The Hero With a Thousand Faces… (by Shaun Moser)

The following message was delivered to the local Church of Christ in the spring of 2019…

I’m beginning this sermon with one of my customary disclaimers…

Ninety percent of what I’m about to say has no inarguable Biblical backing. I am not giving an expository sermon designed to tell you what you’re supposed to believe. Rather, I am simply sharing some thoughts today because I want to PROVOKE thought. I don’t think Biblical study was ever meant to be a hard-and-fast science. I think that understanding the mind of God requires creative thought, because God is the original Creative Being. And as Moses wrote in Genesis 1:26, we are similar to God in the way we think. Flawed, yes… but still created in His image.

That having been said, turn with me to Luke Chapter 18, starting in Verse 15. Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them.But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

This little vignette about Jesus and the children is chronicled in a couple of different places throughout the Gospels. What interests me, though, is how sketchy the narrative really is. What on earth did Jesus mean when he said that ‘to children belong the Kingdom of Heaven?’ Some teach that this means that one must be baptized as an infant. Unfortunately, that’s a mistake. Peter, in Acts 2, made it quite clear that baptism is reserved for those who have sinned; an infant can’t sin, because sin requires an awareness of right and wrong.

So what was Jesus talking about when he said that ‘we must receive the kingdom of God like a child?’ That always seemed to me to be a somewhat mysterious statement.

Here’s something interesting about Scripture. When it is absolutely necessary for you to understand something in a very specific manner, the teaching will be given in a very specific manner. I mentioned Acts 2 a minute ago; read that again sometime. A very specific question is asked of an apostle, and the apostle gives a specific and inarguable answer. But that’s not always the case. If every single jot and tittle of scripture was written like pages out of an instruction manual, then Christianity would simply be a behavioral system, rather than what it is: A relationship with God. Relationships are complicated sometimes. I’m married. I know.

Similarly, I think that parts of Scripture are a little mysterious because we grow as Christians by trying to figure them out. And I think that Jesus’ teaching on children is one of those mysterious passages.  

I come back to this scripture a lot when I think about God himself. How does a child view God? Actually, let’s step away from religion for just a minute. How does a child view – or mimic – anyone that he or she admires?

When I was little, maybe four or so, I had a stack of comic books that I kept in shoebox under my bed. My mother bought them for me, mostly at yard sales. They were torn and raggedy, but I found them absolutely mesmerizing … and that’s quite a trick when you can’t read yet. I used to look at them for hours, and I’d try to make up stories to go with the pictures.

My absolute favorite character in those comic books… was Superman! To me, Superman was about the coolest person ever. He ran around all day in red underwear, and still managed to look manly.  Now, I lived in a very small apartment when I was little, about a hundred feet from the Atlantic Ocean in Eastern Virginia. And in addition to my comic book collection, we also kept in our apartment a red bath towel. And my mother could never find that bath towel. You know why? Because it was usually tied around my neck. It wasn’t a just bath a towel to me; it was a cape, and I stole it every chance I got so I could run around the yard being just like Superman. I’d spend hours saving imaginary people from imaginary monsters, until my mother dragged me back inside and took her towel back.

I know now that Superman was created in 1938 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. I am familiar with the eight decades of mythology that followed, and I posses several hundred Superman comics now … but I was just a newbie then. I only had a few comic books, and I didn’t even know how to read those. I just took what I did know and ran with it. Superman was cool, and I wanted to be just like him.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, my future wife lived in the next city over… running around in a princess dress waiting to rescued. I was pretending to be a superhero; she was pretending to be the fair maiden waiting to fall for the superhero.  That’s just what kids do.

I didn’t just look at comics. My upbringing was fairly religious, so my mother read me Bible stories a lot. David and Goliath was a favorite of mine. Samson was, too, although my mother edited out a few parts when she read me that one. (I didn’t get to read the R-rated version until I was old enough to read it on my own.) I remember Noah’s Ark, and Jonah and the Whale. Those stories were inspiring to me as a little boy, and they made me want to imitate the great men of the Bible.

