Tag Archives: Literature

Goodbye 2020: The books I escaped into while locked in

Enough has been said about that year, that I don’t feel like I need to add any. But in addition to COVID lockdown, we were confined to our home—inside—because of smoke from the West Coast. Enough about that! I found time to escape into books of all sorts.

Some books here are not always “my” genres. Usually that happens when we are setting out on a long drive to visit relatives. My husband doesn’t like most of my novels, so we find something we can both enjoy reading, with enough action to stay awake on the road. So we will call those “driving reads.”

Here’s my rundown.

Fiction:

By David Baldacci: Walk the Wire. This was another book we listened to while on the road. Baldacci turns out myriad thriller and intrigue novels. He’s even ventured into the fantasy genre (look up his Vega Jane novels, the first of which is The Finisher—really excellent). This novel is part of Baldacci’s Memory Man series, about an FBI detective with a photographic memory. Some take place in the desert southwest, which I love. This one was just as good as others of his novels, and if you like Grisham, you should pick up a few of Baldacci’s novels.

By Lee Child: Blue Moon. This is book 24 of 25 Jack Reacher novels, on which two movies are based, with Tom Cruise as the title character. I haven’t read any of the other books; my husband has. This was a “driving read.” Reacher is former military, drifting around the country and meeting up with impossible and dangerous  situations. You’d think that by the end of 25 novels, he would change his habits, if a nomad existence means nearly always meeting death and destruction. Not my cup of tea, but distracting enough!

By Ann Cleeves: Cold Earth, Dead Water, Thin Air and Wild Fire. These are the last books of Cleeves’ Shetland series, on which the British TV show is based. It takes place on the islands north of Scotland: windblown, harsh, and beautiful. Its characters are beautifully described. She takes us into the heads of a few characters in each book and drives the stories through their perspectives. She leaves us wondering, at times, which of these might have been the murderer. I’ve liked her books so much that I began her books that have inspired another TV show, Vera. I have to say that they don’t even begin to feel like her masterful Shetlands books. I put down the first book about halfway through.

By Suzanne Collins: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. When an author pens a well-told story, or in Collins’ sake a good trilogy, I sometimes cringe to think if another book could possibly work. The author of the Hunger Games books takes her readers to a time before her trilogy takes place. She explores, from his point of view, how President Snow became the ruthless ruler we saw in her books. And I’ll say this works extremely well. I was pleasantly surprised. I even want to read more!

By Andy Green: The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s. The Office is more popular now, I think, than when it first aired. It’s a binge-watchable show with characters you love and characters who make you cringe. This is a behind-the-scenes account as told by many of the cast and crew who took part in the making—the good and the bad. The show always makes me smile, and this book did too.

By John Grisham: The Confession, The Guardians, and A Time for Mercy. I’ve completed reading all of Grisham’s books, except for his collection of short stories. I’ve stayed with him over the years because I enjoy his storytelling, the intrigue, and the characters he creates. Each one of these was just as good as all the ones that have come before. The last one, A Time for Mercy, takes the reader back to the familiar setting and characters that we met in A Time to Kill and Sycamore Row. Well done and riveting as always.

By Gill Hornby: Miss Austen: A Novel. I’ve been burned before by books attempting to feed off of Austen’s genius, so I’m not sure why I picked this up. Pride and Prejudice is one of my top 10 favorites, and I don’t like people messing with it! This one has a different take. It uses all the people in Jane’s adult life and takes a moment in time, after Jane’s death, to visit her dear sister in her own last few weeks. We don’t know much about Jane, except from what her immediate families recorded and what letters she wrote to family and friends. Inexplicably, Jane’s sister burned a whole collection of letters they wrote to one another. This story is a fictional attempt of explaining why. The book was okay but a letdown. Someone stop me from making that mistake again!

By Jennifer Robson: The Gown. In post-World War 2 Britain, Princess Elizabeth marries Philip, in a time of continued rationing and rebuilding. This is a semi-fictional account of two women who worked in the design house making and embroidering her gown. I enjoyed the setting and the characters, but the story was pretty predictable.

