Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Stories My Mother Never Told Me is another in the series of short story collections Dell released in the sixties and seventies. Again, Alfred Hitchcock was not involved. This collection is primarily comprised of stories with either "shock" endings or fantastical elements.

There are thirteen stories here, by quite an impressive list of authors: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Shirley Jackson, Grace Amundson, Robert Arthur, Andrew Benedict, John Collier, Gerald Kersh, George Hitchcock, George Mandel, Richard Matheson, Jane Rice, Don Stanford, and Richard Wormser.

Unfortunately, not many of these stories are very spectacular. Several stories are interesting but lack punch at the end. Collier’s "Witch’s Money" I didn’t see the point of at all. There are too many cannibal stories (you’d think one per volume would be sufficient). And there’s an inferior take on Connell’s classic, "The Most Dangerous Game".

On the whole, there’s enough to keep fans of this type of thing entertained, but nothing particularly amazing.


Friday, January 18, 2008


Alfred Hitchcock’s The Best of Fiends is part of a series of short story collections released in the sixties and seventies. Alfred Hitchcock, as I understand it, was not even peripherally involved with these books (his introductions were ghost-written).

Best of Fiends contains fourteen crime and suspense short stories by these authors: H. A. DeRosso, C. B. Gilford, Rog Phillips, Edwin P. Hicks, Richard Deming, Dick Ellis, Fletcher Flora, Neil M. Clark, Gilbert Ralston, Mary Linn Roby, Ed Lacy, Robert Colby, Jack Ritchie, and Richard O. Lewis.

Some of these stories seem amateurish and a few are predictable, but two are three are quite good and all of them are entertaining to some degree. On the whole, this is one of the weaker entries in the series, but nevertheless is a quick and diverting read.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

THE PRINCESS BRIDE by William Goldman

The Princess Bride is William Goldman's adventure novel, even though the subtitle is "S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure." Goldman is better known for writing the screenplays for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All the President's Men. He also wrote the novel Marathon Man, which did for dentists what Psycho did for showers.

Goldman frames the novel as though he discovered and abridged the fictional Morgenstern's work to make it accessible to a modern audience. This is well and good, except that Goldman's periodic interjections typically drag the novel to a halt. And his fictional, thirty page introduction to how he came across the story is downright stifling. If the reader is aware that the context for the novel is entirely fabricated, Goldman comes across as self-aggrandizing (although he addresses this in a roundabout way by accusing Morgenstern of being self-aggrandizing).

Like Goldman says, nowadays, if you're reading the book, odds are you saw the movie first. Many of the clever lines from the film were lifted word for word from the book. The modern day frame of the story works much better in the film.

For the record, this is not, particularly, a book for small children – it has torture, drunkenness, suicide attempts, occasional profanity, and Goldman's fictional discussion of the collapse of his fictional marriage, among other things.

Some versions have the first chapter of the purported sequel, Buttercup's Baby, which comes with a tiresome 20+ page introduction of its own. The chapter itself isn't particularly good either.

The Princess Bride
is a very clever, very entertaining book, but Goldman, with his framing, ultimately gets in his own way. The movie is better.


Monday, January 7, 2008

23 MINUTES IN HELL by Bill Wiese

23 Minutes in Hell is Bill Wiese's account of his claimed trip to Hell, followed by attempts at explaining what he saw and the presentation of the Gospel message. His fundamental point is this: that Christians have a duty to witness to others. My review is that of a Christian scholar, and so presupposes the existence of God, Jesus, and afterlife.

The fundamental problem with 23 Minutes in Hell is Wiese's absolute lack of hermeneutical knowledge or approach. He doesn't understand the imagery of Hebrew poetry (which is in many cases not so different from our own modern poetry). Most scriptures are used out of context, a fact which Wiese himself admits from time to time. He also seems to have no clue about the Biblical languages. He also freely quotes any theologian that serves his purpose.

In the English Bible, there are several distinctly different words that are translated as "hell." In the Old Testament, the word occurring most often is Sheol, the underworld, where all the dead go. It is in no sense a burning, flaming hell, and would not have been imagined so by the OT authors, because at that point very little, if any, understanding of an afterlife had been developed. As such, Wiese uses nearly 100% of his Old Testament references inappropriately. The reader gets the feeling that Wiese just went through an English concordance and found what he was looking for.

There are certainly questions with Wiese's account. Maybe I'm just too cynical, but I was hardly unnerved by his account of hell, as so many have claimed to be. And pretty convenient how he "instinctively" knew how the stench and the heat were "a thousand times" more intense than on earth, and that it was too hot to survive in. The reader is forced to take him at his word (or not). Did he have that experience? Maybe. Maybe he had a dream. Maybe he made it up. But of more glaring concern is how he bent the Bible to make it fit his account.

The title certainly piggybacks on Piper and Murphey's 90 Minutes in Heaven. Also, Wiese mentions he got to know a man at his gym. Wiese says, "I discovered that he had won the World's Strongest Man contest in 1996" (p. 60). Well, I looked it up. The winner in 1996 (and 1991, 1994, and 1995) was Iceland's Magnus Ver Magnusson. He lives in Iceland. I was unable to find any evidence connecting him with Wiese (although I didn't try too hard).

In spite of the heaps of criticism this book has deservedly received, it does make a good point: Christians have a duty to witness to others, as the Bible is clear that there will be a final judgment. As Wiese says on the back cover, "Even if you don't believe my story, I hope you will believe the Scriptures and avoid hell just the same." Amen to that.

From a scholarly perspective, this book is a joke. There are other "I had a personal experience" books that are a lot more credible. It is rather unfortunate that formally-trained seminarians never seem to have these experiences. It would be great to see a book like this written credibly.


Thursday, January 3, 2008

90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN by Don Piper with Cecil Murphey

90 Minutes in Heaven is Baptist minister Don Piper's account of a horrific accident he suffered in 1989 during which he had no pulse for at least ninety minutes, and his agonizing recovery. While he was dead, Piper says, he went to heaven briefly and saw all his departed friends and loved ones. When he came back to life, he was on the verge of death because of his injuries, which gave him chronic, debilitating pain. During this time Piper experienced severe depression.

The title is somewhat misleading: only fifteen pages are about his experiences in heaven; the vast majority of the book is about his recovery. More than anything else, this book is about prayer. The power of prayer here is evident not only as Piper comes back to life, but as he deals with constant pain, crippling injury, and depression. Piper also shows how support of the Christian community, the true Church, really is. Piper's book is encouraging about heaven, as well. He means it, to steal the words from the hymn, to give us strength for today and hope for tomorrow.

Piper gives a frank, humble, and relatively unflattering account of things. His story is incredibly inspiring without that elephant in the room, his purported trip to heaven. Did he really go? The skeptic in everybody says "Hey, wait a minute." But it was nothing short of a miracle that Piper survived in the first place. And there wasn't anything in Piper's brief account of heaven that raised any major red flags. So yeah, why not? I don't usually do this, but yeah, I'll buy it.

God never promised that things would be easy, and those who argue that God should have healed Piper completely miss the point. The point of life isn't healing; it's to do the will of God. Piper has reached many people with the Gospel because of his experience, and he is able to relate to people with similar conditions because of it.

One brief complaint: particularly toward the end, the book tends to get bogged down in minute detail and slight repetition, and the reader may find himself skimming at times.

The Doctrine Police are delighted to issue no tickets for this one.

90 Minutes in Heaven
is a fascinating account of physical recovery, and gives excellent perspective on how to deal with pain and illness. It emphasizes the power of prayer, the value of the support of other Christians, and the reality of heaven.