Book Review: In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

Here’s the great thing about book groups: they challenge you to read all sorts of books that you’d normally avoid.  This is one of those books.

The subtitle for this book is “Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin.”  The family in question is the Dodd family, a US senator and his wife and two grown children, entering Berlin in 1933, as Hitler is gaining power.

Dodd himself is a bit of a bore. He’s a professor type (of history), and he goes to bed early and continually whines about missing his farm in The South and his lack of time to write a massive history book about The South.  He’s a bit of a cheapskate and steps on all the wrong toes by trying to convince every other diplomat to pinch pennies like he does.

It’s his daughter that provides much of story, as she’s a wild child who seems to have little inhibitions when it comes to men, especially ones in high power positions.  Through her we learn about the lives of high-ranking Nazis and other diplomats and high profile figures.  She gets a little too much attention, but sex sells.

What fascinated me about this book was the antisemitism that was rampant throughout the world at this time. It’s easy to point the finger at Germany, but it was really bad in The States as well.  And it’s heartbreaking to watch the progression of the persecution of the Jewish people go unheeded by the US because the US didn’t want to offend Germany (largely because Germany had lots of unpaid bonds we were hoping to collect).  Also, high ranking US diplomats felt a bit hypocritical to call Germany on their persecution of the Jews when we still hadn’t worked out our civil rights issues yet.  But you can bet that the Jews in the US were making a big noise from very early on, trying to convince our countrymen that something very wrong was happening to German Jews.  Nobody was listening.

The amount of research that went into this book is staggering.  It’s an impressive feat to weave that much historical material into the story of one family.  It loses focus a lot of the time and leaves a lot of story lines unfinished, but if this doesn’t bother you, then it might be a great way to learn about a period in history we don’t focus on much (we focus more on the war itself). I think it’s helpful to know how evil comes into power, so we can be on the lookout for it in the future (and stop it before it goes out of control, as there were many opportunities in this case).

Larson is a local writer (living in Seattle), which is one of the main reasons we picked this book. It’s great to support local writers, wherever you live. And you never know when you’ll bump into them, which for book nerds like me, is a thrill.

Oh, and for movie buffs, rumor has it that Tom Hanks is making the movie (playing Dodd), with Natalie Portman potentially playing the daughter.

If you’re considering purchasing this book as a result of this review, please consider using my link to Amazon, so I get referral credits to purchase more books to review.

Published in: on September 24, 2012 at 8:00 am  Comments (1)  

Book Review: The Time Traveler’s wife

the-time-travelers-wifeThis book was a wonderful surprise.  There were a lot of things I really liked about it, so much that it was one of those “can’t put it down” experiences.  I can’t speak to the movie that recently came out in theaters because I haven’t seen it yet (haven’t managed to con the male in this household to join me in watching it).

I’m a big fan of time travel stories, even though I generally don’t gravitate toward the sci-fi genre.  One of my favorite all time books is a little one called Einstein’s Dreams, which contains many shorts stories that explore different ideas about time. I also love Star Trek (yes, I admit it), and my favorite Trek movie is The Voyage Home (#4), which plays with time travel.   So, given the fact that I’ve read (and watched) my fair share of time travel fiction, I expected that the Time Traveler’s Wife wouldn’t be anything new.  My impression of it was a simple time travel plot playing second fiddle to a sappy romance.  But thankfully, I was wrong.

The Time Traveler’s Wife is Audrey Niffeneger’s first novel, which is exciting because there’s a lot of talent here that we can hope will continue to produce highly engrossing novels.  I haven’t read much on her biography, so I’m looking forward to learning more about what influenced her to create such a unique book.

What distinguishes this book from other time travel narratives is its creativity and smart plot organization.  Time travel shapes the entire narrative and continually affects everything within the story. It is primarily a book about time travel and secondarily a book about relationships, if you ask me (But my male readers might find the romance element a little bit too strong for their tastes).  The book would be more appropriately titled The Librarian Time Traveler, but with that title, only bookish people like myself would buy it. 

