Friday, June 28, 2013

A Tangled Web

L.M Montgomery is well known for her Anne of Green Gables books, and perhaps second-best known for her Emily series. I loved the Anne books, though the Emily ones weren't my favorite. But altogether I find her individual works the most engaging and enjoyable. Jane of Lantern Hill I reviewed in September, and that is her best work, fit for all ages. But today's review is one that I would recommend for probably 16 and up, due to the adult themes and moral difficulties that a couple of plots present.

I read A Tangled Web in two days flat, to the accompaniment of lapping waves in the little vacation cottage we stay at every year. It was a scream (though in some places, the laughter elicited was rather unholy in nature) and like all Montgomery novels, makes the reader laugh and cry at the same time. I wouldn't have missed it for the world, though now that I look through it a second time, I would be rather more cautious recommending it than I remembered. If you've never read Montgomery, you probably shouldn't start with this book; but if you've had a long-standing acquaintance with her and are willing to sift a bit, you'll find this an enjoyable read about the biggest family feud ever to split Prince Edward Island.

The Story
No gloom was cast over  the communities of Indian Spring, Three Hills, Rose River or Bay Silver when it became known that Mrs.  Theodore Dark--Aunt Becky as she was generally called, less from affection than habit--had died at the age of eighty-five. Everybody concerned felt that it was high time the old lady did die. She had lived a long life, respectably if not brilliantly, had experienced almost everything a decent female could experience, had outlived husband and children and anybody who had ever really cared anything for her. There was therefore neither sense, reason nor profit in pretending gloom or grief...Aunt Becky...had the knack of taking the wind out of people's sails that did not make for popularity. She seldom suffered in silence. Her temper was about the average, neither worse nor better and did not sweeten as she grew older. She always behaved herself decently, although many a time it would have been a relief to be indecent. She told the truth almost always, thereby doing a great deal of good and some harm, but she could tell a lie without straining her conscience when people asked questions they had no business to ask. She occasionally used a naughty word under great stress and she could listen to a risky story without turning white around the gills, but obscenity never took the place of wit with her. She paid her debts, went to church regularly, thought gossip was very interesting, liked to be the first to hear a piece of news, and was always especially interested in things that were none of her business....In short, she was an average person who had lived as long as anybody should live. ~A Tangled Web

The Dark and Penhallow clans have intermarried for years on end, and keep each other on their toes with all the scandals and gossip and backbiting that such a strong-minded race is capable of. Keeping them all in order, however, is old Aunt Becky--whose little social levees cause them all to go home licking their wounds and swearing never to be so humiliated again.

This, however, is Aunt Becky's very last social levee. Knowing that she's going to die before the week is over, she brings the family together to give out her possessions and reveal the name of the person who will inherit the prized heirloom jug. Everybody who is everybody comes. Drowned John, who committed the great scandal of swearing at his father's funeral...slinky, sophisticated Nan Penhallow, who smokes cigarettes and wears pajamas...pretty Gay Penhallow, who won't kiss Aunt Becky because Noel Gibson enjoyed that esteemed privilege for the first time the night before...dreamy little dressmaker Margaret Penhallow, who would love to adopt a little baby and be happy...Peter Penhallow, who supposedly hated all women...Joscelyn Dark, who left her husband three hours after their wedding, though no one knows why...Donna Dark and Virginia Powell, who married on the same day and both lost their husbands to the war effort...and a host of others, all with their scandals and quirks. The only thing they have in common is a strong desire for the jug.

But they find, to their great horror, that the question of the jug is not to be settled so easily. Aunt Becky proclaims Dandy Dark the executor of her will as he is the only man among them who can keep a secret, and gives him a sealed envelope. There are three options that could be in that envelope--either she has chosen someone and their name is inside, or she has given directions that the question is to be settled by lot, or she has given Dandy the power to chose someone,  evaluating the behaviour of each person in the clan to see whether or not they are worthy. The envelope can't be opened for a year and a quarter. Whatever each person does for a year and a quarter may or may not have an effect on who the jug goes to.

Aunt Becky dies, and the Dark and Penhallow clan are in for the wildest year and a quarter they have ever known. Love won and love lost, scandals blown up, private quarrels started and ended--aye, they'll remember this year for a long time.

But none of them will come close to guessing who gets the jug and all the family prestige that comes with it.

My Thoughts
I am always astounded by Montgomery's remarkable talent on two scores. First of all, her sensory description is incredible. A broken necklace of gold beads rolling away like little stars on the dusty road, lipstick that makes a girl look like she's made a meal of blood, the highest of heart sorrows captured in a few deft words, and the most ridiculous emotions pictured with a hilarious enjoyment. I will study her books simply for the writing style, in addition to enjoying the stories themselves.
Second, her ability to capture small-town, everyday life in an interesting and engaging manner is enough to turn me green with jealousy. How could she think of all those interesting little tidbits to add to her characters' backgrounds? Just little things, like the way a woman serves a chicken dinner, or all the notorious people who occupied a pew at church. Her detail is incredible, but none of it wordy and none of it unnecessary. It only serves to enhance the main backbone of the tale. I love this about her works.

Alas, there are a few things that cause me to recommend this only to older readers, and then with a fair bit of discernment at that. There's a fair bit of language, and more than in her younger stories, though none of it too crude. A lot of it is used for humor or in climax points.

The other really disturbing plot was of two sailors, and their fight over a nude statue of a woman. Little Sam wins a Catholic raffle, and brings home a little statuette to the great scandal of his housemate Big Sam (who, by the way, are opposite in stature to their names). Big Sam leaves in a high dudgeon until Little Sam promises to get rid of it, and Little Sam promises he never will. Unfortunately the plot ends less than satisfactorily, and the statue is left on the mantelpiece. Actually, it's the last thing to be tied up in the book, and the whole novel ends on a rather tasteless and risque remark. But if you wish to avoid that, you can call the end at part 3 of chapter 6, instead of going on to finish the rest of it.

Altogether, this book leaves me with a mix of feelings. It's not a saints and sinners tale; all the Darks and Penhallows are very much sinners. But it's a picture of real life, and a funny one at that, as well as containing good writing and more than one tear-jerking tale of sacrificial love. There's a thread of redemption running through it; and therefore I'm glad to have read it, and I probably will again when I have the chance.

If you've read it, what did you think?

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Power of the Cross (Part Two)

In our last post, we discussed the idea that yes, the Gospel of Christ can be emptied of its power through poor literary presentation. One of these ways is by placing it in the wrong scene or with the wrong emphasis in a story (see part one). Today, we're going to look at how the Cross of Christ is emptied of its power through obligatory over-use. Certain books used as examples in this post may contain mild spoilers.

Photo Credit
When it comes down to it, I generally dislike most modern fiction because of the poor Gospel presentation. Take, for instance, The Tutor's Daughter, by Julie Klassen. In my many wanderings of the World Wide Wilderness, I came across a good few mentions of this novel, and due to the type and calibre of reviews given, eventually decided to give it a try. Rather dubiously, I admit, and with very little expectation of success.

When I did get it I turned straight to browsing. If I was going to read the entire thing, I wanted to be sure it was worth the time it took to do so. And in the end, parts of it weren't bad at all. The characters were border-line cliché, and the writing was border-line sentimental, but not nearly so bad as the other books normally produced in mainstream Christian fiction. There were only two things that made me pitch it. First was the main hero's perpetual smell of bay rum cologne. The numerous mentions of that scent drove me crazy. The second was the presentation of the Gospel.

