Decent Films Mail > Mailbag #4

Re: Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)

I wanted to let you know that I just read my hometown paper’s review of the new Elizabeth movie and it commented on how heavily the Catholic Church gets bashed. So take heart; some people are thinking clearly! I live in Ogden, Utah.

Thanks! It was also at least alluded to in Variety and The New York Times (which also made the Da Vinci Code connection), although of the major critics I read only the Newark Star-Ledger’s Stephen Whitty really did the subject anything like justice. Still, I’m glad to hear other critics are taking note.

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Re: Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)

I had the opportunity to read your review of Elizabeth about a week ago. I will start this by stating that I am a Catholic of 55 years. I did watch the film in question, as well as the other films referenced in your review. I think what really bothered me was your blatant attack on the quality of the film and the acting based overwhelmingly on your assumed role as “defender of the faith”.

While obviously a work of fiction and not a documentary, one cannot deny the presence of the Inquisition in Spain and elsewhere in Catholic Europe at the time of the first Armada. There is also sufficient evidence that Phillip was preparing the Armada to invade England. You seem to feel that there is no reason to portray the Catholic Church’s role in any of the terrible things that were taking place in the 16th Century.

I was particularly amused at your discomfort at the portrayal of the fictional “Sea Hawks” or the real-life privateers preying upon unsuspecting Spanish Galleons on their way back to Spain with riches stolen from the Native Americas. Do you deny that those riches were being used to fund the Armada? I notice that you make no mention of the estimated 7 million Native Americans killed in present day Latin America by the Spanish Conquest. All of this done with the blessing of Catholic priests and representatives of the King of Spain and the Pope.

Let’s face it, the Catholic Church, Spain, England, the United States, Russia, Nazi Germany, and many other powers have terrible things in their history. We have made Germany face their past and apologize. It’s a shame the Catholic Church can’t face their past in a more honest manner. Perhaps if our faith was more capable of this, the current pedophile priest catastrophe would have been addressed in a more timely and effective manner. I wonder if you would also object to any honest portrayal of that crisis in a film.

I would like to think that our faith would survive without the censorship of the National Catholic Register. I personally would prefer to recognize the mistakes of the past so as not to repeat them. In the end, I guess that Americans should be happy that England prevailed in the pivotal historic battle. What would have happened to the Anglo Saxon system of jurisprudence, the Magna Carta, and modern democracy as we know it today?

In the end I would say that I thought the acting of Blanchett extremely powerful and moving and the cinematography fantastic. But then, I just watched the movie for the art that it was, and not as a potential threat to my Catholic faith.

I was right with you, more or less, until your penultimate paragraph, in which you lost me entirely by trotting out “the c‑word”… Censorship.

Actually, you were starting to lose me in the preceding paragraph by somehow working in the abuse scandal (and wrongly calling it a “pedophile priest” scandal), and comparing the Church’s need to face its past and apologize to post-Nazi Germany. (Never mind that the Catholic Church has offered more apologies in the past half century than all the other powers you named in their combined histories. As much as needs to be done in the Church, more apologizing is hardly the most pressing need.) As regards Nazi Germany, perhaps you are familiar with Godwin’s law?

In film-criticism terms, though, the “censorship” charge almost qualifies for a Godwinian corollary clause in itself. It’s such a loaded and (in the present context) over-the-top claim that I’m not surprised to find that the only specific issue from my review that you address, Hollywood’s historic portrayals of English privateering, is only tangentially connected with the film in question.

What is one to make of your claim that “I think what really bothered me was your blatant attack on the quality of the film and the acting based overwhelmingly on your assumed role as ‘defender of the faith’”?

Apparently, blatant attacks on the quality of the film per se are not what bothers you, or you would have your work cut out for you, given its dismal reception by critics at large. I beg your indulgence while I rub it in: Over 70 percent of critics at Rotten Tomatoes, and nearly three-quarters of “cream of the crop” critics, panned the film.

Even the few critics who did like it didn’t like it a lot. According to Metacritic, not a single critic surveyed was willing to cough up more than a 75% rating (i.e., three stars out of four), and only a couple even went as high as that. Most were much lower, with half a dozen 40% reviews and even a couple in the 30%–33% range. Metacritic’s averaged score for the film is below 50%.

