Book Meme 2012 Week 7: Literary References to Win My Heart

Topic: Which literary references would win your heart?

This is a difficult meme topic for me because I don’t tend to conceive of literary references in this way. I worry about how to woo, not how I might be wooed. There are some references that I dream of using in wooing a woman, and many that a woman could use while capturing my heart, but the effectiveness of any of these would be determined entirely by the context of the relationship and the situation. There is no literary reference a woman could make that, on its own, would cause me to fall in love with her. Some could impress me, perhaps. Perk my interest at the possibility of a kindred spirit, even. Make me want to know more about her. But that hardly means my heart is pounding, my mind’s eye full of her beautiful face, and my mind concocting grand shows of virtue by which I hope to win her admiration.

But maybe that’s it, then. Not allusion as a love potion, but as a revealer of character. What sort of literary reference could an eligible young lady make that would open my eyes to her amazingness and make me desire her for my lifelong lover and companion?

…I think I have it.

The Song of Solomon in the Bible, containing poems of dialogue between King Solomon and his wife.

…for love is as strong as death,
            its jealousy unyielding as the grave,
It burns like blazing fire,
            like a mighty flame.
Many waters cannot quench love;
            rivers cannot wash it away.
If one were to give
            All the wealth of his house for love,
            it would be utterly scorned.

~Ch. 8:6-7

A beautiful illumination done by a good friend of mine.

The Bible is not typically thought of as a romantic book, nor as one that celebrates passionate, sensual love. And for good reason – most of God’s instructions on the subjects of love and sex are warnings against how not to do it. It makes sense, when you consider what powerful emotions they involve. It also makes sense when you realize that God values them so highly that He designed them for the most intimate of human relationships, marriage, in which two people become as one, and which is the foundation of the family. Romantic love is intended to complement a holy marriage, not to be taken lightly. God goes to great lengths to show us how to avoid screwing it up.

But He also shows us pictures of how it should look when done right. Nowhere is this picture of holy romantic love so prominent – and so unbelievably sensual – as in The Song of Solomon.

There are so many things I love about this book:

1. How Solomon and his wife are best friends as well as lovers.

This is my lover, this is my friend.

~Ch. 5:16

Like a lily among the thorns
            is my darling among the maidens.

~Ch. 2:2

2. How they are so comfortable with each other that they can quite frankly praise each others’ God-given bodies, in such a way that becomes an act of praise to God as well as of each other…

How beautiful you are, my darling!
    Oh, how beautiful!
    Your eyes behind your veil are doves.
Your hair is like a flock of goats
    descending from the hills of Gilead.
Your teeth are like a flock of sheep just shorn,
    coming up from the washing.
Each has its twin;
    not one of them is alone.
Your lips are like a scarlet ribbon;
    your mouth is lovely.
Your temples behind your veil
    are like the halves of a pomegranate.
Your neck is like the tower of David,
    built with courses of stone[a];
on it hang a thousand shields,
    all of them shields of warriors.
Your breasts are like two fawns,
    like twin fawns of a gazelle
    that browse among the lilies.
Until the day breaks
    and the shadows flee,
I will go to the mountain of myrrh
    and to the hill of incense.
You are altogether beautiful, my darling;
    there is no flaw in you.

~Ch. 4:1-7

Listen! My lover!
            Look! Here he comes,
leaping across the mountains,
            bounding over the hills.
My lover is like a gazelle or a young stag.
            Look! There he stands behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
            peering through the lattice.
My lover spoke and said to me,
            ‘Arise, my darling,
            my beautiful one, and come with me.’

~Ch. 2:8-10

3. …even when they don’t match the fashions of the day.

Dark am I, yet lovely,
            O daughters of Jerusalem,
            dark like the tents of Kedar,
            like the tent curtains of Solomon.
Do not stare at me because I am dark,
            because I am darkened by the sun.
My mother’s sons were angry with me
            and made me take care of the vineyards;
            my own vineyard have I neglected.
Tell me, you whom I love, where you graze your flock
            and where you rest your sheep at midday.
Why should I be like a veiled woman
            beside the flocks of your friends?

Ch. 1:5-7

4. How they rest comfortably in each others’ arms.

Strengthen me with raisins,
            refresh me with apples,
            for I am faint with love.
His left arm is under my head,
            and his right arm embraces me.