The plot sounds simple at first.  Henry DeTamble is a Chicago librarian, born in 1963, who suffers from a rare genetic disorder that causes him to uncontrollably time travel within his lifespan.  In his travels, he meets his wife.  The problem is, a man who travels to meet the same people throughout his lifetime is going to experience them at different stages in their relationship.  A 40 year old man, travelling to meet his wife at age 10, is a lot more complicated than a 30 year old man visiting his 25 year old wife.  This is problematic because Henry can’t take anything with him on his time travels, including clothing.  Imagine showing up buck naked in front of your spouse when he or she is in elementary school.  Challenging, and a bit disturbing (for both parties).

I found the quality of the prose to be excellent, at times poetic, and the characters were extremely complex and mysterious.  There’s quite a lot of witty dialogue in the text, and it asks a lot of you in comprehending the scenarios in which the time traveler is placed. There is a lot of philosophic inquiry into big questions such as free will, the existence of God, and the morality of the time traveler’s actions to survive. All this in what is being sold as a simple romance!

For my more sensitive readers, I need to be up front about the fact that this book is very raw at times, emotionally (get a hanky ready), sexually, and graphically.  There’s some brutality, which the reader is forced to reckon with. It’s a question of moral actions in the face of insane circumstances.  What would you do if you were naked and had no money? And there’s a lot of sex, mainly between the time traveler and his wife, which actually, somehow makes it better for me, since they’re married.  A brief tangent here: I’m liking this trend towards depicting married couples with good sex lives.  The film Julie and Julia did a great job with this.  Why should single people have all the fun? 

Did anyone else grab this book off the bestseller shelf? I’m thinking that the movie can’t match the book because certain ideas only work on the page, and I expect that this is one of them.  But, I’d be interested in hearing from the folks that watched the movie too.  And please tell me that I’m not alone in my time travel fascination!

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

harry potter half blood princeHow’s this for a timely review?  Actually, I just re-read the book in time for watching the movie, so it’s not a coincidence. 

A couple years ago, this review would be much more controversial, I’m guessing.  But now days, the Christian community seems to have warmed up a bit to J.K. Rowling.  Perhaps they finally realized what serious readers were arguing all along, that Rowling was really on our side, which came out loud and clear with her final book, scripture verses, Christ figures, messianic type deliverance, and all.  I mean, really, at what point do you keep crying foul?

These books have delivered some of the most powerful Christian messages of all the books written in the past 50 years, and I’m finally going to get a little loud about it.  Frankly, this excites me. 

It’s time to share a little story.  It might rub some of you the wrong way, but I’ll risk it because I think it’s worth telling. 

When the first Harry Potter book came out, and the hype got started, I worried.  I didn’t want to buy the book to support it, if it was as evil as all the Christian talk show hosts were saying.  So,  I sat at Borders and read the entire thing in one sitting, enraptured.  I thought it was the most incredible thing since Narnia.  But, I wasn’t ready to decide just yet.  I did more research, and I prayed about it, of course.  When the movie came out, and I saw a great opportunity for Christ to be glorified, if Christians got on board.  But, I still wasn’t sure.  I mean, all these people said it was wrong.  So, I prayed about it.  And, I asked God if He’d only provide a way for me to go to the movie without having to buy a ticket, so I’d know he was okay with it. 

The next day, my best friend called me.  The strangest thing had happened.  Her boss gave her money to buy three tickets to the new Harry Potter movie to take two friends with her.  She wanted to take me and my husband.  (To make this even more strange, the boss never did anything like this before and never did anything like it after either.  God uses anyone, I suppose.  Oh, and the boss was an unbeliever.)

I don’t typically operate this way. I don’t do the charismatic “laying out the fleece” business (seems too much like putting God to the test), but this sort of request seemed practical to me.  Just like I didn’t want to support a book that didn’t glorify God with my money, I didn’t want to support a movie that way either.  But, God found a way around that for me. 

