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Erasing Hell by Francis Chan

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In lieu of a new Odyssey review today, I offer you a review I wrote of Francis Chan’s Erasing Hell. I promise I’ll have a review of “Return to the Bible Room” (the last Volume 2 episode) up November 20.

Then November 23 I’ll have an all-ages movie review as a short diversion. We’ll start on Volume 3 on November 27.

A Recurring Theme

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While writing my review of “The Case of the Secret Room,” I found myself referencing “Lights Out at Whit’s End.” again. For being an episode that the producers attempted to bury, it sure pops up (at least around here) a lot.

I realized I was seeing a recurring theme in Adventures in Odyssey beginning to emerge. Odyssey encourages its audience to create. I decided to create a new page called Inventor’s Corner to chronicle when this theme pops up.

You can find a link to this page along with links to several other pages in the left column. I thought I’d take this opportunity to discuss some of the pages you’ll find on At Whit’s End.

About Adventures in Odyssey, About At Whit’s End, and Odyssey Links. These are your standard pages explaining what Adventures in Odyssey is, what this site’s about, and where you can find out more about Odyssey. If you’re new to At Whit’s End, these pages would be a great place to start. If you don’t even know what Adventures in Odyssey is, check out About Adventures in Odyssey. Then buy an album and start reading my reviews. Trust me, you’re in for an adventure.

Matthew’s Glossary. The goal of all good criticism is to educate you on critical techniques and theories. Criticism that only informs you whether a specific episode is good or bad is worthless. Criticism should teach you how to tell if an episode is good or bad yourself. This ever-expanding page includes definitions to terms I use in my reviews. Some of them are technical terms from literary criticism and filmmaking, but most of them are just terms I’ve made up.

It’s All in How You Frame It. Another part of criticism is deconstructing how an episode is put together. Many episodes use a framing device. I catalog the various framing devices used on Odyssey on this page. I continually update this page as I come across additional examples and new framing devices.

The Many Hats of John Avery Whittaker. John Avery Whittaker is a true Renaissance man. The sheer number of things he knows and experiences he’s had have always fascinated me. This page is my attempt to list some of the occupations Whit has had. I’m sure this list is far from exhaustive, but I add new jobs to the list whenever I come across them.

Spoiler Policy

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Rough Bear Attack Since tomorrow’s review of “Camp What-A-Nut” contains what could be considered spoilers—especially since it is a two-parter with a cliffhanger—I thought now would be a good time to outline my spoiler policy. I will also add this information to the about page.

It is a maxim in cryptography (I’m probably the only person who would draw an analogy between criticism and cryptography) that secrecy does not equal security. An encryption method is considered secure only if how the method works is public knowledge. In fact, this axiom has been around since at least the 19th century and even has a name, Kerckhoffs’ Principle, which states, “a cryptosystem should be secure even if everything about the system, except the key, is public knowledge.”

I would paraphrase this principle for criticism as “a work of fiction (radio drama, movie, book, etc.) should still be interesting even if you know all the major plot twists in advance.” In other words, whether I will enjoy a work of fiction or not should not rely on how much I enjoy and/or am surprised by “the twist.”

Someone should be able to tell me as I walk into the theatre, “Oh, Bruce Willis is dead,” and it shouldn’t effect my enjoyment of The Sixth Sense one iota. If the movie is ruined by knowing Bruce Willis is dead, then I’ve got news for you: The movie was ruined long before “the twist” was spoiled. A movie is not as good as its “twist.” A movie is only as good as its characters, theme, and story. If these are good, they will remain good regardless of whether I’m surprised by “the twist.”

I dislike the word spoiler. It is a facile and juvenile word, a word that—like LOL and whatev—should drop out of one’s vocabulary after you turn eighteen. It implies one is using a review primarily as a consumer guide: Should I spend money on this or not?

As I’ve stated, I hope what I’m doing is more criticism than reviewing. Criticism presupposes intimate knowledge of plot details. Otherwise, an in-depth analysis would not be possible.

When writing a review, I assume you’ve listened to the episode. Of course, you’re free to read the review without having listened to the episode if you want. I’ve read some reviews where the first several paragraphs are a recap of the plot, and then just a few paragraphs are devoted to analysis. You’ll find no recap in my reviews. I presuppose you’re already familiar with the plot. If you really need a plot summary, that’s what the links to AIO Wiki at the bottom of each review are for.