~Ch. 2: 5-6

5. How they bring peace to each other, describing the effect each has on the other with metaphors of beautiful gardens, gentle deer, dependable towers, pure doves, and shading fruit trees. (skip to any verse at random and you’ll see some such imagery)

6. How they don’t neglect their friends, but their friends are active supporters of their love.

Where has your lover gone,
            most beautiful of women?
Which way did your lover turn,
            that we may look for him with you?

~Ch. 6:1

7. How they sometimes seem hopelessly idealistic with their dramatic declarations of love…

You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride;
            you have stolen my heart
        with one glance of your eyes,
            with one jewel of your necklace.

~Ch. 4:9 [N.B. No, it’s not incest. “Sister” here is used to emphasize how utterly close in spirit the lovers are—they aren’t just romantic “partners,” but are actual family.]

8. …while still being wise.

Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you
            by the gazelles and by the does of the field:
Do not arouse or awaken love
            until it so desires.

~Ch. 2:7 and 3:5, both times said by the woman

It’s this last point which impresses me so much. Here are these two lovers – throughout the poem often in each others’ arms and in various states of undress – pausing to tell we readers not to force love, nor to seek it out, nor even to make it an unduly important part of your life. They know well how reckless our passions are. When you fall in love, your logic and good sense may as well just shut up because your heart sure isn’t going to want to listen to them. Which at times can be good, of course – human reason is faulty and often cannot understand what a heart led by God can sense. But likewise our hearts are faulty, and reason led by God can become wisdom, which is not at all the enemy of romance, but rather its protector, and hopefully its cultivator.

God doesn’t just want romance for us – He wants the best romance for us. The kind that leads to a lifelong companionship, a union of lovers who glorify Him and are thus free to glory in each other. God doesn’t give us easy, clear-cut steps, because He knows that each individual is different. But He does give us Himself, and the principles on which He designed life and love. I’m still struggling to understand this kind of wise romance, this God-led approach to love, courtship, and marriage. I want it badly. And I want a woman who wants to struggle to understand it alongside me.

What’s this? Wisdom is sexy? Yes. Yes it is.

Book Meme Day 20: Favorite Romance in a Book

Ah! Finally, a good topic. It’s…uh…hmm…well, now…*scratches head*

This is a little harder than I thought. I’ve already written of my love for the story of Beren and Lúthien, and I do not want to repeat myself here. Plus, while it is an amazing and romantic story, it is told in the myth format, and thus you do not develop as personal a connection with the characters as you do in a novel. The impact of the story’s most emotional moments is muted because you are not allowed inside Beren and Lúthien’s heads. And for this particular topic, I feel that that kind of emotional connection is important.

However, it is also rare. I don’t read the romance genre at all, and so when a book I read does contain a love story, it is usually tangential to the main plot, and thus does not always get the deepest treatment.

But enough excuses. In my current memory (unstable as it is), there is a clear choice.

The love of Taran and Eilonwy in Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles.

Artwork by Dawn D. Davidson

Unfortunately it has been probably eight years since I’ve read these books, and thus most of the all-important details are hazy in my mind. But what I can say for sure is this: I really cared whether or not these two got together and stayed together. I liked them each on their own merits, and it was a delight to see them in love. Not that they had an easy relationship, what with him being a sometimes pig-headed but noble-hearted Assistant Pig-Keeper, and she a fiery tempered common-and-royal-born young enchantress who spends much of her time being offended by things Taran didn’t mean to say, because they’re both in love but too self-conscious to admit it (until later).

Their dialogue is immensely fun to read, due to Alexander’s sharp and intelligent style. But what really makes their romance work, amidst all the high adventure and magical myth, is the fact that it builds on a foundation of true friendship. More than love each other, they like each other, and those are two very different things. It doesn’t always seem that they like each other, but they do. They complement each other, and make each other stronger. We saw them both grow steadily over five books (and Alexander has some fantastic character development skills), and the result is a romance with real substance.

(Plus they don’t have to die and get maimed like Beren and Lúthien!)

It is apparent that I really need to reread the series soon. SOON.

Book Meme Day 4: My Favorite Book of My Favorite Series (except not really)

In my previous post, I created for myself a minor conundrum, unintentionally yet not entirely unwittingly. By categorizing The Lord of the Rings as a series, rather than as a singular complete story, I am now faced with the impossible task of “choosing” one of the three parts to be my favorite. But it can’t be done! Any position I take would be untenable. Can you just see how horrible it would be if I tried to say one part was better than the others? Tolkien would roll in his grave and curse my fantasy-writing efforts, Fëanor would cross space and time to hunt me down and burn out my heretical eyes with a Silmaril, and hobbit children everywhere would weep in horror at my hideous offense.

