Monday, August 31, 2020

Echo Burning

Echo Burning
by Lee Child
Recommended Ages: 14+

Everyone says a storm's coming toward Echo County, Texas, but Jack Reacher isn't buying it. Day after scorching day, the heat beats down on the arid, empty landscape. But both a storm and a burning really are in store for Echo, and make no mistake: Reacher will be right in the middle of the deadly violence at the heart of it.

It starts when an attractive but desperate woman named Carmen Greer picks Jack up only moments after he sticks his thumb out, trying to hitch a ride. The woman tells him that her husband, who beats her, is about to get out of prison; that she can't run, because they would never let her take her 6-year-old daughter Ellie with her; and that she needs someone like local hero Clay Allison – the "gentleman gunfighter" whose gravestone says he "never killed a man that did not need killing" – someone, she feels, exactly like Jack Reacher.

As hard a man as Reacher has already proven to be, straight-up murdering Sloop Greer doesn't sit right with him. He refuses to do it. Refuses to let Carmen seduce him. But agrees to hang around the ranch a little while, just to see what happens and do what comes naturally. He agrees to give her shooting lessons with a .22 caliber pistol. And he starts to believe her story. But then, Sloop returns home a day early. Next thing you know, while Jack is in the backseat of a state patrol cruiser being driven to the next county, Sloop gets shot in the head with his wife's .22 pistol.

Before his eyes, Carmen is taken away in handcuffs. He can't get into the jail to see her for a week – her arrest is on Sunday and visiting hours are on Saturday. He convinces a pro bono lawyer to represent her, but she refuses to talk to the lawyer. The district attorney, one of Sloop's best friends, seems to want to help the woman who apparently killed his buddy, but he has to let Reacher know that almost everything Carmen told him was a lie. Finally, Carmen actually confesses to all the lies and the murder of her husband.

With every piece of evidence coming out more damning than the last, it seems Reacher will have to admit that his judgment of Carmen's character was off – way off – and that his sense of people, honed during a 13-year career as a military cop, has deserted him. Which is, of course, exactly when he realizes for certain that Carmen is totally innocent, and that her husband's murder is part of a pattern involving a trio of contract killers, several yet-to-be-discovered dead bodies, and a sweet little girl whose life is in terrifying danger.

It's an ideal case for a sleuth whose knack for solving mysteries depends heavily on busting heads. Nobody busts them harder and with more precision than Jack Reacher. If you want to get him going, threaten his life. If you really want to get him going, threaten the life of a defenseless, innocent child. It's impressive when he shows mercy. It's terrifying when he doesn't. But now and then, it's good to have somebody terrifying on the side of the angels.

This is the fifth Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child, followed in series order by Without Fail. The 25th book, The Sentinel, is due for release in October 2020 and is co-authored by Lee's brother Andrew Child, a.k.a. Andrew Grant. There is also a book of Reacher stories titled No Middle Name, which I've been seeing in bookstores lately.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Vortex

Vortex
by S.J. Kincaid
Recommended Ages: 13+

In his second year at the Pentagonal Spire, training to be a cybernetically augmented super-soldier fighting space drone battles over the solar system's mineral resources, Tom Raines faces a roadblock to his dream of becoming one of the Indo-American coalition's elite combatants. Due to his own lack of tact and unwillingness to bow down to people that he doesn't accept as his betters, Tom has alienated pretty much all of the CEOs of the corporations that control the government and keep the war going. While old General Marsh says he's counting on Tom to fix things so he can, maybe, one day, actually win the war and not just perpetuate the war machine, it's ironically the horrible Lieutenant Blackburn – he who would be Snape if Tom was Harry Potter – who gives the kid a fighting chance.

As icky as that is for Tom to contemplate, he also has to own up to some mistakes of his own, like one that has breached the Spire's security and let in an evil mind that threatens everything that matters to him. He also has to face his own worst fear – a very justifiable fear, based on an experience that nearly ended him – to help save the life of a friend. And no matter what else he does, it seems unavoidable that he must betray the enemy combatant whom he secretly loves.

Tom has a tough second year at the Spire. But what happens to him, and what he does, makes for compulsively fun reading. There was a passage, in which teenage trainees are trying out a thought interface that allows them to instant-message each other telepathically, that made me laugh so hard I had to take a break and call someone who would let me read it aloud to them. There are frank discussions among characters about questions of character (in a different sense of the word), wisdom, ethics, pragmatism and different kinds of courage. There were also political bits that force the reader to think about how the world might look a little farther down the slope we're on, depending on how slippery it gets in the near future. There were passages where the reader inwardly joins in the main characters' adolescent mischief, romantic joy, sorrow, horror and thrilling escapades. There are displays of cold brutality that should make you shudder, and of sudden defiance that might make you cheer.

All these things play against the backdrop of gosh-wow gadgetry and a fantasy world that, in spite of its imaginative power, requires very little alteration from the real world to paint one's mental picture. This is the second book of the "Insignia" trilogy, between Insignia and Catalyst. S.J. Kincaid is also the author of three "Diabolic" novels, The Diabolic, The Empress and The Nemesis.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Tacky Hymns 78

Again I repeat:
We continue our run-through of the hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal (Concordia Publishing House, 1941) with emphasis on three types of hymns: (1) instances of bad judgment by the folks who selected hymns for the book, judged on the basis of historic, confessional and liturgical Lutheranism; (2) noteworthy quirks of hymn-tune pairing; and (3) wonderful hymns that I think should receive more play time (by which I mean singing time) in confessional Lutheran congregations, even if it means undertaking a challenging process of getting acquainted, because of their precious spiritual and artistic value.
(500) May God bestow on us His grace is a "missions" hymn by Martin Luther (1524), set to its own 1525 chorale, ES WOLL UNS GOTT. If your congregation doesn't know this hymn, work on that. It's beautiful. For many years, I've fantasized about Martin Luther riding his cart to Worms, expecting to probably be burned at the stake like Savonarola, strumming on his lute and singing a hymn like this in his fine tenor voice. But of course, Worms was three years before this hymn. Oh, well, we can dream, right?

(501) Soldiers of the Cross, arise is a "missions" hymn by William Walsham How (1854) couched in terms of military aggression. Shades of "go therefore and shove the gospel down all nations' throats, by whatever force necessary."

(502) Saints of God, the dawn is brightening is a "missions" hymn by Mary Maxwell (1849), a.k.a. "the lady from Virginia." I think the intentions of her use of the word "Pentecostal" in stanza 2 may be innocent, but due to 20th century developments this line may have poor connotations within the Lutheran context.

(503) Rise, crowned with light, imperial Salem, rise is an impressive poem by Alexander Pope (1712, cento, alt.) But it's set to the abbreviated form of OLD 124TH, about which I've complained before. Also, stanza 3 calls upon the congregation to sing "prostrate" and not "prostate," which might be a difficult decision to make on sight at any but a very stately tempo. (See also hymn 339, "All hail the power of Jesus' name.")

(504) O Spirit of the living God is a very fine "missions" hymn by James Montgomery (1823), a prolific hymn writer, poet, sometime editor of a politically radical newspaper and member of the Moravian sect, which I am inclined to forgive him because of the high quality (along with quantity) of his hymns. TLH contains 14 of them. This particular one seems, to me, to be an under-utilized member of the "missions" section. At the risk of overdoing the "hey, this missions hymn is great" bit, I'm going to quit doing that and move directly to...

(511) Jesus shall reign where'er the sun, a somewhat tacky "missions" hymn by Isaac Watts (1719, cento) that is often cited as an example of British imperialism clothed in Christian language. Not for nothing was the British Empire called that on which the sun never set. Whether or not the hymn can be read without interpreting it that way is one question; whether its quality is so excellent that we must overlook its role in history is another.

(512) Art thou weary, art thou troubled is a nice little hymn by John Mason Neale (1862, cento, alt.) that opens the "Cross and Comfort" section. I'd like to mention it, first of all, as an example of excellence in little things, and second, because some of the antiquated language might be a bit of an obstacle today. How many people reaching stanza 4 will recall ever having encountered the word "guerdon" before? (It rhymes with "burden" and means "reward.")

(516) In the hour of trial, another hymn by Montgomery, is a hymn that I often used for personal comfort when I was a deeply unhappy teen. In retrospect, I probably could have chosen better; but it is what it is. It's a soft, gentle hymn of self-consolation, addressed to Jesus, and all that it lacks to be really excellent is an explicit appeal to the efficacy of word and sacrament. Also, the tune ST. MARY MAGDALENE by John B. Dykes (1862) is nice, in a bland, mildly sentimental way, probably contributing greatly to this hymn's overall association in my mind with a sepia-tone photograph. I'll always feel affection toward this hymn, but I'll say of myself what I've said of others: there's no accounting for taste.

(518) If thou but suffer God to guide thee is by George Neumark (1640), set to his own tune, WER NUR DEN LIEBEN GOTT. It's a striking piece, but really what makes me mention it here is its use in the film Babette's Feast, where it is sung by an archpietist sect in Denmark, with the raised 7th degree of the minor scale (in TLH, the F-sharp of G minor) flattened to the equivalent of the medieval Aeolian mode. It really puts a striking twist into a familiar tune.

To sum up the "Type 3" selections in the "Cross and Comfort" section, please make sure your congregation learns to know and love the wonderful hymns (517) The will of God is always best by Albrecht von Brandenburg (c. 1554), (520) Commit whatever grieves thee by Paul Gerhardt (1656), (521) What God ordains is always good by Samuel Rodigast (1675), (522) When in the hour of utmost need by Paul Eber (1560), (523) Why should cross and trial grieve me by Gerhardt (1653), (524) In Thee, Lord, have I put my trust by Adam Reusner (1533), (526) In God, my faithful God by Sigismund Weingaertner (1607) and (535) Rejoice, my heart, be glad and sing by Gerhardt (1653), each of them set to a beautiful and historically significant tune for Lutheran hymn culture.

