Tag Archives: Christianity

Book Review: The Dark Is Rising: The Dark, the Light, and Christianity

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1513207I found Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising Sequence—wow—fourteen years ago? It was around the same time as that I was devouring J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and Diana Wynne JonesChronicles of Chrestomanci, after Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles.

That list alone should give you some idea of the genre and the intended audience—or an appropriate audience.

I don’t think I began to really understand its complexities and nuances until maybe four years ago (at the latest). I had always sort of imagined the Dark and the Light as synonymous with the Christian symbolism with which I was most familiar. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (ESV Ps. 119:105) and “[…] the wicked shall be cut off in darkness, for not by might shall man prevail” (ESV 1 Sam. 2:9). I think it was the last book that I was reading, Silver on the Tree, when I realized that Cooper’s Light and Dark has very little to do with Christian ideology (and I think that I’d read one of Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series not long before, which is I think heavily influenced by Christian mythology, and seeing the two book series in contrast may have helped to make this revelation so jarring.)

God—the Judeo-Christian God, that is—or any other god for that matter, except perhaps Herne the Hunter, who might according to some theories have evolved from one of several pre-Christian gods—really doesn’t enter into Cooper’s story at all—as much as this book in the series happens around Christmas and the protagonist, Will Stanton, is raised in a Christian household. In Christian ideology, man cannot succeed, cannot be saved apart from God. In Cooper’s mythology, the Old Ones of the Light and the masters of the Dark are more than men, almost gods, and they rely on their own power and on men for success.  That is the starkest divide between Cooper’s mythology and Christian mythology—the source of might and of salvation and the reliance of men on God or gods on men.

Perhaps had I been raised outside of the Christian faith, I would have more fully understood Cooper’s ideas of the Dark and the Light sooner, maybe even when I first read them in middle school.

For all that I’m talking about this now, realize that as a child, I missed the nuance, I missed the replacement of God or any god with more-than-men-but-not-gods. I don’t discourage Christian parents from sharing this story with their children by any means. It’s an excellent story about the conflict of Good and Evil and demonstrates the perfectly human powers of teamwork, phileo love, persistence, and sacrifice needed to combat Evil, and it gives to Evil both a human face and an otherworldly face that I think is congruent with Christian beliefs.

That, again, being said: You may need to be ready to one day have this discussion with your child. They may like me be rocked to find on a reread that the book series that they loved as a child seems now like not the same series.

But this is a beautiful book series, excellently written, neither too poetic nor too prosaic. This book has been a favorite Christmas story for a long time.  I enjoyed rereading it, and I will do so again, probably come next Christmastime.

*****

Cooper, Susan. The Dark Is Rising Sequence, Book 2: The Dark Is Rising. New York: Aladdin-Simon & Schuster, 1973.

This review is not endorsed by Susan Cooper, Aladdin Paperbacks, or Simon & Schuster.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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Book Review: The Door Into Fire Opens onto an Intriguing World

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It took me almost 11 months to finish Diane Duane’s The Door Into Fire, first in The Tale of the Five series. I found a reference to this adult series by Duane on her blog, Out of Ambit, and not more than a few days later, found the first two books in Tattered Pages. It seemed fated and being already a big fan of Duane’s middle-grade/teen series, Young Wizards, and being more an adult than teen myself now, I thought I had better try the series.

I knew very little about these books before I bought them, only what that blog post and the covers revealed. First let me mention that there are several covers, and that if I’d even seen one of them, the Methuen/Magnet Books (UK) cover, (discretion advised), I’d have run so far in the other direction…. As it was, I found the cover above, with nothing to deter me and everything to recommend the book: a good-looking man in medieval-like clothes on a bright chestnut horse trailing fire and Duane’s name.  Neither cover really works well for me as an indicator of the story inside, but I’m very glad to say that about the one in the link. I don’t want anyone to run in the opposite direction purely because they find that cover.

Within three months, I got about 70% of the way through the novel… and then I don’t know what happened. I don’t think that whatever happened was the fault of the plot. Looking back, that seems to be a pretty exciting part of the book, battling dark spirits from another dimension and holding them back with only a net of magic.