This isn’t meant to be a justification for you to read the books and see the movies.  That you’ll need to decide for yourselves, to pray about it, to read about them (here’s a good book from the Christian perspective that discusses the series).  Certainly don’t take my word for it, or rely on my experiences.  But, I wanted to show you my journey to accepting and even endorsing these books as a way to learn more about Jesus.  (One caveat to my endorsement is that I don’t think these books should be read by young kids, since they can be pretty dark. But it’s up to the parents to determine what their kids can handle, and how discerning their children can be.  In addition, the kids in these books tend to rebel against authority a lot, which doesn’t make for the greatest model for young kids, in my humble opinion.)

That was quite a prelude to a book review, but oh well, Harry Potter has a lot of baggage in the Christian world.  Let’s talk about my favorite book in the series, The Half Blood Prince.

Those familiar with the series might wonder why I like this book so much.  I don’t want to go into spoilers here, so this makes it difficult to discuss in detail. But I’ll try my best. 

As a general overview, the story is about Harry’s 6th year at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  Lord Voldemort (the villain) is back, and everyone finally believes Harry about it.  Harry begins a series of private lessons with Hogwarts illustrious headmaster, Professor Dumbledore, to learn about Lord Voldemort’s past, in order to become better equipped to conquer him.  The title comes from a mysterious potions textbook that Harry borrows, with marginalia from one unknown “Half Blood Prince.” 

Why do I love this book?  This could be a spoiler, depending on how keen you are on predicting things, but at the end, there is one of the most powerful sacrifices, that mirror’s Christ’s sacrifice, since Aslan’s death for “unworthy” Edmund.   Christians should be rejoicing that this is in theaters right now.  But sadly, they’re missing a great opportunity for discussions with their non-believing friends.

I also love the mentoring relationship between Professor Dumbledore and Harry.  In the story, we have a very admirable man with wisdom and integrity who devotes himself to training up this young man, as a good father would.  It’s a beautiful relationship, and I can’t wait to see how it’s staged on screen.

And then there’s the Half Blood Prince and the unknown magic he teaches.  First, I love that the book focuses so much on the importance of marginalia, of writing in one’s books!  But, I also like that Harry struggles with being discerning in how much to trust what he reads.  There are a lot of lessons there for us about not accepting everything we read, to test it.

I could go on and on, but of course, I’ve already done that.  So, for now, I’m going to leave you to tell me what you think of these books, and perhaps the Half Blood Prince in particular. I’m planning on going to see the movie in the next couple days, but please let me know if you’ve seen the movie!  I’d like to hear your reviews!

Amy’s Marginalia: Daniel Deronda

danielderondaMy mom and dad gave me a beautiful copy of George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda for Christmas, so I had just the excuse I’ve been needing to dive into this 800 page classic.  Sure, it’s taken me awhile to read it, but the effort has been pure pleasure.  This is one of the best books I’ve read in ages.

Some of you might be familiar with Eliot from her most famous novel, Middlemarch.  Others might have read her shorter novel, Silas Marner, as part of a college literature course.  That’s where I first encountered her work.
Eliot wrote at the end of the Victorian era, with over 40 years between Jane Austen’s final published book and Eliot’s first one.  Daniel Deronda was her final work, written in 1876, a time when Thomas Hardy, Jules Verne, Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, and Fydor Dostoevsky were writing (Twain published Tom Sawyer in this same year).

When I mention that George Eliot is one of my favorite women writers, I often get funny looks.  People wonder what sort of parent would name their girl “George.”  In fact, “George Eliot” is merely a pen name for a single woman named Mary Ann Evans who wanted to be taken more seriously.  It also didn’t hurt that the name gave her some anonymity from her scandalous living situation, with a married man.

Eliot turned her back on the church early in life, when she met free thinkers who made her question the miracles in the Bible.  Her upbringing in the Church of England as well as her wide range of reading, give her insight into the workings of parish life, as depicted in many of her novels.  So although they are situated in a “Christian” culture, they lack that deeper connection with Jesus and faith.