However, for (528) If God Himself be for me, also by Gerhardt (1656), I would recommend the tune named after it, IST GOTT FUER MICH (Augsburg, 1609), which is paired with it in LBW, LW, ELHy, ELW and LSB, rather than TLH's choice of the hackneyed VALET WILL ICH DIR GEBEN. Both are fine tunes, make no mistake; but IST GOTT has a confidence, strength and seriousness that I think fit the subject matter better than VALET's overexposed cheerfulness.

Another hymn that I wince to admit I loved when I was a depressed kid is (531) Come, ye disconsolate – a poem co-authored piecemeal by Thomas Moore (1816) and Thomas Hastings (1832) set to the gushy tune ALMA REDEMPTORIS MATER by Samuel Webbe (1792). In its sympathetic touchy-feeliness, it perhaps serves best as an example of why the church should consider having one hymn-book for home devotions and another for public worship; I would relegate this to the former.

(533) Nearer, my God, to Thee is that hymn, inescapable as an iceberg in the North Atlantic night, that (legend has it) the ship's band played on deck while the RMS Titanic was going down. The Handbook to the Lutheran Hymnal, after going through multiple variants of this hymn by different authors, who vied with each other to correct the shortcomings of Sarah Flower Adams' original (1841) poem, comes just short of admitting that including it in TLH was a regrettable decision. For example, Adams (even "alt.") never mentions Christ. One of the authors of unsuccessful rewrites was no less a Lutheran leader than Henry Eyster Jacobs. The original and final hymn is such a piece of vague, sentimental religiosity, I'm kind of surprised it made it past the editors of TLH and in my opinion, it's a black mark against their good judgment.

I'll leave off for today where "Cross and Comfort" ends, with the "Times and Seasons" section on deck (hymns 536 ff.).

Monday, August 24, 2020

Victims

Victims
by Jonathan Kellerman
Recommended Ages: 14+

I'll probably remember this book, at least partly, for one chilling moment in which a police artist is admitting that his work on a sketch of a murder suspect, based on an very sketchy eyewitness description, is complete garbage. Yet when he sets eyes on the picture – described, in the moment, as an "ambiguous pale disk filled with bland, male features" that, if colored yellow, could have been "Mr. Happy Face's noncommittal brother" – consulting psychologist Dr. Alex Delaware admits to himself, "It twanged a memory synapse deep within my brain. Had I seen him before?"

Another character's response to a sketch of the same suspect is equally chilling. She says something about how there seems to be something missing from the eyes, to which Alex (who by now recalls the face he glimpsed before) replies to the effect that whatever it is, is also missing from the real guy's eyes. Later, with the killer before him, Alex describes him thus: "Pudding-faced, snub-featured, unlined by contemplation, problematic abstraction, or any of the mean little demands posed by sanity."

The killer in this thriller – actually one-half of a two-killer team – is different, full stop. Different, also, from the bogeyman of almost any other murder mystery I've ever read. Terrifyingly different, in ways that make a psychological angle supremely relevant to the Los Angeles Police Department's investigation of one – no, two – no, four – no wait, five grisly homicides that are clearly the work of somebody who likes to see the insides of human bodies. Mercifully (if that's the right word), he snaps his victims' necks before he eviscerates them. It becomes increasingly clear that this is a killer who is so loony that he probably needs someone to help him organize his crimes and evade capture – maybe someone just as deadly as himself.

It's one of those specially creepy mysteries in which the main character comes to the horrible realization that he's been in a room with each of the killers without knowing it – and that most of the victims, perhaps even more victims than the police know about yet, share a connection that reaches back to a psychiatric facility where he (Alex) worked early in his career. Bad things were done, not necessarily with the best intentions, to a patient who was the wrong guy to cross, aided by an accomplice with a blood lust of his own, and between them they will bring things to the point where a child psychologist is the only person who can stop a killer who snaps necks with his bare hands from doing it to his cop buddy.

Lt. Milo Sturgis and his crime-fighting gang are all back, including Hollywood Homicide Detective Petra Connor and her partner Raoul Biro (stars of a spinoff series of novels). Their dialogue pops with fun and intelligence, and their police work is solid. But with anything but a straightforward case before them, solid police work eventually takes a backseat (along with two flatulent dogs) to leaps of intuition and instinct about what makes cuckoos of the non-clock persuasion tick. And in case I haven't said it clearly enough already, this one's a chiller on a level I didn't expect even of this long, distinguished series of psychologically twisted crime novels.

This is the 27th of going on 36 Alex Delaware novels, ranging from When the Bough Breaks (1985) through the upcoming Serpentine (February 2021). Among the titles in the series prior to this book are Devil's Waltz, Survival of the Fittest, The Murder Book, A Cold Heart and Compulsion; immediately following this book, Guilt, Killer, Motive and Breakdown. Obviously, Jonathan Kellerman writes police thrillers with a psychological component. His other titles include a book of poems for children and their parents and non-fiction about child psychology and guitars.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Tacky Hymns 77

Again I repeat:
We continue our run-through of the hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal (Concordia Publishing House, 1941) with emphasis on three types of hymns: (1) instances of bad judgment by the folks who selected hymns for the book, judged on the basis of historic, confessional and liturgical Lutheranism; (2) noteworthy quirks of hymn-tune pairing; and (3) wonderful hymns that I think should receive more play time (by which I mean singing time) in confessional Lutheran congregations, even if it means undertaking a challenging process of getting acquainted, because of their precious spiritual and artistic value.
(457) What a Friend we have in Jesus is one that I've dealt with before, in "Type 1" terms. However, it's worth knowing ("Type 2") that the old Lutheran Hymnary (LHy) and the Ev. Lutheran Hymnary (ELHy) both improve it by swapping out Charles Converse's undeservedly popular tune CONVERSE (a.k.a. FRIEND) in favor of Henry Smart's beautiful and underrated BETHANY.

(459) Come, my soul, thy suit prepare is a 1779 poem by John Newton that I just want to mention because today's person of average educational and cultural attainments might find the first line unintentionally humorous. The "suit" of which Newton speaks is not the kind you buy on Savile Row, at Men's Wearhouse, etc., but the kind you bring before a lord – in other words, prayer. Smartass.

(461) Hark! the Church proclaims her honor is a hymn by Samuel Preiswerk (1844) that I want to bring forward ("Type 3") because I think it's underappreciated. I made it the theme song of a VBS program I wrote in the late 90s titled "The Infant Church," based on the first few chapters of Acts. Besides having a lovely but (to my ear) unfamiliar tune, the chorale LOBT DEN HERRN, DIE MORGENSONNE, it also sketches out in five brief stanzas the high points of the doctrine of the church: God alone creates her, works through her, protects her, leads her by His word and designs her glorious destiny.

(464) Blest be the tie that binds is interesting for three little "Type 2" reasons. First, Lowell Mason's tune BOYLSTON is correctly harmonized in TLH in the Mixolydian-mode key of G; beware of hymnals whose arrangement of the same melodic notes puts it in C major, because their in-house composer clearly didn't understand what it's about. Second, BOYLSTON is notated in 3/2 time, with a pickup note (i.e., on beat 3); beware of organists who play it like it's in 4/4 and begins on beat 1, because they clearly don't understand what they're about. And finally, although LSB 649 pairs John Fawcett's hymn with BOYLSTON (as do ELHb 462, TLH 464, LW 295, CW 494 and ELHy 420), a certain hymn 975 (found only in the "Accompaniment for the Hymns" book and Concordia Publishing House's very, very proprietary Lutheran Service Builder program) offers an alternate tune, J.G. Naegeli's DENNIS (ironically, arranged by Mason). This is the tune The Concordia Hymnal, SBH, LBW, ELW and another Lutheran hymnal (whose acronym I still haven't looked up, sorry) choose for this hymn, and I suspect that its "not in the pew book but totally available to print out in your service bulletin" status in LSB is a concession to Missouri Synod congregations that have dipped five or more toes in the cultural kiddie pool of the Ev. Lutheran Church in America.

(466) Christ, Thou art the sure Foundation is another "Type 2" hymn, both for textual and musical reasons. First, both TLH 466 and LSB 909 credit John Mason Neale "alt." with the translation from 8th century Latin. However, the LSB translation begins "Christ is made the sure foundation" and changes all the second person pronouns into third – for what it's worth. The other reason is that TLH uses Henry Smart's tune REGENT SQUARE (you're thinking "Angels from the realms of glory") while LSB uses Henry Purcell's WESTMINSTER ABBEY ("In His temple now behold Him"). I think they're both wonderful tunes, but I think I would side with LSB on this one.

(469) Glorious things of thee are spoken – again by Newton – is set ("Type 2") to Joseph Barnby's bland, saccharine tune GALILEAN in this book (think: "Hark! the voice of Jesus crying"). This text-tune pairing is pretty much unique in Lutheran hymnals of my acquaintance. Far more objectionable, however, is its widespread pairing with AUSTRIA, a.k.a. AUSTRIAN HYMN, by Joseph Haydn. (Cf. LHy, CSB, TCH, SBH, LBW, LW, LSB) not so much because of its original association with a patriotic melody written for the Austrian emperor of Haydn's day as because it served, within still living memory, as the national anthem of the Third Reich and its goosestepping, imperial ideology ("Deutschland ueber alles" and whatnot). I have personally known people who described themselves as Holocaust survivors, being moved to leave the church in mid-hymn because of that tune choice. Among other tune choices are ELHy 210's use of Beethoven's HYMN TO JOY, with which I disagree on the grounds (also a backup argument against AUSTRIA) that importing themes from classical masterpieces into the hymnal is detrimental both to the classics and to hymnody. Instead, I recommend Cyril V. Taylor's ABBOT'S LEIGH, used with this hymn in the Lutheran Hymnal out of Australia (1973), and in LSB 646 with the hymn "Church of God, elect and glorious." SBH also tries (as an alternate tune to AUSTRIA) a Lowell Mason tune called HARWELL, while ELW uses a tune by William P. Rowlands titled BLAENWERN.

