literary apologetics

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“Lord of Chaos” by Robert Jordan – A Christian (Re)Reads The Wheel of Time

“Humanity retreated, and the Shadow advanced.” – Robert Jordan, “Lord of Chaos,” p. 450.

The Wheel of Time” is a massive fantasy series by Robert Jordan (and, later, Brandon Sanderson) that is being developed into a television show for Amazon Prime. It’s cultural impact is huge, the series having sold more than 44 million copies. Here, we continue the series with Book 6, Lord of Chaos. There will be SPOILERS in this post for the series.

The Shadow

One of the strongest themes throughout the book is the pending doom of the rise of evil. Evil advanced throughout the land, and had been making advances historically throughout the region with little opposition. In our world, it seems often that evil continues to exist unchecked. The parallels are palpable as one reads the book. One scene paints this reality starkly. Rand al’Thor is looking over a number of maps:

Borders and names were enough to rank the maps by age. On the oldest [nations were butted up against each other. Then…] Maredo was gone… Caralain vanished…. other nations… eventually [became] unclaimed land and wilderness. Those maps told a story of fading since Hawkwing’s empire crumbled, of humanity in slow retreat. A second Borderland map showed… the Blightborder fifty miles further north too. Humanity retreated , and the Shadow advanced. (440-450)

These names would be unfamiliar to those who haven’t read the series, but the implication should be clear: the maps showed the steady retreat of humanity in the face of the evil forces of the “Shadow.” The picture is breathtaking: one can easily imagine a series of maps showing encroaching darkness. But beyond the mere imaginary, it seems to be a fact that humanity–true humanity–is constantly retreating from evil. The evils of human trafficking, hunger, dishonesty, abortion, and the like continue to be perpetuated, and yet humanity is more interested–much like the people of The Wheel of Time–in the everyday mundane occurrences. Those things which “don’t harm me” are ignored. If we could see a map, we could see the Shadow encroaching as well.

It’s important not to completely focus on doom and gloom, however. In Lord of Chaos, the Dragon is Reborn, and the opportunity to defeat the Shadow is approaching. But those who know of prophecies know that this Dragon may also bring much destruction to the world. The Christian narrative presents a picture less bleak: evil is already defeated through our Lord. Final victory is inevitable.

Destruction of Life and other Injustice

The wanton destruction of life is found through much of Lord of Chaos. The forces of evil are not the only ones who are killing the innocent, however. Even those who call themselves the “Children of Light” bring about much evil through their actions. One scene which illustrates this is found in the way that a “Child of the Light” decided to deal with those who had sworn to the Dragon–the coming defender of the world:

He had managed to kill some of [the Dragonsworn], at least, though it was hard fighting foes who melted away more often than they stood, who could blend into the accursed streams of refugees… He had found a solution, however… The roads behind his legion were littered now, and the ravens fed to bursting. If it was not possible to tell the Prophet’s trash from refugee trash, well then, kill whoever clogged the way. The innocent should have remained in their homes where they belonged; the Creator would shelter them anyway. (611)

There is much injustice in this passage. First, the victims are blamed for their destruction: the reasoning is that they brought it upon themselves. Unfortunately, reasoning like this is frequently found today when people comment on various tragedies. We should not blame the victims, but rather go to their aid. Second, there is a kind of notion that “the Creator” (God?) would be pleased with this destruction, or at least could not be bothered to intervene. Again, this kind of reasoning is sometimes mentioned: God will sort them out, why bother with the possible consequences of bombing targets in civilian zones? Why deal with the plight of the refugee? Third, this plight of the refugee is found throughout the book. What of those who have been displaced by violence and war? In the book, it is actually Rand al’Thor who is the one who cares most about them. In our world, it should be the Christian who rushes to aid the defenseless.

Prophecy

The world of “The Wheel of Time” continues to be deeply steeped in fulfilled prophecy–whether coming fulfillment or already culminated. The emphasis on prophecy plays into the notion in Jordan’s world that there is a “Wheel of Time” which leads to a kind of cyclical universe model.

For our purposes, it is worth simply considering the notion that prophecies may have unexpected fulfillment. Rand does not always meet the prophecies of the Dragon in expected ways. Similarly, the way that some prophecies about the Messiah were fulfilled is not the way that many at the time (or now) expected.

Onward!

We have seen that Lord of Chaos brings up a number of interesting themes. From here, we shall move onward into more books in the series. What are your thoughts on these themes? Do you have any other major themes you can think of as being found within the series?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sacrifice and Sacrament in Dan Simmons’s “Hyperion”

Hyperion by Dan Simmons is a Hugo Award-Winning science fiction novel that reads like a kind of modern Canterbury Tales. The theological depth and beauty of Simmons’s Hyperion is as profound as it is repelling. The stories told in the novel range from horrifying and vulgar to profound and deep. Each traveler has their own purpose for being on the journey, and Simmons draws readers in with these tales. Here, we’ll discuss one story that moved me deeply. There are, of course, SPOILERS in what follows.