So I won’t. I refuse this ludicrous memetic dogma! I reject the meme’s reality and substitute my own. So it is that by the power of independent online publishing invested in me by the makers of WordPress, I mightily declare that the meme topic for Day 4 is hereby modified to “my favorite story by the author of my favorite series.”

So there! Now I just have to pick my favorite story by J.R.R. Tolkien. Ha! Easy as lembas. Easy as eating lembas. Easy as eating lembas with fine wine while relaxing in Lothlórien after a hard day’s journey listening to elven musicians jamming sweetly under the mallorn trees at twilight while the fairest voice of the forest sings the ballad of…

Of Beren and Lúthien.

by Ted Nasmith
Lúthien escapes the treehouse where her father had imprisoned her, so she can find and (hopefully) rescue Beren, imprisoned and tortured in Morgoth's dungeons.

“Among the tales of sorrow and of ruin that come down to us from the darkness of those days there are yet some in which amid weeping there is joy and under shadow of death light that endures. And of these histories most fair still in the ears of the Elves is the tale of Beren and Lúthien.” (The Silmarillion, 195)

This may be the best love story ever told. Beren and Lúthien love more passionately than Romeo and Juliet, overcome more obstacles than Paris and Helen, and are truer to each other than Lancelot and Guinevere. It is the model for the romance of Aragorn and Arwen in The Lord of the Rings, and it is utterly beautiful. (And if you want to boggle your mind with the complex lineages that arise in Tolkien’s world when elves and men intermarry, remember that Arwen is the great-great-granddaughter of Beren and Lúthien, whereas Aragorn is also their descendent, but hundreds of times removed!)

Now, I could argue that this story is in the same “series” as The Lord of the Rings¸ seeing as it involves the ancient history of Middle-Earth and serves as the inspiration and ancestor of the romance of Aragorn and Arwen.

The version I am going by – since there are several which have been compiled by Tolkien’s son Christopher in various books – is the “classic” one in The Silmarillion. Beren son of Barahir, a Man of great warrior lineage now hunted like a beast by Morgoth, stumbles into the magically warded forest kingdom of Doriath and finds dancing among the trees Lúthien, daughter of King Thingol and Queen Melian, and the fairest elf ever to have lived or danced. They fall in love almost immediately, but Thingol is furious when he finds out. How can a mortal human possibly dare to love or touch his daughter? The very suggestion is such an extreme insult that he would have slain Beren, had he not promised Lúthien not to kill or harm him. Instead, in mockery, he sets before Beren a quest: if Beren wants the treasure of Lúthien, then he must obtain for Thingol a Silmaril from the Iron Crown of Morgoth himself. Surely that will kill this foolish, filthy little man!

For those of you unfamiliar with Tolkien’s mythology beyond The Lord of the Rings, Morgoth is basically Satan. Sauron, later the Dark Lord, is his lieutenant, and even in LOTR is considerably less powerful than his master once was. Morgoth defeats or at least delivers Pyrrhic victories to numerous alliances of Men and Elves. His fortress Angband is far in the north, beyond many dangerous wastelands and wildernesses, and is guarded not just by hordes of orcs, but by legions of Balrogs, giant evil spiders (ancestors of Shelob), and dragons. Note the plurals of each of those, and then remember that The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings put together only had one dragon, one Balrog, and one giant evil spider (well, Mirkwood had some dangerous dog-sized ones, but only Shelob was truly evil and approaching sentience). Also, there is Morgoth himself, who is Satan in physical form, a towering giant and sorcerer and warrior and more cunning and vicious than any single Elf or Man. Entire alliances of Men and Elves have struggled and failed to get past Angband’s massive walls, and none of them have seen a Silmaril for hundreds or thousands of years.

Beren’s response to King Thingol?

“But Beren laughed. ‘For little price,’ he said, ‘do Elven-kings sell their daughters: for gems, and things made by craft. But if this be your will, Thingol, I will perform it. And when we meet again my hand shall hold a Silmaril from the Iron Crown; for you have not looked the last upon Beren son of Barahir.’” (203)

And so he sets out, despite having already weathered more perils and battles with evil creatures than most men.