(470) Rise again, ye lion-hearted is a translation by Martin Franzmann (1940) from an 18th century German hymn about Christian martyrdom, set to its own tune, the perfectly gorgeous LOEWEN, LASST EUCH WIEDERFINDEN by Bernhard Klein (1817). I think it's a very thrilling and encouraging hymn, especially knowing that the age of Christian martyrs is not yet past. In fact, it's going at an unprecedented rate. It bewilders me that, amid new hymns by Franzmann that have been introduced in later hymnals (not all of them showing him at his best), this happy novelty was never renewed – except in ELHy 555, where it is set to Alfred Fremder's about equally attractive but very modern tune STRATFORD.

(476) Ten thousand times ten thousand is a "church triumphant" hymn by Henry Alford (1867), set to John B. Dykes' tune ALFORD (1875), and it's been in lots of hymnals but I don't think it deserves it. I find Dykes' tune pompous and derivative, the lyrics heavy on emotional experience and light on Christ, and the phrase "what raptured greetings" (stanza 3) poorly judged, considering the theological baggage of the term "rapture." To be fair, it references the saints' "fight with death and sin" (stanza 1) and does, eventually, paint the "Lamb for sinners slain" (stanza 4) into the picture. It's not terrible. I just, once again, don't think it's so great in proportion to its widespread popularity, measured by how many books it's in. Another case, perhaps, where being originally written in English has given a hymn a disproportionate advantage. I guess I'll give it 1 tack.

(493) Thou who the night in prayer didst spend is set to the engaging tune ST. PETERSBURG by Dmitri Bortniansky (1822). It occurs to me to mention it now because this is a tune I've seen tried out with a variety of hymns, some of which may surprise you because they are so strongly wedded to some other tune – for example, "Jesus, Thy boundless love to me" (ELHb 84, SBH 399); "Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel" (LHy 172, TCH 118) and the one that actually sticks in my mind with this tune, "We saw Thee not when Thou didst come" (TCH 162).

(495) From Greenland's icy mountains is a "missions" hymn by Reginald Heber (1819), set to the Lowell Mason tune MISSIONARY HYMN (1824), and like 476, it's just a little tacky. I give it 0.5 tack for devoting so many lines to a list of exotic places – sort of the sacred-music equivalent of the Huey Lewis song "Heart of Rock and Roll" ("Tulsa, Austin, Oklahoma City, Seattle, San Francisco too..."). More concerning than this picture-postcard passage are the bits that, nowadays, come across as perhaps embarrassingly paternalistic – word-pictures of "heathen blindness" and "men benighted" that one could equally read as either a sound argument for the need for mission work or as a religious justification for cultural imperialism. The strongest argument, of course, would be a depiction of the need for the knowledge of Christ, on which this hymn touches but lightly. So, let's say 1.5 tacks.

(496) Hark! the voice of Jesus crying is at least mostly by Daniel March (1863) and is wedded, as I mentioned before, to Barnby's tune GALILEAN. I'd be much more comfortable with this hymn if it was clearer about whether it's addressing the whole church (with regard to her missionary obligations) or every individual church member (with disregard of his or her individual vocation). Admittedly, there is stanza 3, which basically says maybe you can't be Moses, but at least you can be Aaron; and that's the "author unknown" stanza. So it's definitely March who finally, in stanza 4, doubles down on shaming everyone who doesn't make the task of missions his or her own – a tone of cajolery almost up to the threshold of nagging, which is one of my least favorite shades of hymnody. In contrast, hymns 497 ("The morning light is breaking") and 498 ("Rise, Thou Light of Gentile nations") set a good example of mission-oriented hymnody – the one joyfully reporting the results of the church's mission, the other addressing Christ and calling on Him to shape and empower it. I've seen more negative mission hymns than 496; indeed, there's one in LHy that dangles an explicit threat of death over the heads of believers who don't involve themselves in mission work. But for being somewhere toward that side of center on the sliding scale of law vs. gospel predominating in mission hymns, and for being popular out of proportion to its merits, I award this hymn 2 tacks.

(499) Look from Thy sphere of endless day, with words by William Bryant (1840) set to G.J. Elvey's often-used tune ST. CRISPIN (1862), is one that gets my back up before the first comma. Imagining God as a being that gazes down on us from an ineffably distant realm of existence, it has about as unincarnational a jumping-off point as any hymn in Lutheran hymnody – including the one in SBH that says God is still God even if he destroys the world and all mankind. To those who say they don't know what "incarnational" means, I say you know when it's missing. 1 tack.

We'll pick up with hymns 500ff. another time. Tell then, watch for tacks lying around!

Mystery

Mystery
by Jonathan Kellerman
Recommended Ages: 14+

Child psychologist Alex Delaware and his lover are mostly disappointed by the last night of one of their favorite, classy bars before the hotel it's in gets torn down. The bartender and waiter are temps, not the seasoned pros who made every night at the Fauborg memorable. But Alex and Robin spot one glimmer of old Hollywood glamour – a beautiful blonde, dressed like a starlet of yesteryear, nursing a complicated drink and looking like somebody has stood her up. Her image comes back to haunt Alex when his best friend, LAPD Homicide Lt. Milo Sturgis, calls him to look at a crime scene and, in spite of her face being blown off, he recognizes the starlet from the Fauborg Hotel.

It takes a while to identify the girl. The task is complicated by the fact that she seemed to use a false name. The case gets a few nudges, at Alex's end, from a client of his who used to be a Hollywood madam, and who now wants Alex to tell her if her little boy will be OK when she dies of cancer. One of the nudges leads them to a dating website that brings gold-digging "sweeties" and sugar daddies together. Eventually, Alex and Milo work out that their sweetie, who went by the code name Mystery, came from a sad background and enjoyed a few years of luxury as the kept woman of a retired tycoon, before he passed away.

Their best suspects include a body guard, last seen outside the Fauborg the night of Mystery's murder, and the two sons of the late sugar daddy, who are carrying on in a similar fashion. Also, one of the sons' wives seems to have had a connection to the bodyguard guy. But is she too nice to be involved in murder? Is he more of a victim than a suspect? Whoever the killer(s) is or are, something psychologically twisted, something sexually perverted, seems to be mixed up in the usual motives of jealousy, money and desperation to keep an explosive secret. Good police work is worth a lot, but in a case like this, there's nothing like having a shrink on the team.

So, the mystery of how a writer with dozens of mysteries to his credit gets away with titling one of his mysteries Mystery turns out to have a pretty solid solution. Maybe what readers will find even more memorable about this book, in distinction from others in the series, is the vein of melancholy running through it. The first signs that something bittersweet is in store come right away, with the closing of the Fauborg and the romantic glimpse of a doomed beauty seated across the room. Faded Hollywood dreams and, of course, terminal cancer also figure in this novel's procession of sad themes. But some of those moments are also punctuated with a twinge of irony, like the digs at the ephemeral vacuity of L.A. that figure in Alex's narrative around the Fauborg scenes, and the cynical character he puts on for his climactic interview with the killer.

Whereas Milo carries some of their joint cases, to the extent that Alex seems mainly to serve as his sounding board, this is a case where some of the big moments of discovery are Alex's alone – and for a tiny moment, his acting is so good that you start to wonder whether he's crossed over to the dark side. And again, Alex stretches the ethical limits of his position with the LAPD in a way that shows that, while he does have legit therapy skills, his real passion is crime. After all the mysteries he's helped solve, it just has to be, doesn't it?

This is the 26th of going on 36 Alex Delaware novels, of which just by chance I happen to have read the previous three in a row (Bones, Evidence, Deception) and for which I have No. 27 on deck, Victims. Other novels by Jonathan Kellerman include the spinoffs Billy Straight and Twisted (featuring LAPD Detective Petra Connor), True Detectives (featuring brothers Moe Reed and Aaron Fox), a handful of other standalone novels (The Butcher's Theater, The Conspiracy Club, The Murderer's Daughter) and some collaborations with his son, Jesse Kellerman, most recently including Half Moon Bay.

Monday, August 17, 2020

The Return of Meteor Boy?

The Return of Meteor Boy?
by William Boniface
Recommended Ages: 10+

Ordinary Boy is the only kid without superpowers in Superopolis, but only he can save the town from another plot by the nefarious Dr. Brain Drain – who hasn't let a little thing like his own fiery death stop him from trying to destroy the world. Other things OB finds himself needing to stop include the vain, self-promoting Amazing Indestructo's plan to exploit the memory of his sometime sidekick Meteor Boy, after spending the last 25 years trying to obliterate all memory of the young hero who sacrificed himself to save the city back then.

Also, a team of hippie villains keeps stealing the giant metal cone off the top of OB's uncle's ice cream truck. Also, OB's dad and his team of second-string heroes are trying to set a record for baking the biggest cake ever for the school bake sale, leaving behind a disaster-level mess. Also, OB has one week to invent a time machine for the science fair, in partnership with an annoying, seed-spitting, lisping classmate named Melonhead. And finally, the gym teacher has brought back dodgeball. All of which may spell the end for Ordinary Boy and his friends, Plasma Girl, Halogen Boy, Tadpole and Stench.

