Tag Archives: Christian fantasy

Christmas Carol

Review: A Christmas Carol

Rating: ★★★★★

Full Title: A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. Dickens divided the original story into “staves” (i.e. stanzas), with the title likewise being an analogy to verse or song.

Who: Charles Dickens, the most famous English novelist of the 19th century.

Overview: A Christmas Carol is Dickens’ compelling and imaginative story of the life of a miser reformed by a tour through time in which he is visited by Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. In all three tenses, Ebenezer Scrooge sees the truth that he had been missing about his own life, the life of his employee, and the effects of his miserable—pun intended—lifestyle on others.

Meat: This story, which many learned growing up from various adaptations such as those of Disney, is much more than a children’s tale. Like the story that follows it, it has elements of horror and fantasy woven into a simple story. And Scrooge is reformed by the vision of the results of his selfishness; in that sense, the story parallels a Christian conversion, and this is clearer in the original book.

Quotes:

“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”
“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”

“For it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.”

“Bah,” said Scrooge, “Humbug.”

“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge. “But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.”

You can read A Christmas Carol for free on Kindle, Project Gutenberg, or listen on LibriVox.

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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.”

Review: Perelandra (No Spoilers)

Rating: ★★★★★

Overview: Dr. Ransom makes his second journey “through deep heaven” in this novel, and becomes embroiled in a conflict that could decide the fate of the entire planet of Perelandra.

Lewis’ second installment of his Space Trilogy has much more theological meat in it, and for that reason, is the clear favorite of most theologically inclined readers. Perelandra will make the first book seem simplistic in comparison.

Meat: Out of the Silent Planet imagines a race that has never known sin; Perelandra deals with the intrusion of temptation on such a race. The result is a wealth of insight on both the Fall of Man as a doctrine and resisting temptation as a practice. Unlike the other two books in the series, in Perelandra Ransom’s inner dialogue provides a voicebox for extended theological discussion.

Bones: In my opinion, this might be C. S. Lewis best theology, but it’s wrapped up in a science fiction package. Some of Ransom’s dialogues would fit just as well on the “Christian Living” or “Philosophy” shelf at Barnes and Noble, and that is both the strength and the great criticism of this book, in particular, within the Space Trilogy.

Quotes: “Whatever you do, he will make good of it. But not the good he had prepared for you if you had obeyed him.” (ch. 9)

“Maleldil can make good use of all that happens but the loss is real.” (ch. 12)

“The world is so much larger than I thought. I thought we went along paths–but it seems there are no paths. The going itself is the path.” (ch. 14)

“I think he made one law of that kind in order that there might be obedience. In all these other matters what you call obeying him is but doing what seems good in your own eyes also. Is love content with that?” (ch. 16)

“Why did no miracle come? Or rather, why no miracle on the right side? For the presence of the Enemy was in itself a kind of Miracle. Had Hell a prerogative to work wonders? Why did Heaven work none? Not for the first he found himself questioning Divine Justice. He could not understand why Maleldil should remain absent when the Enemy was there in person. But while he was thinking this, as suddenly and sharply as if the solid darkness about him had spoken with articulate voice, he knew that Maleldil was not absent. …

‘It’s all very well … a presence of that sort! But the Enemy is really here, really saying and doing things. Where is Maleldil’s representative?’ The answer which came back to him, quick as a fencer’s or tennis player’s riposte, out of the silence and the darkness, almost took his breath away. It seemed blasphemous. ‘Anyway, what can I do?’ babbled the voluble self. ‘I’ve done all I can. I’ve talked till I’m sick of it. It’s no good, I tell you.’ He tried to persuade himself that he, Ransom, could not possibly be Maleldil’s representative as the Un-man was the representative of Hell. The suggestion was, he argued, itself diabolical – a temptation to fatuous pride, to megalomania. He was horrified when the darkness simply flung back this argument in his face, almost impatiently….” (ch. 18)

Review: Out of the Silent Planet (No Spoilers)

Rating: ★★★★★

Overview: Lewis takes us on an unexpected space journey with Dr. Elwin Ransom, a philologist (or linguist). Much of the book deals with his encounters with exotic beings and his attempts to communicate with them. This book would be appropriate for teens or middle-school children, although the rest of the trilogy treats more mature themes.

Meat: The strengths of this book are essentially the same as those of The Chronicles of Narnia. Lewis’ description in this book is simple and beautiful, and the metaphors are plain and elegant. The crux of the book lies in Ransom’s realization that his species, is, in fact, the strange one. Through this lens he explores what it means to be human, and imagines the possibility of an unfallen species. The insights on this line deepen in the sequel, Perelandra.

Bones: As in Narnia, Lewis’ metaphors for divinity are thinly veiled, but to the believing reader this is merely Lewis being himself. Critics point out that Lewis’ explanations are unscientific—but then, that’s not really the point of the trilogy. Others might find, on the contrary, that he uses too much of the scientific perspective in the book. As a scientist and a believer, I found the book concise, elegant and readable.

Quotes: “At length he understood that it was his species that was the strange one.” (ch. 11)

“Like a silence spreading over a room full of people, like an infinitesimal coolness on a sultry day, like a passing memory of some long-forgotten sound or scent, like all that is stillest and smallest and most hard to seize in nature, Oyarsa passed between his subjects and drew near and came to rest, not ten yards away from Ransom, in the centre of Meldilorn.” (ch. 18)

“The very name ‘Space’ seemed a blasphemous libel for this empyrean ocean of radiance in which they swam. He could not call it ‘dead’; he felt life pouring into him from it every moment. How indeed should it be otherwise, since out of this ocean all the worlds and all their life had come? He had thought it barren: he now saw that it was the womb of worlds, whose blazing and innumerable offspring looked down nightly even upon the earth with so many eyes-and here, with how many more! No: Space was the wrong name. Older thinkers had been wiser when they named it simply ‘the heavens.'”