Category Archives: Adult Novels

Book Review for “Wild at Heart”

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Eldredge, J. (2002). Wild at heart: Discovering the secret of a man’s soul. Nashvilli: Thomas Nelson.

     John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart finally solves the enigma of man’s ever-searching soul, right? While that might not be entirely true, it does explain to you what Eldredge believes God created man’s heart to be.

     Throughout his novel, Eldredge argues that modern Christianity asks men to turn in their masculinity and pour out their feelings in small groups rather than live the dangerously faithful lives they were created for. According to Eldredge, Christianity is a life-risking religion that asks us to wage war against the devil, stand up in the face of adversity, and valiantly rescue our brothers and sisters that have been wounded in battle. This is precisely why God made man the way He did. God didn’t make man a sissy; He made him to lead the troops to victory.

     While this read is compelling, critics have called it very one-dimensional. If you are a man that does not enjoy climbing mountains and building things, then you might have a hard time relating to this book. However, if you can find a way to relate your own interests to the examples Eldredge lays out in his novel, you may really get something out of it.  Though, I find it challenging to review this book, perhaps Christian men that have read this book share more complex sentiments about its effectiveness. On the other hand, author John Eldredge and his wife Stasi Eldredge together wrote another book very similar to Wild at Heart for a more feminine audience. This book is Captivating, and it seeks to unveil the secrets of a woman’s soul. For obvious reasons I take much more interest in this book, and I hope to find the time to write about this one soon.

     In the end, whether or not this read is successful for every person who picks it up, Wild at Heart seeks to do one thing: to repair, preserve, and build up the hearts of men that have been wounded in this life. Eldredge believes that all men are called to give their lives for their loved ones the way that Christ did for us. This book not only shows men what they were created to do, but how they can do it effectively.

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Reading for a Cause: A Long Walk to Water and Lost Boy No More

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Park, L. S. (2010). A long walk to water: Based on a true story. New York, NY: Sandpiper.

     I first became familiar with  A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park through a college class that specialized in teaching social studies in middle school. Though I was not assigned this particular book, I found that my peers’ enjoyment and enthusiasm of this young adult novel piqued my interest. I was absolutely thrilled when I saw that my school bookstore was selling this book for only $5.99, so I jumped at the chance to explore this historical fiction read for myself. What I ended up loving so much about this book was that it’s not only a heart-touching and evocative read, but it raises awareness for a dire cause that is still in need of attention today.

     In 1983 the Second Sudanese Civil War broke out between the central Sudanese government in the north and the Liberation Army in the south. From then until 2005, this area of the world was ravaged by hatred, cruelty, and genocide. A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park is based on the real life experiences of Sudanese native Salva Dut. While some of the details of this novel were fictionalized, the storyline chronicles the outbreak of war in Salva’s village up through his remarkable triumph over adversity and his return home to help people in need.

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Nhial, A., & Mills, D. (2004). Lost boy no more: A true story of survival and salvation. Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers.

     Another great book to read along with A Long Walk to Water is Abraham Nhial and DiAnn Mills’s Lost Boy No More. This novel, though aimed at a slightly older audience, follows a similar story to Salva Dut’s. Abraham Nhial was also a lost boy of Sudan. (This term is given to the hundreds of thousands of young boys like himself and Salva who walked out of Sudan to find safety.) Nhial helps Mills write this biographical account of his journey to faith, safety, and peace. Not only does he share his experiences of leaving Sudan as a young boy, but he also opens up to the reader about how his trials brought him to faith in Jesus. These two novels both shed light on the personal horrors of the Sudanese Civil War.

     Yes, the content of these two books can be difficult to swallow. The fact that there is unimaginable suffering and killing going on in our world is never easy to accept. However, these two novels help create hope and a way to help those in need. Visit http://www.waterforsudan.org to see how you can donate money to help supply clean water to an area of the world that is still recovering from its hurts. Read A Long Walk to Water and Lost Boy No More, and take your own journey with the people of Sudan.