It might have had to do more with the characters, to whom I didn’t particularly connect at any point during the book. I want to be able to diagnose why. I haven’t yet been able to fully, but here are a few thoughts:

1) The characters around Freelorn are complete mysteries even after I close the book—and I can only remember the name of one of his party—a woman who is the heroine of the sequel book. Maybe Duane hadn’t learned how to handle a larger cast yet. I’m researching now and I think that this is Duane’s first book, coming even before her Star Trek novelizations.

2) I like to expect sex rather than be surprised by it. Even so I’m very particular and am still a fan of scenes that fade to black or are at least inexplicit. From the blog and the cover blurb, I wouldn’t have thought that these books had much to do with romance, let alone with the consummation of any romantic feelings.

What scenes there were here were inexplicit, but there were several romantic entanglements, heterosexual, homosexual, with a goddess, with an elemental. While I respect Duane’s openness and boldness in choosing to write about such relationship, especially knowing Duane from her Young Wizards series, which is steeped in Christian mythology and in which Duane scoffs at the perceived necessity of a sexual relationship to drive plot or sales, these relationships were unexpected.

That unwanted surprise created distance between me and the characters, like a broken trust.

I did like that Duane focused on the complications of these relationships rather than on the sexual acts. I also liked what she did with sexual relations in regards to the religion of the world.

The religion that Duane invents for this world is very thought provoking, I think especially knowing as I think that I do from Young Wizards that Duane is familiar with the Christian mythology.

The deity here is a woman (there are some wonderful feminist undertones in this book–especially considering that the book has a male protagonist whose primary romantic partner is also male)—a pansexual woman, who has intercourse with several of the heroes and our heroine simultaneously at one point in the story and gives the main protagonist—Herewiss—a drug to allow him to see as She sees. She is in search of Her best and fullest Self by helping mankind to be their best selves.

The religion and the novel are about self-discovery and -acceptance. That self-acceptance and –discovery manifests very physically for Herewiss in the unlocking of his Flame—or magical energy—to which he has had but limited access (though what he has been able to do with this limited access is rather astounding, so he ought to be a true force to be reckoned with—a hurricane where all who oppose him are but gnats—when he obtains full access; that’s a frightening idea, and I hope that Duane plays with that truly overwhelming power through the series).

The astoundingly beautiful language and the complex and scientific conceptualizations of magic are here as well as in the Young Wizards series. Because that is a lot of what I love of the Young Wizards series, it seems worth mentioning. I have several passages marked that I particularly enjoyed. All those, as I look back on it, are descriptions of the magic that Duane has invented for this world, which I think struck a particular chord while I’m working on defining and describing my own for my WIP.

It’s not a story I regret. It’s one that I’d like to try again and read over a shorter period of time. If that changes my opinion, I will let you all know.

***1/2

Duane, Diane. The Tale of the Five, Book 1: The Door Into Fire. New York: Tor-Tom Doherty, 1985. Originally published by Dell in 1979.  The original I think was under James R. Frenkel, who left Dell to found Bluejay Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press; Tor reprinted the text with Bluejay’s permission.

This review is not endorsed by Diane Duane, Tor Books, Tom Doherty Associates, Dell Publishing (now owned by Random House), Bluejay Books, or  St. Martin’s Press.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Hey!  Don’t take my word for it.  Here’s a review by Jo Walton on Tor.com.  I love the voice that she uses for this review, and she makes some excellent points.

Challenge: Legal Theft: Man Overboard (517 words)

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Callista leaned out over the railing, her eyes on her namesake, the stars of the constellation known as the Big Dipper or the Mother Bear.  The wind that night was chill and brisk, the ship speeding north under the power of its lowered sails.

Callista had been born on the waves as had many of the sailors on the ship so the susurration of the water was as familiar to her as her own heartbeat.

So she recognized when the waves broke too soon, the faint splash that disturbed the whisper.  She peered down into the water.  The keel broke the water and sent it skittering out to either side in a line that caught the moonlight and starlight and shone like a silver ribbon trailing from the boat’s prow, the crash of the wave into the water like the whisper of her mother’s voice in her ear.  The ribbon’s light scattered, broke, and refracted some ways to starboard, over just a small body, a small irregularity.