Although it’s hard to summarize an 800 page novel in a few sentences, I’ll do my best to give you gist of the book.  The main character, Daniel Deronda, is the adopted son of a wealthy landowner named Sir Hugo, whose estate is entailed to his nephew, Grandcourt.  Everyone assumes that Deronda is Sir Hugo’s son from out of wedlock, but nobody knows for sure who he is.  Deronda loves to help people: a Cambridge chum, a Jewish woman he saves from drowning herself (Mirah Lapidoth), and Gwendolyn Harleth, who competes with Deronda for the role of main character.  Gwendolyn is a beautiful, recently poor woman who falls into Grandcourt’s clutches and seeks Deronda’s help. Then, we get the classic love triangle, with Deronda in the middle and Mirah and Gwendolyn on either side.

Mixed with this relational intrigue, comes the larger political and philosophical focus of the work: Zionism. Here, in 1876, a full 72 years before Israel becomes a nation and 20 years before the Zionism movement gains full momentum in Europe with Theodor Herzl’s publication of The Jewish State, Eliot is making the case for a Jewish nation state in Palestine.  Through the character Mordecai, she gives the arguments supporting the creation of Israel.  But she also depicts anti-Semitism in all its ugly forms but turns each and every example on its head by giving alternatives pictures of real Judaism and Jewish people.  The book doesn’t come across as preachy, but I can see how it could work to change negative attitudes about Jews.

At a time when the news constantly features tension in Israel, it’s worth looking back to the trials the Jews have faced before they got their own country, the reason why in 1948, they were granted their own nation state.

danielderondamovieFor those who aren’t as interested in the Zionist elements of the plot, Gwendolyn Harleth’s character provides ample reasons to read the book.  She’s considered by many to be Eliot’s finest character creation, and I can’t help but agree.  A strong woman, wanting to have her freedom and independence but struggling to meet the demands a society places upon her, while also battling a conscience fraught with guilt, Gwendolyn transcends time and place and easily connects with a modern reader, who battles these same demons.

I recognize that many of you aren’t about to read an 800 page novel.  Instead, you might consider the BBC’s excellent 2002 production, written by the same screenwriter who wrote the Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice that I love so well.  The casting is very good, especially for Deronda and Gwendolyn.

Amy’s Marginalia: Twilight

twilightAs promised, I read Twilight.  And, in all honesty, it was far less irritating than I thought it was going to be.  I took it with me on my trip to Disney World, and I started it on the flight from Seattle to Orlando.  I was 50 pages from the end when the plane touched down, sadly, so I had to finish it the next day.  I seldom read 500 pages in one sitting, but I suppose there are always special occasions that warrant the effort.  It also helps when the font is something like 18 point and there are 2 inch margins all around with double spaced lines (I’m exaggerating, but you get the idea).

Harry Potter this is not.  By no stretch of the imagination does Stephanie Meyer write with the precise prose, careful allusions, tight structure, and complex characterization as J.K. Rowling.  Meyer bloats her sentences with overly emotive descriptions (heaving bosoms and all) and gallops along, full pace, from scene to scene, without much setup or hindsight.

But it’s also easy to understand how hormone saturated teenagers who have moved on from the Harry Potter years are eagerly embracing this next generation of books.  While they are far less demanding mentally, they are far more complex emotionally…which sounds just about perfect for adolescents, actually.

Having recently read the original Dracula, you know that I was interested to compare the latest vampire incarnation to it.  You can find my review of the original here.  As expected, the vampires lose their demonic undertones.  They are misunderstood, and Meyers went even further than I expected in changing the vampire mythology to soften them up a bit.

For example, Vampires don’t sleep in coffins; that’s a myth.  And that whole avoiding sunlight business is because they sparkle.  I can see Braham Stoker rolling over in his grave right now.  Interestingly, Meyer places the majority of her story in Forks, Washington (not too far from here), in the rain shadow of the Olympic Peninsula, where the sun rarely shines, to avoid too many sparkling incidents.

