Friday, June 27, 2014

The Rosary

Back with another book review today, folks!

When I first picked up Florence Barclay's novel The Rosary from the library, everyone who saw me reading it asked if it was Catholic. :) A legitimate question, and one I've addressed in a past article. But no, not this time. The characters are Protestants (or Episcopalian. Which is slightly different.) And the Rosary refers to an old song one of the characters sings.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. That's part of the plot.

The Book
Jane Champion and Garth Dalmain meet up pretty often in their various social circles, and they're quite good friends. Jane is friends with most of the young men who make the rounds of the big estates; she's a sensible woman who turns a deaf eye to their more innocent scrapes, and offers them wise counsel and warm friendship. Considered as "one of the fellows", she never thinks of Dal as anything out of the ordinary until The Rosary.

Jane's aunt likes to hold musical events to showcase local talent, ending the evening up with a professional performer so she can snicker about the vast difference in ability afterwards. Jane doesn't particularly like these evenings, but her aunt means no real harm, and when the great singer Madame Velma calls in sick, Jane volunteers for her aunt's sake to sing the song Velma planned to enchant the audience with: The Rosary. And enchant them Jane does.

The hours I spent with thee, dear heart,
Are as a string of pearls to me;
I count them over, ev'ry one apart,
My rosary; my rosary.

Each hour a pearl, each pearl a prayer,
To still a heart in absence wrung;
I tell each bead unto the end, and there--
A cross is hung!

O memories that bless and burn!
O barren gain and bitter loss!
I kiss each bead, and strive at last to learn
To kiss the cross,...to kiss the cross.


After Jane sings the song, an even warmer friendship springs up between her and Garth, and it isn't long before Garth proposes to her. He tells her she is his wife, as sacred as if they were married, and they are designed for each other. Jane loves him; but thinking that her practical personality and plain face is completely opposite from the pretty woman Garth should have, she tells him she cannot marry a mere boy and sends him a way.

Three years later Jane deeply regrets her decision, and sees Garth's love for her in a new light. But after changing her mind, and determining to write to him to see if he will take her back, she hears that Garth is permanently blind from a hunting accident and her simple resolution becomes a deal more complicated.

Jane confides in her friend Sir Dereck Brand, a nerve specialist, and he tells her that as a man, Garth will never accept her back crippled when he couldn't satisfy her whole. So with Sir Dereck's help, Jane crafts a plan to win back Garth's respect, and both she and Garth learn to kiss the cross at the end of their rosaries.

My Thoughts
The characters in this book are particularly well-drawn. Instead of being like Jane Eyre and St. Elmo, in which you have one mostly good woman and one mostly bad man, the Rosary contains two people who are sanctified and mature in their Christian walk--yet who both made mistakes. While Jane Eyre takes the top position among the three, The Rosary is even better written then St. Elmo, and a little more realistic as far as characterization goes.

One element I loved about this book was the friendships between men and women. Friendships with the opposite gender can lead to great dominion conversation and iron sharpening iron, and Jane and Garth, as well as Jane and Derick, constantly illustrate that. Jane and Garth discuss marriage partners for him at the beginning of the book with all the common-sense innocence of brother and sister, and Jane trusts the happily married Dereck with very personal problems that she needs a man's help to fix. In both cases, they keep appropriate boundaries and treat each other with chivalry and respect.

Jane thinks Garth uses profanity once, and says "Hush, I never like to hear that name spoken lightly, Dal." Garth replies, "Spoken lightly! No speaking lightly would be possible for me tonight. 'Every good and perfect gift is from above.' When words fail me to speak of the gift, can you wonder if I apostrophize the Giver?" While that sentiment is all very fine, and quite nice and poetic, I couldn't help but think that Garth didn't always apostrophize the Giver as reverently as he did then, and there were quite a few uses of God's name that didn't seem to be meant as prayers. But I don't know; he's a Christian laddie, and I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I would have appreciated if Florence Barclay could have clarified what Garth meant by his constant use of the Lord's name.

I picked up this book several years ago (yes, around the same time as High Fences; go figure.) and got stuck at the beginning. Determining to finish it, I picked it up again this month, and started merrily on my way, only to get stuck in the exact same place.  That surprised me; the characters are well written. I didn't dislike any of them. But if one gets stuck twice there must be something wrong somewhere, though I could never pinpoint exactly what. The Rosary, in spite of not being a particularly deep novel (though deeper than High Fences) requires dedication to finish. You must be committed to journeying with the characters, because it won't keep you on the edge of your seat, and it's not a novel of high action. If anything, it's what writers call a 'feminine' plot--not one of a tangible goal, but one of inner character growth.

 One reason why I would particularly recommend this book is for its inclusion of Christian characters. Barclay's hero and heroine are a great example of how characters can be openly, clearly, unapologetically Christian. Their Christianity, belief in God, and constant resort to prayer holds a pretty prominent place in every chapter, but it never feels contrived or burdensome. It's beautiful, artistically written, and a refreshing example of good Christian literature.

Well, that's all for today, fellow bibliophiles, but before I go, Suzannah Rowntree is getting ready to launch an EXCITING week of Homeschool Authors on her blog, Vintage Novels. Keep an eye out, and join in the conversation! It's going to be epic. :)

Blessings,
Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

How Could A Loving God?

The question of  how to handle suffering sooner or later rears its head among dedicated Christians. Indeed, not just Christians, but non-Christians as well, for pain is the great leveler of age, nationality, religion, and language. Built within us all is the understanding that suffering isn't right. Pain isn't normal. Brokenness isn't the way things should be.

Our responses to mental and physical pain vary. Atheists use pain as one of their biggest reasons to reject God--like Charles Darwin, who walked away from the faith after his young daughter died. Christians cling to God instinctively, knowing that somehow all the pieces fit together, but deep inside doubt tears at them. If God has made me clean in Christ, why do I still suffer? Is He punishing me? Does He care?

Whether our suffering is caused by our own actions or comes from something completely out of our control, none of us like the discomfort it inflicts. I've been thinking about this subject a lot lately, both in my own life and in watching the trials of others around me. And I just read a book that I'd really like to share with all of you today, one that sharpened and clarified my perspective: How Could a Loving God? by Ken Ham.