By JK Rowling: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and The Ickabog. Every so often, especially while driving, we like to reread the Harry Potter series. Goblet of Fire is probably my favorite, and we both agreed that the movies, while very well done, don’t hold a candle to the books themselves. And The Ickabog is Rowling’s newest book, unrelated to Harry Potter. She bills this as children’s literature, but it holds together very well for adults. The characters come to life, and her impeccable use of language shines forth.

By Brandon Sanderson: Starsight. This is book 2 of Sanderson’s Skyward series. Sanderson is an incredibly prolific writer, putting out several books every year. How does he do that? I have liked some of his series, but not all, so I started Skyward, book 1 of this series, a little skeptically. This is a SciFi fantasy of a people ravaged by war from aliens and who retreat underground for protection from the continued alien bombardment. Meanwhile, some fearless pilots train so they can do battle with these aliens in the skies. We watch a young woman who wants not just to fly and fight, but also to try to understand how her father failed as a fighter-pilot when she was a girl. This is well told, a good read.

Nonfiction:

By Thomas Cahill: Heretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World. I had read another book in this series of what he calls Hinges of History, titled How the Irish Saved Civilization. For a history buff with a biblical worldview, it was surprising and well-done. Heretics, also excellent, was well-researched and meaty. This could be a supplement of the high school or college classics student. I’ll be looking to read another in this series.

By Winston Churchill: A History of the English Speaking Peoples. This is book 2 of Churchill’s survey series, this one covering the 16th and 17th centuries. I was surprised and delighted with how readable these books are, and I look forward to the third one of the series. He wrote these in his retirement years, after he had left the office of Prime Minister in the 1950s.

By Frank Dikotter: How to be a Dictator: The Cult of Personality in the 20th Century. Not surprisingly, the author looks at the lives of four of the most notorious dictators of the last century: Hitler, Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Kim Il Sung. He narrates the rise of each man and the ways in which each one took the reins of power to exact their vicious strategies. I encourage you to read The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels to see what I mean. Surprisingly, each ruler’s methods look fairly similar. Can we learn from them? I certainly hope so.

By Donnie Eichar: Dead Mountain: The Untold Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident. I have no idea how this topic came up as I searched for good books. Amazon will provide suggestions of how best to use my money on more books, based on my recent book orders. Sometimes I bite, and often I will order a sample of the Kindle book. In this case I was hooked after reading their sample. In the 1950s the members of a university adventurers’ club in the Soviet Union decided to climb a mountain that not many had ever attempted—in the Urals, in below-zero conditions. They disappeared, and searchers later found their bodies, all of them at some distance from their tent and all in some bizarre conditions. Many were partially clothed, some had no shoes, one had a skull bashed in, another had a tongue missing. Yet another had a badly broken leg. What caused them to race out of their tent onto the frozen mountainside? Eichar chronicles their journey and even heads to Dead Mountain himself to see where they died. He provides an interesting hypothesis. Warning: there’s a lot of science here. Not sure why I held onto a book with actual science in it! But it kept me rivetted until the end. You know it’s a good book when something outside your comfort zone holds your attention all the way through. I may have even learned some science! Or maybe it slipped out of my brain as soon as I ended it.

By Nancy Goldstone: Four Queens: The Provencal Sisters Who Ruled Europe. If you like author Alison Weir’s histories, you might also enjoy Goldstone. Very well researched, this is the tale of 13th-century queens Marguerite, Eleanor, Sanchia, and Beatrice of Provence— of France, England, Germany and Sicily, respectively. This was a bit more dry than Alison Weir’s books, but still a good read.

By David Howarth: 1066: The Year of the Conquest. This is a bite-sized look at the year—the principal players, the countries involved, the lifestyles of the common folk, and how they all played a role in William’s Conquest of England. This is short and easy to get through in a few hours. It could be used as a reference source or extra reading for the high school or university student.

By Con Iggulden: Stormbird: Wars of the Roses #1. I love this topic and this time of history. Told in novel form, not boring or dry, the author brings forth the men and women whose lives centered around the upheaval of the throne of England. Looking forward to reading book 2, Margaret of Anjou.

