Category Archives: British Nerdiness

‘Let there be Light’: The Gospel According to Dr River Song

Amy: What does the time energy do?

Doctor: JUST KEEP MOVING.

Amy: Tell me!

Doctor: If the time-energy catches up with you, you’ll never have been born. It will erase every moment of your existence. You will never have lived at all. Now….keep your eyes shut, and keep moving.

Remember how scared you were when you first heard Matt Smith speak those four sentences? As Amy clung to the communicator and shook with fright, the BBC National Orchestra’s string section screeched up the scale and you scooted forward on the couch. I scooted forward on my desk chair and started cramming chicken tikka masala into my mouth at factory speed while watching ‘Flesh and Stone’ on my laptop as a dinner-time break from prepping for my Virginia Woolf tutorial. Since BBC iPlayer posted the episodes out of order, I hadn’t known about the cracks until this episode. I didn’t understand what had
happened to Rory at the end of ‘Cold Blood’ until this moment. And I felt very afraid.

Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) gets devoured by time-energy in 'Cold Blood.'

Why are the cracks so very scary? If Rory dies in any “ordinary” fashion—getting sprayed with poisonous green gas, shot with a laser gun, or blown up in the Blitz—we throw our dinner plates at the telly screen, at Steven Moffat, at Amy for rendering Rory unavailable in the first place. We comfort ourselves, knowing that Doctor Who has a history of undignified but epic dues ex machina endings, and that Moffat will probably pull one to bring Rory back.

But Rory erased from existence? All the plate-throwing and rationalizing in the universe can’t dampen our rage, grief, and fear.

Why?

Because we know, instinctively, that existence is inherently good and nonexistence inherently evil.

It’s an inalienable truth. We all like existing. Athanasius, an Egyptian theologian born around 298 A. D., expanded on this truth in his book On the Incarnation: ‘It is God alone who exists, evil is non-being [or nonexistence], the negation and antithesis of good.’[1]

In other words, God exists. Goodness exists. Evil does not exist—or, it is nonexistence. Nonexistence threatens to destroy all good things.  So the cracks in Doctor Who that devour all of time and space are evil. They transform everything that exists into nonexistence—they change everything that is good into the ultimate evil. They can even change Rory—who can be too kind-hearted for his own good—into Evil.

And that scares us.

One of the cracks in the fabric of the universe.

But there’s a way to shut the cracks, to bring Rory and otherssucked into nonexistence and evil back into existence:

Angel Bob: The time field is coming. It will destroy our reality.

Doctor: Well, look at you, running away. What can I do for
you?

Angel Bob: There is a rupture in time. The angels calculate that if you throw yourself into it, it will close, and they will be saved.

Doctor: Yeah, yeah, yeah, could do that, could do that, but why?

Angel Bob: Your friends would also be saved.

Doctor: Well, there is that.

River: I’ve travelled in time. I’m a complicated space-time event, too; throw me in!

Doctor: Oh, be serious! Compared to me, these angels are more complicated than you, and it’d take every single one of them to amount to me, so get a grip.

River: I can’t let you do this.

I suspect the Doctor knew then what he had to do. To shut the cracks, he would have to find the explosion that caused the cracks and throw himself into it. That’s exactly what he does in ‘The Big Bang’:

River: The T.A.R.D.I.S. is still burning; it’s exploding at every point in history. If you threw the Pandorica into the explosion, right into the heart of the fire…

Amy: Then what?

River: ….then let there be light.

Vincent Van Vogh's depiction of the T.A.R.D.I.S. exploding.

Specifically, if you threw the Doctor—the most ‘complicated space-time event’ ever—and the Pandorica with its restorative light into the explosion, the Pandorica’s light would shoot through the cracks to every point in time and space, forcing the cracks to regurgitate everything they had swallowed.

Although it’s the Pandorica’s light that brings the universe back into existence, it’s terribly clear that only the Doctor can fly the
Pandorica into the explosion. Only by sacrificing himself—giving himself up to evil, to nonexistence—can the Doctor save the universe from evil.

When River and Amy had that conversation, I immediately thought of the end of C. S. Lewis’ novella The Great Divorce, in which Lewis and others take a bus from hell to heaven—from a huge grey metropolis to an entire world of trees and mountains. When Lewis arrives, he meets Romantic novelist and preacher George MacDonald, who shows
him that hell—which he had thought was huge—was really infinitesimal:

…he made me see, after I had looked very closely, a crack in the soil so small that I could not have identified it without this aid.