The Book
Written both for those who are in the middle of suffering, and those who wish to support others going through grief, How Could a Loving God? takes the reader on a theological overview of the cause of heartache. Ken helps the reader first of all change the question from "How could a loving God allow death and suffering?" to "How do you explain death and suffering in a world where an all-powerful, loving, and just God exists?" The word change is simple, but the ideological change is profound. One question throws doubt on God's sovereignty. The other acknowledges God is sovereign, and that it's us who don't understand.

Then Ken talks us back to look at the big picture--how sin came into the world through us, not through God. And how, even though we marred his creation, God through His amazing work brings about redemption through our pain.

This book isn't a collection of cliché, warmed-over comfort. While Ken explores the effects of the Fall, the work of Christ on the cross, and our hope in ultimate restoration, he admits that he, too, has to accept some of this through faith and submission, and not through complete understanding. He's walked the road he's preaching, for intertwined through his teaching he gives us the story of his brother Robert, a faithful preacher of the Word who died at a young age from a horribly debilitating brain disease.

I soaked in the teachings of this book this last Sunday afternoon. Praying, exploring Scriptures, underlining things God showed me--taking the time to meditate on Him and His grace. I found this book a comforting balance of appeal to reason and call to faith. And if you're struggling to understand why God is allowing a certain trial in your life, you might find it comforting, too.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. ~1 Peter 1:6-7

My Thoughts
As I read this book, God used it to recalibrate a lot of my thinking. Just for the record, I'm a person who has a pretty low physical pain tolerance--if something's hurting, I find the ibuprofen so it stops and I can get on with life. With mental pain I can go a lot longer and tough it out--but even if I can bear it, I don't like it. But through this book I learned some new things, and was reminded of some principles that I had forgotten.

1. Pain is normal.
When I have a headache or a cold, or a migraine--when my expectations are disappointed, and my hopes aren't fulfilled--I always tend to think of the hurt as abnormal. But Ken Ham points out in this book that our perspective is completely backwards:

In Eden our expectations could have been different. But now, outside the Garden, the consequences of sin dictate our destiny. While our unavoidable confrontation with illness and death will still pierce our hearts with grief, they should not come as a shock. As Peter counseled the first generation of Christians, "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you..." (1 Peter 4:12).
Yes, illness and death is the norm in the post-Fall era of human history, and we should not expect otherwise. ~Chapter 4
We're not in heaven, yet, folks. That's coming. But right now, we're still in this sin-cursed world, we're none of us undeserving of consequences, and we all deal with the effects of sin.

2. We share in the sufferings of Christ.
One quote on page 99 of Ken Ham's books really startled me: "He has allowed us to live--while at the same time giving us a taste of what life is like without God." And I thought Why in the world would God want us to taste that if He's forgiven us of our sins?

Had to think about that one for a moment. And then, when it came down to it, I had to admit that sometimes I like to think of God's grace as a free pass from the consequences of my wrongdoing. But God doesn't allow us to taste in the glory without tasting in the suffering. He doesn't want to give us empty grace, cocooning us from the knowledge of what He freed us from. We can't be like Christ--we can't appreciate His redemption--without knowing what He endured to save us from suffering the anguish He suffered. What amazing grace that God would take our pain, and instead of making us somehow 'make up for' our own wrongdoing, make it instead so that we share in the sufferings of our Lord. Turning it from punishment to privilege. Christ had to undergo great pain for our sakes, and should we not taste of the cup that Jesus drank from?

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.
~2 Corinthians 1:3-4

3. God is God.
When it comes down to it, God is God. He is sovereign. He works all things together for our good. And like Jesus, sometimes we kneel and plead that He might take the cup away from us. But we must kneel before him, and hold open hands for whatever He chooses to send, and give thanks. Through our light and momentary affliction, God works an eternal weight of glory, an everlasting, soul-satisfying, deeply healing triumph. He comfort us; He gives us grace; through our weakness He makes us strong; and He does not see our tears without weeping with us and sharing in our grief.

How gracious--that He would take the very things we broke and turn them back so that we, through the pain we marred His world with, might glorify Him. Think about that for a moment--the consequences of our rebellion become the very instruments He uses to make us like Him.

Only a loving God could do something that amazing. 

The best thing about today's review? You can read How Could a Loving God? for free on the AiG website. (Scroll down past the purchasing info for free links to each chapter.) While I highly recommend purchasing your own physical copy as well, and hope to purchase my own eventually, this is a great way to get a taste of the book.

Suffering is a normal part of life, whether it's a car that keeps breaking down, or a broken relationship that puts up a barrier between two hearts, or a little sister with mysterious seizures, or an adult brother with a debilitating mental disease. We can't realistically expect to go our whole lives without suffering on every level, for that is what we brought into the world through sin, and until this world is made new, that's the reality we must face.

But the grace of it all is that through our suffering, Christ takes us and pours us into the crucible of His love, that we might come forth as gold refined. He does not leave us in the futility of our brokenness. He sees our tears, and uses them to draw us closer to Him. And if we bow the knee in surrender, receiving everything He chooses fit to send us with thankful hearts, then we shall see in part the goodness of His working, until he takes us up to glory. Then we shall see fully, as all pain and grief are wiped away for the eternity of praise.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. ~Romans 8:18
 
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. ~2 Corinthians 4:17

Blessings,
Lady Bibliophile

Friday, June 20, 2014

Fullness of Joy Birthday Tag


Hello, friends and fellow bibliophiles! Fullness of Joy is celebrating it's third blogoversary this week, and as part of the fun, Joy is writing a variety of tags for other bloggers to join in! I always love answering a good tag, and today's theme is Historical Classics.

Be sure to drop by Joy's blog, where she's having a giveaway to celebrate her party!

1. Tell us  a little bit about yourself, your tastes, and the little hobbies and things that your readers probably don't know about you!



Hmm, let me see what I can think of that's fresh and new. (Besides the usual homeschool graduate, writer, ministry leader, etc.) I am on Pinterest, where I flatter myself I can keep up with the best of 'em as far as LOTR screencaps and funny comics go. Lately I've been listening to Andrew Peterson, Jackie Evancho, and Eric Nordhoff's instrumental meditation music. (Yes, I am a trend-follower. It makes me sad, but there you have it.) I love old books, good friends, and Irish breakfast tea. The last named item is like drinking liquid Ireland. When I'm together with you, I will probably try to make you laugh often, but underneath I'm a pretty serious person. I write WWI historical fiction, and wear my character-themed bracelets almost every day. I am an introvert. Thus why I blog--Blogger is the Worldwide Introvert Feelings Outlet. I love pockets in things. I'm holding strong on my 2014 resolutions to wear make-up every Sunday, read 52 books, and keep a 1,000 gifts list. I've memorized six chapters of the Bible since January.

