A Pioneer’s Return by Darrel Faxon

This is one of those rare works which defies categorization. Technically, it is Historical fiction, but it is also philosophical discussion, science fiction, and romance, to mention a few. To its credit, “A Pioneer’s Return” manages to be all of these things simultaneously and does a credible job on them all. Even the historical front is not neglected. It is the philosophical discussions though, that the conservative reader will probably enjoy most.

The plot is mainly a vehicle for a series of discussions and arguments between the two main characters, but is very intriguing in its own right for all that. In modern-day Oregon, a professor has invented a machine that can pull any thing or anyone from the Oregon Trail into this time. (The device used to do this is blessedly ignored, and the author is content to cloak the hows and whys with mystery and leave it there.) The professor’s young protégée suggests bringing a person back from the trail to see what kind of culture shock they would experience. Eventually, the protégée and the pioneer retrace the Oregon Trail in a car, using aforementioned machine to do so in the appropriate seasons. Along the way, our pioneer (who is female) and the protégée (who is male) have a series of highly interesting discussions, mainly involving the difference between the worldview of the two eras they represent.

These conversations make up the bulk of the book, and they cover a vast range of topics. Religion and history figure most prominently, and the author seems to have done some serious research into the era of the Oregon trail, since the pioneer’s opinions come off as realistic in the extreme. The writing style is a down-home type, with the sort of expressions you would expect from Grandpa telling a tale by the campfire. As I read along I forgot that this wasn’t actually the recordings of a real conversation, instead of a novel. I was challenged to review how I make decisions and differentiate between right and wrong. I was very sad to note how soon the story had to come to an end—the characters’ conversations were so fascinatingly thought-provoking!

There is some relatively strong pro-environmentalist worldview expressed by the protégée, and the topics of homosexuality, abortion, and the like are referenced in passing. Also, even though the relationship of the two main characters is extremely chaste (separate bedrooms, etc.), they do travel the Oregon Trail alone in a car together. Certain types of churches are given a bad rap as being generally un-Biblical in their worldview, but the book does note that there are rotten church in every denomination, and exceptionally good ones in the same.

As for exceptional positive content… There is an overview of American history, and as with all overviews it is from a biased point of view. Its fairly generalized, so just about anyone will probably find fault with some aspect thereof, but by and large I agree with the perspective given by the protégée. At the very least, it is an interesting “take” on our history as a whole. The pioneer has a strongly Reformed Christian worldview, and the idea of man’s inherent sinfulness and all that that entails is discussed in detail over the course of the book, though not in an overt or preachy way. Actually, one of the strengths of the book is how subtly the author gets into the mind of the reader, and gets you to ask yourself these same questions without quite thinking about it.

Overall, a highly recommended read. A plus, five stars, and so on. My biggest objection: the book is quite short, with only 134 pages, and not very big ones at that. It therefore is forced to summarize conversations that I otherwise would have loved to “listen in” on.

NOTE TO READER: this book was published in January 2006, however the publisher is currently not printing more copies. You can contact the author or publisher directly for a copy, or maybe Amazon will start carrying it if there is interest. My copy, from the author, cost $12. I have his address, if someone else wants to purchase it that way, but I’d rather not post that online.

Lair of the White Worm by Bram Stoker

OK. I admit it. I read a fairly eclectic range of titles (my wife would argue that I am nuts). I enjoy everything from Louis L’Amour’s Hopalong Cassidy to Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, from Sigmund Brouwer’s Out of the Shadow’s to Charles Hapgood’s Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings to Jonathan Sarfati’s Refuting Compromise. So, when I came across Bram Stoker’s Lair of the White Worm, I was intrigued. In case you can’t place the name, Stoker is the author of the Dracula. Who can resist a charming title about a White Worm? Certainly not me….

Stoker wrote around the turn of the twentieth century and it is obvious from his writing and not just in the placement of the story, but mostly in the style. To be fair, novels were a new genre and written differently; they were not nearly as streamlined and focused as modern books tend to be. Often the plot wades into detail and then skips along over the surface of the plot. As a reader, you can always see the plot running like a river, sometimes around you while you swim in it and at other times beneath you as you ride a boat above its surface. I enjoyed the concept of the story; a prehistoric snake (the white worm) still haunted modern England and Adam Salton was tasked with the holy mission of destroying the creature to save his love and his friends. At times the plot hinted at greatness but all too often fell back into mediocrity.

I had two other problems with the structure of the book. First, Stoker developed quite a few fascinating sub-plots only to forget about them. In the end, I stood back and felt a sense of letdown because I wanted to know how the sub-plots turned out. I haven’t decided if unfinished and undeveloped sub-plots are an effort at realism or just a sign of bad writing. Could it be that every day of our lives, “sub-plots” are formed and orphaned in the same day? That is a philosophical debate for another day – or at least one for the comments.

The second problem I had was the philosophy espoused in the story. In some sections, the characters proclaimed faith in the sovereignty of God. In others, they proclaimed belief in evolution and the creative power of evolution. Stoker was strongly influenced by the rationalism movement as is evident by this story. Yet, the influence of Christianity is still strong. The result is a tension between faith and reason that need not be there. (Science matches the Bible; evolution is not accurate science.)

The plot tracks Adam Salton as he returns from Australia. He is a wealthy landowner who is the last of his family in Australia. He returns to England to meet his great uncle who is his only living relative. Once there, he is introduced to Sir Nathaniel an “old diplomatist” with whom he takes great counsel throughout the story. Together, they battle the White Worm.

As a side note, this book was written in 1911. As is common for books in that era, it does evidence prejudice against Africans, and uses derogatory names (once or twice). The one African in the book is admittedly one of the more evil to come from the Dark Continent, but nonetheless, the bias is evident. In addition, as language has changed, there are one or two words that would be considered inappropriate to use today, but were acceptable in that day. Just so you’re aware.

Was it worth reading? I didn’t have too many positive things to say so far, but yes, it was worth reading. I downloaded the audio book from Audio Books For Free . I would go through the book again, mostly because I enjoy these older titles, but also because they are good stories and they come from a different time, which gives them their own charm. Another great author (with the same objections) is Edgar Rice Burroughs who wrote the Tarzan series.