Sacrifice and Sacrament

One story, in particular, sticks out for me. That is the story of the “cruciform” told by Lenar Hoyt, a Roman Catholic priest who tells the story of Paul Duré, a priest who was exiled to the planet Hyperion and researches a strange population there. As readers go on, they see through Duré’s eyes, that the people he’s researching are apparently immortal, and that they follow the way of the “cruciform.” This leads Duré to believe he has found something that will bring life to the Christian church at large–rock solid evidence that Christianity is true and that everyone should follow it.

But as the story goes on, we discover that the immortality of these people is something much more horrifying. The “cruciform” is really a kind of parasitic organism that sustains the host humans while draining their will to do anything other than serve it. The price of immortality is unconscionably high. Pain removes the cruciform creatures, but it manipulates the others into killing the host only to resurrect them from whatever is left so that it can continue living. Duré, unwittingly, had consigned himself to an endless existence serving the cruciform.

Duré, though, discovers a way out: he burns himself continually so that the cruciform will at last remove itself from his body. Hoyt finds him and is able to end his years of endless torment by removing the cruciform and allowing him to die at long last. The cruciform was a mockery of Christian salvation and resurrection hope, something Duré himself came to realize. His own death was a kind of sacred sacrament, a burning away of the evil of artificially discovered immortality that brought nothing but misery and a deliverance into the eternal life after.

Duré wrote, in one of the entries after he realized the abomination that was the cruciform:

If the church is meant to die, it must do so–but do so gloriously, in the full knowledge of its rebirth in Christ. It must go into the darkness not willingly but well–bravely and firm of faith–like the millions who have gone before us, keeping faith with all those generations facing death in the isolated silence of death camps and nuclear fireballs and cancer wards and pogroms, going into the darkness, if not hopefully, then prayerfully that there is some reason for it all, something worth the price of all that pain, all those sacrifices. All those before us have gone into the darkness without assurance of logic or fact or persuasive theory, with only a slender thread of hope or the all too shakable conviction of faith. And if they have been able to sustain that slim hope in the face of darkness, then so must I… and so must the Church. (91)

The sure and provable scientific fact that Duré had been seeking when he found the cruciform initially confirmed his faith before the horror of it made him literally burn it away. But what he found in its stead was a newfound hope, however slim, that in the face of darkness and evil, without the most persuasive evidence, his faith could sustain him. It’s a profound commentary on Christian hope, and one that should be read fully to experience.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“The Fires of Heaven” by Robert Jordan- A Christian (re)reads the Wheel of Time

The Wheel of Time” is a massive fantasy series by Robert Jordan (and, later, Brandon Sanderson) that is being developed into a television show for Amazon Prime. It’s cultural impact is huge, the series having sold more than 44 million copies. Here, we continue the series with Book 5, The Fires of Heaven. There will be SPOILERS in this post for the series.

Power Corrupts, and Politics and Religion? 

In The Fires of Heaven, we are introduced to the Prophet of the Dragon, Masema. He has used Rand’s name to build himself a power base, and it is unclear yet whether he actually believes the things he says about the Dragon Reborn or not. What does seem clear is that this is a case of power corrupting. Masema goes mad over violations of protocol, he believes he has the right and the need to restrict even what people wear, how they act, and the like. His unification of religious belief and political power has become a corruption that is dangerous even for those who are trying to help Rand. In our own history, the unity of political and religious power has often played out in totalitarian ways as well, with absolute power corrupting and leading to danger for any who disagree.

The question of how the church and state ought to interact is an ancient one, and one heavily tinged by cultural referents. In the United States, it has become influenced greatly by the notion of “separation of church and state,” a dogma repeated so often it has become enshrined in the political sphere. There are many, many perspectives on the question, and my own preferred one is that of the Lutheran view of the Two Kingdoms–that the Kingdom of God is able to offer correction to the Kingdom of the World, but that the Kingdom of the World must not interfere with the Kingdom of God. Similarly, the realm of the world is generally to be left to the governance of human reason, only called upon to repent when needed.

With The Fires of Heaven, one might ask what kind of divisions of the political and religious are being suggested. There is certainly a sense of unease about Masema and his policies, but what will happen going forward? What kind of commentary might Robert Jordan be offering here?

Sacrifice

Moiraine gives her life up (maybe?) to defeat Lanfear. Birgitte nearly does the same to fight another Forsaken. Here we have the theme of sacrifice playing out rather clearly, though the implications of these sacrifices won’t be found out for some time yet. In Birgitte’s case, it leads to a linking of Birgitte with Elayne as a Warder. The theme of sacrifice hasn’t played prominently so far in the series, and it is clear Moiraine’s sacrifice is totally unexpected to Rand, who was blindsided by it.