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Book Review for “The Silmarillion”

Silmarillion-cover

Tolkien, J. R. R. (2001). The silmarillion. (2nd ed. ed.). New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.

    

     The Silmarillion is arguably the crowning glory of J.R.R. Tolkien’s literary and imaginary creations. This was one of the author’s earliest undertakings, and it wasn’t published until after his death; Tolkien poured everything he had into this work.

     This dense novel has long been heralded as a long and arduous undertaking for any reader, and for quite some time this intimidated me. As my curiosity grew, I knew I had to give this a shot; even if I couldn’t complete this work in its entirety, I wanted to explore it for myself. I had heard that this work can be considered a history book of sorts, and I wasn’t misinformed on that. I was surprised however, to find how compelling and thrilling that history was.

     This book is equal in comparison to ancient myths and legends, and as many epic stories start, this was began with a creation story. This creation story was at the same time similar and yet dissimilar to all creation stories I have ever read. Tolkien wows his readers, as he wowed me, with the mysterious and intriguing creation of his Middle Earth through the melodious song of an omnipotent being. I was personally stunned and awed as the themes within this creation song sung to the infantile world before it began.

     It is during this creation story and many other occasions throughout the novel when J.R.R. Tolkien’s Catholic faith shine through his work. It’s not hard to see how some examples of his work can easily be confused with Scripture. For instance, “These too in their time shall find that all that they do redounds at the end only to the glory of my work.” As a  Christian-Catholic reader, I enjoy seeing the impact of Tolkien’s faith on his work. Even readers who do not share this similar background with the author will enjoy seeing his life’s work unfold within the pages of this book. This is due in part because The Silmarillion sets the scene for Tolkien’s later works such as The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. The history, language, geography, and conflicts of these widely known works are all introduced in this novel.

     To any reader seeking to conquer this challenging work, I salute you. Yes, it is a lot to read, but for any Tolkien enthusiast this is a welcomed challenge. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silarillion takes its readers on an epic journey that is nothing short of astounding.

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Book Review for “Ishmael”

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Quinn, D. (1992). Ishmael. Bantam Books. DOI: The United States.

     Ishmael by Daniel Quinn takes its reader on a spiritual journey. Meet Ishmael, the namesake of this novel. Ishmael is a teacher, but not the kind you’re probably expecting; I won’t spoil any of the book’s surprises, but Ishmael is a non-traditional teacher to say the least. His subdued life has led him through deep reflections that have given him great insight into the history of the world. This novel is a journey where the reader learns to shed his or her preconceived notions about mankind

            Now, I don’t want to put down any book. I believe every book has some value or merit, even if I can’t see it. I’m sure Ishmael has brought many readers a deep and spiritual experience or helped them look at the world differently; I however, feel differently. This entire novel is a dialogue between teacher and pupil, so then it is also then safe to assume that the reader is a pupil to teacher as well. The teacher is meant to be portrayed as an enlightened, all- knowledgeable being uninhibited by biases and personal beliefs. This teacher serves not to reveal right or wrong but to help open the pupil’s eyes to what they have been missing through their own ignorance. My problem with these types of novels is the very mechanics of how this works. The teacher is supposed to be enlightened and unbiased, but I am also aware that this character was created and written by the author of the novel. Though the author himself does not physically appear in the book, I can see his personal beliefs shine through the words and teachings of the teacher. This presents a hitch in this theory; the teacher, by virtue of being created by the author, is not in fact unbiased or enlightened. He is merely conveying the author’s personal agenda in a way that is meant to persuade the reader that these beliefs are infallible. This is why I had such a hard time reading Ishmael, and this is why I have a hard time reading novels that center around teacher/pupil conversations.

