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Narnia, Middle-Earth and the Kingdom of God

Narnia, Middle-Earth and the Kingdom of God:

A History of Fantasy Literature and the Christian Tradition

Mark Worthing, Stone Table Books, 2016

Narnia, Middle-Earth and the Kingdom of God.COV DRAFT A_23.10.20

Mark Worthing’s latest book appears, at first glance, to be a relatively slim volume, but it certainly packs a solid punch. His in-depth knowledge of and passion for fantasy is quite apparent throughout, and he argues a solid case for the role of the Christian world-view, not only in the development of the genre, but also on its continuing place in literature.

While the sub-title says that this volume is a History of Fantasy in the Christian Tradition, it is far more than just a bland historical recount or a mere apologetic for the Christian traditions within the genre. It is a rigorous examination of the genre, and how many writers have expressed their Christian faith through their writing.

Victorian England fantasy

In the early chapters he considers the origins of modern fantasy as they appeared before, and during, Victorian England, from writers like Hans Christian Andersen, George MacDonald, Lewis Carroll, and Edith Nesbit, among others. Worthing devotes a short chapter to the writings of Hans Christian Andersen and his influence on the Victorian era readers and writers.

George MacDonald

This is followed by an in-depth chapter on the writings of George MacDonald, whom he considers to be the major influence upon early fantasy writing. Indeed, Worthing quotes from the writings of C.S. Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle, both of whom owe a great debt to MacDonald. “Madeleine L’Engle, the matriarch of modern Christian fantasy, literature, candidly admits that ‘George MacDonald is the grandfather of us all – all of us who struggle to come to terms with truth through fantasy.’” (p.26) MacDonald’s writing also heavily influenced other prominent fantasy writers, including Chesterton, Tolkien, Nesbit and even Dickens. He was also a major influence upon another great fantasy writer, Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll).

Tolkien and Lewis

Worthing, after setting the scene by considering some of the early fantasy writers, continues by devoting three chapters each to the lives, faith and works of arguably the two greatest fantasy writers, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Their prominence in the genre continues to grow, with their influence and popularity magnified by recent cinematic versions.

Interestingly, the author also gives a serious consideration to what he calls “the atheist response” by considering the contributions to the genre of the likes of Pullman and Pratchett. Another chapter is devoted to the fantasy writers who focus on “earth spirituality”, writers like LeGuin, Bradley and Forsyth. From there he moves to the modern publishing phenomenon of “the Harry Potter debate”. He deftly negotiates the minefield of Christian criticism – and praise – of this series. He concludes that, because of some of the inherent themes of the Potter books, they could be considered within fantasy literature which deals with some major precepts of Christianity.

Christians and Creativity

Worthing concludes his book by considering some recent trends in the fantasy genre, along with a Christian defence of fantasy. One of his final statements has serious implications for creative artists who are also Christians: “Sadly, it is difficult, if not impossible, to argue with those who steadfastly hold to the view that imagination itself is not part of God’s creation, but something bad and quite dangerous.” (p.151) Sad, indeed, for these attitudes often close the potential dialogue between creatives who express their faith through their creativity, and Christians with closed and clouded minds unwilling to consider a valid alternative.

One of the interesting aspects of this work happens to be the footnotes. Normally, I find footnotes to be irritating at best, and highly annoying most of the time; they invariably interrupt my train of thought. Nearly every page of this book has a footnote, some of them very long and detailed, with the occasional note flowing over to the following page. My advice is: read them. There is much interesting, valuable and even crucial information contained in them. Many could easily have been included in the actual text.

I found that the lack of any index something of an oversight. I am sure I am not alone in wanting to be able to quickly use this work when looking for references to authors and titles mentioned in the text. I found that the author included references to many writers and titles I would like to explore further.

Inspiration

On the positive side, I found this work to be truly inspiring. Many of the titles mentioned I was already familiar with, but haven’t read in years – in some cases, decades. After reading this book I have decided that I need to revisit the works of Tolkien, Lewis, L’Engle, and LeGuin, and I even concede that I might even need to put aside my initial reservations and fully explore the world of Hogwarts (I have only read the first in the Harry Potter series, and didn’t like it.) What is more, the author has mentioned many other writers I am quite unfamiliar with, or I have only read one or two of their works.

In conclusion, this volume is a valuable contribution to the academic discussion on fantasy in general, and its relationship with Christian traditions in particular. It is easy to read but thorough in its coverage. Highly recommended.

Details of the launch, and where to buy this book, can be found here.

