Exploring Dante’s Inferno in Disney’s Frozen


Disney’s Frozen might be the most Christian movie that I have seen this year. That’s saying a lot since Man of Steel was self-consciously trying to be the most Christian movie of 2013. I could probably write a post about how Frozen is a better allegory for the Christian gospel than C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but if I did, my colleagues at HBU might run me out of the university on a rail.

But I don’t want to talk about the Good News in Frozen, I want to talk about the Bad News. Don’t worry. I’m not going to spoil anything that’s not already in the trailer.

Elsa is a young queen, and she can’t seem to control her supernatural ability to freeze things. She runs to the mountain to get away from her problems, and once there she creates a palace of ice and sings with gelid abandon. Her song is one of defiance. She doesn’t need anyone else. She will be true to herself for the first time. She needs freedom.

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Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Poem

For Ann Miller


This morning was hot and humid.  Although it was grey, it felt as if I could have been in the tropics.  But by lunchtime, it was 53 degrees in Houston.  Cold.  How can we account for the plummets in our lives, the weather that we weather?  Who can explain how winter comes?  Well, scientists.

And poets.


Last week, some of my students wrote about some poems.  They could look at the poems–you don’t have to memorize.  Some of them wrote about all poems.  Some of them guessed.  One of the themes that kept coming up in the essays was:  this is a really great poem. That is not necessarily wrong.  It is just not the whole story. Sometimes there is a story, like Dido and Aeneas and how their love is a train wreck even before trains.  Sometimes there is no story.  Sometimes you are just in a station of the metro.

But at least you are in Paris.


Maybe you can look at the title:  “The Beautiful Changes” is a good one.  But then you have Emily Dickinson–who never had titles for poems, although sometimes she had titles for herself, like “Queen.”  She didn’t need titles, yet people give them to her anyway. What should the title be for a poem that states,” I like a look of Agony/ Because I know it’s true”?

Don’t say “Agony.”  I am begging. Continue reading

Muzzling the Ox: Writers Don’t Get Paid


Tim Kreider posted an opinion piece at the New York Times complaining about people who ask him to write things for free. He’s a writer by trade, and he thinks it’s appropriate to get paid for his work.

People who would consider it a bizarre breach of conduct to expect anyone to give them a haircut or a can of soda at no cost will ask you, with a straight face and a clear conscience, whether you wouldn’t be willing to write an essay or draw an illustration for them for nothing. They often start by telling you how much they admire your work, although not enough, evidently, to pay one cent for it.

Pieces like this have been cropping up more and more frequently. Those of us who populate the internet with “content” seem to be getting a little bit restless. A while back, Nate Thayer publicly complained about The Atlantic. In a Twitter conversation, Alan Jacobs told me to stop writing for people who don’t pay. It seems that even non-internet writing is no longer worth money, and Philip Hensher tried to shame someone who asked for a free forward for a book.

Can you blame authors for circling the wagons? Writers want to pay their bills. Writers want to feel that their work is valuable. We pay for what we value, but the internet is all about freebies.

We’re told that the “exposure” will be worthwhile. When I hear the word “exposure” I automatically think of a hard-working sherpa freezing to death on the side of Everest as he’s helping a wealthy European up the mountain.

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To My Sophomores


Dear New Sophomore,

I would call you by your first name, but I haven’t met you yet.  But I will, in about a week, and then I really need to know your name, because it is important to call people by their names.  In fact, I am so excited to know who you are, I want you to go ahead and learn the names of everyone in our class.  This way you know that we are a team, and we are all trying, together, to fill in the gaps of knowledge that we all have.

You might meet your new best friend in this class, so go ahead and learn names in case that is the case.  You might also meet your intellectual nemesis, the person who drives you so crazy with their condescension and pretensions that you throw yourself into your work, graduate summa cum laude, and get your law degree from Harvard, just to show that person a thing or two.  People want to be addressed by their names, because almost everything in this world is personal to someone, and you are kidding yourself if you think otherwise.  Plus, it is harder to say something unkind if you have started that sentence with someone’s first name.  Trust me, if you can learn the periodic table, you can learn to remember names.

I want to reassure you that I completely agree that it is unfair that you are labeled “sophomores,” which inevitably makes anyone with a pulse think of the word “sophomoric,” and I am here to tell you that I have met people with doctorates who better fit that description than many of my students.  What can I say?  Labels are unjust, but they can also be great incentives for proving everyone else wrong.  The traditional meaning of “sophomore” comes from the Greek roots for “wisdom” (think of the the word “philosopher,” which means a lover of wisdom) and then the root for “fool” (the same root for words like “moronic”).  I know this seems oxymoronic:  How can you be wise and foolish at the same time?   Some roughly translate “sophomore” (besides being a second year student in high school or college) as someone who has gained knowledge, but not enough wisdom to know how to apply it.  Some think of sophomores as those who think they know more than they actually do.

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