By Sharon Kay Penman: The Land Beyond the Sea. Sometimes that Amazon suggestion of books related to what I like to read will pop up with some very interesting topics. This was one I didn’t know I needed to read! I hardly know anything about Jerusalem during the time of the Crusades. This is the account, told in novel form but faithfully adhering to history, of King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem. He was a child when his father died, and Baldwin learned how to become a king during a time of  great turmoil. When he was diagnosed with leprosy as a boy, he knew his time as king would be short and he would need to both rule this great city and find an heir. Probably one of the best nonfiction books of the year for me.

By Sarah Rose: D-Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War 2. While sending men and materiel to the Continent, Churchill needed spies who would live in France and commit all sorts of acts of sabotage in order to prepare France and the Resistance for D-Day. Over 3 dozen women were recruited and trained, and this book looks at just 3 of them. These little-recognized women faced dangers, privations, with astounding strength and bravery–some of whom paid with their lives–and should be recognized and honored for their sacrifices.

By JD Vance: Hillbilly Elegy. I mentioned to one of my sons that my own father was probably a hillbilly, based on where and when he lived, and he suggested that I read this book. Vance grew up right in the area where we lived for 15 years, Cincinnati. He recounts the harsh and brutal lives of people right in our own back yards, right now. Though his life was unimaginably chaotic, he somehow escaped the cycle of poverty, addictions, and abuse to graduate from high school, college, and law school. This was not a book you could say you enjoyed, though it is an important book that demands you be aware of these little-known folks and the harsh lives they live—often right close to you.

By Alison Weir: Queens of the Conquest. Weir thoroughly researches the subjects of every book she writes, all of which concern Medieval and Renaissance Europe, so I know I can expect an excellent and fascinating read. Here she gives a picture of four queens who ruled right around the time of the Conquest of 1066. She depicts these women as strong-willed, intelligent, and loyal to their countries and their families. She shows rather than tells, which makes all the difference.

Biblical Worldview/Theology:

By Robert W. Godfrey: Saving the Reformation: The Pastoral Theology of the Canons of Dort. I love to read about theology and the development of biblical thought throughout history. The canons and confessions of early church fathers can be instructional and enlightening. Other important canons and confessions would be The Westminster Confession of Faith, the Heidelberg Catechism, Luther’s Catechism, and the Book of Concord. Inspirational, informative, and important for the Christian who wants to study theology from early Reformation days. These confessions were written to respond to heresies that arose in the Christian church.  Just like the Apostles and the Nicene Creeds, these statements can be studied, Bible in hand, to know how to be “always prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (2 Peter 1:12). If you’re really interested, Ligonier Ministries has a Church History series in which Godfrey gives 25-minute lectures of a survey course.

By Abdu Murray: Saving Truth: Finding Meaning and Clarity in a Post-Truth World. Murray claims, and rightly so, I believe, that today can no longer be called Postmodern; instead he calls our age today “Post-Truth.” This is a time in which truth is relative: “You may believe one truth and I can believe in another, and that’s okay.” I may lay out all the facts in an argument, and my opponent (my student, my neighbor, etc.) will acknowledge all those facts but will still decide to believe some other conflicting idea, one that does not comport with the truth. How do you persuade folks who think this way? Read this in order to arm yourself for the Post-Truth age.

What I’ll read next:

I’m currently almost done with Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline. Book 1, Ready Player One, compelled me to race through it–a very good sign of a great book. The sequel also has a thrilling, breathless race to solve a quest, however I got impatient with the long, detailed slogs through 80s movies, songs, and video games. I felt like I was just reading Cline’s geeky infatuation for anything 80’s pop culture.

On my Amazon Wish List, but who knows what other books will cross my path this year?

  • The Age of Revolution by Winston Churchill.
  • The Affectionate Theology of Richard Sibbes (A Long Line of Godly Men Profile) by Mark Dever.
  • Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses by Sarah Gristwood.
  • Brooklyn: A Novel by Colm Toibin.
  • The Brothers York by Tomas Penn.
  • The Cottingly Secret by Hazel Gaynor.
  • Hamnet by Maggie O’Ferrell.
  • Henry VIII and the Men Who Made Him by Tracy Borman.
  • The Lady Queen by Nancy Goldstone.
  • Outwitting the Gestapo by Lucie Aubrac and Margaret Collins Weitz.
  • The Queen’s Secret: A Novel of England’s World War II Queen by Karen Harper.
  • The Reformation: A History by Diarmaid MacCulloch
  • She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth by Helen Castor.
  • Time and Chance by Sharon Kay Penman.
  • The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmithy
  • The Wars of the Roses: Margaret of Anjou by Conn Iggulden.
  • When We Were Young and Brave by Hazel Gaynor.
  • Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys and Edwidge Canticat.
  • Winter-King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England by Thomas Penn.
  • The World’s Last Night and Other Essays by CS Lewis.