And that was the big epiphany for me. That’s how I understand Jesus’ statement that we should receive the kingdom of heaven as children. Children love stories. Can’t get enough of ‘em. They eat, breathe, and sleep their favorite characters, and then they imitate them.  In the end, I came to the conclusion that the story of scripture is more important than its theology could ever be, because paradoxically…when you come to love the story the theology comes naturally. It’s the story that matters to a child. My comic books didn’t have to say ‘thou shalt wear a red cape when thou playest Superman’. I knew to take the red towel instead of the blue one because that’s the one Superman would have taken.  Easy.

And scripture is a story, unarguably so. Just because it’s a true story doesn’t mean it’s not still a story. Just because we’re meant to live by it doesn’t invalidate it as literature. Scripture begins with ‘in the beginning…’ If they wanted to translate that phrase ‘a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away’… it’d still fit. It follows with ‘God created the heavens and the earth.’  Suddenly, our story has a setting and a timeline. It’s not too long before read ‘and the serpent was more cunning than any other beast the Lord God had made’ … and then your villain appears. You can’t have a tense, exciting story without a villain.

But then God tells the serpent that someday a great hero is going to come along and crush his head. That all the evil the serpent inflicts on mankind is going to be undone. And after a great many plot twists and turns, that hero does come in the person of Jesus Christ.  And in one epic showdown, in a place called Golgotha…  Christ does defeat the serpent, and saves his people from slavery. That’s how every heroic tales goes: it begins with the villain, who imposes some form of slavery… and then the prophesied hero comes along to save them. It’s an oft-repeated outline that was artfully dissected in Joseph Campbell’s book ‘The Hero With a Thousand Faces’.  Our Bible resonates so deeply in the human consciousness, that it sets the pattern for thousands of great stories.

The story ends in Revelation, where John writes that ‘night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.’ That’s just a really fancy way of saying ‘and they lived happily ever after’.

Great stories provide inspiration, and inspiration inspires imitation. John writes, in 1 John 2:6 that ‘whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did’. Paul wrote that he ‘bore the marks of Christ’ on his body. The Apostles saw scripture for the drama that it is; I don’t think it was just some moldy old theology book to them … nor should it be to us. We should always approach Scripture with the same sense of awe, wonder, and simplicity that a child brings to his favorite story.   

I think the biggest problem we have when we forget the story of scripture and over-focus on its doctrines is that we lose context. One of my favorite books when I was little was Roald Dahl’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’. It usually took my mother about a week to read to it me. If she’d started in Chapter Three on Tuesday, and then skipped to the last chapter on Wednesday, I’d have been one mad little fella.  I wouldn’t have been able to follow the narrative. Characters’ actions would have made no sense, and I would have misunderstood most of the dialogue. Now, let me ask you this … if bouncing all over the place doesn’t work for ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, then why on earth would it work for the Bible? My method of scriptural study, my ‘hermeneutic’, if you will, was best described by Lewis Carrol, the iconic author of ‘Alice in Wonderland’: You start at the beginning, and when you get to the end, you stop!

When you start reading the Bible in Genesis and end in Revelation, it will make sense all by itself. You don’t have to stop along the way to tear apart the Hebrew of a passage. The interesting thing about scripture is that it is preserved for us by scholars, but it wasn’t written for scholars. Kind of like cars are maintained for us by mechanics, but they aren’t made for mechanics. They’re made for ordinary people to roll around in, whether they understand how the car works or not.  The simplest possible approach is nearly always the best one, I think … the ‘Superman approach’ if you will.

You can tell that God meant for us to have a child-like love for Him by how he describes us. What does the Bible call us, particularly in the New Testament? Sheep. Anyone here know anything about sheep? Sheep … are about the dumbest quadruped wandering God’s green earth. They’re complete idiots.

Where there are sheep there is always a sheep dog, and if that sheep dog gets an ornery streak and runs the sheep over a cliff, they’ll go right over without too much trouble. Sheep just aren’t very bright. And God calls us sheep. A lot. Do we really think that God would call us ‘sheep’, and then turn around and write a book that takes a rocket scientist to figure out? Of course he wouldn’t, because that’d be cruel, and God is kind.


Sheep are simple critters. So apparently are we, since God calls us sheep, and therefore so must scripture be, since it was written for us. When we read scripture and we have questions about it, I’m betting the simple answer is usually the right one. Jesus himself kind of spoke derisively about complicating scripture. Remember what he told the Pharisees in Matthew 23? “You blind guides! You strained out a gnat and you swallowed a camel!’ In other words, the Pharisees were so obsessed with the details of God’s law that they missed the big picture. A child would never have done such a thing. A child wouldn’t have noticed a gnat, but he’d have been excited about the camel. ‘Look, Mommy, a camel!’ A sheep would have noticed the camel, too.

