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ANGELOLOGY Ascends Toward the Heavens, But Falls, Crashing
I have discovered something. I really like books with hope in them. Books with a glimpse of hope shining through the grimy darkness. I will read a whole book because of just a little promise of hope.
Really makes me sad when that promise is betrayed.
Tuesday Night, I was in Barnes and Nobles and I saw a book called Angelology by Danielle Trussoni. Not a info book like Dragonology or Wizardology, but a novel. It looked wonderful. It looked splendid.
More particularly, it looked like a Muse had given another author the same instructions she has given me, and now I could read how this author handled the same assignment differently.
It was all about angels, Nephilim*, Gregori**, and secret societies fighting for good. All stuff I am familair with and write about. Almost exactly the kind of thing I have planned for my some day to be written Against the Dying of the Light series.
It sounded perfect.
I bought it. I NEVER impulse buy hardback novels by unknown authors. I’m lucky if I can scrape together enough for a paperback. I usually only buy hardcover if its an author I really love (ie: Mary Balogh, Jim Butcher, or George R.R. Martin.) But I bought this one.
When I got to the top of page nine, where the constant, two hundred year constant prayer by the nuns at St. Rose was described I fell in love. Then came some interesting but not inspired parts. Then, 168-172, with a really neat analysis of how the Nephelim had destroyed the modern world by separating the intelligent from the religious. So cool!
The promise just was not kept.
There was beautiful writing. There was compelling storytelling. There was eeriness and that heady sensation that modern writers attached to vampires, but which really fits better with fallen angels than with blood suckers. (Anne Rice had a speech about how angels and vampires are related in the human psyche and how their fads are intertwined…she thought the angle fad led to the vampire fad and that another angel fad would follow.) All this was done very well.
But there was nothing holy.
No glimpse of Light beyond. The hope that is mentioned and glimpsed in the early chapters does not come to anything. There was even a scene where a real angel, not a fallen one, appeared—which I had REALLY been hoping would happen. (I'm so sick of all angels being evil...but that's a different post.) But there was nothing to it but plot and action. Angel comes, solves problem…there was no awe, no holiness, no wonder.
I am not even concerned with the utterly ridiculous unhappy ending tacked on in the last two pages for no reason. The author set up a romance very nicely with no hints that it might go awry, gave the hero all the info he needed to be able to decode what finally happened, and then had him freak out and act like an idiot for no reason on the next to last page.
I just discounted that. Was not worth my time to get annoyed about. No, it was the lead up to the last pages, the final climax, that fell so short of what it could have been.
Donald Maass talks about the most powerful elements you can put in a book. These are the things that really move people, the things that the best books of all have:
Forgiveness and redemption.
This was a book that cried out for moments of redemption or at least forgiveness. It screamed for it. It hinted at it. There were sad, heartbreaking ways it could have been delivered that would have been so effective.
Just petty characters making uninspired decisions. Many things could have been better. The worst was that the villain had once loved the heroine’s grandmother. He has even has a dream in which she whispers that she loves him…something no human or nephilim had ever said to him in his long immortal life. And…she had loved him!
But he kills her without conversation or interaction. It was a scene that screamed for something…a chance at forgiveness? A chance at forgiveness repulsed? A moment of redemption or regret? A last exchange of love? No…nothing.
Can’t put it in to regular words. Must use analogies:
I felt as if I danced with other maidens beneath a pavilion with rain and darkness all around us, each of us holding a little burning lamp (Kind of like this.) While the others stayed in the security of the pavilion, I and my sister stepped out from safety to bravely light the darkness. We carefully tended and protected our little lights, daring to go farther than those behind us. Then, as I stayed faithful to my trust, I looked over to see Franchezzo’s ancestor***, his proud and handsome face partially rotted away—though he was unaware of it, whispering into her ear. And, before I could stop her, or even cry out, she leaned forward over the little lamp that was our sacred charge and blew it out.
Or like: imagine a Cliffside upon which a great winged man is bound. His body secured with steel chains and leather straps. His head down, long dark hair over his face. He raises his head revealing a face of incomparable beauty, fierce and glorious, undaunted. Gathering his strength, he pulls. He breaks free of his restraints. With a triumphant shout, he shoots upward, airborne and free. Amidst unending blue, he soaring, flying heavenward and home. Except that his great wings buckle, and he plummets downwards, crashing onto the waves below. His broken body is found later washed up upon the shore.
*Nephelim – “There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.” Genesis 6:4 The word translated “giants” here is Nephelim. In Jewish lore, the Nephelim were the offspring of angels and humans.
