Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Allegory With A Twist

Thank-you all for your insight regarding my last post Hunger for Evil--your comments sparked some excellent discussion, and forced me not merely to throw the idea out into blogosphere, but to back up my comments with Scripture. It was a new skill for me, to present something so controversial, and I would like to close it for now by saying that I deeply respect each one of you and your walk with Christ. Seeking His will is the highest aim for the Christian bibliophile, and I applaud those of you who have done so, no matter which conclusion you reached.

Kingdom's DawnAnd today's post was influenced in part by our discussion over the weekend. It became quite evident that I was writing to an audience deeply passionate about sacrifice, even when it comes to laying down our own life. And I wanted to choose a book or series that I could highly recommend, which pursued the Christian themes of self-sacrifice in the midst of difficulties. Obviously, there are many I could choose from, but the Lord impressed upon my mind one author in particular that my siblings and I have enjoyed. This author worked in the sacrificial theme to great extent, along with chivalry, bravery, and the overthrow of some pretty wicked governments. While many elements are different from The Hunger Games, some of the themes are quite similar. There is, however, one major difference.

Kingdom's HopeChuck Black wrote his books to bring his readers to a deeper understanding of God and His Word. And he wrote them not for fame, nor for fortune, but for his children.

Let not such praise as "The Pilgrim's Progress for the Xbox generation" frighten some of my readers away. His books were written within the last ten years, 'tis true, but he really couldn't help that. And, after all, it's not the era that determines the worth...mostly.

About the Author
Kingdom's Edge
Chuck Black served eight years in the United States Air Force, some of that time as a F-16 fighter pilot. Now he's a homeschool dad of seven. He noticed as he read through the Bible with his children that they responded much more quickly to the parables of Jesus--when the teaching was set forth as a story. So he began to craft a story for them set in medieval times, that allegorically portrayed the life of Jesus in the Bible. It spread from the life of Jesus to the events of the entire Bible, and then on to allegorical displays of virtues and vices in this fantasy land called "Arrethtrae".  Now teens and adults all over the world are joining his call "The King reigns...and His Son!" What started as a small book for his children turned into two series, audiobooks, music, posters, and other paraphernalia. To prove to you its appeal to all ages, my older brother and I first shared the Arrethtrae drama (and still do) while my younger sister quickly joined our enthusiasm.

But in the end, enthusiasm isn't everything--the question is, how effective is Black's work to point the reader to Scripture?

In my own experience, very effective indeed.

His Works
Kingdom's CallToday's post is a broad overview of his works. I may come back and deal with them individually at a later date, but for this post, I wanted to introduce you to the books themselves, and highlight some key points that cause them to stand out.

1. No Magic
I enjoy such authors as Tolkien and Lewis immensely--George MacDonald's Princess' works as well. Personally, however, I've never been that keen on wizards and witches and spells, much as I enjoy these selective works. But Chuck Black wanted to create a work that glorified the Lord by purposely leaving all magic out. And for some families, this special quality is very encouraging indeed.

Kingdom's Quest (Kingdom, Book 5)2. Epic Adventure
All the sword fighting, the horse rides, the moral dilemmas--where the moral itself isn't the dilemma-- and the fight between good and evil pack a pretty powerful punch. You'll even find combats in the arena, (many of which have the rule "fight to the death") and Chuck Black handles it all with biblical wisdom. Adventure stories hold a special pull, and it is refreshing when an author can include it all at a highly-concentrated rate without biblical compromise.

3. Biblical Research
What do you get out of the Kingdom series as far as biblical knowledge and a greater understanding of God's Word? Very simply, what you want to put into it. It all depends on you. Black incorporates Scripture right into his character's mouths and the text of the stories, sometimes word for word--but he won't make it glaringly obvious. In the back of each book are discussion questions and answers, but again, this is no fluff study. The questions help explain the fictional story's parallels to Scripture, and often the answers require the reader to search Scripture and find verses for themselves. The story is worthwhile without this, but take the time to do both and you'll go through a comprehensive overview of Scripture. And yes, when I went through them, I did go through the questions as I went along. :)  Angels aren't cherubs with wings--they are mighty warriors. Children listen to their parents, and if they don't it doesn't turn out "all right anyway". Each knight and lady holds to a high standard of integrity, in courtship and marriage--or in simple comradeship. The characters don't just say a few Bible verses to tip us off to their Christianity. They live it and speak it-- and sometimes die for it.