Callista leaned further over the railing, trusting in the wood and the ship to hold her.

The shape was neither seal head nor the nose of a whale breathing in the nighttime air.  It was flat and wide as a hatch door save for a hulk as if of discarded laundry heaped by its edge, making the plank tilt.

Callista turned.  “Essa!” she called.

Her call brought curious stares from the other sailors, men and women working or lounging on the deck.  The First Mate appeared among them.  A tall man with a taller presence, Callista was sure that he could help.  Despite the rawness of her shout and the terror that must shine in her wide eyes, he appeared calm even when Callista called down her report:

“There’s a person in the water!”

The sailors scattered into action, grabbing ropes and readying a boat with shouts and halloos.  The First Mate walked across the deck and climbed the steps to join Callista at the prow.  He lifted a rope from the deck and secured it around his waist.  The surety with which he tied the knots, the mere physicality of his person calmed Callista’s fear, and she called down to the man, though she could not from here in the dark tell if he was even conscious, “Hang on!  Help is coming!”

Callista watched him as the First Mate climbed onto the railing and leapt from it without a pause.  The moonlight and the starlight suited him and seemed to make visible something of the First Mate’s manner that was not ordinarily visible.

He swam to the plank that she had seen, and he came alongside the man who lay draped over it.  Callista saw the First Mate touch the man but she could not hear what was said.  Together the two of them talked, and Callista watched, and other sailors gathered around her.

It was a privilege always to watch the First Mate when he sacrificed his own safety to try to secure the safety of another.  It was everything that the sailors loved about their First Mate.

Gwen is a thief!  She stole this line to write “Certain Lies,” which you can find on her blog, Apprentice, Never Master.  I also need to apologize for this and the last legal theft post.  I reread neither of them.  I have spent both days with Gwen and Amy of The Gate in the Wood in person.

Challenge: Legal Theft: Because I Could Drown (631 words)

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You and I, we enjoy one another’s company, I don’t think there’s any denying that on either side, but when it comes to the big things in life, while I hope that we can have a rational discussion, I fear that there won’t be understanding without an alteration of the heart, and I know the ground I stand on, and I won’t move.  

I don’t adhere to any particular branch of Christianity because for me Christianity is not a religion but a relationship with God, but I have chosen to believe the Christian history of God.  I believe that the Bible is God-inspired.

Is it the only God-inspired text?  Maybe not.  Maybe other sacred texts are God-inspired too because a lot of them hold similar root messages.  I don’t believe that prophets are infallible.  Peter climbed out of the boat, and he walked on water, but then he doubted and he sank.  Paul started as a hunter of the Christians and became one of the greatest teachers of Christianity.  David killed his friend to steal his wife.  The differences in the texts might be moments where the prophet doubted and he felt the winds and he felt the waves or even where he sank.  I don’t know.

What I know is that God is real.  He’s a friend of mine, and He watches out for me daily.  I see him in the eyes of my friends and in the way that their hearts bend towards the less fortunate and towards one another.  I feel him in the little moments of a car crash barely avoided, a kind word from a customer, something that goes right when I didn’t think that it could, that time that I got a 90 on the Latin test that I didn’t study for until breakfast that morning and the words of which I didn’t know when I left for class.

Somehow or another, you’ve turned your face from God, but I don’t think He’s turned from you, and maybe I’m here to throw you a life preserver, but I don’t know that I can be certain of you in a lifelong partnership.  If I pull you back on the boat, will you be able to find the life preserver if I need ever it?  Will you remind me where it is when I forget?  I want you on the boat–I want that badly–but I want a seasoned sailor–one who knows the Captain and knows the ship–to help me when I’m flailing in the water–and maybe that’s horribly selfish, it’s definitely a thought driven by fear, but it’s how I feel.

