Friday, June 6, 2014

War Games, by Suzannah Rowntree

Suzannah Rowntree's epic new book, War Games, released a few weeks ago, and I was able to read it last week for review.

Folks, this is epic. You need to check it out.

Points I've hammered here on the blog time and time again: that fiction is important, that every author uses their story as a platform for a message, that some of the greatest teachers of Christendom were novelists--are all concepts that Suzannah believes as well, and mentions in her newest release. She writes that fiction novels are the 'war games' that great writers use to prepare their audiences for real-life battles. They're the practice sessions, the attack manuals, and the training ground to learn how to evaluate worldviews before you encounter them in real-life conversations.

If you're wondering what the point of fiction is, or how to figure out the message of a story, or which worthwhile book to read next, War Games: Classic Fiction for the Christian Life will equip you to discern for yourself. This book is a breath of fresh air, and offers great encouragement to Christian bibliophiles.

The Book
Eighteen classics, eighteen 'war games'. Suzannah took her favorite most influential novels and put them under the microscope one by one, looking at just what the authors tried to teach through their stories. From Njal's Saga to the Taming of the Shrew, from Jane Austen's Mansfield Park to John Buchan's The Dancing Floor--culminating in a grand look at Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy, her selections should offer something for everyone--whether you're a fan of British society novels, or rich allegorical tales. Each chapter gives a short vignette of the author, a synopsis of the author's vision for their work, and a detailing of the main themes, along with recommended resources for further reading. The novels are presented in chronological order, and end just after WW2.

If you struggle with picking out hidden themes like I do, War Games will explain and clarify a lot of the novels you've been enjoying. Exactly what the characters represent, some of the problems the authors saw in their society, and how these novels apply to our world today. Suzannah writes with humor, wisdom, and a passionate love for each of the novels she explores. War Games is an engaging and thought-provoking book about some of the greatest literary weapons in Christendom.

My Thoughts
This book expects the reader to join in with the work of discernment. After all, Suzannah says, even good books can do damage with mindless reading. Part of this book's purpose is to show readers that thinking is possible in the first place.

While every chapter gives food for thought, I learned the most from two in particular. The first was Mansfield Park. I knew Jane Austen had nice books; I had heard logical arguments that she was a Christian, and agreed with them--but this book showed that her novels were not merely idle tales of young women seeking husbands, but carefully crafted evaluations of Austen's society. Suzannah explains the different words that Austen used for Christian terminology, and how that translates to our terms today. I was stunned by the richness and depth of the characters, seeing many things that I had never noticed before. Mansfield Park has always been my favorite novel, tied with Northanger Abbey--and now I know why. :)

The second favorite section I found was towards the end, on C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy, specifically the chapter on Perelandra. I was surprised at this; I didn't expect the Space Trilogy to particularly grab my interest. But after reading about Lewis's theme of pleasure in the novel--how he wrote Perelandra in part to show that taking deep delight in things is a good part of the Christian life--I want to read further. I've always had the idea that one must be passionate about work, but hold pleasure at arms-length so as not to idolize it. And true, pleasure can be used for lustful passions or wrong self-gratification. But at the same time, there is a biblical kind of deep, satisfying, God-glorifying pleasure that Christians can and should take delight in.

Suzannah and I do differ on the proper interpretation of Bleak House. (She thinks Dickens fell pray to the trap of believing that men were inherently good and later corrupted by outward circumstances; I think he had a much more redeeming and dominion-minded mindset.) That's a small part of the book, however, and on the whole I agree with and applaud her other interpretations. There were a couple of other sections I had a hard time grasping. Some of the imagery in the Man of Notting Hill, as well as the section explaining Bilbo and the Arkenstone in The Hobbit, are probably themes where I would need extra explanation to understand completely.

War Games inspired me to pick up several books Suzannah talked about: Mansfield Park is one I want to re-read this year, especially as we mark its 200th anniversary of publication. John Buchan's The Dancing Floor is another I would like to finish; I started it years ago and it sounds like a grand read. And finally, I would like to get out C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy and see if I can find some of the themes she mentions.

This book is a mature look at fiction, and will encourage bibliophiles to reach for greater heights of thinking as they read. As Suzannah says, "Christians have been robbed of some of their greatest weapons by their willingness to believe that story is message-free and purposeless. But all stories have a message." She also warns her readers why discernment is so important:

At the beginning of this book I explained that the right stories are war games for the Christian life. They teach us what the Christian life looks like, and prime us on how to react in this, or that, or the other scenario. There is a dark side to this power. Beware of the wrong stories. Beware of the stories that will prime you for rebellion and contempt of righteous authority.--Chapter 18

Fiction is a powerful tool we can use to advance the Kingdom of God. War Games gives fresh insight into how authors used that tool in the past, as well as encouraging readers to continue using it today. The war of the worldviews is a very real and very present one in all aspects of life. And while intellectual non-fiction shapes the minds of our day, fiction goes past the gate of the mind to shape the heart. It is vital that we are able to understand the books we read so that our hearts are shaped in the right way. War Games will help show you how to gain that evaluating mindset.