In addition, these vampires are heroic.  They are noble and good hearted.  Stoker’s vampires were leeches, parasites of humanity, demons from hell.   They had no noble elements, none.

And most importantly, these vampires have chosen not to consume human blood.  As if they have any free will in the matter.  Part of the overwhelming evil of Stokers demons was their all consuming depravity, their inability to escape the curse upon them.  That’s why they were also so scary.

These books demonstrate for me a subtle shift, a softening of former evils.  It’s the re-explanation of evil, morphing it into something good.  As if people in the past were too ignorant to understand what was evil and what was good.  And I find that slightly disturbing.  Sure, it’s fiction.  But what happens when this mindset gets applied to Truth?  What happens when we rewrite that whole Satan character?  He was just misunderstood, right? He really sparkles in the light and doesn’t hide from it.  He actually is heroic.  When he takes your soul, he gives you a lot of freedom to make good choices. I don’t think so.

It’s a fun read, don’t get me wrong. I think Meyer’s true talent lies in the eroticism of repressed sexuality.  The book is positively steamy, without a single “sex” scene!  She makes you swoon for a mere “cold” brush of the lips.

I’d love to hear what you thought of the book or the movie if you saw that (still waiting for it to come out on dvd to see it for the first time).

Books for a Rainy Day

bookpileI seem to have successfully turned you away from ever reading Tess of the d’Urbervilles (even if that wasn’t exactly my intent).  In fact, one of you (who will go unnamed but is easy to locate in the comments section!) vowed to read the Cliff Notes instead, should the need ever arise, which I think only was an attempt to gall me, but I can’t say for sure.  Either way, I need to atone just a bit and offer you some books that will work very well for this rainy weather and won’t be so depressing, but maybe just a little.

In Washington, we’ve got torrential rain, and flooding everywhere. It happens every year about this time, or a little later, but some years, it’s worse than others.  You’ve probably seen it on the news if you’re in the continental US, but there are some good shots of the roads south of here on this site. So I tried to pick some books that suited the weather, getting all cuddled up under a blanket with a cup of coffee, with the rain pouring outside.

I chose the Gothic genre, loosely, as my inspiration.  This genre is dark, sometimes scary, a little mysterious, but there’s often romance and adventure as well.  It sounded like a perfect fit.  These aren’t in any particular order, as usual.

rebecca1.   Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938). Hitchcock made a famous film from this book in 1940, but it’s worth reading, of course, to get the full story.  The movie is also well worth your time.  A widower brings his new wife to a mansion where the former mistress seems to still be in charge, even though she’s dead. (By the way, the photo is my own personal first edition copy.  It’s famous for the silver foil on the binding. Pretty, eh?).

turn-screw2.   The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (1898).  The story of a young, idealistic governess confronted by supernatural evils in her two young charges.  The shortest book of the bunch.  But the language is a little harder to get through, even though this is James’ easiest book to read by far.  If you’ve been meaning to read something by Henry James, this is a great place to start.

janeeyrecropped3.   Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (1847).  Another story about a governess, a common character in Gothic fiction, it seems.  Jane works for Mr. Rochester, who has many secrets, one that makes a lot of strange noises and sets fires to things at night.

northangerabbey4.    Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (1803). Yes, it’s another Austen book.  I promise that one of these days, I’ll have a book list that doesn’t include one of her books.  This one is actually a spoof of the Gothic form, but it employs many Gothic elements: an old castle, a family with secrets, a young woman, and elements of romance and intrigue.  The heroine, Catherine Morland, has an overactive imagination, and here you can see Austen poking fun at girls who read too much of these kind of books.  Very applicable to all those girls who only read books from the Twilight series

thirteenthtale5.    The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (2006).  I thought I’d throw in a contemporary book as well, and this one was a pleasant surprise to me.  A very clever plot, plodding at times, but with a good payoff at the end.  It’ll make you squirm a little bit, but that’s not always a bad thing (it shouldn’t leave you with nightmares, though).  Great to read in association with the Bronte sisters’ books.  It’s a story about stories, about twins, and about ghosts and creaky old mansions.  All the elements necessary for a Gothic tale.

