House by Peretti, Frank and Ted Dekker

Most allegories must be taken with a grain of salt. No one can never quite get the truth they are attempting to portray exactly correct. Still Dekker and Peretti do a good job with this collabrative effort. House is not very standard as Christian fiction goes. Of course, neither of these authors would qualify as standard Christian writers in anyone’s estimation. This fact is what makes their writings stand out in sharp relief to the rest of the writers in the Christian market. Both men seek to use stories to convey a point and they express their point more explicitly than other writers.

I think that this book could have been done much better, but (and this is important) I am not a standard reader. I suspect that most people will enjoy this story much more than I did.

Let me explain. This is a story about two couples who have suspicious accidents on a dark road in the back woods of Alabama. Both couples walk on foot to the nearest house, which turns out to be an inviting inn. Unbeknownst them, the house is not quite what it appears on the surface. This house is inhabited by their worst imaginations. Soon after arriving, the truth of the house begins to reveal itself and their darker sides come to light. A deranged psychopath and a couple of Alabama inbreds turn this quiet inn into a nightmare home. The psychopath has three rules in this house. Rule #1: God came to my house and I killed Him. Rule #2: I will kill anyone who comes to my house as I killed God. Rule #3: Give me one dead body and I might let rule two slide. The two couples have until dawn to provide a body for the madman or they will all be slaughtered.

This is a story about the person who dwells inside of us – beneath the veneer of civility within which we cloak ourselves.

The story could have focused on the philosophical arguments that each of the characters made (and represented). Instead, Peretti and Dekker chose to minor on the philosophical and major on the adventure/thriller aspects of the story. I find this to be a weak choice for two reasons. First, allegorical stories tend to hinder the development of good drama. The adventure was weakened due to these allegorical elements; this would be normal for any allegory. Second, the point of the allegory should be on the underlying theme, which in this case revolved around the issue of the wicked nature within each of us. By focusing more on the thrills, they seemed to have lost sight of the point.

Still even with those criticisms, I suspect that they deliberately chose to write as they did. They needed a broader audience and they wrote to a broad audience. Writing a more philosophical story would have limited their audience to people like me, which probably isn’t practical. If you don’t mind a moderate level of violence or terror, then pick up this title for a thought provoking read.

As an aside, I poked around the internet to see what other people thought of this story. There were some fairly mixed reviews out on line. (This goes to show that personal taste influences reviews your response to things.) If you have read this work, let me know about it. I am curious about how other people responded to the story. And who do you think wrote the first half and who wrote the second half? I think Dekker wrote the beginning.

The Once and Future King by T. H. White

Some stories are worth hearing over and over. Each time we hear a particular story, something new acquaints itself with us or the characters endear themselves more to us. Stories are meant to be retold—not just by the same teller, but by different tellers. Each time you hear a different person tell the same story, you get a new perspective, or perhaps something new is added or a new theme is proved. Good stories adapt themselves to the people that tell them (whether they tell it to others or to themselves). Perhaps this is why the Arthurian stories have carried themselves from near-ancient times to our present generation. Brilliant authors from Chaucer to Spencer to Tennyson to modern screen and stage adaptations have found new inspiration in the characters of this canon. T.H. White seems to bear the most responsibility for Camelot’s present fame. His The Once and Future King recommends the Arthurian legend to the modern reader and asks some serious questions of our present age.

Spencer emphasized the virtues of Arthurian chivalry in his Fairy Queen. This incredible poem was a kind of guide to a gentleman’s conduct. White picks up in this tradition by speculating on Arthur’s upbringing. Wart, as Arthur is first called, is not a very clever boy—not even a very strong boy. He lives in an uncle’s castle and since he doesn’t have any parents, he will be his older cousin’s squire when his cousin, Kay, becomes a knight.