** Gregori – Greek for Watchers. The angels that fell in love with mankind and disobeyed God to help them. Very much like Prometheus. (Interestingly, this writer 1) Picked Japeth son of Noah to be the one who fathered the Nephelim race (or rather the guy who killed and replaced him did.) and she mentioned Prometheus several times…but she never brought out the connection…that Japeth is thought to be the same person as Iapetus, the titan father of Prometheus.
***From Wanderer In The Spirit Lands –Franchezzo meets an ancestor in Hell who claims to have been whispering in his ear during his life, influencing him to do bad and prideful things. In particular, he offers to teach Franchezzo how to influence writers and get them to serve Hell’s purposes.
I don't know if you watch Lost at all, but there was a very good moment of this kind two episodes ago. Even if I had liked nothing else about the series, I consider that one scene, really just two or three lines, to make the whole series worth it. I don't want to describe it too much because I don't want to spoil it for anyone.
And then I read a blog that talked about it as "a chance for [character] to earn redemption" which makes me think people don't get the concept of redemption anymore, and that's why these redemptive moments are so rare.
I do not watch Lost. John and I are waiting for it to end...if friends still like it once it's all wrapped up, we may watch it.
I think redemption has a big and a little meaning. Characters can earn redemption in the eyes of one character but not in the eyes of another, for instance. Or they can be Redeemed, in the BIG sense.
But then, having not seen the scene, I don't know if this thought applies. ;-)
there's no use bringing a loaded gun on stage unless you fire it.
I also didn't like that, like a Gothic, all the women main characters seemed helpless most of the time.
|Date:||March 22nd, 2010 05:09 pm (UTC)|| |
Stories that seem to offer hope or redemption only to pull it away drive me nuts. I know, some folks will say that this is real life: some people struggle only to become a Judas and who rise up only to collapse in the end...but I don't want to read stories about people that flirt with heaven only to end up in hell (main characters anyway...protagonists).
This makes me think of this chilling and dangerously beautiful quote by C.S. Lewis: "All your life an unattainable ecstasy has hovered just beyond the grasp of your consciousness. The day is coming when you will wake to find, beyond all hope, that you have attained it—-or else that it was within your grasp and you have lost it forever."
The risk of losing everything has to be there--the game must be real--but who wants to hear a story where all potential and redemption is lost in the end? Where the horror of a condemned soul is the centerpiece? Where goodness is lost and light extinguished and all things were to no end?
I can imagine your frustration!
|Date:||March 22nd, 2010 05:13 pm (UTC)|| |
> "All your life an unattainable ecstasy has hovered just beyond the grasp of your consciousness. The day is coming when you will wake to find, beyond all hope, that you have attained it—-or else that it was within your grasp and you have lost it forever."
Even a little forgiveness without redemption would have been fine. Or, barring that, some understanding without even forgiveness would have at least been satisfying!
I'm just so tired of every angel being evil or bland. They are all Saten or the Angel Islington.
They are ANGELS, for gosh sakes!
|Date:||March 22nd, 2010 05:33 pm (UTC)|| |
Spot on about the angels. Very apt to compare them to vampires.
The popular portrayal of angels, particularly in movies, is one of my big pet peeves. I don't know why, it just drives me nuts. They are not just supermen or demi-gods, they are pure spirit and will unbound by time and space. They are not waging petty wars or vying for the girl or making silly plans to retake heaven; every angel does not give out bland bits of wisdom and every demon does not tempt men with the obvious while wearing a suit and looking like Al Pacino. The business of angels is very serious; their war for creation--for the souls of people--is quite real. There is so much potential there!
I planned to have one, maybe two, brief passages in my novel in which an angel was present. But as I write it, angels and demons keep popping up everywhere. Like background noise, they are fighting the invisible war that my characters are fighting visibly. From quiet thoughts and inspirations to a sudden, violent storm to an actual apparition, I'm starting to think that the main characters in my book aren't who I thought they were. Funny how that happens.
|Date:||March 22nd, 2010 05:38 pm (UTC)|| |
> I'm starting to think that the main characters in my book aren't who I thought they were. Funny how that happens.
Yeah, funny how that happens.
There are quite a few appearances by angels over the course of the three Prospero novels (only a story about seeing one in the first volume.) I've tried my best to remember that they are awesome...in the old sense (as in my God is an awesome God. ;-) glorious, and more powerful than the demons!
|Date:||March 22nd, 2010 05:56 pm (UTC)|| |
As author and professor Peter Kreeft would say, there is a reason why angels in the Bible often have to say "Do not be afraid" when they first appear.
|Date:||March 22nd, 2010 06:13 pm (UTC)|| |
John used to point that out a lot, even back when he was an atheist.
