12 September 2010


Reading Diary: The Fallen by Thomas E. Sniegoski

They had descended from the heavens on the ancient city of Urkish, the overpowering desire to eradicate evil spurring them on. It was rumoured that the city was a haven for the unclean, a place where those who offended God could thrive in secret. The Powers were on a holy mission, and all who stood against them fell before their righteousness.

In a hovel made of mud and straw they found him, an old man, a seer, one of his eyes covered by a milky caul. He was surrounded by clay tablets upon which something had been written--a prophecy. It was Camael's former captain, Verchiel, who first read the seer's scrawl. His words foretold of the melding of human and angel, and how that joining would sire an offspring--an offspring more than human, more than angel, who would be the key to reuniting those who had fallen from Heaven with their most holy Father.

This time, my Fully Booked Zine editor is asking me to write about the new trend toward "dark angels" in YA. The Fallen series has been assigned to me for research. The first book is actually a reread for me--and as you probably know by now, I often prefer rereads to new reads.

Now, I actually hated this book the first time I tried it . . . but I admit that that time was right in the middle of my apologetics fundamentalism stage. I'm less brainwashed and much better now, so why not give the novel another chance?

I started it last Friday afternoon and finished it in the early hours of Sunday morning. And my second verdict is . . . I still don't like it. =P

I'll admit it still has partly to do with Sniegoski's take on Catholic symbols. Basically, the whole series is about angels who have messed up getting a second chance to repent and be forgiven--something any angelologist will tell you doesn't fit the Catholic understanding of creation at all. But never mind that now. Heck, never mind it at all. For even I have to admit that in the great "creative commons" of myth, legend and folklore, Angels are fair game.

I have a friend who read the first book in the Artemis Fowl series and now can't stand Eoin Colfer. He says that Colfer "made a mockery" of Celtic myths by giving leprechauns guns, flight packs, and other faerie equivalents of our "modern" technology. My friend happens to consider himself Celtic as well, although he was born and bred in the United States and has never been to Ireland. Honestly, I think that if anyone has the right to re-imagine leprechauns, it is an actual Irishman like Colfer . . . but I also think my friend has a point.

Maybe somewhere in Greece, there is someone else who loathes Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series for similar reasons. Foremost among them would be, I can just imagine, the relocation of Mount Olympus to New York City--and Riordan's explanation that this has happened because the centre of Western civilisation is now the United States of America. In his sub-creation, Mount Olympus hasn't been Greek since before the heyday of the Roman Empire . . . which kind of implies that it was never really Greek to begin with. (Funnily enough, my aforementioned friend didn't have a problem with this; when I told him that the Underworld was located under Hollywood, he thought it was the most appropriate place in the world.)

And then there is Stephenie Meyer's wussification of vampires in her Twilight saga. Not that there is anyone to take it personally this time (except, perhaps, anemic Goths who really do believe they are vampires). But even if there had been, was there really anything to stop Meyer from taking the symbol of vampirism and giving it some sparkle? (It killed me to write that last question; it really did.) And if you really think about it, there has always been something deeply Catholic about these blood drinking monsters; in order to write her stories, Meyer had to make them Mormon first. Again, fair game.

Finally, who can forget the controversy which surrounded Dan Brown's DaVinci Code? Thousands of Christians all over the world were understandably upset at the portrayal of Jesus as an adherent of a fertility cult centred on the "sacred feminine." I know I was disgusted. And a lot of professional apologists made a quick buck selling books purporting to debunk The DaVinci Code--a defensive move as undignified as CNN's freaking fact-checking of a Saturday Night Live skit making fun of Barack Obama. Brown must have been highly amused; we were acting like idiots. Myself included, of course: I actually bought one of those books.

All personal belief aside now, let's admit it . . . Artistically, it's all the same. The use of the deities and religious figures of different religions might reveal more about the artist or writer than about the subjects themselves; and sometimes what is revealed can be quite ugly. But if we're going to say that one thing is unacceptable but others aren't, we're just being arbitrary.

As a user on a Romance board once asked me, when I was complaining about the eroticising of angels (and of demons!) in PNR: "Why is it okay to use the ancient Greek gods as characters but not okay to use the Archangel Raphael as a character?" Soon another user pointed out that if you banned one thing, you'd have to ban all of them.

For the record, I'm not a fan of the creative reworking of Christian figures in fiction meant to be "seculary"--particularly the figures of the God-Man and His Mother. But the overly emotional (dare I say, anti-intellectual?) arguments against these from other Catholics are just embarrassing. I'm not making them any longer. Wheat and tares, baby!

Image Sources: a) The Fallen 1 by Thomas E. Sniegoski, b) Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer, c) The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, d) Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, e) The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown


Ligaya said...

Personally, I don't find anything objectionable with a more "romantic", meaning emotionally-charged and less distant, depiction of the God-Man and His Mother. They still were essentially human right? So who's to say they did not feel human emotions? And even if neither of them fell in romantic couply love, who's to say they weren't affected by it through observing other people of their historical milieu? (I do think St. Joseph would have led a terribly sad and lonely existence though if the Virgin didn't at least feel some positive emotion towards him... it's bad enough he's been shunted to the sidelines by so many Christians because he's essentially just the foster father of the God-Man, and we all know how foster-parents have earned such a bad reputation even to these very days...)

For the record, for all my interest in the Knights Templars and the Moravingian dynasty, I actually put down The Da Vinci Code because I didn't find it engaging enough, and I also fell asleep when I saw the movie. ^^000

antiaphrodite said...

He was surrounded by clay tablets upon which something had been written--a prophecy.

Cue loud ominous music. Dum da dum!

I...I couldn't resist.

paul bowman said...

ha! Never cared about vampires of anybody's conception, on page or on screen — but when you let drop that awful wussification, even I feel momentarily a little offended by Ms. Meyer.

Enbrethiliel said...


@Ligaya: My parish is named for St. Joseph and served by priests who are Oblates of St. Joseph, so he at least doesn't get shunted to the sidelines where I worship. =) And I'm having trouble remembering that he is often neglected!

I think we can all trust that Mary and St. Joseph loved each other very deeply--for with Jesus in their Family, how could they not? And I believe there is room to speculate on the expression this love assumed without doing away with what we already know about them: Mary as ever-virgin, St. Joseph as model of chastity, etc. But to do them justice in fiction, I think, would take more than just creativity; it would also require great devotion.

@Antiaphrodite: There's a movie, you know. =P Why don't you check out the music and see if it lives up to this?

*cue mad laughter*

@Paul: You'd get more indignation out of this if you also read the books.

paul bowman said...

Your indignation is kind of fun (at least, looking on from other side of planet it is, shall we say). My indignation would just be needless expenditure of energy.