Monday, October 31, 2022

Happy Halloween! Have a Free Book... No Tricks!

Want something to read while you wait for My Rock and My Refuge to get released next week?  Well, you are in luck!  Because I am offering a free copy of my Sleeping Beauty retelling The Man on the Buckskin Horse to everyone who is signed up for my author newsletter.

If you're already a newsletter subscriber, you should have gotten an email this afternoon with instructions on how and where to access your free copy!

If you're not a newsletter subscriber yet, you can follow this link or use the widget in my blog's sidebar to sign up.  And then you will receive a welcome email with instructions on how to get your free copy.

And that's all there is to it!  Happy reading!

Friday, October 28, 2022

"Kidnapped" (1971) -- Initial Thoughts

I've been interested in seeing Kidnapped (1971) for quite some time because I quite like Michael Caine, and he plays Alan Breck Stewart in this version, and I love Alan Breck Stewart.

As reasons to watch a movie go, an actor you enjoy playing a character you love is a pretty good reason, if you ask me.  And, happily, Michael Caine did not disappoint me.  He was as mercurial, good-hearted, and brave an Alan Breck as you could possibly want.  And he was never, ever boring, of course -- I'm pretty sure Michael Caine is incapable of turning in a boring performance.

Kidnapped is about a young man, David Balfour (Lawrence Douglas) who ought to inherit some sizeable property when his father dies, but his miserly Uncle Ebenezer Balfour (Donald Pleasance) has him kidnapped by the cunning Captain Hoseason (Jack Hawkins) and shipped off to be sold as a slave in the Carolinas.

Of course, David Balfour doesn't stay kidnapped.  He escapes with the help of Alan Breck Stewart (Michael Caine), a Highlander who took part in the Jacobite Revolution.  You see, the book is set in 1752, in Scotland, and the British and Scottish people are still going at each other in the fiercest way.  The massacre at Culloden Moor in 1746 was very recent memory, and yeah... lots of violence was happening, let's say that.

Alan Breck is on his way back to France to bring much-needed money to the Jacobites in exile there.  David Balfour is a Lowland Scotsman and just wants to get back to the property his uncle is bilking him out of.  They form an unlikely friendship, one a fierce and fiery rebel and the other a calm and na├»ve boy, and they stick together through thick and thin.  Including through one very sticky situation where an enemy of Breck's, one Colin Campbell, gets assassinated from ambush.  The murder is pinned on James of the Glens (Jack Watson), and he's arrested and bound to be hanged for it.

David Balfour happens to know that James of the Glens is innocent because he was standing right by James of the Glens when the murder happened, and James obviously didn't do it.  But nobody wants David to give this testimony in court because of reasons, especially not the Lord Advocate (Trevor Howard) who is convinced that hanging James will cure the Highlanders of their foolish rebellion once and for all.

Okay, so, that's a pretty fair rundown of the story.  It's all based on the books Kidnapped and David Balfour (aka Catriona, aka David and Catriona) by Robert Louis Stevenson.  And Stevenson based a big chunk of the book around real events.  Because Colin Campbell, James of the Glens/James Stewart (NOT the actor), and Alan Breck Stewart were all real people.  Colin Campbell really did get killed, in what's called the Appin Murder. James of the Glens really was arrested and hanged for it even though he was very obviously innocent.  And Alan Breck really was suspected of being the actual killer.  But Breck was never captured, even though he was convicted in absentia and sentenced to death.  Nobody actually knows what happened to him.


Well, this movie decides to make up an ending for him.  Unlike in David Balfour, where he eventually escapes back to France, this movie decides to give him a very different character arc from the books.  In this movie, Alan Breck actually did assassinate Colin Campbell, and he goes to the authorities in Edinburgh and gives himself up to try to free James of the Glens.  Because James has a pretty daughter named Catriona (Vivien Heilbron) who is in love with David Balfour, and Alan Breck decides he's had enough of war and death and running and hiding, or something.