Judging from its limp box-office performance, viewers haven’t liked it much better; it looks to earn about half what the original did, despite the vastly increased star power of Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush. The clear consensus is that the film is mediocre at best (though of course anyone is welcome to hold a contrary opinion).

You say you watched the film “for the art that it was.” So did I, and like most critics, I found it wanting as art. I have no problem giving a positive star rating to a well-made film I find objectionable or problematic on moral or spiritual grounds; recent examples include Million Dollar Baby and Brokeback Mountain. To those I would willingly add the original Elizabeth, its own anti-Catholicism notwithstanding (though I probably wouldn’t recommend it overall). The sequel doesn’t make that cut.

It seems your objection, and presumably your claim of “censorship,” is somehow bound up with what you call my “assumed role as ‘defender of the faith’” (scare quotes yours). Whose “assumption” is it, anyway? I haven’t called myself that; the phrase appears nowhere on my site, and if you comb my writing for snippets of “mission statement” content, the mission that emerges is “film criticism informed by Christian faith,” which has a strikingly different resonance from the mission statement you made up for me.

Apparently, it is all right for critics like Stephen Whitty to call the film on its anti-Catholicism, because he isn't writing as a Catholic. Does that mean that women critics must not object to misogynism in a film? Is that “censorship” too? What if an American critic objects to anti-Americanism in a film, or a black critic objects to racism?

You are over 50 — almost old enough to remember what movie censorship really was, and certainly old enough to know what I am talking about when I point out the obvious: There is no Legion of Decency and no Production Code Office. The number of Hollywood producers with my number on their speed dial consulting me on how to tailor scripts and scenes to suit Catholic sensibilities is zero. Zero also happens to be the number of cities and theater chains that refuse to play movies panned by me, as well as the number of dioceses in which parishioners take an oath not to see that same class of films. Other relevant statistics, including the number of boycotts, letter-writing campaigns and protest marches I have organized or called for, as well as the number of actual boycotts, letter-writing campaigns and protest marches that I am aware of my reviews having inspired, are in the same zero range.

All to say, you should know better than to go around waving loaded words like “censorship.” You could poke an eye out.

I am happy to agree with your assessment that the faith of the Catholic Church, founded by Jesus Christ upon the rock of St. Peter, would survive quite nicely without my modest efforts. It probably would have survived without your letter to me too, yet you still felt it worth writing.

You say you didn’t watch the film “as a potential threat to my Catholic faith.” Putting aside the ambiguity and problematic implications of the word “threat,” is the compatibility or lack thereof of a film with your Catholic faith not a relevant issue for you? Do you check your faith at the theater door?

The Church, in Inter Mirifica and elsewhere, specifically calls for Catholic critics to undertake the kind of criticism I am trying to do. How well I’m doing it is of course another question. If you don’t appreciate my efforts, that’s fine with me. If you think the thing itself isn’t worth doing or is somehow positively disreputable, maybe you need to study your faith more.

P.S. I’m not enough of a history enthusiast to hold strong opinions on the historical questions you raise. It’s enough to note that whether the Spanish galleons were carrying stolen treasure is one question, and whether English piracy during peacetime was justified is another.

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Re: Harry Potter

I assume that you will (eventually) be addressing this issue in your reviews of the final Harry Potter films, forthcoming, but I was wondering about your initial response to J.K. Rowling’s recent publicity stunt (my take) in declaring Albus Dumbledore homosexual.

Ironically, in my opinion, this fits with the way that Michael Gambon has portrayed the character on-screen, since the departure of the more grave, less agitated Richard Harris. But it has further eroded my respect for the series and its creator, already undermined by the aimless storytelling of the final few volumes, especially the seventh book (Harry Potter and the Stupid Ending, as it’s known in my house).

Apart from the additional moral confusion this revelation lends to the themes and tone of the saga (e.g., is an “unforgivable curse” forgivable, or not? Is J.K. Rowling unknowingly dabbling in Just War Theory?), it strikes me as yet another unnecessary (though admittedly undeveloped, even unutilized) plot device. Like the pseudonym of the six book’s titular “Half Blood Prince,” which added nothing to the story arc, except dozens of pages of vacuous explication, this headline strikes me as a mere indulgence on the part of the author, except that this time, the effect is more than mere meandering verbosity. Instead, the effect is a sort of purposeful iconoclasm, at least for so many innocent, wide-eyed children at whom the series was initially, ostensibly aimed.