I hope you can understand that I can’t give up my First Husband for my second.  I need the second to be able to accept and love my First Husband or the partnership becomes unequal and the marriage fails to be what I want it to be, not that either is head but that each is the helpmeet of the other, the one that makes the other work best in the role that each is given by their gifts.  Because I won’t give up the One Man that I’m sure that I can depend upon for anything, despite anything, the One Man without flaw who I could find in the whole of the universe.

And I’m sorry if that hurts.  Hurting you is not what I want.  But I can’t trust my body to one with whom I cannot trust my soul.

And I hope that we can be friends still because I truly do enjoy your company, and I don’t want to lose you from this, but I had to let you know how I felt.  I had to let you know my fears.  No relationship can exist without openness.

Gwen’s a thief!  She stole this first line to write “As Loud As We Laugh,” which you can find on her blog, Apprentice, Never Master.

This is a subject I’ve been thinking and worrying about a lot lately.  And while we’re talking about fears, I’m not sure how I feel now about putting this out on the Internet and attaching my name to it, but when I wrote it, I was pretty certain that it needed to be available for the wider consumption of the Internet in some form at some time.  Then I remembered that I’d been asked if I was participating in this week’s legal theft.   I used this line for legal theft because the timing was opportune and, yes, I was interested to see what would become of it if I sent it out of context into the world.  I hope you all will take my words and fears as an opinion of an individual and not a wider population, and I hope you won’t judge me and especially not others harshly for what I’ve said.  But I hope this is what some of you need or want to hear; for whatever reason, I hope it comforts or uplifts you.  I hope you can see the hope and strength I have in my first marriage.

Challenge: Legal Theft: Abigail Amid the Mass (828 words)

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This is actually the legal theft piece the original first line of which Gwen from Apprentice, Never Master stole from me to write her piece for Thursday, “Basilica.”  It was supposed to go up September 13.  I’ve started the piece that I was supposed to have done for Thursday (September 12) using the line that I stole from Gwen.  That will be up as soon as I have completed all the homework due by noon.

I don’t like going to my grandparents’ church.  My parents know this, but we still have to go once a month to keep my grandparents happy.

Theirs is a more traditional service with lots of pomp and circumstance.  The organ shouts out a hymn’s tune beneath trills and rills, and a choir of older voices leans strongly towards the soprano with only a few baritones and basses for support.  Dad tells me that the priests come out in flowing robes stitched with gold, a little boy carrying a cross walks before them to the altar, which is a grand affair itself.  This parade of finery is lost on me; it’s meaningless, and it seems unnecessary.  If I can worship without seeing any of this, everyone else should be able too as well.  “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  That’s one of my favorite verses.  I try not to smirk as I sit in the pew, thinking about all these people who have to see to believe, who need gold and a parade of costumed men to worship God.  No one wears robes outside of church, but worship doesn’t end on Sunday around one o’clock.

The church my parents and I go to usually is different.  Modern, my grandparents call it, and an effrontery when they think I’m not listening (which is ridiculous; I’m always listening).  I asked my dad what effrontery meant, and he told me that my grandparents think that our church doesn’t worship God right.  He told me to ignore them and worship God however I wanted to.  He told me that God wouldn’t mind as long as I did worship Him.  Personally, I get a lot more out of the blaring rock music with drums that change the rhythm of my heartbeat than I do from a priest chanting in Latin.  Who even knows what the priest is saying?  I mean, I know they know—or some of them do, the older people—some of them must—but they can’t understand it, and they can’t really think about it, can they?  Certainly I can’t.  The ave, Marias and the pater nosters might as well be Martian to me.

My mom nudges me, pushing at my forearm a bit, and I know it’s time to kneel.  I shuffle forward on the bench and lower myself towards the floor, putting a hand out to catch the pew in front of us and finding the tiny, cushioned ledge with my knees.  My grandparents’ church requires a lot of aerobics too.  Sit, stand, sit, kneel, stand again, now kneel, now you can sit.  No one likes to kneel—or I can’t think why anyone would like to kneel—but I especially don’t.

My church doesn’t care if we sit, stand, jump around, or dance in the aisles.  Sitting is easiest for me.  After coming back from my grandparents’ church, I almost want to dance in the aisle with the Abigail, who giggles and squeals as she does, imitating the amens and hallelujahs; I just want to let go and celebrate having fewer rules.

