Author Archives: Pioneer Library

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Go where no one else will go. Do what no one else will do.

Review: That Hideous Strength (No Spoilers)

Rating: ★★★

Overview: The third installment of C. S. Lewis’ Space trilogy is by far the most ambitious of the three. Set on Earth, That Hideous Strength begins with a new protagonist: This time a snarky academic is being reeled into a plot that could determine the fate of England—even Earth. But how deep does the intrigue go? And who else will resist the relentless expansion of the N.I.C.E.?

Meat: A few readers claim this as their favorite of the trilogy, but not many. It is replete with symbolism, and it may be in a different genre from that of the first two installments of the trilogy. Lewis tries hard to plant all three in the world we know—but in the third book, the cosmic crises of the first two books come crashing into England’s villages. The action comes home.

While the first two books deal with innocence and temptation, the third installment focuses on the advance of deception. For this reason, many reviewers take it as Lewis’ figurative eschatology.

Bones: The plot of the book was quite slow to pick up. Lewis sacrificed accessibility for literary flare. That Hideous Strength is a far cry from the universality of Narnia. If you don’t enjoy the esoteric, this book may be a bore for you.

A side point: In my opinion, Lewis was unduly influenced by Charles Williams’ The Place of the Lion. Both are fantasy novels set in England with a long exposition involving a few cynical academics, eventually culminating in a conflict that combines spiritual, magical and historical elements.

Quotes: “Good is always getting better and bad is always getting worse: the possibilities of even apparent neutrality are always diminishing. The whole thing is sorting itself out all the time, coming to a point, getting sharper and harder.”

“Why you fool, it’s the educated reader who can be gulled. All our difficulty comes with the others. When did you meet a workman who believes the papers? He takes it for granted that they’re all propaganda and skips the leading articles. He buys his paper for the football results and the little paragraphs about girls falling out of windows and corpses found in Mayfair flats. He is our problem. We have to recondition him. But the educated public, the people who read the high-brow weeklies, don’t need reconditioning. They’re all right already. They’ll believe anything.”

“This is the courtesy of Deep Heaven: that when you mean well, He always takes you to have meant better than you knew. It will not be enough for always. He is very jealous. He will have you for no one but Himself in the end. But for tonight, it is enough.”

Light Shining out of Darkness

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up His bright designs,
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan His work in vain:
God is His own interpreter,
And he will make it plain.

William Cowper, Olney Hymns.

Review:  Candle in the Dark: The Story of Ion Keith-Falconer

Rating: ★★★★

Who: Ion Keith-Falconer, Arabic scholar, prominent cyclist, and pioneer missionary to Yemen.

When: 1856-1887.

Where: The book covers his training and travels in Scotland, England, Germany, Egypt, and Yemen.

Overview: This is the authorized biography of Ion Keith-Falconer, published within a year of his unexpected death by a friend who knew him at Cambridge. It is still the most complete biography of him available.

Keith-Falconer came from a noble Scottish bloodline. He was definitely a son of privilege; but to his credit, he used this privilege to support Gospel work. He liberally supported urban evangelistic work, not only with money, but with his own sweat.

He was an exemplary academic and excelled in Arabic and other Semitic languages at Cambridge. Before he went to Yemen as a missionary with the Free Church of Scotland, he was offered a lectureship in Arabic by Cambridge, and accepted, if only because the requirements were so light, and the benefits so obvious—he would only have to lecture once annually at the minimum.

He also exemplifies “muscular Christianity.” He stumbled into fame as a cyclist when the sport was just budding into existence on college campuses.

He began to seriously consider missions in late 1884, and left for Yemen in November 1885 for a trial visit. He returned with his family a year later, in November 1886, but within just a few short months, he succumbed to several bouts of malaria, and died at the age of 31.

Meat: Keith-Falconer is in many ways the prototypical missionary of the Arabian Peninsula. He taught that hospitals and academic work were an appropriate avenue for missionaries there, and many followed in his wake.

The announcement of his death coincided closely with the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland, and as a result, many were moved to consider the mission field after he died.

Bones: The author, Sinker, was an academic and sometimes gives too much detail on Keith-Falconer’s academic life at the expense of his personal life. An ideal biography would give a better sense of Keith-Falconer’s habits and daily life.

A member of the Yemen mission, James Robson, later produced a bite-sized biography, Ion Keith-Falconer of Arabia (1923), which essentially abridges the material found here.