This is an often funny, at times thrilling, always entertaining look at growing up in a town where everybody (but you) is super. Many of the supers have really offbeat powers that may actually be more of a hindrance than a help to their lives of heroism, villainy, or just getting by. There's a guy named Pincushion, who keeps a wide range of weapons handy by sticking them through himself. There's the Animator, who brings inanimate objects to life. There's a villain who can turn rainbows solid, a guy who flies around the room like a deflating balloon when he gets a puncture, a hero who always knows which way is north, and even one whose specialty is spreading feelings of gloom (and he, funnily enough, is a good guy). There are also, naturally, a couple of characters whose true loyalties, either for good or evil, prove to be a surprise.

But the biggest surprise of all (unless you have super-brain powers of precognition) is the role O Boy will play in making sure Meteor Boy makes a comeback at the moment when everything depends on him. The discovery he makes puts a touching, yet fittingly goofy, spin on Ordinary Boy's reality and his role in it.

This is the middle book of the "Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Boy" trilogy, between The Hero Revealed and The Great Powers Outage. Boniface is also the author of numerous children's picture books, many of them focusing on holidays, and of a horse-breeding novel called Studs.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Tacky Hymns 76

Again I repeat:
We continue our run-through of the hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal (Concordia Publishing House, 1941) with emphasis on three types of hymns: (1) instances of bad judgment by the folks who selected hymns for the book, judged on the basis of historic, confessional and liturgical Lutheranism; (2) noteworthy quirks of hymn-tune pairing; and (3) wonderful hymns that I think should receive more play time (by which I mean singing time) in confessional Lutheran congregations, even if it means undertaking a challenging process of getting acquainted, because of their precious spiritual and artistic value.
(394) My faith looks up to Thee is one that I've discussed before.

(397) O Love, who madest me to wear is another of Johann Scheffler's (1657) hymns – the one with the refrain "O Love, I give myself to Thee, Thine ever, only Thine, to be" – another example of a hymn that forces you to defend it against the charge of making our own decision, commitment, etc. toward Christ the central transaction in the story of our salvation. Happily, it isn't hard to make that defense, considering how clearly the hymn confesses what Christ has done to choose us and redeem us. Where it makes me, personally, a little uncomfortable is the hint of a romantic dimension to the personal surrender that it so eloquently declares. The tune, by the way, is the fine 1601 chorale HEUT TRIUMPHIERET, which I have seen deployed (in ELHy 162) as a setting for Robert Southwell's thrilling Christmas hymn, "This little Babe, so few days old."

(399) Thee will I love, my Strength, my Tower is already another Scheffler hymn, set to its own tune (the 1738 chorale ICH WILL DICH LIEBEN), one of a number of tunes in TLH that are difficult to sing these days without transposing down a step or two. It's another example of the kind of warm, sensitive, piously ardent response-of-faith song that the evil streak of fault-finding in me wants to find fault with, but I can't actually make out any. Another warm profession of love from the believer to Christ, it compares favorably to today's praise songs of the "I'm so blown away by how terrific you are, God, that my songwriting skills just fail me" school of songwriting.

(400) Take my life and let it be is Frances Ridley Havergal's famous hymn (1874) in which the believer dedicates each of his/her body parts and faculties to the service of God, set to William Henry Havergal's (Frances' dad) 1869 tune PATMOS. Be aware ("Type 2") that at least one other tune is popularly paired with this hymn, Henri A.C. Malan's HENDON. Both tunes are in LSB (hymns 783-784). In my study of anglophone hymnals, I've found PATMOS used with this hymn in 13 books, whereas outside of LSB, HENDON only appears twice, both times set to a different hymn. However, Hymnary.org reports finding HENDON paired with this hymn in seven hymnals (not specifically Lutheran ones), and with two other hymns in three books; the website also lists at least five alternate tunes for the hymn, including NOTTINGHAM, YARBROUGH, TEBBEN and ST. BEES.

I think it's also fair to warn anyone still using Lutheran Worship that LW 404 employs an arrangement of PATMOS by Paul Bunjes that is, frankly, so inept that it practically makes the hymn useless, unless the organist plays a different setting. Also, altered versions of Havergal's text abound, apparently because hymnal editors can't leave well enough alone; so ELW gives us "Take my life, that I may be"; LW, "Take my life, O Lord, renew," apparently to rhyme with "you" instead of "thee," and thus correct Havergal's choice to use archaic language. This raises the question, how long dead a poet has to be before hymnal editors can justly second-guess their preference for "thee" and "thou." Finally, ELW puts an unusual amount of distance between its two settings of this hymn, making hymn 583 the bilingual Spanish/English version, set to the tune TOMA MI VOLUNTAD, and hymn 685 the straight PATMOS version. Now that I've done all this "Type 2" stuff, I no longer feel I have room to kvetch about the way Havergal's hymn lingers over all the stuff I am offering to God, as opposed to what He gives me. Oh, well.

(403) Savior, Thy dying love is a mostly OK hymn that, nevertheless, I have dinged before. All I would say about it right now is that it's example of the exaggerated popularity of fair-to-middling hymns originally written in English, compared to great Lutheran hymns translated from German, which just goes to show something or other about the fallibility of human taste.

(404) Soul, what return has God, thy Savior is translated from a longer German hymn by Karl F. Lochner (1673) and set to Dretzel's O DASS ICH TAUSEND (1731), which I have already mentioned (but not in a bitchy way). About Lochner's poem, however, I will bitch. I think it's a guilt-trip hymn that takes the tone of a histrionic mother: "Twelve hours in labor, six units of blood and this is how you repay me? Oy vey!" The poetry, at least in the "composite" translation, also leaves something to be desired – like the line that ends with "–Say!" for no other apparent reason than to force a rhyme with "day," two lines earlier. Artistically indifferent, and with at least one line that I'm willing to challenge on doctrinal grounds only if I'm sure it won't turn into a controversy-to-the-death over objective justification, it's just not the best material in TLH, and the book probably wouldn't have suffered if the editors had passed over it.

(405) I gave my life for thee, meanwhile, is Frances R. Havergal's Jewish mother impression, inviting the congregation to sing in the character of Jesus talking at them, or perhaps better, at some uncommitted person requiring a nudge off the anxious bench. The burden of five out of six stanzas is, in varying words, "I've done all this for thee ... What hast thou done for Me?" The sixth stanza sharpens the point into a call to action: "I gave Myself for thee: Give thou thyself to Me." Underlying all this seems to be the idea that with sufficiently simpering looks and persuasive arguments, we can shame someone into choosing Jesus. Revival tent rot. Would I like it better if the poetry was rewritten in the other direction, with me (or us) speaking to Jesus? I'm not sure. But I'd definitely like to see the 1592 Psalter tune OLD 120TH put to better use.

(412) May we Thy precepts, Lord, fulfill is also one that I've handled here, as is (416) Oh, that the Lord would guide my ways.

(423) Jesus, I my cross have taken is a discipleship hymn by Henry Francis Lyte (1824), set to Rowland H. Prichard's 1855 tune HYFRYDOL. I mention it here only for "Type 2" reasons, because LHy 408 and ELHy 424 set it to J. Rosenmueller's 17th century tune, eh, ROSENMUELLER (a.k.a. WELT, ADE). (LHy 449 also pairs the tune with "Lord of Glory, who has bought us," which TLH also sets to HYFRYDOL.) It's a very shapely and interesting tune, although I've never quite liked the way the musical meter changes just for the last two lines; I'm inclined to keep playing in a steady 4 rather than broadening to 3. However, that meter change appears to be a fixed feature of this tune; I think even J.S. Bach went with it in his chorale harmonization. So, that's an option, anyway.

(427) How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord is also a candidate for "Type 2" treatment because, while TLH and CW (hymn 416) set it to Bernhard Schumacher's 1931 tune FIRM FOUNDATION, the early American tune FOUNDATION is the choice of LBW, LW, ELHy, LSB and ELW. Personally, I think FOUNDATION is the more fun to sing of the two.

(429) Lord, Thee I love with all my heart is a poem, sectioned under "Trust," in three very long stanzas by Martin Schalling (c. 1567), set to the roughly contemporary chorale HERZLICH LIEB. I want to give it a brief "Type 3" plug, noting that, particularly due to the content of Stanza 3, some occasions on which I have sung this hymn have been some of the most moving hymn-singing experiences in my life. But now, let's move on to "Type 2" and note that TLH's arrangement of the tune, and the way the text aligns with the notes, is unfortunate. ELHy follows TLH on this. The hymn appears to better advantage in LBW, LW, CW, LSB and ELW. I hate to say it, but my two favorite Lutheran hymnals in the English language are wrong on this, and some lesser lights have the right of it.

(431) The King of Love my Shepherd is, with words by Henry W. Baker (1868), is one of several Psalm 23 paraphrases in TLH and, set to other tunes, perhaps the best known one across many Lutheran hymnals. Not, however, set as here to Michael Praetorius' 1610 tune ICH DANK DIR SCHON, which is quite lovely but doesn't win the popularity contest. (In fact, TLH 431 is the only instance of the tune I've found in an anglophone Lutheran book.) The Irish folk melody ST. COLUMBA carries away the laurel, with the endorsement of SBH, LBW, LW, CW, ELHy, LSB and ELW. SBH suffers an alternate tune, DOMINUS REGIT ME by John B. Dykes, to compete with it. Also chosen by LHy, CSB and a couple other Lutheran hymnals (the import of whose acronyms I now forget), its title suggests that Dykes wrote it for this hymn.