‘I cannot be certain,’ he said, ‘that this is the crack ye came up through. But through a crack no bigger than that ye
certainly came.’

‘But—but,’ I gasped with a feeling of bewilderment not unlike terror. ‘I saw an infinite abyss. And cliffs towering up and up. And then this country on top of the cliffs.’

‘Aye. But the voyage was not mere locomotion. That bus, and all you inside it, were increasing in size.’

‘Do you mean then that Hell—all that infinite empty town—is down in some little crack like this?’

‘Yes. All Hell is smaller than one pebble of your earthly world: but it is smaller than one atom of this world, the Real
World. Look at yon butterfly. If it swallowed all Hell, Hell would not be big enough to do it any harm or to have any taste….’

‘I see,’ I said at last. ‘She couldn’t fit into
Hell.’

He nodded. ‘There’s not room for her,’ he said. ‘Hell could not open its mouth wide enough.’

‘And she couldn’t make herself smaller?—like Alice, you know.’

‘Nothing like small enough. For a damned soul is nearly nothing: it is shrunk, shut up in itself. Good beats upon the damned incessantly as sound waves beat on the ears of the deaf, but they cannot receive it…’

For Lewis, hell is a bleak place of near-nonexistence: you’re trapped inside a crack so small, so close to nonexistence, that no one can fit their arm inside the crack to pull you out. Just as the Doctor alone can enter the explosion to bring people out of nonexistence, Jesus Christ alone can enter hell to bring people out of near-nonexistence. Lewis continues:

‘Then can no one ever reach them?’

‘Only the Greatest of all can make Himself small enough to enter Hell. For the higher a thing is, the lower it can descend—a man can sympathise with a horse but a horse cannot sympathise with a rat. Only One has descended into Hell.’

‘And will He ever do so again?’

‘I was not once long ago that He did it. Time does not work that way when once ye have left Earth. All the moments
that have been or shall be were, or are, present in the moment of His descending. There is no spirit in prison to whom He did not preach.’

‘And some hear him?’

‘Aye.’[2]

Sound familiar? Only the Doctor—the most complicated space-time event ever, the last of the Time Lords—can throw himself into the explosion and close the cracks. River Song can’t; the weeping angels can’t; the Pandorica alone can’t. And when he does, he restores every moment and place throughout all of space and time. Similarly, only Christ—the most complicated
space-time event ever, the eternal God turned into mortal human flesh—can be crucified and descend through the cracks into hell. And when He does, he rescues every person throughout all of history from evil’s power, giving them the freedom to choose Him, the Light of the world.

As River so aptly says, ‘Let there be light.’


[1] Athanasius, On the Incarnation., I.4.

[2] C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (New York: Macmillan, 1946), 122-4.

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The Doctor on Human Nature

Tonight, a good man goes to war.

If you live in the UK, at least. If you live in the US, you still bite their nails when you wonder what will happen in “The Almost People,” which doesn’t air on BBC America until tonight.

If you live in the US and are too broke to have BBC America—like me—you bite your nails because you can’t go on the internet without being four-by-foured by a spoiler.

Spoilers, people. We should know better.

Because of the spoilers, I’ve been avoiding tumblr and the BBC One website. But I’m still biting my nails. To get my Who fix and entertain myself while working out, I’m running through Series 3, and I’m one-third of the way through the three-part series finale. Though I haven’t finished the series yet, but my suspicions about the series are well-founded.

Series 3 is all about Human Nature.

Freema Agyeman and David Tennant as Martha Jones and the Doctor

Yup, the series featuring Martha the Ravenclaw was written for Ravenclaws. Every episode philosophizes about some aspect of human nature. Although the telly magicians make this most obvious in Episode 9—predictably entitled “Human Nature”—they hold their master theme just below each episode’s silly aliens-on-a-rampage plot, just as the Doctor’s real self hovers just behind his
human persona’s eyes in Episode 9.

John Smith/The Doctor (David Tennant) fantasizes about what his life could be like if he remains human with the woman he loves (Joan Redfern).