2. Books! We really do love them. . . but we all have preferences of what kind of books we love best. What is your favourite genre to read from (and to write in, if you happen to be a writer too)? Could you tell us why?
Genre? To be honest, my favorites in the historical genre are gut-wrenching journey stories with a dash of social justice thrown in. Personally, I most love books that are 'historical' now, but were present day to the author at the time.
As far as writing, I'm currently writing historical fiction--a big, involved story with most of my favorite plot and character elements. But I also have a light and satirical modern fiction going as well. I prefer to write in a wide variety of genres and time periods.

3. Are you fond of classic literature or do you generally find them too "dry" and hard-going for your tastes? Alternately, how much of your reading diet consists of books written by authors of the 21st century? Are you more fond of the old books or the new. . . or maybe a little bit of both?
Oh, very fond of classics. What bibliophile wouldn't be? They take dedication, true, but they are much more rewarding to accomplish.
As far as fiction goes, I read mostly 1930s or earlier, but with nonfiction I've never read most old classics, and my nonfiction diet consists of books written in the 1990s to present day.

4. What is your favourite historical time period and setting? How did you come to be especially interested in it? Would you be happy to live in that time-period or era? 
The French Revolution has always been a favorite of mine, and I love being able to talk about the Sans-cullotes, Robespierre, and the goddess of reason with some small degree of knowledge. Being American, the American Revolution is also near and dear to my heart, and I've studied quite a bit about that. Being Irish/Scottish, I love the Irish revolt for Independence in the early/mid 1900s, and the Scottish fight under Bonnie Prince Charlie. And being a writer, I've hung out in WWI for quite a few years now, so that time period and I are old friends, though I don't claim to be an expert. But as I don't wish to be guillotined, shot in the streets, or live out on the Scottish Highlands, I think the only one of those I would possibly like to live in is WWI. It would be so convenient for writing atmosphere, you know.

5.. List three of your favourite classic authors (authors from the 1500s and up to the very early 1900s such as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, the Bronte sisters, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain etc. . . )? What makes you love them so much?
Oh boy. Dickens; he's a given. Robert Louis Stevenson I also highly enjoy, what with The Black Arrow and Kidnapped. And perhaps as far as classics go, I would choose Jules Verne as highly enjoyable. Especially his lesser-known works, such as Mathias Sandorf and The Mysterious Island.

6. What type of "Historical classic" is your favourite: Adventure and exploration, romance, mystery, social, memoir, or political?
When it comes down to it, I would probably have to choose social, followed very closely by adventure and exploration. A&E is fun, but social goes deep into thought processes and character development, and it also moves me more. I like to be moved deeply by the books I read.

7. Share some of your most well-loved heroines from historical novels in literature, and why you love them so much! What virtues/traits in them would you like to attain yourself? 
I just did that recently, so will link to my post here.

8. Who are your favourite heroes from historical literature? (You may share up to five). What makes them stand out among the rest as special?
Malcolm MacPhail
Mr. Knightley
Henry Tilney
John Thornton

They're all gentlemen, treat ladies respectfully, have thoughtful opinions, and are kind to those beneath them. Tilney has the added benefit of knowing how to make people laugh and being a master of satire, and Malcolm MacPhail is Scottish (what better can you get?).

9.  List your favourite "classic" novels. . . (as this is a painful question, you may list more than one!)
Great Expectations (Dickens), Mansfield Park (Austen), Northanger Abbey (Austen), The Hidden Hand (Southworth), Kidnapped (Stevenson), The Brethren (Haggard), The Way We Live Now (Trollope). There are more, but those are off the top of my head.

10. Which period-drama movies, (adaptions from historical classic works of fiction), fall under your favourite pile? Do you prefer the more modern adaptions or the old ones? Faithful renditions, or the more exciting ones?
Little Dorrit (Please, please watch the new one. Derek Jacobi just isn't Arthur Clennam)
2007 Emma
1980s Great Expectations
North and South
Wives and Daughters
I actually like adaptations from several decades. While the 1980s Pride and Prejudice is like watching paint dry, the 1980s Great Expectations is a work of art as far as adapting Dickens goes. What I look for is excellent casting and TRUE TO THE BOOK. (Ahem. Excuse me.) Thus, while I do love fancy camera angles and excellent scoring, I'll settle for older technology if the actors 'live out' the story.

11. Which historical classic has inspired and influenced you the most?
That, my dears, is my secret. ;)

12. Give a list (preferably with pictures!) of your favourite period drama costumes (hats, hoops, gloves, parasols, etc) and from which movie/character they come from.

2008 Sense and Sensibility--Charity Wakefield, though her necklines were unfortunately low, had a lot of pretty fabrics for her gowns.

Mariane Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility


Emma; Bottom left. (and I love the jacket, too, but I couldn't find it.)

Marianne Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility

Emma

Margaret Hale, North and South. Love that blouse.
Barbara Spooner, Amazing Grace. Love the color. Love the style. Love the red hair. Only Ramola Garai could pull that off with class.

Jane Fairfax, Emma

 
I'm sure there are more. You know, I'm intrigued by this, and I think a fun fashions post will be in order in future. :)

13. How accurate do you think classic authors were about depicting history and accuracy of different cultures? Were they sometimes prejudiced or melodramatic in their descriptions, or do you think they often had a point to make?  
It all depends on the author; some of them were very accurate, others were not. All of them had agendas. Trollope gets his points across in a fairly mild and even-keeled way. Dickens went a little overboard on the melodrama in Oliver Twist, but most of his books are classy in the points he wants to make.

14. Think of the funniest "scene" in either a book or movie from classic literature, and share the quote/picture below (Gifs and animations allowed!)
I don't have a Gif, unfortunately, and this scene will only make sense to people who have read Great Expectations, but the scene that makes us laugh the most is when Pip comes to his hometown after he becomes a gentleman, and the local shop boy takes it upon himself to bring him down a notch.

