Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Sword Bearer

The Sword Bearer, John White
The Archives of Anthropos series
(IVP, 1986), pb., 294
Ages 8 or 9+

When I was in about the fifth grade I had read the Chronicles of Narnia and was ‘hungry’ for more books in that vein. In a church library I stumbled across John White’s The Tower of Geburah. I don’t remember much of the plot now, but I remember that I loved it! I have for some time then looked for that book to read to my boys. Along the way I discovered that it was part of a six volume series. I wish I had known this as a boy. I am sure I would have read them all. The series was out of print for some time so I was delighted a couple of years ago to discover that IVP had reprinted the entire series. For my birthday this year, then, my wife and boys gave me the entire set. Since that time (March) my boys have been eager for me to begin reading them. This summer we finally had the opportunity to read this book, the first volume of the series. I was excited but also nervous or uncertain for a couple of reasons. First, I had not read this particular volume before. Second, books that seemed great as a child sometimes end up having significant flaws when you see them as a result. Nevertheless, we began the journey.

The beginning of the book really made me question it. In fact at one point (one or two days into reading) I considered not continuing. The story started slowly (which is not that unusual) but it also was weird and graphic. The description of the death of the grandmother of John (the main character) was unnecessarily graphic and creepy. I had to do some significant editing in this portion. However, we persevered and were glad we did.

John accidentally finds his way into another world (in a way similar to Narnia) which he discovers in called Anthropos. In fact he finds that the inhabitants of this world believe he is the Sword Bearer, a prophesied and long-expected person who will help to deliver them from the oppression of the Lord Lunacy and his minions. The story as it develops from this point is adventurous and compelling. My boys were engrossed and particularly liked the characters Aguila (a giant eagle) and Oso (a giant bear). These characters and others were joined in an effort to overthrow the powers of evil which were dominating their land. They were led by Mab, a powerful prophet. Mab spoke for and wielded power from the Changer, the God-figure of the story. Several times in the story people would refer to Mab as a wizard, but he would quickly correct them saying he was actually a prophet. He traffics in no secret arts but simply wields the power of the Changer as the Changer sees fit.

The author also makes intriguing plays on words for his names and titles. The allegorical points are typically clear. One fun title was certain ‘magic’ stones which could be used to request help from the Changer. They were called ‘pross’ stones, but we discover that the real name is ‘pross ecomai’ stones. That is basically a transliteration of the Greek verb for “I pray.”

As the story progresses John has to battle his own guilt and the temptations of the Lord Lunacy. He has to deal with his own pride before being willing to drink the "wine of free pardon." John’s struggles resonate clearly and provide good examples of our own struggle with sin. The story provides good examples of the folly of arrogance, stubbornness, the damaging results of sin, the power of forgiveness (as well as the humility needed to receive it), the power of God, and the privilege of playing a part in the advance of his kingdom.

Though the beginning was rough, in the end we really enjoyed this book and are already well into the second volume. It has a number of similarities with the Narnia series but is not simply an imitation. It is not as smooth as Narnia- for example there are times when the characters seem to be unnecessarily slow in figuring out a problem. However, it is a really fun story with good adventure and great illustrations of our own fight with sin, guilt and forgiveness. I think it does a good job as well in tapping into that desire to be a part of a work or fight with cosmic significance. I know my boys sense that longing and books like this help them to see that the kingdom of God is the place to invest themselves and to find such significance. And that that only comes from being made right with God.


Friday, July 24, 2009

Introduction to The Heidelberg Catechism

This is a great quote on the work of teaching our children the faith. I saw this in Patrick McGill’s work on a catechism for his church. It comes from the original introduction to the Heidelberg Catechism.

“For from the beginning of the Christian church all the godly have been diligent to instruct their children in the fear of the Lord, at home, at school and in the church. They did so undoubtedly for the following reasons which shall induce us also to do the same. In the first place they rightly took into consideration the fact that unborn wickedness would get the upper hand and then pervert churches and civil governments unless it were countered in time by salutary doctrine. In the second place they had the express command of God in Exodus 12 and 13 and in Deut. 4, 6 and 11 where the Lord says, ‘and these words (the Ten Commandments) which I command you this day shall be upon your heart and you shall teach them to your children, . . . Finally, just as the children of Israel, after circumcision and as soon as they were able to understand, were instructed in the mystery of this covenant sign, and also the covenant of God, so our children too are to be instructed.”


Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Princess and the Goblin

The Princess and the Goblin, George Macdonald
Reprint by Wordsworth Classics
pb. 221 pp.
Ages 7+

This was our first Macdonald story to read together. That fact, combined with the estimation by many that this is his best children’s story, led to high expectations- perhaps too high. Even though C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien mention Macdonald as a great inspiration to them, I did not think this story rose to the level of Tolkien or Lewis. The book starts a bit slowly, but in the end the boys and I enjoyed it.

This is a fun tale of a young princess, goblins which conspire to capture her and a common miner boy who rescues her. Along the way Macdonald emphasizes faith in the unseen, graciousness to others, patience wit those who cannot yet believe, and strongly critiques the then common idea that nobility of spirit was only to be found in those of “noble birth.” In spite of the disappointment mentioned above this was a fun story. At various places we laughed out loud or were held in suspense by the action or intrigue. I was particularly interested in how the evil goblins were held at bay by the use of poetry. Very interesting!

There seemed to be loose ends that were never tied up so that a few things remained unclear to me. However, we would commend this book as a fun story to share.

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Saturday, July 04, 2009

Tolkien's Roverandom

Roverandom, J. R. R. Tolkien
(Houghton Mifflin, 1998), hb.., 106 pp.
[various editions available]
Ages 7+

This is a fun story to share with your children. It is not a grand epic like Lord of the Rings but a light-hearted story Tolkien spun for his own children. The introduction in this edition is nice because it explains the setting from which this story arose. One of Tolkien’s sons lost a beloved toy dog and to help comfort him Tolkien began telling a story of a real dog who had been turned into a toy by a spell, was found by a boy and then was lost by the boy and went on adventures to the moon, the bottom of the ocean and elsewhere. It is fanciful and fun.

One of the most endearing parts of this story to me was the opportunity to see Tolkien, the father, in action. This story was not originally prepared for publication. Rather it was simply a story told to entertain and comfort his children. You can see Tolkien’s own delight in playing with words, his fascinations with old tales, his wit, critiques of issues in his day and his love for his children.

My boys enjoyed the story with me, and we commend it to you. Perhaps it will encourage you to make up stories for your family as well!