She dances every week, so her parents sit in the back near us, though seating’s not assigned.  After introducing herself to me, Abigail told me that I could dance with her anytime, but most of our interactions have been during the meet and greet moments that our church pauses for.

She says hello every week.  “Hello, Simon,” she calls, and then I hear her say, “Hi.  I’m Abigail,” and every week there’s a new voice saying, “Hello, Abigail.”

I don’t have Abigail’s exuberance, and meeting new people can be hard.

Abigail doesn’t ask much, didn’t ask much of me.  It’s why I can smile at her and call back, “Hi, Abigail.”  She’ll even come up to me when I tell her to, and talk to me if I want her to, and she doesn’t ask why I don’t go to her.

Everyone’s chanting around us now—my mother too—making their mouths move through the pattern of those foreign, Latin syllables that are just nonsense to me and memorized by them.  I catch a few words: “Pater noster” is “our Father,” and I think “malo” might be “bad” like in Spanish.  “Jesu Christ” is definitely “Jesus Christ.”  “Gloria” is almost certainly “glory.”  But for every word I can guess at, there are a hundred more that I can’t understand at all.

At the priest’s “Offerte vobis pacem,” my mother signals me to stand.  People turn towards us offering a “pax,” a handshake, a “hello,” the English a welcome relief.  I stick my hand out and allow it to be taken.  I’ve learned this is easiest.  I say “pax” when it’s taken.

I think about Abigail introducing herself to everyone, and it’s easier to smile at these strangers who don’t tell me their names and don’t stay for more than a quick, unenthusiastic greeting.

And I just want to say that this is in no way meant to insult any form of worship.  I actually really enjoy a liturgical service and contemporary rock worship music, but personally I agree with Simon’s dad:  God won’t care how we worship.

This is actually, too, an excerpt from a longer piece that I wrote for class.

Book Review: Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes Is a Bildungsroman and Issue Book for All

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Let me preface this review with a life update:  I’m back in grad school!  I’m about to embark on my first ever online course: ENG 561: Giving Voice to the Voiceless, a literature class taught by the Hillary Homzie.  We will be reading books where the writer has given voice to an otherwise voiceless child or teen, whether that child is physically incapable of speech, she is forced to be silent by adults, or her situation is such that her voice cannot be heard, and examine the techniques and forms used by these writers in trying to genuinely capture a voiceless voice to be able to emulate these in our own writing.

This class is going to consist primarily of realistic fiction, and a lot of it will be darker.

Chris Crutcher’s Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is not the first book on our reading list, but it was the first that I was able to get my hands upon, again, having found it at my local used bookstore.  It is a hard read.

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is narrated by Eric “Moby” Calhoune, a once fat middle school student, now a somewhat slimmer high school swim team star.  Eric’s best friend is Sarah Byrnes, a tough and clever girl who has been outcast because of the severe burns that mar her face.  Those burns she claims to have gotten when, as a toddler, she pulled a boiling vat of water off the stove.  At the beginning of the novel, Sarah Byrnes (who goes only by her full name because she is aware of its irony and would prefer others to ridicule her on her terms to her face rather than behind her back) has ceased talking and ceased responding to the world at large.  She is living in a psychiatric ward, where Eric visits her.

The bildungsroman follows Eric as he tries to negotiate the secrets that he learns and the pain that he experiences.  Apart from Sarah Byrnes’ apparent withdrawal from the world, Eric is in a new class where they discuss relevant contemporary issues (abortion and religion are the main issues to which Crutcher devotes scenes), is striving to ready himself for the state swim championships, gains a girlfriend as his mother gains a boyfriend….  Issues that arise in the class force him to reevaluate his rival, who is a legalistic Christian.