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Book list from 2014, books planned for 2015

book-love-books-to-read-23017145-619-463While I love to read, 2014 was not a year for lots of books for me. I am lukewarm about several that I read, but other books did impress me–and I am picky about literature. Good literature only whets my appetite for more.

You’ll see what I have read, and then what I plan to read, both in novels and in histories. There’s even a very last, ambitious list at the bottom which I’ve just discovered. What books would you recommend to me?

2014 reads

  • The Children of Willesden Lane by Mona Golabek. I’m always intrigued when I learn something new from the tales of history. How surprising to learn of something called the Kindertransport. As Hitler was gaining power and darkness spread through Europe, some Jewish families sought ways to smuggle their most precious possessions–their children–to England. A network of synagogues, charities, and churches formed–the Kindertransport–and found homes for hundreds of Europe’s Jewish children. This book takes the stories of some children placed in a foster home in England and follows them through the war years. Not a brilliantly-written book, this was nevertheless an interesting portrayal of this little-known story from the perspective of one musically-talented young Austrian girl.
  • The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. Much has been written about this book, and thinking about going to the movie, I decided to break down and read it first. (You may not know that I don’t like following contemporary booklists, because I find much to dislike in what passes as popular “literature.”) The point of view of the narrator–death–took me by surprise, and he didn’t make me comfortable at all. I think that’s the point. This book was beautiful and horrifying, and its heartbreaking conclusion wiped me out. Though I considered it a good book, I decided not to subject myself to the movie. I can recommend this book, but only to folks who are not strongly affected by heart-wrenching drama.
  • Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson. This is the second book in his Stormlight Archives, after The Way of Kings. He is masterful at creating a fantasy world, as also seen in his Mistborn series. His characters, the magical world they populate, and the good battling evil drew me in and held me captive all the way through. I’m going to blame this book on my reason for not reading more books this year. This is an incredibly long book! Worth every minute, though.
  • Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson. His two series, mentioned above, made me want more of his fascinating fantasy storytelling. Steelheart did not disappoint. He definitely wrote this book for a YA (Young Adult) audience, but that doesn’t deter me from reading good novels. The main character, a teenage boy who is awkward and geeky, made me smile frequently. Sanderson does a masterful job of creating compelling and believable characters.
  • The Great Pearl Heist by Molly Caldwell Crosby. I thought I was going to read a mystery fiction, but this turned out to be a true story about an infamous crime from the turn of the century. Not a dry history, this story was compelling all the way through.
  • The Princes of Ireland: The Dublin Saga by Edward Rutherfurd. I’ve enjoyed reading his novel of England’s history (Sarum) and Russia’s history (Russka). His method is unique–telling the history by focusing on one geographic area and creating familes whose descendants interact with one another over more than a thousand years. I loved traveling through Ireland a few years ago, so I looked forward to reading Rutherfurd’s creative history. This was well done, as usual, and I recognized some of the landmarks. His related novel, The Rebels of Ireland, is on my list to read next. I also want to read his novel of Paris, because I dream of going back there someday.
  • The Dead in their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley. This is the latest in the Flavia de Luce novels that have delighted me for the past few years. I love this smart, funny eleven-year-old girl who plays with chemicals in her uncle’s laboratory and dreams of concocting poisons, while she solves mysteries. Bradley’s next novel can’t come too soon!
  • The Girl in the Ice by Jason Vail. I hadn’t realized that this was Book 4 of a series, mysteries solved in medieval England. This one wasn’t good enough to capture my imagination and draw me to read the other books in this series. Though I enjoy fictional history, and especially of medieval Europe, this one just didn’t do it for me. The characters aren’t well developed, and the story itself didn’t hold together well.
  • The Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley. You might classify this as a romance, but I refuse to call it that. It’s a historical novel, well-written, easy reading. I like the author, and I always enjoy the setting she creates, usually in England or France. Not great classical literature, but every once in a while it’s a light divergence from the norm.
  • The Secret Gospel of Ireland by James Behan. This is basically a history of Christendom in Western Europe, beginning with Augustine. The author’s thesis is that Ireland saved Christianity in Europe. The historical detail is excellent, but he didn’t keep his thesis as a thread throughout the book. From what he described I could not reach the conclusion that he draws.
  • Jesus + Nothing = Everything by Tullian Tchividjian. If you know me at all, you know that I don’t often read devotionals or Christian books. I find them to be less theology, more navel-gazing, less law and gospel, more personality-driven. I prefer to study the Bible itself as the source of all biblical wisdom (funny how that works). This one we read with our small group from church. While it focused on Colossians, which I love, I found it to be pretty much personality-driven. Give me a book of the Bible and let’s discuss it instead!
  • The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss. Hungry for more Rothfuss (while we await the next book in his fantastic Kingkiller Chronicles), I decided to read this short book that focuses on one character from the Kingkiller Chronicles, Auri. What a disappointment! This is no more than a very long character sketch. I think the author wanted to remind us that he’s around while we wait for his next book. Seems like he was playing with phrases and adjectives, because there is no dialogue, very little action, and lots of introspection.
  • The Finisher by David Baldacci. I have enjoyed Baldacci’s novels of intrigue and mystery. This is a complete departure from his “usual” genre, a foray into fantasy for him. He writes with an entirely different voice and tone. Utterly delightful, this beautifully written novel drew me in from the very first page. Now I cannot wait for the follow-up novel, because this cries out for a sequel. The characters are fully developed, the story exquisite. Probably the best book I’ve read all year.
  • Jubal Sackett by Louis Lamour. While driving through the mountains of Colorado last summer, our son had us listen to one of Lamour’s Sacket novels. I can’t remember the title, but it was just the right novel for the rugged landscape that passed outside our window. So my husband picked up the entire (very long) Sackett series and exclaimed how much he enjoyed it last year. While driving again, we listened to Jubal Sackett. I will definitely begin this series on my own, because I’m a Western girl who loves the tone and description of these stories.