Another problem that arises when we fail to approach scripture with a child-like attitude is that we start to add rules that complicate it. We the Churches of Christ are famous for that! When Alexander Campbell called us back to Biblical Christianity in the 1820’s and 30’s, God was using him to do an incredible thing. After nearly sixteen hundred years of misunderstandings – and I do believe the mistakes of medieval religion were just that, misunderstandings – Biblical salvation was being restored on a massive scale. But in their zeal, the Churches of Christ snuck in a few extra-biblical creeds that have haunted us ever since. They damaged our movement; in some cases, they have very nearly destroyed it.

One creed that snuck into our movement was the ‘commandment/example/inference ‘ idea. Anyone familiar with that one? Campbell and his contemporaries taught that when we study scripture, we should look first for a commandment, then for an example, and then if we still can’t figure out ‘proper doctrine’, we should rely lastly upon  inference. Now that’s not a bad method of study, and it often works… but the cold hard truth is that there’s no commandment saying we HAVE to study scripture that way. I think a bit differently on the topic. Because when you look at Scripture as a child does – as a story – it’s example that you should first be looking for, not commandment. The commandments are there just in case you’re too stubborn to follow the obvious example. Israel was given the Law of Moses because they were a ‘stubborn and stiff-necked people’. If they’d have been obedient enough to follow the examples of righteousness get by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they might not have needed those laws. Example came first, not commandment.

God is all about setting the example. Remember Romans 5:8? God demonstrates his own love for us in this; while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. As we looked at earlier, John says we were to walk as Jesus walked. We dwell on Peter’s commandment to repent and be immersed, but that commandment really didn’t do anything except cement Jesus’ example. Before Peter ever commanded us to be immersed into Christ’s body, Jesus showed us that we need to be. To reiterate His command that we should serve others, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet to show us how.  Commandments exist only to quantify and explain an example. And example is alive, and memorable. A commandment is hollow, and boring. An example inspires you to follow it. A commandment tempts you to look for a loophole in it. A child understands this; a theologian might not.

An author named Clive Barker wrote something years ago that always stuck with me. I read it in passing years ago, and I’ve never forgotten it. He wrote that ‘so often we cut up something that’s alive and beautiful to find out why it’s alive and beautiful, and before we know it it’s neither of those things’. I think of that whenever I read 2 Timothy 3:16: ‘All scripture is God-breathed, and useful for teaching, rebuke, correction, and training in righteousness.’  Anything that has breath is something that’s alive. It’s the breath of God that gives scripture its supernatural power to teach, to correct, to rebuke, and ultimately to train us to be more like Jesus. Scripture’s ability to change us is directly linked to the life that God breathed into it.

But here’s the scary thing. Something that is alive is something that can also be killed. Any doctor knows that there is a difference between an examination and an autopsy. You can examine someone to find out how their system works, but if you’re not careful, you can cut too deeply with your scalpel and bleed the life out of them. I think scripture works the same way. If you don’t approach it with the same reverence and innocence that a child would, it ceases to be a great story and instead it just becomes an intellectual curiosity. When that happens, it’s dead. You’re not studying God’s word anymore, you’re giving it an autopsy. It can’t change you because you’re not interacting with it; you’re just bagging and toe-tagging its body parts.

 A good example of this is Dr. Virginia Mollenkott. Does that name ring a bell to anyone? It should. She was the Linguistic Styling Editor of the New International Version of the Bible. Dr. Mollenkott knows scripture perhaps better than any other living person today. Every single word of the NIV Bible went through her hands at least once, to ensure consistency in the English wording.  Know what? Dr. Mollenkott is a militant homosexual activist. I can’t say for sure because I don’t know her, but I’m wondering if scripture didn’t lose its luster for her because she had more of an interest in dissecting it than she did in simply reading it.

