Tag Archives: writing

School essay on BEOWULF – “Fate and Faith”

19 Sep

            The name of the original bard to tell the story of Beowulf has been lost to the ages. Most information about the epic poem and those who passed it down over the centuries is pure speculation based on its content as well as known history. The primary faiths at work in Beowulf are Christianity and Paganism, which both seem to exist without one negating the other. The Christian figure of God is alluded to several times throughout the epic, such as His protecting the throne of King Hrothgar. Wyrd, or fate, seems to share authority with God, guiding Schild’s funerary vessel across the sea and governing who lives and dies.

Fate is unbiased and impassive: Beowulf is depicted as a strong, heroic figure, yet he meets his end with a fire dragon. To be sure, he was no longer in his prime at that point, but that goes to further illustrate that fate keeps things in balance, as opposed to taking “sides.” Grendel was a threat to the human population, and so wyrd allowed him to be slain, and after that, his vengeful mother was also dispatched. The dragon seems to have been a device to rid the world of Beowulf – not because he posed a threat to the demonic population at this point, but because his time on this earth had all but run out. The dragon was destroyed, too: it appears to have been a “use and discard” method of fate, similar to a modern water bottle or a dissolving pill.

God’s grace could also have been at work in the final stand. As previously stated, He seems to be working alongside the pagan fate rather than opposing it (as many others would have Him do) – He seems to have been involved in Grendel’s mother’s spawning as well as that of Grendel himself. Grendel is said to be a descendent of the Biblical villain Cain, the first murderer. Fallen beings, such as Lucifer becoming Satan, often physically transform God’s transgressors into grotesque creatures. While many people can somewhat picture a Western dragon, the forms of Grendel and his terrible mother are left largely to the imagination as “things from Hell.” Art has generally depicted them – mostly Grendel – as being like trolls or ogres: large, brutish, vaguely humanoid monsters, sometimes with scaly patches or horns or cloven hooves. While appearances are not everything, people often do judge others by them. In this context, however, it may be advisable as these beasts are clearly not of the Heavenly sort.

To this day, Christianity spites paganism as being associated with witches or demons. There may be more tolerance now, and hanging is not as common a thing as it once was, but as long as there are humans, it seems, there will be those who judge other beliefs. That being said, God and wyrd are in cahoots in this epic. It is not unlikely that there was a shift in beliefs from bard to scribe: the original poets may have been pagan, and the story may have reached monastery ears and been given Christian elements. If so, it seems to have worked out for the best, as it is a well-known tale which is read to this day.

This illustrates that two or more different faiths may cooperate to achieve great things, such as preserving one of humanity’s oldest recorded writings. Disputes constantly break out between cultures, often due to contradictory religions, but it is not rare for people who are different to work toward the same goal. God worked with wyrd; why should their followers not do the same?


A short essay: “Animal Illustrations and Proper Zoo-keeping”

9 Aug

This afternoon I did a goodly amount of drawing at the library; today I have sketched naught but wild animals using several heavy zoological volumes for visual reference. Much as I love dragons, gryphons and the like, “real” animals are quite an enjoyable thing to depict in my opinion. Perhaps I ought to expand my dreams of illustrating fantasy novels and children’s literature to include books filled with facts about plants and animals. What sparkling unicorn could outdo the indisputable fact that we have giant pandas, and Nile crocodiles, and massive Bengal tigers? No matter what lovely qualities the imaginary possess, they remain stories.

From a young age I wanted to be a zookeeper. Despite the fact that I have moved on from that aspiration as a career, I retain to this day my fascination with the living things of the world. My interests have not so much shifted as expanded from the animal kingdom to the crafts of creative writing and illustration, and I now wonder if I might apply one to the other. My primary passion is writing fictional stories, but a freelancing gig could well set me up with the opportunity to write articles on Komodo dragons or great blue herons. The same goes for sketching – imagine being able to recreate the box jellyfish on paper! My art instructor once gave me some very interesting advice: To draw from memory or imagination is to create a cartoonish or humorous image; likewise, putting pencil to paper whilst observing a model or still image is to add realism.

