Angelico Press has just published a new book by Bradley Birzer (where does he find the time to write all these wonderful works?) entitled Mythic Realms: The Moral Imagination in Literature and Film, and it is an unabashed love letter to everything that is good in contemporary American popular culture. I’m sure some of you are spluttering, “Everything that is good in American culture? There’s nothing good there!” Dr. Birzer would beg to differ, and for that we can all give thanks.
A quick look at the Table of Contents gives the reader a sense of the scope of Birzer’s loves. Here are just a few examples:
On Loving Libraries
An American Greatness: Willa Cather’s Oh Pioneers!
The Dark Virtues of Robert E. Howard
Romance After Tolkien?
The Audacity of Frank Miller
Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo
Batman on Film, Part I: Bruce Timm’s Animated Series
Steven Wilson’s Hand.Cannot.Erase: An Incarnational Whole
Clearly, his interests range far and wide! How many scholars can write intelligently on such disparate topics as The Inklings, Steven King, Russell Kirk, Alfred Hitchcock, a Batman animated series, and the prog rock wunderkind Steven Wilson?
But what makes Mythic Realms so much fun is Birzer’s infectious enthusiasm. When he gets going on a film or writer that he loves, he’s like a kid in a candy shop, and the reader can’t help but smile and join in. Take this example from his chapter on the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight Trilogy:
“In Nolan’s expert hands, Batman becomes what he always meant to be: an American Odysseus, an American Aeneas, and American Arthur, an American Beowulf, and an American Thomas More….Batman resonates with us because he is the best of us and the best of what came before us. Bruce Wayne is the embodiment of western virtue and heroism.”
Wow, that’s quite a claim, but Birzer makes an excellent case for it. After reading his in-depth analysis of Nolan’s trilogy, I came away having learned many fascinating behind-the-scenes facts, as well as gaining a greater appreciation for Nolan’s vision of Batman as another enduring chapter in western civilization’s mythos – oops, I mean Mythic Realms.
I also was introduced to a great American novelist of whom I knew next to nothing: Willa Cather. Birzer devotes two chapters to this underappreciated writer, and I hope other readers will take the plunge and immerse themselves in her delightful world of the American frontier. As he notes, “The Great Plains unveil treasure after treasure to those who explore. The same is true of Cather’s novels.” Birzer fittingly compares her painstaking craft of novel writing to Steve Jobs’ attention to detail when designing Apple products.
One of my favorite chapters is Birzer’s tribute to John Hughes. I have long thought his run of coming-of-age movies set and filmed the 1980s was one of the most brilliant series of movies ever made. Hopefully, Birzer’s thoughtful tribute to Hughes will spark a reassessment of this overlooked writer/director/producer.
Not many cultural critics can write credibly and engagingly on writers such as Ray Bradbury, J. R. R. Tolkien, Willa Cather, comic book writer/artists Frank Miller and Alan Moore, film directors like Hitchcock, Nolan, and Hughes, let alone TV series such as Star Trek and Stranger Things, and THEN pull them together to make a deeply meaningful point: that even in lowly pop culture, truth, beauty, and transcendent Christian morality can be found. Birzer does it, again and again. That’s the joy of this book – discovering eternal truths in the most unlikely places.
The last chapter, Oh, White Lady: Faith as a Struggle begins with Birzer’s personal confession of his struggle during his youth to see anything except hypocrisy in organized religion in general and Roman Catholicism in particular. But through the example of devout friends and a growing appreciation for the role Mary, the Theotokos, has played in history throughout the world, he returned to his faith. It’s a fitting finale to a wild ride through Mythic Realms. After all, how does the old saying go? “All roads lead to….”
You must be logged in to post a comment.