The many threads that Tolkien weaves into this story are mesmerizing and awesome, giving the story a feel and power unique to it. On the surface it sounds simple: man on quest to prove his worth to the father of the woman he loves. The details make it original and memorable. Lúthien defies her father to join him on his quest, even while most other Elves think she is foolish. But the lovers are joined by some surprising allies: King Finrod Felagund, High King of the Noldor (High Elves), Huan the great and heroic dog (perhaps the single greatest dog in fiction!) who overpowers Sauron single-handedly, and even, on occasion, the great eagles.

There is the shadow of great doom over the story, which Tolkien loved to put into his tragedies (and most of his stories outside of his novels are tragedies), and yet it rises above that to become something beautiful, and even uplifting. Our heroes are beset and betrayed at every turn, it seems, and suffer much torture, both physical and mental, even after escaping. They fight and run to the end. They strive by force and by cunning to win the right to love each other. And, though it cost them their lives, they overcome.

I highly recommend this story to everyone. It benefits from some knowledge of the rest of Tolkien’s mythology, but I don’t think it is necessary to read all of The Silmarillion that precedes it first. If the whole book intimidates you, but you’re interested in Beren and Lúthien, then skip straight to their story. You will not regret it.

Webcomic Review: Dreamless

[3/14/2011: Added link to another review. Also, since this review is not quite up to my current standard, I intend to rewrite it with more in-depth commentary and accompanying pictures.]

Hm, seems like I’ll be reviewing webcomics on this blog as well. Fancy that. I just jumped 200 years in two posts!

Romantic drama ensues.

Title: Dreamless
Author/Artist: Written by Bobby Crosby; Drawn by Sarah Ellerton
Format: Webcomic
Published: January 4, 2009 – July 25, 2010
Pages: 70
Reason for Beginning: I don’t remember where I heard about it; possibly it was on the TVTropes list of fantasy webcomics. But the premise intrigued me and the art is painterly, so I gave it a go. Plus this was when I was only just discovering webcomics in general, and was exploring.
Reason for Finishing: Short, as webcomics go, and sweetly romantic. The magical element (which remains unexplained) brings up some really interesting ideas.
Synopsis: In the years before WWII, an American girl and a Japanese boy are linked from birth by being able, while sleeping, to literally see through the eyes of the other one.  One will nearly always be awake while the other is asleep.  Both are born bilingual, and since they can often sense each other’s “presence,” they manage to communicate and, soon enough, fall in love.  The difficulty of loving someone on the other side of the world is not lost on them, and much drama ensues.  THEN WWII begins, bringing more pain, more troubles, and, perhaps, a glimmer of hope…
Story Re-readability: Perhaps sometime I will, though I don’t feel the need to right now. It ended in a satisfying manner, but the plot was sometimes handled a bit awkwardly. Artwork is beautiful, though.
Author Re-readability: Maybe; the writing was decent, sometimes very good, just not great. Crosby has written a few other webcomics, I think one about zombies. Reading them would be based on whether or not they individually seem good.
Artist Re-viewability: I’m already a huge fan of Sarah Ellerton’s Phoenix Requiem, which she writes as well as draws. So, yes. She’s my second favorite webcomic artist right now, next to Tracy Butler of Lackadaisy Cats.
Recommendation: Mainly for people who like idealist love stories. The magical realist element does add a fascinating and fairly original twist

Key Thoughts

This is the only complete webcomic I’ve finished so far.  Like I said above, the storytelling is a bit clunky at times, what with some flashbacks and time-skips that are a bit confusing at first.  Everything does manage to sort itself out in good order, but it might briefly cause a headache or two, trying to figure out whether or not one of them is watching the other at a given moment, or why one character assumed something about the other when it isn’t clear to we readers.  Things like that.  But, like I said, it’s all sorted in the end.

However, it also felt like there were a number of missed moments, where the story could have done something unique because of its premise but instead took a more conventional route.  It’d make a good movie, too, if it were skillfully fleshed out.  There’s a lot of potential for grand drama here, not to mention the beautiful theme of interracial romance between a white Californian girl and a Japanese boy in the 1940s.  I liked how each character was treated with equal respect and intelligence, neither succumbing to clichés.  Their love felt organic and believable.  They made you want them to be together.

Sarah Ellerton uses a softer art style than in The Phoenix Requiem, which is very sharply defined and vibrant.  Here, the effect is almost like watercolors, and it complements the theme of romance and dreams.  Very pleasant to look at.

Beyond that, I cannot think of any more to say about it.  It is a pleasant read that will not demand too much of your time.

Other Reviews
El Santo @ The Webcomic Overlook