Story Synopsis

1. The Kingdom Series
Kingdom's Reign (Kingdom, Book 6)The Kingdom series is "written" by one knight of the Prince, Cedric of Chessington. Books one and two chronicle the life of Sir Leinad  and his representation of great leaders from Genesis through the minor prophets. Book three represents the life of Jesus through the eyes of his followers. Books four and five chronicle the life of the apostle Paul (a.k.a. Sir Gavin) and Book six, of course, represents the events of Revelation. I must say, though I haven't made a deep study of the end times, Chuck Black presents some excellent points through his fictional events in Kingdom's Reign. And reading an allegory of Jesus' life through the eyes of his opponents (as well as his friends) was quite compelling.

2. The Knights of Arrethtrae
Sir Kendrick and the Castle of Bel Lione (The Knights of Arrethtrae)Each book in this series is about a different knight, who represents a virtue and fights against a vice. Since this series was written after the Kingdom books, it's easy to see Black's plotting and knowledge of sword play take a significant leap forward. The books are not specific times in the church, but they represent the playing out of the Great Commission from Christ's Ascension until his Second Coming.

3. The Order:
Sir Bentley and Holbrook Court (The Knights of Arrethtrae)If you wish, you can read The Kingdom Series and then The Knights of Arrethtrae, but our family is big on reading from the beginning to the end chronologically. My brother and I figured out how to do that. For the bibliophiles who want to begin at the beginning and work through to the end, I suggest reading them this way:

1. Kingdom's Dawn
2. Kingdom's Hope
3. Kingdom's Edge
4. Kingdom's Call
5. Kingdom's Quest
6. Sir Kendrick and the Castle of Bel Lione
7. Sir Bentley and Holbrook Court
8. Sir Dalton and the Shadow Heart
9. Lady Carliss and the Waters of Moorue
10. Sir Quinlan and the Swords of Valor
11. Sir Rowan and the Camerian Quest
12. Kingdom's Reign


Sir Dalton and the Shadow Heart (The Knights of Arrethtrae)More Elements:

1. Allegorical Animals
While Black includes no magic, he does create some of his own animals and plants. Blood Wolves, the Life Spice, different insects, reptiles, and mammals, all combine to illustrate Scriptural points. Each animal has an allegorical meaning, but they are quite believable in their make-up. After their kind, and never based on evolution.

2. Women in Combat
Lady Carliss and the Waters of Moorue (The Knights of Arrethtrae)There are a few occasions where it's difficult to translate our spiritual fight to a physical battle. But Black does an excellent job in this. There are a couple of times in which women are in battles, but he's not at all advocating women in the military or ignoring the fact that men and woman have different responsibilities. In these situations, he's representing the fact that both men and women are fighting a spiritual battle. In such scenes his focus is more on the spiritual representation than the physical story. Rest assured that his men are chivalrous in defending the women, and the women do not cultivate feminist attitudes. Their roles are clearly separate. The men are always leaders, and the women are always helpers. And the ladies do some pretty adventurous things while staying within their God-given femininity. Take Carliss, for instance. :)

The results in my life
Sir Quinlan and the Swords of Valor (The Knights of Arrethtrae)Suffice it to say, Black leaves his readers without excuse in his novels. It's really difficult to read his books and still practice the vices he's writing against, simply because of the story. The story represents the consequences--the reward of right and the pain of wrong--in such a compelling way that one is forced to take responsibility for one's actions when reading them.
As for long term effect in my life? Well, after finishing the books, and following the climax from Arrethtrae's creation to the end times, I really felt a thirst to read the Bible the same way. For ten years, I've been reading through a plan in which I read the Law one day a week, the Prophets the next, then the Epistles,  O.T. History, and N.T. History, etc. But after reading Black's books, I decided to take a break from my regular plan and read the Bible simply from beginning to end. I like both plans, but I have been enjoying the chronological picture of Christ's redemption. 


Further Kingdom resources
Sir Rowan and the Camerian Conquest (The Knights of Arrethtrae)All the books are now on audio, and we are the happy possessors of two at the present time. The unabridged male and female narration complete with sound effects and music is well done; I highly encourage you to check them out, though of course, you won't get the benefit of the discussion questions on audio.