Like the dark secrets of Dumbledore’s past revealed in the pages of The Deathly Hallows, it changes nothing, but it changes everything. And to what end? So that Rowling can grab a few more headlines or sell another few thousand copies of her books to a different demographic? It smacks of the same tone of story for contracts’, movie rights’, and royalties’ sake — rather than for story’s sake — that I read in Harry’s final few years at (and away from) Hogwarts. Rowling began by telling an interesting tale, but finished, unfortunately, by exploiting an industry. It’s another reason why these books will never stand, in my opinion, in the same company as Tolkien’s or Lewis’s great fantasy works.

My take converges with yours, I think. Rowling’s comment strikes me as the kind of pointless, unintentionally revealing gas one hears from George Lucas on Star Wars, who certainly fits your description of having begun “by telling an interesting tale, but finished, unfortunately, by exploiting an industry.” (Not having myself gotten past the fourth HP book, I can’t judge how well or poorly Rowling finishes her tale.)

In some ways Rowling and Lucas even started out essentially telling the same story, a mythic Hero’s Journey with an orphan foundling with unknown origins and powers destined to defeat an evil dark lord, etc. In the end, the extra-canonical “outing” of Dumbledore, along with the canonical revelations about Dumbledore’s past — like the similarly iconoclastic erosion of Yoda’s authority and power in the Star Wars prequels — may suggest that there is ultimately no place in postmodern fairy tales for archetypal Wise Old Men.

As with many of Lucas’s pronouncements, I don’t think Rowling’s comment necessarily has much critical relevance to one’s take on the stories themselves. I do think that both suggest that the stories are more haphazard and less carefully thought out than their more ardent admirers believe.

For what it’s worth, Christian fans of Harry Potter have pointed out — and gay critics have complained — that Dumbledore apparently had a single, disastrous relationship and has been “single” ever since. That doesn’t make him a poster boy for Courage, but it doesn’t make him a poster boy for gay pride, either. On the other hand, I find unconvincing the attempts of some Christian fans to minimize Rowling’s revelation to a mere incident of same-sex attraction in Dumbledore’s past, and to blur the distinction between the actual experience of same-sex attraction, which is disordered but not itself a moral issue, and the creative choice to make (or consider) a character in a story “gay,” which is.

I don’t think Rowling’s extra-canonical pronouncements necessarily have much significance for the issues around children reading the book, although if children hear about the reports parents need to be prepared to discuss them. I do think they reinforce my comparative lack of enthusiasm for the series, which I may wind up never finishing.

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Re: The Jungle Book (1967)

I’ve always been unhappy with Disney’s interpretation of The Jungle Book, or at least of Baloo. Kipling’s portrayal of Baloo is as the embodiment of wisdom, the one who teaches the Law of the Jungle to the cubs of the wolf pack. Disney’s Baloo seems to me to be a rather silly and lazy creature — fun to be with, perhaps, but not the beast of stature one finds in the original. He sort of reminds me of Shakespeare’s portrayal of Falstaff. I say this with the understanding that The Jungle Book may be an excellent film on its own merits.

Yes, it was particularly with the portrayal of Baloo in mind that I wrote that while The Jungle Book ranks with the best post-war Disney films, it is not, like Sleeping Beauty, One Hundred and One Dalmatians and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, very good as an adaptation.

Falstaff is an excellent point of reference for Disney’s Baloo. I can appreciate Walt Disney feeling that Kipling’s tale was too dark for a family cartoon, and certainly Baloo adds much comic mojo to the film. Had Disney wanted to lighten the film while at the same time being more faithful to the source material, perhaps he could have introduced a different character to be the comic relief, and allowed Baloo to remain the master of lore he is in Kipling.

Disney, though, tended to see source material as raw fodder to be used however the filmmakers saw fit, and his best adaptations are often those where the nature of the source material provided the best match for the kind of thing Disney liked to do anyway.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh may just be the best marriage of source material and classic Disney style in the whole Disney canon. (Snow White and Bambi are better films, but Bambi like The Jungle Book, departs substantially from its source material, while in Snow White the Disneyfication process was not yet fully in place.)

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Re: Gladiator (2000)

The review contains this sentence “Like its hero Maximus — the squinting, beefy, unassuming…”

What is the point of mentioning he squints? I squint because of light sensitivity and find that the word is often used in a negative context. People dont usually mention squinting unless they want to put someone down. So what are you trying to say about his character when you mention he squints?

