Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Killing God

Wendy is happy I’m a writer.

As long as he has substantial savings, any woman should be happy with a man that chooses this profession. Because as many writers will tell you, they would rather do just about anything to avoid the blank page.

“The easiest thing to do on earth is not write.” - William Goldman

“Anybody can become a writer, but the trick is to STAY a writer.” - Harlan Ellison

This morning I have done laundry, put the rowing machine back together, made the bed, put away clothes, put dishes in the dishwasher, sliced some Jamon, written an invoice to Wendy’s company and answered all my email. I would rather do all of those things than sit down and compose. Now that I’m doing it, it’s fine, but forcing myself to get to this spot is always hard. It is always supremely procrastinated.

Ergo, the laundry is always done, dishes are rinsed and put in the dishwasher with startling regularity, trash is emptied the second there’s enough in the bag to justify using another one.

Wendy thinks I’m tidy guy.

Little does she suspect that I’m actually just lazy.

And luckily, she has given me another reason to pause. On the way to the dentist she spotted a long column of horses and called to tell me to take the intern up to see them. She gives me directions, I grab Albina and off we go.

When we get to the plaza there is a large section cordoned off. Inside this area is a half dozen policemen, two dozen mounted honor guards, three carriages pulled by a team of eight horses each, and people in ancient dress inside the carriages. The honor guard is all men in uniform, spiked hats, white wigs and swords by their side. The carriages are old wooden enclosed coaches like you might see in Cinderella. The people inside the carriages look like minor royalty.

I ask Albina to ask one of the policemen what it is going on. He informs her that they are four ambassadors come to pay homage to their King and let him know their position on certain matters. They bring him Rioja, gold, olives and many virgins to appease his great appetite and sway his favor towards there causes.

Admittedly, my Spanish isn’t that great so I might have translated some of that wrong. I heard “King”, “Ambassadors”, “position” and guessed at some of the rest. I’m pretty sure that’s right though.

As Wendy points out later, in NY this would all be done in black limousines. In Madrid, a very formal older tradition is carried out with a mounted honor guards and polished wooden coaches. I have to say, I think that’s pretty cool.

And now we’re back. Some Jamon and a cup of coffee later and maybe now I can write about what I meant to get out when I sat down this morning. Today I wanted to alert people to a couple of book series they may have missed.

In an odd coincidence, Wendy and I are both reading children’s books that were introduced to us by the other. She is on the last book of The Belgariad, a series which she has been devouring. I went through the same thing when I first got hooked. I was working at Smuggler’s Notch as the night audit there in college. (Tip: never take an all night job when you live in a dorm. You can kiss sleep goodbye.) I would go to work, do the half an hour of paperwork needed and then read for the rest of the night. Then I would drive home, have six eggs in the cafeteria while reading, then go back to my room and read until I fell asleep. Get up, if possible, read until I went to work, then read all night long. I finished all five books in four days. When I was done, so much of my reality had been immersed in those pages, I was momentarily lost. I finished the last page and set it down and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I literally, was lost for a second on what I was supposed to do now that I didn’t have the next page of this universe to unfold.

Yeah, they were that good.

I introduced the series to Wendy and in turn, she introduced me to "His Dark Materials." It’s odd how things work out. She ordered the Belgariad when I was still in Vermont. And “His Dark Materials” has been on her bookshelf since before I got here. It was just coincidence that we both got involved with them, without a word from the other, at the exact same time.

Both have child protagonists. Both explore the nature of science and magic. Both have the driving plot of “Well, I’m off to kill God.”

The Belgariad isn’t quite so shocking because they are actually off to kill “a god”, not “The God.”

Despite me (and others) claiming these are children’s books, they are like The Harry Potter series (which I hated btw) in that they can be found enjoyable by adults as well. In fact, despite some elements that are a little cutesy (armored intelligent polar bears) and young adult (all children have a shape-shifting pet that is with them always), a great deal of “His Dark Materials” is startlingly frank, brutal and scary. A further caveat to this series is that it is not something anyone devoutly religious should ever read. The church is the villain in this series. Not God, but the church and its teachings.

At her first taste of love, a nun gives up her habit. A young boy kills people. The church steals children away from their parents. Inquisitions and torture are a regular part of the series. A boy gets a wound on his hand that won’t heal and wakes up in a sheet soaked in his own blood. Discussions of the church’s role in human history are explored and dissected.

Really, it is not a book for the faint of heart or someone who can't handle religion coming under scrutiny. But the multiverse he presents in the series is deep and fascinating. The characters he molds throughout the book are well developed and interesting. The ideas he presents about the nature of the universe are quietly thought provoking. Much of the writing is top notch with some vivid imagery you won’t soon forget.

I highly recommend both series if you’re looking for something to read. The Belgariad is quite a bit the lighter of the two, but both are wonderful books. Now would be the time to pick up “His Dark Materials.” The first book of the series “The Golden Compass” is being made into a movie to be released December fifth of this year. Starring Nicole Kidman (oh how perfectly perfectly cast!), Daniel Craig, John Hurt, Kevin Bacon, Eric Bana and a couple dozen armored polar bears!


  1. For the record: I dislike the Harry Potter books, read the Belgariad when I was 12-14 and love His Dark Materials.

    That last one is a no-brainer. I used to play traunt in Oxford when I was a teenager spending all my time in comic and second-hand book shops. Later, when I got the chance to work there for a company whose moral business strategy I abhor, one of the only factors that made it bearable were the city surveys. If I could live anywhere it would be there: in a big double-fronted Victorian house in Jerico next to the river. Must. Work. Harder.

    The triology has just been reprinted in a 'lantern slides' edition with extra scenes cut in at the end by the author:


    (Northern Lights is the UK title. The Golden compass is for the same country that turned the first JK Rowling book into Harry Potter and the Smart Guy's Rock - or whatever)

    The Black Magician Trilogy by Trudi Canavan are of a similar weight and worth a read too.

  2. For whatever reason, I didn't think too much of The Belgariad when I read it, but I did think that His Dark Materials was very good.

  3. His Dark Materials is an amazing series. And nothing is "cutesy" about armoured intelligent polar bears. Many adults find it "cutesy" because of, in my opinion, their lack of imagination. Each book in the series is fantastic. Harry Potter is also very good, and I think the only reason most adults say they hate it is because they are intimidated by the label "Children" on fiction books.