Monday, April 5, 2010

The Greatest Self Contained Epic Ever Told!

I've noticed something lately.  Stories that have a definitive beginning and end are much preferable to stories that meander along, constantly trying to keep people coming back, usually for the next month (comic books), next week (TV shows) or next release (movies).  Comic books seem to be the best illustration of this.  Lacking time and money to keep up with the current crop of comics, I still flip through a few on the newsstand on an irregular basis, and there just seems to be a lack of desire to start a story, tell it, and move on to the next one.  Instead there are constant tie-ins, hints, and teasers, all designed to get one to buy next month's issue to see what the next big event is. 

Most of the best comic stories I can think of were very closed.  Yes, there was some room for expansion and exploration, but the story itself was self contained.  Watchmen, Alex Ross' Kingdom Come, and The Dark Knight Returns can all be picked up and enjoyed by themselves, without knowing the depths of comic continuity, or having to pick up a dozen other issues to find out the rest of the story.  (Marvel did this for a few years, running a massive crossover through all or most of their title's annuals each year.  The stories were frequently good ones, but the set up required buying books that an individual might not be following just to get the whole story, which was very annoying for some of us.)  The Age of Apocalypse, a massive X-men story from several years ago is a great example of a closed storyline, because there were only two ways for the tale to end, and both involved the destruction of the AoA universe. (It all makes sense if you read the story, which has been collected into four tradepaperbacks.  Look 'em up at your local comic shop)

Personally I see this same closed storyline in the Bible.  In it's pages we start with God speaking Creation into existence, and end with the final destruction of that Creation, leaving only New Jerusalem (Heaven) and the lake of fire (Hell) moving into a new and final era.  In between we see man created, man falling, God's chosen people created, God's chosen people falling, God fulfilling the promises He made by sending a perfect sacrifice for all man's sin, and the initial spreading of the possibility for eternal life and fellowship with God.  There is plenty of room left for the aforementioned expansion and exploration, as we each continue to write our own parts of the story, and look to the accounts that others have left us, but even if we never crack open St. Augustine's Confessions or John Wesley's Journals or C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity, just having the basic story is enough to satisfy what we need. 

Another parallel that can be found is that sometimes, people try and take a good story and garble it up with their own additions, expansions and explorations. Just look in the religion/Christianity section of any bookstore, and one can find numerous interpretations of what the Bible and it's accounts really mean, according to any one of a number of experts on the subject.  Usually, these interpretations are little more than adjusting the Bible to agree with the experts viewpoint.  Just to throw my own ideas in here, such predispositions are likely the reason why the Bible is such a self contained account, to help prevent later additions or amendments.  Nothing in Scripture accounts for future revelations like the ones claimed by some cults and churches.  To my knowledge, the books of the New Testament specifically have stood up to the numerous questions and testings of their accuracy and authenticity, while the various "new" books of scripture that have popped up over time keep falling by the wayside.

A movie many many moons ago called Jesus' life the greatest story ever told.  In many ways, the entire Bible is Jesus' story, letting that title apply to all sixty-six books.  How could the greatest story ever told not be a complete epic in and of itself, not needing crossovers or prequels?  If it was left open-ended, with the final chapter a mystery to be waited up, would it still be the greatest story?  Of course not.  So this week, when you're reading your Bible, or even if you don't read a Bible, think about the intertwining of those sixty-six books, how they are woven together to tell such a complete tale, the entirety of this age, and the entrance into the next.  While you're thinking about that, think about how, when this epic comes to an end, there are only two options left for residence, and which one you will be calling home.  

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