It’s been seven years since I wrote that review, but I think I was trying to say that he squinted. It’s a descriptive detail, along with “beefy,” meant to evoke a picture of the character in the reader’s mind. Come to think of it, I can imagine someone with weight problems taking issue with “beefy” too, but neither word was meant pejoratively.

Visual descriptions can make writing vivid or even memorable. I’ve often envied my friend and fellow critic Lawrence Toppman’s gift for sketching an actor’s appearance or performance with an apt metaphor or a well-chosen phrase. Every time I see Gary Sinise in a film, I remember Toppman’s review of Ransom, which mentioned Sinese, “with his mailbox slot of a mouth,” in the villain role. That is exactly what Gary Sinese’s mouth is like.

Coincidentally, your email comes the day before the opening of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, which opens with a line of narration, taken directly from the 1983 novel, describing James’s blue eyes as “so deeply shadowed” by his eyebrows “that he hardly ever squinted.”

Despite this infrequent squinting, the narrator adds (both in the film and in the book) that — due to a condition referred to as “granulated eyelids” — Jesse blinked more than usual, “as if he found creation slightly more than he could accept.” Blinkers of the world, unite!

P.S. I can’t resist noting that — according to Amazon.com’s invaluable search feature — the novel goes on to mention Jesse “squinting” at least five times, but “blinking” only once. I meant, at the outset of the film, to watch for Pitt blinking, but I forgot.

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Re: The Pianist (2002)

In your review of The Pianist, you wrote, “neither demonizing the Germans nor lionizing the Jews, The Pianist is a work of exquisite restraint.”

Did we see the same film? I watched this film last month, not realizing until late that he was a real person and this was a real story. Until the end, every German was demonized and every Jew (save a scant few) were the “meek”, watching in distress what they saw and heard (and allowed to happen). I came away from the first 4/5ths of this film wondering if God viewed these Jews as perfect persecuted, peaceful lambs or rolling His eyes over their choice to love life but not fight to the death for it. I actually came away with less respect for both the German occupiers (if that’s possible) but also less for the Jews.

I don’t know for what reason this film is good for you, but I cannot believe that you would endorse the portrayal (notwithstanding that it’s a true one) of people who get treated as anti-humans because they didn’t fight back when they were merely treated dis-respectfully. How you take a punch often determines whether the bully becomes curious as to how you bleed.

God doesn’t endorse this, I truly believe, as in, God helps those who help themselves. “Help”, not to be confused with “Survive”. God doesn’t want us to merely survive. He needs us to show we can fight and die for the sake of life and humanity, and this film is saturated with people who are survivalists, waiting until someone else dies to save them. True story or not, it’s the wrong lesson. And I could picture God washing His hands of the entire lot of every person, German and Jew in Warsaw in 1939.

PS: Enjoying some of your other reviews. Note: In Man On Fire, he sacrifices himself for someone else. I don’t know what this earns him in the hereafter, but I’d take him over anyone in Pianist.

There is nothing that more swiftly and reliably secures my distrust for a film (at least in the case of a morally serious drama, not necessarily a stylized adventure or work of mythopoeia) than when all the characters of a particular sort are painted with a uniformly black (or white) brush. As I’ve often pointed out, even among Nazis you don’t find that level of uniformly evil behavior, and any morally serious depiction of Nazis will account for that fact in one way or another.

That said, given any degree or sort of nuance, I give filmmakers a lot of latitude in how they apply it, so long as it’s there. As soon as criticism must be hedged with qualifying phrases like “until the end every German was demonized” and “every Jew save a scant few were the meek,” I very quickly lean in favor of the filmmaker’s liberty to tell the story he wants. Because you know what? Nazis were seriously evil, and Jews suffered beyond description.

As I have often noted, my chief complaint with The Magdalene Sisters was that not only was every nun and every priest was an abuser or complicit in abuse, none of them was ever anything, morally speaking, other than evil. Had Mullan given us even one ecclesiastical figure as positive as the German officer in The Pianist, and bracketed the innocent victimhood of even a “scant few” girls in the asylum as Polanski did the Jewish collaborators, I would have been able to recommend the film instead of disparaging it. And that’s a film about nuns — not Nazis.