Quotes: “Still, it seemed as if some scheme ought to present itself in which Christian zeal and linguistic power might work hand in hand, or rather, shall I say, in which his intellectual attainments and his learning might be to him something more than a mere parallel interest, existing side by side with, but having no connection with, work for Christ.” (loc. 2116)

“The efforts already made to Christianize Mohammedan countries have produced commensurate results.” (loc. 2724)

“The heathen are in darkness, and we are asleep. . . . While vast continents are shrouded in almost utter darkness, and hundreds of millions suffer the horrors of heathenism or of Islam, the burden of proof lies upon you to show that the circumstances in which God gas placed you were meant by Him to keep you out of the foreign mission-field.” (loc. 2797)

The Goose and the Swan

July 6 marks the anniversary of John Hus’ execution at the Council of Constance.

John Hus was an early reformer who opposed corruption in the clergy and called for a reexamination of several basic Christian doctrines. He is often called the Morning Star of the Reformation, since he preceded Luther by a century. One of his most famous stories involves a pun on his name, since Hus means goose in Czech. He is quoted in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs as saying at his death,“You are now going to burn a goose, but in a century you will have a swan which you can neither roast nor boil.”

Luther’s family crest included a swan, so Foxe adds,

If he were prophetic, he must have meant Martin Luther, who shone about a hundred years after.

Foxe’s book was written in the 1550s, a few years after Luther’s death. The goose is obviously Hus himself, and the swan is supposed to be Martin Luther, who nailed his 95 Theses to the church in Wittenberg in 1517, almost exactly a century after Hus was killed.

Was Hus really prophetic? Below are three other sources advanced for the tale. I think we can conclude that even if the quote in question is removed, Hus sensed that the Reformation would not be quenched.

Poggio Bracciolini?

The quote is also included in a sensational retelling of Hus’ trial and death, allegedly written by humanist scholar Poggio Bracciolini in 1415, but researchers believe this document to be inauthentic. It was first published in English in 1930 as Hus the Heretic, and even in German the earliest edition was in 1845, four centuries after Hus’ death. The account includes numerous anachronisms, and the publisher was known to invent legendary histories. (More here.) If anything, this document might tell how widely influential Foxe’s account was.

The Letters of John Hus: The Truth Will Send Others

D’Aubigne cites several prophetic precursors to the Reformation, including one from Hus.

[Hus] was … the John Baptist of the Reformation. …

Prophetic words came forth from the depth of his dungeon. He had a presentiment, that the true Reformation of the Church was at hand.

(History of the Reformation, ch. 6)

Then D’Aubigne quotes The Letters of John Hus. He does make a statement similar to the one quoted by Fox. Here is a newer translation:

At first they spread their nets of citations and excommunications for Hus [or goose], and have already caught many. But because goose is a lazy bird, domestic, not flying high, their net has begun to tear; likewise many other birds who fly high to God by their [writings] and their lives will tear their nets. … 

For the truth they wanted to suppress has the property that the more they attempted to obscure it, the more it shone forth, and the more they pressed it down, although it sometimes falls, then rises the higher.

(tr. Spinka, pp. 82-83)

This quote, from 1412, is of course quite different from the one about the swan. The letter quoted does carry the basic thrust, though, which is that the Reformation was a work of God that would not be stopped. “Many other birds” shared Hus’ goal; Hus seemed to expect that he would die, but that the Reformation would live. He draws further parallels along this line:

Bishops, priests, masters, and scribes, Herod and Pilate, the citizens of Jerusalem and the community, condemned the Truth, put Him to death and buried Him in the grave. But He rose again and conquered them all. In place of one preacher, that is Himself, He gave them twelve and more. That same Truth in place of one faint-hearted goose, gave Prague many eagles and falcons [i.e., his contemporaries], who have keen sight, soar high by grace … 

Here Hus implies that eagles and falcons, his contemporaries in Prague, are well equipped to continue where he left off.

Martin Luther: Hus Prophesied of Me
Luther had been compared to Hus and accused of being a Hussite. Luther’s response was “Oh! that my name were worthy to be associated with such a man.” The legendary quote about the goose and the swan was even known in Luther’s lifetime. Read his comments about it:

In God’s name and call I shall walk on the lion and the adder, and tread on the young lion and dragon with my feet. And this which has been begun during my lifetime will be completed after my death. St. John Huss prophesied of me when he wrote from his prison in Bohemia, “They will roast a goose now (for ‘Huss’ means ‘a goose’), but after a hundred years they will hear a swan sing, and him they will have to endure.” And that is the way it will be, if God wills. (Dr. Martin Luther’s Commentary on the Alleged Imperial Edict Promulgated in the Year 1531 After the Imperial Diet of the Year 1530, qtd. in Lutherʹs Works (Vol. 34, Page 103-104).