Check out www.kingdomseriesmovie.com to read about the movies in the works. Beginning production isn't fast, but you can donate if you like to help it along. :) Jess Stainbrook is the executive producer, and if budget allows (they want to make it along the LOTR level) they're hoping to shoot in Scotland or New Zealand.

And, for more information, free resources, music, desktop wallpapers, and more, check out www.arrethtrae.com

The King reigns...and His Son!

Blessings,
Lady Bibliophile

8 comments:

  1. Dear Lady B, Awesome books!! Sir Dalton..... :D I am SO glad you did this post. I want to read these again VERY soon. :D Love, Sister

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    1. They sure are! ;) I remember Dalton....

      Love and cuddles,
      Sister

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  2. H'mm. I first spotted these books on the bookshelf at the house of some friends...and yes, the "Pilgrim's Progress for the XBox generation" made me turn up my nose a bit. But I am a sucker for knights, and I just keep hearing about these books, so maybe I'd better raid my friends' bookshelves and see if they really are as good as you do such a good job of making them sound ;). Despite the fact that from the author's website, his eschatology is a little different from mine (can I interest you in the works of David Chilton at all? *cheeky grin*).

    Actually the real reason I'm commenting is because I'd be interested to hear an explanation--either in response to this comment or via a whole post sometime--of why exactly it is that you prefer books to contain no magic at all. Even when the magic is clearly depicted as bad, and characters that use it are clearly the bad guys (and get conquered in the end). To quote the ever-quotable GK Chesterton, "A book with no bad characters is a bad book." Magic is a real kind of bad that exists in the world. So...why avoid it?

    Of course, magic IS something that needs to be used carefully, with perfect understanding that no power is 'neutral'--I think the use of magic in Harry Potter, for example, is a classic case of situational ethics and moral confusion. On the other hand, there's the trap so much Christian literature falls into, becoming downright obsessed with dark powers, or having the heroes use some form of spiritual power to oppose it, which is even worse (how can we say that the Holy Spirit would do x or y in a given situation???).

    I respect the conclusion you've come to, I'd just love to hear your reasoning ;).

    So they're comparing this to "The Pilgrim's Progress"? *shakes head* These books don't sound anything like that...No! They sound way more like The Faerie Queene. You've heard of that, right? Edmund Spenser's sweeping epic allegory of the Reformation, complete with knights, maidens, monsters, eternal truth, and *cough* a little bit of magic, yeah. BUT. A friend of mine once called it "The Bible, With Knights!" It was a major inspiration for CS Lewis. It is also, being a Puritan work, much...er, spicier...than these books, and you'll want to discuss it with your parents before deciding to read it. But I love it, and I recommend it. You can get helpful annotated editions of Books I and II from Canon Press--they are called "Fierce Wars and Faithful Loves" and "The Elfin Knight", respectively.

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    1. Dave Jackson did Black a great disservice with that comment. :) The packaging is more Multnomah's fault than the book itself, but the story inside holds a few good gems, as long as you don't expect Tolkien.
      It sounds a lot more like Spenser than Pilgrim's Progress; I think the only thing that made the comparison was the fact that Jackson had probably never heard of the former. ;) Authors should really use bibliophiles to help them with publicity. It would go much better. Actually, the recommendation that tipped the scales for me was an endorsement on Douglas Bond's website. Perhaps you've heard of his Crown & Covenant novels, or The Betrayal? Excellent work, The Betrayal.

      To be quite honest, I've never come to a conclusion regarding magic--I just never felt quite comfortable with the good characters using spells. I can take the elves, even talking animals are fine, and I am quite a believer in the supernatural. And I agree, it is a legitimate representation of evil, which I don't have a problem with in moderation.
      Which is funny, in a way, because I never had a problem with stories that dealt with the dreams/visions, demonic warfare, and supernatural events-- as long as it pointed to God's power. My only struggle is when the good characters have a power to speak a rhyming verse and call up a thunderstorm, etc.-- because it seemed like witchcraft, and the Bible speaks very clearly against it. Also, some of the creature elements in fantasy seemed to border on evolutionary thought, though I haven't been able to pin that down precisely.

      You've won yourself an article. :) I have to hammer this out.(May not be Friday, but soon!)
      And if you have any thoughts, I would love to hear them.