With that in mind, perhaps I could travel great distances and snap photographs of giraffes, of octopi, of South American macaws. Not only would we have captured the visual essence of these creatures: I could use the very shots as an opportunity to hone my drawing skills. While I might do the same at a zoological park, I am currently of a dual opinion on such places: a conservational program and a “monkey in a cage” one are two very different things.

Humanity is responsible for much extinction, in the wild if not everywhere, and for many more “endangered” statuses. To right the wrongs of other members of our own species, many people have set up laws against hunting rare creatures such as the elusive mountain gorilla. Sadly, far too many poachers ignore these rules and murder the vanishing animals for heartless and selfish means. It is then that good souls such as Dr. Jane Goodall set up places to breed and thus replenish animals. Zoos which house animals temporarily in order to help the overall species are in my favor, as are “display” zoos that give animals a healthy and enjoyable permanent home. The North Carolina Zooloigical Society is an excellent example of humane treatment and good conditions. A handful of years ago they opened a plain at their Asheboro facility in which African elephants now graze and socialize. The term “vast” would be an understatement here. The rhinoceros exhibit nearby is a similar rolling field, and I read recently that their polar bear exhibit is being remodeled to encompass several times its already considerable size. A good zoo, as I see it, worries not about pleasing the guests with as many beasts as possible, but considers the animal life to be a priority. I’d rather watch a locally common bullfrog rejoice in a large swamp pool than see several exotic Bornean orangutans fight for food in what might be called a jail cell.

Why is it always I?

6 Aug

These words are being typed from my brand-new Macbook Pro, which was purchased at a local Best Buy along with a Kindle Touch. Anyone who knows me might know that while I prefer “actual” books bound in paper to holding an electronic reader, but I read so much that I’ve taken to carrying around one of those things after all. During winter break, however, I left my Kindle in the car during a snowy Chicago evening as we went to a Christmas party at my aunt’s house. One of my aunts – cannot remember which, to be honest – asked to see it out of curiosity. So I went outside in the lovely-crisp air and took out the eReader, which refused to turn on from then on.

My sister Caroline received a Kindle Fire at one point or another, but she eventually tired of it and gave it to our other sister, Laura. She didn’t care for it either, so I ended up taking it. Really it wasn’t a bad device; it merely had a permanent backlight, which is hard to read with in the sun. Call me picky, but we went to purchase a third Kindle – this one a Touch – from Best Buy yesterday, and it’s either extremely difficult to figure out or (more likely) simply a dud. It doesn’t respond to my touch most of the time and there are only two non-digital buttons, neither of which are very responsive. My eventual goal is to become less cumbersome in terms of what I carry around; a slim piece of electronic equipment is ideally suited to replace ten fat books, but only if it works. Perhaps I’ll trade it in for a different one, maybe even a simple original Kindle. That way I can return to reading Laini Taylor’s beautifully-written YA fantasy novel, Daughter of Smoke & Bone.

Currently I am trying to plot a two-hour play and it could be going a lot better. It’s hard to come up with an entire plot, harder to come up with an original one – especially when it’s not born of a strike of inspiration so much as the need to write something for improvement’s sake. At least I have “Of Sophia’s Song,” the last track of the CD Sophia’s Garden by Herb Moore, to keep me relatively sane for the moment. The story behind the album is really sad, but the music is just lovely. I’ve no idea why Herb Moore is not more famous, or why his albums keep going out of print. The other two of which I am aware are Dragon Dreams and H2O Overture. They’re all very relaxing and thoughtful. Maybe I ought to try and draw some inspiration from them?

Here I am.