(He discovered Peter Kreeft recently and loves him!)
|Date:||March 22nd, 2010 06:31 pm (UTC)|| |
Kreeft has a fiction book coming out titled (appropriately enough for this thread) "An Ocean Full of Angels."
|Date:||March 22nd, 2010 06:40 pm (UTC)|| |
|Date:||March 22nd, 2010 08:29 pm (UTC)|| |
I have not read your book, and consequently what I write below is not a criticism of it.
In description of angels (and demons) there are two common and radical mistakes, cause by insufficiently careful lecture of Aquinas and Pseudo-Dionysius.
1) Starting with jelly angels of Milton and earler with Gnostics, angels are described as having "ethereal bodies", "bodies of light" etc. It seems difficult for people to understand that angels are pure form with no matter, and have no physical extension. They can manifest a sensorium, can appear to spiritual vision as human-like figures, and perhaps even control artificial bodies (as a kind of remote-controlled robot), but they themselves are immaterial and immortal.
2). Angels are not coldly rational like computers. In fact, they have no use for computer-like logical ratiocination. They learn things by direct revelation.
3) There is also a third, less important mistake: That there is only a few angels. In fact the number of angels is extremely great, and much greater than the number of men.http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1111.htmhttp://www.newadvent.org/summa/1107.htmhttp://www.newadvent.org/summa/1059.htmhttp://www.newadvent.org/summa/1057.htmhttp://www.newadvent.org/summa/1050.htmhttp://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Miracles/Miracles_003.htm
|Date:||March 22nd, 2010 11:50 pm (UTC)|| |
is a really, really good point. I find it hard to write realistic dialog with angels--or assign them personalities--without falling into this exact trap.
Peter Kreeft has a great little book on angels set up as 100 or so common questions with answers solidly grounded in Christian teaching yet easy to understand. It's a great resource.
Thanks for the links!
|Date:||March 23rd, 2010 12:47 pm (UTC)|| |
Aquinas and Pseudo-Dionysius can be fascinating, but they are latecomers. The primary source for Angels are the Bible and the Book of Enoch, from which we know:
1) Angels can be scary.(There's a reason that they have to say "Fear not" whenever they appear.
2) Angels can be physical if they wish--otherwise the Sons of Heaven could not have lain with the Daughters of Men to produce the Nephelim and the angel who would not share his name could not have wrestled with Jacob.
3) Some look like flaming wheels and really weird stuff.
Everything else is spectulation. ;-)
There's a phrase I use called "The Valley Full of Clouds." Writing a novel is as if you are going off on a journey across a valley. The valley is full of mist, but you can see the top of a tree here and the top of another tree over there. And with any luck you can see the other side of the valley. But you cannot see down into the mist. Nevertheless, you head for the first tree.
Hardly odd to find -- unexpected creatures wandering in the mist.
|Date:||March 22nd, 2010 11:52 pm (UTC)|| |
Great quote! And very accurate description...writing in that way is probably why many people find it hard to outline whole stories in detail before writing them (and shouldn't feel forced to).
Eh? You don't have start building your trail into the valley. You can head out there with a can of spray paint in order to blaze your trail before you actually set about building it. I've met all sorts of wonders in mist while outlining.
|Date:||March 24th, 2010 01:07 pm (UTC)|| |
Some people can do that...it's amazing. ;-)
From what I hear from writing teachers, about half the writers out there are outliners and the others are not.* Donald Maass says that those who do not often rewrite more--basically using their first draft as an outline--but that the end product can be equally good. Neither group dominate the bookshelves or bestsellers lists.
*-Not merely don't like to outline, but cannot outline. Outliners seem to think non-outliners are lazy, but it is a matter of how the imagination works. For non-outliners, usually once they do outline, they cannot work on that project anymore. It is the fact that the mist is out there, that they don't know what is coming, that makes the writing possible. (To quote Roger Zelazny "Why would I want to write it if I knew what was going to happen?") Obviously, for outliners, that is not an issue. ;-)
Edited at 2010-03-24 01:08 pm (UTC)
This outliner has always wondered how non-outliners manage to revise their stories, since by that point they already knew them.
|Date:||March 25th, 2010 02:22 am (UTC)|| |
Revising is a different skill.
I am reminded of a panel I heard about where Terry Brooks was praising outlining and saying that one could never write a good novel without it. Anne McCaffrey, who was sitting next to him, frowned and said she had never outlined a book in her life. The crowd laughed, and Mr. Brooks was a bit chargrinned.