On my 2015 list

More ambitious at the beginning of each year than toward the end, I’ll list the ones that intrigue me, and we’ll see if I can maintain this level of ambition.

Novels:

  • More of the Sackett series by Lamour, definitely. It’s best to start at the beginning, way back in the 1600s, I’m told.
  • Jeff Shaara’s new Civil War series, beginning with A Blaze of Glory. I have already begin this one. I love all of his books, so I’m excited to pick up these books. (He has two out and intends one more in this series, which takes place earlier than his Gettysburg trilogy.)
  • More Rutherfurd books, as I described above. Probably the next Ireland one, and then Paris. They are long tomes, and I can only do them with lots of other books in between.
  • As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley. It comes out at the end of April, just in time for my birthday. Good planning, Bradley!
  • Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian
  • Painted Horses by Malcolm Brooks
  • Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
  • Miss Peregrin’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
  • The Home Place Carrie LeSeur
  • The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz
  • Heretic by Bernard Cornwell
  • The Norsemen by Jason Born
  • The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell
  • The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
  • When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kaye Penman
  • The Three Edwards by Thomas B. Costain

Histories (This is where my ambition comes in. I would like to study more histories…)

  • The Story of Christianity by Justo Gonzalez
  • A World Lit Only by Fire by William Manchester
  • The Wars of the Roses and The Plantagenets by Dan Jones
  • Rebellion: The History of England from James I to the Glorious Revolution by Peter Ackroyd
  • Mysteries of the Middle Ages; How the Irish Saved Civilization; Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter; The Gifts of the Jews; Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus; Heretics and Heroes, all by Thomas Cahill
  • The Venus Fixers by Ilaria Dagnini Brey; The Rape of Europe by Lynn H. Nicholas; Rose Valland: Resistance at the Museum by Corinne Bouchoux; Saving Italy by Robert M. Edsel; The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel (all these books have to do with the stories on which the movie The Monuments Men was based.