Clive Barker wrote something else, too. He wrote that ‘every single person is a book of blood; wherever we are opened, we’re red’. (And yes, the play on words was deliberate.) Scripture is a book of blood. You can honor it, and you can follow it … or you can – in a cold-blooded, deliberate manner – cut the life out of it. Scripture cuts us, as the author of Hebrews wrote in chapter 4, verse 12. But I think we overlook the fact that we can cut it back. By making scripture boring, by making it just another intellectual pursuit, we destroy it.

You know something?

Children don’t destroy scripture. They don’t mangle it. I remember bringing my mom my books and children’s bible and pestering her to read to me. Tell me about Samson. Tell me about David. Tell me about Noah. Tell me about Jesus. It was only when I was much older that I learned how to butcher the things I read in the Bible. It was only as an adult that that the word of Almighty God became insufferably boring to me. It was only as an adult that I forgot how to receive the Kingdom of God as a child would. God forbid we ever do such a thing.

Let me add a couple of caveats here. I’m not saying we don’t need scholars, and I’m not saying we don’t need theologians, because we do. In 1 Corinthians 12:28, Paul writes that ‘God has appointed teachers for the churches’. I’m just saying that teachers must be very, very careful, lest they – with their superior knowledge of scripture – over-complicate it, butcher it, and kill it. Anyone been to the movies lately? It’s amazing what Hollywood can do with special effects, isn’t it? But I’m betting it’s not so amazing to the director, and that’s what it’s like to be a teacher.  We need teachers, but teachers have to be careful not to lose their simple appreciation for God’s word.

And while I am saying we need to be child-like, understand that that’s not the same thing as being child-ish. Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3 that ‘we are to grow in wisdom by studying the scriptures’. But maturing is not the same as becoming jaded. We’re meant to outgrow childish foolishness, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:11. But we are not meant to outgrow child-like enthusiasm, and child-like simplicity in regards to the things of God. We see that in the words of Jesus Himself, in John 8:29: He who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him. How simple is that? That’s not a very complicated idea at all.         

Just think about it for a second… what do you love best? A bunch of dusty old books, spouting a bunch of hard to understand philosophies… or a good story? Stories are alive. They inspire us, and capture our imaginations; they have a way of settling into our collective consciousness, and influencing entire cultures. What do we remember most about ancient Greece? The wars they fought, the kingdoms they conquered… or their myths? The Odyssey and the Iliad, Jason and the Argonauts, Achilles and his cursed heel, the Trojan horse and the golden fleece… Stories survive even the cultures that created them.

I think we’d win a lot more converts if we remembered what Jesus said about children. So many people look at Christianity, and they see an insane amount of negative drama.  They see creeds and doctrines and denominations and clerical hierarchies and hypocrisy, and in the end most of ‘em don’t want anything to do with it. Maybe we’d do better to teach people simply to climb onto Jesus’ lap and listen to the wonderfully exciting stories that he has to tell, and then live like He did, not because someone told you to, but because you admire Him… and you love Him.

The Masque of the Red Death

In the wake of American journalism’s latest crisis ‘du jour’ – the Coronavirus outbreak – I felt the need to post a similarly-themed tale. It was written by a far better writer than I’ll EVER be! So, my dear readers: I give you the immortal Mr. Poe…

THE “Red Death” had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avator and its seal — the redness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress and termination of the disease, were the incidents of half an hour.

   But the Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys. This was an extensive and magnificent structure, the creation of the prince’s own eccentric yet august taste. A strong and lofty wall girdled it in. This wall had gates of iron. The courtiers, having entered, brought furnaces and massy hammers and welded the bolts. They resolved to leave means neither of ingress or egress to the sudden impulses of despair or of frenzy from within. The abbey was amply provisioned. With such precautions the courtiers might bid defiance to contagion. The external world could take care of itself. In the meantime it was folly to grieve, or to think. The prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure. There were buffoons, there were improvisatori, there were ballet-dancers, there were musicians, there was Beauty, there was wine. All these and security were within. Without was the “Red Death.”

 It was toward the close of the fifth or sixth month of his seclusion, and while the pestilence raged most furiously abroad, that the Prince Prospero entertained his thousand friends at a masked ball of the most unusual magnificence.