I’ll discuss this theory in more detail once I’ve watched the whole season. But here’s the current episode-by-episode summary:

‘Smith and Jones’— Humans will panic when the bizzare occurs, but not so much that they forget their ideals of justice and self-sacrifice.

‘The Shakespeare Code’—Human creativity is a kind ofmagic, which sometimes protects humans better than the Doctor’s alien genius.

‘Daleks in Manhattan’ and ‘The Evolution of the Daleks’—The Doctor continually bemoans humanity’s tendency to kill first and ask questions later; nevertheless, our courage and compassion defeats the Dalek’s hatred. And if you have courage and compassion, you’re human, even if you look like a monster.

‘The Lazarus Experiment’—Humans die. We are most human when we face death with courage, and least human when we run in cowardice.

‘42’—essentially a thematic re-hash of ‘The Evolution of the Daleks,’ but with a strong emphasis on familial loyalty as something that makes us human.

‘Human Nature’ and ‘The Family of Blood’—The ability to love makes us human (Incidentally, this episode’s theme foreshadows the Doctor/River and Rory/Amy plots).

‘Blink’—Carey Mulligan’s exceptional acting enables this entire episode to testify to the incredible power of human courage and love, even in the most extraordinary circumstances.

Clearly, I haven’t yet watched the series premier (‘The Runaway Bride,’ featuring Donna), ‘Gridlock,’ or the second and third episodes of the three-part series finale. From ‘Utopia,’ I suspect that the series-long discussion of human nature will coalesce and conclude in Episode 14, ‘Last of the Time Lords.’ From Netflix’s summary of the final episode, I suspect it will fall to Martha’s human frailty to save the Earth….thus confirming the series’ thesis on the nobility of humanity.

To be continued….

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Dear Luna

–I was posed with this question: How does fiction reveal truth? I decided to write a blog post in which the form reflected the content. For those of you who don’ t know, two friends and I have been role-playing as Luna Lovegood, Ginny Weasley, and Hermione Granger from J. K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” novels. We pretend to be in some nebulous time after the books end. But in this letter, it’s early July, just after the end of the sixth novel. And so I, Hermione, write the following letter to my friend Luna.–

Dear Luna,

Oddly enough, Horatio arrived just as Ellowyt did, so they’re hanging out on the balcony right now with Andromeda, chattering on about who knows what. I suppose you would know. Watching Horatio collide with the window and hearing Ellowyt chide him in her high, breathy voice made my day.

 You asked how my summer has been. Luna, you’ve no idea what it’s like, being here. Mum and Dad are clueless. I haven’t told them much. I told them that the headmaster died, so the school was in transition. I didn’t tell them that a teacher killed him, or that said teacher works for a dark wizard. They do know about Voldemort, though—I told them about him years ago, before any of this really started—and about Death Eaters. When I told Dad about how Mr. Malfoy put that diary in Ginny’s cauldron, he instantly knew that Malfoy’s with Voldemort. Sorry, You-Know-Who. I forget.

 How’s your dad? The latest edition of The Quibbler was excellent. Your column on the wrackspurts’ war effort was especially fascinating. The coverage of Dumbledore’s death and funeral were touching. Touching isn’t the right word. But you know. People in wizard photographs move, unless they’re dead. And that picture of Dumbledore…he wasn’t moving.

I’m putting off reading Ginny’s letter, if you can’t tell. Not that I’m afraid of what she’ll say—I’m afraid of what she won’t.

Rather like me with my mum, I’m sure. Neither of us says much. But Mum took the last four weeks off, says she wants to spend more time with me this summer. And when I’m planning what I’m planning!

I’m reading this book my parents have. I read it a million times as a kid, before I knew I was a witch, and I hadn’t picked it up again until now. It was written by a British muggle in the 1950s, but I think he must’ve had wizarding relatives or something, because he knows too much. It’s a book about these little people called “hobbits” who live in a world called “Middle Earth.” They have furry feet and like to eat six meals a day. Yes, they like pudding. I think you’d like them. They garden and play checkers and run around outside all day. And then everything goes wrong—an evil being, an immortal, inhuman sorcerer, makes a magical gold Ring into which he pours all his cruelty, his malice, his will to dominate all life, even until the ending of the world. The evil sorcerer was killed, but not entirely: his soul lived on in the Ring.