But wait! Look at this list that my son just sent! I have already read many on this list, but now I want to read several more and then travel to the English counties in which each was based! Behold The Stars

You can suggest more that might be intriguing. Let’s see how many of these I accomplish, or whether my ADD tendencies (Look! A bookstore!) cause me to wander into other titles through the year.

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The importance of Fantasy Literature

once upon a timeOne popular television show, entering its third season in 2013, is Once Upon a Time. Its episodes feature many of the familiar fairy tale characters we’ve grown up with. Chock-full of lots of magic and romance, deception and adventure, the show’s popularity proves that the genre of fantasy still captures the imaginations of young and old alike.

The Christian world sometimes (or perhaps often) frowns upon fantasy literature. Shouldn’t we just stay in the world that we see before us? Why do we have to delve into the contrived worlds of someone’s mind? Why elevate and even celebrate magical, mythical creatures–and magic itself? Why present evil in any form in literature or entertainment media?

Fantasy literature has thrived from earliest times, in works such as The Epic of Gilgamesh and Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey. Those stories, as much of fantasy literature, sport mythical creatures and magical beings. A fantasy is told even in the Bible. In Judges 9, Jotham tells a fantastical story of trees that ask other trees to be their king (Judges 9:8-15). Just like the story in the Bible, these tales prove useful in telling a greater truth, or in helping us mere mortals to think through the mysteries of life.

We are storytellers. We love to listen to other people’s stories. We grow up reading fantastical tales–they fuel our imagination and satisfy our desire for adventure. Fantasy, in particular, speaks to our dreams and deepest desires. We cheer for the hero, and we thrill to see the evil Queen vanquished. Fantasy literature contains many universal elements. Not all will have every one of these features, but the universality of these themes points to a deeper message in the stories themselves that Christian readers can appreciate.

Fantasy Literature uses magic. CS Lewis introduces magic in his Narnia series when we first see Uncle Andrew’s magical rings in The Magician’s Nephew. Those rings transport Digory and Polly into other magical worlds, including one called Narnia, where a lion is singing the world into existence. Some of fantasy literature doesn’t necessarily contain magic, but perhaps characters have super-human powers and abilities. Magic might not be used for evil purposes; magic or magical powers might rescue someone, remedy a situation, or change overcome  evil with good.

Is the use of magic wrong? Of course, as the Bible explicitly tells us. However, we are talking about fantasy literature. It is not real, and we understand that from the outset (the talking mice, walking trees or wise mirror might give us the first clue). It is not meant to be taken as real. Grownups can tell the difference between what’s real and what is fantasy; very young children cannot. It is part of human development to begin to distinguish between what’s real from what is not–the concrete from the abstract. That’s why children clap their hands to revive Tinkerbell!

Just like Cinderella, there is something deep inside ourselves that longs for some magical cure to our problems. We are unhappy; we daydream our way out of our unhappiness. Cinderella gets a fairy godmother–someone supernatural–the “hero” who wipes away all her woes. Don’t we long for a time and a place where every tear will be dried? Don’t we ache for someone who will one day bring us a new heaven and a new earth? (Revelation 21:1-2) This does not equate magic to God’s kingdom and to our Savior. Rather, it points out the longing in our hearts for that ultimate act, that eventual and long-awaited triumph, whether or not we know it as such.

Fantasy Literature contains a hero. Fairy tales and other fantasy legends are rich with the depiction of the hero or heroine. As in Sleeping Beauty, the hero is the one who rides in on the beautiful horse and saves the day. Or the unlikely small hobbit who risks everything to carry the ring to the fires of Mount Doom (or, as some may argue, the faithful Sam who carries Frodo part of the last leg of their journey and vows to never leave him).

The archetype of the hero makes for fascinating study. He may or may not be perfect, yet he uses his skills and his passions to rescue the one who needs saving. Despite the odds, he ventures on a quest to find his foe in order to fight him, and he usually finds out important things about himself while on his long quest.

