Wednesday, March 25, 2015

What I'm Reading: The Wrenchies

My friend who's into really weird comics loaned me the graphic novel The Wrenchies, by Farel Dalrymple. This one is pretty bizarre, but pretty great as well, and is probably one of the best loans I've gotten from my buddy. It's tough to describe succinctly what's going on in this one, but I'll give it a shot.

The Wrenchies are a youth gang (they seem to be between eight and twelve years old) on a future Earth where some combination of demons and radiation has turned cities to uninhabitable wreckage and depraved monsters roam the landscape. The five members of the Wrenchies are close-knit, and have a friendly rivalry with other gangs as well, with whom they sometimes team up for drug-fueled parties or to fight monster invasions. At some point when a kid enters his teenage years, unstoppable demons known as Shadowsmen turn up to carry him off, no one knows where to, so there's no reason for the gangs not to live it up all the time and treat life cheaply.

But the Wrenchies are also a comic book read by Hollis, a nine-year old boy in the real world who dresses up like superheroes and is ostracized by his schoolmates. He dreams of being tough and resourceful like the characters in his favorite comic.

The comic book is the creation of Sherwood, an alcoholic comic artist whose friends and co-workers all seem awfully like adult versions of the characters in the comic. His psychiatrist is convinced that the story he tells of entering a cave with his brother when he was a kid and encountering a demon that attacked them and released demonic spores into the air is perhaps a metaphor his subconscious has produced for something else terrible that happened when he was young. As for his tales of fighting demons after work and working undercover as a spy, these must surely be delusions that can be treated with medication, right?

There are a lot of cool characters and fun plot elements here, and Dalrymple layers them together thickly, with frequent cuts among the places and time-periods, as well as shifts in tone. The overall effect is of a world where the decaying present-day and the dystopian future bleed together, where time boundaries dissolve and people can encounter their future selves or re-arrange their pasts. One character, a robotic giant known as the Scientist, spews philosophical nuggets as he travels with the Wrenchies, lending a sort of profound atmosphere to parts of the book and providing possible explanations for some of the stranger goings-on.

I would recommend this to people who like dark and weird and don't mind a fair amount of ambiguity in plot structure. I guess that narrows the list of potential readers down quite a bit. Well, it won't be everybody's style, but for those who dare it, The Wrenchies will prove a fascinating read with meaning on several levels.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

What I'm Reading: The Screwtape Letters

The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis, is an epistolary novel containing the letters of a demon, Screwtape, to his nephew Wormwood. Wormwood is a tempter, assigned to lead a human being astray so Satan can take his soul, and he's having some trouble with his charge. Screwtape offers his nephew advice, mostly in the form of explanations of the human mindset and human behavior, and which strategies for leading a human astray might prove effective.

It's quite a clever book, and although we never learn the human's name we come to feel for him and his family. We learn a lot about the demons too, and the whole Infernal bureaucracy set up for capturing human souls. Although Screwtape's letters are exceedingly courteous, and he always signs them "Your affectionate uncle," we do get hints that there is not really love among demons and the relationship between Screwtape and Wormwood is really based on nothing more than self-interest. I also found it striking that the demons don't really understand God and his love for humans, and consider his offering them salvation as a pretext or elaborate deception, though to what purpose they can't comprehend.

We're not meant to take this literally, of course, but Lewis is making a larger point: how easily humans fall into sinful ways, and that evil forces have a part in doing this. But by depending on God, we are able to minimize our sin and receive forgiveness for when we do inevitably err. It's a great book for Christians during Lent, but really it's so well-written that I think even non-Christians would find it interesting, and there's no reason it wouldn't be suitable any time of year.