Actions have Consequences

Balefire gets much discussion in this book, with its possibility of burning away threads of time and altering the past in unpredictable, terrifying ways. This ties into a broader sense of consequence throughout the series, in which actions have consequences that tend to be far ranging. Whether its simply walking through a town as a Ta’veran and causing weddings, accidents, and more or burning away an enemy permanently, there are serious repercussions for actions in the world. One can’t help but think of our own world, in which some of the smallest actions can have wide ranges of impact.

Conclusion

I have to say I thought The Fires of Heaven was a bit slower moving than the previous books. Despite its massive length, there also didn’t seem to me to be as much to discuss from a worldview perspective. What did you think of this novel? What worldview issues did you notice on reading it? Let me know in the comments.

Links

The Wheel of Time– Read all my posts on The Wheel of Time (scroll for more).

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Ted Chiang’s Religious Vision and Critique in “Exhalation”

Ted Chiang is one of the more well-known names publishing science fiction and fantasy short stories today. His short story, “Stories of Your Life” was the basis for the film “Arrival” (which I discussed here). His latest collection, Exhalation: Stories is another thought-provoking, moving collection of stories that will make readers think deeply about many questions. What struck me is that, despite Chiang being an atheist, his is remarkably knowledgeable about religion and, though he challenges various religious traditions at points, he also writes stories that resonate with them. I wanted to discuss his religious vision and critique in this book. There will be SPOILERS for some of these stories ahead.

Omphalos

Readers who have done a lot of digging into the esoteric origins of young earth creationism will recognize the title of this short story a nod to one of the most obscure but also earliest examples of young earth literature, Omphalos: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot by Philip Henry Gosse. In Gosse’s book, written before the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, he argues that the fossil record was actually created with the appearance of age and thus doesn’t give evidence of the actual age of the earth. Gosse effectively introduced the argument of “appearance of age” into the young earth creationist repertoire of arguments for their position, and he did it before the evidence for evolution had reached the stage it has now.

In Chiang’s short story, he imagines a scientist interacting with the world that genuinely does appear to be young. In this world, fossils are found that show no evidence of prior age. Tree rings do not falsify a young earth. The evidence on the planet all gives way to yielding the result that the Earth really is young. But some evidence isn’t fixed. The multiplicity of language begins to show that it is from accident rather than by design. Moreover, some question comes into mind as to why the universe was created–was it really made for us, or for some other group of beings somewhere else? The evidence for the miraculous continues, but the purpose of the character we follow in the story begins to get called into question. This leads to the challenge that if this person was not created with a specific purpose, they are left to their own devices to find purpose, and they choose to search… for purpose.

“Omphalos” serves as a lens to question: what would it mean if the universe were not made for humans? (I don’t think it was, and wrote this article to that effect, though it has diverged some from my current views in 6 years.) Chiang’s story is a masterful look at how we might perceive the universe differently as what we think collapses around us. It also asks questions about purpose in a universe in which we don’t have our own, unique purpose. It’s a thought experiment but one that needs to challenge us.

The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate

The first story in the collection, “The Merchant…” is a series of smaller stories about how some different rings that allowed for time travel impacted people’s lives in a fantastic setting with explicitly Muslim religious expression. As the stories told by the merchant make the reader understand, the longing to be able to change the past and set events right to make up for mistakes is strong. But the concluding lines of the story make clear the point:

Nothing erases the past. There is repentance, there is atonement, and there is forgiveness. That is all, but that is enough. (36)

I have read this story before in another collection of Chiang’s, but it still struck me as forcefully as it did the first time. The deep yearning to change the past is found in so many of us now. But it is a longing we can’t fulfill. Yet even without magical rings that allow for time travel by passing through them, we can still find what is enough: repentance, atonement, and forgiveness.

Exhalation: Self-Destruction and Miracle

The title story of this collection, “Exhalation,” was a Hugo Award winner for best short story. In this story, there is a society of mechanical beings with brains that work based on pressure of the air. One of these beings discovers that its society is beginning to slow down in computations and the reason is due to the way they’re using their resources, pumping air from one place to another, which changes the air pressure and thus their capacities. From this, the being basically finds the second law of thermodynamics and posits that all things will eventually move towards equilibrium–dooming its society.

This short story has many intriguing threads. First, the notion of self-destruction by actions that are initially seen as good or profitable or beneficial. Clear parallels exist between this story and our own, as humanity continues to destroy the good creation of God through our own efforts to seek ease of transportation, luxury, and profit over all else.

Another startling aspect of “Exhalation” is the conclusion towards the end, that life itself is miraculous, because it manages to survive in a universe that is bent upon ultimately driving it out (the second law of thermodynamics means there will be an inevitable heat death of the universe). Life does seem to be a miracle: its diversity, persistence, the emergence of consciousness, and the very fact that life exists stand out. Though there may be natural explanations for these stages, the wonder of them cannot be totally explained in such naturalistic means. There is a sense of the miraculous in life.