Spoiler warnings are for wimps. Always expect an in-depth analysis of the plot.

The New 52 As I’ve made clear, I think all-ages is different than family-friendly. My problem with DC’s new lineup is not the inclusion of content inappropriate for children. The exclusion of all-ages comics results in DC limiting the potential size of their audience, a strange thing to do when you’re in the business of selling comics.

DC (in a desperate publicity stunt or bold creative move depending on how you look at it) canceled all of their series including Detective Comics, which had been published non-stop since 1937 and is the longest continuously published comic book. I guess since reboots were working so well for superheroes in the movies, they decided to essentially reboot all their superheroes.

They announced they would consolidate all their superheroes into 52 ongoing series referred to as the New 52. Each series would start at issue #1. So Detective Comics that ended on issue #881 in August rebooted as issue #1 in September. The writers were free to reinvent the characters. No longer were they constrained by over 800 issues of continuity.

This is an attempt to get new readers into comics who might otherwise be intimidated by trying to pick up a series with issue #881. I’ve never been a comic book person; I’ve always been more into graphic novels. But since DC has publicized this so heavily, I decided to check out the first issue of a few of the series. I doubt I’ll even read the second issue of any of them.

So far I’ve read Justice League, Action Comics, Detective Comics, and Batgirl.

DC uses their own rating system:

  • E - Everyone
  • T - Teen (12+)
  • T+ - Teen Plus (16+)
  • M - Mature (18+)

None of the 52 new series DC launched in September are rated E. Most of them are rated T, and some of them are rated T+. The four I’ve read were all rated T, but I would argue all of them except Justice League should have been rated T+.

Since DC canceled all of their old series, that means they don’t have a single series for kids. That baffles me. If they want to attract new readers (as their stated purpose for this whole reboot is), you would think Adventures in Odyssey’s target demographic of 8-12 would be their primary target too.

Comic books were at the peak of their popularity in the 1940s and 50s, and during that time, they were thought of as almost solely for kids. You would think if you were trying to return comic books to their former popularity, kids would be the first demographic you would go after.

Especially since they have four series starring Batman (Detective Comics, Batman, Batman and Robin, and Batman: The Dark Knight) and two series starring Superman (Action Comics and Superman), they could cater to several different audiences simultaneously. For example, Batman and Robin could be rated E, Batman could be rated T, Detective Comics could be rated T+, and Batman: The Dark Knight could be rated M.

What do you think? Have you read any of the New 52? What were your thoughts on them? Do you think DC would be more successful if they had more series for kids?

What do you do when the lights go out? As we saw in “Lights Out at Whit’s End,” Adventures in Odyssey inspires you to not just be a consumer but also a producer. Lights Out posts get you thinking about how you can create.

I have an idea for an audio drama series I want to create. I haven’t thought of a title for the series yet, but it is going to be about superheroes. It will emphasis biblical truths like Adventures in Odyssey. Before I start recording it though, I want to invest in a pro mic for my computer. Here’s some notes I’ve worked up so far:

Series Details

Synopsis

The series is a family-friendly superhero comedy. Rather than focusing on fight scenes and villains, the series focuses on the lives of a brother and sister superhero team and how their relationship is upset by the arrival of a new superhero who the brother likes. It is a lighthearted look at the superhero genre similar to The Tick and Jack Staff. Unlike most superhero fiction that spends most its time with the hero suited up, this series attempts to answer the question, “What do superheroes do when they aren’t on duty?” Storylines will resemble sitcom plots more than typical genre plots.

Format

Each episode is thirty minutes. The series is comprised of six episode BBC-style seasons. The episodes can contain dialogue, sound effects, and music, but narration is to be avoided. Each episode is a self-contained story, but the character’s relationships develop over the course of the series.

Main Characters

Orange Soda a.k.a. Hannah Sassafras

“Asthmatic, mother…oh, and a superhero.” 36 years old. Blue Slush’s sister. Married to Thomas Sassafras. Mother of Tommy and Timmy.