From the beginning Wart is drawn by the intangible force of destiny— a theme of White’s. An uncooperative falcon leads him to the house of his new tutor, Merlin. Merlin has been expecting him and Merlin knows all that Wart will encounter and become. He begins preparing Wart by giving him first-hand experiences as different animals—a fish, a bird, a badger and others. He also acquaints Wart with the best and worst of human experiences. Wart battles witches and giants and meets knights and even Robin Hood.

In all of these adventures, nothing sad or horrible threatens your pleasure. In fact, some of Wart’s encounters are quite hilarious. Merlin appoints a very funny jousting match to comment on the ridiculousness of battle and so-called honor. A more dangerous adventure with a giant teaches Wart the importance of individual liberty. Some humanist and evolutionist ideals seep through here and there, but on the whole, Merlin gives his pupil, and the reader, some sound advice about life.

After his preparation, Wart becomes king by pulling a sword out of a stone. He is now called Arthur, and he begins to learn his identity. As king he learns to assert himself and rule justly. Arthur overcomes great odds in war by attacking the knights and lords who resist his leadership. Until Arthur’s time, the knights had always allowed their serfs to do the fighting and dying and exchanged a few blows with each other for sport. By attacking and killing the knights directly, Arthur strikes fear into his enemies and spares hundreds of innocent serfs.

Arthur subdues all of England and much of Europe after a short time. He then becomes concerned with the evil actions of knights who have no more battles with which to occupy themselves. He creates his Round Table to establish chivalry and rescue people from evil knights. Thus he brings his Dark Ages to a higher level of civilization.

At the inception of the Round Table, Lancelot enters the story, and it begins to take a darker turn. He is a best friend of Arthur and becomes the greatest knight in the world. As Merlin had foretold to Arthur, Lancelot and Arthur’s wife, Guinevere, begin to fall in love. Lancelot struggles to avoid adultery for awhile, but after being tricked into losing his precious virginity to another woman, he abandons himself to Arthur’s queen. White spends a lot of time developing the affair—with good reason. The love triangle between Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot is intriguing because it is tied to every other aspect of the story. Lancelot’s agony over his sin parallel’s Arthur’s apprehension about his mistakes. The triangle is something they cannot avoid and yet it seems they could have chosen to avoid it and can choose to exit at any moment. The triangle becomes the instrument by which Camelot is ruined. Lancelot is trapped by his sensuality and Arthur is brought down by his idealism.

The knights grow restless with the ease of a materializing civilization and so Arthur devises the first crusade to find the Holy Grail. This backfires on him because his most chivalrous knights find favor with God and Arthur loses them to heaven. Arthur then turns to law. His hateful son, Mordred, from an illegitimate relationship turns Arthur’s law upon him by catching Lancelot in Guinevere’s bedroom and thus forcing the king to exercise justice on his wife by executing her. Lancelot rescues her and Arthur pursues him to France. While England’s ruler is absent Mordred makes a move to the throne. Arthur returns to oppose Mordred and soon fights his final battle.

In the final chapter, White caps his views on modern civilization through Arthur’s musing. Arthur tries to determine why his civilization has failed. Whether new battle methods (force), a chivalrous order (morality), a spiritual quest (religion), or a justice system (law), nothing he tried could stamp out the abuse of power or quench the selfish, quarreling nature of his people. It is interesting that White discounts the “godly view” because of its impossibility. He concludes that man cannot “gain his life by losing it,” and so he says men should not even try. His answer to Arthur’s problem is something like global unity. He disavows communism but calls for people to adopt an international identity. Somehow, Arthur realizes, people must transcend their geographical boundaries and territorial identities. This would solve his problems—the world’s problems. White’s conclusion contradicts everything he proved previously. Despite all of Arthur’s attempts at a strong civilization, that civilization failed because of the jealousy and selfishness of Mordred and others. As White states, Arthur operates on the assumption that man is basically good. He finds the contrary. If men were able to set aside their personal interests and identities to obtain unity, the use of force had not been necessary to attain peace and all the knights would have found their way to heaven on their crusade. If men cannot set aside their personal interests and identities, how can they give up their larger, more complex national ones?