Conclusion

There are many other themes found throughout this collection of stories, as well as his others. Questions about what it means to be a person; what mental life is like; how we destroy ourselves; and more. What are some themes you’ve picked up? What stories resonated with you? Check out Exhalation: Stories for some though-provoking stories.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“The Dragon Reborn” by Robert Jordan – A Christian (re)reads “The Wheel of Time”

The Wheel of Time” is a massive fantasy series by Robert Jordan (and, later, Brandon Sanderson) that is being developed into a television show for Amazon Prime. It’s cultural impact is huge, the series having sold more than 44 million copies. Here, we continue the series with Book 3, The Dragon Reborn. There will be SPOILERS in this post for the series.

The Creator, The Dark One, and the Pattern

There are extended portions in The Dragon Reborn that finally begin to draw out the relationship between the Pattern–a kind of stand-in for fate–as well as the Creator and the Dark One. The most extended discussion makes it clear that in this world, the Dark One and even the Creator are subject to the weaving of the Pattern. The Pattern itself runs along the Wheel of Time, setting a course for thousands of years, including the actions of individuals throughout the Pattern. Though the Pattern is active, weaving itself around individuals that have been picked out mysteriously as ta’veren, in the broadest sense, it is predetermined.

This leads to a kind of fatalism among the characters that many of them are constantly striving against. Rand is the most clear example, but the three ta’veren we’ve encountered–Rand, Mat, and Perrin–all work actively to try to thwart the pattern. Yet even their efforts seem to be taken into account and woven therein.

Again, even the Creator is explicitly said to be subject to the pattern, and this becomes an interesting point of worldview later in the series as speculation about the exact meaning of this abounds. Contrasted with the Christian worldview, in which God is radically free to act as God wills (though of course there is some debate about what this may mean), there is a great divide here between the world of The Wheel of Time and the real world.

The Creator

Now that we have some more insight into the notion of a Creator in “The Wheel of Time,” what is interesting is that the Creator here does not necessarily seem to be some kind of omnipotent or omniscient being. We already noted that the Creator seems bound by the Pattern, but we find here that the Creator seems to be a kind of demi-urge; an almost deistic creator who makes the world but then allows it to play out as woven by the pattern. “The Dragon Reborn” really only gives us a few hints of how this plays out, and so we will look at any other time the Creator appears to see what more is revealed.

Prophecy Fulfilled

Another dimension to all of this discussion is the notion of prophecy, which we find out from multiple Aes Sedai exists in huge amounts in the world. There are many, many prophecies of the Dragon, several of which appear to contradict. So for Rand to come and fulfill what is said to be the first step to revealing the Dragon Reborn remains yet something that some people reject. I can’t help but think about the prophecies of the Messiah in the Bible and how many yet did not believe in Jesus. Prophecy in The Wheel of Time can seem confusing and require the eyes of believers to see it. Is the same the case when it comes to Christianity? One example may be that of the virgin birth, a prophecy that was apparently fulfilled in the Old Testament (see Isaiah 7:10-17–the context shows that it was an immediate sign for Ahaz). Prophecy, it seems, is not as black and white as some would like it to be. It can take some discernment to draw out the meaning fully.

Conclusion

The Dragon Reborn is another fascinating step in the world of “The Wheel of Time.” Reflecting on its worldview, it is here we begin to find some of the greatest deviations from Christianity, particularly in its elevation of the Pattern/The Wheel over the power of the Creator and the character of the Creator. However, it is interesting to see how this notion of fatalism truly begins to play out in later books. We’ll delve into those as we go. For now, let me know your thoughts up to this point in the series!

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“The Eye of the World” by Robert Jordan – A Christian (re-)Reads “The Wheel of Time”

The Wheel of Time” is a massive fantasy series by Robert Jordan (and, later, Brandon Sanderson) that is being developed into a television show for Amazon Prime. It’s cultural impact is huge, the series having sold more than 44 million copies. Here, I begin my re-read of the series. There will be SPOILERS in this post for the series.

The Cost of Darkness

Evil has a real, palpable effect on the world in The Eye of the World. Everything it touches, it corrupts. Darkfriends–those who aid the Dark One–are not always visibly evil, but a key figure–a darkfriend who had been a merchant to Two Rivers–gets twisted into an almost unrecognizable form. Trollocs are the “standard” bad guy in the Wheel of Time, and their features are distortions of reality: human forms mixed with those of beasts. The Forsaken, who make an appearance later, are again visible distortions of nature. If I wanted to go all Aristotelian-Thomistic on it, one could argue the evil has impacted the nature of these things, turning them from their proper ends and towards ends that lead to physical abnormalities and certainly impacting their capacity to see beyond their evil desires. The Foresaken, in particular, are twisted to the will of the Dark One and against each other. Evil, in Jordan’s world, has real impact. It is not just something to shake our heads at.

Yet even in our world–the real world–evil does have an impact. It doesn’t physically distort its perpetrators, but it does impact their well-being. It may not immediately show up in their everyday lives, at least from the outside, but by going against proper ends–by going against that which is good–evildoers distort nature and disrupt it. Sin corrupts and needs to be healed–it is not something that heals itself.