It was a voluptuous scene, that masquerade. But first let me tell of the rooms in which it was held. There were seven — an imperial suite. In many palaces, however, such suites form a long and straight vista, while the folding doors slide back nearly to the walls on either hand, so that the view of the whole extent is scarcely impeded. Here the case was very different; as might have been expected from the duke’s love of the bizarre. The apartments were so irregularly disposed that the vision embraced but little more than one at a time. There was a sharp turn at every twenty or thirty yards, and at each turn a novel effect. To the right and left, in the middle of each wall, a tall and narrow Gothic window looked out upon a closed corridor which pursued the windings of the suite. These windows were of stained glass whose color varied in accordance with the prevailing hue of the decorations of the chamber into which it opened. That at the eastern extremity was hung, for example, in blue — and vividly blue were its windows. The second chamber was purple in its ornaments and tapestries, and here the panes were purple. The third was green throughout, and so were the casements. The fourth was furnished and lighted with orange — the fifth with white — the sixth with violet. The seventh apartment was closely shrouded in black velvet tapestries that hung all over the ceiling and down the walls, falling in heavy folds upon a carpet of the same material and hue. But in this chamber only, the color of the windows failed to correspond with the decorations. The panes here were scarlet — a deep blood color. Now in no one of the seven apartments was there any lamp or candelabrum, amid the profusion of golden ornaments that lay scattered to and fro or depended from the roof. There was no light of any kind emanating from lamp or candle within the suite of chambers. But in the corridors that followed the suite, there stood, opposite to each window, a heavy tripod, bearing a brazier of fire, that projected its rays through the tinted glass and so glaringly illumined the room. And thus were produced a multitude of gaudy and fantastic appearances. But in the western or black chamber the effect of the fire-light that streamed upon the dark hangings through the blood-tinted panes, was ghastly in the extreme, and produced so wild a look upon the countenances of those who entered, that there were few of the company bold enough to set foot within its precincts at all.

It was in this apartment, also, that there stood against the western wall, a gigantic clock of ebony. Its pendulum swung to and fro with a dull, heavy, monotonous clang; and when the minute-hand made the circuit of the face, and the hour was to be stricken, there came from the brazen lungs of the clock a sound which was clear and loud and deep and exceedingly musical, but of so peculiar a note and emphasis that, at each lapse of an hour, the musicians of the orchestra were constrained to pause, momentarily, in their performance, to harken to the sound; and thus the waltzers perforce ceased their evolutions; and there was a brief disconcert of the whole gay company; and, while the chimes of the clock yet rang, it was observed that the giddiest grew pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in confused revery or meditation. But when the echoes had fully ceased, a light laughter at once pervaded the assembly; the musicians looked at each other and smiled as if at their own nervousness and folly, and made whispering vows, each to the other, that the next chiming of the clock should produce in them no similar emotion; and then, after the lapse of sixty minutes, (which embrace three thousand and six hundred seconds of the Time that flies,) there came yet another chiming of the clock, and then were the same disconcert and tremulousness and meditation as before.

But, in spite of these things, it was a gay and magnificent revel. The tastes of the duke were peculiar. He had a fine eye for colors and effects. He disregarded the decora of mere fashion. His plans were bold and fiery, and his conceptions glowed with barbaric lustre. There are some who would have thought him mad. His followers felt that he was not. It was necessary to hear and see and touch him to be sure that he was not.

 He had directed, in great part, the moveable embellishments of the seven chambers, upon occasion of this great fête; and it was his own guiding taste which had given character to the masqueraders. Be sure they were grotesque. There were much glare and glitter and piquancy and phantasm — much of what has been since seen in “Hernani.” There were arabesque figures with unsuited limbs and appointments. There were delirious fancies such as the madman fashions. There were much of the beautiful, much of the wanton, much of the bizarre, something of the terrible, and not a little of that which might have excited disgust. To and fro in the seven chambers there stalked, in fact, a multitude of dreams. And these — the dreams — writhed in and about, taking hue from the rooms, and causing the wild music of the orchestra to seem as the echo of their steps. And, anon, there strikes the ebony clock which stands in the hall of the velvet. And then, for a moment, all is still, and all is silent save the voice of the clock. The dreams are stiff-frozen as they stand. But the echoes of the chime die away — they have endured but an instant — and a light, half-subdued laughter floats after them as they depart. And now again the music swells, and the dreams live, and writhe to and fro more merrily than ever, taking hue from the many tinted windows through which stream the rays from the tripods. But to the chamber which lies most westwardly of the seven, there are now none of the maskers who venture; for the night is waning away; and there flows a ruddier light through the blood-colored panes; and the blackness of the sable drapery appals; and to him whose foot falls upon the sable carpet, there comes from the near clock of ebony a muffled peal more solemnly emphatic than any which reaches their ears who indulge in the more remote gaieties of the other apartments.

