Erased from History

Once upon a time there was a civilization along the Indus River. We know it from the ruins of hundreds of cities found up and down the river and in parts of India and Pakistan. The cities feature neatly laid-out streets, efficient drainage systems, impressive public buildings–obviously a highly-sophisticated civilization. It must have been the home of millions of people, long ago: people who had writing, standardized weights and measures, painting and sculpture, and foreign trade by land and sea.

They must have had rulers, generals, poets, scholars, architects, merchants, priests and gods, and all the rest. But we don’t know the name of even one person who lived in that civilization. Not one.

We can’t read their writing, not one word of it. We don’t know what they called themselves. We don’t know what they named their cities. We know nothing of their gods, or their beliefs. Had archeologists not dug up their cities, we would not know that they had ever been there.

These people were contemporary with civilizations in Egypt, China, and Mesopotamia. Unlike the others, the Indus Valley civilization sank into an oblivion so total that it might as well never have existed at all.

What happened to it?

We don’t know, and probably we’ll never know. But we can speculate.

Ancient Hindu legends seem to hint that Aryan invaders conquered and destroyed the Indus Valley cities. But archeologists have been unable to find any evidence that any of the cities suffered the ravages of war. Nor have they found any evidence of plague, catastrophic drought, etc.

Did God erase them from history because of some sin so monstrous that it could not be recorded?

Did they reach a point in their history when they came to doubt the goodness of their own country, and to despise themselves?

Did their leaders pursue policies so ruinous, so absurd, as to leave their civilization with no witness but its own deserted cities?

Pray we don’t wind up the same.

A Superb Sequel Takes Bell Mountain Readers on a Wild Ride by Robert Knight

Sequels rarely equal the first book in a series, with notable exceptions.

Lee Duigon’s The Cellar Beneath the Cellar is one. Duigon, one of the most cogent and entertaining Christian cultural columnists, picks up where his earlier fantasy novel Bell Mountain left off.

It’s fair to say that Cellar might even top Bell Mountain no easy task. Like any worthy sequel, The Cellar is intriguing enough to stand on its own, although I would recommend that readers start with Bell Mountain. As with its predecessor, this new book is geared to young readers but does not coddle them. Thus, it is a joy for adults to read as well.  It could even serve as a guilty pleasure for secular reviewers who set out to trash Christian novelists. But beware, if you are one of them. You just might be bewitched by Duigon’s character-rich adventure and lose some of your armor against the Hound of Heaven.

Since the plot is full of surprises, I will do my best not to spoil it here. And those who want first to read Bell Mountain should stop here, since that book, too, is full of plot twists.

Our young hero Jack and heroine Ellayne are once again immersed in a mysterious mission that might free their country of Obann from the grip of a false religion and evil overlord. Along the way, great and small battles are fought, hearts change and characters grow in wisdom. Trust – or lack of it – is a central theme.  Lord Reesh, the faux keeper of the faith whose manipulations are superbly crafted, demonstrates why villains are so entertaining.

Faced with savage threats not only from their own rulers but from invading hordes of pagan tribes, Jack and Ellayne take us on a wild ride. They are aided and abetted by the reformed heretic and assassin Martis, plus the lovable and still somewhat savage and tiny manlike creature Whit, who wields a sharpened stick with the efficiency of a Samurai. Also, Helki, a giant of a man with a warrior spirit and a father’s protectiveness.

Questions abound. Can the young adventurers trust Martis? After all, he was initially sent to kill them to stop them from ringing the ancient bell atop Bell Mountain.  And what exactly is so important about a “cellar beneath the cellar?”

The benevolent hand of God is palpable throughout the novel, even as the Great Story is told in allegorical terms. Like J.R.R. Tolkien, Lee Duigon weaves Christian sensibility into his narrative without being heavy handed. Like Tolkien, Duigon knows that the most effective apologetic isn’t compelling without a great story. So he delivers one. Again.

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A Progress Report

First, welcome to all the new visitors who came here via newswithviews.com . You can also find me at http://www.chalcedon.edu ; and if you’re really interested, visit http://www.chessgames.com and check out some of the discussions on my forum, “playground player.” And now to business:

Book #3 of the Bell Mountain Series, The Thunder King, is in its final cycle of proofreading and should be out in late summer or early fall. I think most of you will find you’ve never read anything quite like it.

Book #4, The Last Banquet, is still being proofed and still waiting for a cover. I can’t wait to see what Kirk DouPonce comes up with this time.

I’m still writing #5, The Fugitive Prince, and I expect to be at it for a while longer. The tricky thing about these books is that I have to wait for the story that the Lord gives me; I can’t force it. As the plot of this involves a great deal of treachery, it gets kind of complicated. And I can already see that regardless of how this story climaxes, I’ll need to write a sixth book.

Which suits me just fine!

A Church No Longer Christian

Just because we read and write fantasy doesn’t mean we’re out of touch with the real world. We just want to be, sometimes.