(432) In hope my soul, redeemed to bliss unending is an interesting case for study. The text, translated from Danish, is by a little-known 17th century hymn writer named Elle Andersdatter, and the 16th century tune, which TLH generically describes as a "Northern melody," is titled NORRLAND here and SWEDEN in another hymnal. It has a striking metrical pattern, and uses what we would now hear as minor key sonorities in a more ancient sense. Overall, a thought-provoking piece that may deserve another look.

(436) The Lord's my Shepherd, I'll not want is another Psalm 23 paraphrase, this time by Francis Rous "et al., 1650," set to William Gardiner's 1812 tune BELMONT. This time, TLH is in good company, with ELHb, LW, CW, ELHy and LSB carrying the motion while LBW, LW and ELW cast a dissenting vote in favor of James L. Macbeth Bain's (1840-1925) tune BROTHER JAMES' AIR. I like both tunes about the same, however, and I won't be caught declaring one to be the correct tune over the other. SBH 522, meanwhile, sets this hymn to a tune called CRIMOND (J.S. Irvine, 1872) and suggests W.H. Havergal's EVAN (cf. TLH 416) as an alternative.

(445) Am I a soldier of the Cross, by Isaac Watts (1721 "alt.") and set to WINCHESTER OLD (from the same Psalter as OLD 120TH), is part of TLH's section on "Christian warfare" and, more than some even in that section, leaves me wondering whether it's really about spiritual warfare, being fought against spiritual enemies over spiritual ground and with spiritual weapons, as opposed to temporal yadda, yadda, yadda. For example, is it about resisting the power of temptation or the wickedness of the world by bearing witness to the gospel, receiving the sacraments, confessing the faith, etc.? Or is it about marching onto a benighted, pagan continent (or perfidious Catholic territory, etc.) and planting the flag of the British Empire in its soil, in the name of the Crown and by extension, the Established Church? (Feel free to try your own American spin on that, although Watts was, historically, a subject of the British crown.) Sometimes the answer is definitely the former, as in TLH 446 ("Rise, my soul, to watch and pray"). Sometimes there's a little room to doubt, such as in (451) Stand up!–stand up for Jesus (George Duffield, 1858). Watts, shaming the cowardice of Christians who prize a soft life, says: "Are there no foes for me to face? ... Sure I must fight if I would reign" and talks about saints in a "glorious war" who "conquer though they die," and the day when "all Thine armies shine In robes of victory through the skies." Duffield: "From vict'ry unto vict'ry His army shall He lead ... Ye that are men, now serve Him Against unnumbered foes" – though, to be sure, he does allude to Paul's exhortation to the Ephesians ("Put on the Gospel armor") and Christ's promise in Revelation ("To him that overcometh A crown of life shall be"). So, I'm not positively saying these hymns are propaganda for modern-era military aggression, but they might be read that way.

On deck, beginning with TLH 454, is the section on Prayer. I pray that I won't find tackiness there. But, you know how the canticle goes – Que serĂ¡, serĂ¡!

The Mystery of the Missing Everything

The Mystery of the Missing Everything
by Ben H. Winters
Recommended Ages: 12+

When the horrible principal of Mary Todd Lincoln Middle School announces that the eighth-grade class trip is off unless someone returns a stolen trophy – pretty much the only competitive trophy the school has ever won – Bethesda Fielding realizes that it's a case made for a master detective like her. But her investigation doesn't go smoothly. When weeks go by and she still hasn't found whodunit, the rest of her class starts to blame her for scotching the trip to Taproot Valley. The new girl, Reenie Maslow, who showed all the early signs of being best friend material, seems to hate her. And trouble magnet Tenny Boyer, who became something like her best friend last year, has mysteriously returned after three weeks at a private school and refuses to talk about why he came back. Plus, someone keeps targeting her with acts of petty sabotage and leaving threatening notes, warning her to drop the investigation. When frustration and injured feelings push her to the edge of desperation, Bethesda makes everything worse.

It's a troubling case, fraught with too many suspects and not enough clues, but Bethesda gets there on time. Besides whodunit, she also learns a few things about being a better friend and accepting that there are things you're not supposed to know. Meanwhile, other characters also shine – from the music teacher, Ms. Finkleman, who reaches out to a philanthropist to help the eighth grade pay for its class trip, to an up-and-coming leader named Chester Hu, who organizes a hilarious music video to raise funds online. The cast is also crowded with goofy characters, like Braxton Lashey, whose big talent is falling down; Custodian Steve, who believes the school is haunted by a vengeful spirit; Assistant Principal Jasper Ferrars, who jumps at every growl and snarl of the school's ridiculous principal. I know exactly which character I would have been if I had done eighth grade at Mary Todd Lincoln. There might be a character for just about everybody.

It's a sweet book full of characters who'll charm the sympathy right out of you. It's a funny book, too, with gags that are both outrageous and believably human. It also drops the names of bands and composers and titles of pieces of music that you may want to get to know on your own time. My research has, disappointingly, failed to uncover any proof that such a cartoon character as Wellington Wolf really exists – Bethesda's dad is a fan, and he makes it sound fun. I was almost sure there was a similar animated TV character in the 1970s, but maybe I'm thinking of Mumbly, the trenchcoat-wearing detective dog with the wheezy laugh.

This is a sequel to The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman. Ben H. Winters is also the author of the spoof novels Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and Android Karenina, the Last Policeman trilogy, several other novels, collections of poems, and plays including Uncle Pirate. He is also a co-author of several books in the "Worst Case Scenario" series and the editor of a humor collection titled The Jewish Comedy Thesaurus.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

The Case of the Missing Marquess

The Case of the Missing Marquess
by Nancy Springer
Recommended Ages: 12+

You probably don't know this, but besides his older brother Mycroft, Sherlock Holmes also had a younger sister named Enola – her name an anagram for "alone" – who, in the four years since her father died, hasn't seen hide nor hair of her much older siblings. Her mum has raised her to be an unconventional female for her time (1888), like herself – a bit of a bohemian artist, a bit of a suffragette (what they called feminists before women could legally vote), a religious non-conformist, a general non-wearer of corsets. Then, on Enola's 14th birthday, her mum walks out of the house and is never seen again. After a couple of days, Enola gets worried enough to call in the police and her two brothers.

Sherlock looks down on Enola with crushing arrogance, assuming she is intellectually inferior because (in the first place) she's a female and (with equal emphasis) she has a petite head. Mycroft, legally the head of the family, is horrified to discover that all the money he's been sending their mother to employ gardeners, tutors, stable boys and seamstresses, hasn't been spent on anything like that. The grounds of Ferndell Hall have grown wild; the closest thing they have to a carriage is Enola's bicycle; she runs around in bloomers and boys' shirts, reading stuff by Aristotle and Thackeray and (gulp) Mary Wollstonecraft out of the home library. She's basically Flavia de Luce, only without the chemistry lab or the habit of stumbling over a dead body at every turning.

So, off the brothers fly, almost as soon as they've landed, leaving Enola to be fitted for her first corset and the equally suffocating confines of a young ladies' boarding school. Naturally, the moment the opportunity presents, she runs for it – operating on the principle that the best plan is no plan, because that way no one will anticipate her moves and head her off. Concealing in her false bosom and bustle the wads of cash that her mother left hidden around the house for her, Enola bikes, hikes and hitches a train toward London, hoping to hide under her brothers' noses while trying to find her mum. But along the way, she stumbles into a mystery involving another missing youngster – a 12-year-old viscount or marquess (or both) named Tewksbury Basilwether, who (Enola deduces) has run away for the sea after having a bit too much of being babied by his mother. Unfortunately, while she's involving herself in this affair, she lets her disguise as a genteel widow be seen through. Even more unfortunately, she gets caught up in a kidnap-for-ransom caper involving some very bad people and, if you'll excuse the spoiler, Tewky.

After that, it's all about getting away from the villains, making sure they're caught and, trickiest of all bringing Tewky to safety without being nabbed by her brilliant detective brother. If she can manage it, perhaps Sherlock will deduce that his small-headed sister is well on her way to being his intellectual equal – if not his equal in other ways.

Women not being equal to men is a problem at the heart of this book, and presumably the series of which it is the opening salvo. Enola and her mother each, to some degree, fight it by walking the narrow line between anachronism and the radical edge of upper-class femaleness in 1888 England. For the education of readers who never lived in such an age, she helpfully narrates it in a way that draws attention to the manners, dress, social pitfalls and (especially in the London scenes) moral and mortal perils that folks of that time wouldn't have needed to explain. Her excuse is the discomfort that all these inequalities give her, and through her, us. But the most uncomfortable bit, for Enola – even heartbreaking, perhaps – is her growing suspicion that her mother isn't missing because something happened against her will.

Here's the part of my review where I'm obliged to say what I think about this book. But first I have to say, please don't think that I'm saying this because I hold any counterrevolutionary opinions about the liberation of women and whatnot. In terms of being fun to read, top marks. But I've said this before about certain books that renovated well established literary worlds created by other authors: I do not, on principle, approve of one author commandeering and repurposing the creations of another. Frank Beddor did this with L. Frank Baum's Oz; Gregory Maguire did it with Lewis Carroll's Wonderland; and now Nancy Springer is doing it with Conan Doyle's Holmes.