Crutcher incorporates more of a villain and more of plot into his bildungsroman than some (Salinger) have done, and I greatly appreciate that for its good-versus-evil battle familiarity.  I think that this and the broader spectrum of issues with which Crutches deals (abortion, child abuse, the dangers of a narrow worldview and a worldview that allows only perfection, suicide; issues that should be talked about, dealt with) make Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes more readable than some others and rescue Staying Fat from the casual label of “boys’ book” that I would throw at it on the grounds of it being a bildungsroman from a male perspective.  I believe that Staying Fat is readable, enjoyable, and helpful to both genders.  Another “well done” to Crutcher.

As per giving voice to the voiceless:  Crutcher uses voicelessness in two ways: first as a disability or effect of abuse (as with Sarah Byrnes, Jody Mueller, and Mark Brittain) and second as a shield against abuse or hurt (as with Sarah Byrnes and Carver Middleton).  This paradoxical dichotomy lends an original voice and complexity to the very idea of voicelessness and makes the novel both more enjoyable and interesting.

The epilogue resolves what it can and allows for a generally happy ending to a heavy and dark read, while acknowledging that high school and the beginning of college are a time of flux and it cannot be tied in a neat bow.

***3/4

Crutcher, Chris.  Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes.  New York: Greenwillow-HarperTempest-HarperCollins, 2003.  First published 1993.

This review is not endorsed by Chris Crutcher, Greenwillow Books, HarperTempest, HarperCollins Children’s Books, or HarperCollins Publishers.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: So You Want To Be a Wizard May Be Nine People’s Favorite Thing

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Diane Duane and I were introduced by a friend in my junior year of high school.  I fell in love with her Young Wizards quickly.

I’ve since then read and reread each book in the series up through the seventh (Wizard’s Holiday), and have only failed to continue on because the books (beyond the first few) are difficult to find in bookstores and must be ordered online.

Rereading most recently the first of the series, So You Want to Be a Wizard, I was again blown away by both the power and beauty of Duane’s prose, the intricacy of her world(s), and the beautiful blending of magic and fantasy with (Christian) mythology and science.

There’s a lot that Duane does well and a lot that I love.

1) Duane blends different mythologies (one Power claiming to have gone by the names Athena, Prometheus, Thor, Lugh, and the Archangel Michael) and scientific theories into a single, cohesive myth.  I did not for some time recognize so starkly that what Duane was doing was creating a magic system to work against the background of Christian mythology.  The fifth book, The Wizard’s Dilemma, (if I remember rightly) is the first to name the Starsnuffer or Lone One as the fallen Lucifer and the first to name the One as God.  Many ideas have been shared throughout time by Christians and Christian theologians about the power (or lack thereof) behind other gods: that all gods are God, that those other gods as demons, that they are men’s inventions and powerless.  In Duane’s myths, the other gods are angels (or both angels and the other gods are Powers), servants of God but not God Himself.  I could argue and have argued with myself about this issue, but Duane’s interpretation, though I know she writes it primarily as a work of fantasy, sits well with me—which perhaps is good and perhaps is dangerous.  I choose not to overthink it.  I don’t think that her interpretation has any real effect upon my interpretation other than to exist as another opinion.

2) Duane’s magic is affected primarily by the Speech, a language spoken by all things (or which all things can speak, but some forget).  The Speech is used both to ease negotiations because of its universality and, because one cannot lie in the Speech and promises made in the Speech must be kept, to help to persuade an object or person to change or to remind it what it should be, a wizard’s purpose being to help and to aid Life.  It falls into a category with other fantasies that laud the power of words, language, or secret names.  Especially, Duane’s Speech reminds me of the Old One’s speech from Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising Sequence and the way that knowing the true names of things gives one power in Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea books and the very similar idea that Rick Riordan borrows from Egyptian mythology for The Kane Chronicles.  Of those, I feel like Duane best uses language (you all can disagree with me; LeGuin’s prose I admit comes very close to having the same power as Duane’s, but LeGuin is writing for a different audience, and I prefer Duane’s speed and immediacy to LeGuin’s epic style).  I feel Duane embodies with her prose what she preaches by giving her words the power that words possess in the Speech.  Her imagery is vivid and poetic so that what should not or cannot be I can see clearly in my mind almost without fail.

