Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman

I’ve been meaning to post a review about the book Einstein’s Dreams, by Alan Lightman, but the book sort of defies any explanation; and when things don’t spring easily, I have a tendency to avoid doing anything about them.

In subject, the book is an explanation of varying theories of Time. Einstein, in working on his Theory of Relativity, is forced to re-think the concept and nature of Time itself. These thoughts take the shape of dreams about the movement, reality, and nature of Time. Each is unique and fascinating, gradually expanding and growing in complexity and creativity.

In one dream, Time is a perfect circle in which people forever repeat their lives. In another, the passage of Time restores broken things to order. In still another, Time moves more slowly as the people go more quickly. In yet another, Time does not exist, merely images. Each dream is unique and may reveal another facet of the nature of Time, or it may be a step backward from Time.

Lightman’s style is deliberately dreamy and poetic; he is meticulous with detail, terse or languid when necessary, and crafts the words in support of each dream about Time. It is fascinating and intelligent reading that will challenge you to think; much along the line of Jorge Luis Borges. For those of you who like being challenged intellectually by what you read, it’s heartily recommended.

There are elements that imply sexual situations and at least one overt situation; the rating would be PG-13. Expletives are at a minimum; I cannot consciously remember any in the book, but that does not mean that there may not be one or two.

Deerslayer by James Fennimore Cooper

James Fennimore Cooper has not enjoyed a lot of popularity over the last few decades, but his works contain many qualities that recommend him for a rise. His novels cover a range of early American settings from the sea, to everyday life, to the American frontier. His Leather-stocking novels remain his most revisited works. In them, Cooper develops Natty Bumpo, a hero of mythic proportions grounded in the romantic traditions of Europe and pointing to the tall-tale romps of America. The Deerslayer is Cooper’s last installment in the Leather-stocking series, yet it is the first, chronologically.

Natty is a young man, untried in war, but already mature in wisdom. He and a fellow trapper called Hurry Harry are traveling to a small lake on the far outreaches of the American colonies. Hurry intends to meet an old friend, Thomas Hutter, and woo his eldest daughter, Judith. Natty will rendezvous his Delaware friend, Chingachgook, to rescue the Delaware’s betrothed from the Hurons. The Hutters live in a cabin built in the middle of the lake. When the young men find the Hutters, they discover that the family is in danger of attack by a traveling Huron tribe. Both men pledge their defensive assistance Natty out of true concern for the Hutters, and Hurry for his interest in joining himself to the family.

Cooper constantly plays Hurry’s impetuosity, inhumanness and lack of chivalry against Natty’s self-control and sensibleness. Hurry sees nothing wrong with scalping Hurons for bounty and is captured for his attempt at taking scalps. Natty refuses to scalp a Huron he justly kills in self-defense, even though it would earn him great respect from the Delaware tribe in which he was raised. Hurry speaks disrespectfully about Judith behind her back. Natty shows unceasing respect for Judith and her sister. When Judith refuses Hurry’s suit for marriage, he responds by leaving her and the others at the near-mercy of the Hurons. If there was any prior doubt, it becomes completely apparent at this point that Hurry is concerned only with himself. Natty protects the Hutter women and assists his friends despite lack of personal advantage.

Natty undergoes initiation in this story. Here he kills his first enemy in single combat. He earns his legendary rifle, Killdeer. He undergoes a cruel trial by ordeal in the Huron camp. Natty is even presented with a romantic possibility that he knows is not right for him.

The work is unquestionably didactict: Natty never misses a chance to soliloquize about his moral views and Cooper not-so-infrequently explains to us what our view should be lest we be confused by the thoughtless actions of his morally-challenged characters. Yet Cooper inserts a refreshing sort of instruction. The lessons are taught by an inexperienced youth who is approachable to us. The racial and social/class issues are presented in a compelling and agreeable manner. Regarding race and culture, Cooper had attained a level far above his contemporaries. The idea of different racial “gifts” he builds into Natty suggests Cooper’s belief in the value of cultural variety.

Natty is both Cooper’s protagonist and the normative character of The Deerslayer. This combination is not the most common one. Cooper perhaps pays his greatest tribute to the Native American peoples in his creation of Natty, a creation that joins the best characteristics of the Native American and the Christian into one ideal person.

Quest For Celestia by Steven James

I have heard it said that John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is one of the greatest pieces of Christian literature. There have been many rewritings of the Pilgrim’s Progress over the centuries since John Bunyan wrote his epic allegory. Some authors have reworked it for children, others for the theatre, and others have simply updated it for modern audiences. Now, Steven James has re-imagined this work for teenagers in the new book: Quest for Celestia.

I am familiar with the general storyline of Progress, but I have never actually read the original work. That is still in my reading stack…. This said, as I read through James’ Quest I worked on comparing my sketchy knowledge of the original to this latest work. I even compared one portion to the original to see how both authors treated the salvation of Christian/Kadin. It seems that James held fairly well to the point Bunyan was attempting to make.

In all, the major changes are as follows: a simplified text, Kadin’s (a.k.a Christian) friend is a girl called Leira, and the story is now set in a fantasy genre. There are dragons and barons and such in the story now. Still, over all, the story works well. There is a strong emphasis on the forgiveness of God over all past sins and the dangers and allurements of the world.

Leira was sidetracked on her search for salvation and ended up in the Baron’s dungeon where she was abused and visited by the guards. This is handled circumspectly and it allows James to develop the twin themes of forgiveness and love that the Prince has for His princess. There are strong ties to Ezekiel 16. Leira also struggles with her view of herself. While I am against the usual self-esteem nonsense that psychology has foisted upon Christianity, there is a kernel of truth in the concept. Every person has worth, but that worth only comes from the Savior’s sacrifice for us not in any inherent worth that we have. James handles this well.

Finally, James does a good job of developing the struggles of Kadin. Kadin is the analyzer who struggles to trust King Kiral’s maps and the Book of Blood. Kadin continually attempts to handle problems in his own strength. I can sympathize with Kadin….

This is a fast read and enjoyable.