Orange Soda has the ability to spit fireballs from her mouth. She is neither fast nor good when it comes to hand-to-hand combat, but her fireballs can be deadly from a distance. Her eyes glow orange as she spits fireballs.

Hannah’s parents discovered her power when she was only four and burped a fireball. They lived in a small community (that happened to be built near a nuclear power plant) and kept their daughter’s unnatural ability a secret lest their gossiping neighbors catch wind of it. Once her brother was born, their parents gave them up for adoption to a government laboratory. She has a close relationship with her brother and tends to be overprotective. They have been fighting crime together in Wittenville for six years. She is active at the First Baptist Church and serves as chairwoman of the Events Planning Committee. The first season story arc involves a series of arsons that are blamed on Orange Soda.

Blue Slush a.k.a. Samson Straw

“Security guard by night, superhero by day.” 28 years old. Orange Soda’s brother.

Blue Slush does not require sleep. While he does not possess super strength, he is trained in martial arts and effective at hand-to-hand combat. He stays physically fit and is often aided by an arsenal of experimental gadgets he is testing for the government. He works as a security guard at night and is able to superhero all day since he does not require sleep.

Samson’s parents learned early on that their son was unusual. While their baby did not require sleep, they did. They met with scientist Dr. Hank Fizzle who adopted their children and raised them in a laboratory with another superpowered child named Gill Girl who Samson dated in high school. Samson still returns to the lab monthly so Dr. Fizzle can perform additional tests (and occasionally supply him with an experimental gadget.) He uses his time as a security guard to read huge volumes (often theological works) and has consequently amassed a huge knowledge of mostly useless trivia. When Silver Strike arrives in town, he falls in love with her, which causes tension in his relationship with his sister.

Silver Strike a.k.a. Anastacia Styles

24 years old. Silver Strike is extremely fast and agile, but it is unclear what her super powers are (or if she even has any). She’s very secretive about it, and evades the question or changes the subject when super powers are brought up.

Anastacia arrives in Wittenville and starts stealing attention from the town’s current superhero duo. Blue Slush immediately wants to team up, but his sister is more reluctant. When she discovers her brother is attracted to Silver Strike, she gets quite upset. Anastacia is mysterious about her background. She is embarrassed she used to be a jewel thief. She calls Hannah and Samson by the nicknames she gave them both in and out of costume. The nicknames are Fireball and Blue, respectively.

Minor Characters

Thomas Sassafras, Orange Soda’s Husband

Thomas met Hannah at college. They dated all four years and got married shortly after graduating. He learned of Hannah’s super alter ego during their junior year and remains supportive of her superhero work. He is a meteorologist at a local TV station.

Tommy and Timmy Sassafras, Orange Soda’s Sons

Tommy, 12, is Hannah and Thomas’ oldest son, and Timmy, 9, is their youngest. Neither have displayed any signs yet that they have inherited any unusual powers from their mother. Nor do they know their mother and uncle are superheroes. Their parents made the decision not to tell them until they turned thirteen, an age deemed old enough to keep their mother’s important secret.

Frank, Proprietor of The Fountain

Frank is the proprietor of The Fountain, an old fashioned ice cream shop frequented by Orange Soda and Blue Slush. This acerbic old man often offers frank and witty commentary on town events whether his patrons request it or not.

Dr. Hank “Pops” Fizzle

Dr. Hank Fizzle is the government scientist who adopted Hannah and Samson along with another unusual girl named Sally. He was kind and prevented the military from ever performing cruel experiments on his superpowered wards. He served as a father figure to all three, and they affectionately address him as “Pops.” Samson visits the lab monthly, so Dr. Fizzle can continue to study his anatomy in hopes of developing a pill that would allow soldiers to go weeks without sleep.

Gill Girl a.k.a. Sally Danforth

Born in the same small town as Hannah and Samson, Sally’s parents turned her over to the government when she was born with gills. She is the same age as Samson, and they dated in high school. She went off to college when Samson did an earned a degree in marine biology. Unlike Samson, she returned to the government lab where they were raised and does research with Dr. Fizzle now. She is extremely self-conscious of her gills (located on her forearms) and wears long sleeves year round to conceal them. She can only go a couple hours without needing to submerge her gills in water. When out with friends, she frequently uses the restroom “to wash her hands.”