Comes a Horseman by Robert Liparulo

Now, I don’t usually scare easily. And I never have scary dreams. OK, I admit that I sometimes have disturbing dreams, but I can’t recall the last time I was actually scared. The closest I have come (in a long time) to waking up scared was while reading Liparulo’s Comes a Horseman. I woke up after dreaming of psychopathic serial killers. So, I recommend this book with caution. If you are easily disturbed by somewhat graphic violence or by satanic images, then bypass this title.

The dark plot is well written with dynamic well-rounded characters. Liparulo demonstrates considerable skill as he drives this gripping story through its 484 pages. And unlike many authors who track the main characters from the beginning till the end, it takes quite sometime before you are certain who the main character in this novel really is. This multi-layered plot pulses with life and death.The weak side of this plot is twofold. First is the claim to be Christian. The main characters are stated as swearing though the words are never written out. The Catholic church is not explicitly treated as correct, but they are never condemned for their heretical work’s based salvation. The lead man claims to have been a Christian but is now agnostic and drinks somewhat heavily.

The other problem with this story is the graphic violence. From brutal beheadings to beating people to death with baseball bats, this book doesn’t pull punches with the violence. Liparulo takes great pains to describe the gory fight and to emphasize the pain that the characters suffer.

The book postulates a secret society watching for the anti-christ. These Watchers have been building an empire for centuries in an effort to turn it over to the coming anti-christ. Has his time finally come? Or will two desperate individuals stop the growing might of the psychotic “anti-christ?” The answer to that question is not given until the final pages. (Personally, I hate these end-times plots, so it was a bit of a turn-off for me.) Still, if you enjoy a rough-edged well-written dark action drama, then check out this title.

A Continual Feast by Jan Karon

A longstanding habit of mine has been to collect quotes from various works in a notebook to read and look back on later. It’s a habit I acquired from my mother and have found great value in pursuing. Some ideas and thoughts are best captured in the words of another. Compiled together, these special quotes also track a journey of thought and experiences in literature.

Jan Karon, author of the Mitford Years Series, which chronicles events from the life of Father Tim Kavanagh, gives a further look into his inner life via two quote journals: Patches of Godlight, and the latest, A Continual Feast. Both books contain handwritten entries, with occasional typewritten sheets of paper “taped” in. Post-it notes appear, phrases are underlined, and notes are jotted in the margins.

The wisdom offered spans a wide range of authors, from William Blake to Emily Dickinson, from G. K. Chesterton to Victor Hugo, from the Bible to Abraham Lincoln, from Goethe to Samuel Pepys, and imparts both the profound and the simple, the serious and the fun.

Some short examples from A Continual Feast:

“Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation.” – Elton Trueblood

“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers o’er the fraught heart and bids it break.” – Macbeth

“If you think it’s hard to meet new people, try picking up the wrong golf ball.” – Jack Lemmon

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be.” – Thomas Jefferson

“Nothing shows a man’s character more than what he laughs at.” – Goethe

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” – Jim Elliot

“I’m not bald, I’m just taller than my hair.” – Thomas Sharpe

The name for A Continual Feast is drawn from Proverbs 15:15 in the NIV: “… the cheerful heart has a continual feast.” And a feast it is. It’s a great book to peruse when you’re down, when you’re busy and have but a moment, when you’re looking for inspiration, and even when you’re looking for humor. It is a small book, but in it are quotes that can prompt greater depth of thought than a full-length book, and while taking considerably less time to read.

A few references in the side notes may not make much sense to those who haven’t read the Mitford series (i.e. notes to ask C. or Cynthia – his wife – about something, or notes to share something), but they add further richness to the personable nature of the work for those who have.

Although I’m offering examples from A Continual Feast, Patches of Godlight is every bit as worth reading and savoring as well. Even if you don’t purchase the book, borrow it, or sit down with it in your local bookstore and discover the satisfying riches within. Then go start your own book of quotes.