Open-handed

One day, something fell from the sky. Xi had never seen anything like this in his life. It looked like water, but it was harder than anything else in the world. He wondered why the gods had sent this thing down to the earth. It was the strangest and most beautiful thing they had ever seen. They wondered why the gods had sent it to them. Pabo got his finger stuck in the thing and the children thought he was very funny. Xi tried the thing out to cure thongs. It had the right shape and weight. It was also beautifully smooth and ideal for curing snakeskin. And Pabo discovered you could make music on it. And every day they discovered a new use for the thing. It was harder and heavier and smoother than anything they’d ever known. It was the most useful thing the gods had ever given them. A real labour-saving device. But the gods had been careless. They had sent only one. Now, for the first time, here was a thing that could not be shared because there was only one of it. Suddenly, everybody needed it most of the time. A thing they had never needed before became a necessity. And unfamiliar emotions began to stir. A feeling of wanting to own, of not wanting to share. Other new things came. Anger, jealousy, hate and violence.

So the story begins in the classic movie The Gods Must Be Crazy. When his tribe of bushmen in the Kalahari desert finds a coke bottle that’s been thrown from a passing airplane, Xi realizes that it is destroying the fabric of society by introducing the concept of ownership. When he sees one of his neighbors hit the other over the head with the bottle, he is decisive. He takes the bottle and starts on a journey to find the edge of the world, and throw it off.

A society without the concept of ownership. It plays with our ideas about what constitutes “primitive” and “advanced.”

I think of this movie when I read the descriptions of the early church in Acts chapters 2 and 4:

Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. (2:44, 45)

Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands and houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need. (4: 32-35)

Is there anything more antithetical to the American mindset?

I have questions about the early church. What did they preach about? Did the disciples tell stories about Jesus, and repeat his teachings? Or did they instruct in the Old Testament? What did their meetings together look like? Were they mainly about instruction, or about prayer, or about simply being together? How meeting-centric was the church? Did they forever divide people into age groups, as we do in the modern church?

There are things I just don’t know.

But these descriptions of the generosity, the absolute refusal to close one’s hands around some blessing, are clear. I read them and think, “That’s communism.” Yet communism is the name we give it when it’s done under compulsion. When it’s done freely, it’s simply the church.

Everything we do is oriented toward owning: get out of debt, own that house free and clear, accumulate all the items you need to be independent. Then, we think, from that position of strength, we will be able to be generous. We will be able to share.  But of course there’s no basis for such thinking in these passages. “Great grace was upon them all.”

Rebecca

I’m not sure what made me choose Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca. I was looking for a page-turner, and that’s what I found in this suspenseful tale of an innocent bride, the wealthy nobleman who marries her, and the mystery and emotional charge that overshadow everything associated with his first wife, the deceased Rebecca.

I seem to have a weakness for Gothic romance: Jane Eyre, Watchman’s Stone, The Red Castle Women. All of them have working class heroines drawn into a world of Gothic castles, noblemen with mysterious pasts, and malevolent or mad women that come with the bargain. Is my life too prosaic? Do I have latent anxieties that there are hidden passages in my 70’s vintage ranch?

Or is it just that I can’t resist revisiting this plot that can be varied in so many ways?

The narrator heroine of DuMaurier’s novel is… more of a ninny than those of the other books I mentioned. Jane Eyre is terribly smart. The other two heroines are depicted as intelligent, yet they unaccountably do foolish things that get them into strange situations: locked into the keep of a castle, kidnapped, all manner of things. DuMaurier’s narrator (whose name we’re never told) spills things, trips, knocks things over, and can’t seem to put two and two together to save her life. Yet somehow, I found myself drawn in and held in suspense as the mystery unfolded.

After I finished the book, I searched for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1941 film version, his first American movie, which won Best Picture in the Academy Awards. It stars Laurence Olivier as Maxim deWinter and Joan Fontaine as the novel’s narrator. Despite its fame, I couldn’t find it anywhere but in one branch of our four-county library system.

I loved seeing the sumptuous Manderley, the deWinter estate on the coast of England. Even in black and white it gave my imagination a boost in picturing the setting. Olivier’s portrayal of Maxim deWinter made him much more appealing to me than the moody, grim figure I pictured from the pages of the book.

Hitchcock made some key changes in the story’s plot, partly to simplify and condense the novel for the screen, and partly (perhaps) to soften some of its harsher elements. But Mrs. Danvers, the malevolent housekeeper at Manderley, is played with absolute brilliance by Judith Anderson. She’s terrifying! And she does it all with her eyes.

I enjoyed experiencing the novel and movie in sequence like that. I felt I got acquainted with two artists and two classic works at once. Despite Hitchcock’s genius, though, I came down on the side I always do: I liked the book best.

Thoughts on Prince Caspian

My husband has been away this week. Here’s what this has meant for me:

  • I miss him.
  • The girls miss him.
  • I get to read in the evening without the television being on.
  • I’ve discovered that though I’m allegedly a grown-up, I’m still afraid of the dark. A little. It makes noises louder – especially when reading Gothic novels late at night. (I’m glad we have a dog.)
  • I went to see Prince Caspian this afternoon. Alone. My husband’s parents took us out to lunch, then offered to take the girls out and give me a little time to myself. I caught the movie on its last day in town.

My friend Ruth has already written a great review of the movie here, and I agree with pretty much everything she says. What I want to do is just add a few of my responses as I watched:

  • It’s been long enough since my most recent reread of the book that the liberties taken with the plot didn’t bother me. Usually if I see a movie version of a book, I kind of hope it will be a little different from the book, though true to its spirit. Otherwise why make the movie? This film chose themes to emphasize that hadn’t struck me as so central in my reading experience. Perhaps it’s a different animal altogether. I like that; now I want to reread.
  • They did a terrific job with the theme of waiting for Aslan vs. choosing the ”way that seemeth right.” “We’ve waited for Aslan long enough,” says Peter at one point. Weariness with waiting feels true to life for my family right now as we try to discern how God is leading. The challenge isn’t so much to avoid running ahead as to keep the ear expectant. That sense of waiting is interminable in the movie… When is Aslan going to show up? At times I thought resentfully that he was letting them do all the hard stuff, then he’d make his appearance. I was glad he did some real Aslan-work when he finally showed up.
  • During the opening sequence, I was surprised at my strong emotional response. It had to do with the influence of Lewis — how dramatic it’s been in so many lives, how far-reaching. Something about seeing the magic of the story coming to life so beautifully made me think again of how much I want my life to count for something, and to outlast me.
  • Ditto with the drama of the children’s removal to Narnia. Ruth thought the train station scene was overdone, and I guess I wouldn’t argue with that. But it still moved me. Maybe I long to see glimpses of Paradise through the windows of my mundane days, so often full of uncertainty and monotony.
  • Last but not least, I’ve read that Tolkien didn’t approve of Lewis’s use of mythological creatures like centaurs and the like. I think I might agree — at least on screen. The fantasy world of LOTR is somehow more complete and convincing than this one; seeing the creatures on the screen in these two Narnia movies always has the effect of interrupting the illusion for me, and I didn’t have that feeling watching the LOTR movies.

In all honesty I’m not that hard to please at the movies, but I did enjoy this. There are plenty of thoughtful critiques on both sides out there. If you saw the movie, let me know what you thought of it!