Men and Women

A theme throughout the whole series is the interactions between men and women. In some ways, Jordan seems to play into tropes of chivalry and the like, but then he subverts them, sometimes playfully, throughout the book. There are multiple scenes that become running jokes to fans of the series in The Eye of the World, whether it is Perrin and Rand each wishing the other were there to confide in about women or the hair tugs, there are several things Jordan integrates into his storytelling that seem to, at first, perhaps reinforce gender norms. However, the shared heritage of the One Power, which men are unable to touch at this point without going insane, is one way he subverts these norms. Another is through having the women themselves subvert expectations within the narrative. Egwene and Rand’s story, for example, seems like a clear setup for a love story settling in over time, but when push comes to shove it becomes much more. Egwene and Nynaeve each go against expectations, realizing roles for themselves that push them beyond what their cultural expectations were. For example, Egwene in The Eye begins to see her potential for the One Power, as does Nynaeve, yet back in Two Rivers and abroad this may as well paint them as Darkfriends–or worse, something to be feared and totally unknown. It will be interesting in this re-read to see how Jordan continues to play with broader gender narratives.

Myth and Reality

A constant theme throughout The Eye of the World is that of myth and reality, which is itself set alongside prophecy and fulfillment throughout the whole series. The folk of Two Rivers see Aes Sedai as practically myths themselves, but when it comes to the news of false Dragons or even the mundane things like Trollocs, they’re nothing more than myths in the unreal sense. But myth has a way of worming its way into reality. The people of Two Rivers, unfortunately, must face reality rather starkly when those legends come to life and Trollocs attack. More broadly speaking, Rand and the others must come to realize that their perceptions of what is real or possible may be wrong.

This theme of reality and myth resonates with the real world. Many things are dismissed as wrong or fairy tales when they are in fact grounded in reasonable beliefs. Others try to deny evidence that is directly before them (like those who deny that Jesus even existed, for example). But our world is one that is full of wonder and mystery still. Perhaps it is time to confront our own presuppositions and skepticisms and allow evidence to sway opinions. And that’s just it–evidence does sway opinions in The Eye of the World, sometimes in very quick and easy ways–seeing a Trolloc attack–but other times it takes much more. Seeing is believing, as they say, but testimony is also evidence, and Rand and company are just beginning to learn about more myth breaking in to reality.

Prophecy and fulfillment, as I said, goes alongside this notion of myth and reality. The Dragon is a terrible, fearsome one who is prophesied, and there are seemingly clear ways to know when the Dragon has come along. Many false Dragons have come and gone. The world awaits with fear the one who will fulfill the prophecies. It’s not quite like the anticipation of the Messiah, but it does show how expectations can be very different from what one thinks a clear reading of the texts entails.

Conclusion

The Eye of the World remains a compelling narrative nearly 30 years after its initial publication. Jordan wove myth, narrative, prophecy, and humanity together into a coherent whole that only begins with this first book. What questions do you have coming out of reading the book? What other worldview issues did you see arise?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“The Changeling” by Victor LaValle – Seeing the Humanity in the Other… or not

I don’t think it is a secret to say that I love books. Part of loving books as much as I do means joining book clubs, and places like Goodreads allow for networking about books around the globe. I am somewhat active in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club on Goodreads, and in August, we read The Changeling by Victor LaValle. I found it to be deeply moving, at times disturbing, and, on reflection, ingenious. LaValle seems particularly interested in the notion of seeing humanity in those we consider “other.” There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

The Changeling

Amal El-Mohtar at NPR had an intriguing post on the book as well, which gives a summary, with a caveat:

Here is more or less what most synopses I’ve seen of The Changeling say: Apollo Kagwa is a rare book dealer and new father, in love with his wife, Emma, and their infant son Brian, named after the vanished father who haunts Apollo’s dreams. But when Emma commits an unspeakable act of violence and disappears, Apollo’s left grasping at the threads of his unravelled life, following them through a labyrinth of strange characters, mysterious islands and haunted forests, all occupying the same space as the five boroughs of New York City.

This is accurate — but the experience of reading the book is something else. The storytelling gets compressed and decompressed at various points like the air in a bellows, stoking the fire under the story, burning away its disguises and sending it shrieking up the chimney.

When I finished reading the book, I initially thought it was a bit odd. Like El-Mohtar, I could summarize the book, but the more I thought about it, the more it felt the various threads in the plot needed to be stripped away and removed, so that I could see what was underneath. What his plot summary leaves out is that Emma is ultimately found vindicated because their son was replaced with a changeling by a man whose family has been working to steal children to feed to a troll for an extraordinary length of time. But all of this is tied, in a way, back into a discussion of racism. The main characters are almost all people of color, while the two characters who work to feed the trolls the children of people of color are white.

As I thought about the plot of the book, I realized that it could be a kind of metaphor for talking about race relations in the United States. The idea of whites taking away black children to give to a “troll” is a poignant way to think about slavery. The heartless attitude of those who take the children away is also similar to the comments made about various “political” issues like immigration or shootings.

