Tuesday, August 13, 2013

"Dragonwitch" Delivers!

“In the divine, we find the satisfaction of contradictions. We find the wholeness of broken things and belief in the impossible.” Eanrin, the Chief Poet of Rubidos (who sometimes happens to be a cat). 

Dragonwitch by Anne Elisabeth Stengl is a tale of a formidable realm on the verge of crowning its first king. The House of Geheris is the seat of power for Earl Ferox. His able administration over the land has given him favor with neighboring earls of the North Country. They are sure to pledge their allegiance to House of Geheris and become one, unified kingdom. 

The problem is, the aging and ill Ferox has no heir. It’s been arranged for his nephew Alistair to be groomed for the position of future earl . . . and, presumably, king. But, as fairytales must go, there is nothing straightforward about Alistair’s destiny. Between studies that he loathes, a bride-to-be who is a virtual stranger, and a reoccurring nightmare that plunders his sleep, the young man is a wreck. All this before anything of importance actually happens to Alistair, or for that matter, in the story. One thing that stands out: he is a broken and despondent person.  

This tale of prophecy and predicaments, nursery rhymes and revelations, goblins and faeries, is really three tales that weave together into one reality. The different layers were a bit hard to piece together at first, but I believe that was intentional. Watching the threads intertwine became a delight. The author's transcendent Christian worldview glowed within each stratum, yet never glared.

Those of us that love Christ and fantasy have had limited reading material until the last few years (one reason I’ve taken to writing in this genre myself). The stalwarts of allegory, Lewis and Tolkien, have played the game with a sparse team for quite a seventh-inning stretch. It's great to see Christian publishers, like Bethany House, scouting some serious talent. 

Dragonwitch is a heavy hitter on this allegorical team. The beauty of the author’s prose, the depths of truth that were portrayed, and the stellar character development, all made for one pleasurable read. I found myself digging for a pen to underline poignant reminders of the reality that exists, even in fairytales. 

Especially in fairytales.

With adept skill, Stengl offers readers an adventure that encompasses legend, the supernatural, and life within the walls of palace and pagan lands. Such depth in storytelling makes a brief review a challenge. I cannot offer a nutshell synopsis of the highlights, for there were too many. 

Instead, I’ll leave you with a recommendation to get Dragonwitch for yourself (as an aside, I do not care for the title. Seems a bit melodramatic for such a savvy tale. And I wish two of the main characters had not had such similar names. I struggled to keep them straight throughout). Beyond that, I found this book a page-turner and a solid motivator for my own writing.

I will also leave you with another quote from my favorite character, Eanrin, the Chief Poet of Rudiobus:

“Creature of dust, it’s the truth that counts! And you’ll rarely find more truth than in Faerie tales.”

**I was provided with a free copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for my honest review. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Tunnel of Gold . . . I Dig it!

When Jeremiah (Jem) Coulter learns that the Midas gold mine has been played out (aka: no more gold!), he's afraid Goldtown will become another ghost town. But the angry miners may not leave much for even the ghosts, if they continue to riot. Jem learns the hard way—with a rock zinged at his head—that these miners and the mine owners are at odds. With no gold, there's no pay. Who's going to keep the peace? Why, Jem's pa, the sheriff, of course. A dangerous job, but one that's a great fit for Jem's strong, steady father.

The Sterling family, that owns the Midas mine, is scrambling to open a new mine so the town can get back to work. Young Will Sterling also happens to be Jem's nemesis. The two mix about as well as oil and water.

The Sterlings have found the perfect spot to begin blasting a new mine, but there's a hitch: all mines need an air shaft. This new mine's airway would cut right through the old Belle mine that's been shut down for years. Seems like a simple solution except a played out mine is not a collection of deserted tunnels. Chinese immigrants have moved in to scavenge what they can of any gold that is left in the Belle mine. A common practice. In fact, the mine is technically the property of the Chinese and they are not interested in giving it up. Not even for a nice price.

