Martin Luther: Exploring His Life and Times, 1483-1546

Article excerpt

Martin Luther: Exploring His Life and Times, 1483-1546. By Helmar Junghans. CD-ROM. Fortress, $39.00.

WRITTEN BIOGRAPHIES of Martin Luther abound, but only one multimedia, hypertext CD-ROM attempts the tale. As a Luther scholar and sometime software designer, I find this production's media more interesting than its message.

Good software shouldn't need a manual, so I simply pop the CD into the drive and begin. First problem: the disk boots to the Windows Explorer and a read-me file advises me to load a font and change my screen to 640x480 and 256 colors. Easy for me to do, but for others? I decide to add the font but leave the screen at its normal 1024x768 and high-color resolution. It works.

The main menu screen shows a pastel dart-board-like arrangement with eight wedge-shaped segments, three rings and a central rondelle "bulls-eye." As I move the mouse pointer around, the shape changes, music plays, choices are highlighted, and topical illustrations appear in the rondelle. At the bottom left corner an ornate letter labels each highlighted ring: "C" for "Chapter," "F" for "Film," "T" for "Theme." There are eight choices in the outer ring, each linking to a chapter of hypertext--for example, "Childhood and Education," or "Monk, Journey to Rome, Professor of Theology, 1505-1518."

The middle ring links to animated clips covering each chapter, and the inner links to eight themes--toys, travels, purgatory, printing, angels, reading, alchemy, and life and death. Finally, revolving over the middle ring are eight stylized icons. When I finally catch one with my mouse, the less-than-helpful word "rubric" appears in the bottom-left corner. It turns out that there are eight groups of lexically arranged supplementary materials, each associated with a different icon: Biographies, Legacy (monuments and later illustrations), Pictures, Music (text, scores and audio), Text (often a quote from Luther), Chronology, Glossary and Places. The main menu also allows the user to turn off the background music--a blessing after 20 minutes of repetitive tunes--and to get help.

After clicking around a bit I find the interface easy to use and intuitive. Diving into the films, I am greatly impressed by the way the animators employ computer graphic techniques to turn 16th-century woodcuts, paintings and maps into motion pictures. Various Lucas Cranach Luthers, for example, nod yes and no, smile and grimace, walk about and make hand gestures. Popes shake their fists and glare. Sixteenth-century cityscapes become three-dimensional. Horses trot, armies move and windows open and close to change scenes. Occasionally, the animators add humor. King Henry VIII uses seven fingers on one hand to enumerate the seven sacraments, and a giant roller-brush helps Katie Luther paint the Luther house. Less humorous and even a bit disturbing are animated caricatures of some of Luther's opponents. For example, John of Leyden, the Anabaptist "king" of Munster, is literally demonized. …