The saddest reality report I heard this week was the news that the Presbyterian Church USA had voted to remove all limitations on sexual behavior for its ordained deacons, elders, and ministers. The old requirement of “chastity in singleness, fidelity in marriage,” was tossed out by majority vote.  This was done so that openly-practicing homosexuals and lesbians could be ordained, but it would also allow openly-practicing adulterers to be ordained, too.

Why it was done defeats my imagination.

I’d like to know when God decided to let sinners define morality by a vote. What ever happened to “Thus saith the Lord”? Did God focus-group the Ten Commandments before He carved them in the stone?

What moral standards will they vote out next? When will they decide you don’t have to believe in God in order to be ordained a pastor in the PCUSA? Or have they already done that?

Meanwhile, they rather strongly insist that you believe in political morality–bow the knee to man-made Global Warming, abortion, “social justice” (a euphemism for communism), illegal alien amnesty, feminism, etc., or else! As far as they’re concerned, a pastor can spend all his spare time cruising the Garden State Parkway rest stops, as long as he supports Obamacare.

Once upon a time the PCUSA was a Christian church. But it isn’t anymore.

Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin…

Book Review: The Narnia Code by Michael Ward

(Tyndale House Publishers, Carol Stream, IL: 2010)

“The [Narnia] books are much more Christian than we’ve realized.”

-Michael Ward (p. 130)

“Lewis ate and drank from the table of pagan idolatry. He slurped it in and was so full of it, that this world of idols and sorcery came out through his books.”

-David Sorensen1

No author has ever succeeded at being correctly understood by all of his readers. C. S. Lewis is widely, but not universally, regarded as a great Christian thinker and apologist, best known for his seven books, The Chronicles of Narnia. These children’s books, also enjoyed by adults, are often held up as the best example of Christian fantasy literature.

Michael Ward, Chaplain of St. Peter’s College, Oxford, has studied Lewis exhaustively. He’d read everything Lewis ever wrote-including unpublished manuscripts and letters, poems, and childhood notebooks. If there is anything Mr. Ward doesn’t know about C. S. Lewis, chances are that nobody knows it.

Ward claims to have unraveled a secret code pertaining to all the Narnia books-something that Lewis put in on purpose, and which, very subtly, holds the whole series together while subconsciously working on the reader’s mind. No, it’s not like one of those “Bible codes” that tells you Leviticus 4:14 secretly predicts who will win an Oscar next year. It’s more in the nature of a hidden theme, deliberately concealed by C. S. Lewis, to heighten the impact of his art. So Ward’s title is a bit misleading.

Seven Heavens, Seven Books

“Lewis took the seven heavens that he so loved and used them as symbols of Christ … to present Christ in seven different ways,” Ward says (pp. 129-130). He is referring to the ancient cosmology which featured seven heavens circling the Earth, each ruled by its own “planet”-the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn-with each “planet” having certain influences on Earth and its inhabitants.

Each Narnia story is “ruled” by its own planet: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Jupiter; Prince Caspian, Mars; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the Sun; The Silver Chair, the Moon; The Horse and His Boy, Mercury; The Magician’s Nephew, Venus; and The Last Battle, Saturn. The planets, says Ward, are “spiritual symbols speaking through stories” in which C. S. Lewis “translated the planets into plots” (p. 146).

It sounds complicated, but Ward does make a very strong case. Everything he says, he backs up with quotes from Lewis himself. He also does an amazingly good job of writing in a clear, simple prose style very similar to that employed by Lewis to tell his Narnia stories. Ward sounds like Lewis. He has written a book which an intelligent child would understand, but which won’t make an adult reader feel like he’s been kidnapped by Barney the Dinosaur.

Ward has convinced me that Lewis didn’t just “throw in everything” when he was writing a Narnia tale: “randomness and mishmash are not to be found” (p. 8) in these books, he says-even when it may look like mishmash. Thus there is a reason for Father Christmas appearing in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, even if it seems careless, even silly, to insert one of our own popular culture icons into the parallel universe of Narnia-an apparent anomaly which Ward says got him started in his search for C. S. Lewis’ cryptic messages. Superman wouldn’t belong there, but Father Christmas does.

It’s not necessary to go into the details of Ward’s reasoning. His book is easy to read and explains itself. It’s a clever piece of literary detective work, and those most interested in his argument should read the book.

But we cannot help asking, given that C. S. Lewis secretly followed a cosmological theme in composing his Narnia tales: Are we better off for knowing that? Mr. Ward finds his own pleasure and understanding greatly enhanced for knowing it. Then again, millions of children and adults, over more than half a century, have adored these books without ever suspecting there were any secret messages involved.

Is that because Lewis succeeded in speaking to the readers’ subconscious?

There’s no way to know; and meanwhile, there are other issues to consider.