*spoiler alert for The Tutor's Daughter*

In the climax scene, with the tide rising, in which the main hero and heroine are trapped and about to drown, the heroine gives her life to Christ. Maybe it was my fault--but the effect didn't work very well. It didn't make sense that the heroine wasn't a Christian in the first place. Every time she thought an agnostic thought throughout the book, it rang false with what the reader knew about her. Almost as if she really was a Christian, but she couldn't be because the author was obliged to insert a conversion experience at the end.

*end of spoiler alert*

It is thus that the Cross of Christ is often emptied of it's power; when it is inserted because it has to be, not because it should be.

This statement will sound odd, but characters in a story have just as much personality as real people. Sometimes the author knows right away they are Christians. With others the author is quite sure they aren't. Take for instance, Dorothy Sayers' Peter Wimsey; she was quite sure he was an agnostic, and was equally convinced he always would be. But today's Christian literary market is slightly different than it used to be. Instead of growing individual characters and working them over and allowing them to have a certain amount of personality, we are given a pack of playing cards with obligatory traits and plot-lines, and expected to divide it up among the cast. Almost without fail, the main character is required to have a conversion experience, whether it's suited to them or not.

Part of this lies in our changing of the Great Commission to read something like this: Go therefore and make converts of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and inviting them to pray the salvation prayer.

But Jesus originally put forth a mighty order, with a glorious implication, that reads like this:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 (emphases mine)

The primary purpose is to grow us in our knowledge of Christ, and that means discipleship in addition to evangelism. We must not neglect spreading the Gospel, and telling the message of a crucified and living Christ, for that is our hope. And in addition to this, we must expand our perspective to include teaching all nations to observe every one of the commands God has given us. This means that not every book needs to have the salvation message; some books are written to cover other aspects of the Christian faith and life. While the salvation experience is the driving center, it is the beginning of the Christian walk, not the end. The people of God are thirsty for stories that show what should happen after the prayer as well. In a way, today's offerings compare to always writing books that end with the wedding and never writing stories that show how characters interact in the years of marriage. Since we don't understand the Great Commission, authors believe that if they're going to write a Christian book, the main character must start out as unsaved. And because of our misunderstanding, we're now inserting the Gospel as a guilty obligation, instead of a loving and heart-felt obedience.

So how should the gospel be preached? Well, there are two methods often used, and both of them have their good points.

The Subtle
Some people choose to preach the Gospel of Christ through the everyday actions and themes of the characters. An earthly marriage is used to direct us to our Heavenly Bridegroom. The sacrifice of a friend for another friend reminds us of Jesus' sacrifice for us. When a character forgives horrible wrong, we thank God for offering us an even greater forgiveness. This method is a great means of circumventing pride. I was quite surprised to see it used in Mrs. Georgie Sheldon's A Lost Pearle. Her gospel presentation was there, and  but never a sermon or even a theological discussion from one end of the book to the other.

The Obvious
But some books, like Douglas Bond's The Betrayal, or even the Pella/Phillips Stranger at Stonewycke, include it as an obvious struggle the main character has, and this method too has its benefits. For one thing it helps people like me, who generally miss the obvious and need to be knocked over the head. For the other, it helps people who are really annoyed by imagery. God used both methods in Scripture: the imagery and the obvious, to minister to different peoples' learning styles, and it is permissible for us to do so as well. The Obvious method has the most pitfalls to be avoided, but is also the most powerful when done correctly, because we're given a clear and unequivocal presentation of Christ.

But either method used should be part of the story, not inserted in by force. Sometimes it may be a side character, sometimes a main character, and sometimes perhaps nobody at all, to craft a God-honoring and excellent tale.

The gospel of Christ is indispensable. But I hope that if certain portrayals of it in literature have ever put you off, this mini-series has shed a little light on why. As I said in passing several posts ago, a book that winsomely and genuinely gives the clear message of Christ's love and salvation is a book to be treasured and valued and passed on.

And praise the Lord that his message can never grow stale or old, or lose it's power. Sometimes we blunder in the telling of it, but by the grace of God we still have many opportunities to try again.

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Power of the Cross (Part One)

Prefatory Note: Due to the necessity of using concrete examples to illustrate my points, this two-part series contains mild spoilers on The Stonewycke Legacy trilogy by Michael Phillips and Judith Pella. 

Photo Credit

I have been thinking on something I said in one of my posts that deserves a little more explanation: 

"I tend to be a little skeptical of books that shove the alter call down the reader's throat as an obligatory thing. I shouldn't be, I know."

Certainly a startling statement in and of itself, and one that could easily be taken to mean that I wish the gospel would just be kept out of books altogether. That's certainly not what I intended to say, and since I don't really wish to make odd statements and leave others to try to decipher what I actually meant by them, I think it calls for a post in itself.

The question is namely, how should the gospel of Jesus Christ be included in fictional literature? We've all seen some good examples, and I'm sure we've all seen some bad ones. Today I want to discuss one side of the coin.

The Importance of Preaching the Gospel--the Right Way
As I said in one of my INCH sessions in May, Christ is the central reason and importance behind reading every book. He must be the center focus. We read to seek after the knowledge of Christ; to grow closer to him and his ways. That should be our hope and our joy.

And part of that is indeed sharing the gospel. After all, Christ has commanded us to share his salvation:

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. --Luke 24:45-48

 He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. --Mark 16:15

 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”--Romans 10:14-15

Those who have the power of being able to formulate written words have been given a means of preaching the gospel through story and essay. And they should do so. Just because there is so much poor preaching of the gospel doesn't mean it shouldn't be attempted at all. We would be seriously neglecting our Christian duty and denying our Lord if we did so.

That being said, there is a wrong way to preach the gospel. Paul talks of this in 1 Corinthians 1:17:

 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

A Greek word study brings up some very interesting points. "Not with words of eloquent wisdom" means "not with human skill or intelligence or insight". And "emptied of its power" means to be made "unreal, ineffective, or pretentious" and "to render void; to be perceived as valueless". Many Christian books today are rendering Christ's work both unreal and valueless.

So why is that? Let's look at a specific example.

The Bad
One of the first books I read that left me with an uneasy feeling of poor gospel presentation was Michael Phillips and Judith Pella's Treasure of Stonewycke. The Stonewycke chronicles spanned six books over two different series, following the intriguing and well-written adventures of one Scottish family trying to keep their estate. Treasure of Stonewycke was the very last one. After all the trauma, the nail-biting, the heartbreak and glory and love and wonder, I was finally reaching the ultimate conclusion.

Then, in the middle of the last confrontation scene, Phillips and Pella interrupt the climax for a four page debate between two characters on the gospel of Christ. It was a mistake. Not only was it ineffectual for the characters debating it, but it was ineffectual for the reader as well. Much as we love the gospel, much as it has done for us, putting it in the middle of a climax scene will only make the majority of readers impatient for the preaching to be over, so they can get back to the main plot. Arrested action it's called, when people taught me how to plot something. Arrested action screams "interruption". Guess what happens with interruptions?

Well, do you like them?

In other words, Phillips and Pella, with the best of intentions, rendered the gospel ineffective for the majority of their readers because they put it in the wrong place. As funny as this is going to sound, the Gospel should generally be a sub-plot. Here's why:

 When I attended Angela Hunt's workshop on story plotting during a writing conference, she explained that every book can be categorized into one of two plot types: 

-Masculine plots emphasize attaining the goal--winning the war, marrying the fair lady, catching the thief, etc.

