The Sci-Fi Christian Classroom: Introductions

September 4, 2013

SFC Classroom

Ben DeBono and new contributor Adam Pracht look ahead as they discuss the first installment of a new Sci-Fi Christian series: “The Sci-Fi Christian Classroom.”


Adam: So, Ben, I’m curious what your first impressions were when I first called in about “Superbook,” especially as a portion of that was a “Ben was wrong…”

Ben: Honestly, I was mostly just thrilled, as I believe you were, to find someone else who remembered Superbook. There were actually a few listeners who mentioned remembering it, but you were the only one who actually took the time to send in a voicemail, so that made it fun.

A: I’ve noticed when it comes to podcasts and radio that submitting your comments in audio form tends to make it more likely you’ll be read.

B: As for the whole “Ben is wrong” nonsense, I wouldn’t say I was wrong so much as mildly misremembering a few of the facts.

A:  “Mildly misremembering”… I’ll have to remember that one for later use.

B: It’s a good line. Much better than admitting to the “W” word.

A:  What you’ll find more unbelievable [sic – retained for the irony] than that I found you made a mistake is that it was actually Episode 90, Catholicness, that got me hooked into the Sci-Fi Christian, as I was also in the midst of RCIA [Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults] at the same time you were.

B: Actually, that’s one of my favorite episodes we’ve done. Granted it’s light on sci-fi but it was a great example of my personal life and the show merging in a unique way. In a very real way it showed Matt processing my conversion and me opening up about that personal decision. I’m really proud of our conversation in that episode – an ecumenical triumph if I do say so myself. Plus, the feedback we got was very encouraging and supportive

A: Well-deserved.

So anyway, should I describe my idea and then you can say why you’re actually agreeing to this crazy thing?

B: Sounds good to me.

A: Basically, there’s this site called “Coursera.” It offers college-level courses for free from respectable colleges all over the States. It’s the same course you get as an enrolled student, but it’s free because there’s no college credit for it. But, there is a printable certificate at the end.

B: It’s all about the printable certificate.

A: Yes, reminds me of an early Simpsons: “Brunch? What’s that?”

“You’ll love it. It’s not quite breakfast, it’s not quite lunch, but it comes with a slice of cantaloupe at the end. You don’t get completely what you would at breakfast, but you get a good meal.”

Basically, it’s a great way to learn about a topic you have an interest in, but without dropping the cash.

So, yes, we’re basically commandeering someone else’s idea and hard work preparing a class and shoving it in here as a regular article called “The Sci-Fi Christian Classroom.”

B: Sounds awesome. I’m a big fan of taking someone else’s hard work and calling it my own.

What topic are we going to be doing?

A: The first one you and I will be tackling is… um… wait for it.

Here we are: “Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative.”

Perhaps it will sound more exciting like this:

“Online Games! Literature! New Media! And Narrative!”

B: Oh yeah, when in doubt add exclamation marks.

A: Yes!

It’s taught by Jay Clayton of Vanderbilt University. He’s basically taking the original Lord of the Rings and works that inspired it, then looking at how they got transformed into the recent movies and the “Lord of the Rings Online” video game (Which also happens to be free). We’re going to be taking the class and having little weekly discussions about the Christian viewpoint on what he’s talking about.

I suppose we should give the link:

B: I’m excited about it. The topic of the course is obviously right up my alley. Obviously, anyone who listens to the show knows I’m a huge Tolkien fan. I’m also fascinated by MMORPGs, though I confess I’ve struggled to get into them myself. What I’m curious to see in this course – and in our playing the game while we take it – is how well those two go together. I have to admit, I’m skeptical.

A: I’ve tinkered on the MMORPG. I have my doubts, but there are some hopeful signs. For starters, they seem to faithfully reproduce the nature of magic in Middle Earth – that is, usually subtle and prone to support rather than just BOOM! Also, I like that the story of the characters you create, at least initially, interweave with the plots of the books. For example, early on as a Hobbit, you run across Frodo, Merry, Pippin, and Sam in the Shire as they’re heading for Bree. They duck off the road as a Black Rider comes and you have an encounter with the rider early on.

So I’d like to hear why you agreed to run this series and what your first exposure and background with Lord of the Rings was.

B: My reasons for coming on board are simple: I love the topics and I love to learn. If I can combine both with what we’re doing on The Sci-Fi Christian then being involved is a no brainer.

My first exposure to Tolkien came in the form of the Rankin-Bass Hobbit cartoon at around age 6. Not the best introduction perhaps (I still have the damn Greatest Adventure song stuck in my head all these years later), but it worked.

I borrowed my dad’s copy of “The Hobbit” shortly after and started reading. I don’t remember how long it took me to get through but I made it. I started on Lord of the Rings shortly thereafter. That was probably a little early – I remember it taking a very long time to get through and a lot of it went over my head – but finishing it felt like a rite of passage to me. If I could read Tolkien, I could read anything – or at least that’s how it felt at the time.

Since then I’ve read the books more times than I can count. There’s always something new and wonderful that comes with each rereading. How about you? What was your experience?

