Sunday, January 4, 2009

Eretzel 2: Good points

William McGrath's Eretzel has several positives, but I'll start with one of the lesser ones:

Action. Lots of it. Most of it involves fighting, but there's a certain amount of running for one's life as well. This isn't extremely important for me, but it should be a consolation to many others, because the truly important feature of Eretzel is

Intelligence. Lots of that, too. And yes, that does mean some exposition. Now, if you're a geek, it's interesting exposition. But I think it's fairly interesting even if you aren't, and it's fairly brief as well. I reflexively distrust anything that's all action all the time, as a review later this week will mention. So given the action level, a little expository breather now and then is useful. Mens sana in corpore sano and all that: we need balance. Nor is the exposition purely geek material. Some involves the art of war, relationship issues, and theology.

Mythopoeia. Go ahead; work that word into your next conversation. In a way I'm cheating with this point, since it is closely related to the previous one, but myth-creation is culturally important, and we've been outsourcing to dubious sources lately.

It wouldn't be quite accurate to compare Eretzel (or Asulon for that matter) to Lord of the Rings; Tolkien did synthesize elements from British, Nordic, Greek and Roman culture and mythology from a Christian perspective, but he did so on a rather limited canvas--Middle Earth was a dinky place, really. And he regarded the Story as the end rather than as the means. Lewis, meanwhile, was less coherent in his adaptation of mythology--and Tolkien consequently despised the Chronicles of Narnia--but he knew that the STORY behind the Story, like the Christ behind the Christian, was the big deal. (The Narnia stories also had a far broader canvas, including England in two rather different periods, Calormen, and the islands. It even included different periods for Narnia proper beyond anything in LotR.) That's why, LotR's magisterial qualities aside, Tolkien was being a twit in putting down Chronicles of Narnia. In Eternity, we will find Lewis' work far more highly regarded than Tolkien's.

All of which is to say that McGrath's work is more like Lewis' than like Tolkien's. (Actually, it's somewhat like Fénelon's Adventures of Telemachus, but who reads that these days? Read it in French, if you aren't a wimp!) It may also be usefully compared to Rowling's Harry Potter series. One of the things that bothered me about the Potter books was their emptiness, their shallowness. They remind me of an old cathedral that still has much beautiful art, but has stood empty and dead for generations. She uses Christian symbols, but she seems to have no clue what they mean at a deep level. In fact, she reminds me of Mr. Sensible from Lewis' The Pilgrim's Regress: met before the pilgrim's conversion to Christianity, Mr. Sensible appears to be a mélange of philosophies and ideas, but on the Regress proper, seen from a spiritual perspective, he and his house are quite invisible. The angelic guide explains that Mr. Sensible was a mere patchwork of ideas he did not himself understand, so there was really nothing of his own to see.

McGrath, on the other hand, seems to understand his sources, especially in terms of their Christian underpinnings. So there are worshippers in this cathedral, and the art looks better as a result.

THE ANAKIM! THE ANAKIM! (That's vaguely funny if you've gone very far in the story.) Although we don't have a lot of the Moor/Simon byplay from Asulon (some, but not as much as I would've hoped--see my gripes list tomorrow), we do have the Anakim, who are literally larger than life. There are technically other characters as well, but most of them are eclipsed by the big guys. It was probably good planning on McGrath's part to keep them and the other major characters apart much of the time, because the Anakim would probably win. They are so powerful that they're the ones chosen to put the hit on the Antichrist. Why not? They'll beat up Rema itself while they're there. But there's more to them than just steroids on steroids; they're plenty smart, and they have some non-violent interactions that are quite touching. Simon says they're the essence of a true man blown up beyond the human scale, and he's not kidding.

Probably the strongest performance is Gath's. He's the eldest, and I can't help thinking he's related to Moor. (In fact, if Moor said "Shazaam!" he'd probably turn into Gath.) Unlike his brothers, Gath does not follow God. Oh, he knows God is there, but he doesn't like him for tossing Father Anak out of Heaven. Will Gath ever get his spiritual act together? Will Moor, for that matter?

Morality. Daniel's relationship with Rachel is unapologetically pure, and the idea sneaks in that a real man waits while mere wimps tumble into bed. Not everyone is so virtuous, and there are some good bad examples with realistic downsides. As a rule, if a guy pushes his girlfriend into sex, he'll tend to disappear when she gets pregnant. The points are made subtly enough that I doubt most readers will notice.

Tune in tomorrow for a list of gripes--not just mine but some I'm sure others will have, including a few I consider bogus.


cathikin said...

I want to just borrow this for my next blog on the book. Or at least quote heavily from it. Love the points you raised.

Steve said...

Back to the Mountains: raising points and eyebrows since its inception!

Powered by WebRing.