3) There is little diversity in fantasy.  Most human heroes and heroines resemble an Anglo race (probably because we are all secretly emulating Tolkien, who was British in a time when Britain was less diverse than it now is).  Kit Rodriguez is a rare example of a Hispanic American in a fantasy where his race is not made into an issue or highlighted in any way.  He simply is Hispanic and his family speaks Spanish mixed with English not as an act of defiance, I feel, against the fantasy-world norm, but as a matter of fact.  Yes, Kit’s ethnicity is more obvious than Ged being copper-skinned but because Duane can include snippets of a recognizable language that is not the language in which the book is primarily written, her fantasy being low rather than high.  (Snippets of a high fantasy language build a fantasy world but can only infrequently be a ready identifier for readers of a race different from other characters of the same world.  For example, without them being labeled as such, would a casual reader recognize any difference between Dothraki, Braavosi, or High Valyrian?  Or Elvish, Dwarvish, and Orcish for that matter?  High fantasies have in some ways to work harder to create ethnicity because the reader knows none of the ethnic identifiers before entering the fantasy world.)

4) This first novel in particular is almost an anti-bullying book, with Nita Callahan deciding to try to befriend her bully at the end of the novel, [SPOILER] having just realized that even the most wicked can be exchange their ways for good if given the chance to do so. [END SPOILER]

This first novel, So You Want To Be a Wizard, reads more than some of the others as a simple, late middle-grade fantasy adventure.  There is a clear villain against which the young heroes must compete for the fate of the world.  The conflict is a simple, primarily external one.  Later novels delve deeper into difficult issues (parent’s death, cancer, autism), but even in this first, Duane creates or borrows a terrifying villain and doesn’t shy from killing protagonists—or rather allowing them to sacrifice themselves for the cause.

*****

Duane, Diane.  Young Wizards, Book 1: So You Want To Be a Wizard.  Orlando: Magic Carpet-Harcourt, 1996.  First published by Delacorte 1983.

This review is not endorsed by Diane Duane, Magic Carpet Books, Harcourt, Inc., or Delacorte Press.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

As a note: this is a review of the original text.  Diane Duane is currently working on updated versions of the stories subtitled as The New Millennium editions, which, I hear, include updated technology and corrected facts and figures.

Title borrowed from the song from [Title of Show], “Nine People’s Favorite Thing.”

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Book Review: A Storm of Swords’ Charged Questions

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Click to visit the publisher's site, for links to purchase, synopsis, excerpt, author info, and reviews.

Though A Storm of Swords, where finally some of the unanswered queries of A Game of Thrones are answered, is the longest book of George R. R. Martin’s that I’ve yet read, I feel like this book more than it predecessors in A Song of Ice and Fire, A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings, was missing important scenes.  Martin would show me what had happened somewhere then have someone explain it after the fact.  I’m not sure if I appreciate this tactic.  While it’s nice to be surprised, the questions like “What did you say to get him to agree to this?” go unanswered.

But none characters were caught in limbo, biding their time.  We have crossed the bridge (A Clash of Kings) to the new board—and the game has gotten deadlier.

The teams in this game are almost constantly evolving.  My list of the major teams and players consists of at least six different remaining claims to a throne in Westeros, with a vigilante group that will only cause carnage, a wild card who might greatly improve the chances of another team, and a would-be-king that is in training and cannot rejoin the game till he has leveled up.  Some of these characters I enjoy and I respect the majority of them for being fully formed, but I think that it’s the intrigue and world-building that holds me enthralled.  There is a definite element of whodunit, though perhaps because I am beginning to understand Martin’s style, I was able to guess more of the major events and “turns” of this book than I have been of others.

I finally believe that Martin will kill everyone I love—and I hope that will prevent me from establishing any more attachments, but it’s not looking good on that score.  I have a new ship and though they’re separated for now, I’m holding on.  Maybe they can be reunited when this is over—except for all those pesky vows of celibacy (why is it that the best ships in this series involve the supposed-to-be-celibate?).