A: You had the benefit of early exposure. I’m sort of an oddball in my family with my love of sci fi and fantasy. I can’t really think of anyone else in my immediate family who loves it to the extent I do…

That’s not to say they won’t watch it… it’s just rare for them to read it. Sounds… like… someone… familiar… not… sure… who… it… could… be… hrm…

B: Hmmm, that’s ringing a bell for me too.

A: Yeah… almost like it’s someone… close to one of us. Like someone… you, maybe… yes, you speak with on a least a weekly basis…

B: The name is right on the tip of my tongue.

A: Mmmmm… Mmmmm… what could it be?

B: We might as well go ahead and throw Matt under the bus. It’s not like he’ll read this!

A: Matt Anderson doesn’t have a Google Alert on himself?

B: I doubt it. The SFC’s technical forte isn’t coming from his direction.

A: Maybe I’m just that egotistical… All those alerts are either me or a high-school kid in Nebraska also named Adam Pracht… who plays football. Needless to say, I couldn’t have a more different namesake.

Anyway – BACK TO TOLKIEN, nerds!

B: It wouldn’t be an SFC conversation without a good tangent here and there.

A: Banana hammock.

I’m sorry… “Scrubs” reference.

Anyway. My first exposure to Tolkien came from my close friend, Kristian, whom I met in 6th grade. I can trace most of my nerdiness today to his influence.

B: So you discovered Tolkien in spite of your non-sci-fi reading family.

A:  Right, somehow, in spite of Kristian’s influence, I didn’t get around to reading Hobbit and Lord of the Rings until after my freshman year of high school. Blew through about one book a week one month during the summer.

B: That’s awesome! It’s a good inspiration to teach my kids to spread the Tolkien-Gospel from an early age.

A: To a certain extent, it was probably good I didn’t try to tackle Tolkien until later. I appreciated the nuance and the slower pace much more. Not to mention the suspense. (Come on, Sam! Come on, Frodo!)

B: Yeah, that was definitely something I lost reading it early.

A: Sam is, by the way, my favorite character.

B: Mine, too.

A: I mean… ever…

B: I’d have to think a bit before I’d give him that title, but he’s definitely in the running.

A: Who else is in competition? I’ll tell you why Sam’s better.

B: Another Sam – from Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light – is up there. I’d have to give some thought to other characters.

A: Oh, well I haven’t gotten to that one yet, so I can’t really argue it.

Many of Sam’s lines are on my “Guaranteed ways to make Adam cry” list.

“I’m going alone, Sam.”

“Of course you are, and I’m coming with you!”

B: That’s maybe the best Sam/Frodo moment in the entire series.

A: And… “I can’t carry it, but I can carry you.”… screen currently blurry… some sort of… technical glitch…

B: Those are easily two of my favorite scenes in the entire series, which ironically brings me back to some of my concerns for the game. I’m not convinced a game can integrate into that world without being exploitive of it.

A: Well, here’s something to consider: All derivative works are, in a sense, exploitative. You could even go so far that Tolkien exploited his own work in “The Hobbit” with “The Lord of the Rings.”

B: True, but there’s definitely a range when it comes to derivative exploitation. Some people – I’m looking at you, Christopher Tolkien – go to the extreme of any adaptation, including the movies, being inappropriate. Others take an open the floodgates approach. I’m in the middle so I’ll be curious to see – as we play the game and take the class – where I land on the game.

A: I think that’s going to be some of the point of the course. Book… movie… video game… All are entirely different media with hugely different constraints and considerations.

B: Would you say that is the attraction to the course for you – learning more about the adaptation choices for each medium and deciding which are good and which should have been done differently?

A: Somewhat… also that it gives me a good excuse to play video games… “Just doing some volunteer work for a podcast…”

B: Oh yes. I’m with you on that one.

Now remind me, and our readers, when the class actually starts

A: Monday, September 9. I might also mention the instructor started a Facebook page and a Twitter account as well: and @gamemooc

Finally, I should mention that playing the Lord of the Rings Online is optional to the course. It greatly expands the experience, but it’s not essential.

B: Plus we’ll be playing. So if you’re on LOTRO let us know in the comments and we’ll see if we can meet up.

A: Yep… what server are we on, again?

B: Withywindle.

A: Yep, everyone… Ben’s drunk.

B: It’s true, well at least a little. :)I did enjoy a gin and tonic at the start of this conversation that is now catching up with me.

A: Ben is playing a Dwarf Champion named… wait for it… “Benisright” and I’m playing an elderly Dwarf Hunter named “Adamisleft.”

B: Feel free to use any other directions in your character names.

A: Oh, and if you’re not into Lord of the Rings… well, shame on you… but there will also be another course starting on Sept. 23 called “Comic Books and Graphic Novels.”

B: Yep, we’ll be talking more about that one as we get closer.

Well, Adam, unless we want to delve deeper into my drinking habits I say we call it until our next installment!

A: Nah, we’ll save the further delving for group on Tuesday… you’re supposed to bring the doughnuts.

B: I’ll fax them your way.

A: Mmmm… toner-y.

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