Amy’s Marginalia: The Other Queen

If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you probably recall my angst over a new Philippa Gregory book that I saw while on a layover in the UK.  I resisted the urge to purchase it, knowing that in a month’s time, I’d have the one I’d reserved from the library.  Well, the wait is finally over, and I’ve finished relishing The Other Queen.

Let me first tell you about Philippa Gregory’s talents.  If you ask me, she’s the queen historical fiction, bodice ripping included.  Gregory is most famous for The Other Boleyn Girl, recently made famous by Natalie Portman, Scarlet Johansson, and Eric Bana (as read off the cover of my own personal copy of the film, of course).  She specializes in Henry the Eighth and his wives, but she’ll branch into his offspring occasionally as well. Here, we have a book that fits the latter category.

Having savored many of Gregory’s novels, I can attest to the fact that The Other Queen ranks up there with her best work (other favorites include The Other Boleyn Girl and The Constant Princess).  She’s accomplished something few authors have dared:  make Mary Queen of Scots a tragic, sympathetic heroine.  Always poised against Elizabeth, who does no wrong in history’s eyes, Mary is destined to play Elizabeth’s dark foil or at the least, evil foe.  With such a preponderance of characterizations and historical villainizations, Gregory sets out to capture the real woman behind the seemingly villainous historical actions.  While Mary doesn’t come away “scot free” (sorry, couldn’t resist, and neither could Gregory at one point, for that matter), she does have one of the most sympathetic portrayals that I’ve ever encountered.  You can’t help feeling sorry for her at times, and that in itself, is a great victory.

To make Mary look better, one does need to take a few shots at Elizabeth, and Gregory has always been willing to tarnish the “Virgin Queen’s” reputation.  Personally, I think she goes a bit overboard with her attempts to villainize Elizabeth, and in the name of saving Mary’s reputations, she’s simply sullying Elizabeth in the same way that Mary has been historically corrupted.

Another great character in this book, second to Mary, is Bess Hardwick, wife of the Earl of Shrewsbury, who is the Scot’s Queen’s jailer.  Bess is a self made woman, everything that the Mary is not, in upbringing, in family, in manners, and in faith.  While Mary is a loyal Catholic, Bess embraces Protestantism and all it offers to those willing to take over the spoils of the former Catholic Church in England.  Bess decorates her home with former abbey treasures and has made homes of former church properties.  When these two women live in the same home, their differences will naturally play upon each other.  At times, Bess’ obsession with money became grating, but her steadfast ambition for her family echoes that of women like Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice who simply want to provide a legacy for their children.

One thing I especially love about this period of time is the battles waged in England over Protestantism and Catholicism.  This story is set during Shakespeare’s lifetime, while he was a young man (though he gets no mention here, which makes sense since he wasn’t famous yet).   Shakespeare lived in Elizabeth’s England, which re-instituted the Protestant state church and was recovering from her sister’s persecution of Protestants. and  The battle between these two queens was the battle between these two forms of the Christian faith, and the result dictated the future of a nation.

Seeing Christ in Caspian

I just got back from watching Prince Caspian at the theater, after having completed reading the book the night before with my husband.  We sat up late finishing reading it out loud to each other.  

There are plenty of reviews out there, good ones, and I won’t try to repeat what’s already being said about the movie.  I will say that yes, it’s not exactly true to the book, but I’m not a purist in the book to movie realm, since I realize that they’re different genres and need some tweaking to work on the silver screen.  

Several reviewers are critiquing the film for removing the Christian elements, or hiding them too much from being evident, thus distorting Lewis’ message in the books. Perhaps this is true, but I’d like to draw out some of the remaining Christian themes, at least the ones that are speaking to me, even after I’ve left the theater.

