Dog Days Classics: Tolkien and Martin in Love and War

By the time I gave up on finishing The Lord of the Rings, I like to think that I had outlasted a good portion of those who try. It was early on in The Return of the King, the third book of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy series, when the cumulative weight of the sheer number of pages, the chapters full of elf poetry, and the walking—God, the endless walking—finally beat me down. My middle-school-aged brain, prompted by nothing in particular, told me that I was done. This was unexpected. I had cruised through The Hobbit, a compact fairy tale that was divided into neat little easily digestible episodes. It was fast-paced, exciting and, though ostensibly a children’s book, contained hints … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: The Shadow over Lovecraft

The flimsy, Ballantine paperback edition of The Lurking Fear and Other Tales, an oddball collection of short stories spanning much of the career of H.P. Lovecraft, sports what has to be one of the least frightening cover illustrations in horror fiction. A leering monster, the face of which looks like the lovechild of a unidentified primate and a vampire bat, peers through the broken shards of a window. The candle clutched in its hand illuminates bared teeth and scraggly hair. The more I think about that cover, the more fantastic it becomes. It is a throwback to the 1920s and 30s pulp magazines that were Lovecraft’s bread and butter, a time of adventure fiction that was painted in broad … [Read more...]

Life in the Fast Lane: An American Catholic’s Experience of Ramadan

Photo by Nathan Hartle Ramadan, while quite familiar to well over one billion Muslims, represents a religious practice more universal and extreme than most Americans have ever experienced. The rules of the month-long fast are intimidating; during daylight hours, participants are not allowed to eat, drink any kind of liquid, smoke or have sex. For Muslims, the month of fasting represents a chance for self-reflection and to practice self-discipline. For a non-Muslim in a Muslim country, the experience of Ramadan is eye-opening. I was a visitor in Morocco during the month of Ramadan in 2011. I had never been to a place so religiously monochromatic—about 99% of the population of Morocco is … [Read more...]