Thursday, June 25, 2015

Armageddon, anyone?

Good omens : the nice and accurate prophecies of Agnes Nutter, witch
Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Fiction 384 pages
William Morrow, 1990, 2006

According to the bit in the back of the book, this novel has become a "cult classic" since its publication. The book's sales rank on Amazon supports this claim. I haven't read any of Pratchett's books, but I've read a few by Gaiman. I didn't like this one as well as those.

Gaiman has a talent for taking mythological themes and making them believable. But this book is more of a farce, and as such, it failed to suspend my disbelief. This story, like others by Gaiman, draws from mythology, but unlike American Gods, the mythology isn't Norse, African, or Hindu, but Christian, and that will offend some, or at least cause discomfort. Believers don't like to see their beliefs treated like myths.

 Good Omens is about a friendship between a demon and an angel. Neither sees any sense in a war between Heaven and Hell and prefer to thwart, rather than assist during Armageddon. Crowley, the demon, and Aziraphale, the angel, have lived amidst humanity for so long that they no longer see things in such black and white terms as pure good or evil. They no longer fit in with the bureaucrats of Heaven and Hell. Unfortunately their sophisticated viewpoint isn't universal; satirizing conventional behavior just doesn't work for me.

I find no humor in society's increasing polarization of beliefs and attitudes, in the absence of dialog between left and right, religious and secular, rich and poor. Envisioning Heaven and Hell populated by rigid thinking, bureaucratic zealots simply doesn't amuse me. The world is full of such people already and their numbers are steadily increasing. Maybe Armageddon is coming after all, and that's just not funny.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The hidden meaning of fairy tales

The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales
Bruno Bettelheim
Non-fiction 328 pages
Vintage Books, 1989, 1976

If you’ve taken courses on fiction writing or literature, it’s likely that you’ve heard about the hero’s journey. Joseph Campbell introduced this concept in his 1949 work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Campbell, a popularizer of mythology, drew upon themes from Jungian psychology in his structural analysis of hero myths.

Child Psychologist, Bruno Bettelheim, while acknowledging Jung’s contributions, used a more Freudian approach in his analysis of fairy tales. Although there’s some degree of similarity between Bettelheim’s later and Campbell’s earlier work, Bettelheim makes no mention of Campbell.

Bettelheim is careful to point out, however, that fairy tales are not like myths. They serve different audiences and functions. Myths end in tragedy while fairy tales end happily. Fairy tales allow children to integrate id impulses with their developing egos. Myths, instead, are the voices of the superego. They moralize, while fairy tales allow their hearers to form their own conclusions.

Referring to Hercules having to choose between two women, one representing virtue and the other pleasure, Bettelheim says, “The fairy tale never confronts us so directly, or tells us outright how we must choose. Instead, the fairy tale helps children to develop the desire for a higher consciousness through what is implied in the story. The fairy tale convinces through the appeal it makes to our imagination and the attractive outcome of events, which entice us.”

He later elaborates, “Myths project an ideal personality acting on the basis of superego demands, while fairy tales depict an ego integration which allows for appropriate satisfaction of id desires. This difference accounts for the contrast between the pervasive pessimism of myths and the essential optimism of fairy tales.” I don’t agree entirely. Star Wars is often cited as an example of the hero’s journey. That movie ended happily rather than in tragedy. While Oedipus is certainly a tragedy, I’m not convinced that all myths must be pessimistic.

Bettelheim’s approach is primarily Freudian. As such, his interpretations deal with orality, sexuality, sibling rivalry, and the child’s sense of impotence. Campbell’s myth interpretation draws from the Jungian perspective. As such, it minimizes the importance of id, ego, and superego and emphasizes Jungian personality structures such as self, shadow and anima. Since the passing of Freud and Jung, neuroscience has identified many structures in the brain, however none are identical to those structures named by Jung and Freud. Nonetheless, those elusive structures remain useful for understanding both human personality and literature.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Garden Glass

The modestly sized Denver Botanic Gardens makes good use of its 24 acres. Over the last several years, the gardens have hosted a variety of excellent sculptural exhibits. In 2007, for example, 60 stone sculptures by contemporary Zimbabwean artists were exhibited. In 2010, twenty monumental works by Henry Moore were exhibited. Concluding this month, massive groupings of blown glass grace the gardens.

