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.
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.
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!