Man and His Symbols by Carl G. Jung

jungcg-manandhissymbolsMan and His Symbols is Carl Jung’s final work, and was intended for a lay readership, rather than psychology students. It is co-written with four of Jung’s associates, each writer taking on one of five separate sections. The overall theme is dream analysis.

Since I’m someone who writes extensively about the human mind, I figured it was high time I read Jung, if I aim to be taken seriously. Having finished this book, I find myself fairly dissatisfied overall. A great deal of the text is concerned with dream analysis, and so much of what was conveyed seemed unwarranted and almsot fanciful. People, objects and situations were cropping up in a patient’s dreams and the interpreter was immediately jumping to firm conclusions about what the presence of this or that meant. Often, I simply couldn’t see how such conclusions could be solidly justified.

The Jungian model of consciousness views the unconscious mind as a helper, giving us coded messages in our dreams – messages laced with symbols, some of which may be deceiphered by reference to the “collective unconscious.” This is not a paranormal idea, but is more the theory of symbols and their meanings being inherited genetically from ages past and stored somewhere in the brain. So, if we dream about a particular symbol, such as a scarab beetle, for instance, the purpose behind the presence of this object in our dream may not be consciously recognised, but our unconscious knows it from our species’ past experience. These kind of symbols Jung calls “archetypes.”

While there may be some truth to the theory of the collective unconscious, I find it hard to buy into the notion that our unconscious is like a second self that wishes to aid us. I have certainly had dreams that are meaningful, but only because they reflect the particular pre-occupations of my mind at the time. For instance, I once dreamed that I was cooking a dog alive in the oven. During this exercise, I heard my mother coming up the path and into the house, about to catch me in the act. The dream was obviously reflective of a guilty conscience and worries about my actions being found out. The real-life actions behind the dream were far more trivial than cooking a live dog, but the theme of the dream was clearly on target. I don’t think this was my unconscious giving me a warning, like a helpful big brother. It was just a jumbled up mental reflection of what was occupying my mind as I went to sleep. I have had countless dreams of a completely inconsequential nature, where I can see clear allusions to my waking thoughts, albeit messed up.

So I’m afraid I don’t accept the Jungian theory about dreams. Nevertheless, this book had nuggets of useful insight here and there, particularly on the importance of integrating the animal self with the higher consciousness.

Encyclopedia of World History

History was one of my least favourite subjects at school. I completed my education with a very poor understanding of the events that shaped the world as we know it today. In recent years, I’ve had the urge to educate myself thoroughly, so I’m always on the look-out for books that will help me learn something quickly. This title, being only 250 pages, is one such. There are several books available with this same generic title; the one under review here is published in the UK by Armadillo Books.

The volume is divided into several parts: The Ancient World, covering the emergence of homo sapiens, the Egyptians, Sumerians, Hebrews, Greeks, Romans, etc. The Middle Ages, covering the Fall of Rome, the expansion of Christianity, Islam, the Anglo-Saxons, the Vikings, the Aztecs and Incas, etc. Each subsequent part then takes a century at a time, beginning with the fifteenth and covering the discovery of the New World, the printing press, the Renaissance, the War of the Roses.

The book is roughly A4 in size, and each topic is presented attractively over two facing pages, featuring an brief overview, an illustrated exposition of key events, and a chronology. The presentation makes it feel like a school library book, perhaps aimed at a junior high level, but it’s perfectly useful for higher ages nonetheless.

Overall, this is an excellent presentation, and perfect for someone who doesn’t have the time to read a mammoth tome. My only criticism is that it’s not quite comprehensive enough. A section on the Crusades is notable by its absence.

Conspiracy buffs have ideas about a secret Illuminati manipulating the world from the shadows for hundreds or thousands of years. As someone who once flirted with that scene, I can’t help but think that if only those people would take a more thorough look at the forces which have moved the world over the centuries, they would see that their theories fall apart. The conspiracy scene seems to thrive on filling the void left behind from a poor education. That’s why it’s so important to read a book like this.