I asked the author on Twitter a bit about the interpretation of the book. He replied that the idea of seeing it as a commentary on race relations was on track, but also that one of the white characters had the motivation that he simply couldn’t imagine a correspondence between how much he loved the children and how much their own parents did. There’s a kind of disconnect in understanding the “other” that leads to heinous acts. It is this disconnect that is perhaps most alarming and heart-rending in the book. LaValle draws readers in with a truly beautiful story of falling in love, loving books (I have to admit the used book seller aspect of the plot gave me much joy) and then hammers home a point about the brutality of our world so suddenly that it shocks the reader.

Sin has that same effect. It breaks into a peaceful picture, most violently when we see it in Genesis 3. Into God’s very good creation comes sin, and it changes everything. The serpent offers a substitute–a changeling–for reality, pushing a vision of the future to Adam and Eve that they accept instead of trusting God. Racism is sinful, and LaValle’s work highlights the intensity of violence and the person-destroying nature of that sin.

Near the end of the book, there is this brief aside at the end of Chapter 102:

Apollo lingered. He approached the stones, skirting around until he found the largest one, what had been the troll’s head. He could still make out the soft depression of those great blind eyes. He brushed each one with a finger. He leaned close to the stone and pressed his forehead to it. He felt as if he was finally burying what had been haunting him since he was a child. A funeral not for his father but his fatherlessness. Let that monster rest.

A funeral for his fatherlessness. I was deeply moved by this line and have been thinking about it ever since. I don’t really know how or why it made me think so much about it, but it has stuck with me. Just another aspect of a book that forces its readers to reflect.

The Changeling by Victor LaValle is a moving, disturbing work. I recommend it highly, and would love to discuss it with you.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L’Engle” by Sarah Arthur

A Light So Lovely is a remarkable look at an intriguing woman’s life and contributions to spirituality. At times challenging while at others biographical, Sarah Arthur weaves together tale with theology, fact with fiction in a compelling way.

Madeleine L’Engle is almost certainly best remembered for her book A Wrinkle in Time, but Sarah Arthur exposes readers to the broad range of L’Engle’s work, which seems to rival C.S. Lewis’s output in both range and output. Arthur draws on this comparison herself a number of times, though she never comes to rely upon it. L’Engle is her own person, and one with complexities that demand careful reading.

The book is organized around a number of themes within L’Engle’s thought and work. Arthur notes that one of L’Engle’s driving spiritual themes is that of the “both/and” rather than the “either/or.” As a Lutheran, this resonates with me quite a bit because Lutherans tend to see themes in life as both/and as well (e.g. that Christians are sinner/saints). The chapters reflect this “both/and” narrative with titles like “Icon and Iconoclast” and “Faith and Science.” In each chapter, the both/and that L’Engle affirms becomes clear.

L’Engle’s spirituality is tied up in both fiction and nonfictional works. At times, it challenges the bounds of what some would demand for orthodoxy. Her apparent affirmations of things like ultimate universalism and the like caused some controversy in her own time and continue to do so to this day. L’Engle explored spirituality through myth and mythmaking (using the terms in the technical sense). Arthur draws upon fiction, nonfiction, anecdotes, interviews, the Bible, and more for sources in outlining L’Engle’s thought and spirituality.

So what is L’Engle’s spirituality? It would be hard to sum it up even in paragraph form, but Arthur’s focus in the chapters already points towards a way to do so. Specifically, L’Engle’s spirituality was one which was inclusive almost to a fault, focused on uniting truths together that some would see as at odds with each other. Her spirituality was also deeply practical, with her honest looks at the struggles of working as a mother, dealing with doubt, and more. Another theme Arthur explores is the way L’Engle tied her spirituality into her fiction. It is remarkable, looking back, to see that a book like A Wrinkle in Time, with its explicitly Christian themes, managed to win a Newbery Award, for such awards typically avoid anything explicitly religious. But L’Engle’s work is so magical, so captivating, and her Christianity so matter-of-fact that it becomes its own kind of light, the “light so lovely” that it can inspire others to learn more and seek it out. This central theme of the book is also central to L’Engle’s spirituality.

A Light So Lovely is a delightful work. The highest laud I can give it is that it has led me to seek out more writings of L’Engle to seek a deeper understanding and try to help make my own light shine. Recommended.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

Gender, Fear, and Politic: “The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula K. Le Guin

lhd-ursulakleguin

The soundest fact may fail or prevail in the style of its telling… (1)

The Left Hand of Darkness has come to be considered one of the greatest works of science fiction. The book portrays the efforts of an ethnologist, Genly Ai, makes to try to unite the people of the planet of Winter with the Ekumen of Known Worlds. What happens in his efforts  will be explored thematically in what follows. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Gender

Le Guin has come to be known as a major innovator in science fiction by putting forth feminist ideas in the form of novels. In The Left Hand of Darkness, Winter is populated by humans who have genetically been modified to be essentially genderless. But it goes beyond that, because in each monthly cycle, people become either male or female during a time of fertility, and then become effectively “neuter” again.