     My other problem with this book is that it was presented to me as a young adolescent novel meant to be read in a middle school classroom. This is something I cannot see. Not only is the language challenging, but the concepts are challenging as well. The pages of this novel boast long and wordy explanations about life and the universe that are often tedious to follow. The teacher and pupil often appear to run in circles talking about much of the same things over and over. I myself don’t even find these arguments compelling, and I can’t imagine a middle school student enjoying it either. That’s not to say that no middle school student will ever enjoy this book; I know there are some out there that will. I just don’t think middle school age students would be the target audience of this book. I can, however, picture an older audience enjoying this selection. It also goes without saying that just because I don’t like it, doesn’t mean that it is not worth reading. I’m sure many people will enjoy taking this literary journey, and maybe one day in the future I will revisit this novel with a greater sense of enjoyment and appreciation.

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Book Review for “Wonder”

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

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Palacio, R. J. (2012). Wonder. New York: Random House Children’s Books.

     R.J. Palacio’s Wonder is a heart-warming story that touches the soul through one boy’s face. August Pullman is a fictional character, but he represents every child, parent, or sibling who has ever struggled to cope with the physical abnormalities of a loved one. Auggie feels like an ordinary boy on the inside, but it’s his extraordinary face that makes other kids stop and stare. For this reason he fears the very thing most children take for granted: going to school. Wonder is the story of his first experience in a real school, his first experience coming in contact with other children on a daily basis. Not only does this novel present an entertaining and attention-grabbing storyline, but it educates its reader on the daily life of children with birth defects. It explores important topics that many people shy away from: gawking, name-calling, and ostracism. However, Palacio approaches the subject from multiple points of view. She shows the direct effect that other people’s fear and unkindness can have on a child who feels “different”. Equally as important, she depicts the thoughts and feelings of other children when they come in contact with those that are different from them. Palacio teaches us that people can sometimes hurt each other unintentionally by expressing natural curiosities and fears. This eye-opening novel was written with young adults in mind, however it embodies important lessons that are essential for adults to learm as well. R.J. Palacio’s Wonder is about finding the beauty in every person even if you can’t see it at a first glance.

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“Lord of the Rings” and Epic Adventures: A Comparative Essay

The Lord of the Rings: Modern Day Epic?

            Epic adventures are one of the oldest and most celebrated works of literature. These adventures paint pictures of larger-than-life heroes, terrifying battle scenes, and heroic triumphs. Most epics served the purpose of transmitting culture and history, as well as entertaining readers. Among classical epics are the well-known Epic of Gilgamesh, The Iliad, and The Odyssey. However, is the epic adventure a dying breed of literature? Is it possible that epic stories have sustained the test of time and evolved over the centuries? The Lord of the Rings trilogy, including The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King, is one of the greatest examples of a modern day epic.

     What do The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Epic of Gilgamesh, and The Lord of the Rings all have in common? They all share typical characteristics of epic adventures in some form or another. Though the motives and reasons may differ, the theme of journeying is common to all epic adventures. In The Epic of Gilgamesh, King Gilgamesh sets out on a perilous adventure with his closest friend Enkidu in order to find enduring fame and glory (Sanders 48-77). In The Odyssey, the main character Odysseus embarks on a 10 year-long journey through trials and tests to find his way back home to his wife and son (Fitzgerald 198-209). Epic hero Achilles, of The Iliad, sets out to fight in the legendary Trojan War (Fagles 537-544). Similarly, Frodo Baggins, unassuming hero of The Lord of the Rings[1], sets out from his home and place of comfort to destroy the evil artifact, The One Ring[2], and restore peace and freedom to Middle Earth[3]. Each of these stories centers on a “hero”, or main character, and the brave and virtuous deeds they enact (Toohey 2,3). This praise of the hero’s deeds may be the author’s way of reflecting the characteristics they believe to be virtuous (Toohey 7). These heroes are typically characterized as having a close and intimate relationship with the divine realm, such as Gilgamesh and his relationship to his mother (Toohey 2,3). Gilgamesh is two-thirds god and one-third man (Sanders 48-77). Throughout his journey Gilgamesh often prays to his mother, goddess Ninsun, who provides him with direction throughout his trials (Sanders 48-77). Beyond the presence of the divine, epic stories often include certain elements such as detailed description of people or places, use of similes and metaphors, epic battle sequences, important artifacts, and grand speeches (Toohey 3). These epic stories, and others like them, were usually passed down orally and especially revered golden ages of the past with a strong sense of nostalgia (Toohey 8-9, 11). These characteristics can not only be found in ancient epics, such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, but also in similar modern day stories, such as Lord of the Rings.