Which I guess is a pretty cool character arc, even if it springs up very suddenly in the last 3 minutes of the movie.  And even if it has absolutely no basis in historical fact whatsoever.  I mean, we're just supposed to assume that this works, and James of the Glens goes free, and Catriona gets her dad back, and... and that is NOT what happened!  James was hung!  You can't just rewrite history because you suddenly wish you were making a movie of A Tale of Two Cities instead of Kidnapped and decided Alan Breck should have a "far, far better thing I do" moment.  Dude.


I mean... if you want to change the ending of a piece of fiction, okay, that happens.  But this is based on history, y'all.  You can't just decide to ditch history 'cuz you feel like it.  Sigh.

That wee issue aside, I did enjoy the movie, especially the performances by Michael Caine, Donald Pleasance, and Terence Howard.  Donald Pleasance was particularly weaselly as Ebenezer Balfour, miserly and conniving to the last -- his final words before he died made me laugh aloud.  

And Terence Howard really excels at playing characters who are so painfully bored by whatever is going on around them.  His dry delivery always amuses me.

I'm afraid Lawrence Douglas left me bored, which is a shame since David Balfour is the hero of the book, but this movie version is more the Alan Breck Show than anything, so I guess I didn't mind so much.  

He had a very good droopy look that would be very effective at a graveside, except we didn't really have any gravesides for him to use it at.  Vivien Heilbron's Catriona was way more interesting than his David Balfour.

Jack Hawkins wasn't in great health at this point in his life, so his scenes are pretty short and his voice was dubbed.  Which made me sad because I like him so much in things like Ben-Hur (1959) and The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957).  

Jack Watson, on the other hand, was a stand-out -- I started making up stories about his James of the Glens whenever he was on screen because he was absolutely fascinating!  I just couldn't seem to stop my imagination from spooling out little imaginary scenarios for him.  

Especially during the powerful scene where he's in prison and says goodbye to his daughter Catriona.  I felt things, I tell you.  I've seen Watson in a couple other things, but never really took much notice of him.  I'll be keeping an eye out for him from now on, though.

Is this movie family friendly?  Pretty much.  There's some very obviously fake violence, memories of battle scenes with a lot of stabbing but not too much blood, and some mild cussing.  No nudity or sexual situations (though David and Catriona do sleep next to each other in a cave at one point, but they are not alone in the cave and no extramarital activity is implied).  For a '70s movie, it's remarkably clean, really.

This review is my contribution to the Devilishly Delightful Donald Pleasance Blogathon hosted by Cinematic Catharsis and RealWeegieMidget Reviews this weekend.  Thank you for giving me a reason to finally watch this movie, fellow cinephiles!

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Movie Music: Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's "Brigadoon" (1954)

I used to listen to this soundtrack all the time as a teen. In fact, I still have most of the songs memorized, even the minor ones. I'd listen to this while I was doing schoolwork or writing, and hearing it always makes me think of my little corner in the basement where I had my desk, not far from the family computer, which was a 486 and so cool because it played CDs! (Does anyone here even know what a 486 is?) 

Okay, anyway, this is the soundtrack for Brigadoon, a musical about a very unusual town in Scotland: it only exists on earth once every hundred years. Two American hunters, Tommy (Gene Kelly) and Jeff (Van Johnson), stumble into the town on that one day, and Gene's character quickly falls in love with a Brigadoon woman, Fiona (Cyd Charisse). Most of the movie takes place during that one day they have together. 

"Once in the Highlands" is a lovely, haunting song that tells you the basics of the story before the movie even begins. I guess the show's writers audiences to have extra help wrapping their heads around this kind of odd story. "And this is what happened... the strange thing that happened... to two weary hunters who lost their way..." I like the use of chorus here because it ends up sounding sombre and eerie, and really setting the mood for the story. 

"The Heather on the Hill" is the big romance number. Tommy is fascinated by Fiona, mostly because she's not trying to get him to marry her, but also because she's quiet and intelligent and sincere. He's got a girl back in America who is loud and bossy and wants to marry him, you see, and the contrast kind of hooks him. So here, he asks if he can join her in gathering flowers. 

