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I like to think of myself as a reader and my fingers are itching to type the word “voracious” in front of “reader,” but I cannot really do that in a spirit of honesty. I can spend a full day (and most of a night) reading if I want to and find a book that is genuinely able to hold my interest. But most of the time, I choose challenging books…challenging in the fact that they require effort on my part to find the interest, and when I accept this challenge, I am doing exactly what I need to make the reading worthwhile. Due to the fact that the interest in the book for me is not merely on a superficial level, I find myself reading a page and then staring off into space, coming back to myself fifteen minutes later…and fifteen miles away mentally from where I had stopped reading (though I had not moved from the page). Thus, my selection in books and wandering mind cause me to be a slow reader, thus decreasing my output of books finished and depriving myself of the honor of the appellation “voracious.”

But I did not really set out to justify my reading habits. Maybe beginning with a digression will help me not to digress further…and I intend to bring this post to my original purpose. I am a (not voracious) reader. I like books. So you can imagine my disappointment when I heard my fifteen-year-old brother tell me repeatedly how much he hated reading what my parents considered “books” and would much rather read a graphic novel. After promptly removing the knife he had just plunged into my heart, I tried to address his concerns. It resulted in a late-night discussion of why he should bother reading. It was a spiral discussion (not circular because even though we kept coming back to the same place, we were progressing somewhere). The conversation left both of us unsatisfied and cranky (though that could by attributed to the fact that it was also 3 AM when we finished). I hope I can find an answer that will do it for the both of us at some point.
jane austen meme

The conversation is not the goal of this post either. Anyway, my brother was left without a satisfactory answer, but with more to think about (I hope) and resigned himself to checking out books that seemed to interest him from the library. Somehow, I managed to persuade him to accompany me on a trip to the library (a habit which seems to have become weekly this summer). After managing to find some intellectually stimulating material for myself, I found my brother in a place highbrow literary sophisticates like myself rarely dare to tread: the young adult section and I was shocked with what I found.

Scanning the spines of the glossy, plastic-covered volumes on the shelf, I could see part of the reason why my brother had moved to the very end of the shelves along the wall in order to examine some graphic novels. Every single novel was…how do I put this without sounding sexist? (since I’ve already made myself sound like a snob)…”girly”!

Let me make myself clear, I HATE with a burning passion when different activities, movies, books, etc. are classified as male or female. Why? Because it makes the possibility of someone of the opposite gender participating in that gender taboo. Men and women are different, with their own characteristics. This is good. There are some activities which, in our culture, are distinct to one gender or the other and really should not be transferred (like as a man, I’m not a big fan of the idea of wearing high-heeled shoes for special occasions). These things are not necessarily universal norms, but in our culture, help us to express our genders in a unique way. (This is a huge simplification of a discussion which could and does fill several books.)

However, there are activities and things (hate that word) which do not fall under the category of gender by definition, though these categories can be applied loosely. For example, it can be said that Jane Austen novels are enjoyed predominantly by women. But guess what? I should be able to watch the 1996 film adaptation of Emma starring Gwyneth Paltrow (regardless of the movie’s quality) with a bunch of my female friends without guys coming in and attempting to assert their manliness by stating their inability to watch a movie so “girly.” Heck, I should be able to watch it without the excuse of having female friends who want to watch it, too. I should be allowed to enjoy Jane Austen’s keen eye for social interactions and witty humor in peace! Just because these things can fall into gender categories does not mean they must stay there.

On the other hand, these categories are useful in determining interest in a book. And though I can appreciate Jane Austen, I really am not all that enthused by one book I saw in the young adult section with the premise of two girl’s dramatic fight over “the perfect guy” and the revenge that follows. I looked for any books that did not seem “girly” 1. in the sense that my brother, who has tastes which fall more squarely among what is typically for boys his age, would approve of and 2. meaning books which were not written specifically for female audiences.