But these other apartments were densely crowded, and in them beat feverishly the heart of life. And the revel went whirlingly on, until at length there commenced the sounding of midnight upon the clock. And then the music ceased, as I have told; and the evolutions of the waltzers were quieted; and there was an uneasy cessation of all things as before. But now there were twelve strokes to be sounded by the bell of the clock; and thus it happened, perhaps that more of thought crept, with more of time, into the meditations of the thoughtful among those who revelled. And thus too, it happened, perhaps, that before the last echoes of the last chime had utterly sunk into silence, there were many individuals in the crowd who had found leisure to become aware of the presence of a masked figure which had arrested the attention of no single individual before. And the rumor of this new presence having spread itself whisperingly around, there arose at length from the whole company a buzz, or murmur, expressive of disapprobation and surprise — then, finally, of terror, of horror, and of disgust.

In an assembly of phantasms such as I have painted, it may well be supposed that no ordinary appearance could have excited such sensation. In truth the masquerade license of the night was nearly unlimited; but the figure in question had out-Heroded Herod, and gone beyond the bounds of even the prince’s indefinite decorum. There are chords in the hearts of the most reckless which cannot be touched without emotion. Even with the utterly lost, to whom life and death are equally jests, there are matters of which no jest can be made. The whole company, indeed, seemed now deeply to feel that in the costume and bearing of the stranger neither wit nor propriety existed. The figure was tall and gaunt, and shrouded from head to foot in the habiliments of the grave. The mask which concealed the visage was made so nearly to resemble the countenance of a stiffened corpse that the closest scrutiny must have had difficulty in detecting the cheat. And yet all this might have been endured, if not approved, by the mad revellers around. But the mummer had gone so far as to assume the type of the Red Death. His vesture was dabbled in blood — and his broad brow, with all the features of the face, was besprinkled with the scarlet horror.

When the eyes of Prince Prospero fell upon this spectral image (which with a slow and solemn movement, as if more fully to sustain its role, stalked to and fro among the waltzers) he was seen to be convulsed, in the first moment with a strong shudder either of terror or distaste; but, in the next, his brow reddened with rage.

“Who dares?” he demanded hoarsely of the courtiers who stood near him — “who dares insult us with this blasphemous mockery? Seize him and unmask him — that we may know whom we have to hang at sunrise, from the battlements!”

It was in the eastern or blue chamber in which stood the Prince Prospero as he uttered these words. They rang throughout the seven rooms loudly and clearly — for the prince was a bold and robust man, and the music had become hushed at the waving of his hand.

It was in the blue room where stood the prince, with a group of pale courtiers by his side. At first, as he spoke, there was a slight rushing movement of this group in the direction of the intruder, who, at the moment was also near at hand, and now, with deliberate and stately step, made closer approach to the speaker. But from a certain nameless awe with which the mad assumptions of the mummer had inspired the whole party, there were found none who put forth hand to seize him; so that, unimpeded, he passed within a yard of the prince’s person; and, while the vast assembly, as if with one impulse, shrank from the centres of the rooms to the walls, he made his way uninterruptedly, but with the same solemn and measured step which had distinguished him from the first, through the blue chamber to the purple — through the purple to the green — through the green to the orange — through this again to the white — and even thence to the violet, ere a decided movement had been made to arrest him. It was then, however, that the Prince Prospero, maddening with rage and the shame of his own momentary cowardice, rushed hurriedly through the six chambers, while none followed him on account of a deadly terror that had seized upon all. He bore aloft a drawn dagger, and had approached, in rapid impetuosity, to within three or four feet of the retreating figure, when the latter, having attained the extremity of the velvet apartment, turned suddenly and confronted his pursuer. There was a sharp cry — and the dagger dropped gleaming upon the sable carpet, upon which, instantly afterwards, fell prostrate in death the Prince Prospero. Then, summoning the wild courage of despair, a throng of the revellers at once threw themselves into the black apartment, and, seizing the mummer, whose tall figure stood erect and motionless within the shadow of the ebony clock, gasped in unutterable horror at finding the grave cerements and corpse-like mask which they handled with so violent a rudeness, untenanted by any tangible form.