      Your article on Spenser was thought-provoking. I must admit, I've picked up his book twice, and twice I was scared off by Duessa and some of the, er... spicier elements. But you raised some excellent points, and I would like to keep it in my file for future. I always appreciae the understanding you bring to such things, espcially Tolkien's magic. Him, I don't have much of a problem with. :)

      But I'm going to do some prayerful research, and see what I can find.

      Blessings,
      Schuyler

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  3. Hi Lady B!

    Just wondering whether or not you read these books over and over again? I've read them all (some of them twice) but found on re-reading that they got shallower rather than deeper. For this reason I find myself a little disappointed in them. In Tolkien and Lewis I find new depth, meaning, and heart-lessons. Each time I read Lord of the Rings or the Chronicls of Narnia, I find renewed and new enjoyment and depth in the stories. I just didn't get the same for the Kingdom books. I really like the stories, and the sheet music is a beautiful touch, but for me, they just seem so much shallower than Tolkien or Lewis. Even some of the names started to bug me upon a second reading. Arrethtrae for example: Earth + Terra (the Spanish word for earth) spelled backwards. I don't know. It just isn't as well constructed... What do you think!

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    1. Hello!
      I've only read them once, so I can't say whether or not they grow upon further reading. :) But my older brother has gone through them two or three times and still finds great enjoyment in them. I agree--Black isn't Tolkien or Lewis, but fortunately for me, I had never read LOTR before I was introduced to him. I'm hoping to read through the Kingdom books later this year, and then I'll be able to see what my second impression is. They are much simpler--there's only one plot--and in the end, when you're writing an allegory of the Bible, you do have certain limitations--such as who's going to win. ;) I would say I found The Knights of Arrethtrae to be deeper than the original Kingdom books, simply because Black was a more experienced writer. But he isn't a philologist, and he's far from being as knowledgeable as Tolkien. Part of what you might find lacking in the series is because of the era in which we live--our vocabularies are much smaller now, and school methods are different, which lays a poorer foundation for the author-wanna-be.
      I'm a sampler of all eras and genres, so I find something to enjoy in these. But I certainly understand where you're coming from. I think it may be somewhat individual--depending whether or not the reader relates to the struggle the knight is having, etc. And if you especially enjoy reading the literary giants, then Chuck Black's simplicity and modern limitations might be a stretch. :) Just curious--did you go through the study questions both times? I think going through those really adds more meaning than the story itself holds--in other words, it takes both to make the book, because the story doesn't quite stand alone. :)

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Blessings,
      Lady B

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  4. I love Chuck Black's books! He's a really great author, and my sisters and I listen to his audio books on Saturday evenings often. I personally like the Knights of Arrethtrae Series a lot more then The Kingdom Series.

    To be honest, I had some things I did not like about the Kingdom series, one of which was the kind of romance without parental supervision and how detailed Black got with some of the character's romantic feelings (especially for young male readers I would not recommend it so much). But I think Black has matured and developed a lot both in his writing style and in his content since he started writing the Knights of Arrethtrae. I just love that series, and you are right! It has impacted my life greatly. I especially love Lady Carliss, Sir Bentley and Sir Quinlen though all of them are great.

    Did you know they're trying to make them into movies? I do not know how that will work out though...

    Thanks for the review :).
    Blessings in Him,
    ~Joy @ joy-live4jesus.blogspot.com

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    1. Hello Joy! :)
      I agree; Black is at his best in The Knights of Arrethtrae! I did see they're trying to make them into movies--I'm quite excited, though production isn't moving quite as fast as I could wish. :) I may be over-eager, as I think they're trying to raise the money right now. It can take a while.
      Chuck Black's romance is very similar to Haggard's style (not syntax, just type of romance) or perhaps Michael Phillips or Walter Scott. You bring up a good point--if any of my readers take care to avoid romance, then they'll want to be aware that Black includes it. But those of you that read Howard Pyle, Haggard, Scott, or anything along those lines shouldn't have too much of a problem.

      I love Carliss as well-he did a good job with his female protagonist. And Bentley is quite nice. I also enjoyed the Kendrick/Duncan combination--they were hilarious upon occasion. :)

      A Saturday evening listen sounds fun. I generally catch him on my MP3 player, when weeding or exercising. Makes those activities so much more memorable...

      Blessings!
      Schuyler

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