I saw Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I was even impressed to find some literature that was not “young adult” by definition: Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. There were maybe five other books which could be considered “not girly” and most of their titles now escape me. While I could perhaps have found something interesting among the “girly” titles, I could not see my brother reading any of these.

This rambling post does have a point. I was now able to identify somewhat with my brother’s lack of desire to read. After all, how was he supposed to enjoy reading when there was really nothing for him to read? Not only were some of the books “girly,” some of them disgusted me from a quick glance at the covers. This was young adult literature?

My brother cannot be the only young adult with this problem. It makes me wonder about the state of young adult literature and even what defines this genre as a whole.

In my own leisure reading, I think I simply skipped this step, moving from children’s literature to adult and classic literature. I was brought up with the Harry Potter series (which got many more than me to enjoy reading) and Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, to name a few. These had set me off on a literary love affair that could not be stopped by a dearth of young adult reading materials, as could be seen by the fact that I had read about one young adult novel among all the other books I had read in my leisure time since I had left childhood to that point.

But what about people who, like my brother,  did not find a love of the written word as a child? Is it just my library’s fault in what books they choose to stock? I need hardly say that it if it is the case that the young adult literature market is targeted exclusively to young women, then it is grossly unfair. Yes, I know that there are plenty of works of literature worth reading, but how are young men supposed to be enkindled with the desire to read them if they do not pick up reading as a habit? I can’t tell authors what to write, but I cannot imagine why there are so few books of this age level written for boys.

Maybe this was just a moment of me sympathizing with my brother. Maybe this is just a rant. Or perhaps this is an appeal to all you authors out there to write high quality young adult novels for young men. Heaven knows we could use some.

I wanted to get this problem which has been growing in my head verbalized, but regardless of my purpose in writing this rambling post, I know that I am going to investigate. Thanks for sticking with me to the end!


In her new autobiography, The Ear of the Heart: An Actress’ Journey from Hollywood to Holy Vows, Mother Dolores Hart, O. S. B. spoke about her name. Dolores is derived from the Latin Mater Dolorosa or Sorrowful Mother, a common title of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mother Dolores had her own share of sorrows throughout her life. For this reason, she said that because of all the sorrows that she has seen, a “Dolores” must be a listener, a person who is able to identify with the sorrows of others.

Does this sound familiar? Good.

In the movie The Passion of the Christ, Christ’s final hours on earth are depicted with the utmost realism and artistry. We see not only the events of the Passion as they unfold from Jesus’ point of view, but also from the perspectives of St. Peter, St. John, and St. Mary Magdalene. But some of the most poignant scenes are those that show the proceedings from the perspective of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Why? Maybe because they are supposed to be. The movie depicts acts of unspeakable violence that can become unbearable to watch. If the movie was composed simply of shot after shot of the violence heaped upon Christ, it probably would be unbearable to watch. But that is not how the movie plays out. Instead, we see flashbacks to earlier events in Christ’s life, reminding us that He is now practicing what He preached. We see the reactions of his disciples to this brutality: their horror, their fear, and their sorrow. And somehow, it makes the movie easier to watch.

By seeing how Jesus’ disciples reacted to the Passion, we see how we should react. We realize that there are people other than the people who were persecuting Christ and who are able to see the horror of what was happening. Foremost among Christ’s disciples in feeling this horror is His own Blessed Mother. And it isn’t difficult to imagine the heartbreak felt by any mother to see her child treated so shamefully. By putting ourselves in her place, we are able to understand her pain. And perhaps that is one reason why these scenes from the movie are so poignant.

But Mary’s sorrow runs deeper than that. While she does weep and we see the sadness in her eyes, something greater is happening inside of her. She is trying to make sense of what is happening. Mary knows that her Son is God and is waiting for Him to be delivered from His captors, as she says during His scourging. When she finally meets Him on the road to Golgotha, He says, “Behold, Mother, I make all things new.” At this point, Mary realizes that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, even if she doesn’t understand it perfectly—that a greater good will come out of this evil, and she lets go of her fear.