Where to Buy
You can find this book for $3.99 on Kindle at Amazon, or for $3.99 in several other e-formats at Smashwords. If you would like a print copy, War Games is available in softcover at CreateSpace for $10.99. It's well worth investing in. :)

Also, check out Suzannah's excellent blog, In Which I Read Vintage Novels, for more book reviews. She has a Homeschool Authors Feature Week coming up, which I for one am really looking forward to!

Lady Bibliophile


  1. This looks excellent!! :D I'm glad you were able to read it! I'd be interested in reading what she says about Jane Austen...Having read "Mansfield Park" recently, it'd be really good. :)
    And your point on how she brought up that literary fiction is a "war game" and every author has a worldview behind their books. Yeah. Epicness.

    :D :D

    Congratulations, Suzannah, for another book publication!


    1. Thanks, Carrie-Grace! I hope you enjoy reading my book. And Schuyler, thanks for the rave review! I feel so honoured that you enjoyed it.

    2. You can borrow it from me sister! I would love to discuss the Mansfield Park chapter with you. :) <3 In fact, you reading it inspired me to read it again!

  2. I talked you into the Cosmic/Space Trilogy? Eeeeeexcellent.

    1. You did indeed! And I must say, I wasn't expecting that, but now I want to pick it up and give it a try. Thanks so much for making this review possible! The raving was all honest-to-goodness thrill, I do assure you. :)

  3. That sure sounds like a great book, Schuyler! I have recently followed Suzannah's blog and found it really fascinating and deep! This book looks great, with the things you and I both agree on in the purpose of fiction and faith, and I should like to read it sometime.

    I have actually been doing a little more reading into Jane Austen lately, and I am really trying to evaluate my full thoughts on her and her works. She is not my exact cup-of-tea, but then I do enjoy her stories too. . . (mostly because of the wonderfulness of BBC's movie adaptions ;). Growing up, I imagined Jane Austen to be a typical "lovey-dovey" romance writer, who focused a great deal on vain balls and emotional attachments. Since both reading and watching some of her novels, I have, of course, come away realizing that is not at all her trademark! Indeed, I do like the fact that generally, Austen doesn't wallow in romance in the way modern authors do constantly. She is very rational, and perceptive in her view of life and relationships and society. Also her characters are so in-depth and interesting, and it is fascinating to see how accurate she is about human dealings, especially in the marriage and courtship sector. What keeps me from really enjoying her works so much is that I often feel that her perspective is on the opposite spectrum, - actually too dry-cut, cynical of love and hope and emotions. She has an almost "worldly wise" attitude, analyzing character based on social virtues and vices, and not very much on the heart and inner flaws/virtues, the inward changings and workings of the heart. What sometimes ticks me off about Austen's stories is there is a sort of pride or vanity in being clever, good, and just - those who have none of those, are generally scorned. I know, that in many ways was the general feelings held by folk of gentry in that era, but somehow I am always much more inspired and moved by Charlotte Bronte's writings, or Elizabeth Gaskall and Dickens. I wonder why that is so? However, I love some of her characters - Mr. Knightley is one of my favourite fictional heroes :D.

    Ohh, I so want you to read C. S. Lewis' Space Trilogy. That is one set of books that I totally loved. It was definitely different, and I often would roll my eyes at the craziness of the plot and scientific-elements. But I drew so many beautiful things out of the series, especially the last two books that were just amazing and totally gripping. I think Perelandra was my favourite for the beauty of themes and the heart of the story, and That Hideous Strength was the most interesting and captivating in the sense of story-telling and characters. Out of the Silent Planet was the quickest and easiest read, however, and probably most "science-fiction" of the three. Ah, yes, I highly commend this series ^_^.

    1. I think you would really like War Games, Joy, especially as you read more and more classics. :)

      I definitely see where you're coming from about Jane Austen. While I liked her more than you did at first, and have read her since I was a wee thing, I didn't know just how much value she had until recently. Austen wanted to encourage her readers to be intelligent young women--perhaps some of her books seem a little abrasive because she's rebuking girls like Kitty and Lydia, who waste their time on crushes and silly activities, and holding up a higher standard to follow. While she often makes fun of silly and mindless dating/fantasizing, she is very gentle towards girls like Catherine Morland for instance, who have a lot of maturing to do, but also have a lot of potential. Try Northanger Abbey, and see what you think of that one--you might like it better!

      Wow--you've read C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy?! I did not know that; and now that you like the books I'm intrigued even further. Perelandra was my favorite review, so I'm thinking that might be my favorite book too. :) We'll have to see. I own Out of the Silent Planet, and my mom has the rest, so they are waiting in the to-read queue. :)

      Thanks for stopping by!



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