The Holy Bible: New Living Translation by various authors

Most visitors are probably thinking this is a rather strange item to find in a book review column, but a book’s a book, and the Bible is no exception. I became Christian when I was seventeen (fourteen years ago), and the fact that this is now the first time I’ve managed to read the Bible from cover to cover is a testament to how difficult an undertaking it is. As translations go, I favoured the New King James and New Internation Version over the years, but when I first started reading the New Living Translation (NLT), I found the task of understanding the Scriptures was made a lot easier. Other translations, such as the Good News Bible, have attempted this, but at the cost of accuracy. Take a look at the first two verses of the Bible in this little comparison:

King James Version:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

New King James Version:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

New International Version:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

New American Standard Bible:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.

New Living Translation

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was empty, a formless mass cloaked in darkness. And the Spirit of God was hovering over its surface.

Good News Bible

In the beginning, when God created the universe, the earth was formless and desolate. The raging ocean that covered everything was engulfed in total darkness, and the Spirit of God was moving over the water.

I realise we’re only considering two verses in the whole colossal volume, but you can easily notice how closely the New Living Translation sticks to the other widely accepted versions of the Bible, while the Good News Bible takes some serious liberties with the grammatical structure of the passage. On the flip side, a closer look at the above passage also reveals that the NLT is the only version which omits to mention “water” or “waters”; the idea of the earth being completely covered in water is omitted in the NLT. So, we’re certainly not talking about a perfect translation here. I think it’s fair to say that what you get is a fairly accurate translation that’s also highly readable.

During my reading I noticed a few departures from tradition with the NLT. Sometimes they were helpful, but other times I thought the translators went too far. Here are some that I can remember:

1. The term “brothers” in the New Testament is almost always changed to “brothers and sisters.” I think the idea behind this is that in the male-dominated 1st century the term “brothers,” when used as a greeting, was not stated in such a way as to exclude Chistian women. In the present day, it might be necessary to take away any ambiguity from the phrase in case some would think it’s referring only to males – and so, “brothers and sisters.” I’ll leave it up to you what you think about that move on the part of the translators.

2. Weights, measures and various Bible-time customs are generally changed to fit today’s culture. The practice of casting lots is helpfully re-translated as gambling with dice (which is what it was). However, I thought it was rather odd to have dollars mentioned as currency!

3. The great sea creature Leviathan, mentioned in the book of Job, is referred to as a crocodile. I’m aware of this interpretation, and I don’t think it’s the right one.

Overall, I think this is an excellent Bible translation, especially for children and teenagers. When talking with the young about God, it’s important to be able to quote God’s word without the hurdle of difficult language. And in a social climate where more and more people grow up without a church background, a translation like this is wonderful to have on hand. To illustrate the language difficulty, let me quote the famous prophetic passage, Isaiah 53, in two translations. Follow both carefully and note much easier the NLT is to understand:

New King James Version:

(1) Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? (2) For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him. (3) He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; (4) Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. (5) But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. (6) All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. (7) He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth. (8 ) He was taken from prison and from judgment, And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken. (9) And they made His grave with the wicked – But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth. (10) Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand. (11) He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities. (12) Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors.

New Living Translation:

(1) Who has believed our message? To whom will the LORD reveal his saving power? (2) My servant grew up in the LORD’s presence like a tender green shoot, sprouting from a root in dry and sterile ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. (3) He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. He was despised and rejected–a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by. He was despised, and we did not care. (4) Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God for his own sins! (5) But he was wounded and crushed for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace. He was whipped, and we were healed! (6) All of us have strayed away like sheep. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the LORD laid on him the guilt and sins of us all. (7) He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. (8 ) From prison and trial they led him away to his death. But who among the people realized that he was dying for their sins – that he was suffering their punishment? (9) He had done no wrong, and he never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave. (10) But it was the LORD’s good plan to crush him and fill him with grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have a multitude of children, many heirs. He will enjoy a long life, and the LORD’s plan will prosper in his hands. (11) When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of what he has experienced, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins. (12) I will give him the honors of one who is mighty and great, because he exposed himself to death. He was counted among those who were sinners. He bore the sins of many and interceded for sinners.

The NLT is not just for children; I’m using it as my main Bible for study purposes. It has rekindled my love for the word of God, and I have never been so motivated about reading it as I am today. I honestly do believe that The Bible is the word of God. Despite all the bickering over translations and all the questions on the accuracy of the source material that makes up our modern Bibles, there is undeniably something special about the book. It reveals human nature with an honesty that nothing else I’ve ever experienced has matched. It provides insight on how to live a successful life. Let’s not forget all the incredible history, such as the accounts of the lives of Joseph, Moses, Samson, David, Daniel, Jonah, and others. Then there is Jesus – God himself becoming a man in order to give himself as a sacrifice to rescue sinful mankind from damnation. When you start to suspect that this book may be divine in origin, then so much becomes possible: the forgiveness of your sins; the ability to break the grip of evil in your life; access to a loving God who answers prayer; divine protection in day-to-day living; and in the end, eternal life.