The novel is oriented around questions of how this may affect perceptions of gender. It is largely narrated from the perspective of Genly, who himself has many assumptions about what men and women are like from his own gendered society. In reading Genly’s thoughts, the reader is exposed to notions of duality. At one point, Genly attempts to explain what a woman looks like and who a woman is in his own society to one of the inhabitants of Winter:

I suppose the most important thing… is whether one’s born male or female. In most societies it determines one’s expectations, activities, outlook, ethics, manners–almost everything… (252-253).

Ultimately, Genly admits defeat in attempting to explain what women are like. He says they are “more alien” to him than the aliens of Winter (253). But Genly, in his own mind, has much to think about women. He often thinks of women as submissive, foolish, and perhaps a little weak. They are tied down through childrearing while men are to be dominant in society. Genly’s own thoughts on the topic serve as a foil for the reader’s thoughts about gender. By placing the reader in Genly’s mind, and seeing the absurdity of his views of gender lined up against an effectively genderless (or potentially gendered?) society, one is forced to consider one’s own views of gender and the power structures which may accompany it.

Jarringly, the inhabitants of Winter are always referred to with male pronouns. The reason is explained at one point as having to assign the Gethenians (those inhabitants) some pronoun to use. But the fact is that the Gethenians may be both the mother of some children and the father of others due to the way their procreative cycle works. One is forced to wonder at the wisdom of using the male pronoun for such persons.

The implications of a sexless society (or again, potentially sexed?) are used as a way to view our own society. We are told to “Consider” various aspects of how reality might change if gender were not viewed as a way to predetermine power structures:

Consider: Anyone can turn his hand to anything… Consider: There is no division of humanity into strong and weak halves, protective/protected, dominant/submissive, owner/chattel, active/passive. (100)

We’ll consider the implications of this below, but for now it is merely important to see the dialogue happening within the story. What are your views of gender? How do they impact your view of the “other”?

Fear and Politic

Gender may be seen as one way of viewing the “Other,” but fear is a powerful tool, and it applies to any duality or disjunct which allows one to see strict delineation between self and other. In a discussion with one of the inhabitants of Winter on politics, Genly is asked if he knows what it is to be a patriot:

[Genly responded] “I don’t think I do. If by patriotism you don’t mean love of one’s homeland…”

[The Gethenian replied] “No, I don’t mean love… I mean fear. The fear of the other. And its expressions are political, not poetical: hate, rivalry, aggression. It grows in us, that fear. It grows in us year by year.” (20)

Once again we see the recurring theme that the “Other” is to be feared and fought against. Whether that “Other” is a gendered other or an alien or simply someone from a different country, The Left Hand of Darkness forces readers to consider their own fears. How might one’s own feelings about the “Other”s in their own society shape their interactions with them?

Truth

The line quoted at the beginning of this post is echoed throughout the book: truth is what we make of it. We may choose a reality. But Le Guin’s portrayal of truth goes beyond relativism. Instead, truth matters in the telling. “Facts are no more solid, coherent, round, and real than pearls are. But both are sensitive” (1). Thus, lies may come across as true or believable due to how they’re told, and they may “become true.” Of course, this means not that reality itself changes, but rather that one’s interaction with truth or falsehood may itself determine one’s belief in either one.

Reflection

The Left Hand of Darkness is steeped in critical theory. Le Guin’s discussion of gender is perhaps the most obvious point of this: readers are forced to consider their own ways of thinking about male/female dichotomy through the eyes of a man who is struggling to force his categories onto beings which do not neatly fit into either bucket. Some may immediately critique Le Guin and suggest she is trying to blur gender lines and do away with any distinction between man and woman. That may well be what she was doing (I don’t know), but that should not prevent readers from acknowledging they have their own biases about what genders are or how male/female should act (or not?). The novel forces introspection and reflection.

Similarly, how does one’s view of the “Other”–whether made other by gender, country, kin, or belief–get shaped by one’s own presuppositions about what that “Other” should be? Here are dynamics of power, politic, and fear.

The Left Hand of Darkness is a highly reflective novel. By integrating literary criticism and critical theory into her fiction, Le Guin forces readers to examine their own views. Whether one agrees with the various aspects of feminist thought Le Guin includes in the work, one will consider these aspects with new light through the reading of the novel.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness (New York: Ace, 2010). Originally published by Ace in 1969.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“The Once and Future King” by T.H. White – Honor, King David, and Justice

ofk-whiteT.H White’s classic Arthurian tale, The Once and Future King is an absolute delight to read. I had never read it before, and I was surprised to see the sheer amount of humor found therein. The depth of the work’s story is immense. Here, I will look at some of the worldview level themes found in the book. There will be SPOILERS in this post.