  • Rely on Jesus’ strength, not just your own

Many battles are waged in the film, more than are written in the book, and a clear theme emerges:  when you use Aslan’s strength, you win the fight.  But when you rely on your own cleverness and strength alone, you’re destined to fail.

  • Follow Jesus, even when it’s not popular

This theme emerges on several levels, from the underdog Narnians who hold out for Aslan, even though he’s been gone for 1300 years, to the faithful Lucy, who follows Aslan, despite everyone else’s doubts.  Aslan rewards his faithful, and Jesus will reward his persecuted, unpopular, faithful children as well.  

  • The longer you walk with Jesus, the bigger he gets

I love this line from the book, which thankfully stayed in the movie.  Lucy exclaims that Aslan is larger than before, and Aslan tells her that as she gets older, he will seem bigger.  This is true for us as well.  The longer we have a relationship with Jesus, the more wondrous he becomes.  We understand him more, and we grasp a little more of his greatness.  It reminds me of the old saying about church steeples and what they represent.  Just like a steeple gets pointer as it climbs toward heaven, so we Christians get smaller, the closer we get to God.  I think the Aslan comment partly reflects the fact that we recognize that Jesus gets bigger but also that we grow a little smaller, more humble as we know him more.

Get Smart, the Proverbs Way

I’ve been eagerly anticipating this summer’s new string of movies, and this Sunday’s paper’s listing of all the upcoming blockbusters, only got me more excited for them to hit the theaters. 

In particular, I’m looking forward to the next Narnia edition: Prince Caspian (May 16), the newest Indiana Jones flick (May 22), M. Night Shyamalan’s latest thriller The Happening (June 13), Pixar’s Wall·e (June 27), and the old school TV show spinoff, Get Smart (June 20). 

In watching these trailers and anticipating the movies, I’ve been thinking particularly about the messages these movies are sending to the masses.  These movies are big, blockbuster hits, ones that millions will see in the coming months. 

I’m excited about the Christian worldview that Prince Caspian might offer, if the director is true to the book’s perspective and values.  The Get Smart film has some wonderful potential for presenting a Christian worldview, but it’s probably not going to be the film that gets the most attention for it this summer. 

If you’re not familiar with the premise of the original Get Smart show, let me fill you in.  Two secret agents, 86 and 99, battle against the bad guys.  Agent 86 (Maxwell Smart) is a bumbling fool who relies on his more experienced and wise sidekick, the sexy agent 99 (we never learn her name, as far as I know) to get the job done. 

Mel Brooks created the original show (Man, that guy has his hands in everything funny, it seems!  I just watched the Producers last week and laughed my head off.).  The humor comes from the irony of the fact that a guy named “Smart” is incredibly stupid and inept, but he manages to fight crime successfully, partly due to dumb luck and largely due to a very wise woman at his side. 

Why do we laugh?  We laugh because we recognize truth and its absence, folly. 

The Bible tells us about wise women like agent 99 and their role in supporting men, to make them better then they are by themselves.  It’s not a demeaning role.  It’s an honorable one: companions and equal workers for a noble cause.  We know from Genesis that when God created man, he was alone, and God created woman as his best suited helper (Genesis 2:18). 

Maxwell Smart constantly defies his name by persisting in clumsy stupidity.  It’s funny because we recognize that his actions should lead to death or at least unemployment. “Understanding is a fountain of life to those who have it, but folly brings punishment to fools” (Proverbs 16:22).

Proverbs, that great book on wisdom, tells us the rewards we can expect from wisdom, true “smarts” (not the type that Maxwell Smart exhibits): 

Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. Esteem her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you. She will set a garland of grace on your head and present you with a crown of splendor (6-9).

In true Proverbs 31 fashion, Agent 99 is the wise woman who stands beside her man to offer him help when he needs it: “She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue” (26).  Agent 99 just happens to have a fairly difficult assignment, one that I don’t envy.  Anne Hathaway has some pretty big shoes to fill as 99.  Here’s hoping she can keep Smart in line, as her predecessor, Barbara Feldon, did before her.