I’ve always said that if you want to write, you’ve gotta read–a lot. And I’ve learned a lot from my favorite authors.
If I wanted to show off, I’d say they were Henry James, Proust, E.M. Forster, Alice Walker, and so on. But that would be a lie. Serious Mainstream Literature–phooey. But without further ado, here are my favorites (in no particular order).
1. Agatha Christie. Never mind the whole mystery aspect of her work, which is justly famed. I read Dame Agatha for her wonderful and pithy insights into character. Nobody understood human nature better. And she can say so much about a character in so few words, deftly employing dialogue. Not like Stephen King, say, who beats you over the head with the character’s whole life story.
2. Edgar Rice Burroughs. The creator of Tarzan has two things going for him. First, nobody, but nobody, ever did a better job of juggling a complicated plot. When it comes to interweaving a bunch of subplots and keeping the action going, he’s up there with Charles Dickens. And second, Burroughs was one of those rare writers who let his imagination rip. I mean, he came up with some very wild stuff! And he knew how to make you believe in it. His Mars/Barsoom novels are his finest work.
A thousand years ago, King Ozias, the last king, placed a bell on top of Mount Yul. Scripture says that when someone rings that bell, God will hear it.
But no one ever has rung the bell.
Many people, from the head priest to a small-town teacher, have felt God stirring their heart to ring it, but the only ones obedient enough to answer that call are two children – Jack and Ellayne.
Jack is a poor boy, a child of misfortune; Ellayne is a rich girl, child of the town’s chief councilor. Together they will make it to the top of the mountain and fulfill their calling.
Bell Mountain is such a fun read for people of all ages. It’s interesting and moves at a quick pace with lots of action and adventure. As you read, you’ll meet new creatures, an expert assassin, Helki the Rod, Obst the Hermit, and Wytt the…? (Well, you’ll just have to read about Wytt.)
It’s a perfectly clean read with a ton of depth and good Christian messages. One of my favorite themes was the question of how we should treat Scripture. Is it to be taken at face-value and treated seriously, or is it just a collection of myths and metaphors?
I give Bell Mountain an enthusiastic recommendation of Excellent and will look forward to diving into the sequel, The Cellar Beneath the Cellar.
Bell Mountain is available in print from Amazon.com.
Betcha thought I was gonna talk about fantasy novels! But no such luck–we fantasy story-tellers can’t compete with some of the fantasies that are floating around out there in the real world. The difference is that our stories are plainly packaged as fantasy, while these other products of the imagination try to pass for reality.
Here are four of my favorite real-world fantasies. (Others will occur to the thoughtful reader.)
1. “A good person will be good, no matter what he believes.” This is a distortion of the Christian notion of “common grace” shared by all mankind, born of a wish to get out of owing God anything. Try to imagine a benevolent jihadist, just before he detonates his suicide belt amid a crowd of children, or a kindly SS man wishing people “a nice trip” as they’re herded into the cattle car, and you’ll see what I mean. Humanists also invoke this fantasy when they try to take credit for the moral and cultural capital built up by Christendom over the centuries.
2. “Our leaders know what they’re doing.” One hardly knows whether to laugh until one cries, or to reach for the barf bag… It seems incredible that anyone still believes this fairy-tale. Our leaders can’t even manage relatively simple tasks, like jumping hotel chambermaids or broadcasting lewd pictures of themselves, without making a total hash of it. To entrust them with war and peace, trillions of dollars, and the destinies of nations seems downright suicidal.
3. “Scientists are honest and objective seekers of truth.” Actually what they’re seeking is bigger grants, bigger paychecks, fame, and political power for themselves–and they’ll do just about anything to get it. If you can believe in the objectivity and honesty of the scientific establishment today, you shouldn’t have much difficulty believing in flying, fire-breathing dragons.
4. “Our freedom under the U.S. Constitution rests on the separation of church and state.” I’m always astounded by how many people believe this. The phrase “separation of church and state” is not in the Constitution! Honest. Look it up, read the document. As easy as it is to obtain a copy of the Constitution, and to read it, people will prattle on about “separation of church and state” without having the slightest idea of what the Constitution says or means.
I was beginning to wonder about Book #5 in the Bell Mountain series, The Fugitive Prince. I started writing it late last summer and it isn’t done yet, and as of two weeks ago, I still had no idea how the story would end.
So, as I was walking downtown to pick up our Chinese food for supper, I prayed one more time: “Lord, please show me the climax of this story–I don’t have a clue.” And, boom! By the time I’d taken three more steps, I had the whole thing. God let me see it and hear it: and boy, did it surprise me! And yet when I thought it over for a minute, I realized it was a perfectly logical climax.
Now all I have to do is get there. I expect it’ll take me another month or so.
Meanwhile, last Wednesday this confounded machine went down with a virus, and it took a repairman nine hours to put it right–and then it was all weekend and part of Monday installing updates going back to the first day it was plugged in. Thank God I didn’t lose my manuscript!
A word of warning: when you suddenly get one of those “warnings” that kind of look like they’re from Microsoft, but they’re not, you’re in trouble. Whoever is doing this wants you to fork over $40 to them to “protect” your computer–and if you don’t pay up, they will try to destroy your computer. They came very close to finishing off this one.
The technical name for this is “extortion.” As our civilization descends more and more into Godlessness, expect more of this.
Just when you thought it was safe to take the garlic down from your windows…
Of course, if you’ve read the first book of Ellen C. Maze’s Christianized vampire trilogy, Chasing Beth Rider, you already know that garlic won’t do any good against these bloodsuckers. Nevertheless, by the time that story was finished, it seemed the vampires were pretty much finished, too. But no–in Rabbit Legacy they’re back, and they’re looking for revenge.
The good news is that the sequel has built on the first book’s strengths. It has more depth of feeling, more insight into character, and more boldly faces hard questions of faith and theology. It is in every way a better book.
Can the vampire be saved?
Again, we aren’t dealing with “real vampires” in the Bela Lugosi sense of the word, but rather with a cryptic race called “Rakum.” We learned in Book One that the Rakum originated with a demon and have lived in secrecy among the human race for thousands of years. Maze’s boldness in throwing out all the vampire story conventions has allowed her to do interesting things with plot and character development.
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?
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.
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.
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.
(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.”
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.