My growing belief that the one monotheistic religion in the book worships a deity whose powers seem very sinister makes me somewhat uncomfortable.  I cannot decide if Martin is intending to imply anything about the Abrahamic God with R’hllor.  The preaching of R’hllor’s followers seems somewhat Christian at times—till Melisandre births a demon shadow.  Parallels between those who worship R’hllor and Christians certainly exist; they both follow religions from the East, monotheistic with a good/light versus evil/dark theology, and both burn the occasional “pagan” church or nonbeliever (ignoring the darker deeds of our past won’t erase them).  I am currently taking this series as one written from the Druidic perspective.  Westeros becomes a place where all English history and legends can exist at once:  The War of the Roses coexists with Robin Hood and the coming of Christians to the shores of England, and these “Christians” are inflamed with this deadly fervor of the Crusaders.  Westeros’ legends include parallels to Greek and Roman myths.

I am willing to continue, taking this as a work of fantasy and assigning the misdeeds of R’hllor and his followers to the characters themselves while accepting that Martin may be asking me to examine the history of Christianity.

****

Martin, George R. R.  Song of Fire and Ice, Book Three: A Storm of Swords.  New York: Bantam-Random, 2000.

This review is not endorsed by George R. R. Martin, Bantam Books, or Random House, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

A Christian’s Defense of Fantasy and Particularly Harry Potter

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A quick look around my blog will tell you that I’m not the bookseller to ask about books that are “nothing like Harry Potter because I’ve heard too many negative reviews about it being satanic.”

Chances are that this customer is probably the bookstore equivalent of a “Christeaster”1, and I will never see her (at least till next year) to give her a history lesson in fantasy and a lesson on not judging a book by the outcry of a few—but that doesn’t prevent me from doing so here, does it?  Maybe she’ll even stumble upon this post while looking for articles to bolster her delusion.

Fantasy in general is not satanic.  In fact, it can be a great vehicle for Christian morality and theology.  The Chronicles of Narnia have brought nonbelievers and believers a greater understanding of the nature of God for nigh sixty years now.  This portal fantasy series (the same subset as Harry Potter) is written by one of the best-known names in Christian inspiration and especially Christian fiction—C. S. Lewis.  Lewis is especially well-remembered because he brought his Christian message to those outside the faith, something well-known modern Christian writers like Rick Warren and Joyce Meyer cannot claim to anywhere near the same extent.  His stories scaled the walls of ivory tower Christianity and wiggled into the hearts and bookshelves of many within and without those walls.

Yet, while Lewis’ books I would argue are Christian fiction, they are not so because of Lewis’ profession of Christian faith but rather by his decision to include Christian allegory in his texts.

Lewis’ friend and fellow Christian J. R. R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, I would argue, is the founder of modern-day high and epic fantasy and a hero of many modern fantasy writers.  His books, despite Tolkien’s public profession of faith and J. K. Rowling’s silence on the subject, are as Christian as Harry Potter.  Neither Tolkien’s nor Rowling’s books preach Christian theology like Lewis’ Chronicles, but their books teach a good triumphs over evil worldview, that not only the mighty can have great influence, that friendship and loyalty are immensely important, the power of persistence in the fight against evil, forgiveness, the possibility of redemption from great sin and evil….  Harry Potter’s Christian morality is in fact stronger than that of its main fandom rival, Twilight, though Twilight is written by an openly religious Christian writer.

When Harry Potter’s morality began to waver, Rowling had made it so clear that Harry’s actions were illegal and punishable by life in prison that I can only assume that she meant to lead the fandom into the discussions that we had about Harry’s uses of the Unforgivables, as Les Misérables asks if Fantine’s prostitution is forgivable or Jean Valjean’s thievery and evasion of the law.

While some may have picketed Harry Potter (oddly, Meyer’s declared Christianity seems to have widely saved Twilight from the same condemnation), just as many Christians and Christian media outlets, including the magazine Christianity Toady, have positively reviewed the series.

So, don’t judge a book by a few negative reviews.  Don’t judge a book by its genre.  Don’t judge a book by how open the author is about his or her faith.  Do your research.

1A term for those who show up in church only on Christmas and Easter.

This rant is not endorsed by the authors or the estates of the authors here mentioned nor any of their publishers.  It is an independent, honest rant by a fan.