Luther says that Hus wrote this in prison, so each of the accounts of the prophetic words vary substantially. The legend of the goose and the swan may be true history, or it may have grown from Hus’ writings, which did affirm that God was changing the game, and Hus was just one piece. A master chess player may sacrifice one valuable piece to gain the upper hand in time; perhaps it is the roasted goose that gave the world the singing swan. After all, when you see the cries of the oppressed, the prayers of the faithful, and the movement of God on their behalf, you don’t have to be a prophet to know that God will finish his work.

Whoever dies for Christ conquers … I do not flinch from yielding my miserable life for God’s truth in danger or death.

(Letters of John Hus, tr. Spinka, pp. 83-84)

Author Guide: George MacDonald

This is a guide to the works of George MacDonald. The books in each section are in chronological order.

Fantasy

Phantastes: A Fairie Romance for Men and Women
“Cross Purposes”
Adela Cathcart, containing “The Light Princess”, “The Shadows”, and other short stories
The Portent
Dealings with the Fairies , containing “The Golden Key”, “The Light Princess”, “The Shadows”, and other short stories
At the Back of the North Wind
The Princess and the Goblin
The Wise Woman: A Parable (also published as “The Lost Princess: A Double Story”; or as “A Double Story”)
The Gifts of the Child Christ and Other Tales (republished as Stephen Archer and Other Tales)
The Day Boy and the Night Girl
The Princess and Curdie, a sequel to The Princess and the Goblin
The Flight of the Shadow
Lilith: A Romance

Realistic fiction

David Elginbrod (updated as The Tutor’s First Love)
Alec Forbes of Howglen (updated as The Maiden’s Bequest)
Annals of a Quiet Neighbourhood
Guild Court: A London Story (updated as The Prodigal Apprentice)
Robert Falconer (updated as The Musician’s Quest)
The Seaboard Parish, a sequel to Annals of a Quiet Neighbourhood
Ranald Bannerman’s Boyhood (updated as The Boyhood of Ranald Bannerman)
Wilfrid Cumbermede
The Vicar’s Daughter, a sequel to Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood and The Seaboard Parish
Gutta Percha Willie, the Working Genius (updated as The Genius of Willie MacMichael)
Malcolm (updated under the same title)
St. George and St. Michael
Thomas Wingfold, Curate (updated as The Curate’s Awakening)
The Marquis of Lossie (updated as The Marquis’ Secret), the sequel of Malcolm
Paul Faber, Surgeon (updated as The Lady’s Confession), a sequel to Thomas Wingfold, Curate
Sir Gibbie (updated as The Baronet’s Song)
Mary Marston (updated as A Daughter’s Devotion and The Shopkeeper’s Daughter)
Warlock o’ Glenwarlock (updated as Castle Warlock and The Laird’s Inheritance)
Weighed and Wanting (updated as The Gentlewoman’s Choice)
Donal Grant (updated as The Shepherd’s Castle), a sequel to Sir Gibbie
What’s Mine’s Mine (updated as The Highlander’s Last Song)
Home Again: A Tale (updated as The Poet’s Homecoming)
The Elect Lady (updated as The Landlady’s Master)
A Rough Shaking (updated as The Wanderings of Clare Skymer)
There and Back (updated as The Baron’s Apprenticeship), a sequel to Paul Faber, Surgeon (Our Review: ★★★★★)
Heather and Snow (Scotch; updated as The Peasant Girl’s Dream) (Our Review: ★★★)
Salted with Fire (updated as The Minister’s Restoration)
Far Above Rubies

Poetry

Within and Without: A Dramatic Poem
Poems (1857)
“A Hidden Life” and Other Poems
“The Disciple” and Other Poems
Dramatic and Miscellaneous Poems
Diary of an Old Soul
The Threefold Cord: Poems by Three Friends (privately printed, with Greville Matheson and John Hill MacDonald)
Poems (1887)
The Poetical Works of George MacDonald (2 vol.)
Scotch Songs and Ballads
Rampolli: Growths from a Long-planted Root

Nonfiction

England’s Antiphon
The Miracles of Our Lord (Our Review: ★★★★★)
The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke: A Study With the Test of the Folio of 1623
Unspoken Sermons (3 vol.) (Our Review: ★★★★★)
A Cabinet of Gems
God’s Words to His Children
The Hope of the Gospel (Our Review: ★★)
A Dish of Orts (expanded from Orts)
George MacDonald in the Pulpit
Getting to Know Jesus
Proving the Unseen

Compilations

Works of Fancy and Imagination (short stories & poetry)
Cheerful Words from the Writing of George MacDonald (compiled by E. E. Brown)
George MacDonald: An Anthology (compiled by C. S. Lewis)
Beautiful Thoughts from George MacDonald (compiled by Elizabeth Dougall)
Knowing the Heart of God (compiled by Michael Phillips)
Discovering the Character of God 
(compiled by Michael Phillips)

New Biographies!