Now this movie is by no means a definitive guide to how the Blessed Virgin Mary acted and what she said during the Passion. But it gives us an idea of how she might have acted. It is doing the same thing that Christians do when they pray the Rosary or the Way of the Cross. They are asking Mary to be their guide and following her through the events of Christ’s life.

Mary is a guide, but an unusual guide because at the same time, she is also a pilgrim.

But why would anyone choose her, of all people, to be a guide? After all, she only speaks seven times in all of Sacred Scripture. However, those seven times speak volumes about Mary. For one thing, it confirms what Mother Dolores Hart said that a “Dolores”—Mater Dolorosa (a. k. a. Mary)—must be a listener. Maybe it is Mary’s participation in the Passion makes this most apparent because while Mary is said to be present at her Son’s Crucifixion, she doesn’t say anything. Rather, Jesus speaks to her: “Woman, behold, your son!” And He tells His disciple about His mother: “Behold, your mother!” (cf. John 19:26-27). Jesus Himself points to His mother as a mother to us and what better guide than a mother? Mary is silent throughout John’s account of the Passion, but of course she participates in her Son’s pain. So go to her, she will listen to you. She is able to identify with your pain, too.

Jesus is both pilgrim and guide, too. He both gives advice on how to navigate the pilgrimage of life and also navigates it as a pilgrim Himself, to its lowest depths, practicing exactly what He preached. Jesus is our pilgrim and guide and could be called THE Pilgrim and Guide.

Why am I focusing on Mary, rather than Him? Because, in the midst of our fallen human nature, we need more than one example to follow. Sometimes, we find ourselves saying, “Jesus is God! Of course, He would follow His Father’s Will.” Sometimes, we need to see what someone following Jesus would do. And Jesus Himself points to her, as I said above, and when He says that the person who does the will of God is His mother (cf. Mark 3:35). Mary is not a guide at the exclusion of Jesus, but a guide TO Jesus!

The Blessed Virgin Mary is Jesus’ first disciple and the one who followed Him perfectly. She shows us exactly what it means to be a follower of Jesus, more because of what she does than what she says. Like Harry Potter and Dante, she listens to her guide. Sometimes she doesn’t understand what her guides are saying, but she ponders it in her heart (cf. Luke 2:19).

We discover that what Mary says is always illuminated by her actions. Her “yes” to God is more than that moment when she says it, but is lived every moment of her life. When she receives praise, she gives the glory to God (cf. Luke 1: 46) and we don’t ever see her chasing after her own glory. She tells the stewards at the wedding to do whatever Jesus tells them (cf. John 2:5) and does the same herself. And she follows Jesus even to the Cross.

But unlike Harry Potter or Dante, she is a real, living person. She has actually survived a pilgrimage on earth and now lives forever with her Son in Heaven. Her story is not just an ideal, but the truth. We see that Mary could follow God’s Will perfectly and are even more reassured that we can follow God’s Will, too.

And instead of being simply a pilgrim that we read about in a book, she is available to be a guide for each of us on our own pilgrimage. We need only ask.

Warning: This post contains spoilers about the ending of Harry Potter and the Divine Comedy.

When asked in an interview about the casting of the main character of the Harry Potter movies, author J. K. Rowling said that it was a difficult role to cast because the character of Harry is a listener, especially at the beginning of the series.

But why would Harry be a listener? After all, he is the protagonist in what is arguably an epic saga. Shouldn’t he be a man of action more than a listener? But when the context of the saga is considered, a hero who is a listener makes much more sense than a hero who simply acts.

At the outset of the story, Harry is an outsider both to the world in which he currently lives (with the Dursleys in the non-magical world) and the world to which he truly belongs (the magical world). But in order to enter the magical world, Harry must overcome his complete lack of knowledge about all things magical.