Trabb's boy: "Don't know ya. 'Pon my soul, don't know ya. Somebody hold me."

15. Which villain of historical literature strikes the most dread and loathing in you?
Hmm, dread and loathing. Who would I not want to meet in a dark alley at night? Charles Augustus Milverton, Mr. Tulkinghorn, Compeyson, and Bill Sykes are all loathsome creatures. So is Colonel Le Noir.

On the other hand, Black Donald and Rigaud I love to hate. :)

16.  How many Charles Dickens novels have you read? Do you enthusiastically love his stories, or sob in misery over them, or worse get bored by them?
I enthusiastically love them. I preach Dickens like a fanatic to everyone I meet. Hopefully I haven't preached him to the same person twice. I have read Bleak House, Hard Times, Little Dorrit, Martin Chuzzlewit, and Great Expectations.

17. Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, or Elizabeth Gaskell?
You know--when it comes down to it I would probably choose Gaskell. I love Wives and Daughters and North and South.

18. Favourite French Revolution novel?
I think my favorite is In the Reign of Terror, by G.A. Henty. It beats out Emmunska Orczy's Eldorado by a narrow margin.

19. North and South or Pride and Prejudice? Mr. Darcy or Mr. Thornton? 
North and South. Mr. Thornton. Never got why people wanted to marry Mr. Darcy. He's a man who 'doesn't give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men'. ;) Mr. Thornton has thoughtful opinions, gentlemanly behavior, loves his mother, and cares for those beneath him. Richard Armitage does a fantastic job pulling off the introverted, strong-willed, caring man that he is in the movie.

Besides, look at this:


20. Which historical classic struck you with the most sense and depth of faith and the author's perception of morality, ethics and the Christian walk? Can you share a little bit about it?
After reading Suzannah Rowntree's War Games, I really should have a deep and ready answer for this. There are tons of classics that emphasized the author's Christianity, but unfortunately, some of the most obvious ones (such as Pilgrim's Progress) I haven't read, and for those I have read, nothing sticks out at the moment.

Infidel. Heretic. Pagan bibliophile.

You must excuse my tired brain, and please feel free to browse around at some of my book reviews on the blog for a better answer than I can give here.

21. Who is your favourite side-kick (secondary character) in literature of this genre? 
Ohhhh. Ouch. One, Joy? Really now? John Watson and Herbert Pocket. There, that was one. I speak of my knowledge of them from the books, as well as Jeremy Brett's faithful companion, and the 1980s Herbert Pocket. The more modern movie adaptations are beyond my knowledge.

And anybody who doesn't think John Watson wins out over Sherlock Holmes needs to see the light. I'm sorry, but it's quite true. Without him, Holmes's star would not have shone half so brightly. Plus, he would have been murdered by his clients out of sheer aggravation. Admit it, now. He would.

And Herbert Pocket, with his beloved "Handel, because we are so harmonious" and "Clara and Old Gruff and Grim" and "Looking about him" is the best sidekick I've ever read, hands-down.

22. List five "Historical Classics" you are especially looking forward and eager to read in the near future.
Lorna Doone--Richard Blackmore
Dombey and Son--Charles Dickens
Our Mutual Friend--Charles Dickens
The Portrait of a Lady--Henry James
The Last of the Mohicans--James Fenimore Cooper

23. What was the first historical classic novel you ever read and how did it strike you?
Oh, I don't remember. I've grown up with them, so we're practically life-long companions. Probably a Jane Austen? I was nine when I read Sense and Sensibility. But perhaps it was Treasure Island; that was around the same age.

24. What would inspire you to pick up a historical piece of literature - namely a "classic"? Do you believe it is important for our generation to get back to reading the classics? What do you believe are both the benefits, negatives and overall effects of treasuring historical stories written by authors of the past?

I am inspired by an intriguing plot, a recommendation from a good friend, the name of the author, or the knowledge a book can give me about a subject I'm interested in.

I'm all for people picking up the classics and reading them. I think the classics tend to exercise people's thought processes and reading abilities more than modern books. The Bible says time and again to remember the ancient paths, and seek out those who have gone before. While classics are not inspired by God, and are therefore fallible, we can still learn wisdom and how the authors dealt with problems they faced, and which we still face today. People were educated more broadly and deeply then, and I think their literature shows it--and we, when we read classics, are broadened and deepened as well. 

However, just because a book is classic doesn't mean we have to read it. Sinful attitudes and presuppositions on the part of the authors are just as prevalent in the 1800s as they are today. Therefore, we should not worship the classics or put them up on a pedestal that only God's Word should occupy.


I look forward to joining in another tag as you post them, Joy, and hope especially that you will do one on writing, as I've been aching to blog about it recently. This classics tag has been simply delightful to participate in! Congratulations on three years of blogging. Your posts are a pleasure to read, and God bless you as you continue with your little corner of the web. :)

Blessings,
Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Shock Value in Literature (Part Two)

*Young readers are advised that the following article discusses shock value in literature, including sex and violence, and they may wish to have an older adult check it out first.*

Welcome back, friends and fellow bibliophiles, to part two in our series on Shock Value in Literature. If you haven't read Part One, you can catch up here. I must say, the discussion in the comments has been wonderful, and you've all brought up different aspects and perspectives which I've immensely enjoyed reading. Thanks so much for joining in!

I originally wrote this series as one post, but it grew to such a length that I split it into two. So here we pick up at point number four....

4. Look at the author's boundary lines.
When evaluating whether or not a book crosses the wrong line with shock value, it's important to look at the author's boundary line. Maybe the characters had an affair. Do we need all the details? Maybe a murderer slit his victim's throat. Do we need descriptions of the red gash from ear to ear? Or, even more than the actions, dig into the character's thought processes. In one of Agatha Christie's novels, the first person narrator of the story turned out to be the murderer, and after reading it, I really didn't have to know how a murderer thought to know that a murder is wrong.

I'm not setting specific rules here of how much blood or how many kisses can be given before the boundary line is crossed. That's simply not in Scripture, and it would be legalistic of me to do so. But one must ask, what is a proper boundary line, and what will my reaction be if it is crossed?