-Feminine plots have a goal, but the goal emphasizes growth and change of the protagonist’s character.

 The Phillips/Pella series has masculine plots. Who is going to keep the estate? Is Maggie ever going to be reunited with her husband? Will Allison and Logan reconcile? Will they ever find their daughter? In other words, each book has a tangible goal that the reader wants the characters to accomplish.  As much as each of them draws closer to Christ, the character growth is a sub-plot--a result that came from them trying to achieve their goal.

That's where the sharing of the gospel in Treasure of Stonewycke went sour. All of a sudden, the masculine plot that the characters had been working to achieve became a sub-plot, and the character growth hijacked the main plot. Most readers don't like what they've been following all along to be suddenly relegated to second importance in the climax scene. In this instance, the gospel of Christ was emptied of its power.
The Good
But let's rewind two books to Stranger at Stonewycke, where Phillips and Pella do a pretty good job of incorporating the salvation experience. Stranger Logan MacIntyre has caught wind of a treasure at Stonewycke, where his great-uncle lived as a servant in former days. Determining to seek out this treasure for himself, Logan befriends the family at the estate while at the same time seeking to swindle them. The story goes on, the tension escalates, and the main conflict is "Will he be able to find their treasure without them knowing, and before another claimant tries to kill him?"

Logan's not a Christian, so part of the  story is of his character growth and recognizing his need for a Savior. His twinges of conscience only serve to escalate the tension of the masculine plot--the treasure seeking--while at the same time giving the reader something to think about.

Here's where the authors did it well:

Perhaps some people would read Stranger at Stonewycke thinking that Logan reached a moral revelation is in the middle of the climax scene. What's the big deal, you say? The same thing happened as in Treasure of Stonewycke. But not really. Instead of cramming the gospel story into four pages just before the gun is about to be fired as in the latter book, Phillips and Pella do all the necessary theological groundwork throughout the build-up of the story. Then, after the final confrontation and before all the fireworks have burned down, Logan reaches his spiritual climax as well. Nothing is interrupted. The reader isn't impatient for the authors to hurry up and get on with it. Logan has played his last card, and he can't do any more unless God works something out beyond his smarts and strength.

And we are satisfied. 

Because the Gospel of Christ involves intimate internal thought, it should generally always be a sub-plot, so as to retain its subtlety while teaching the reader. But it's a sub-plot, not a scene. Therefore, instead of being shoved in at the end, it should be a traceable journey throughout, so that the sub-plot climaxes at the same time as the main plot does. In this way, the delicate balance of showing the reader how a person's heart can change comes out with grace and power.

Today we've looked at one example of how the gospel can be emptied of its power by wrong placement in a story, and how it can be used to great effect at just the right point. Next time we're going to look at another way the gospel can be emptied of its power, namely through obligatory over-use. There's a lot to unpack in that statement, but I'll save it for Tuesday. :)

Have a splendid weekend, and God bless your reading adventures!

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Man in the Queue

I read entirely too much British literature. After The Silmarillion, I did take a break for two American novels, one of which was worth reading and one of which was a little less than I expected; but there is so much more to British lit that I gave in and picked up Josephine Tey again.

That's right. If you recall my review of The Daughter of Time, I very much enjoyed Tey's work on a fictional detective trying to determine whether or not Richard III murdered the princes in the tower. And it was actually the fault of that book that I got this one. Having run down to our library to pick up Daughter of Time for a family read-aloud, I happened to see The Man in the Queue sitting all by itself as the only other representative of Tey's works. Being a very compassionate individual, I brought it home with me so that it wouldn't get despondent, and gave it a read-through on Sunday.

The Story
" 'Ere, I'll thank you to stop shoving. Can't a lady be allowed to take out her purse without everyone losing their manners?"
But the man she addressed took no notice. His head was sunk on his chest. Only the top of his soft hat met her beady indignant gaze. She snorted, and moving away from him to face the box office squarely laid down the money she had been searching for. And as she did so the man sank slowly to his knees, so that those behind almost fell over him, stayed like that for a moment, and then keeled still more slowly over on his face.                    ~The Man in the Queue, Chapter One

When a man falls over dead in the tightly packed London queue of Ray Marcable's last theatre performance, Inspector Alan Grant sets his powers of deduction on finding the murderer. A murderer of course there is; the thin silver stiletto proves that. But aside from this interesting weapon (which yields up no fingerprints) the victim has no identifying marks. Just a handkerchief, some loose change, and an army-issued revolver in his pocket from the last war. When Grant finds that the fingerprints on the revolver don't correspond with the fingerprints of the dead man, he is puzzled. Certainly murdering someone in a crowded line for the theatre isn't difficult. But for the dead man to have someone else's revolver in his pocket, and the tags ripped out of his clothing to prevent identification--that's a different matter entirely.

At least they know that the murderer has a jagged scar on the first finger of his left hand. It's not much to go on, but it's something.

Inspector Grant is never at a loss, and after some lengthy inquiries and a little bit of piecing stories together, he has a description of his man and is off to Scotland to ferret him out of his hideaway. But the murderer is a little more determined than that, which Inspector Grant is about to find out.

My Thoughts
The Man in the Queue was an absolutely fascinating mystery. Aside from the original crime itself, Tey doesn't put in any gore, and there's hardly any blood to begin with. Altogether I've read much more violent mysteries, and this one was nice in that it had the suspense without all the disturbing imagery.

Tey doesn't mind using language. I mind that she does, but it's very mild and there aren't too many occurrences, so it's probably a book I would check out from the library again if I couldn't lay my hands on my own copy. There wasn't as much as I found in The Daughter of Time, nor as many off jokes, which was more enjoyable.

As for the mystery itself--brilliant execution on Tey's part. She had me quite on the wrong tack, though as soon as she gave the hint of an alternate solution I was on it, and I flatter myself that though I never discovered the right person, I was at least on the right angle of it. There is an art to writing mysteries without making the reader feel unintelligent for not having guessed it, and Tey is one of those delightful people who sympathizes with the reader through Inspector Grant's train of thought without being at all condescending.

Inspector Grant is a very nice fellow to make a better acquaintance with. The Man in the Queue (or Killer in the Crowd as it is also titled) is the first Alan Grant mystery that Tey wrote. True to form, I read the second to last one first, but I enjoyed this one because he's much more relaxed than he was in Daughter of Time. He's enjoyable when he's a bear of a man, but even more so when he's a normal human being.

In the end, I did have one reservation which prevents me from giving this book an unconditional recommendation. I love Alan's humor, and I tend to think with the same type of amusement at things that he does, but sometimes it strayed into snide remarks about the idiosyncrasies of the Church. Granted, most of his jokes were true ones, but there was no counter-balance of good Christianity of off-set them. Had there been I would have had no objection, because it would have truly portrayed both angles--the funny side and the worthy side. It doesn't come up often, but because I really enjoying humor like Grant's, I think I would start picking up on the bad effects of it if I read Tey's works often. Therefore, she's like pepper: best taken in moderation.

All in all, The Man in the Queue was a most enjoyable way to spend a Sunday afternoon. I recommend it to your attention.