So Harry must be a listener, but this is not just for his own benefit. This is for Rowling’s benefit and ultimately for that of the readers. First, it is a practical consideration. Rowling is not just introducing Harry to a new world; she is introducing all of her readers to a world hitherto unexplored. In order to help her readers easily to enter into a world that is supposed to have existed for centuries without their knowledge, she creates a protagonist who is entering that world at the same time that they are. That way it makes sense for all of their rudimentary questions about the world to be answered because they are precisely the same as Harry’s, so this exposition is natural.

This is what makes Harry Potter a pilgrim. He, like so many literary heroes before him, is embarking on a journey. His journey is not just the magical world. This is really the starting point. In reality, we can say that his pilgrimage ends, like all pilgrimages, at the end of his journey, in this case, the end of the story.

The blogger Marc Barnes (Bad Catholic) said (much more eloquently than I will be able to summarize here) in a blogpost “The Difference Between a Pilgrim and a Tourist” that a pilgrimage is made with the final destination in mind and the journey is only important because of the destination. A pilgrimage is made in order to allow oneself to be changed rather than to “find yourself.” The journey of a pilgrimage is first an interior one. The pilgrim has entered into himself and found himself wanting. The exterior journey only comes from this self-knowledge and openness to an interior change. The exterior journey is a catalyst for this interior change.

Harry’s destination is his destiny. He must face Voldemort. He knows that he wants Voldemort to be stopped and this is the driving force for the journey. Although it can be argued that his desire to defeat Voldemort is simply fueled by revenge, it is evident that the desire is more complex than just a desire for revenge. We see how Harry fails when he tries to act from vengeance. This struggle is especially evident in the final book as Harry must choose to allow Voldemort to become presumably more powerful by stealing the Elder Wand and to continue trying to defeat him by finding horcruxes.

By choosing to face Voldemort, Harry is recognizing that Voldemort must be stopped, not simply because he has caused the deaths of many whom Harry loves, but because of the threat that he is to all that is good. We see that before Harry sets out on his ultimate journey to hunt the horcruxes, he makes the choice to defeat Voldemort, but the choice is still immature and based on vengeance. It is through the pilgrimage with the end in mind that Harry is able to face Voldemort with a much more mature and wise attitude than before.

By making Harry a listener, Rowling has made it possible for us to make Harry’s journey our own. Harry is a character with whom it is easy to identify and by identifying with him, we are able to take the journey with him.

Being a listener means that there is someone to listen to. The role of guide in the Harry Potter series falls to many different people, but is an ever-present element. Hagrid is Harry's first guide in being initiated to the magical world. Sirius Black helps Harry navigate the perils of growing up. But Dumbledore is the ultimate guide on the journey to Harry's destiny, taking him within memories and even communicating to him from beyond the grave. The guide is essential to the story, but he or she is also not the character that teaches the reader the most.

It is the pilgrim who, by asking the questions that the reader wants to ask and acting as we would act in a situation, ultimately gives us the template on how we are meant to act in our own lives.

The best literary example of the relationship between pilgrim and guide is the relationship between Dante and Virgil (and eventually Beatrice) in Dante Alighieri's epic: The Divine Comedy.

Dante is the quintessential pilgrim. From the start of Inferno, we can see that Dante is a pilgrim, examining his own faults. As the Commedia often employs symbolism, these faults are represented by a leopard, lion, and she-wolf that block his path. This symbolism of his sins blocking his way to the mountain of Purgatory effectively represents the necessity of a pilgrimage for Dante to improve himself as the only other way for Dante to climb the mountain is by descending into hell.

Dorothy L. Sayers writes in her essay, “The Comedy of the Comedy,” about Dante’s transformation from Inferno to Purgatorio, as he goes from asking impertinent questions of Virgil, his guide, to trying to exercise the same delicacy as Virgil in his new surroundings. Additionally, Sayers points out the genius of Dante making himself the protagonist of the story. By doing this, he enables the reader to take Dante’s actions seriously and as the reader sees that he portrays himself in an honest light (particularly regarding his struggle with lust in the Circle of the Lustful), the reader is more apt to take his actions and questions to heart.