Your comments about the suffering Jews not fighting back, “how you take a punch,” and “God washing His hands of the entire lot of every person, German and Jew in Warsaw,” etc., leave me as speechless as anything I have ever heard or read. To say that I am not a person who is easily rendered speechless is something of an understatement, so that’s a good trick.

You say “God doesn’t endorse this.” Damn straight: “God helps those who help themselves” is a human bromide, not something God ever said. Speaking of God’s word, never mind the New Testament, have you ever read the Old? I don’t remember God telling Moses that the Hebrews were wusses who deserved to be enslaved for not fighting back against those bullying Egyptians. And the prophets did a lot of railing against powerful oppressors of the weak, but hardly any — no, I can’t sacrifice the point to ironic understatement — none at all against the weak for allowing themselves to be oppressed.

Your ethic about impressing bullies by taking a punch and hitting back has more to do with Hollywood fantasy than moral reality. As for Man On Fire, I’m not surprised to find anyone snookered by that film’s moral bankruptcy disguised as self-sacrifice, but in this case it seems bizarrely appropriate.

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Re: 3:10 to Yuma (2007)

Steven D. Greydanus is a dumb ass writer… He doesn’t even know how to write. 3:10 to Yuma is the best western I have ever seen. You need to let Steven D. Greydanus go.

As a compound adjective preceding a noun, “dumb-ass” should be hyphenated.

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Re: The Magdalene Sisters (2003)

Based on the interviews shown in Sex in a Cold Climate, the documentary film which inspired The Magdalene Sisters, I think your review is a little hard on the film drama and a little soft on the folks behind these institutions. There’s been so much harm done in the name of religion over the centuries it’s almost unbelievable, yet films like these serve as a lesson that the road to hell may indeed be paved with good intentions. The religious orders that ran these homes bear total responsibility for their actions and their treatment of the “inmates.” What happened happened, and to imply that it was the actions of a few “bad apples” does a disservice to the estimated 30,000 women who suffered and died in these hell holes.

Your assessment that my article comes across as “a little hard” on the film drama and “a little soft” on those responsible is at least a reasonable take, and one I can live with. For what it’s worth, I think your email may be “a little hard” on my article, for example by suggesting that I attributed the abuse in the asylums to “a few ‘bad apples.’” Although I did use the phrase “bad apples,” my point, far from suggesting that the abuse was the aberrant work of a few cranks in a basically caring environment, was on the contrary that truly horrific crimes can be institutional and daily realities even when the people running things aren’t all one-dimensionally evil villains. That, indeed, is precisely the horror, and it’s a horror The Magdalene Sisters fails to grapple with.

I stand by the substance of my critique of the film, and certainly I unequivocally condemn abuse anywhere, especially the Church, as well as the complicity of those who permit and protect it. I tried to be as fair and dispassionate as I could regarding the film. I acknowledged up-front the in-principle legitimacy of (a) the charges of abuse in the Magdalene asylums, and of (b) making a movie about it. I think the film does a significant disservice to its own cause as well as its dramatic impact by its prejudicially black-and-white (or “black and more black” as I wrote at the time) depiction of all religious and clerics as all evil, all the time. The guilt of church leaders and religious does not justify cinematic anti-Catholicism. I am in no way defending the guilty.

Those are the facts as I see them. The tone and nuance of my article readers must judge for themselves. I tried to be nuanced; it’s possible that I should have tried harder.

Incidentally, sweeping statements like “There’s been so much harm done in the name of religion over the centuries it’s almost unbelievable” tend to raise a red flag for me, not only because of all the good that has been done in the name of religion, but even more because the almost unbelievable amount of harm done in the name of irreligious ideologies (e.g., various Marxist regimes). Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that people with power have abused it in all kinds of situations, and leave it at that.

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Re: The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth

I admit I’m completely baffled. I understand why you didn’t think much of The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, but I have no idea why you troubled yourself to review them. I did see The Dark Crystal and thought your review was actually kinder than it deserved. I admit I never saw Labyrinth, but no one whose opinion I respected ever suggested that I should.

I understand perfectly why you would review an older movie that audiences should take the time to find and see, but these two movies don’t seem to qualify. Of course it is your perfect right to review whatever movies you see fit, but I was greatly surprised that you saw fit to review those two and am genuinely curious as to why.