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Silmarillion (Part Two)

Oath of Feanor
A couple of weeks ago--or I believe it was three now--I had the pleasure of reading The Silmarillion in the middle of the morning, for sheer joy of it. Well, that week came and went, and I returned to my Sunday afternoon normality. But this morning I can sit down with it and call it work, because it's part of my daily blog routine.

Hard, hard work. ;)

Here, in "Sil Part Two", I'm simply going to have a "Favorite Things" chat and tell you all the things I liked, and all the legends and characters that struck my fancy. And after this is over, I would dearly love to hear your favorite characters and legends as well.

 For those of you who haven't read Sil, I do apologize; this might not make as much sense as my normal reviews. I'll try to make it as readable and understandable as possible, but you may want to come back to it after you've read the book. It's totally up to you. I mention the deaths of a few characters, but I try to keep it as spoiler-free as possible.

*All illustrations for this post are taken with permission from Jenny Dolfen's website.  Click here to see more of her fantastic work with Tolkien.*

 Favorite Legends
Nirnaeth Arnoediad
1. Nirnaeth Arnoediad--On the top of the list would have to be The Battle of Unnumbered Tears, also known as the Fifth Battle, also known as Nirnaeth Arnoediad. This legend is found towards the middle of Quenta Silmarillion, and I think, short of some of the LOTR battles, this has to be one of the most mesmerizing ones I've ever read. Possibly only one or two to top it.

There in the plain of Anfauglith, on the fourth day of the war, there began Nirnaeth Arnoediad, Unnumbered Tears, for no song or tale can contain all it's grief. ~Quenta Silmarillion, Chapter 20

It's premise, of course, is to gain back the Silmarils from the grip of Morgoth. All the Noldor elves have sworn an oath to get them back; so neither heaven nor hell, they claim, can dissuade them from their course.

There were many battles and raids in Sil. But by far, the bloodiest and most heartwrenching, and most tear-jerking of them all was Nirnaeth Arnoediad.  The brave yet hopeless fight of the dwarf Azaghal against the dragon Glaurung; the last meeting of the brothers Turgon and Hurin, before such a sad fate separated them and bound Hurin to the chair of Morgoth; Fingon's bravery against the hideous Balrogs--oh yes, I would not have missed it for a kingdom.

2. Beren and Luthien--The love story of Beren and Luthien, sung of by Aragorn in Fellowship of the Ring, captures the hearts of practically everyone who reads it. Beren, to win the hand of the fair Luthien, will do anything necessary to persuade her father, even to the highest risk. When her father tells Beren that he can only have her if he will cut one of the Silmarils from the crown of Morgoth, Beren swears that he will do so. We are taken to the throne room of Melkor himself, on one of three fruitless attempts on Beren's part, until he and Luthien take on a very interesting disguise to try to achieve the quest together.
Luthien's father is an elf, but her mother is descended from the Ainur/Valar. And she is one of few given a choice to take the immortality of her race, or the mortality of her beloved. 

3. Turin Turambar--I am at a loss to decide which is more exhausting to read about--Nirnaeth Arnoediad, or the tragic history of Turin Turambar. I do hope I will never be as heartless as Tolkien was to his character, but one never knows the depths of depravity to which authors can sink.

Turin's father Hurin was captured during Nirnaeth Arnoediad, and chained in the stronghold of Melkor, with no one knowing whether he was alive or dead. His son was brought up by another Elven king who took pity on him, and grew to manhood and stature with good friends around him. But Turin  was not a patient nor a happy person, and when an unfortunate insult results in him murdering someone, it sets him down the path of rebellion, unhappy love, and untimely tragedy.

I still shudder. How could Tolkien do what he did to him? I'm going to read The Children of Hurin one day, when I can work up the strength of mind to endure all that agony in even greater detail. 

4. The Voyage of Earendil--Oh, his voyage is a glorious one. But due to spoilers, I leave it to you to discover for yourselves. I would put spoiler warning and type it anyway, but some people (like me) ignore spoiler warnings and regret it ever after. So I shall save those of you who cannot bear not to look, and simply avoid it altogether.

5. Akallabeth--Besides the fact that I dearly wanted to shake the Dunedain and shout at all of them to grow up, the legend of Aragorn's ancestors truly deserves to be on this list of favorite legends. The mass destruction, the mass rebellion, the glory of that city on the island--the caged feeling of being free to go ever west, but to never sail east--oh yes. Can't say any more for fear of spoiling, because it's the last one in the book, but it really does deserve your special attention.

And as a side note, before I move on to favorite characters---Now I know who Frodo's talking about when he's singing to Elbereth Gilthoniel. I shall read LOTR with even more enjoyment now that I know so much more about Middle Earth.

But we must continue on, for there is much more to cover...

Favorite Characters

Tuor--Finally one ray of light in the midst of all this misery. A good fellow was Tuor, and brave, and I loved him. What a legend he fulfilled. 

Fate of Maedhros
 Maedhros-- After he lost his hand in Melkor's horrible torture and made peace with his fellow elves, I really had a respect for Maedhros and thought quite highly of him. Alas, by the end my good opinion of him crumbled to dust; I thought he was made of sterner stuff than that. But at the beginning I fully thought that Maedhros might turn out to be one of my favorites.

Turin--I didn't like everything about Turin. He wasn't a perfect fellow. But he was brave and bold and strong, and I cannot say that I feel anything but pity for him.

Beleg--Turin's friend, and I laud him for his character and brotherly love.

Fingolfin, Fingon, and Finrod--All these Noldor elves had their faults and a good spice of rebellion, but they went to their various endings bravely, and they redeemed themselves. 

Favorite Line of Elves: Oh dear, this is a tough one to decide. When I began, I really didn't like the Noldor Elves. But after I finished, the other elves seemed rather shallow in comparison--wrapped up in their own concerns, refusing to take a part in the grand conflict that had been given them. I don't think I can choose a favorite, of the original three branches. But the Noldor have the greatest depth to them, so in the end I have no choice but to bow to their superiority.


After a while, Sil started to read like my least favorite Christie mystery And Then There Were None. We once played the Agatha Christie video game  of that novel, where at intervals one of the guests locked up in the mansion died, until there were precious few left. (Confession is good for the soul. We regret it, and at this time I do not endorse Agatha Christie mysteries.) But when I read Sil, the memories came back with a vengeance. If you'll recall the map I posted (at left) all the sticky notes are the names of the original elf leaders in the various regions, and one by one they exited the scene in fearful agonies. The reader is left with the awful suspense of who was going to die next. Elves can't die except by war or a broken heart, but there was plenty of either malady to be had in this book.

I speak in jest, of course. I enjoyed every moment of it, even though it was a darker book, and I was sad to see so many brave warriors meet their end. But in a way, that's a bit like the passage in Hebrews 11:33-38.

Who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

 The only difference is, Noldor elves in Sil were facing their horrible deaths as a result of their disobedience--but I suppose, in the end, so did the servants of God. It was only because of mankind's sin that the giants of the Christian faith had to endure such fearful persecutions. Maybe there's not such a huge difference after all.

Everyone in Sil is flawed. Even the Valar have their imperfections, when it comes down to it. And that's the beauty of the Sil--though the Noldor are bound by their curse, and must bear the consequences of it through eons of heartbreak, inflicting the pain of it on the Sindar and Teleri elves, and even the dwarfs and men--yet there is still redemption. They cling to hope, even when hope shivers into little tendrils of misty illusions. When the Ultimate Evil mocks, the Noldor stand unmoved from their purpose. Aye, there could have been a happier age had they not sinned, just as there could have been a happier earth had we  not sinned. But in the end, and by the grace of God, we are not left in despair even though we have to bear the results of our follies. And the Noldor are not either.