 And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. And the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.

Another Gem from the Poet King…

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Regarding the Coolest Comic-Book Story Ever…

The Goblin tried to destroy my mind… but what did his evil really do? Open a door to the good… to the two of you. All those years I tried to shut you out. So afraid to even think of you. Feeling so GUILTY… so responsible for your deaths. But now, MOTHERFATHER… I can let myself remember. Now I can love you. Now I can grieve.’ And in his grief he finds new freedom, and that freedom lifts him up and carries him off… into the DAWN.

J. Marc DeMatteis (from The Spectacular Spider-Man #183)

Have you ever read a story that just blew your mind from its very first line?

Let me back up a bit…

I… have read a BOATLOAD of comic books in my day! From Neil Gaiman’s seventy-issue run on The Sandman to the epic Batman: Knightfall, I’ve been around the newsprint block more than a few times. I’ve read thousands of books, including series that date back to the nineteen-forties. When it comes to ‘sequential artwork’, there ain’t a whole lot that I don’t know.

But there is one story that will always remain my favorite: The Child Within, by writer J. Marc DeMatteis and artist Sal Buscema.

Now, I have Sal Buscema’s entire run on The Spectacular Spider-Man. I re-read through the run once a year (along with Sam Keith’s epic series The Maxx, and Gaiman’s The Sandman.) The entire run is amazing, but it kicked into overdrive when writer Peter David handed the baton to J. Marc DeMatteis. And within that run lies The Child Within, my favorite six-issue tale of all time.

The trick with writing comics, I think, is that a writer must take them seriously. One cannot focus over-much on the costumes and the super-powers, lest one’s tale de-evolve into a cheesy Power Rangers rip-off. This truth DeMatteis understands in spades: The Child Within is possibly the most harrowing, disturbing tale ever to grace the four-color page. It sucks you in like a Hitchcock film, pulling you deep into the dark recesses of each character’s mind.

Buscema – easily one of my favorite artists – was the perfect illustrator for DeMatteis’ nightmarish tale. His style is sharp, clean, almost bare-bones, and yet remains extremely vibrant and expressive. His work really stood out in the nineties, when more ‘sketchy’ styles were trendy due to artists like Todd McFarlane.

Most Spider-Man fans would tell you that Spidey’s best stories were Kraven’s Last Hunt (by DeMatteis and Bob McLeod) and Torment (by Todd McFarlane). The Child Within smokes them both, in my opinion; it was a true stroke of genius.

The Child Within ran in The Spectacular Spider-Man #178-183, in late 1991. All six issues can be readily purchased for a couple of bucks apiece; in fact, you’ll probably pay more for shipping than you will the actual magazines. For some odd reason, The Child Within was never collected into a trade paperback.

It should have been!

So go hunt it down and read it. Seriously.

You’ll be glad you did…

Regarding Someone More Talented Than I’ll EVER Be…

I started this blog to showcase my own writing.

By modern standards, I’m pretty good…

By historical standards, I’m a hack.

Here is one of the greatest poems ever written, by one of the greatest writers who ever lived. Disney has made a tawdry mockery of his work, but for those of us who appreciate the finer things in life…

Well… WE get him!!!

L’Envoi – by Rudyard Kipling

When Earth’s last picture is painted
And the tubes are twisted and dried
When the oldest colors have faded
And the youngest critic has died
We shall rest, and faith, we shall need it
Lie down for an aeon or two
‘Till the Master of all good workmen
Shall put us to work anew
And those that were good shall be happy
They’ll sit in a golden chair
They’ll splash at a ten league canvas
With brushes of comet’s hair
They’ll find real saints to draw from
Magdalene, Peter, and Paul
They’ll work for an age at a sitting
And never be tired at all.
And only the Master shall praise us.
And only the Master shall blame.
And no one will work for the money.
No one will work for the fame.
But each for the joy of the working,
And each, in his separate star,
Will draw the thing as he sees it.
For the God of things as they are!

What Happened Here…?!

Didja ever have one of those moments in which you look around, and suddenly feel like you’ve landed on an alien planet?

I went out to run a few errands today, and there was this fellow standing outside the grocery store. He had his hair tied into a bun (what?) and he was sucking on what appeared to be a laser pointer.