Settings

Wittenville

A moderately-sized, nondescript North American town. It is pronounced Vittenville. It has been the home to Orange Soda and Blue Slush since they graduated college. They have been the town’s super duo for the last six years.

The Fountain

Old fashioned ice cream shop in Wittenville. It is frequented by Hannah and Samson and is where most of their serious conversations are held. The ice cream shop sells Orange Soda and a Blue Slush named after the town’s superheroes. The two always order the drink named after their alter ego. After the arrival of Silver Strike, The Fountain adds a milkshake by the same name to their menu aggravating Hannah.

What do you do when the lights go out? As we saw in “Lights Out at Whit’s End,” Adventures in Odyssey inspires you to not just be a consumer but also a producer. Lights Out posts get you thinking about how you can create.

I’ve registered the domain forkidz.org. I plan to create several subsites such as linux.forkidz.org and bible.forkidz.org starting with programming.forkidz.org.

I could use some suggestions for example programs kids would be interested. They would need to be simple such as:

  • A hangman-style guessing game
  • How old they are in seconds
  • Convert a message to ROT13 and back

I had originally stated I would fill in the gaps in the chronological order before proceeding with Volume 2. But my intention has always been to review the episodes in album order. In order to not stray from this goal, I’m going to go ahead and begin reviewing episodes from Volume 2 and mix in the unreleased episodes and episodes from Volume 0: The Lost Episodes.

The pace with which I reviewed the episodes from Volume 1 is really just not sustainable. Here’s a schedule I think is fairly realistic:

I’ll try to keep you updated about any changes to the schedule or delays. Plus, I have some surprises and Connellsville reviews planned for the gaps between episode reviews. Stay tuned!

Just finished listening to “Lights Out at Whit’s End.” I was prepared for it to be pretty awful. After all, the writers have essentially kept it hidden since its debut.

Well, I actually liked it. A lot. And not in some ironic, hipster way. I really liked it. Hopefully my review will be up tomorrow.

Today I launched an all new section, Connellsville. In this section I’ll review all-ages entertainment outside Odyssey. I’ll be taking a look at books, comics, movies, and TV aimed at all ages and see how they stack up against Adventures in Odyssey.

Connellsville Logo

Up first is my review of the first volume of The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, a hardcover collection of issues from the Uncle Scrooge comic book series. You’ll find it right below this post.

I intentionally used the term “all-ages entertainment” instead of “children’s entertainment.” Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, there is a distinction. Children’s entertainment is entertainment that, although adults may enjoy it too, is crafted particularly for children. All-ages entertainment, on the other hand, has a much bigger task. It is entertainment crafted to appeal as much to a five year old as it does to a fifty-five year old. I believe Adventures in Odyssey as well as Doctor Who and The Chronicles of Narnia fall within the category of all-ages.

All-ages is also distinct from family-friendly. There is a big difference between appropriate for all ages and appeals to all ages. Christian radio stations are family-friendly. You can safely play the local Christian radio station without fearing your five year old will hear a word you don’t want her to hear. That doesn’t mean your five year old is going to be all that interested in or engaged with the music on the radio. Most of the songs are geared to teens (or at least preteens) and older. She’ll probably enjoy CDs of children’s music more until she gets a little bit older.

At the some time, all-ages implies family-friendly. Although I enjoy Hellboy (comics and movies) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV series and comics), I won’t be reviewing any of them in Connellsville. An issue of Hellboy or an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is more appropriate for teens and up. Anything I review in Connellsville should not only appeal to but also be appropriate for eight to twelve year olds.

As I said on the about page, “I’m listening to and reviewing the episodes in the order they appear on the Odyssey albums.” There are some episodes that have never been released on an album. Occasionally the order of the episodes on the albums is slightly different than the sequence they originally aired in.