Some of the elves lived in the dream of what might have been, shutting themselves out of the conflict, and refusing to recognize the looming destruction of Beleriand. Some recognized the evil and went out in their own strength to meet and eradicate it, corrupting the weak children of Illuvatar as they went along. But some of all three kindreds--dwarfs and elves and men--recognized that though they had brought upon themselves a great evil, there was a good greater still that they must fight for.

The Sil would be pre-Christ, if Tolkien had intended it to be an allegory, as would the Lord of the Rings. It's interesting to draw many biblical parallels from this story, and I'm sure as I re-read it many times over that I will discover richer and deeper content.

In short, The Silmarillion had the power that very few books have, to leave me breathless and inwardly shouting over the Tolkien's glorious gift to capture biblical theology in his stories. It's one of those books that leaves me hurting inside, because I simply cannot find words good enough or thoughts lucid enough to express my feelings about it. Alas, it is a chronic hurt that must be lived with, and will probably always be there.  I look forward to every perusal of it, and salute the man who crafted it so carefully, and thank the God who gave him the inspiration for it. Go read for yourself! But after you've read The Lord of the Rings. ;)

Lady Bibliophile

P.S. To those of you who have read the Sil--

Can any of you tell me what this picture is supposed to represent?

Drawing of the Sword

Or this one:

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Happy Birthday Blog Post

I wasn't intending to post today--but a surprising little event turned up, and I am most delighted to contribute a post to celebrate the 2nd blogoversary of Fullness of Joy. Joy is a delightful blogger and aspiring author, a blog I have followed almost since the beginning of the Lady Bibliophile's existence on the web. Be sure to stop by and say hello!

Part of Joy's celebration are some delightful blog tags. Blog tags are so fun, and I can never get enough of them; besides the fact that the questions below look quite interesting. You might see another tag or two pop up before the party is over. ;) I dearly hope so.

So let's have it:

1. Pretending if need be that you never read any of those titles, (unless you actually haven’t), which book-title intrigues you the most that it would make you abandon all the others and read THAT one book...? Roverandom, The Keys of the Kingdom, That Hideous Strength, The Conflict of Religions in the Early Roman Empire, With Christ in the School of Prayer, Kidnapped, The Ballad of the White Horse, The Robe, The Man Who Was Thursday, or Surprised by Joy...?

That Hideous Strength. I think it's a Lewis. I'm pretty sure it's a Lewis, but please don't laugh at me if it isn't; I've only read Chronicles and Screwtape out of his works. I don't think I would actually drop the books I'm reading simply to pick it up, but it looks the most interesting. The only other one would be Kidnapped. If I get a craving for Davie and Alan's adventures, then I let myself start it no matter how big my stack is. Junior B is reading that right now, and it just warms the cockles of my heart...

2. How do you reconcile yourself with an offended cat? (Tell a clueless girl, here!)
Our family did have a cat for sixteen years, I think it was, and she was a dear calico thing with a mind of her own, but a decided tendency to cuddle as she grew older. We miss her very much, even though it was a good few years ago that she died.

There were a good few times that she got quite offended. For instance, when I would be doing my morning Bible reading, she would sit entirely unblinking through all five chapters. And I, being rather perverse, would not give her a single look.

When she was offended, I tended to be harder rather than softer. I would run a playful hand down her tail and say "Hey kitty. What's the matter?"

Cats who actually get offended generally prefer intellectual appeals...

3. Can you describe to us in a seven-word sentence your current surroundings using the five senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch? Otherwise you can name in order the thirteen dwarf characters in The Hobbit without looking the info up online. ‘Tis your choice, you know!
I accept the challenge of the dwarfs, and give you my word that I did not look them up:
Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur, Bomber, Balin, Dwalin, Fili, Kili, and Thorin Oakenshield.

*takes a bow*

4. Tea or Coffee? Or lemonade?
Neither tea nor coffee. Hot drinks and I are not the best of friends, actually, and I always decline them as a general rule, unless I'm in a very, very relaxed mood.  But I won't turn down hot apple cider, if you offer it to me. ;) So I'll take lemonade, generally. But I don't drink much of anything. It's a very bad habit, I know.
5. Do you think your writing voice and style on your blog (or novel) is so very different from your normal, day-to-day voice and personality? Or is almost identical?

If you talked to people who knew me, I think they would tell you that my writing style is much different than my day-to-day personality. You see, I have two sides, and this blog very much captures one of them--reserved, with all the loose ends tied up, and not leaving a single corner of myself out for vulnerability. Oh yes, I'll crack a joke or two, but on the whole I find that my formal speaking and writing style is reserved with very little imagery.

But in person--oh yes, in person I can chat quite a lot. And crack a lot of jokes. And even talk about things like makeup. It is quite my horror to talk about makeup for fear of coming across as shallow, and it is also my fear after visiting someone that I have talked too much, lest I come across as an extrovert. In public, I prefer to be well-scripted and intellectual.

But a few people--I could probably count them on the fingers of both hands--have the power to crack me out of my shell, and make me forget about well-scripted intellectualism until afterwards. You lovely peoples know who you are...

6. Puddleglum or Mr. Tumnus?

Oh dear. That's such a hard choice, and  I love both of them. Mr. Tumnus is such a cheerful little fellow. But Puddleglum is too (in a doleful sort of way), and in the end he's the one we quote the most. So I'll have to choose Puddleglum.

“Very likely, what with enemies, and mountains, and rivers to cross, and losing our way, and next to nothing to eat, and sore feet, we’ll hardly notice the weather.”

“Now a job like this-a journey up north just as winter’s beginning, looking for a Prince that probably isn’t there, by way of a ruined city that no one has ever seen-will be just the thing."
7. Which of the seasons, spring, summer, autumn, or winter, appeals to you most in a literary sense and inspires you to write?

I get the most done in fall and winter. It's a sleepy, snowy, frosty time of year when we don't have as many outside engagements, and when nature is asleep, I think I am able to imagine better in the worlds I have created.

8. Cast your mind back to childhood, what was your favourite Old Testament Bible character as a child? What was your most dearly loved Bible Account? Why?

David. He's an old friend of mine, in spite of his mistakes. I find his life incredible--how a man even as messed up as he was could be a man after God's own heart. I'm not sure however, which was my favorite Bible account.

9. What are some of the films/books or songs that make you tear-up or cry the most (be it because it is so beautiful, or really sad or tragic, etc), tell us why they do that; do you actually like to cry in a movie/book?
Amazing Grace made me cry. I do not know the extent of Wilberforce's struggle as far as personal experience goes, but I too know the heart-weariness of dreams long delayed. I marvel at how his human frailty didn't crack in the face of doubt and opposition. Only by the grace of God--and at the end of every viewing of that movie, it makes me wonder: could I rely on God for twenty years, unwavering, unquestioning, tireless. Every year I learn that my grace and strength are smaller, and I must cling to the Lord a little more firmly. I hope that I will run my race as well as Wilberforce ran his.

October Baby made me cry. I have never suffered the horror that Hannah suffered, but I too have had to forgive, and this movie brought healing of it's own.