For instance, take the Song of Solomon. Some people groan when that book is mentioned, other people blush. Some parents won't let their children read it at all, and others give free reign. Personally, when I started reading the whole Bible I read the whole Bible. All of it. Even Song of Solomon and a few other explicit passages. And my parents found for my brother and I, that we understood those passages according to our age. Song of Solomon is wrapped up in poetic language and imagery, and while now I understand much more of it than I did at eight or nine, I still don't get the full extent of it. In other words, the Lord wrote the only book in the Bible on sex and marriage in such a way that it didn't cross the boundary line into a crass and explicit description of the wedding night. Some of it the reader understands through prior knowledge and inference, and not just what the lines say at face value.

The same principle holds true with good authors--classic authors. They'll write their social messages in such a way that it's grasped on different levels according to abilities to understand. Compare and contrast Victor Hugo's Fantine and Charles Dickens' Nancy for a moment. With Fantine, we know she's a prostitute. Hugo says so. She lives in the streets, she sells herself, and she makes no disguise of it. Hugo, thankfully, never goes into excessive detail on the matter, and never writes scenes where she's plying her trade, but still, it's there. Nancy, in Oliver Twist, plys the same trade. You know she's a street girl. But never once is the word prostitute mentioned, and if you read the book aloud to children, (which, please don't) most of them would simply think of her as Bill Sykes' girlfriend. Neither author offered a sinful amount of detail, but one chose the subtle route and the other chose the straightforward one. And personally, I like a book whose shock value can be understood by the reader bringing knowledge to it themselves, rather than the author spelling out everything.

Here's Dickens again on Oliver Twist:

 I saw no reason, when I wrote this book, why the very dregs of life, so long as their speech did not offend the ear, should not serve the purpose of a moral, at least as well as its froth and cream....I endeavored, while I painted it in all its fallen and degraded aspect, to banish from the lips of the lowest character I introduced, any expression that could by possibility offend; and rather to lead to the unavoidable inference that its existence was of the most debased and vicious kind, than to prove it elaborately by words and deeds. ~The Author's Introduction to the Third Edition (1841)

That's a wise way to handle degradation. Shock yes, but shock by inference and it won't be necessary to 'prove it elaborately by words and deeds'.

While I don't like Jane Kirkpatrick's feminist character in Emma of Aurora, I chose to keep the book so I could glean from some of Kirkpatrick's writing techniques, specifically in how she handles personal information. She talks about childbirth, husband and wife relationships, pregnancy, and all the surrounding aspects of that in her books without being crude or explicit. She's clear, and yet appropriate at the same time. I would probably never give her book to guys, and yet she's an author who can write about the messy and sometimes personal aspects of childbearing and marriage while still keeping within appropriate boundaries. Her books don't contain these elements for the purpose of shock value, but I use them as an example of how fiction can be written with clear, but not inappropriate detail.

*This next paragraph young readers may wish to skip.

Sex, however, is different from violence. If you're reading a war story, you should be reading about blood, wounds, death, and executions. Again, it all comes down to how much detail is necessary to get the point across. Take Washington Spies, for instance, an excellent book about Washington's spy ring in the Revolution. I loved the book, and it gave a clear and accurate portrayal of history. But again, there was one point where the shock value passed too far. It's okay to talk about a man being hung. But writing a detailed essay on how exactly to draw the noose isn't something the average reader needs to know. I skipped that part.

5. Look at Scripture in its Context
Here's where we might get a little controversial, but bear with me and I'll see if I can state this clearly. :) When God authored Scripture, he divinely chose to use different 'genres' if you will within the inspired, inerrant context. We have poetry, history, law, prophecy, and yes--even parables, or 'fiction with a point'. That being said, every Christian reader should bring their reading diet into accordance with the principles of Scripture without taking Scripture out of its intended context.

For instance, take Leviticus. It has straightforward speaking on a variety of sexual laws and women's health issues. Frankly, a lot of the chapters are embarrassing to read aloud. But Leviticus is not fiction, nor is it intended as a guide to writing the next breakout novel; it's a health and sanitation manual. It's not meant to be a indication of how much detail to put about sexuality in fictional stories, but rather a how-to guide for real-life health for the Israelites.

Again, take Judges 19-21, a very lurid section in Scripture on rape, etc. That's not fiction. That's history, and history should not be sanitized or 'cleaned up', but portrayed honestly and accurately. In historical research and biographies you can't cover up details, and lots of people in real life did plenty of bad things. This principle breaks down a little when it comes to Ezekiel. The passages about Israel's prostitution were historical, but they were also allegorical, and while they weren't fictional, I would understand if some people say God 'fictionalized' the account to confront Israel. However, again I would argue that in using this account as a framework, the intended audience is key to understand why God used it. He used that story to confront complete pagans there: and if an author is writing a story to convict a pagan prostitute, than maybe they'll need that kind of detail. But if they're writing to a primarily Christian audience, who have not participated in prostitution, then the detail should understandably be different.

You might think "Well, God included it in Scripture for me to read, so why are you saying it was only for a pagan audience?" Good question. God didn't just include those parables by themselves as 'stories' for us to read. He tells us what the intended audience was like, why he had to use those allegories, and what the after result was. The account is meant to be taken as a whole story of the fall of Israel, with the parables included as a part of that process, not just Ezekiel 16 and 23 as stories by themselves. God includes these accounts in Scripture to show us just how far he had to go to confront the Israelites with their sin. His purpose was not just to be shocking for shocking's sake, but lift the skirts of Israel and expose their lewdness so they could not hide their wickedness behind a façade.

Conclusion
There are some times, obviously, when shock value is not appropriate. I don't think children's stories need rape attempts and drug abuse to warn them away from those things in the same way that an adult audience might. Novels on people who struggle with homosexuality, victims of sex trade, or victims of child abuse may have their proper place (I've talked to people who wrote them and they have a Dickensian dream of reform through stories.) But again, the same principles of proper boundaries apply, and these stories are not for entertainment, and written to reach a very specific audience.
 
If it's just 'fun' to the author to shock people, then they're working from the wrong direction. But if they have a purpose, if they are like the prophets of Israel reaching a callous people who will not listen, then it's fair to listen respectfully to the point they're trying to make.