Here’s the episodes that appear on the first album in the order they appear on that album:

Episodes 3, 8-9, 11, 13-16, and 20-26 are missing. Some of these have simply never been released on an album, others have been released on Album 0: The Lost Episodes, and still others have been remade to exclude Officer Harley:

  • Episode 003: Lights Out at Whit’s End - Unreleased
  • Episode 008: Dental Dilemma - Volume 0: The Lost Episodes
  • Episode 009: Doing Unto Others - Remade as 116: Isaac the Benevolent
  • Episode 011: Addictions Can Be Habit-Forming - Unreleased
  • Episode 013: Bobby’s Valentine - Remade as 117: The Trouble with Girls
  • Episode 014: Missed It By That Much - Remade as 119: Better Late Than Never
  • Episode 015: My Brother’s Keeper - Volume 0: The Lost Episodes
  • Episode 016: No Stupid Questions - Volume 0: The Lost Episodes
  • Episode 020: Mike Makes Right - Volume 3: Heroes
  • Episode 021: The Case of the Missing Train Car - Remade as 118: What Happened to the Silver Streak?
  • Episode 022: A Simple Addition - Volume 0: The Lost Episodes
  • Episode 023: The Quality of Mercy - Remade as 115: An Act of Mercy
  • Episode 024: Gotcha! - Remade as 120: Pranks for the Memories and 266: It Began With a Rabbit’s Foot
  • Episode 025-026: Harley Takes the Case (Parts 1 and 2) - Remade as 121: Missing Person

As you can see, all but two episodes (3 and 11) have either been remade or released on a different album. The two unreleased episodes can be downloaded from The Official Adventures in Odyssey Podcast. Instructions on how can be found at AIO Wiki. (Thanks to Freddy Jay for pointing this out in the comments on my petition about “Lights Out at Whit’s End.”)

I only have one more episode from Volume 1: The Adventure Begins to review (“A Change of Hart”). I’ll publish that review tomorrow. Then before proceeding to Volume 2: Stormy Weather, I’ll download “Lights Out at Whit’s End” and “Addictions Can Be Habit-Forming” and review those two episodes, and then I’ll review episodes 8, 15-16, and 22 from Volume 0: The Lost Episodes.

I’m considering writing an article about using Adventures in Odyssey as an evangelistic tool, and I could use your help. Leave a comment or email me at matthewdmiller@swingthesickle.com.

Do you know of any non-Christians who are fans of Adventures in Odyssey? Maybe you are a non-Christian who enjoys listening to Odyssey. Your input is welcome too.

Odyssey doesn’t try to disguise the fact that it’s a Christian program. What is it that draws non-Christian fans into the series? Do they enjoy the strong storytelling regardless of the message? Are they fans of radio drama and listen to Adventures in Odyssey because it is one of the only still-running radio dramas?

The first album of Adventures in Odyssey, The Adventure Begins, skips from episode 2, “The Life of the Party”, to episode 4, “Connie Comes to Town.” Best I can tell, episode 3, “Lights Out at Whit’s End” only ever aired once and has never been included on an album. According to AIO Wiki, it contains a rap song that “the writers now consider somewhat embarrassing.”

I think an Odyssey rap sounds awesome! I would love to hear it. I don’t know if Whit was involved in the rap, but the notion of Hal Smith rapping makes me positively giddy. Assuming Focus on the Family hasn’t burned the original, I’d be all for signing a petition for Focus to release this episode. If not on an upcoming album, then at least as a download on their website.

If I’m asking the writers and producers of Odyssey to do something potentially embarrassing, it’s only fair I embarrass myself too. In lieu of the rap from “Lights Out at Whit’s End,” I put together my own Odyssey rap:

Download Where I Wanna Be

Recording I assembled the above rap completely using free software. My operating system is Ubuntu and I recorded and edited my voice using Audacity. To the left is a screenshot of me working on it.

The rap is cheesy. Production value is non-existent. (I used a $10 computer mic to record my voice.) Yes, it’s even embarrassing. But that’s the point. Come on, Odyssey crew. We know it may be a little embarrassing, but we’d love to hear your rap.

So here’s the deal, readers. If I get at least 50 comments on this post from other Odyssey listeners who want to hear the rap from “Lights Out at Whit’s End,” I promise I’ll find the email address of at least one Odyssey writer or producer and email them a link to this post. I can’t make any promises about whether they’ll do anything about it even if the email makes it past their junk mail filter.

Download the rap. Send it to a friend. Send it to a hundred friends. Remix it. Make your own. It’s up to you now. Let’s see if we can get 50 comments!