Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Review: 'The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara' by Terry Brooks

On re-reading this trilogy, which consists of Ilse Witch, Antrax and Morgawr, I was struck by the way in which it used all the classic tools of fantasy to brutally demolish the importance of those tools for both characters and authors. Ancient magic, destiny, heroic quests, monsters, scheming villains and grand battles all appear in the trilogy - but lead nowhere. At every point the narrative hinges on the personality, history and choices of the characters, and the victories won by the heroes are in the choices they make.

As a Standard Fantasy Trilogy (tm), Jerle Shannara is decent fun. At times it's a little predictable and Brooks enjoys chapter cliffhangers and 'haha the omniscient narrator will not tell you this thing so that it will be a surprise later' a bit too much, but the characters are interesting and work well together. Brooks spreads around the trauma and death but always in a way that develops the characters and their individual arcs. This trilogy isn't revolutionary. But it is a solid piece of writing and you could do much worse for your fantasy reading.

Review: Churchill's ' The Second World War' Vol. I 'The Gathering Storm'

This volume has no key point or argument, but concerns itself with explaining the military and political landscape which will be the site of War as soon as the reader opens volume two. It ranges over European politics and diplomacy from the Treaty of Versailles to the beginning of the Second World War without attempting brisk overviews or detailed dissections of those issues upon which it touches.

Churchill never writes as if impartial or detached from his subject matter, always maintaining a personal voice and perspective. His understanding of those years is not the result of systematic inquiry or debate but the result of personal experience; his observations flow from his experience quite naturally, though at times diverted or enlarged by later events and understanding. The quotation of his contemporary speeches and thematic snippets of poetry give a powerful impression of the author's mood and draw the reader deeper into his confidence and perspective.

The focus is placed not upon general trends or forces but the events and actions of individuals which demonstrate or resist those trends. It is a work about people, many of whom Churchill knew personally, and how their actions produced other actions in a series of steps towards conflict which Churchill presents as chaotic but always explicable. Churchill's railings against British policy of the time, mentioned quite calmly in the work, seep through in his general approach: if my understanding now and then is so congruent, it cries, how could it ever have been unclear to the governments of the time? Though Churchill understands the motivations of the actors in this phase he remains perplexed by their reasoning. He does not rant or apportion blame but leaves the unanswerable questions to dog the reader as they turn the last page.

The volume is unmistakably the first part of one larger work, but might be read on its own to give background to twentieth century European politics, or as a case study in the interplay between domestic and international polities, or as an account of the collapse of the League of Nations from a British point of view. Written by a man who lived and led in those years, it does not shy away from equal measures of conclusive statements and suspensions of judgement. Challenging, grand and warmly personal, the first volume of Churchill's The Second World War is an impressive work of history.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Daily Devotion #001

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:9-13)

And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls. (Joel 2:30-32)

Both of these passages refer to our salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and both of them make it clear that this was always God's plan. John calls back to the creation of the universe through Jesus and highlights how amazing was Jesus' incarnation as a man. John then describes exactly what kind of difference Jesus has made: that all those who believe become born of God rather than of man, and are no longer in the sins of their flesh but alive in the spirit of Christ.

Joel makes clear the long-term plan behind the resurrection through the simple textual device of predating Jesus' birth by at least six centuries (though the plan is as old as the universe). All through Israel's earlier tribulations God was promising them both short-term deliverance and an eventual total salvation from sin - available to all those who believe, who 'call on the name of the LORD' and believe.

But not everyone calls and believes. From just these two slices of scripture, and from the world around us, we can see that not even most people call and believe. Salvation is being stretched out to us but so few reach for it - and only those who do will survive the punishment to come. We must always be joyful in the knowledge that Jesus' victory over death was total and entirely according to plan, and we must not forget that it is a sacrifice that demands a response. We must call and believe.

Jesus Christ, you died for my sins and rose again. I am yours.