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.



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