So did the Lord of the Rings, both books and movie. Everybody cries over Lord of the Rings. 'Nough said. ;)

 The Silmarillion--I think I cried over this one. I can't remember whether it was the legend of Berin, or the legend of Turin. Probably Turin.

There are others, I'm sure as well, though none come to mind at the moment.

Yes, I like to cry. There was a time when I did not cry, and I know why I didn't--my heart was rather hard around the edges, but I asked the Lord to soften it, and one of the side results of that is that I cry much more over books and movies. This isn't a requirement for everyone, but for me it was a matter of valuing the grace of God. I am much more touched by it than I used to be, and I am glad of it.

As for music--

Well, one or two...

10. Do you have any special literary goals or dreams that you wish you could accomplish as a writer during your lifetime (besides publishing, that is!)?
I have a few goals up my sleeve, but must beg your indulgence to conceal them for the time being. ;) I do crave your pardon and understanding.

11. If you are a writer, which one of your characters’ internal makeup most echoes a likeness or similitude to you? If you have none of your own – what other fictional character (book/film) does? Explain your answer.

Ah, now you've pinned me down. :) And I can see certain of my readers sitting up and taking extra-special notice...

I am like three of my characters, as far as personality goes. The first is an American fellow, who really holds himself pretty tightly and makes sure he doesn't make any mistakes. He manages to make them anyway, and I feel for him. But he's not unkind in spite of his reserve, though he's fearfully stubborn, and would rather find solutions on his own simply because admitting his mistakes would reveal a part of him that he doesn't want to show. When he is really relaxed, and with one or two people that he doesn't feel threatened by, he likes to talk, and I enjoy him when he does that. It's positively a pleasure to listen to him. He's keen on justice, keen on law, and keen on respecting boundaries. If you make jest of him or betray something that he would much prefer you hadn't, then he will let you know of his displeasure, though only after holding it in and rationalizing it for a long time. I'm much like him in that, though he tends to show his anger a little more openly than I do. But he and I aren't identical, and I certainly don't intentionally draw him from myself. Oh, and he's also good at puzzling over conundrums, which I enjoy. I tend to crack the complicated much easier than I discover the obvious. And he's an awful self-critic. Simply tears himself up inside, and I don't recall that he's once been satisfied with his efforts. I am very much like that too. Some days it's a running rebuke from sun-up to sun-down. He and I get along rather well. I've only shaken him once.

The second is a 28-year-old Irishman, who is quite comfortable and extroverted in small groups of people, sometimes annoyingly so, but who doesn't like large parties. He's good-natured most of the time, and has a pretty long fuse. But when he's upset with you, he shows quick flashes of annoyance, and has a decided tendency to take jabs that isn't nice at all. He's also not very charitably inclined towards immature people, but does have a healthy compassionate streak towards those who really need him. At the current moment he and I both have a lot on our minds, and we take a heavy responsibility for the results of other people's actions, whether we should be responsible or no.

These seem to be a bunch of faults. In spite of Sherlock Holmes' assertion that modesty is not a virtue, I don't normally pick out my own virtues. Okay, so the compassionate streak was one virtue. I told you I was a fearful self-critic.

The third is a teenage girl who has never seen the light of day in any of my emails or articles. Therefore I'm going to exert the power of the keypad and say that she has to stay under wraps for a little while longer.

 And to those of you who know who these characters are: I must ask you not to give any more information than I have already given, and please I beg of you, do not mention their names, but I would be interested to know if you agree with my assessment. ;)

12. Excuse me for another Tolkien reference, but I couldn't help it, alas! Which of the five Middle-earth hobbits do you identify with the most: Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, Merry, or Pippen?

Never too many Tolkien questions!

Dare I be cliché and say Sam? You see, I do have some rather Samwise characteristics. I'm a bit of a plodder like him--until I'm so hungry I can't do any more--and have very strong senses of duty and loyalty. Mind, I'm not trying to compliment myself--such characteristics do have their drawbacks you know.

A prosaic fellow, with occasional little flights of fancy. That's Samwise, and that would most certainly be me, according to my last answer.
13. What special topic do you relish talking/writing about the most? Like – like a tap that can instantly be turned on... please, do tell!

Books, of course! I will talk to you about books for ages. But the subject that really turns me on is writing. The theory of it, the rules of it, how to break the rules of it, and all the myriads of delightful plots and characters I have swirling around in my brain: I love to talk about them, and become positively extroverted when they come up. Which...tends to scare me when I think about it.

14. Make your choice, adventurous Stranger; Strike the bell and bide the danger, Or wonder, till it drives you mad, What would have followed if you had.  The Bell and the Hammer, C.S. Lewis ...thus said the inscription next to the bell in that mysterious place in which Polly and Digory came upon, in The Magician’s Nephew. If you had been in their place, would you have taken the adventure of ringing the golden bell as Digory did (not knowing that the White Witch would be awakened) or would you have acted sensibly like Polly but risked being driven mad by the thought of ‘what if’ when you were back home in England?

This question drives me crazy pondering it. I think I would have rung the bell.

15. What is that which makes you keep blogging and writing in general in the times when your blog/and or you yourself are at a low ebb? Do you like taking breaks from blogging or miss your followers too much? 

The grace of God and sheer stubbornness. Whenever I'm going on a trip, I write my blog post ahead of time. I was sick during the Magic and Fantasy series, but I had promised it, and up it must go. Twice in the history of My Lady Bibliophile I sat down to write a post to tell everyone I just had to take a break, and twice I wasn't able to do it. I couldn't get the words out.

So, when I'm at a low ebb, I first of all pray for ideas. The Lord is a fountainhead of creativity, inspiration, and endurance. Then I go down to my shelves and pick a book, and write as long and as well as I can on it. Blogging for me is not merely a recreational activity; it's a writing discipline, and it is my desire that it is an inspiring and enjoyable resource for fellow bibliophiles. Pastors have to get up and preach to their flock when inspiration runs low. Mothers have to teach their children even when they're tired. It is my desire to use the activities I have now to develop stamina and commitment.

And don't worry: blogging is great fun practically all the time. So please, I beg of you, don't think that every post is a great struggle. Generally all of them are great fun, and sometimes I have to hold myself back to keep from rambling on--like in the Sil. :)

And speaking of Sil, I am most looking forward to Part Two with all of you on Friday!

Thanks so much for the tag Joy; it was great fun, and a very happy 2nd blogoversary to you! Here's to many more!

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Silmarillion, Part One

On Sunday, I finished a book that left me rather breathless and awestruck upon it's completion. Some books do that to me on occasion, and it is my extreme pleasure in today's review to present to you JRR Tolkien's The Silmarillion.

Last year, on the hottest 4th of July I have ever experienced near the Great Lakes (a real feel of 110 F), I wandered a concrete pavement in the blazing sun, determined to snag a few books. If we were ever to have a nation-wide Lady Bibliophile gathering, this book sale is where I would take you. It's absolutely glorious fun. I had just recently finished LOTR, and having heard of The Silmarillion, I was quite pleased to find it in excellent hardcover condition among the classics.

That book tumbled into a paper bag with a jumble of other books, and I took it on trips and stored it under my bed, only to find out this morning that it's a first American edition. Oops. I have no idea how valuable that is, but I think it will have a place on my shelf until I do know. Besides, it's worth taking good care of on any score, due to the sheer glory of its contents.

What a book. I rather suspect that I am fearfully arrogant or borderline crazy to try to review it; but I cannot help giving it a try.