Which is a shame, because Mr Brooks is among the nicest of guys out there...but it's still funny. Though not as funny as the story a friend told about getting into an argument with one of his dad's dinner guests about how to pronounce the names in the Thomas Covenant series.
My friend finally got annoyed and said: "It's a fantasy book. I can pronounce the names any way I like."
To which, the dinner guest replied. "I wrote the book."
His dad, who knew all along that the guy was Donaldson, had set him up.
|Date:||April 1st, 2010 08:41 pm (UTC)|| |
It's just like there are some authors who "see" or "hear" the events or people in their stuff, and feel that they are just recording what they imagine. Then there are other authors for whom imagination is totally verbal, and would only "see" their characters during some kind of psychotic break. :)
You get totally different, totally sincere writing advice from these two kinds of authors. And if you're the other kind of writer than the one giving the advice, it will be either useless or very confusing. It took me a long time to realize that when some authors say, "Close your eyes and imagine something, and then describe what you see," they don't mean "Pretend you see something and then make up something plausible and interesting to say about it."
|Date:||April 1st, 2010 08:44 pm (UTC)|| |
I will add that this is one reason why some people love "memory palaces", while others just think they're implausible. For me, it's a lot easier to learn a hundred-verse ballad by rote than to imagine a visual anything. For some people, it's the other way around.
|Date:||April 2nd, 2010 01:58 am (UTC)|| |
The really good writing teachers are the ones who understand that there are different types of writers from them.;-)
|Date:||March 23rd, 2010 12:48 pm (UTC)|| |
Stories that seem to offer hope or redemption only to pull it away drive me nuts
I don't like it either, but that's because I hate unhappy endings. Sometimes it's the Right Thing To Do, aesthetically.
Sorry you wasted the money. No chance of returning it?
Similar experience when rereading The War Hound and the World's Pain by Moorcock. Summary from Wikipedia (I am lazy today) here:
"The book is set in Europe ravaged by the Thirty Years' War. Its hero Ulrich von Bek is a mercenary and freethinker, who finds himself a damned soul in a castle owned by Lucifer. Much to his surprise, von Bek is charged by Lucifer with doing God's work, by finding the Holy Grail, the "cure for the world's pain," that will also cure Lucifer's pain by reconciling him with God. Only through doing this can von Bek save his soul.
After many adventures, von Bek eventually finds the Holy Grail, and discovers that it will set mankind on the path to self-redemption through rationality, without the help of God or the hindrance of Lucifer.
The most charming characters: von Bek the hardheaded, good-man-who's-done-bad-things soldier and a most verbose, handsome, and contrite Satan--whose contrition turns out to be completely unnecessary.
Bah! Sometimes I think Alcott's March girls had it better when they play-acted Pilgrim's Progress.
There were many things I enjoyed in the book, particularly seeing another author, a good one, playing with ideas I like or am familiar with. So, I would not want to return it.
I'm just disappointed because it could have been so much more.
|Date:||March 23rd, 2010 12:20 pm (UTC)|| |
How much did you know about Moorcock before you set out to write this book? Because, having read some of his essays and his "Behold the Man", I would always have expected him to deliberately bugger the whole thing. In "Behold the Man", Moorcock tries to explain away the historical description of Christ's death with a science fiction jumble of time travel and other nonsense that is far less credible than the Gospel account itself. He is the very incarnation of artistic bad faith with regard to Christianity: he aches to rip it down by any means possible, but he cannot keep his mind away from it.
I'm not writing a book at the moment. The next one (fellowship and publisher willing) will be on the antebellum "Napoleon of the Turf."
However, I am not/was not aware of Moorcock's writings other than the Count Brass and Melnibone work. And the Blue Oyster Cult hit.
Perhaps his story will have a happier ending than that of his heroes. It's entirely possible.
If someone had told me 20 years ago that JCW would become a lion in defense of the Catholic faith and that my husband would be giving sermons at the local church on the problem of pain, I would have thought them mad.
Now that you've piqued my interest on Moorecock, I will explore further.
|Date:||March 23rd, 2010 12:48 pm (UTC)|| |
Sorry, of course I meant "read", not "write".
I think she was describing a book written by another author.
Someday I have to run a good In Nomine game, just to get this right.
NOBILIS and Gnosticism
I have the same problem with the NOBILIS game I ran. The description of the angels given is the rulebook is like the type of angel Alan Moore or Neal Gaiman would write: basically a creepy winged being with no particular moral compass.
The premise of NOBILIS is that heaven and hell have made an alliance in order to overcome a mutual foe, titans springing from the chaos older than creation called the Excrucians. (It is one of these games where there is supposed to be a balance between Good and Evil, an idea I've always thought was stupid, like having a "balance" between quiet joy and groin-ripping torture with hot irons.)