Acknowledgment: special thanks to author Mark Worthing for supplying a review copy of his book.

 

A new fantasy imprint launch

Narnia, Middle-Earth and the Kingdom of God.COV DRAFT A_23.10.20

Melbourne-based publisher Morning Star Publishing will launch its new fantasy imprint this coming Friday 16th December 2016. The new imprint, to be known as Stone Table Books, will focus on publishing new and exciting books in the fantasy genre. Devoted readers of the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis will understand the symbolism encapsulated by this imprint’s name.

At the launch, the imprint’s first two titles will also be launched. Both titles have been written by the eminently suitable Mark Worthing who is an author, and pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in North Adelaide, South Australia. Fantasy has long been a passion of his. He has taught the writing of fantasy literature at tertiary level as the former head of the faculty of Humanities and Creative Writing at Tabor Adelaide.

The first title (with cover art shown above) is Narnia, Middle-Earth and the Kingdom of God: a History of Fantasy Literature and the Christian Tradition. This title explores the fascinating, and arguably, symbiotic relationship between Christian faith in all its manifestations, and fantasy literature. I will be posting a more thorough review of this book in the next few days.

The second title to be launched is also by Mark Worthing. It is Phantastes: George MacDonald’s Classic Fantasy Novel as retold by Mark WorthingThis modern retelling of an iconic work of the mid-1800s makes this significant novel far more accessible to today’s readers. Once again,  I will give a thorough review of this title in the next few days. The cover artwork is shown below.

Launch details:

The launch of the new imprint, as well as the two titles mentioned above, will take place this coming Friday 16th December 2016, at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 139 Archer Street, North Adelaide, South Australia at 6:30pm for a 7:00pm start.

The editor of Stone Table Books and the CEO of Morning Star Publishing will be present to talk with prospective authors.

Tabor Adelaide Creative Writing programme and Stories of Life Competition will also have information stands on the night.

Come and celebrate the launch of these two books, as well as the launch of Stone Table Books. Drinks and nibbles provided.

Please note that there will only be cash sales on the night. The books may also be ordered via the publisher’s website (see below).

Links:

phantastes-cover

Book review

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

I must say from the beginning that this is more of a personal response than an actual review. I have done many book reviews on this site over the years, and I plan to continue writing reviews from time to time. So much has already been said about this novel that what I could possibly add would be lost in a very crowded space.

Why did I read this book now?

I had always intended reading this classic. I just never got to read it. Throughout my other life as a primary classroom teacher here in South Australia for 35 years, I mostly read children’s books. After one disastrous event, I always made it a personal policy to read a book myself before reading it to my class. It had to be suitable and appropriate for those in my class. Now in retirement, I am enjoying being able to read anything that interests me. Because of all the hype about Harper Lee’s recently released second novel, Go Set a Watchman, and her more recent demise, I thought that it was about time I focussed my attention on her classic.

I am pleased that I did.

Classic status

I am not a good judge of what constitutes a classic piece of literature. I will leave that to the experts in the field. As with art, I am more of the “like it” brigade; I know what I like, and if I don’t like it but others do, then that merely shows a difference of taste and opinion. Let’s not get too upset with one another.

By any of the standards that I judge a book by, this has to be a classic work. It certainly has stood the test of time and is possibly more popular and more widely read than ever before. It is certainly well written and engages the reader like any great book should. It has memorable characters that stay with you forever – or certainly for a long time after reading. It has a simple premise and an intriguing plot. The story line carries the reader on, always turning the pages to see what happens next. I could go on, but I promised a personal response.

My response to this book:

In the previous paragraph, I indicated some of the elements that make this book a memorable classic work of literature. While I certainly concur with all of these statements, for me this book was far more than that. It has left a lasting impression. It is a glimpse into the times and culture of a small American town in the 1930s. It has made me realise the importance of the little events of life which have such an impact on ordinary people. I couldn’t help thinking of my own period of growing up in a small Australian farming community in the 1950s, and comparing the two.

Racial tensions

The most outstanding theme of this book – and arguably what makes it so outstanding – it the author’s portrayal of the racial tensions of the times in which it is set. The contrasts are stark. The legacy seems to be ongoing. (That’s if I read the current American culture correctly.) The inequalities and differences between all levels of society are certainly drawn starkly, and the reader is left in no doubt about those divisions.