After that song, they dance this dance, which I love, partly because it's very different from Gene Kelly's typical jaunty, peppy dancing. Fiona hasn't told Tommy yet that Brigadoon is magical, and in the dance, she's trying to keep herself from liking him because she knows it can't last, but gradually she finds she can't help falling for him. (Her dress has the weirdest neckline ever, though -- it's always bugged me.) 

And after dancing together, she leaves, and he sings my favorite song from the whole movie, "Almost Like Being in Love." And dances a much more typical dance, for him. He says "almost," but we can all tell there's no "almost" about him being in love by this point. I'm just going ahead and including the movie clip for this song, partly because I love watching Gene Kelly dance and partly because Van Johnson is so grumpy and fed up through the whole thing that he makes me chuckle. But if you'd rather just listen to the music, you can do that too -- you don't *have* to watch it if you're not all that into musicals or whatever. 

That's all for today! But if you want a gently haunting movie to watch this Halloween, I definitely recommend trying Brigadoon for yourself.

(This review originally appeared here at J and J Productions on October 28, 2015.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Join the Book Tour for "My Rock and My Refuge"

Woohoo!  Launch day for My Rock and My Refuge is only 2 1/2 weeks away!!!  

::cue internal screaming over all the formatting and proofing I still have to do before November 8::

Yes, this means that my Beauty and the Beast retelling is going to be in your hands soooooooooon.  (Unless you're an advance reader -- then it's in your hands already, you lucky duck!)  This also means that I need to get my online book tour organized.  Which is why I'm here today.  I want YOU to join my book tour!

The tour will run from November 7 through November 18, so there are plenty of slots to choose from.  And I'm very open as far as what kinds of tour posts people can contribute.  In fact, the more variety, the merrier!  Book reviews are always good, as are author interviews.  Blog posts, Instagram posts, BookTube videos -- I'm even willing to do live interviews on Instagram, or do a video chat!  If you have a book club and want me to be the guest speaker via Zoom or Skype, I'm here for it.  

If you'd like to sign up to host a stop for this tour, please use this form to do so.

Oh, and if you'd like to know more about this book, here's the official cover blurb:

Beauty and the Beast... re-imagined...

Marta knows she shouldn't feel this way toward Mr. Wendell. She needs to keep her job as his servant, especially because her family back in Germany depends on the money she and her brother Jakob send home. Marta's new feelings can't be as important as helping her family save their bakery, can they? 

Marta doesn't want to believe the rumors that Mr. Wendell profited from another's tragedy to gain his wealth. Although his face bears terrible scars, she sees past them to his kind and generous heart. Still, she wonders why he never leaves his big house high in the Colorado mountains. Does he hide himself away because of his disfigured face, or because he has a guilty conscience? 

While Marta tries to push away her questions, others are determined to find answers. Their efforts lead to a fresh tragedy that threatens Marta's hope of finding happiness with Mr. Wendell. Will Marta fail her family and her new friends, or will God bless her efforts to build a happy future for them all?

A few reviews have already gotten shared to Goodreads, including one that says:

Okay, enough nattering.  Go sign up for the book tour!

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

My Ten Favorite Non-Scary Movies for Fall

I don't like scary movies.  At all.  But I do like a good, broody, atmospheric, gothic-type movie, especially in October.  Something with dark vibes and dark shadows and dark characters, and maybe a little supernatural or psychological eeriness tossed in, but not actually a scary movie, you know?  Perfect for curling up on the couch with a mug of hot cider and a cozy blanket while the wind howls outside and the rain taps gently against the window...

Well, if you like those sorts of movies too, here's a list of ten I love and recommend!  Just in case you're craving some dark, moody, shadowy goodness yourself right now.  Links go to my own reviews so you can learn more about those titles if you'd like.

1. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1988)  Sherlock Holmes (Jeremy Brett) and Dr. Watson (Edward Hardwicke) help Sir Henry Baskerville (Kristoffer Tabori) uncover the dark truth behind his forbear's death out on the wild and gloomy moors.  I crave this every October, really.  Some years, I make myself watch a different version, just to make this more fresh the next year, but this is my favorite fall watch.  I often reread the book in October too.