Oh, Luna, if only I could tell you everything. If only you knew how much we Hogwarts students are like hobbits in the Shire. You ask, again, if I can tell you anything more about what happened the night Dumbledore died. I can’t. I’m sorry. I promised. But I can tell you this—I’m not going back to Hogwarts in the fall. You probably already figured that out.

It’s weird, thinking I’m not going to be at school in the fall. I’m reading constantly, just as if I were—and not just muggle novels, but every book of spells, potions, history, whatever I can get my hands on. I’ve been apparating around the country collecting books. Did you know there’s a wizarding library under a pub at Oxford? I stumbled on it when I was really hungry after copying down runes all day at Stonehenge. The pub’s called “The Eagle and Child.” Ironically, that’s where the muggle who wrote those hobbit books had a writing club with some other muggles.

So although I’m still reading, studying, planning….I’m not getting a grade. It’s strange. I came across a boggart when I went to Snowdon last week—I’d contacted a witch who had a six hundred year-old book on patronuses (patroni?) and psychology that I want to read—and anyway, it wasn’t McGonagall telling me I’d failed all my exams anymore. It was….well, I can’t really tell you. It was Dumbledore telling me something else, something that I’ve been so worried about for the last four weeks I can’t sleep. Something about defeating You-Know-Who. I can distract myself from it when I’m, you know, off reading runes at Stonehenge or Avebury or something. But then I try to sleep….and I can’t not be terrified that the worst, the absolute worst, might be true.

So that’s when I pick up the hobbit books again. You’ll tell me, I know, that I should get out my quill, ink, and parchment, and write you or Ginny a letter, but I can’t tell Ginny what I’m thinking. I just can’t! It’s like this wall has come down between us in the last four weeks. She’s so scared, but she won’t say it…and I can’t tell her not to be scared, because it’d be a lie.

I wish I could tell Mum.

Anyway, so that’s when I pick up the muggle novel. I just finished the second book in the trilogy. The two main hobbits, Frodo and Sam, are carrying the Ring into Mordor, the evil sorcerer’s stronghold, where they can finally destroy it by casting it into the fire from whence it came. But right as they’re about to enter Mordor, they get attacked by a giant spider, and Sam thinks Frodo is dead. When some goblins show up, Sam takes the Ring and hides, determined to press on and destroy it in spite of his grief. Then the goblins discover that Frodo really isn’t dead—the spider’s venom has just made him unconscious—and so Sam is furious with himself and decides he must go rescue Frodo. And so Sam carries the Ring into Mordor.

Luna, Sam is a gardener. He hasn’t studied magic like I have. And he’s not even four feet tall. But he presses onward, on his own, into Mordor. He has courage and loyalty that I just don’t have.

I know how the third book ends. Sam rescues Frodo, and they get all the way to Mount Doom where they can destroy the Ring. At the last moment, Frodo—who’s obsessed with the Ring at this point—refuses to throw it into the fire. There’s a scuffle involving a very creepy creature that ends with said creature biting the Ring off Frodo’s finger and tumbling into the fire with the Ring.

There’s a horrible moment that I’m dreading reading when Frodo nearly falls into the fire, too. And I can’t help but wonder—what if he had fallen in? What if Frodo had been unable to give up the Ring? What if, to save the world, it had been necessary for Sam to push Frodo into the fire?

You’ll tell me that while it may be necessary and honorable to sacrifice oneself to save others, it’s never necessary to kill another person to save everyone. But what if it is necessary for one person to sacrifice him or herself, and he or she doesn’t know it? What do you do, if you—

Never mind. I ought to burn this letter. But if I do, I’ll feel even more alone than I do now.

Luna, I wish we could have tea and talk in person. But you’re tied up at home with your dad’s restoration project, and I’m terribly busy, too. I’ll be going to the Burrow in another week, so you’ll have to send Ellowyt there with your next letter if you don’t write back directly.

I’m sending Andromeda back with Ellowyt today. Thanks so much for agreeing to take her for now. I don’t know what I’d do with her otherwise. She’ll likes you and will enjoy being at Hogwarts again. You and Ginny will take good care of her.

Ginny. I should read her letter. Have you heard from her? Has she said anything?