Joseph Campbell authored what is considered to be the seminal work on the archetype of the hero in world literature, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. George Lucas credits Campbell’s work as one inspiration for his epic Star Wars heroes. In an often-quoted passage, Campbell says, “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

Again, the archetype of the hero–the one who rescues, who rises above other mere mortals, who restores hope or makes everything better–speaks loudly of the yearning of mankind. That desire, buried deep in our hearts, is our longing for a savior. Heroes universally  resonate with us because we have this built-in hunger for a savior who will rescue us from the evil around us, who will make everything whole again. And that universal longing was planted in our hearts, and promised to us, as long ago as Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:15).

Fantasy Literature contains mythical/magical creatures. Some of them talk, like Aslan the lion or Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat. Some display magical powers, like the genie in Aladdin’s tale. Some are purely other-worldly, like unicorns, wraiths, elves, or chimeras. These spring out of the imagination of the writer or rely on old myths to tell new stories. The genie, for example, is another version of the Djinn, or Jinn, which are referred to in the Qur’an as spirit beings. Of course, we know the genie from the bottle in the Aladdin story, and even CS Lewis refers to Jinns in his Narnia series while describing the origin of the evil witch from Charn, who turns out to be the White Queen.dobby (1)

Christian readers might ask, does the existence of mythical, magical creatures make the story evil, to be avoided? Again, the answer remains the same for all of fantasy literature. The make-believe world springs from the author’s imagination, which knows no bounds, and speaks of the creativity of the human mind. That there are mythical, magical creatures does not mean the story is evil. Their existence simply points out that this is fantasy, meant to entertain and perhaps inspire. And these creatures undoubtedly play a role in that story. They may frighten us, or they might foil the hero’s quest, or they might simply be entertaining for a brief moment in the story.

Fantasy Literature pits good against evil. Jeff Baldwin, in his essay “Twelve Trademarks of Literature,” says about this battle of good versus evil, “the dogma is the drama.” Since the beginning of time our stories have been filled with this epic battle. We want good to triumph over evil. We struggle with the downtrodden good guy who is beset with problems stemming from the evil that dogs him. We need to replay that epic struggle again and again. We cheer for those good guys who win, and we get a thrill when evil is finally defeated.evil queen

Why is the battle of good versus evil so universal? It is in our nature to want good to triumph, just as we want the hero to rescue the fair maiden or the vengeful bad guy to be beaten. We cheer when Gaston is defeated so that the Beast can turn into the prince we all know him to be, and so that he can marry Belle and be happy ever after.

More than just a happy ending, we are gratified by the struggle, that long fight, that rise and fall of every good story. In watching and reading those stories, we work out our own struggle of good versus evil. We can identify with that drama–that fight to overcome the evil power. If the story is not told well, we probably will not have enjoyed the ending. We are aware of our own nature that does evil, and that often distresses us (some of us less than others). So we like to see evil vanquished and for good to come out on top, because we want that to happen in our own lives (see Romans 7). The working-out of this epic struggle reminds us of the worthiness of good and the perversion of evil.

Yes, many evil stories spring from man’s mind and should be avoided, so I caution parents–and adults in general–to beware of stories that glorify evil and perversion, that take long periods of time to dwell on the macabre. We should not dwell on those stories; we are cautioned to run away from evil (Proverbs 2:9-15). Similarly, stories with a message that leads the reader to conclude that the evil in the story is actually good–those too are a perversion of the “dogma is the drama” theme. Run in the other direction!

The universality of themes found in fantasy literature, including fairy tales and epics from long past even up to today, is a reason to celebrate. It teaches us that in our hearts we long for the triumph of good over evil. It shows us that deep down we have a similar longing: we ache for a savior, that hero who will defeat death and rescue us from this world of sin and shame. Stamped upon our hearts is the universal, moral tale we all long to see resolved, even if some of us don’t realize it.

Some well-told fantasy tales (not in order of importance):

  • One Thousand and One Arabian Nights (including the Aladdin story)
  • The Epic of Gilgamesh
  • Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales
  • Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (which I always found a little creepy)
  • Grimm’s fairy tales
  • Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey
  • Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book
  • CS Lewis’ Narnia series
  • George MacDonald’s Princess and the Goblin
  • Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur
  • Patrick Rothfuss’ Name of the Wind series
  • JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series
  • Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy
  • Spencer’s The Fairie Queen
  • Mary Stewart’s Arthurian Legend series
  • JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy

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