2. Jane Eyre (1983)  Lonely governess Jane Eyre (Zelah Clarke) finds understanding, companionship, and love with Mr. Rochester (Timothy Dalton) in this pitch-perfect BBC miniseries that absolutely kickstarted my devotion to the book it's based on.  (If you don't have time for all four hours, the 2011 version is my other favorite, and it's half as long.  If you want to go really classic, the 1943 version is shrouded in shadows and mystery.)

3. Hamlet (2011) Hamlet (Bruce Ramsay) suspects his uncle Claudius (Peter Winfield) killed Hamlet's father before marrying his mother (Gillian Barber), and he spends the night after their wedding trying to find out.  They trim all of Hamlet down to 1 hour and 27 minutes, give it a neo-noir feel, and it is spectacular.  However, please note that it is rated R for some easy-to-skip adult scenes.  (If you can't get your hands on this version, or don't want to deal with the adult content, the 1948 Olivier and the 2009 Tennant versions both have excellent shadowy vibes and are tamer.)

4. Laura (1944) Detective Mark MacPherson (Dana Andrews) tries to solve the murder of a beautiful woman named Laura (Gene Tierney).  Her family and friends all insist she was lovable, intelligent, talented, and altogether wonderful... so why did someone want to kill her?  This is my favorite noir film, and it has one of the best twists in any movie I've ever seen.  Go into it not knowing much more than this and prepare to fall in love with Laura yourself.

5. The Phantom of the Opera (2004)  A beautiful young singer (Emmy Rossum) reunites with her childhood sweetheart (Patrick Wilson), but her mysterious singing mentor (Gerard Butler) turns out to be an obsessive, possessive killer who wants her for himself.  The whole production is over-the-top lavish, dripping with candlelight and shadows and emotions.  

6. Dead Again (1991)  An amnesiac woman (Emma Thompson) keeps having nightmares about scissors.  A kind P.I. (Kenneth Branagh) tries to help her recover her memory.  And then they discover they may be the reincarnations of two doomed lovers who lived back during the Roaring Twenties, and solving that long-ago murder may be the only way to secure their own peace and happiness.  This one is also rated R because Robin Williams cusses a LOT in his few scenes, and there's some violence.  It would clean up easily with a filtering service, though.

7. Rebecca (1940)  A young bride (Joan Fontaine) is haunted by the suspicion that her new husband (Laurence Olivier) still loves his dead first wife, Rebecca.  Such a fascinating look at doubt, obsession, misconceptions, and consequences.  It's one of Hitchcock's best.

8. Shadow of a Doubt (1943)  A teen girl (Theresa Wright) adores her visiting uncle (Joseph Cotten) until she begins to wonder if he's connected to a recent string of murders.  Another masterpiece about doubt and fear from Alfred Hitchcock.

9. Cry Wolf (1947)  A widow (Barbara Stanwyck) thinks her late husband's uncle (Errol Flynn) is hiding a terrible secret.  It turns out he is, but it's not the secret she's expecting.  There's murder and madness and a gloomy old manor house dripping with shadows -- and also combative romance, just to keep things peppy.

10. Meet Joe Black (1998)  Death (Brad Pitt) takes on a human body to experience life, manipulating an aging man (Anthony Hopkins) into helping him.  Death romances the man's daughter (Claire Forlani), tastes peanut butter for the first time, and learns what it means to be both human and kind.  This one is PG-13 mostly for a short and easy-to-skip love scene.

Have you seen any of these?  What are some of your favorite non-scary movies to watch in the fall?

Monday, October 10, 2022

A Liebster Award

Eva did not tag me with the Liebster Award on her blog, Caffeinated Fangirl.  She didn't tag anyone, she just invited people to participate if they wanted to.  I haven't done one of these for a long time, and I really like her questions, so... thank you for the non-tag, Eva!  And, here we go!

  • Thank the blogger who gave you the award. 
  • List eleven random facts about yourself. 
  • Answer the eleven questions given to you. 
  • Tag eleven other bloggers. 
  • Ask them eleven questions.
  • Notify your nominees once you have uploaded your post.