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[Figure 1 The Leaf of Lorien is an important artifact and image throughout The Lord of the Rings that represents the fellowship of those embarking on the journey to Mordor to destroy The Ring together.]

     Every epic contains a main character, or hero. Though heroes vary from story to story, they all share common characteristics. Traditional epic heroes go into battle to fight for their own fame; Gilgamesh sought this distinction on his own epic journey (Sanders 48-77)(Toohey 9). Similarly Achilles fought for the glory of his name in the Trojan War (Fagles 537-544)(Toohey 9). Epic heroes most commonly come from high ranks, such as kings or leaders (Toohey 9). They represent models of perfect masculinity displaying a strong, muscular physique and superior fighting skills (Toohey 9). At a first glance, The Lord of the Rings appears to exemplify these same ideals concerning traditional epic heroes. Though the unassuming hobbit, Frodo Baggins, is the true hero of this story, many might overlook him in favor of a more traditional heroic type. Many praise another character, a man named Aragorn, as being the traditional “hero” of the story (Enright 94). Aragorn, a human, embodies the masculine and powerful characteristics worthy of the title “hero”. In fact, the lack of many important women figures in The Lord of the Rings suggests that J.R. Tolkien shared the same ideals of epic heroes as did the ancient authors of epic stories (Enright 93). The handful of important women characters that are present seem to be pushed into roles typical of women in epics, that is being secondary to men. For example, the beautiful elf woman Arwen is stereotyped “the princess”. The woman Eowyn, with an unusual knowledge of battle, becomes “the amazon”. The wise elf Galadriel is “the enchantress” (Enright 94,95). These roles in no way deviate from the normal role of women in epic stories, who usually take a backseat to their masculine hero counterparts. However, after taking a closer look at the characteristics Tolkien prescribes to his women, it becomes apparent who holds the true strength and power in Middle Earth.

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[Figure 2 Statue of Gilgamesh holding a lion signifying his strength and masculinity.]

            While traditional epics, such as the The Iliad and The Odyssey, portray the strength and masculinity of their heroes as celebrated characteristics, J.R. Tolkien sees these as flaws (Enright pg 93). The power of brute strength in men is seen as a weakness (Enright 93). The perfect example is that of the man Boromir. Boromir is portrayed with all the military prowess and strength of any epic warrior; in the end, however, his love of power brings about his downfall (Enright 93). In his desire to hold the “Ring” of power, Boromir breaks fellowship with his friends to try and take this object for his own benefit (Enright 93). In contrast, the unlikely hero Frodo  is a simple hobbit whose portrayal of innocence keeps him protected from the greed and power associated with the Ring (Chance 128). Throughout the story, the race of Elves is venerated for their strength of bravery, not purely brute strength (Enright 94). The elf woman, Arwen exemplifies the strength and power of her race through her embodiment of beauty, intelligence, bravery, and regalia (Enright 96). The true heroes depicted in The Lord of the Rings however, are ultimately the women who challenge the stereotypical depiction of the masculine nature of epic heroes. Tolkien depicts the women of the story as having a higher power or strength within themselves that men do not possess (Enright 93). This heroic nature of women is summed up in one word: love (Enright 93). The love that women possess is so strong that it conquers all; it is even compared to the saving love of Christ (Enright 93). This virtue accomplishes the one thing that brute strength alone cannot; women possess the ability to chose love over one’s own pride (Enright 95). This is arguably the highest theme running throughout Lord of the Rings. Without love, humility, and inner strength, the Ring of evil cannot be destroyed, allowing terrible vices such as greed, control, and pride to remain in power over Middle Earth. So important is this life-saving love that it is called the “greatest power of all” (Enright 93). These themes of heroes and virtues, while it deviates from the traditional masculine realm of heroism, continues the theme of classical, epic heroes in a modern way.