In NOBILIS, you play an spirit or demigod in command of one idea or portion of creation: the goddess of the moon, or the angel of the annunciation, or Father Time, or the elf in charge of chicken soup, something like that.
In addition to heaven and hell, there are two or three other pantheons you can be a member of, such as nature spirits, or Gaiman's "The Endless", Moorcockian "Lords of Law", things like that.
In the rule book, the angels are precisely the opposite of what Christianity says they are. They are forbidden to love mankind. If you bow to one, they do not say "See thou do it not, for we are fellow servants!" the angels say, "Bow lower, worm!" and push your head deeper into the mud with this gold-sandal'd feet. It's absurd.
What I ended up doing was what I assume most moderators do -- I made the "God" described in that game into a Gnostic version of God, an evil deceiver in league with Hell, something like a giant Pharisee or the Wizard of Oz hiding behind a curtain or like "The Authority" of Phillip Pullman (except I made him a badass, not a wimp like Pullman's).
Meanwhile the real God was "hidden in plain sight" walking the earth in the form of a Jewish carpenter, telling people to be concerned with the state of their souls, a spiritual battle with evil, rather than with the physical battle with the titans and the forces of chaos. If anyone walked up to Jesus in my game and asked him where God the Father was, he said "Who looks on me looks on the Father" and would upbraid him for his lack of faith.
|Date:||April 5th, 2010 02:36 pm (UTC)|| |
Re: NOBILIS and Gnosticism
Are the angels in the In Nomine game like the Nobilis game, too?
|Date:||April 15th, 2010 08:13 pm (UTC)|| |
Re: NOBILIS and Gnosticism
Hmmm...sort of yes, sort of no. It's been a while since I've cracked the books. They can be tough and distant, especially the ones who don't deal with humanity all that much, or who are really powerful. Some like Humanity a great deal but expect a lot (Michael), some really just want us to Obey. The. Rules. (Dominic). They're all quite clearly codified as to task and powers and responsibilities.
One of the conceits of the setting is that God has been effectively silent and for the most part unavailable for about the last 2000 years. It's rumored amongst the lower angels that the bigwig archangels talk to Him now and then, but the silence has been...disturbing. The archangels keep things running quite well, though, and God is not dead, or totally withdrawn, just...quiet.
Other interesting things to note about In Nomine: No particular monotheistic religion is clearly right or wrong. As long as you follow the rules in general and worship God, you're good. Mostly. Gabriel has gone mad (it's implied that it's because of what the Moslems did with her revelation to them...or because she tried to give them revelation...or because someone brought them what they said was a revelation, and blamed her...). Lawrence (another 'new' archangel) is devoutly Catholic. The others are more...pragmatic.
The ancient gods are gone, banished to the Ethereal Realms. The ancient monsters are all there, when Lawrence purged them from Earth some time in the Middle Ages. It's also the realms of Dreams, which has its own Archangel...there's all sorts of interesting conflicts between the Archangels, and even moreso between the Princes of Hell. Yes, you can play a demon. They're portrayed somewhat sympathetically, to a degree. Mainly, life as a demon is trying to keep your own skin intact while pleasing your Superior and not falling afoul of the plots of the other Princes and their minions. Life as an angel is easier, but still tough; your bosses expect a lot out of you, and you are NOT to attract the attention of mortals by doing really obvious things.
|Date:||April 15th, 2010 08:20 pm (UTC)|| |
Re: NOBILIS and Gnosticism
And now that I think back about it, In Nomine at least tries to make its angels be somewhat like how Baduin describes them above. Since you can play them, it's hard to get to that 'don't need to think rationally' part, but their powers of discovery and perception fill in rather well for an RPG. Point 1, though, is rather well portrayed.
|Date:||March 23rd, 2010 12:13 pm (UTC)|| |
That's the problem with Buffy - everything that is supernatural is evil, except for the unexplained snowfall when Angel wanted to commit suicide. But at least there the heroes are fighting for the right, even if they don't realize that there is any supernatural goodness at all. What you see here is basically artistic cowardice: a writer who has not had the nerve to follow her own ideas through to their natural conclusion, because if she did the usual load of ignoramus critics and bookstore owners would have placed it in the "religion" shelf next to the Left Behind stories. But if you don't have the nerve to follow your own ideas to their own conclusion, you should not be a writer.
|Date:||March 23rd, 2010 12:16 pm (UTC)|| |
Oh, BTW - "Gregorios" for Watcher is not Latin. I think it's Greek.
D'Oh! Of course! Sorry.
I fixed it.