Things really heat up between the townsfolk, the rich folk, the Chinese folk, and the young folk. The Chinese are not well-liked on a good day. A town on the brink of collapse unless the Chinese cooperate, well . . . let's just say hostility runs rather high.

Jem finds himself getting more than a rock to his head when he steps in to protect his Chinese friend, Wu Shen, from a group of bullies. Two against three looks to become two against four when Will Sterling shows up. But . . . what's this? Jem is amazed when Will takes up his side of the fight!

The kids' problems are just a reflection of the prejudices and temperament of the town as a whole. Jem, like his father, wants to be on the side of what's right, no matter the cost. The battles that Goldtown faces will test his faith, his stamina, and his friendships. In Jem's darkest moments, he remembers scripture from the prophet whose name he bears: Jeremiah. He rallys his faith and quells his fear remembering the promises of God.

Tunnel of Gold, by Susan K. Marlow, is part of the new Goldtown series aimed at 'tween' boys. Mrs. Marlow has packed in the action and suspense in her latest book and it won't disappoint. Nor should it be enjoyed by only the young men in your family. It's a great adventure for all! You may even recognize a character from the Circle C Adventure novels who makes an appearance in Tunnel! 

You can read my review of Book One, Badge of Honor, by clicking here. And I have several reviews of the Circle C books that you will find if you search "Marlow"on my blog.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Musical Ponderings and Adventuresome Wanderings

If C.S. Lewis wrote songs, his name would be Andrew Peterson. Well, that logic falls apart pretty fast, but I want to draw the connection between the two men as they are both great story tellers. 

Allow me to introduce you to the lyrical brilliance of Andrew Peterson—if you are unfamiliar with this talented singer and author. With a folksy, acoustic edge he weaves musical magic that ponders the universe, its Creator, and all of the ordinary stuff of life that becomes extraordinary when touched by God. 

His song “Planting Trees” made me cry the first time I heard it. No, it’s not about conservation and saving the planet. It’s about raising children. “World Traveler” tells the tale (I assume it's his own) of a young man in a small town that longs to be a “world traveler.” He sings:

“Soon enough I had my way
I saw the world the Lord has made
Mostly from the interstate
But I had hardly seen a thing
Until I gave a golden ring
To the one who gave her heart to me

(And I became)
A world traveler
That's the day I hit the road
'Cause I walked the hills of the human soul
Of a tender girl
I'm a world traveler
She opened the gate and took my hand
And led me into the mystic land
Where her galaxies swirl
So many mysteries
I never will unravel
I want to travel the world”

It’s a terribly sweet tale of finding that real adventure lies in the mysteries of marriage and discovering one another. He goes on to say:

“Tonight I saw the children in their rooms
Little flowers all in bloom
Burning suns and silver moon
And somehow in that starry sky
The image of the Maker lies
Right here beneath my roof tonight

(So hold on tight, I'm a)
World traveler
Pack yours bags and dig down deep
Let's ride the storms and sail the seas
To the distant pole
I'm a world traveler
Into these uncharted lands
To blaze a trail in the vast expanse
Of the heart and soul
In the grace of the God of peace
Let's wade into the battle
Come on, come on with me
And get up in that saddle
There's a million mysteries
I never will unravel
Come on, let's travel the world”

It’s no surprise to learn that Mr. Peterson is a huge C.S. Lewis and Tolkien fan (to the point of going to Tolkien-themed retreats and being invited to speak at a C.S. Lewis seminar). He touts his CD The Far Country as “the highest concentration of nerdy C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien references, if you’re into that sort of thing.” 

As a dance teacher, it’s hard not to think about choreography when I hear his songs. I love to tell stories on stage. In fact, I’m using his song “Invisible God” for one of my classes’ recitals this year. As a writer, I have enjoyed listening to his music while I work on my novel. It perfectly puts me in the right frame of mind and inspires me to do what I love.