To be honest, I notice (when I gaze into myself) that such creative recycling doesn't annoy me so much when the original author is unknown, as in the case of re-imaginings of Arthur and Robin Hood, fairy tales and myths. Or maybe what makes the difference for me is that the authors of those books (such as Mary Stewart, T.A. Barron, Guy Gavriel Kay, Howard Pyle, T.H. White, Roger Lancelyn Green, Gerald Morris, Robin McKinley, Jane Yolen, Sam Llewellyn and more) either take pains to conceal the source of their borrowing or apply their touch-up brush with decency, fairness and respect. Beddor's and Maguire's approach, in my opinion, is hostile to and destructive of the material it takes from; it slanders and defames it, or possibly rapes and murders it. It's too late for me to warn Springer about this pitfall, since she's already done whatever she was going to do with this series (written more than a decade ago), and she's done more of the same to Arthur and Hood as well. But if I could speak backward in time to this talented author, I'd ask her to bear in mind that Sherlock Holmes is not her creation (and nor is Mycroft) and that she'd better not take a dump on beloved and even revered characters who originated from someone else's imagination. Not if she wants me to stick with her. And if that's not the sort of thing she cares about (even via time-travel telepathy), maybe she should be concerned about this: Someone else may, someday, hijack a product of her literary ingenuity and alter it out of recognition to her work, and she won't be able to stop it.

I'm not saying that's where this series goes, but after one book I see the danger inherent in the exercise and I'm almost afraid to read further. For the same reason this photo, which I shot recently at a Walmart in Yankton, S.D., makes me angry – as do similar movie studio cashing-in-on-merchandising-rights novelizations of films that were themselves based on novels, such as ones I've seen based around Planet of the Apes and The Tale of Desperaux – I feel it like a knife in my guts when I see an author lose control of their work to the extent that somebody else rewrites it into something else, and the world goes on undisturbed. Somebody should fight it and if nobody else will, I will.

End of rant. Not a bad book. Actually pretty fun to read, as I said. But I'm watching you, Springer.

This is the first installment of the Enola Holmes mysteries, which is apparently going to become a film (or possibly series of films). The titles of its five sequels all start with "The Case of the" and conclude, respectively, with Left-Handed Lady, Bizarre Bouquets, Peculiar Pink Fan, Cryptic Crinoline and Gypsy Goodbye. Besides these books, Nancy Springer has written more than 50 novels in a career reaching back to the late 1970s, including the five-book "Book of the Isle" series, the "Sea King" quartet," two "Tale of Camelot" books (I am Mordred, I am Morgan le Fay), five Rowan Hood books (Outlaw Girl of Sherwood Forest, etc.), and such standalone or loosely grouped titles as The Hex Witch of Seldom, They're All Named Wildfire, Damnbanna, Needy Creek, The Most Mauve There Is, The Boy Who Plaited Manes, Drawn into Darkness and The Oddling Prince, as well as many short stories. She won two Edgar Awards in the 1990s, for the young adult novel Toughing It and in the juvenile category for Looking for Jamie Bridger.

Humorists

Humorists
by Paul Johnson
Recommended Ages: 14+

This book of essays spotlights several people whose wit – sometimes refined, sometimes downright bawdy – illuminated (mostly) English-speaking society from the 18th century to the 20th. Some of them told jokes; others brought smiles, chuckles and flashes of clarity (mingled with a touch of hilarity) to their subject matter by delivering pithy sayings, drawing antic pictures or cartoons, writing inimitable books and creating gags for the stage and screen. Paul Johnson distinguishes between comedians of chaos and of character and even finds sources of merriment in people who were not, personally, barrels of laughs.

His main subjects include authors Charles Dickens, G.K. Chesterton, Damon Runyon (Guys and Dolls) and Nancy Mitford; artists Hogarth, Rowlandson and Toulouse-Lautrec; comedians W.C. Fields, Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, and the Marx Brothers; such multi-disciplinary geniuses as Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Johnson, Noel Coward and (by virtue of being both a cartoonist and a writer) James Thurber. He also touches on Shakespeare, P.G. Wodehouse, Evelyn Waugh, Dorothy Parker, Charles Addams, Charles Lamb, the "U" (as in "upper class") vs. "non-U" class politics of mid-20th century Britain, the gender warfare humor that made The New Yorker a success; and many other figures, acknowledged in passing. (I find Mark Twain to be a bizarre omission; maybe I've missed something about Johnson's central thesis.)

Johnson writes engagingly, not only assimilating what appears to be an enormous amount of research but also, in a surprising number of instances, able to report that he personally spoke to some of the characters named – from Jean-Paul Sartre to Coward, Mitford and Groucho Marx. He doesn't overtax you with thoroughness, though; for example, I had examples in mind from Dickens' works that he could have cited, but didn't. On the other hand, he digresses freely, sometimes abandoning his initial subject (as in the case of Thurber) and moving on to other people by casual association. At the same time, he draws attention to a golden vein of humor running through modern arts and letters that you might never have previously noticed, and will now most certainly be interested in seeking out.

Johnson's introduction even furnishes us with a reasoned essay about the history of laughter, concluding that his study of comics may be more valuable even than those of history's great creators, heroes and intellectuals, because
The world is a vale of tears, always has been and surely always will be. Those who can dry our tears, and force reluctant smiles to trembling lips, are more precious to us, if the truth be told, than all the statesmen and generals and brainy people, even the great artists. For they ease the agony of life a little, and make us even imagine the possibility of being happy.
Judging by the author's preface, this book is part of a series of collections of essays about cultural figures organized under such titles as Creators, Heroes and Intellectuals. A long-time journalist and a prolific author, he has (I understand) moved from the left to the right in his politics, which figure in his appraisal of his essay subjects. So, I suppose you'll have to check out the dates of his works if you want to know what angle he's coming from. Anyway, a very incomplete list of his books includes Enemies of Society, To Hell with Picasso and Other Essays, Civilizations of the Holy Land, A History of Christianity, The Birth of the Modern: World Society 1815-1830, The Renaissance, The Papacy, and many works of history and biography. Whether his biographies and histories are at all important might be guessed, perhaps, from the soundness of his judgment on other authors' books about the people portrayed in this book. Whatever else you may say about him, though, Johnson provides an intriguing list of recommended reading about his subjects.

Three middling-cheap DVDs

One day last week, I was hoping to find some cheapo ($3.78 to $5) movies that would interest me in the DVD bins at Walmart. However, all of the "newish" titles that I did find intriguing were on a rack of films priced in the $10 to $13 range. I actually told the store employee who was stocking the rack nearby that I thought they were movies that should have been in the bargain bin – titles I had never heard of, probably made for TV or direct to video, with this one exception at the top. Because they were twice as expensive as what I wanted to pay for them, I only bought half of the ones that kind of interested me. And so, here they are.

Enter the Fat Dragon, whose title (of course) is a riff on the Bruce Willis classic Enter the Dragon, features Hong Kong action star Donnie Yen as a sad-sack cop who can only seem to catch bad guys at the cost of demolishing an entire neighborhood and bringing embarrassment to the department. In the opening sequence, for example, he stops at a bank while wearing his wedding tuxedo en route to a pre-wedding photo shoot with his fiancee, only to get caught up in an armed robbery caper. His plan is to snatch a toy truck out of a nearby child's fist, use it to disable one of the robbers and take control of the situation. The reality is, the kid refuses to let go of the toy, the child and its mother raise a ruckus drawing attention to the cop (improbably named Fallon), and all hell breaks loose. As a direct result of this stumble, the bank gets blown up and Fallon finds himself fighting a martial arts melee in the back of the getaway vehicle, which was hijacked from another cop. The entire, ridiculous fight plays out right in front of the lenses of TV journalists – in fact, their cameras become weapons at some point – and it all ends with the van plunging through the front entrance of the police precinct and stopping inches short of crushing the police chief.

As a reward for catching the robbers, the cop whose van was hijacked – and who was of pretty much zero use in the fight – gets a big promotion, while Fallon, naturally, is busted down to evidence room clerk. Everybody takes it out of him for being too heroic, working overtime (and forcing other officers to do likewise) trying to "stop the world turning," like Superman. Even his fiancee (a struggling actress named Chloe) dumps him, in what must be one of the most exquisite man-vs.-woman argument scenes in film history, illustrating the vast difference between their thought processes. Baffled, depressed, Fallon spends the next six months eating vending-machine junk and putting on 105 pounds. Then, to put him on the way to redeeming himself, his friend – the one who got promoted over him – sends him to Tokyo with a Japanese pornographer who is being extradited back to his homeland. To cut this synopsis short, I'll just say he quickly loses control of what is supposed to be an easy assignment. The prisoner gets away, then turns up dead. The Tokyo police prove to be totally corrupt, the language barrier difficult to cope with, the Hong Kong expat neighborhood he's staying in cowed by organized crime, and Chloe, still beautiful, somehow mixed up in it. Even though she still professes not to want to be with a guy who thinks he's got to stop the world, she definitely needs saving before it's all over.

So, it's a martial arts comedy full of laughs and brilliant fight scenes, often both combined. It features a variety of zany characters, makes full use of a set designed to allow movement in all three dimensions, pulls off hysterical and sometimes breathtaking stunts, and explores some juicy emotional and moral-ethical issues. Also, the fact that the dialogue switches between Cantonese, Japanese and Engrish (not to mention a Japanese boss villain, with pop-star good looks, who speaks English with a flawless American accent) isn't a big deal, because having to read the subtitles gives you an excuse to rewind and watch the fast-paced action again, and appreciate the hilarious dialogue as well.

Yen, as Fallon, has a highly mobile face, and I think he could be a really good actor and comedian. The fat suit makes the whole movie a running joke about a fitness freak, Bruce Lee wannabe who lets himself go for a while, before he is forced to prove that he's still got it. And to be fair, the joke kind of works. The drawback of putting Yen under prosthetics to appear 105 pounds heavier than he really is, is simply that it covers up that expressive face. He still manages to say a lot with his eyes, but I missed some of the communicative power of his real-life mug (glimpsed only during the opening sequence) throughout the remainder of the movie.