Weird, man!

And I gotta watch it when I’m out to dinner. If I order a beer to go with my steak, I have to be very careful as to which brand of brew I select. Simply asking ‘what do you have on draft?’ is likely to result in my being served a glass of malted pine cones. (I’m reasonably certain that ‘IPA’ means exactly what it sounds like: ‘I pee, eh?’)

And where did all the video stores go? There was nothing more fun than browsing the shelves for some weird old title, one that you would never have thought to watch if the video store didn’t happen to have it. And on that note, what happened to video game cartridges? And compact discs? I mean sure, I could listen to any music I want on a digital music service, but what if the service goes down?

What happened to the bookstores? Borders’ is long gone, and Barnes and Noble’s is hanging by a thread. Now I see people reading stuff on these over-sized phones, as though we don’t spend enough time looking at screens as it is.

I went to see Metallica a couple of years back, and I kinda felt like I was doing concert-going all wrong. Apparently you’re not supposed to actually enjoy the concert, see? What you’re supposed to do is spend the entire evening holding your cell-phone over your head. You’ll kinda miss out on jamming to the music, but the point is to have the video… which apparently, must be way more fun than the actual concert itself.

And what’s with this Face-Bollocks thing? Apparently, life events do not count until they are validated on social media. Now, I do agree that Mark Zucker-bot has improved political discourse. It’s very enlightening to read the lengthy threads of reasoned debate. They explore every possible facet of each issue too, those threads; they don’t end until someone gets called a ‘Nazi’, and that’s how you know that the issue du jour has been satisfactorily settled.

It’s nice how social media has made us all more connected. I enjoy walking through throngs of people, each one blissfully unaware of his neighbor’s existence as he stares fixated at his phone. I think Twitter, Instagram, etc. have all helped to create a more cohesive, cooperative society.

On that note, I’m also noticing an uptick in political activism. It’s heartening to see how many young people are engaging in the political battles that shape our social landscape. Blocking traffic and rioting are very, very effective means of persuasively communicating one’s viewpoint, and I expect those tactics to usher in a bright new Utopia any day now.

Media has changed, as well. When I was a kid, it was a royal pain having to sort out which news tidbits were commentary, and which ones were actual reporting. Now that objective reporting has been completely done away with, it’s much easier to digest the news.

There’ve been a lot of changes to the American legal system, too, which was admittedly never that great. Now you just stand trial on Twitter, which completely streamlines the process and totally negates the need for juries.

Yessir! This is the Brave New World, come to life at last!

If anyone needs me, I’ll be hiding under my bed… barricaded behind a pile of CD’s, books, and VHS tapes. I’ll be using my land-line phone to order pizza and soda. I figure I can last under there a while, too. The hipsters won’t be able to get at me because…

Well, everybody knows it’s rude to ‘vape’ indoors, right?

Don’t Call ME a ‘Human’!

I have a writer’s block.

Really, I do.

It’s this shoe-box that sits next to my writing desk. Normally I stack CD’s on it, so I can listen to music while I write. But if I wanted to, I could pick up that shoe-box and set it on the desk where my laptop normally sits. And then I couldn’t write there anymore, see? That shoe-box would totally block my ability to type.

Other’n that, I have NO idea what it means to have ‘writer’s block’.

To me, writing is like throwing up. Or sneezing, or maybe having sex. In all those situations, a physical urge has built up that requires release… and finding release is extremely satisfying. It’s not that I’m pursuing an obsession by writing for hours on end; rather, I’m purging an unknown ‘something’ that has been causing pressure to build up in my fragile little head.

Writing is not a job. It is not a pursuit. Nor is it a hobby, or even a neurosis…

It’s a mental purge. Some people can contain their thoughts, neatly filing them away as they go about their daily lives…

And others cannot. There’s got to be a ‘data dump’, or our mental health begins to suffer. Some of us must eject our excess thoughts, foisting them desperately upon others.

Those who can contain their own thoughts are simply called ‘people’. Those who cannot are a different specie altogether…

They’re called ‘writers’.

If you’re a ‘person’, count yourself lucky; seriously, there is some stuff that you just don’t wanna understand! If you’re a writer, be well my friend…

Or at least, as well as someone like you – or I – can be!