Beyond Mr. Peterson’s music is a terrific blog called The Rabbit Room where he and many other talented authors collaborate on a plethora of subjects that all seem to have a feel for being a fly on the wall at an “Oxford Inklings” meeting. (That’s the writers' group that Tolkien and Lewis and a few other guys used to be a part of. Yeah. Dream Team.) But peeking into the Rabbit Room is the next best thing and I’d recommend checking it out.

His writing doesn’t stop with music and blog posts. If your family is a Narnia or Lord of the Rings fan, you’ll want to check out The Wingfeather Saga, that Peterson has penned. It follows the Igiby family through the eyes of young Janner Igiby who is the Throne Warden (or protector) of his younger brother that will one day be King of Anniera. Filled with creatively creepy creatures such as the “Fangs of Dang” and “toothy cows,” you and your kiddos will have a rollicking good time following this family through times of peril and heroism. And how often can one honestly use the word “rollicking” to describe something? That’s not a word to be trifled with. Click here to go straight to the source and learn more. 

Just to clarify, I don’t know Mr. Peterson 
and he doesn’t know me. He hasn’t asked 
for props. A good friend (and fellow fan) 
introduced me to Andrew Peterson’s music 
and then shared his books and I have been
 forever grateful. 

I'm just paying it forward.


At the Intersection of Creation and Evolution: A Dream

The alliterating story below is based on a dream I had several years ago. Please contact me for permission to reproduce.

Darkness devours me.

I am enveloped in emptiness.

Are my eyes open or are they closed? I strain against this shroud of night and still see nothing.

What is this place?

An image illuminates in front of me. A large, leafy tree streaks past and vanishes.

It deserts me to the darkness again.

In a moment, more images appear. A rapid succession of snapshots and thoughts clamor before my eyes and mingle in my mind.

I see seedlings. Several supple shoots have emerged before me and then swiftly stream away.

“The first trees on earth were not seedlings”, my mind observes. “They were not created as small insignificant saplings.”

That thought is rapidly replaced with a vision of a man.

He’s maybe 30; he is muscular and needs to shave.

He fades away.

In his place I see an infant.

A tiny bundle of pink skin upon a soft blanket flickers briefly in my brain.

“Man was created with age,” is the next statement I hear. “Adam did not begin his life as a baby, he began as a grown man.”

The voice seems like my own.

The thoughts do not.

Reeling before me now is a blur of rivers, forests, mountains and even layers of the earth. It is like a movie rushing rapidly before my retina.

The soundtrack of this epic is proclaiming a peculiarly plain concept:

“The earth was created with age. Creation and evolution are not in total opposition. There is a reason that science finds the earth to be quite old: it was made that way.”

Thoughts continue to tumble through my mind; pictures parade before me. I listen in amazement to what seems to be puzzlingly profound and yet rather apparent all at once.

“Adam was created as an adult. Trees and plants were made fully grown.”

I suddenly feel quite certain that, if I were to chop down some of the trees that had been spoken into existence, I would find a range of rings running through their trunks.

“The earth was brought to life with age built into it… just like Adam. He did not begin life as an infant. The earth came into being with what it would need to sustain the life that was created. It was old when it was young. The world was
made with maturity; it was also produced with purpose.”

These thoughts are thrilling. Why had I not seen this before? It seems so simple. Obtusely obvious. Had others not observed this correlation? If they had, why wasn’t it being candidly conveyed?

In the span of thirty seconds I have been ravaged by a radical revelation. I feel the weight of its worth resting on me; it is tantamount to tangible.

I am neither a theologian nor am I a scientist. I don’t claim that the ethics of evolution are completely compatible with the Bible’s account of creation. But certainly Science can come concurrent to creation and affirm our faith with facts.

Of course, the Omnipotent Originator of the Universe is exceedingly elusive to what our mind could ever envision. Above what science could ever extensively elucidate.

Accordingly, creation is confounding too. Each diverse discovery deems it more marvelous to grasp. Many scientists have reluctantly relented to the theory of Intelligent Design.

That’s why, alongside those facts, we also need faith.

Lying inexplicably at the intersection of those two essential elements is an exceptional endowment: the intermittent insight of our dreams.