Bell Mountain Review by Adam Ross

The first in a series of five (thus far), Bell Mountain marks the fantasy debut of author Lee Duigon, and it is an enjoyable debut too. The story follows two children, Jack and Ellayne, as they attempt to make their way across the corrupt kingdom of Obann to climb Bell Mountain and ring the legendary bell that sits atop its peak. Long ago the bell was built by the last good king, King Ozias, but not many believe in the story any longer.

Prompted by haunting dreams of the bell and a mysterious promise made by God in the ancient Writings, Jack and Ellayne believe that the ringing of the bell will reshape the world forever. This call to climb the mountain and ring the bell is not a quest they would want to do, either. It is believed by many that the ringing of the bell will mark the ending of the world. Will they find their courage to ring it? First, of course, they must get there; the road is fraught with many dangers, like child slavers, barbarians, outlaws, and bizarre creatures emerging from the mists of legend, as well as an assassin sent to prevent them from ringing the bell by the corrupt First Prester of the Obann church.

The book is a solid one, set in a fantasy world that borders on being an alternative, or parallel, world to our own. Duigon is a Christian, and so leans heavily on events and ideas taken from the Bible. This is tastefully handled, however, and he always shifts the stories enough to make them original, while maintaining their familiar echoes. King Ozias, for instance, is something of a King David figure, and I caught allusions to other biblical stories such as Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel.

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Rabbit: Chasing Beth Rider by Ellen C. Maze

(TreasureLine Publishing: 2010)

For the past two years or so there has been an undercurrent of buzz in the book world as to when we would see the first “Christian vampire novels,” and what they might look like. The subject has even come up recently on my book blog.

Meanwhile, sleazy, slimy, most decidedly un-Christian vampire novels have proliferated (Twilight knockoffs, most of them). With so much of that going on, I had reservations about Ellen Maze’s novel-clearly labeled “Christian HORROR” on TreasureLine’s cover. Frankly, I expected to be saddled with a schlocky, formulaic horror novel with some “Christian stuff” slapped on like a decal.

Happily, I was quite wrong about that.

Why Do It?

Let’s say it right up front. Whatever this book’s shortcomings (and there are a few), Ellen Maze has taken a big step in the right direction. In fact, hers is a pioneering effort, and other Christian novelists ought to be able to build on it-especially if they’re writing fantasy or horror.

Behind this is something very important: the prospect of reclaiming the whole “entertainment” industry for the Kingdom of Christ, starting with print fiction. People in the Western world consume untold quantities of fiction in various forms-novels, stories, movies, television, games, etc.-and the vast majority of it depicts a world that is totally without God, inhabited by characters who have not the slightest sense of God in their lives. This depicts a thoroughly non-religious civilization whose like has never existed on the earth: and consumers of it spend uncounted hours marinating in it. Let the reader imagine its effects on the way such consumers think and live-including the many who identify themselves as Christian.

Perhaps finding a way to write a “Christian vampire novel” is a very little thing. But we know our God delights in producing great effects from little causes.

Fading into Obscurity

Writers hope their work will live on after them (I do, at least). In some ways our books are like our children. We don’t like to think they’ll just dry up and vanish.

I’d like to mention two novelists who were very successful in their day but who are now fading into undeserved obscurity: Edison Marshall (American) and Arthur Upfield (Australian).

Marshall wrote, among other things, historical novels. His most productive decade was the 1950s. Among his most successful books was The Viking (1951), which was made into one of my favorite movies as a kid, The Vikings, in 1958, starring Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, and Ernest Borgnine. All the kids in my neighborhood played “Vikings” for weeks afterward.

Upfield wrote mysteries set in the Australian Outback featuring “the half-caste detective,” Napoleon Bonaparte, Bony to his friends. My wife and I are crazy about these books, we have dozens of them, and we’d like to have them all. But that’s getting harder and harder to do, because reprints have not been forthcoming: Arthur Upfield, it seems, is going out of print.

The Girl at the Top of the Page

For those of you who were wondering who she is, and haven’t clicked on “Books” (because then you’d know), her name is Ellayne and she is one of the protagonists of Bell Mountain and The Cellar Beneath the Cellar, and the picture you see is actually a piece of the cover of the second book. The cover artist is Kirk DouPonce, who has done a great job on all my covers so far.

As for what Ellayne is doing, hanging from a rope, well, the best way to find out is to read the book. True, you could be cheap and just ask someone else who’s read the book–but then you’d be missing out on a great story (if I do say so myself).

Writing with the Spirit

With Bell Mountain I began to write fiction in a way I’d never done before. But first I’d like to tell you about the way I used to write–a way which, after all, helped me to get four horror novels published.

I always started with a very general idea for a story. My first published novel, Lifeblood, began with the idea of a vampire coming to a suburban township in New Jersey. At the time, I was covering such townships as a newspaper reporter–and oh, boy, did I know a lot about them! “Write what you know,” and all that…