As one last note, while authors may have legitimate reasons for including shocking content, whether of violence or immorality, it does not necessarily follow that every reader needs all the details. Some readers may require more shock to get the point the author's trying to make. Others may not need much at all. So if you're one who blushes easily, then don't feel like you have to violate your feelings to get the full integrity of the story. It's okay to skim.

There were a few passages in Spenser I read over very lightly. I can't do that with Scripture, because all Scripture is God-breathed and perfect. But I think a lot of us would secretly admit that had we had the writing of it, we would have used a little less detail on occasion. :)

Thus concludes this series on Shock Value in Literature. I have enjoyed thinking through this topic with all of you; thanks so much for reading and joining in. :)

Blessings,
Lady Bibliophile

Friday, June 13, 2014

Shock Value In Literature (Part One)

*While I use veiled terms for the most part in this series, young readers should be aware that these posts discuss matters of sexual immorality and violence in books, and use caution accordingly.*

This week I've been mulling over the pros and cons of shock value in literature. Shock value as in, excessive detailed descriptions on the part of the narrator, or actions on the part of the characters, on subjects of wickedness and immorality.

When I was younger, the solution was very simple: if the characters were really bad, then of course it was a really bad book. That's not a wrong way for a young girl to believe; I think that idea protected me from reading information that was too heavy for me. Shock value in literature is for adults, not for children, and children probably should put down books that have really bad characters.

But now that I'm older, for good or ill, I like to take the reasons a little deeper than my ten-year-old self did. Is there a place in fiction for eyebrow-raising passages and scenes that cause readers to blush?

Perhaps.

I first shifted my mindset after finishing Oliver Twist a couple of months ago. That's a dark book, and some of the scenes--Fagin's jail scene and Bill Sykes' capture--were almost more dark than I could stomach. After finishing the book, I wondered rather wearily if Dickens had to take his darkness that far. But then I read his own explanation, and respected him for it:

I fully expected [this tale] would be objected to on some very high moral grounds in some very high moral quarters. The result did not fail to prove the justice of my anticipations. I embrace the present opportunity of saying a few words in explanation of my aim and object in its production...I confess I have yet to learn that a lesson of the purest good may not be drawn from the vilest evil....

He went on to say that if he had not taken such drastic means, no one would have listened the point he needed to make. And with those few words, I began to think that possibly--just possibly--good literature can include shock value.

So before you throw a book out for shocking content, here are some things to think about:
 
1. Look at the author's times.
While William Wilberforce's fight to end slavery is a real life story, and not a fictional account, it bears some application on this point. Wilberforce lived in a time where debauchery in the upper classes was thinly disguised, and the majority of people committed things that we would whisper about. But in Eric Metaxas' account of Wilberforce's life, he met with a great deal of resistance when he tried to bring up cruelty in the slave trade. Bloody details of whippings, brandings, humiliation, and evil gratification of lusts were all part of the grim research Wilberforce and the Clapham circle had to collect to prove their point. Frankly, the details they gave are still shocking today, and most people didn't want to hear them even then. But people had to hear it to make it right.

When it comes down to shock value, before dismissing the book completely, look at the times the author wrote in. Are people struggling with drink? Then the author will probably come out strong on the temperance side. Are upper class people buying the services of prostitutes? Then authors may have a legitimate reason for touching on that in a plot line. Are lower class people dying in factories and on street corners? Then the author probably will include tragic deaths to wake people up. The times bear a part in dictating the details and the message. Our times may be different now, but that doesn't mean the author was wrong for addressing the book's original audience with the details they thought were necessary.

Listen to their message of reform. Look at their reason for writing it before you dismiss it as too detailed, too strict, or too crass. They may have chosen their details for a specific and very necessary reason.

2. Look at the author's audience.
A lot of shock value in Scripture comes because of the audience. In other words, all those squirmy passages you dread reading out loud at family Bible time are because people didn't want to listen to God, and he wanted to get their attention. Why otherwise would he tell a prophet to marry a prostitute and then detail the whole sordid affair of her adulteries with other men? Why would he paint the Israelites' apostasy in such clear and detailed language? He wanted their attention. This was a wicked people, who had lost a great deal of their ability to be shocked through their lusts and self indulgence. And God confronted them with their actions in clearer and clearer terms as they got closer to the point of no return, so that perhaps they would turn and repent and realize what they had done.

The same can be true in stories. If an author is writing to a callous audience, or an apathetic one, or simply an ignorant people unaware of the issues they're trying to raise, then shock may be an appropriate measure. Obviously it takes great care and humility before the Lord to know how much shock is necessary; and since authors are prone to human error, there may be times when they take their message too far. But people haven't changed since the Israelites or the Victorian Age, and let's face it: there are some issues we don't want to face until we're hit squarely with them.

3. Look at the author's reason.
An author should never include sexual immorality or death for entertainment. Never because the characters 'just wanted to do it' (a mindset authors are prone to slip into.) Never to spice up a book or 'spell it out' for the reader. Authors, if they use shock value to make a point, must be in total and complete control of the actions and the details while they're using them. In using this means to teach, the reason 'the character wanted to do it' will not do.

Dickens wrote to shock a lazy, comfortable people into seeing the poverty running rampant in their streets. He wrote rich characters to confront his peers with a mirror of their selfishness and hate and greed. He wrote about children who committed shocking acts because fathers neglected their homes. And he didn't always give happy endings for the very specific reason that he didn't want people closing the book with a happy sigh and forgetting all about the suffering. He wanted to brand it on their hearts and minds so that they never, ever forgot that because of their apathy, people died who should have lived long and happy lives.

Then again, you have Jane Austen. While her books are not 'shocking', persay, I think you could make a case for shock value in Mansfield Park. She didn't use explicit detail, but she wanted to shock her lazy, moralistic readers into realizing just how shallow their morality was. Good morals (like Maria's) lead to running away with another man after you're married. Sincere religion (like Fanny) leads to withstanding temptation in the first place. Many of her readers wouldn't have wished to hear that message. (For more great insights into Mansfield Park, check out Suzannah Rowntree's review in War Games.)

Spenser included the vile Duessa and the (ahem!) rather forward Acrasia and her Bower of Bliss in his section on Temperance and Holiness in The Faerie Queene. Both women were shocking and frankly both are very difficult to read about. I'll confess that I didn't think it necessary to read every single line of their section in Spenser's cantos; I got his point without that. But he put them in to show what Temperance must stand against. There's no point in writing about Holiness if there's nothing unholy to be holy around. People won't understand their need for temperance if they don't understand that it will guard them against evil lusts. Spenser put the women in for a very specific reason, not just to up the action, or revel in adding some extra spice to his plot.