Honor

Young Arthur, known as “The Wart,” shows his character in one discussion with Merlyn-

If I were to be a Knight… I should pray to God to let me encounter all the evil in the world in my own person, so that if I conquered there would be none left, and, if I were defeated, I would be the one to suffer for it. (174)

Arthur is an honorable man–and was even an honorable boy. That doesn’t mean he never makes poor choices, but he is ultimately motivated by faith and a desire to take on evil directly.

King David… Arthur

In many ways, the story of Arthur parallels the biblical story of David. Like David, Arthur desires to follow justice and walk in the way of God. Like David, it is illicit affairs which lead to his undoing. Like David, Arthur’s downfall ultimately comes from within his own family. Each has a kind of guide in the early stages of their rule (Merlyn or Samuel), but neither takes on such guidance later in life. Each is guided by faith, and it each attempts to capture a kind of ideal in their monarchy. Their ideals are never quite reached, and it is evident in the story of each that their own choices limit their capacity to reach that ideal. In the end, each turns to God for the final answers.

Justice

One of the best portrayals of justice in the book can be found in the way White portrayed injustice. The knights are operating under a principle of “Might makes Right.” They expect the lower class soldiers to be slaughtered, while they themselves are so heavily armored they can barely be harmed (as hilariously depicted in an early scene that young Arthur gets to witness). Arthur seeks to go against this principle–to wage war on Might. Yet, even that battle ends in failure as it becomes corrupted. A question the book seems to point us towards is whether violence to overcome violence is a realistic means.

The conclusion to the book catches Arthur at his most reflective. White’s own view begins to peek through the words of Arthur’s thoughts. What is it that failed Arthur? How did his quest for good become so embroiled in deceit and betrayal? Yet Arthur finds that there was a crucial flaw in his plan: “[T]he whole structure depended on the first premise: that man was decent” (637). He had forgotten about the sinfulness of humanity:

For if there was such a thing as original sin, if man was on the whole a villain, if the Bible was right in saying that the heart of men was deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, then the purpose of his life had been a vain one. (638)

The purpose was vain, because it was not pursued alongside God’s will but rather as Arthur’s will imposed upon humanity–the very thing that Merlyn had come back through time (or was it forward?) to discover. Yet that which Arthur wished to bring about–the defeat of Might–was not itself an evil end. Indeed, it is the King’s page who reveals the ultimate judgment on Arthur’s plan: “I think it was a good idea, my lord”–thus said the page; and Arthur’s response: “It was, and it was not. God knows” (644).

Ultimately, it seems, justice is defined on God’s terms and humans are incapable of seeing the whole picture. White was an agnostic, but was apparently scornful of the evil he saw in the world. A kind of pessimism about human capacities is found throughout the book. The fact that, in the end, “God knows” is the answer that can be given towards whether humans can accomplish an ideal is telling. Without God, endeavors of that sort are impossible.

Other Topics

There are some pretty interesting parables included within the text, particularly in the “Sword in the Stone” section. One of them is from the Talmud–a story in which Elijah travels with a Rabbi and perplexes the Rabbi with his apparent lack of concern for the poor while he aids the rich. Yet this parable shows that God is indeed working towards justice, and a God’s-eye perspective of justice is impossible. Another parable tells a story about humanity as a kind of capstone of creation, while limiting humanity to being an “embryo” for all time- a creature in development. This capacity-laden view of humanity points to White’s worldview once more. Human choices matter, but we so often choose poorly.

The Dark Ages, White notes, may have been a bit of a misnomer:

Do you think that they [those times sometimes called “The Dark Ages”], with their Battles, Famine, Black Death and Serfdom, were less enlightened than we are, with our Wars, Blockade, Influenza and Conscription? (544)

Here again we see White’s own world creeping back into the novel. The novel was published in 1939, the year World War II officially began, though there was plenty going on before that. It was difficult to see the War coming and think that another age was to be singled out as the “Dark” age. There is a kind of intellectual hubris in dismissing the ideas of the past and seeing one’s own time as somehow enlightened. White did not think that was a route to take.

Merlyn (yes, Merlyn, not Merlin) is a character whose interactions with Arthur bring up all kinds of questions. He seems to be guiding a young Arthur towards the attempt to bring about justice in the world, but he also allows himself–seemingly willingly–to be cast aside when Arthur is at his most vulnerable. He only reappears at the very end of the book as a kind of wind. I am left feeling rather ambivalent about Merlyn, who had so much power but who did not ultimately use it very effectively.

Conclusion

The Once and Future King is a simply phenomenal book layered with many levels of meaning. There are so many avenues to explore from a worldview level that I’m sure repeated readings will be rewarding. The central theme, however, is incredibly powerful: humans cannot complete their own ideals. We are imperfect. God knows.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Popular Books– Read through my other posts on popular books–science fiction, fantasy, and more! (Scroll down for more.)

Source

T.H. White The Once and Future King (New York: Ace, 2004 edition).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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