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.
And 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.
Chuck 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
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.
Today'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.
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.
1. The Kingdom Series
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
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:
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
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
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
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
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!