Three Scenes That Made It For Me: (1) Of course, the opening chase/fight sequence, in which Yen and the bank robbers cut a swath of destruction across Hong Kong. (2) The street fight where Fallon and friends have to keep a piece of incriminating evidence out of the bad guys' hands. (3) The scene in which the boss bad guy extorts a signature out of his "grandfather" (?), then kills him. The guy's whoop of exhilaration is, at the same time, thrilling and disturbing. He's obviously a psychopath, and when Chloe has the bad luck to walk on this moment of sick triumph, she is suddenly in the kind of danger that brings out the would-be superhero in her ex-fiance.

So, it's a pretty entertaining movie, and shows all the signs of being a generously budgeted theatrical feature – with just a couple of exceptions. One thing that "un-made" it for me is the scene where a dog attacks Fallon's friend Thor in a suspect's apartment. The dog is so obviously fake that even very clever editing doesn't save the scene from looking like a cheap shortcut.

Speaking of cheap shortcuts, A Killer Next Door – based on the real-life hunt for murderer and fugitive John List, which came to a head when the case was featured on the TV program America's Most Wanted – has the distinct look of a made-for-TV movie or maybe even a student film. In spite of the middling to poor acting (except for a couple of cast members), Welsh-born producer-writer-director-editor Andrew Jones' wholly uninspired camerawork and the strange fact that the movie had to change the name of the TV program and its host, it's actually a pretty effective little thriller with a couple scenes of absolutely stifling suspense.

The movie focuses on a girl, kept at home by a broken leg, who does the whole James-Stewart-in-Rear Window thing (with binoculars) and recognizes the up-tight, churchgoing guy next door as a killer who has eluded capture for 18 years after murdering his mother, wife and three children. Unfortunately, the hero girl is played by an actress who brought nothing interesting to the role. I do, however, want to give a couple cast members credit for actually putting some good work into this picture. Playing the girl's father is one Patrick O'Donnell, who emoted almost to the point of overacting, but whose full commitment to the part elevates the picture as a whole and is actually quite touching. Then there's the girl's boyfriend, played by Derek Nelson, who has a candid and expressive face and a good-natured energy that lightens the atmosphere nicely. The killer, played by William Meredith, is definitely spooky in an understated way, although the director might have gotten that performance simply by asking his actor to do less; and his cowed but unsuspecting new wife (who, in real life, survived to get a divorce when the law caught up) gets a sympathetic treatment from Tessa Wood. Other than that, the cast generally fails to draw my attention away from the cheap and repetitive background imagery.

Three Scenes That Made It For Me: (1) Where the boyfriend, Danny, breaks into the killer's house after List and his wife leave for church. Naturally, he then has to hide under a desk when List makes a surprise entrance. I actually had to watch this scene on fast-forward because the suspense was killing me. Later (let's call it an extension of this scene) List surprises Danny in his car and puts the frighteners on him – providing an opportunity for Nelson to do some of the best acting in the movie, as he lets out the breath he's been holding the whole time List was in his car. (2) The host of the TV show (described in the script as John Wesley although we all know he's really John Walsh) tells the detective about his experience losing a son and how that led him to devote his life to catching fugitives. (3) List browbeats his wife for wearing a too-form-fitting dress; I thought she was done for right then and there. Bonus moment: The dad's reaction when he sees the age-progressed bust of List on the TV show ("Holy ****!")

While this movie had some successful moments in it, I don't think it succeeds overall. It could have made more of a virtue of being an independent film by doing something daring or original with the material, but it didn't. In fact, it seemed somehow to have had a certain amount of vitality bled out of it, in spite of the sensational underlying material. I definitely felt that I got a bad deal, paying non-bargain-basement prices for a bargain-basement movie.

Survive the Night is a film headlined by Chad Michael Murray and Bruce Willis that somehow I'd never heard of before it appeared on the Walmart DVD rack. They play a disgraced doctor and his retired sheriff dad whose family is threatened when two brothers, fleeing from a convenience store robbery turned shootout, invade their home in the middle of the night and demand medical treatment for a serious gunshot wound. Funnily enough, several of the cast members are known for roles in 2018's Gotti – including Lydia Hull as Murray's wife, Tyler Jon Olson as the wounded brother, and Shea Buckner as the one who does all the killing and just won't stop, in spite of his brother's efforts to restrain him.

It's obvious from the get-go that everyone on at least one side of this duel between families is going to die. The lengths Murray, Willis and Hull go to in hope that they will "survive the night" are the makings of an explosive, yet at the same time somewhat claustrophobic, thriller. Surviving this together also seems to be the key to solving all their family issues. Funny how that works out.

Full marks go to Olson and Buckner for delivering emotionally powerful performances, almost making their characters sympathetic in spite of their (especially "Jamie's") criminal insanity. In fact, the two top-billed stars only manage to keep up by seeing their characters convincingly, and painfully, injured – Willis by being stabbed, Murray by being shot. Murray's character actually earns a lot of respect from his dad in one scene where he performs surgery on himself. That had to hurt.

So, I'm pretty satisfied with this movie. It ticks off all the usual, expected boxes and added a few I didn't expect to find on the checklist – like that moment of classical catharsis, before Murray shoots Buckner dead, when your heart goes out to the guy. It's kind of, secretly, a Greek tragedy. What do you think of that?

I've already given up two of the Three Scenes That Made It For Me: (1) Murray sewing up his own bullet wound and (2) Buckner's death scene (sorry, spoilers). For (3) I think it would have to be the one where Rachel, the wife of Willis' character, is cuddling him in bed and jokes to the effect, "You'd be lost without me," after which very promptly she becomes the next fatality in the fugitives' rolling rampage. With so much of the movie taking place in and around one house, and all of it within about 24 hours – not quite observing the Aristotelian unities – along with the effective use of a pretty small cast – there is something of the stage about this film, but it doesn't feel stagy. It feels like a movie that might have knocked audiences' socks off, if it hadn't been released during COVID-19.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Tacky Hymns 75

Again I repeat:
We continue our run-through of the hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal (Concordia Publishing House, 1941) with emphasis on three types of hymns: (1) instances of bad judgment by the folks who selected hymns for the book, judged on the basis of historic, confessional and liturgical Lutheranism; (2) noteworthy quirks of hymn-tune pairing; and (3) wonderful hymns that I think should receive more play time (by which I mean singing time) in confessional Lutheran congregations, even if it means undertaking a challenging process of getting acquainted, because of their precious spiritual and artistic value.
(352) O Savior, precious Savior is a hymn by Frances Ridley Havergal (1870), set to the tune ANGEL'S STORY by Arthur H. Mann (1851). This is the first appearance in TLH of a hymn by Havergal, an Anglican vicar's daughter who only lived 43 years. Five hymn texts and one hymn tune by her appear in TLH, including the ubiquitous "Take my life and let it be," "I am trusting Thee, Lord Jesus" and "Now the light has gone away." There is a certain soft-focus romanticism in her style. I raise no particular objection to her text in this instance – I'll save that for TLH 405 – but I do think Mann's tune – originally written for a piece by another female hymn writer – has an overly popular ring to it, with a smarm factor that some hymnals ramp up by adding a chromatic passing note to the melody, right at the start of the chorus.

(353) Lord Jesus Christ, my Savior blest is a "Type 3" hymn I want to highlight because I don't think I heard much of it during my German-American centered Lutheran upbringing. With lyrics translated from 16th century Danish and a tune by Ludvig M. Lindeman (1874), of whom I have previously voiced admiration, it's a Scandinavian Lutheran treasure that deserves to be better known outside lutefisk eating circles. Hans Sthen's poem expresses deep trust in Christ and His word, using a striking and unusual meter, while Lindeman's music is richly expressive, in a register of Romanticism that hews closer to fine-art music than the syrupy trash that clogs all too many collections of 19th century hymnody.

(356) Jesus, Savior, come to me is the first of four hymns by Johann Scheffler (a.k.a. Angelus Silesius) in TLH – the others are "O Love, who madest me to wear," "Thee will I love, my Strength, my Tower" and "Come, follow Me, the Savior spake." They're all more or less good hymns (and this one, at least, isn't hurt by being translated by Matthias Loy), but there is something (I think) remarkable about Lutherans buying into the work of a sometime Lutheran mystic who fell into heresy and later became a Catholic priest who (I forget what authority I have this on) wrote polemics against Lutheranism. I guess anything can be forgiven if you write something good. What strikes me as especially interesting about this hymn is that you have to defend it against the charge of decisionism or semi-Pelagianism – as if you have to invite Christ into your heart to be saved – by underscoring that Scheffler's text expresses the sentiments of one who is already a believer. It does, however, place a warm emphasis on religious feelings that wouldn't sound out of place in a Pietistic context. On a "Type 2" note, although TLH sets this hymn to the 18th century chorale GOTT SEI DANK, multiple hymn tunes have (to judge by their titles) been written expressly for this hymn, including Lindeman's JESU, KOM DOG SELV TIL MIG, a tune by Norwegian composer Jacob Hveding Sletten (1923) titled JESUS, COME TO ME (cf. The Concordia Hymnal, hymn 341), and a German chorale, JESU, KOMM DOCH SELBST ZU MIR.