Eowyn

[Figure 3 Eowyn’s knowledge of battle is unusual for women in epic stories and thus earns her the title of “Amazon” or, aggressive woman.]

            While the theme of great heroism remains central to epic stories, another theme is essential to the nature of such adventures. From The Epic of Gilgamesh to The Lord of the Rings, one central motif remains constant; the theme of departure and return (Chance 128). Every epic hero experiences journeying through this cycle, or some variation of it. The specific stages include: departure or separation from community; descent into underworld or journeying through trials; ascent into the over world or success of the trials; and return of the hero to reintegrate back into society (Chance 128). The great hero Gilgamesh travels through this cycle. In the beginning of the epic, Gilgamesh departs from his kingdom with his trusted friend Enkidu to find fame and merit (Sanders 48-77). Throughout this journey Gilgamesh encounters difficult trials such as battling the creature Humbaba and losing Enkidu to an untimely death (Sanders 48-77). In the end, Gilgamesh finds the gods at the edge of the world and learns the lesson of his journey before returning home to go down in history as one of Mesopotamia’s greatest kings (Sanders 48-77). This example is typical of the specific stages of the departure and return motif. The Odyssey’s epic hero Odysseus experiences a variation of this cycle. In the beginning of this saga, Odysseus departs from his wife Penelope and son Telemachus to take part in the Trojan War (Fitzgerald 198-209). After ten years of battle Odysseus intends to return home, but ends up departing on yet another journey (Fitzgerald 198-209). During this ten year-long journey for home, Odysseus encounters many more trials that result in the loss of lives of his companions (Fitzgerald 198-209). Finally, After clearing these obstacles, Odysseus comes home to find his house overrun with unruly suitors, all vying for his loving wife’s affections (Fitzgerald 198-209). His last and ultimate trial is to rid his home of these intruders (Fitzgerald 198-209). After taking back his home Odysseus is finally able to enjoy his ascent to the over-world, or the success of his trials. Once and for all Odysseus completes his final return home to his wife and son (Fitzgerald 198-209). Similarly, in typical epic adventure-fashion, Froddo Baggins completes this same cycle of departure and return. The carefree lifestyle of Frodo the hobbit is broken by his sudden departure from his home, the Shire, to destroy the Ring. During his figurative descent to the underworld Frodo encounters many trials in foreign lands that risk his life and the lives of others. Representing his figurative ascent to the over-world Frodo finally overcomes his enemies, the army of Lord Sauron, and destroys the Ring in the volcano of Mount Doom. Middle Earth rejoices as the dark powers that once enslaved it fall to the greater power of good. Weary from journeying, Frodo returns to the Shire to see his home once more, before retreating to a quiet land called the Grey Havens to live out the rest of his days in peace. Though the journey appears to be over, it is commonly held that the cycle of departure and return continue throughout a hero’s life as he or she searches for lasting, inner peace (Chance 128). This continuous cycling through departure and return can be as endless as the cycle of reincarnation.

Boromir

[Figure 4 The character Boromir whose exemplary display of traditional heroic attributes, such as masculinity, strength, and superior fighting skills, eventually led to his downfall.]

            This theme does not stop with the story’s main character Frodo.  Each and every character has their own personal story of departure and return. Frodo’s hobbit friends, Merry and Pippin, are abducted and forcefully taken from their friends before finally returning to their companions later in the adventure (Chance 131). More friends and companions of Frodo’s, Legolas, Aragorn, and Gimli, are separated from their friends at the beginning of the journey, and are finally reunited as the war for Middle Earth reaches its climax (Chance 131). Gandalf[4], the wise wizard, dies fighting for Frodo and his friends in the Mines of Moria[5], only to return glorified or transfigured during the late hours of  battle to save his friends once again. This theme of departure and return permeates through epic adventures.

Odysseus

[Figure 5 Odysseus returns home to slay his wife’s suitors completing the cycle of departure and return.]