31 Jul

The blog linked to my other email, The Winter Journal, has been fun but contains some inconsistencies. Such include the fact that I used letter “grades” in many of my older book and movie reviews; my waffling between my real name (Daniel Phelan) and my pen-name (Lewis Winter); and many other things, which I shan’t list at the moment for the sake of keeping things moving.

Today was not particularly eventful, other than this and my excitement over possible near-future employment via Elance. Here I must admit that I’ve not actually watched the Olympics thus far, but what I have seen of them has been amazing. Personally I do not care for sports most of the time, but these people are legendary. The pommel horse looks like it would be impossible; it would be for me, I would think. Then again, they are extremely devoted individuals who spend their whole lives in preparation for the Olympics.

And that is what writing is to me. I do it almost every day (working on ridding the description of the “almost” bit) and have been for some time. Really I have always been thinking of stories and such, and have been writing since I learned how to read. I began to consider it seriously as a career at the age of ten, and at age thirteen realized that I needed to actually do it instead of dreaming about it. Now I have written much and have much more to write yet. My first attempt at a story (referred to as “my book” as I had never heard of a short story at that point) was actually written in a sketchbook alongside pictures of the subject matter: dragons.

This was during my winter holiday, on the drive to my grandmother’s house in northern Illinois, and started with drawings. I drew a large, long-necked dragon breathing a plume of fire, filling every last scale on the beast’s body. It was impressive, but for the flaw of the scales’ all facing the same way instead of slanting on the limbs, head, and tail. In other words, it was like a sea of scales facing one direction, viewed by a dragon-shaped window. I drew several others, including a tiny one off in the distance spewing a cloud of flame at least fifty times the size of its body mass (even in fantasy it makes no sense, unless the wyrm is a medium for inferno from elsewhere) and one with a head on each end (where does it relieve itself?). There was what appeared to be a Tyrannosaurus rex with wings; a slit-eyed, beaked thing guarding either an egg or an orb; a winged serpent; a whale-like sea dragon. But this, in turn, had been inspired by the events of a few days prior:

The summer between third and fourth grade, my mother told me that third grade was extremely difficult and fourth would be “a walk in the park” compared to it. She was obviously no seer. Fourth grade was much more challenging than the year preceding it, which was actually quite easy. Fourth grade was grueling and intense until December, shortly before our winter break. There was a girl in my class, Kendra by name, whose grandmother visited us one afternoon to read to us from a volume of dragon stories.

“Hello, children!” she said as she sat down in the creaking wooden chair by one wall. “My name is Pam Brown. Your teacher, Mrs. Lake, was kind enough to allow me to come in and read to you. Today’s subject is one older than anyone knows: dragons.” A murmur went through the students. Some rolled their eyes, some were awed, and I myself sat silently transfixed by the idea of it, my eyes wide with interest. Vast to minuscule, snaking to hawk-like, the worms of this world and the next held much fascination and mystery to me. “This story,” Mrs. Brown went on, “is an alternative account of the story of St. George, who was supposedly a dragon-slayer. This story is told from the point of view of the dragon and his wife. The dragon was not just any old beast; he was, and perhaps still is, the great-grandfather of all dragons!” The murmur this time contained only a few hushed comments and lasted about two seconds. Kendra’s grandmother began to read and I, being the avid dreamer I was, listened to every word with rapt attention.

However, I am decent at multitasking. I found some white printer paper and a clipboard in one of Mrs. Lake’s cupboards and began to doodle a great winged sky-terror, listening to the she-dragon’s account all the while. At the end of the storyteller’s reading, I fought my way through the blob of fellow students to introduce myself to the lady. “Mrs. Brown!” I cried out as I stumbled forth from the wall of other kids. “My name is Danny,” I said with my hand extended. We shook and then the woman looked down at my other hand.

She gestured to my pictures and said, “May I?” With my assent she took the dragon images and looked at each of them in turn. “You’re quite the artist, Danny,” she said. “Keep it up!” And after patting me on the back in an encouraging manner, she turned to another child.