While some authors have a very good case for including detailed cruelty and lust, some of them don't need it. Douglas Bond, in his novel about John Calvin, The Betrayal, did an excellent job of portraying Calvin's life. The priests during that time were corrupt, bought girls' services, and lived for their own pleasure. For the integrity of the story, Bond had to include some of those elements. But, while the book is excellent, I think Bond misjudged his times and his audience at a couple of parts. None of his readers really needed the detailed description of hot pincers and burning flesh during an execution to get the point that people were being unjustly martyred. And while I'm sure Calvin had to withstand a good deal of temptation, neither did we need a scene of him resisting a woman's advances. They simply aren't necessary in the audience that reads Bond's books. Most people who pick them up know a lot of history, and can already fill in the details.

The same holds true in Patrick Carr's Sword and Staff trilogy. While he set his story in a time of war and spiritual battle, some of the accounts of death and blood and crushed bodies and throat wounds (had enough yet?) paint the picture more grotesquely than necessary. Since the book is for entertainment, and not a war training manual, probably a sufficient skim would have been necessary.

So, when evaluating an author's inclusion of sexual immorality, violence, and other disturbing elements, take the time to look at the author's time, their audience, and their motivation. All these things weigh into whether or not the book is worth reading, and they are very important to consider, rather than dismissing the book immediately.

And on Tuesday, we'll return with the second half of this subject Shock Value in Literature. :)

Blessings,
Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

High Fences, by Grace S. Richmond

I checked out the vintage novel High Fences from the library a few years ago, from a list of recommendations. Unfortunately I never finished it, so this year, since I'm making a special effort to finish books I've been putting off for a long time, I ordered it again a couple of weeks ago. As soon as I reached my goals and officially began my week off, I pulled out High Fences first thing and curled up with it for the rest of the afternoon and evening--because there's nothing like a nice novel to celebrate achievements. :)


The Story
David MacRoss hates cocktail parties; he's a writer and an introvert, and the idea of several hours of inane conversation coupled with dancing and scrambled eggs at the diner turns him positively ill. But his sister-in-law lives for the stuff, and when her husband comes down with a cold the afternoon of an important dinner party, David resigns himself to standing in for William.
Virtue is its own reward, or so they say. David discovers the woman seated next to him is an engaging journalist, pretty little Ross Collins, who also hates dinner parties. The two, in their common misery and common interest, strike a chord with each other, and David determines to further their acquaintance.
She's from the city, and believes firmly in the independent role of women. David's from the country, and holds very strongly to traditional values. But something about the two, as they talk together, attracts them to each other. Their minds mesh--they're able to exchange ideas on a common level, something they can't do with the rest of their acquaintances. And pretty soon, Ross finds herself travelling from New York City to Connecticut to visit David and his sister in their quite country home.
David determines to win her as his wife; but only if she will tame her proud little heart and consent to live with him in the country. Ross determines to live her independent life in the city, writing frothy little society pieces and witty satires. The two seem destined to take different roads, but time and again they find themselves thrown together--through sadness, through illness, through common interests and common friends.

Ross begins to see how lonely the lot is she chose, as well as how strong David is as a writer, and how grand he is as a man. The country takes on a charm of its own--and she begins to peep longingly through the high fences of preference and ideals that separate them from a happy life together.

My Thoughts
Set in the roaring 20s, High Fences chronicles the romance of two journalists, David MacRoss and Ross Collins. This book is, I'm afraid, a fly-away piece of literary cotton candy. A kiss or two, the customary sunk ship with lost lover aboard (which didn't seem to fit the rest of the novel's tone) and two people valiantly trying not to fall in love with each other comprise most of the plot. If you don't like romance, this book is not the one for you. The romance is the main focus, and even the subplots seek to forward the goal. Also, the romance plot in itself is not unique; it's about as cliché as you can get.
I prefer not to read books like this very often; after all, straight romance without other plots to balance it doesn't really have much purpose or edification. But some of the independent elements were worthy of note and very fun to relax with. For instance, the chapter titles themselves were gems. Instead of the customary three to four word teaser, Richmond wrote two or three sentences as a title for the chapter:

Chapter 1: David goes reluctantly whither he would not. His entrance into the story is therefore not voluntary, and he may turn out hard to deal with. But once in, he's here to stay, because he's that sort.

Chapter 5: David would like to take up the argument for the defense, but wisely refrains. When women are on the warpath men are safer in the deep woods.

And so forth. They're bright little lines of satire, and give a chuckle or two at the beginning of each chapter.

I always enjoy reading a book where the characters are writers. Authors and journalists speak their own language, and view things from a writing perspective pretty much everywhere they go. The little notebooks David and Ross always carried with them--Ross asking David to pull out of a dance so she can write down a bit of inspiration before she loses it--the bleak days of writer's block and happiness of words returning--all these things were relatable and enjoyable.

High Fences contains some mild language and profanity. But along with those you'll also find instances of prayer and religion. David is a Christian, Ross is not. Part of the beauty of the plot is David's country life--simple, yet giving him time to think, to reflect, to learn more about God and ministering to others. Ross, on the other hand, lives in the city--always busy, always surface-level, always relying on her own efforts for happiness. As she learns to slow down, she also receives time to think through things she never thought about before.

Grace Richmond's best strength lies in her supporting characters. David's sister Hester, a strong, plain country woman; Madge Winthrop, Ross's friend and society column inspiration; Doctor Sam Reade, who lives for his work and works himself into the ground year by year; and even Tom Thayer and Jimmy French, two of Ross's journalist friends, all shine in their individual right. This isn't a lengthy book, but each character is necessary and clearly and lovingly drawn.

High Fences has probably about as much worth to it as modern romance novels. But if you're looking for something light set in the 20s, with characters who love writing thrown in for good measure, this vintage novel is a harmless, if not mentally stimulating, book to curl up with.

Blessings,
Lady Bibliophile

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!