These are the work of veteran glassblower, Dale Chihuly (born 1941). After leaving the first American glass program at the University of Wisconsin, Chihuly worked at the Venini glass factory in Venice. His work is now shown in over 200 museum collections internationally.

Chihuly’s installations blend well into the Denver Botanic Gardens. Tall red glass fronds stand against tall grass. Ponds are filled with glass flora and boats laden with glass spheres and tubes. Bulbous glass vegetation grows a midst desert loving yucca bushes. After sunset, night blooming tubers and trees light the gardens.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Galaxy Jest

Like many Chicagoans of my generation, I grew up watching old science fiction movies after school. Invariably, the character playing a scientist offered up an explanation for whatever tragedy threatened to befall humanity. Usually this came in the form of a ravaging monster, and the explanation generally involved mutation caused by radiation.

Like a child, I always bought the explanation. Of course, at the time I was a child. Recently I encountered a book description in which the hero was the richest man in the galaxy. “Really?” I thought. “There are an estimated 200 billion stars in our galaxy. How could anyone determine who its richest man is? Sounds like bad science to me.”

Putting galaxies to extravagant uses is not unique to this book. Other examples abound. Like the movie, Interstellar, for example. Its story has astronauts taking a wormhole ride to another galaxy in search of a habitable planet.

I can’t understand why. Our galaxy is thought to be 100,000 light-years across. Given so much space there should be a habitable planet right here in the Milky Way. Some speculate that the nearest one could be just 13 light-years away. So why travel so far?

Apparently they decided to go to another galaxy so they could use a wormhole conveniently located near Saturn. But how do they know the wormhole leads to another galaxy? What’s to stop it from leading to a different location in our galaxy, or to another universe altogether? And if they knew they were going to another galaxy, why didn't they name the movie Intergalactic instead of Interstellar?

Like with other science fiction movies, a scientist offered an explanation. The scientist is theoretical physicist, Kip Thorne. He was instrumental in modeling the appearance of the movie’s black hole. Despite his efforts, I don’t buy the premise. To me it’s just plain stupid to go looking for a place to live in another galaxy when there’s plenty of nice real estate closer by. And that’s why I won’t be seeing Interstellar.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Green Island—relaxing springs, grueling prisons

To get to Green Island you can take a plane or boat from the Taiwan mainland at Taitung. It takes about 40 minutes by boat. Several of the passengers in my group felt nauseous from the choppiness of the ride. I felt fine.

After we arrived on Green Island most chose to take the diving tour,. I rode the glass bottom boat with my oldest nephew. After dinner and a bit of souvenir shopping, we bedded down early. In the morning we would watch the sunrise from Zhaori Saltwater Hot Springs.

We rode our rented scooters in quiet darkness half-way around the tiny island to the hot springs. There was a brief wait to enter the resort since a popular activity on Green Island is watching the sunrise from Zhaori Saltwater Hot Springs.

According to its website, Green Island is one of only three places on Earth where saltwater hot springs are found. We bathed in all three of the seaside pools, enjoying their different levels of warmth and salinity. Although there were many of us bathing in the pre-dawn light, people spoke quietly and I felt at peace.

The sunrise was spectacular, just enough cloud cover to ensure a richness of colors.

Before leaving Green Island, we visited its Human Rights Culture Park, parts of which formerly housed political prisoners. Opened in 2001, the park commemorates the many years Taiwan spent under martial law, and the many voices suppressed during that period.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Road to Mount Evans

We were driving up the bare, winding road that leads to the peak of Mount Evans. The passenger by my side was from another country, although her English was quite good. Looking at the granite boulders strewn all about us, I observed, “All this granite was imported from Italy.”

“Really?” she said before realizing that I was joking.

This wasn’t my first trip up Mount Evans. Although it’s familiar, it’s also unpredictable. It could be sunny, cloudy, or even snowing in mid-summer. You’ll probably see a marmot or two, but you may, or may not, see bighorn sheep or mountain goats.

About Me

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Dave Loeff ( is an author and graphic designer. In addition to fiction, Dave writes about graphics, travel, and other topics. Find him at

Dave worked domestically in the sewn goods industry, before he became a buyer in Taiwan. He subsequently worked as a mental health clinician, technical writer, computer technician, and graphic designer.

His freelance services include conversion of manuscripts into eBooks, photo retouching, book design and illustration,