            Similarly, the theme of traveling from the “natural” world to the “unnatural” world runs throughout the cycle of departure and return (Chance 128). Adventures begin at the departure from home, because the home is what is considered familiar or “natural” to the adventurer (Chance 128). As these characters begin to travel through foreign lands, they experience people, places, and events that are unfamiliar or “unnatural” to them (Chance 128). As Gilgamesh leaves his home and place of familiarity, he comes in contact with “unnatural” people and places he has never seen before, such as the forest monster Humbaba (Sanders 48-77). Likewise, as Frodo leaves his natural world of the Shire, he travels through the wider world of Middle Earth experiencing “unnatural” and new things he has never known before. As heroes return home, they return to their “natural” or familiar world, having grown as a person through their experience of the “unnatural”.

Frodo and sam's departure

[Figure 6 Frodo and his friend Sam begin the cycle of departure and return as they leave their home, the Shire].

            One of the most essential traditions to epic stories is the history of oral transmission. Many classical epics were originally passed down orally, and held a special reverence for past eras (Toohey 8-9, 11). The oral passing on of information served the purpose to preserve the culture and history of the people to which the story belonged as well as to teach a moral or lesson from the story’s outcome (Toohey 3). For example, The Iliad may have been written to preserve the history of the Trojan War and to explain spiritual beliefs in relation to the gods (Fagles 537-544). Even within the fictional realm of Middle Earth, author J.R. Tolkien expresses the important role that oral tradition plays in epic adventures. While The Lord of the Rings was not orally passed down itself, Tolkien realized the importance of oral tradition, and incorporated this seemingly ancient practice into the pages of his modern-day epic. Though this story itself could not be part of an oral tradition, Tolkien created oral traditions within his story. For example, the Kingdom of Gondor [6]in Middle Earth is comparable to Homeric Greece in that they held the same cultural tradition of passing down myths and legends orally throughout generations (Prozesky). Throughout Middle Earth Tolkien talks of “matriarchs”, or elder women, who are “learned in the lore of [their] people; or skilled in the art of passing down their people’s traditions (Prozesky). The people of Middle Earth make use of “minstrel’s songs” and “gnomic verses”which were similar to mnemonic verses. Both mnemonic verses and gnomic verses were short sayings that taught a moral or lesson. Throughout the journey of Lord of the Rings, sojourners recounted ancient stories, songs, and old wives tales to aid them in their adventures (Prozesky). Though modern-day technology has made the transcription of stories easier, epic adventures have not lost touch with the importance of oral tradition.

hobbit children

[Figure 7 Hobbit children listening intently as Frodo’s elder relative, Bilbo Baggins, recounts the stories and adventures of his youth.]

            When many people think of traditional epic stories, visions of ancient Greece, of Mesopotamia come to mind. Stories such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Iliad, and The Odyssey have been venerated for ages and will remain some of the greatest epic stories of all time. However, the epic adventure is not an extinct breed of literature. Though characters, motives, plots, and storylines change, the essential elements of epic stories remain the same. Classical epic archetypes such as the epic hero, departure and return, and oral tradition have been passed down through time and remain in modern-day epics. The Lord of the Rings trilogy takes on, embraces, and even changes these themes to fit the epic story of a simple hobbit named Frodo Baggins who leaves home to save the earth.


[1] Fictional trilogy by J.R. Tokien chronicling the adventures of Frodo Baggins and the fight to free Middle Earth of the evil Lord Sauron

[2] An evil ring forged by a dark lord named Sauron, which contains the evil, greed, and power that overtakes and enslaves all the people of Middle Earth.

[3] The fictional world of The Lord of the Rings where Frodo’s epic journey takes place.

[4] A famous wizard in Middle Earth that gives his life to save his friends and further their journey.

[5] Underground city in Middle Earth where Gandalf dies protecting Frodo and his companions from the balrog, or fire monster.

[6] One of Tolkien’s fictional kingdoms of the race of men created by brothers Isildur and Anarion.

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