Blessings,
Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Queen Sheba's Ring

Hello, fellow bibliophiles! I'm back after a delicious week's break, and glad to visit with you all again on the blog. :) I have a whole stack of books to review in the coming weeks, thanks to taking time off, and a couple of them I am quite excited about. New releases, old treasures--the best of both worlds. 

Today, I am pleased to present H. Rider Haggard's Queen Sheba's Ring. A novel of heroic risks, noble protagonists, savage rituals, and underground cities--sure to delight any Haggard fan, and one that very much delighted me in the reading of it.

Please note that today's review refers to the Christian Liberty Press edition with the above cover. Michael McHugh, with Christian Liberty Press, gently edited and cleaned up the original Haggards, and this, for me at least, enhanced the reading enjoyment. All that to say, I can't speak for the original Queen Sheba's Ring and any questionable content it might contain, but this edition I can recommend wholeheartedly.

The Book
At 40 years old Richard Adams lost his African wife, and a few years later, a native raiding party carried away his twelve-year-old son. Now Adams is 60, and rather old to be exploring Africa's deserts and jungles--but he's determined not to let age stop him. After the separation of years, he has located his son again, a captive of the fierce Fung tribe. Adams attempts to rescue his son and fails, being seriously wounded by lions in the process. His wounds are cared for by a neighboring tribe called the Abati, whose beautiful young ruler is descended from queen Sheba and Solomon himself. This young woman, sorry for Adams' plight, promises to help him if he in turn will help her destroy the Fung tribe and save her people. There is an ancient prophecy that if the huge Fung idol can be destroyed--a Sphinx-sized statue of a lion--then the Fung people will flee and never return. Since it's the size of a small mountain, the queen hopes that superior British technology (i.e. dynamite) will be able to carry the day.
Adams goes back to England and collects an old friend, Professor Higgs, a young engineer, Oliver Orme, and Orme's servant, Sergeant Quick. The only restriction on their work, he tells them, is that none of them must fall in love with beautiful Maqueda, for her blood must not be intermixed with that of a foreigner. Oliver Orme, the only one Adams is really concerned about, doesn't anticipate any of them doing so. *cue the sarcastic laughter*

But when they arrive, they find that their mission may not be as straightforward as it seems. One of Maqueda's servants, the scar-faced Shadrach, betrays Sergeant Quick into the hands of the Fung, and he will be sacrificed in the lion pit on the feast of the full moon. Maqueda's people, the Abati, look with suspicion on the Western foreigners, and their apathetic laziness raises obstacles again and again. Oliver, the only one who really knows how to blow up the Fung idol--and even he's not quite sure if he's capable--receives an injury in an explosion blast, leaving the rest of the company worried that his skull has been cracked. And Maqueda, queen of the Abati and descendant of Sheba, falls in love with Oliver, exposing her Western guests to the assassination attempts of her uncle Joshua.

Adams only hopes that he can rescue his son and get his companions back to England alive. But he'll have to overcome starvation, lions, superstition, and betrayal before he can hope to succeed.

My Thoughts
I had the same study Bible for years, and tucked away in the notes under Solomon, the commentator referenced a legend--a legend that Queen Sheba came to Israel, not just to hear Solomon's wisdom and see his glory, but also to go home bearing a child of his. Haggard uses this legend as the foundation for Maqueda's existence. She is descended from the 'daughter' of Sheba and Solomon, and still wears an ornate sapphire ring given by that famous biblical monarch to his female visitor.
This legend doesn't come anywhere from Scripture, certainly; according to my researches it stems from an Ethiopian manuscript, the Kebra Nagast, which contains a story where Solomon invites Makeda (hence Maqueda in Haggard's book) to his kingdom to learn to worship the True God. Makeda does accept the worship of the True God, and Solomon tricks her into spending the night with him, giving her a ring before her departure so that her child can identify itself as Solomon's son.
While this is just a legend, and an eye-brow raising one at that, it doesn't figure much into Haggard's story, except to explain Maqueda's royalty--the novel is still worth enjoying, and very well done.

Queen Sheba's Ring reads like a Henty, only without real historical figures. There are older mentors, young men seeking to prove their worth, dire happenings with quick resolutions strung together one after another, and plenty of fights for all concerned with man and beast. It's not Haggard's most epic novel--there's just enough plausibility to keep you interested in the characters, but you won't be left paralyzed with trauma at the end of it. In other words, a pleasurable adventure story perfect to curl up with on a week's break.
 At the same time, Haggard's fingerprints are most obviously all over the tale. In the midst of lion fights and ancient treasure, there's the darker thread of a civilization slowly bringing itself to an end; selfish individuals willing to shed blood for their advancement; and young men putting friends at risk because they are not willing to listen to wise counsel. Even the threat of starvation, and of being trapped underground, are not portrayed as a jolly good time. You can feel the hunger slowly eating away at the characters, and the claustrophobic fear as the oil lamps flicker out one by one. It won't scar you, but it keeps this book from being a frilly novel and turns it into a tale of pathos and waning majesty as well as laughter and bright hopes.

This book contains no language, to my recollection, but several instances of profanity, which was rather unfortunate. Also, bear in mind that Haggard is writing about two superstitious peoples, the Fung and the Abati, who have no knowledge of Christian doctrine. Therefore, superstition abounds. Haggard always had a penchant for including a vision or two in his books; but he uses discretion in the details he includes of pagan culture.
While superstition abounds on one side, a beautiful trust in God's sovereignty shows in the hearts and speech of the four Western men. Sergeant Quick, especially, is a man whose simple trust in the Lord gives him confidence in taking any necessary risks--because he knows that until his time comes to go, he's as safe in the midst of African lions as he is at home in England. While all of the men struggle at times with trust and courage in the face of impossible odds, the Lord's working hand is clearly shown.

And this review would not be complete without singing the praises of Maqueda. A cross between Miriam from Pearl Maiden, and Masouda from The Brethren, Maqueda has the happy combination of sweetness and spunk rare to find in many vintage heroines. She's smart and authoritative, yet not feministic; youthful and kind, without being naïve and weak. Not perfect by a long shot--but definitely worthy of acquaintance, and a wonderful central figure to Haggard's plot.

Check it out. You'll laugh--you'll grip the pages in suspense--you may even cry once or twice. I can't wait to read it again; and if you've never read Haggard before, Queen Sheba's Ring is an excellent book to start off with.

Blessings,
Lady Bibliophile
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