Well, I should go. I’m writing a new undetectable extension charm. None of the existing ones are good enough; I can’t fit enough stuff in a hand-held bag for three people. I need to have it done before I go to the Burrow.

Hope this letter finds you and your dad well.

With love,

Hermione

 P.S. I saw a golden snidget yesterday in the Yorkshire Dales! I took a picture of it on my—well, you call it a “tella shell” but it’s not a shell, it’s a cell phone. I’ll have to show you sometime since I can’t exactly send it to you. No, I’m not going to explain; it’d take another whole letter.

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Emerson and Tolkien: Is man evil?

Peter Jackson, in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring’s extended edition, has Gandalf speak words that J. R. R. Tolkien would never have approved. Words that undermine the entire point of The Lord of The Rings.

As the Fellowship approaches Moria, Gandalf warns Frodo that “evil will be drawn” to the Ring “from outside the Fellowship” and likely “from within.”

Watching Boromir pass by, Frodo asks, “Whom then do I trust?”

“You must trust yourself,” Gandalf replies, “trust your own strengths.”

The idea that you should “trust” your “own strengths” does not originate with Tolkien’s Catholic theology—rather, it comes from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s transcendentalism. Transcendentalism, described colloquially, is the idea that “the Force will be with you. Always.” Emerson—like Yoda—believes in an “Over-Soul” which encompasses all Nature and every human being. The Over-Soul is God: it is the “Justice, Truth, Love, Freedom” and “Reason” that holds the universe together and imbues it with life. It is the “Creator” and “Father” [1] in “which every man’s particular being is contained and made one with all other.” According to Emerson, “Within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related; the eternal One.” [2]

Because a man is a part of God—the Over-Soul—he ought to “trust” his “own strengths.” Frodo, according to Emerson, ought to rely on his own abilities and judgment since he is Justice, Truth, Love, Freedom, Reason, Creator, and Father. As long as he depends on himself, Frodo can do no wrong; Frodo cannot sin; Frodo is good.

How does this undermine The Lord of the Rings’ message? Tolkien’s point is that evil exists and must be fought. As Sam says in The Two Towers film, “There’s some good in this world…and it’s worth fighting for.” But if Emerson’s transcendentalism—the philosophy behind Gandalf’s line in The Fellowship of the Ring—is true, then evil does not exist and people do not do evil things. Man is basically good. Although one could fight for the good Over-Soul, there’s no evil to defend it against. Emerson’s transcendental belief in man’s natural goodness directly contradicts Tolkien’s assertion that evil exists and must be fought.

Yes, I know. It seems foolish for Emerson, who lived and wrote in ante-bellum America, to believe that man is good. Yet he thinks man is born perfectly good, able to unite intimately with Nature: “Infancy is the perpetual Messiah.”[3] Man “falls” from his infant perfection when he comes into conflict with Nature, the rest of humanity, and the Over-Soul. “The reason why the world lacks unity,” Emerson writes, “and lies broken and in heaps, is because man is disunited with himself.”[4]  In other words, bad things happen because people are not united with the Over-Soul. For Emerson, man is evil only to the extent that he is in disharmony with the Over-Soul; man is good to the extent that he synchronizes his actions and attitudes with the Over-Soul: “Whilst a man seeks good ends, he is strong by the whole strength of nature. In so far as he roves from these ends… he becomes less and less, a mote, a point, until absolute badness is absolute death.”[5]

It seems equally foolish for Gandalf, an angelic being who has lived for centuries in a severely broken world, to counsel Frodo to “trust” his “own strengths.” Gandalf cannot believe that elves, men, and dwarves are basically good. Neither can anyone who knows and loves Tolkien’s works believe that humans are basically good.  The Lord of the Rings proves that humans are evil—and yet that evil, shadow, and even darkness must pass. And that when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer. And that there’s good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.


[1] Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Nature.” In Nature and Selected Essays, ed. Larzer Ziff (New York: Penguin Books, 2003), 49.

[2] Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “The Over-Soul.” In Nature and Selected Essays, ed. Larzer Ziff (New York: Penguin Books, 2003), 207.

[3] Emerson “Nature” 77.

[4] Ibid., 79.

[5] Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “An Address Delivered Before the Senior Class in Divinity College, Cambridge 1838.” In Nature and Selected Essays, ed. Larzer Ziff (New York: Penguin Books, 2003), 111.

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