Eleven Random Facts About Me:
  1. I've ridden an elephant and a camel.

  2. I own 182 candles.

  3. My favorite fruit is pears.  Or apricots.  Unless I can get a fresh-off-the-tree peach.

  4. I was in 4-H for 7 years.

  5. I love peppermint mochas and will drink them any time of year.

  6. I write a monthly column on Old West history for the newspaper the Prairie Times.

  7. Orange is my least-favorite color.

  8. I prefer Coca-cola to alcohol of any sort.

  9. I've broken my right forearm twice, thirty years apart, both times while roller skating.

  10. Brownies are my favorite dessert, over any pie or cake or other confection.

  11. I like to reread The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery every New Year's Day.

Eva's Questions:

Describe your favorite notebook. 

I just bought a new notebook at Walmart the other day that has Saguaro cacti, a peachy-gold-pink sunset, and the words "Give yourself space to dream" in shiny gold letters.  It's my new favorite :-)

Last five star read? 

Song of the Valley by Britt Howard.  Modern day cowboys, you say?  Yes, please!  You can read my review here.

Last one star read? 

Summer by Edith Wharton.  I almost never give one-star ratings because if I'm disliking a book that much, I tend to just not finish it.  And I almost never review books I DNF (Did Not Finish).  But man, that one, I just kept hoping it was going to have a really good twist right at the end and have things work out in a good way... but nope, didn't happen, and I was really disappointed.

Instrumental or vocal movie soundtracks? 

Both!  I love both.  And I love movie soundtracks so much, I review them :-)  Here's the list of the ones I've got posted here so far.

Movie musicals or Broadway musicals? 

Well, the only thing I've ever seen on Broadway was Hamlet, and it wasn't a musical, but I've seen lots and lots of movie musicals, so I'll go with movie musicals.

Favorite animated movie? 

Robin Hood (1973).  Everything about it is absolutely perfect.  I was super disappointed that the only Robin Hood merch we found at Disney World back in March wasn't even at Disney World, it was at the big souvenir shop in Disney Springs.  And it was just one small enamel pin.  I was vexed.  And saddened.  Because a movie that wonderful deserves ALL the merch!  I did pick up a cute mug from the BoxLunch store at our mall this weekend, though.

Top three favorite fictional characters of all time? 
  1. Sergeant Saunders from Combat! (1962-67)
  2. Sherlock Holmes from the canon by A. Conan Doyle
  3. Wolverine from the X-Men comics and movies

What’s your go-to snack? 

A spoonful of peanut butter with a handful of chocolate chips.

What’s your favorite thing about where you live? (House, state, country…) 

Well, Tir Asleen is the first house we've ever owned, and I love it because it is all ours.  And it is beautiful.  It has a wood-burning fireplace, a library, plenty of space for guests, and almost a third of an acre (which is a huge lot around here) with nearly 20 trees.  I love it.

Top three favorite scents? 

Amber, cinnamon, and lavender.  Maybe not all in one candle, though -- that would be weird.

Do you own any LEGOs?

Personally?  Yes, maybe ten sets.  Most are from my childhood, but some are sets I've bought in the last few years.  Our family, though... owns hundreds of thousands of Legos.  And I am not exaggerating.

The library is also known as the Lego Room...

I am going to be rebellious and not tag anyone, since I wasn't tagged for this myself.  If you want to answer Eva's questions, go right ahead!  Just be sure to credit her post, not this one.

Monday, October 03, 2022

Forgotten Front: "Combat!" (1962-67)

This weekend was the sixtieth anniversary of Combat!'s television premiere!!!  Time to celebrate!!!

I’ve had the same favorite show since I was fourteen: Combat!, a little-known drama from the ‘60s set in France during WWII. For twenty years, I have joyously slogged around muddy Normandy with a squad of grungy American GIs, fighting Nazis and coming to grips with hard truths about the way the world works. 