Australian literature

Australia has been largely free of racial tensions until the last few decades. And so far, we do not have an outstanding classic work of literature which has addressed the obvious tensions in our society. Layered upon that is the multicultural aspect of modern Australia and we have a simmering melting pot. Our country is ready for such a work as this. Or am I being too critical of Australian literature? The only works which seem to come close to Mockingbird would be Kate Grenville’s The Secret River and David Malouf’s Remembering Babylon. Remember, though, I have not yet read widely in classic Australian literature, so listing only two titles seems rather inadequate.

Conclusion

In summary, I can now understand why To Kill a Mockingbird has received so many accolades. I can appreciate its place in the annals of American literature; indeed, it stands tall in the literature of the world. It is one of those books which should appear on every “Top 100 Books You Must Read” list.

One question remains: Did I enjoy the book?

To that I give an unqualified “YES”.

Readers

Questions for my readers:

  • What are your responses to this book?
  • What about the book did you enjoy – or hate?
  • Leave a few comments, please.

Good reading – and good writing.

Trevor

 

Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Back in April I wrote about the fact that I had finally relented and procured an eReader. It was interesting adapting to a new form of technology. It was also quite a different reading experience. I found it very easy to use and quickly downloaded several books to read.

I also included my wife in this wonderful new addition to our reading regime. I was quite surprised how easily she also took to it. In fact, during the first few weeks we had to share the reader. She usually heads off to bed before me and reads for 20 – 30 minutes, and then when I arrive in bed it is lying there waiting for me. So far, we have not argued over its use at all. Not yet.

But I digress.

Well, not so much of a digression but more of an introduction to the review I want to do. The first book I bought and read on my eReader was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. When I mentioned this on Facebook many of my friends said how enjoyable this book was, as well as being totally gripping in its exciting subject matter.

I have to disagree.

Yes – I was totally absorbed by the storyline. At times I had trouble putting the reader down. I even took it out in the back yard to read – when the grandchildren allowed me this luxury. We were staying with my son and family in Sydney at the time. The utter fascination with the characters and the events in this novel had me spellbound, and about half way through the book, this began to bother me, and towards the end it concerned me greatly.

While I concede that this is a brilliantly written book – it has the reader in its grip right from the beginning – it was the subject matter which rang alarm bells in my conscience. I found the sadistic subject matter towards the end of the novel to be quite repulsive; I guess that was what the author was trying to achieve. I also found that many of the characters had no moral compasses at all. Instead, they displayed very strong ‘immoral compasses.’

Conclusion:

Certainly it is a very well written novel – no disputing that. I just found that this type of novel is not for me – especially when I have so many other books waiting to be read.

And I have resolved not to read the sequels in this series. Good thing I didn’t buy them.

Good reading.

Good writing.

Trevor

Book review: Graeme Clark

Graeme Clark: the man who invented the bionic ear by Mark Worthing, 2015, Sydney, Allen & Unwin.

Graeme Clark grew up with a powerful and compelling vision.

He wanted to develop some way of helping his father regain his hearing. In a simple way this encapsulates the driving force behind why he became a doctor, surgeon, and later an inventor. Along the way he developed many other skills necessary for his dream to be realised. The road to success was, at times, a very bumpy one. One of the many skills Clark had to learn was fund-raising to support the development of the bionic ear. Bizarre – yes – but often that is the way with visionary people; nothing can stop them, even if the road takes some unexpected twists.

Worthing has resisted the temptation to dwell primarily on the technical side of the development of the bionic ear. Sure, there is enough scientific detail for readers who would like to know. Instead, the author has let his focus be on the man himself, what motivated him and the role of Clark’s Christian beliefs and values in the whole process. This comes through very strongly throughout the book. The author has successfully portrayed an ordinary Australian man, with a uncomplicated values but with an extraordinary vision driving him.

Probably the one thing that most impressed me about the portrayal of Clark the man was his uncomplicated reliance on prayer. Whenever the going got tough, whenever obstacles faced him, whenever he was perplexed, and whenever he faced criticism or outright opposition, Clark prayed. The development of the bionic ear was technically, electronically and medically very complex. Clark’s almost child-like faith in God and his simple, uncomplicated prayers carried him forward.

Now hundreds of thousands of profoundly deaf people all over the world are thankful to this man.

It is a truly inspirational book and highly recommended.

My Privilege:

I had the privilege of reading early drafts of this work. This came about through my involvement in a writers’ group run by the author. Dr Mark Worthing was one of my lecturers and mentors at Tabor Adelaide when I was completing my Master of Arts Creative Writing. Later we became friends and lecturing colleagues at Tabor.

You can read more reviews I have written here.

Good writing. Good reading.

Trevor