes that I didn’t have to be in college, I believe it is where God has called me and that I am at the exact right college that I need to be at. As much as it is hard for me to learn how to manage my time, energy, and focus on assignments, I am leaning on God a lot and am continually challenged to lean on God more with each semester.

The Prayer Book for Writers was definitely a different case than usual–I felt led to finish work on it during this Spring semester, and so now I’m relying on God to help me finish this semester strong.

Sometimes I look at the prayer book and think, “I probably could have made it better now” but then I have this strong feeling that it is exactly the way it needs to be right now, and that gives me peace.

A Prayer from the Book

Here is a prayer from A Prayer Book for Writers! So that it doesn’t get lost on this feed, I’ve also put it on this website’s book page.

This is one of the first prayers that shows up in the book:

A New Journey

Dear God,

I want to create something beautiful. I want to experience it and then share it with people in ways they will be able to understand, ponder, imagine, and feel. Take me on a journey to know You better in this process. Give me the patience I need to write a work and the patience to take care of myself in the process.

Awaken in me a sense of curiosity. Teach me how to ask questions–questions to myself about the books I’m writing, but also about ideas and the art of writing itself. Bring to my attention what I should focus on during this creative journey; inspire within me the questions that will lead me closer to You, for You are the source and embodiment of Love, Truth, Beauty, and Wonder.

Let Your will be done in me as it is in heaven.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

Genesis 1