(362) My soul's best Friend, what joy and blessing is a prolix, shmaltzy and not particularly inspired combination of late 17th century words by Wolfgang Dessler and the tune WIE WOHL IST MIR (1704) from that hotbed of Pietism, Halle. Other than a couple references to "Savior" it doesn't actually name Jesus, but it isn't a big leap to guess that's who is being addressed. Already in the first line you can see where its spiritual/theological emphasis lies. In stanza 1, it depicts Him as one into whose arms for rest I flee, whose love banishes all anguish, pain and fear from my heart, and who is always lovingly near so that I can say "Yea, here on earth begins my heaven." Stanza 2 renounces the world, personifying her as a deceitful woman, and confiding rather in His loyalty. Stanza 3 depicts Him as leading us "thro' deserts of the cross," where He produces food and water, and whose way is to be trusted "howe'er distressing." Stanza 4 professes contentment to rest in His breast, where "by sin no more am I tormented," and describes His grace as "a foretaste ... of heaven." It concludes, "Away, vain world, with fleeting pleasures; In Christ I have abiding treasures" – at last it comes that close to naming Him! – "O comfort sweet, my Friend is mine!" For the most part, all this can be read as a personal profession of faith – but it's so very personal. Also, for all its vastness of scale, it doesn't find room to locate Jesus' presence, grace, the food or drink he gives along the cross-shadowed way, etc., specifically in word and sacrament. All the spiritual transactions tallied up in this account are of a touchy-feely, emotional variety, verging on romantic. And if there's one line to which the stench of Pietism clings, surely it is the one about no more being tormented by sin – an expectation that a well catechized Lutheran would only pin on the life to come.

(366) One thing's needful; Lord, this treasure is a hymn about the sufficiency of Christ's word, based on the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10, with words by Johann H. Schroeder (1697). Maybe I think it's a more important hymn that in it really is, because it was a regular part of the town-gown tradition of my alma mater, Bethany Lutheran College, and its sister church down the street, Mount Olive (ELS) – both of which were big on the Mary and Martha story. (Old Main has a stained glass window depicting the story, and the college's seal depicts the words "One Thing Needful" in biblical Greek.) TLH sets it to Friedrich Layriz's 1849 tune EINS IST NOT, which was apparently written for it – both the hymn and the tune being of a rather peculiar meter. However, it isn't the only tune written for this hymn, nor the most popular. Among the American Lutheran hymnals I've studied, only ELHb, TLH and CW have Layriz's tune, while LHy, LW, ELHy, LSB and at least two more have Adam Krieger's 1657 tune of the same name, which, according to the TLH Handbook, even Layriz ultimately preferred. The later composer's serious sounding, Phrygian-mode melody is certainly an interesting alternative, but I think if given the choice, most anyone will choose Krieger's tune.

(370) My hope is built on nothing less is probably one of those hymns about which that lady, of whom I have previously written, complained that the tune in ELHy or TLH was the wrong tune, as opposed to the right tune that was in SBH. (You may recall, she was the only alum of an SBH church in that particular congregation, so nobody really sympathized with her point of view.) Well, TLH pairs this hymn by Edward Mote (1834) with John Stainer's warm, richly harmonized tune MAGDALEN, a.k.a. REST (1873), and it isn't alone in doing so: ELHb, CW, LW and ELHy also make the same pairing, while CSB and LHy each use it with another hymn. Meanwhile, CSB, SBH, LBW and at least one other hymnal opt for John B. Dykes' tune MELITA (you'd know it as the tune to "Eternal Father, strong to save"). This more or less divides the hymnals' choice of MAGDALEN vs. MELITA along the lines of fellowship between what used to be the Synodical Conference and what is now the Ev. Luth. Church in America. Meanwhile, LBW has as an alternate tune William Bradbury's THE SOLID ROCK (apparently written for it, considering the hymn's refrain), which I guess represents the taste of American Protestants outside of Lutheranism. Strangely, LSB chooses MAGDALEN and THE SOLID ROCK as its alternatives for this hymn, so my dear SBH-loving lady will be denied satisfaction there.

(371) Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness continues a streak of "Type 2" mentions, with words by Ludwig von Zinzendorf, here set to George J. Elvey's tune ST. CRISPIN (1862). I think Zinzendorf's text sounds much more impressive when paired with the B. Gesius tune HERRNHUT, as it is in LHy, SBH, ELHy and at least one more. (I keep saying "at least one more" because I've forgotten which book an acronym stands for in my copious notes, and I'm too lazy to dig through years worth of paper to refresh my memory. Clearly, I'm going to have to re-do a lot of work before ever I can publish my authoritative tome on all this.) Anyway, ST. CRISPIN is nice, but HERRNHUT is more the thing for a hymn rich in devotional thought and majestic, atonement theology.

(376) Rock of Ages, cleft for me, the quintessential English-language hymn by Augustus Toplady (1776), is set here (and most everywhere else, these days) to Thomas Hastings' 1830 tune TOPLADY. Unfortunately, it's also one of those hymns that I always hear (at least in my mind's ear) being sung and played badly, making me want to stand in front of the folks performing it, scowling fiercely and smacking a stout yardstick against my palm to drive home how very strongly I feel the importance of clearly articulating the 3/2 time signature and not shlurping between notes. As for the lyrics (not to mention the associations with a shapeless, nameless branch of Protestantism) – well, I give up.

Stanza 1 calls upon "the water and the blood From Thy riven side which flowed" to "be of sin the double cure." I've been told by one highly esteemed theologian, who is now in glory, that this "double cure" bit makes this the most profoundly Lutheran of hymns by tying in the sacraments of baptism and communion with Jesus' atoning sacrifice and applying it to both the forgiveness of sin and freedom from bondage to it, as evidenced by the concluding line, "cleanse me from its guilt and power." Then again, I've been told by an equally well-qualified expert that the phrase "double cure" refers to a doctrinal tenet of early Pentecostalism, which stressed that Jesus both heals and forgives through the redeeming power of His blood (from which follows the whole faith-healing racket). I sniffed around on the Internet just now and found that there are Pentecostals around today who support this. Obviously, this is a case of people seeing what they want to see, or of the adherents of opposing doctrines finding confirmation of their opinions in exactly the same evidence. So, let me ask you this: Do you really suppose Toplady – an Anglican preacher who went through a Wesleyan Methodist conversion experience, only to end up defending Calvinism against John Wesley's Arminianism – had it in him to think baptism and communion when he said water and blood?

(377) Salvation unto us is come is a great hymn by Paul Speratus about the atonement and justification, dating from early in the Lutheran Reformation (1523) and set to the amazing chorale ES IST DAS HEIL, one of the best-known examples of Mixolydian melody in Lutheran hymnody. (I'm referring to the persistent C-natural in the tune, despite its D-major key signature, which has a C-sharp.) It lends just that little bit of oddness to an already strong, confident and energetic tune, making it an unforgettable vehicle for Speratus' summary of salvation history.

(383) Seek where ye may to find a way is a fine hymn whose rhyme scheme chops it up into a lot of short, four-syllable lines. TLH sets it to an arrangement of Johann Stobaeus' tune SUCH, WER DA WILL that heightens the tedium of this pattern. I strongly recommend substituting the version of the same tune used in LW 358, which has more rhythmic drive. Unfortunately, LSB 557 rolled it back to the TLH version of the tune – another example of the latest Missouri Synod pew hymnal's tendency to fix what ain't broke, or perhaps more aptly put, to re-break things that LW fixed.

(384) Oh, how great is Thy compassion, with words by Johann Olearius (1671) and the chorale tune ACH, WAS SOLL ICH (1653), is my favorite hymn ever. I'm not kidding, even though I've already said that of at least three hymns in this book.

(386) My Savior sinners doth receive, however, is one I'm not overly fond of. It's not to be confused with Erdmann Neumeister's "Jesus sinners doth receive" (TLH 324) – a 1718 hymn whose eight shapely stanzas succinctly yet thoroughly apply gospel medicine to the sinner's afflicted conscience. In contrast, this 1731 text by Leopold Lehr sprawls in tedious prolixity, compressing Law and Gospel into three stanzas (albeit long-winded ones), then spends stanza 4 on an altar call ("O trembling sinner ... to Christ draw near. Come now ... Accept His mercy") before finally addressing Christ in prayer. I could have done without 10 lines of anxious bench cajolery, thank you.

(387) Dear Christians, one and all, rejoice is that hymn by Martin Luther – the one that, in 10 stanzas, recalls the agony of an individual conscience soiled by sin, then weaves that into a dramatic dialogue between God the Father and the Son, taking counsel about their plan of salvation, before finally turning the floor over to Christ speaking to the sinner with strong words of encouragement to trust in His atoning work and His admonishment to hold firmly to His gift of salvation. Like Bonar's "I heard the voice of Jesus say," it could be read as a bit of spiritual autobiography. But unlike that other hymn, its focus is increasingly tight on the cross of Jesus and its deepest implications for every sinner who seeks a gracious God. It is also an example of Luther's powerful directness as a hymn writer. While heeding my "Type 3" advice to see to it that you and your congregation know this hymn well and sing it often, with gusto – maybe spreading the stanzas out over different parts of the service – I should also hint, in a "Type 2" vein, that the TLH tune NUN FREUT EUCH (Wittenberg, 1524) isn't the only chorale you might find under that name. If you're an organist, and you're scrambling for a sight-readable chorale prelude on NUN FREUT EUCH to play when this hymn sneaks onto the number-board, you might be a little put out to find that Buxtehude, for example, calls ES IST GEWISSLICH (Wittenberg, 1535) by that name.

(388) Just as I am, without one plea is a hymn that I've dished on before. In that previous mention, I took out on it a bit of my frustration lingering from an incident, many years ago, that involved this exact number in this exact hymnal, with exactly these two tunes, ST. CRISPIN and WOODWORTH. It's one of those moments that reminds me, when I become frustrated with the vicissitudes of being an organist, how much rather I would be the organist (who only has to play the hymns chosen for worship, teeth clenched if necessary) than the pastor (who has to make decisions about what hymns to use in worship and then, as it were, face the music).

I've made it through several topical divisions of TLH's hymns in this post. I now see a new heading, "Sanctification (The Christian Life)," looming over Hymn 393, which I think is my cue to knock this off for the night. Flee tackiness, brothers and sisters!