Weekend Reads: "Adventures in Odyssey," "Lord of the Rings," Eddie Van Halen, Thomas the Tank Engine, the Quantum Internet

Recommended weekend reading material for October 10, 2020.

Every week, I compile a list of interesting, thought-provoking, and enjoyable articles to give you some good weekend reading material.

Joel Cuthbertson’s piece about Adventures in Odyssey is both a trip down nostalgia lane (especially if you were a Christian kid in the late ‘80s to mid ‘90s) and a pointed reminder that in Christian culture, the line between “art” and “propaganda” is often a blurry one.

At a moment when everyone is concerned about “cancel culture,” and more than likely over-concerned about the wrong cancellations, the history and legacy of Evangelical audio drama clarifies what it means to embark on genuinely creative endeavors despite overwhelming, often self-imposed pressure to prioritize a moral framework above all other instincts. This is a timely question not just for Christians, but for a literary and creative mainstream that increasingly trucks in self-conscious moralism. The extent to which Odyssey and other audio dramas have any success, and without drawing the ire of their hardcore Evangelical fanbase, is thus a case-study in navigating the cross-pressures of artistry and ethics.

My family listened to Adventures in Odyssey on a recent vacation and I was surprised at how well it still held up. I was particularly impressed with the episode “The Price of Freedom.” While it verges on jingoism at times, its treatment of war and grief was surprisingly nuanced.

Tolkien fans are expressing concern that Amazon’s upcoming Lord of the Rings series might contain nudity and sexual content. TheOneRing.net breaks down the rumors and discusses how Tolkien himself approached such content.

The Hobbit and LOTR stand apart from the most insanely violent and disturbing stuff within The Silmarillion (especially) and Unfinished Tales, so yes, it may yet be that someday we will have a separation of what Tolkien shows/movies you watch with your little ones… and those you just don’t. And now we realize the time may be upon us sooner than we think.

I hope that this news is just Amazon covering their bases rather than an indication of actual story content. There’s no need for Lord of the Rings to follow in the footsteps of Game of Thrones or The Witcher, no need to appeal to “adult” audiences, because reveling in anything prurient or salacious goes against everything that makes Tolkien’s world so inviting in the first place.

With technology, it’s possible to make films that are over a century old look like they were shot yesterday, and some historians have a problem with that.

For Mark-FitzGerald and other historians of photography tools like DeOldify and Neural Love might make pictures look amazing, but they risk obscuring the past rather than illuminating it. “Even as a photo historian, I look at them and think, oh, wow, that’s quite an arresting image,” she says. “But always then my next impulse is to say, ‘Well, why am I having that response? And what is the person who’s made this intervention on the restoration actually doing? What information has this person added? What have they taken away?’”

Eddie Van Halen, one of the greatest and most influential guitarists of all time, died this past week from cancer. He was 65 years old.

“I don’t know shit about scales or music theory,” he told Rolling Stone in 1980. “I don’t want to be seen as the fastest guitar in town, ready and willing to gun down the competition. All I know is that rock & roll guitar, like blues guitar, should be melody, speed, and taste, but more important, it should have emotion. I just want my guitar playing to make people feel something: happy, sad, even horny.”

Rolling Stone also looks at Van Halen’s greatest contributions to rock guitar. Meanwhile, tributes to Van Halen have come pouring in from fellow musicians, including his former bandmates as well as members of Black Sabbath, Kiss, Metallica, Queen, and Rage Against the Machine.

One of my favorite music anecdotes is that Van Halen recorded the guitar solo on Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” for free. He also rearranged the song, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Godzilla returns to Netflix in 2021 with a new anime series titled Godzilla Singular Point. The series will be directed by Atsushi Takahashi (Blue Exorcist), written by sci-fi author Toh Enjoe, and feature monster designs by Studio Ghibli’s Eiji Yamamori. The new series will not be related to Netflix’s previous Godzilla anime trilogy, which took the Godzilla mythos in a direction that was interesting but ultimately disappointing.

And I know you’ve been waiting for it: a new Thomas the Tank Engine movie is in the works. The movie will be a blend of live-action and animation and will be directed by Marc Forster (World War Z, Quantum of Solace). I assume it’ll be a gritty, dystopic reboot in which Thomas unites the Steamies and Diesels in a violent revolution against Sir Topham Hatt’s despotic regime.

Alan Jacobs’ latest book encourages us to read old books.

That the past can be truly strange is in many ways the crux of the book, because this strangeness has the power both to delight and to offend. The strangeness of old books and the strange worlds they speak of might repel us, but that same strangeness is also what can also make them compelling. One can seek the wisdom while trying to ignore the strangeness, but the strangeness is an essential ingredient in what gives the wisdom its depth.

File this under “Better Late Than Never”: Facebook is banning the QAnon conspiracy theory from its platform.

A company spokesperson said the enforcement, which started Tuesday, will “bring to parity what we’ve been doing on other pieces of policy with regard to militarized social movements,” such as militia and terror groups that repeatedly call for violence.

For a good intro to QAnon, I highly recommend this article by Adrienne LaFrance. I find it incredible — and incredibly disheartening — that so many otherwise sane and rational people have bought into its craziness.

David French’s recent column about praying for Donald Trump is a good example of why he’s become a welcome voice of reason and sanity during these crazy times.

But here’s where the prayers grow richer and deeper. We shouldn’t simply pray that a president’s trials cease. We can and should also pray that his trials bear fruit — the fruit of humility and repentance. The record of scripture is clear. Times of trial should bring about transformation, and one of the roles of God’s people is to speak truth to convict the powerful of their sin.

Trump, as is his wont, returned to the White House after just a few days in the hospital, so it’s doubtful whether the President actually learned anything from his ordeal. But French’s sentiment remains valid.

If scientists are correct, the “quantum” internet will blow your mind — even if you don’t understand how it works.

Only a few hundred or so physicists in the U.S., Europe and China really comprehend how to exploit some of the weirdest, most far-out aspects of quantum physics. In this strange arena, objects can exist in two or more states at the same time, called superpositions; they can interact with each other instantly over long distances; they can flash in and out of existence. Scientists… want to harness that bizarre behavior and turn it into a functioning, new-age internet — one, they say, that will be ironclad for sending secure messages, impervious to hacking.

From the Blog

October 4 was the 25th anniversary of Neon Genesis Evangelion’s debut on Japanese TV. Evangelion is one of the most influential and controversial anime series of all time, and back in 2019, I wrote this extended piece about its origins, themes, and legacy.

When Evangelion arrived on Japanese television, the anime market was stagnant. Evangelion injected some much-needed new blood into that market. It represented a new approach to anime production inspired by live-action filmmaking, and was more auteur-like (as evidenced by [series creator Hideaki Anno] drawing inspiration from his own mental issues) and creator-controlled.

FYI, I’ve written a lot about Neon Genesis Evangelion over the years.

This post is available to everyone (so feel free to share it). However, paying subscribers also get access to exclusives including playlists, sneak previews, and podcasts. If you’d like to receive those exclusives — and support my writing on Opus — then become a paid subscriber today for just $5/month or $50/year.