The Story
JRR Tolkien worked on this masterpiece to great length before his death. In essence, it's the precursor to the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, though I and most Tolkien fans recommend reading it after LOTR. Though Tolkien never finished it, his son Christopher lovingly and carefully compiled it into a finished work, so you don't have to worry about reading an incomplete story. It's all there.

Sil explains the creating of Middle Earth, the whole religious system of their world, and the coming of elves and men. It didn't explain hobbits, which I will have to look up again in the Lord of the Rings to be completely sure where they came from, but it did explain the origins of Radagast and Gandalf and Saruman and the other wizards, which completely alleviated my original reserve about them. I am impressed, and applaud Tolkien for his biblical groundings. It's not always perfect, but the bulk of it is, and I might add, I like it better than CS Lewis at this time.

The Silmarillion I have consists of five volumes: Ainulindale, Valaquenta, Quenta Silmarillion, Akallabeth, and Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age. In the back are genealogies, pronunciation notes, indexes of names found in the narrative, and an appendix of elements in Quenya and Sindarin names--a study of phonetic elements for those who wish to delve further into the Elvish roots and meanings. Also, in the back of the book was a beautiful unfoldable map of Belariand/Middle Earth.

Being the book that this is, I'm going to go through the stories systematically, and give plots for each of them, rather than lumping it all together.


When Eru Illuvatar (the God-figure of the Tolkien tales) first created, the beginning of his works were the Holy Ones, aka the Ainur, (everybody in Tolkien stories has at least two names, generally three, and it's good if you can keep track of all of them.) And he made them to sing together before him in various themes of melody, and to make it pleasing to his ear. And they did so. But one of the Ainur, Melkor by name, was the greatest of his fellow Holy Ones and began to make music of his own that was in discord to the music of Eru Illuvatar. And the two contended together.

Illuvatar spoke to the Ainur, revealing to them his plan to create a world, and to establish therein the Children of Illuvatar, for his glory and pleasure. And the Valar were enamoured with Illuvatar's plan. After he created Ea, some of the Ainur descended and took upon themselves an existence in the confines of the world, to beautify and care for and complete the work that Illuvatar had begun for them. These Ainur are called the Valar, and they do not live in Middle Earth anymore, but in their own land, which used to be accessible but now is carried beyond the reach of mortal man. Manwe and Ulmo, Aule and Melkor, and many more were the Valar that crossed over.

And their work upon Ea, the World that Is, was very beautiful indeed.


The second volume of the Sil, "Valaquenta", gives the names and duties of each of the Ainur/Valar who come to Ea, and their work in Middle Earth before Melkor corrupted it. This book is important to pay attention to, for it is the history of names and characters that aren't really explained again, so if you take the time to ground yourself well in who each of the Valar is, then you'll be grateful ever after. But if you forget someone, just come back to the Valaquenta and look them up; it's a handy section, one of the shortest of the various accounts in The Silmarillion.

It also gives account of the Valar's enemies.

While the Valar beautified Middle Earth, one of their own craved for power he could not have; Melkor, the one who made music in discord to that of Illuvatar. He arose and created creatures of his own, laying waste to the beauty the Valar created, and gradually descending into the deepest spirit of Darkness, even drawing others unto himself and corrupting them. Among his creatures were Balrogs and dragons, and perhaps the saddest of all, the Orcs, which are corrupted elves.

Quenta Silmarillion
By far the largest section of the book, and the bulk of the story (the rest are really prefaces and appendices) Quenta Silmarillion tells the story of the three great gems and the corruption of the Children of Illuvatar.

The Children of Illuvatar are Elves and Men. Elves do not have the gift of death by age, only by wounds or a broken heart; but to men Illuvatar gave the gift of death. We also have the dwarfs, which were created by a rather impulsive Valar, and who Illuvatar adopted out of pity; but they were never originally intended to be part of Middle Earth.

When Melkor corrupted Middle Earth, the Valar left and created a safe and pure haven for themselves, called Valinor, where all was light and peace. Once they heard that the Elves had made an appearance on Middle Earth, the Valar summoned them to Valinor, so they could live in an uncorrupted and safe haven. Some of the elves came, and some didn't. There are about three elf divisions which tangled me up the first time I tried to understand them, but have patience and you'll get the hang of them. Suffice it to say for the purpose of this review that the Noldor elves made it to Valinor. And Melkor hated the Elves in Valinor with a deadly hate.

Now Feanor, one of the Noldor elves, took the blended light of the Trees of Valinor and made three great gems, called the Silmarils. Through the wickedness of Melkor the original trees were destroyed: and the Silmarils contained all that was left of the light of the Trees of Valinor. Precious relics indeed--the cause of the bloodshed of thousands and the sins of many, and tears to fill the entire River Sirion and beyond.

After Melkor destroyed the trees, he sent his servants to breathe lies about the Valar in the ears of the Noldor elves. And many of the elves believed him. But after he had done his work, he slayed the house of Feanor while its master was away, and took the precious Silmarils for his own, and fled to his stronghold in Middle Earth. The Noldor rose up in a great passion, demanding to return to Middle Earth, and laying a great curse upon themselves by Eru Illuvatar to pursue anyone who held a Silmaril, the bliss and beauty of the Valar. Come war and tears and heartbreak, come treachery and absolute corruption: it mattered not. They would carry through their oath.

They sold their entire future for the possession of the Silmarils. And this story is how that curse passed from one generation to the next; how the elves came to slay even their own kin in their rage, and how the Valar utterly forsook them in their wickedness.

But in spite of the Noldor's wickedness and Melkor's corruption, and the grief of their curse, surprising glory and redemption rise from the heart-wrenching pages of Tolkein's epic work. And of course, the Silmarils could not be left in the grip of Melkor forever.

Now we get into a slight difficulty regarding spoilers and all that, but I have endeavored not to give any, and I don't think I will. The Silmarillion has one over-arching struggle wrapped up in a bunch of individual plots, so that unless I were to tell you the fate of each elf-lord, or what became of the Silmarils themselves, I couldn't really give huge plot endings. The index is much worse as far as that goes. I would forget who a person was and look them up in the back, only to read the end of their story when I wasn't finished with it yet. Grr. But back to Akallabeth.

When Men came into Ea, the world of Illuvatar's creation, Melkor sent messengers among them to corrupt them, and many were turned aside to wickedness. But some were drawn ever westward towards the Valar, and they journeyed long and hard until they came to the coast of Beleriand. These faithful men were called the Edain, and they set sail to follow the Star of Eaerendil in the sky, hoping to find Valinor. Due to their faithfulness, a rich isle was given them, neither a part of Middle Earth, nor a part of the Valar's land, but an isle in the sea called Andor. The Edian dwelt there, growing in riches and beauty and wisdom, often returning to Middle Earth to trade goods and teach the people there. And they brought much healing to Belariand. The elves called these men Dunedain, and it is from these people that Aragorn son of Arathorn comes from. The Edain had only one restriction from the Valar: they could never sail east out of sight of their island. West they were free to go, but East was barred to them. And like all men, and indeed, practically everybody in the Sil, they rebelled after a time, giving themselves over to the cunning counsels of Melkor's lieutenant Sauron. The Valar forsook the Dunedain, and their wickedness grew apace, until it was so large that it could no longer be ignored. The rest of the tragic history and redemption of the Dunedain I leave you to discover for yourselves.

Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age
This last section is background information to the Lord of the Rings: the founding of Osgiliath, the forging of the Rings, the origin of the Wizards and the Nazgul and all that lovely stuff is found here. But IF you haven't read LOTR, please don't read this section in the Sil until you have. It has fearful spoilers, and you'll do quite fine reading the books without knowing this until after.

The Book as a Whole
The Silmarillion is not a volume to be read for sheer idle entertainment. It is a book to be approached seriously. A book not only to be read, but also to be studied and savored. Do not, I beg of you, rush through without proper attention to following the maps. That's like reading the Bible without knowing where everything is. Not that I'm comparing Sil to the Bible, mind, merely attempting to draw a parallel. For one chapter I was referring to the map about every four words, but by the end I could read a few paragraphs and remember where everything was placed. You'll be glad you did it. The lush valleys and rocky crags, the River Sirion and Forest of Brethil, the dark Nan Elmoth and legendary Firth of Drengist bring the legends alive when proper care is paid to their location.

Besides, here's proof that maps are enjoyable:

Take it from the word of a person who can only get you to the nearest shopping center by landmarks, this is a map worth loving, whether you're a person geographically inclined or not. Cherish it, put sticky notes on it, and don't leave it in the van. You'll be wandering lost in Belariand until it can be reclaimed.

I must close now, before I have given my thoughts or favorite characters, impressions and evaluations of this stunning legend. That's all going to be on Friday, friends and fellow bibliophiles, in Part Two of The Silmarillion. It deserves to be taken time over. :)

And don't forget that according to all accounts, the Desolation of Smaug trailer releases today at 1:00pm EST in front of Man of Steel. :) It's going to be exciting, folks!

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, June 7, 2013

Bibliophiles and Accountability

I was noodling over what to post about yesterday afternoon, and almost decided to pull out another pioneer book and make a theme week of it. But just before I sat down and started to outline, another thought occurred to me which I think is not only more fruitful, but a significant need in reading circles.

That, as the title suggests, is accountability.

We need to step up a little and make this a more concerted focus as we exchange titles and worldviews, likes and dislikes. For in our tolerance-saturated society, the idea of relevant truth has leeched not only into mainstream churches, but into homeschool circles as well. So in today's post, I would like to prayerfully consider the idea of explaining what accountability really is.

Why Accountability is Needed
You all know what this is like; in fact (though I sincerely hope not) you may have come across the problem here: what do you do when one of your fellow bibliophiles is reading a book that just isn't good? What do you say?

Most of us would argue that it's none of our business. It's her life, his reading diet, her own personal relationship with the Lord, and who are we to interfere? But this attitude has never been so wrong, and for lack of young people willing to graciously step up and challenge their peers, we are suffering a landslide of compromise. We are not placed on this earth to be independent units, accountable only to ourselves: we are the body of Christ; the universal Church, and we need to seek to be more like our Lord who has only one truth and one way. That means sometimes lovingly reigning in those who are straying from that way.

Today, I would like all of us to walk away with an understanding of what accountability is, and why we desperately need to exercise it with each other.

The Meaning of Accountability

Not Gossip
The conservative church can on occasion be a pretty interesting mixture of legalism and diffidence. We're not always intentionally so, but in our  fire to be pure, the more reformed of us can stray into legalism--putting grace by works far ahead of grace through Christ. As soon as one of the community strays from the straight and narrow, you'd better believe we've noticed it, and we're properly shocked and outraged.

Now granted, we tell our problem to everyone except the sinner himself, but that's beside the point, isn't it? Or is it?

There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers. --Ephesians 4:25

It's wrong to sit around the dinner table and discuss someone else's sins without going to them and appealing to them. In saying this, I'm not referring to parents pointing out wrong behavior for their children to avoid, nor am I referring to general conversation about the wickedness of others. But when you sit down and say, "You know, I was reading this blog today, and this girl seems to be a Christian from all appearances, but she's into reading some really wrong books. I was surprised."

How does that help the girl who's sinning? She may not even realize that what she's reading is wrong, and God may have placed it on your heart for the purpose of turning her away from the destructive philosophies she's walking towards. Instead, it would be better to tell your family "I'm concerned about the choices so-and-so is making in her reading diet. How do you think I can lovingly share this with her to try to help?"

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. --Galatians 6:1-2
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. --Ephesians 4:25

True Constructive Criticism

"Boy, am I ever going to show them the light. When we have a come to Jesus meeting, they are going to see the truth, or regret it the rest of their living days."

Not quite.

Yes, my friends, we must be boiling in Spirit for the authority of God's Word, and staunch defenders, unswayed by opposition or heckling or doubt. But when we go about proving Scriptural authority with fists and harsh words, we're only bruising souls. Clean, crisp words are needed. Sometimes even stern words are needed, or stinging rebukes to those who are unrepentant. Not harsh words.

Constructive criticism requires two steps: opening someone's eyes, and touching their heart. First ask, "So I'm curious: what's your purpose in reading this book?" If they give you a clear-cut biblical reason, then you're good and so are they. But if not, then it's time to dig a little deeper. Ask them what God's purpose is for reading, and wise time usage. Challenge them that they are bought with a price, and to be about the business of their Master, not lightly, but reverently and soberly. If it comes down to it, show them where the book does not align with Scripture and warn them of it's effects.

The people you're concerned about will respond in one of three ways: either their heart is right, but their reading choices need a little guidance; or both their reading choices and their heart attitude are well-grounded and pleasing to the Lord; or their heart is unrepentant, and they are showing by their reading choices that they are reading unto themselves.

 Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.
--Proverbs 27:17
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
--James 5:19-20
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
 --Hebrews 3:12-13
Whoever says to the wicked, “You are in the right,” will be cursed by peoples, abhorred by nations, but those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them. --Proverbs 24:24-25
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
--1 Thessalonians 5:11

How This All Applies

The purpose of fellowship, even in the matter of reading, is to point each other closer to the Lord and His ways. We need a people and a community who are willing to do the hard and dirty work of challenging on occasion when one of the body of Christ is going astray. Sure, it's hard, and yes, it is uncomfortable. But God gives grace and love, and He will bless our obedience, and our concern for those around us.

Some people say "It's not my place;" but if we are part of the body of Christ, and we are following appropriate guidelines for challenging (in the case of peers) or appealing (in the case of those older than us) then we are fulfilling an important commission that God asks every child of Him to fulfill.

We are one Body, and one Blood. Let's have each other's backs, and guard each other's souls.

I challenge you to challenge me. I read Tolkien; you don't. Ask me why. I read Jane Austen; you don't. Ask me why. I don't read the Hunger Games; you do. Ask me why. Because I need accountability just like everyone else, and it gives me a chance to present an answer for the hope that I have. No matter if you know me well, or not at all, my choices are just as impactful on you as they are on me.

So ask. Ask me, ask others around you. Ask your parents why they have set the standards they have; you need to be able to own your family convictions, not just abide by them. Don't sit around the dinner table and complain that someone you know really dropped the ball. Go talk to them.  Lovingly and graciously explain your concern, and ask them to explain their viewpoint. Either you will come to a deeper understanding of the purity of their motivations, or you just may be the means of opening their eyes to an area of their life that needs cleansing.
But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit,  keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.
 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
--Jude 20-25

We're fellow bibliophiles. Let's seek the Lord together. :)

Lady Bibliophile
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