A gritty WWII drama might not be the kind of show you’d expect a fourteen-year-old girl to love, I suppose. Ahh, but I was learning to appreciate good writing and good acting, and Combat! has an ample supply of both of those. By the end of my first episode, I’d fallen in love with the show and one of the main characters, a sergeant named Saunders. 

Combat! had two stars: Vic Morrow as Sgt. Saunders and Rick Jason as Lt. Hanley. In an interesting departure from many dramas of the time, Morrow and Jason shared top billing by alternating weeks as to whose title card appeared first and who would have the most screen time. 

Saunders leads a squad composed of several regular characters, and most episodes also involve some replacement soldiers who either die off at the first opportunity or are played by a guest star and have a crucial role in the episode’s plot. The regulars included a lithe Cajun (Pierre Jalbert), a wise-cracking city boy (Jack Hogan), a giant farmer (Dick Peabody), a medic (Conlan Carter), and a perpetually naive youngster (Tom Lowell). Together, they did everything from saving babies to rescuing downed pilots to blowing up bridges. 

It’s the seven regular characters that set Combat! apart from all other shows, for me. None of them are cardboard cut-outs or caricatures. Throughout the show, they’re allowed to explore various facets of their personalities, grow, and change. Friendships form and dissolve, wounded people get healed, whole people crumble around the edges. 

And as for Sgt. Saunders… I could spend an entire article rhapsodizing about him. When I was fourteen, he embodied all the traits I wanted to have myself: courage, strength, determination, and loyalty. Now, he represents a whole different set of virtues I’m seeking: kindness, gentleness, compassion, and willingness to sacrifice himself for others. But before you dismiss him as a boring saint, I should mention he is also stubborn, short-tempered and has a hard time changing his mind about people. Like real people, he’s full of contrasts: patient and demanding, caring and harsh, comforting and deadly. A complex and rewarding character to study, indeed. 

Unlike most shows set in WWII, Combat! doesn’t shy away from tough subjects like collateral damage, cowardice, civilians fraternizing with the enemy, and even death camps. While it never touches directly on the Holocaust, since the setting never changes from Normandy, they do manage a story involving Polish prisoners shipped there to build things for the Nazis. Some episodes grapple with the problem of soldiers receiving orders they feel are morally wrong. Others deal with the worth of human life, the definitions of courage and cowardice, and the role of women in a changing world. Even the enemy soldiers are portrayed as real people, not paper targets, and the question of whether enemies can work together for a better good is addressed many times. 

As you might expect, a show with storylines and acting of that caliber boasts a massive number of big-name guest stars. Actors asked their agents to try to get them a slot on Combat!—such as Robert Duvall, Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, James Caan, Leonard Nimoy, and many more. It was a meaty show that serious actors wanted to be a part of; many of them specifically wanted to work with Morrow, who was widely respected as a contemplative, giving actor. Future Oscar-winner Robert Altman directed ten episodes in the first season, most of which are spectacular. Richard Donnor helmed one as well, long before he became famous for directing and producing movies like Superman, and Lethal Weapon

As for the look of the show, the production crew did a fantastic job trying to make everything look as real as possible. They used actual war footage in many episodes, realistic period weapons and uniforms and vehicles, and as many actual German-speakers to play the “Krauts” as they could. In fact, one of the most realistic things about the show is how the German soldiers speak German and the French speak French, and with only one episode as an exception, there are no subtitles for them—the audience remains as uninformed about what they’re saying as the American characters, though much of the French does get translated by the Cajun soldier. 

All five seasons are available on DVD, and the show has a thriving fandom. There are many episodes on YouTube if you want to try a few. I recommend the two-part episode “The Long Way Home” as a good place to start—thanks to a longer story, you get to spend more time getting to know the regulars. If you enjoy deep writing, excellent acting, character-driven drama, or the WWII era, I can’t recommend this show strongly enough.

(This post originally appeared in the September/October 2014 issue of Femnista magazine.)