We have published two new paperbacks about pioneer missionaries!

Samuel Zwemer’s Biography

Apostle to Islam: A Biography of Samuel Zwemer by J. Christy Wilson is the authorized biography of Samuel Marinus Zwemer. J. Christy Wilson not only was a missionary in the Muslim world for 22 years, but he succeeded Zwemer as chair of Princeton’s Institute of Theology.

If you are interested in reading about pioneer missions in the Middle East, I would look no further than this book. Zwemer was connected everywhere. He started in pioneer missions in Iraq, Bahrain, and Egypt; he set up missions conferences specifically for reaching Muslims in India, China, and Indonesia; he taught theology and missions at Princeton, and wrote nearly fifty books while doing all this. No wonder Zwemer’s close colleague called him “a steam engine in breeches!”

Zwemer’s Lucknow conference in 1911 is considered a major turning point in missions to the Muslim world.

Ludwig Krapf’s Biography

The Life of Ludwig Krapf: The Missionary Explorer of East Africa by Paul E. Kretzmann

(Johann) Ludwig Krapf was trained for missions in Basel, Switerland. He was first-class linguist, studying Semitic languages like Hebrew, Arabic, and Ethiopic in addition to European languages. When he went to East Africa in 1827, he found these skills to be in no small demand. He published research, dictionaries, and Bible portions in no less than seven East African languages with his colleagues, including a Bible translation in Swahili. Although he tragically suffered the loss of his family on the mission field, he did not lose his indomitable and courageous spirit. It was then that he famously wrote that, since the church conquers over the graves of its workers, then the evangelization of Africa was at hand.

Paul E. Kretzmann, author of the Popular Commentary of the Bible, honed this biography from hundreds of pages of Krapf’s journals and his past biographers to create an accessible and page-turning story with a broad appeal.

Review: Dr. Grenfell’s Parish

Rating: ★★★

Who: Sir Wilfred Grenfell was an Oxford-trained physician who founded a medical mission to help the deep-sea fishermen of Newfoundland and Labrador. He established hospitals and rural medical stations, later gaining international status because of his pioneer work. He wrote many books about his work, and was knighted in 1927.

The author, Norman Duncan, was a famed novelist. Most of his books involve pioneer preachers in Canada and the northern United States.

When: Grenfell was active in his mission from 1892 to 1936. This pamphlet was published in 1905.

Where: Newfoundland and Labrador, the frigid northeastern coast of Canada.

Overview: Norman Duncan gives a brief but useful overlook of the setting of Wilfred Grenfell’s famous pioneer medical mission. Duncan is a novelist and writes with all the flare of a novelist of the period. He describes the danger and abject poverty of the fishermen of eastern Canada, as well as their spunk, optimism, and hardihood. Duncan peppers these pages with many strange and hilarious anecdotes of the place.

Meat: Grenfell’s work was innovative, charitable, and fraught with danger. (For danger, see Adrift on a Ice-pan.) He met the medical needs of many thousands of fishermen and their families, navigating treacherous waters in the summer—without radar or GPS of course—and reaching remote villages by dogsled in the winter. Duncan points out that his work was neither ignorant of his patients’ souls, nor neglectful of their bodies. Grenfell is a great example of medical work and evangelical work done at the same time and for the same purpose: to do the will of the Father in whatever we put our hands to. As the Salvation Army motto says, “with heart to God and hand to man.”

Bones: Readers seeking a missionary biography will have to look further, since this little book doesn’t tell much about Grenfell himself. It only gives a brief look at who he is and what he does, focusing rather on the scene of his work. Nevertheless, it is a fascinating introduction to Grenfell’s work, which is no longer well known.

(For further reference, Grenfell published an autobiography (A Labrador Doctor) in 1919, with the help of his wife Anne. Genevieve Fox also published a biography (Sir Wilfred Grenfell) after his passing.)

Quotes: “He is of that type, then extraordinary but now familiar, which finds no delight where there is no difficulty.” (ch. 5)

“In the spring of 1892 he set sail from Great Yarmouth Harbour for Labrador in a ninety-ton schooner. Since then, in the face of hardship, peril, and prejudice, he has, with a light heart and strong purpose, healed the sick, preached the Word, clothed the naked, fed the starving, given shelter to them that had no roof, championed the wronged—in all, devotedly fought evil, poverty, oppression, and disease; for he is bitterly intolerant of those things. And—’It’s been jolly good fun!’ says he.” (ch. 5)

Related: Vikings of Today, The Harvest of the Sea, A Labrador Doctor: The Autobiography of Wilfred Thomason Grenfell, Forty Years for Labrador, The Romance of Labrador