But Dante’s pilgrimage has an ultimate goal and, unlike Harry Potter, the end of his pilgrimage is an actual place: Heaven. Dante’s journey from hell to Purgatory to Heaven mirror the struggles of life on earth and isn’t Heaven the goal of our brief pilgrimage on earth?

Find out more about why the pilgrim and guide matter to you in Part II!

Dorothy L. Sayers’s article “The Comedy of the Comedy” can be found in her book Introductory Papers on Dante.

A growing trend among authors of all media is the revisionist story. The revisionist story is a type of parallel novel which assumes that the original author of a fictional work was incorrect in his or her interpretation of the events of the work and retells these events as they actually “happened.” Stories that fall into this category include Wicked and The Last Ringbearer, both found on Wikipedia’s list of parallel novels with their original counterparts. While arguably entertaining and often imaginative, they come at a price.

One problem is the relationship of the revisionist author with the original author. In order to present the new story as a revision of the original, the new author must, in essence, say that the original author got it wrong. This is really the foundational assumption of this genre of storytelling. But the original author is, well, the original author. He or she not only wrote the original story, but oftentimes created a new and captivating world. This original work has often garnered lavish praise and considered a classic, if not among critics, then among fans.

Enter the revisionist author. This author has decided to write a revisionist account of a classic work for whatever reason. In order to do that, they take the characters, plot, and world of the original author and alter it to fit their account. They literally take the original creations of the author and make them part of a story that in some way conflicts with that of the original author.

An aggressive example of this is the aforementioned work The Last Ringbearer by Kirill Eskov. Eskov writes this work under the basic assumption that J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings from the viewpoint of the champions of the War of the Ring. Aragorn, far from being a hero, is being controlled by the elves. Orcs are just foreign men. Mordor is just a highly advanced country which is being attacked by Gandalf and the elves in order to add to an empire. What am I forgetting? Oh yeah, the ring doesn’t hold any power whatsoever: it’s just a pretty piece of jewelry that is meant to divert the attention of Gandalf and the elves.

Here we see that Eskov takes Tolkien’s epic saga and completely alters it. And the whole idea seems really interesting. It resembles real life in that the “official” account of events are skewed in favor of the champions. But in order to do this, Eskov has basically punched Tolkien in the face and run off with Tolkien’s basic plot, characters, and world.

And that brings us to another problem with the revisionist story. For the story to be a revision, the revisionist author must take the plot, characters, and world of another author. But what’s really wrong with that? After all, it’s been happening since time immemorial. People would gather around a fire and tell a story. Gradually, as the story was told and retold, details were added and discarded, intentionally or unintentionally.

But we live in a different time now. Stories are recorded in order to preserve these details and the authors are given credit for their creations in addition to the ability to control how their creations are used.

For that reason, many revisionist works are of works which are now in the public domain so that copyright laws do not apply. So does it really matter?

From a legal standpoint, no. However, we see that there can often (but not necessarily) exist a hostile relationship between the two authors. Now, it’s not for me to say with what motives revisionist authors write these types of books. But why? It’s not as if these novels are based on actual events. The author has no moral obligation to report a truth.

Maybe they are huge devotees of a book or have an axe to grind with the author, but either way the relationship exists. Maybe they want to demonstrate something, examine a relationship in a new light or any number of things. But honestly, part of me wants to say, “What? You can’t come up with your own story so you have to steal someone else’s?”

That’s probably not fair and a large amount of creativity goes into these types of works. And I’m not saying that these books should be written this way or that way. I’m just pointing out a fictional injustice. And who knows? Maybe someone will go on to revise their revisionist story.

Disclaimer: I got my information about the plot of Eskov’s The Last Ringbearer from this Wikipedia plot summary and found it on this list of parallel novels. I haven’t read this book, which probably reflects on my summary of the work. This is an amateur discussion merely for fun.