Sunday, October 02, 2022

This Isn't Some Fairy Tale: Angel and Buffy

When people find out one of my favorite fictional characters is a vampire, they tend to give me funny looks. And I don’t blame them. When I was a teen, if you’d told me I was going to become a devoted fan of two shows involving vampires, slayers, and other seemingly scary stuff, I’d have given you the same funny look. After all, shows that feature vampires, demons, and magic… those kinds of shows don’t interest a Christian. 

Or so I thought. 

My sophomore year of college, all three of my roommates loved a show I’d vaguely heard of: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. They tried to explain it to me. I wasn’t interested. More than that, I was a bit suspicious. Like I said, the show sure didn’t sound like something a Christian would watch. Why would they go near it? 

Then, I caught a cold a couple weeks into our fall semester. I had to skip my Tuesday evening self-defense class. I was too miserable to do homework. And my roommates gathered in front of the TV to watch the season premiere of that dreadful-sounding vampire show, followed by the series premiere of its new spin-off, Angel. Sick and sleepy, I blearily watched it with them. They spent every ad break explaining things to me so I wouldn’t be so confused. By the end of the two hours, I still wasn’t interested, but the guy playing Angel (David Boreanaz) was tall, dark, and oh-so-handsome. And the shows weren’t as scary or weird as I’d thought. I agreed not to get upset if they watched more episodes in my presence. 

The next week, they taped both shows and re-watched them around me later on. I admitted the acting and writing were above-par. And then, episode 3 of Angel arrived. It was funnier than the previous installments, so I paid a bit more attention than I had the week before. In it, two other vampires captured Angel and tortured him for information. My heart still pounds when I remember the first time I watched that scene. One bad guy wanted Angel to tell him what he truly wanted more than anything else in this world. He asked over and over, inflicting more pain with each repetition, and after a bunch of flippant answers, Angel finally admitted that what he desired more than anything was… forgiveness. 

I think I forgot to breathe. With one word, Angel had my full and complete attention. By the end of that episode, I was beyond hooked. I needed to know what kind of monster would desire forgiveness. The more I delved into the shows, the more Angel’s character arc fascinated me. An idle wastrel in the 1750s, he succumbed to a woman’s temptations and, instead of a few moments of carnal delight, gained a monstrous immortality. She turned him into a blood-sucking fiend who spent a hundred years terrorizing whoever crossed his path. Then some gypsies cursed him by returning the soul he lost between his death and rising. In the show, the soul contains the conscience, and with that restored, Angel was wracked with guilt over the innumerable atrocities he’d committed. 

His journey from there astounded me: his search for redemption, his backsliding, his struggle to change his very being and overcome his desires for blood and destruction. They made Angel a compelling picture of the war within each of us for mastery of our own souls. Sadly for Angel and the other characters on both shows, Christianity in their fictional world is reduced to symbols, stripped of Christ and his saving sacrifice. They can only hope they pile up enough good deeds to appease The Powers That Be. Still, at least both shows talk about souls, about hell and heaven being literal places. They declare that evil is a real thing and put a stake in moral relativity. They even state that no human is good, which is so refreshing in today’s humanistic society that prattles on about people’s inner goodness. 

Yes, most of the theology in both shows is off. Angel himself has a major works-righteousness theme going on, with him trying to save enough “innocent” people to make up for all the people he killed, tortured, and tormented when he was evil. There’s a lot of magic in both shows, used for good and evil; I am definitely uncomfortable with that. I also don’t agree with the lifestyle choices characters make, but I appreciate the fact that, more than any other shows I’ve seen in recent history, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel demonstrate over and over again that actions have consequences, that doing the wrong thing will lead you down a dark path, and that doing the right thing might not be easy, but you need to do it anyway. 

Once upon a time, the idea of vampires filled me with disgust. Now the memory of that disgust causes me to shake my head. I’m not saying everyone should run out and watch these shows, as they contain adult themes and have other content issues that make them inappropriate for some viewers, but I’m glad I gave them a chance, because they’ve taken me on a beautiful journey, one that has helped me appreciate my own faith and Christian freedom all the more. They gave me Angel, a complex, fascinating character I’ll never tire of studying.

(This post originally appeared in the Halloween 2014 issue of Femnista magazine.)