The Bible’s impact on history makes it the most powerful book ever written. Now, with the New Living Translation, it has never been easier to read. So, give it a try and make up your own mind.

New Traditions in Terror by various authors (edited by Bill Purcell)

The Traditions of the title refers to the scares of yesteryear: the vampires, werewolves, demons, psychopaths and other bad guys from the history of horror. And the New is a reaction against those who would claim that these monsters have said all they can possibly say, that their tales have been re-invented, imitated and expanded upon throughout the years to the degree that nothing more of interest can be said. Well, I’m still a sucker for those old B-movies, so I’m with Bill, the editor.

I dove in with great enthusiasm, and now that I’ve come out the other end, was it worth the trip? The answer is a somewhat hesitant yes. For whilst there are many good stories in here, there are many clunkers too. Here are the ones that stood out for me.

“Afraid of the Water” by Robynn Clairday. A story about a woman who is afraid of water finally reaching out and putting her trust in someone to teach her to swim.

“Cry of the Red Wolf” by Ken Goldman. Expecting werewolves? Think again. The horror in this story comes from a most unexpected angle.

“Cargo” by Sean Logan. Call me sentimental, but I just love a good zombie story.

“Hooked” by Mike Oakwood. On the surface, this is a simple tale about what it’s like to be inside a werewolf’s head. On a deeper level, it’s a story about temptation and selfishness and appetite and guilt – things which we’re all very familiar with. Hot story!

“Bottom Feeders” by Scott H. Urban. A dirty, gritty snapshot from the lives of a couple of vampires. Reads like an excerpt from a larger work. Left me wanting more.

There are no big names in this volume, which I kind of liked. It must be tempting for an editor to turn down a rubbish story by a top author, because the author’s name itself is a huge selling point. That said, we can be sure that all the stories in here made it on merit alone. But for my taste, so many of them just lacked any real punch. With seventeen tales in the volume, I had hoped for a bit more excitement per square inch.

Urban Gothic: Lacuna and Other Trips by various authors (edited by David J. Howe)

This volume landed on my doorstep as a Christmas present from the British Fantasy Society. I was delighted to receive it but am sad to report that it made pretty depressing Christmas reading – and that’s not because it’s a horror book; it’s purely down to the quality of the writing.

First off, Chris Fowler immediately scores points for writing something that touched a nerve. It’s a tale of fashion modelling taken one step too far (actually make that ten steps). In this society, where personal beauty is sought after to the degree where women will have operations to modify the shape of their bodies, Fowler’s “The Look” is a tale that seemed disturbingly believable.

Debbie Bennett is next with “Lacuna,” where it becomes difficult to tell where reality ends and fantasy begins for a couple of drug users.

I was looking forward to Graham Masterton’s offering, as I have read him before, but sadly his “The Scrawler” turns out to be a pretty lame story about a jealous husband who starts seeing secret messages addressed to him in graffiti.

If there’s one aspect of the first three stories in this volume that I didn’t like it’s this. I found it hard to care about what happened to the characters. Shallow women, druggies and jealous men didn’t do much to hold my attention. Thankfully, Simon Clark breaks the chain with “Goblin City Lights” – a cool title and an equally cool story to go with it. A man comes across some video clips on the internet of people doing bizarre things in graveyards (like eating each other’s faces whilst having sex). He decides to investigate in person, and that’s where things get truly weird. It’s a horror story in Clark’s usual raw style, with a love story thrown in. This is the one tale that drags this book out of the gutter.

Lastly, Steve Lockley and Paul Lewis have collaborated to bring us “Telling the Tale”, a story about a washed-up newspaper reporter and his agoraphobic girlfriend becoming the targets of a supernatural force. This is the longest tale in the book, and frankly I got really bored waiting for something interesting to happen.

The volume concludes with an afterword, where we are led to believe that the city of London is a very creepy place under the surface, but this bit’s just a load of drivel.

If I was marking this on the strength of Simon Clark’s story, I might give it four out of five. But sadly the other voices drag it down.