Many factors go into what movies wind up getting reviewed and what movies don’t. In the case of The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, the precipitating factor was new DVD editions for both films, making them candidates for my weekly “DVD Picks” column in the National Catholic Register — and, being family-themed films that still have a significant nostalgic appeal for many viewers, they are of some interest to my readership.

The Dark Crystal in particular continues to have admirers, though I’m not especially one of them. Labyrinth also has devoted fans — a number of whom have written to take exception with my review. In general, though, readers seem generally to agree more than not on these reviews.

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Re: Labyrinth (1986)

I was both surprised and pleased that you actually reviewed Labyrinth. Surprised, because it just doesn’t seem to be the sort of thing anyone really needs to review, and please because it deserves some attention. I think, though, you missed the point of the movie.

Actually, I think you missed it by trying to find one. That’s why Labyrinth is so difficult to review. Both fans and detractors alike couldn’t care less. As my sister (who hates the movie) says, “It’s David Bowie in tight pants and a blond mullet. That says enough.” She wouldn’t watch the movie if there was a point (and I wouldn’t enjoy it any more).

The purpose of the movie, like Alice in Wonderland (the book) is practically non-existent. Yes, there are some moral lessons to be learned about selfishness, growing up, et cetera. But who watches Labyrinth for that? No one, as far as I know. People watch Labyrinth because it doesn’t make sense. Its like a pleasant (or not so pleasant) romp in childhood dreamlands. Nothing is as it seems (which is something along the lines of the tagline).

But it’s fun. You sit back, relax, and enjoy the absolute absurdity and undeniable stupidity of it all. Why does everything happen? Why must the heroine do what she does? Is any of it real? I don’t think there are answers, and fans haven’t bothered to find out. Like the inexplicably dressing in goblin masks, or singing Magic Dance down hallways in the mall, enjoying the movie doesn’t make sense. Its like that quote from Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (I paraphrase): It doesn’t have to have a point. That’s why it’s candy.

Now, like candy, sometimes it’s a little too sweet and pointless for some. You also can’t live off of it. But, for me, I can revel in the inexplicable song-and-dance sequences, the pointless hash of minor characters and the pit of helping hands just as I can enjoy the memories of the childhood games I used to play (which were oddly similar). Yes, your brain will never find a reason for Labyrinth, but your imagination can be tickled, and eccentric people can be sent on happy trains of nostalgia.

I don’t think that the movie was trying to be a Wizard of Oz. I’ve read the Brian Froud books, and watched the makings of the movie, and I think it was mean’t to be just what it turned out as. What that is is still a mystery, but fans don’t care. Secondly, the world of the Labyrinth, as far as I could tell, came out of Sara’s head. So, the fact that all of the supporting characters are there for her makes perfect sense. Also, fairytales tend to have this same “flaw.” I think Labyrinth is a fairytale. Why do gates that need to be oiled by good maidens exist? Do they have aspirations? Nobody cares. It’s the maiden’s journey that we care about.

At any rate, I think that you were looking too deeply into the whole affair. I’ve seen the movie numerous times, and every time its more fun and less reasonable. Trying to find meaning in The Labyrinth is like trying to find meaning in Jabberwocky. Once you accept that there isn’t any meaning, you can enjoy the film, gaze in awe at the puppetry (and wish that computers had not replaced them) and sing obnoxiously along to the 1980s soundtrack.

Who says you have to find meaning in candy? Dance, magic dance! Jump, magic jump!

Film critics always miss the point. That’s why it’s film criticism.

But take heart. You are exactly the reason I rated the movie “C,” meaning “your call,” instead of something lower. If you get that much out of it (and I suspected you were out there when I wrote my review), I have no objection. (With movies rating lower than a “C,” I do have an objection.)

I can’t resist noting that the movie version of The Wizard of Oz also suggested that the whole adventure came out of Dorothy’s head, but that didn’t mean that the whole story was all about her and the other characters were only there to support her.

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Re: Friendly Persuasion (1956)

I’ll throw my theory into the public arena for open debate. I propose that Jessamyn West’s novel, The Friendly Persuasion, was actually written based on the real life and family of my GGF, Jesse Walter Birdwell of Sullivan County, Tennessee. I am his namesake, Jesse Walter Birdwell (IV). What say you?

Do you still have your great-grandparents’ organ? I like their approach to resolving marital conflicts, if not necessarily civil ones.

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