Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hunter Brown and the Secret of the Shadow 3: Weak Points and Conclusion

I said yesterday that the Miller brothers' Hunter Brown and the Secret of the Shadow has some major strengths that mingle with some of its weaknesses. (I've decided to re-organize my original presentation to avoid unnecessary complexity.) The tricky part in what follows is addressing the problems without committing a spoiler. So I'll start with an easy one that others may disagree with. (Yes, that constitutes permission.)

Hope. Hunter's female counterpart from Sanctuary, that is, not the roommate of Faith and Love. I have no good explanation for this; she just annoyed me somehow. I suspect that I, who am hardly ever bothered by a cover illustration, just didn't like her expression there. But that point aside, her entire arc in the story is a problem for me, especially the conclusion.

Hunter Brainless? There are times when he's reasonably bright, but there are also times when he's frustratingly thick. I still find it hard to believe he doesn't know what happened to his dad, though sheer incredulity may explain that. Then there's the place where he has a chance to neutralize an enemy and accomplish a major goal--but he refuses. If he were an outright coward, I could accept this, but he has shown too much courage by that point. And I would claim that any videogamer would've completed the mission first.

The Setting Paradox. The relationship between Solandria and the Veil is complex. In a way, they interlock as a single reality, but in other ways they don't. The Veritas sword functions in the Veil, though it is apparently invisible to anything purely of the Veil. People can exist in only one place or the other, and the setup isn't allegorical. Yet Solandria seems to be a more spiritual variation on the Veil, a place where something's general nature is more visible for those who look.

With this in mind, I find the situation in Solandria odd. The triumph of Evil is largely an appearance, not a reality, so the predominance of the Shadow is puzzling. That's not to say that Evil does not appear pervasive, but it is miles broad and not even an inch deep--by its very nature. In the Bible we read that the darkness is fading, that the Enemy has already been defeated, that a few saints can put an army to flight. So the view from a spiritual perspective will be very different indeed. The arrival of Aviad, like that of Aslan, should have set things largely right.

The Hunter Paradox. As a related matter, Hunter's spiritual position is both ambiguous and paradoxical. He is friendly to Aviad and company, but not truly under the Author's authority. Yet he uses the Veritas sword, which is presumably a spiritual weapon, to say nothing of the Code of Life. It's possible to be generally in submission to God while remaining rebellious in some areas, but there's no sign that Hunter truly has a relationship with the Author. (There's an ambiguous bit that probably does point to the beginning of such a relationship, but it comes too late to affect his actions in the story proper.)

The Training Paradox. The warriors of the Resistance train using the Revealing Room (rather like the Holodeck in later editions of Star Trek) or the Tempering Stone (a fast-healing, geologic masochist).

It wouldn't work.

I've explained the main problem before: God doesn't seem to believe in sparring practice; he believes in learning in the field. So if you try a training exercise, he probably won't show up, leaving you to learn to trust in your own amazing abilities. So this section takes a modern, mechanistic view of spiritual matters--the sort that reduces faith to magic and God to a machine. You won't find that in the text directly, but it's where the view inevitably leads.

The Bloodstone Paradox. POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT!! I'll try to steer around a spoiler, but this involves something that is revealed at the end of the story. The paradox involves the nature of and relationship among the Bloodstone, Venator, and Hunter. (This is partly where Latin will give you a Major Clue early on.) As a rule, everyone is who he is and nothing more: there is one Sam, one Hope, and so on, and you don't even have a Solandria twin/Veil twin situation. So how do we explain the relationship that's eventually revealed?

The simple explanation is that Solandria is Hunter himself writ extra large. But then he shouldn't have all the other people traipsing around inside. It would also mess up the identification between Solandria and the Veil. So the simple explanation doesn't work. What's the alternative?

Right off, I don't know. There's also the problem of death, which wouldn't be an issue under the simple explanation but otherwise is. When a character dies, God either does a temporary resurrection (as with Lazarus) or puts him in a whole new story (the resurrection). Yet it's implied that a character can be reintroduced as is, while the resurrection is transformative, not a re-run. The paradox remains unresolved.

Conclusion. I still recommend the book. Although there are numerous paradoxes or contradictions, the kids this is intended for probably won't pick up on them. Noting the problems isn't silly--this is presented as a serious story, not something with anthropomorphic talking animals, for example--so examining the deeper levels is reasonable. But it's primarily spiritual edutainment for kids, and on that level it works well enough.

The rest of the CSFF bloggers probably aren't reading the book with a microscope, so you might want to check them out:
Brandon Barr
Keanan Brand
Melissa Carswell
Valerie Comer
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Shane Deal
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Marcus Goodyear
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
Jason Isbell
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Mike Lynch
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Wade Ogletree
John W. Otte
Crista Richey
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
Jill Williamson


Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Gotta say, you surprised me.

First, it seems you are looking too hard for allegorical representations at times--thus the problems with the use of the sword and the training exercises. Don't lose sight of the fact that this is a story and all elements don't have to fit theology.

If the authors made a clear one-to-one representation, such as the Author with God, then I think they need to be consistent, but no such clarity is offered with the Sword. One blogger equated it with the Spirit. I myself thought of it as a representation of Scripture, but even that doesn't "work" in an allegorical way because Hunter had to dwell on Scripture to make Scripture work?

Instead, I think those elements are symbolic and can make us think more deeply about Truth and such, but in this story they don't need to withstand theological scrutiny.

On the other hand, you missed what I think is a clear Scriptural reference when Hunter dies to self and the Author gives him new life (I started to write "in Christ" because it just seems so clear to me). Definitely they were not portraying Hunter as physically dying.

The whole Hunter/Venator thing also seems clear, but not in the allegorical way you tried to explain it (and found wanting). To a degree Solandria is spiritual reality, but not allegorically--just symbolically, so there don't have to be one-on-on correlations.

Hunter learned in his first vision that evil exists, and when he came out of the vision, he saw in the mirror that it existed in him. It scared him and he didn't like it and he didn't always see it. But he didn't learn what to do about it until he actually went to Solandria, finally met evil face to face, and allowed the Author to deal with it.

The Millers used some metaphor and some allegory, but I just didn't think it was hard to tell which was which. Maybe that's my mistake.


Steve said...

The sword: this is a sword that masnifests in connection with the Code of Life; its manifestation cannot be documented by physical means such as a camera. So I think the sword must be considered a spiritual phenomenon, and such phenomena do not behave mechanistically. The story proper corroborates that, if inconsistently. I'm not claiming allegory here--if it were allegorical, the book would become the sword. I'm not even directly talking about theology, just consistency: the claims made at one point contradict those made elsewhere.

Hunter's death: I'm sure that's the intention. However, the phrasing is peculiar, to say the least:

"I looked down at myself and suddenly realized that I didn't exist. I was aware of everything around me, I could hear, sense, see, and think, but there was nothing to contain me, no body to call my own. It was all very disturbing. Even after the Bloodstone had been taken and my physical form faded into a ghostly glow, I'd felt some level of comfort from the phantom state I was in. This, however, was different. I wasn't there at all." (pp. 363-364)

This pushes the death-and-resurrection metaphor beond the breaking point. It's almost like teaching the complete removal of the sinful nature--in fact, that's the obvious reading. For if he has been completely reconstituted, any remaining sinfulness would have to have been placed there by the Author.

Hunter/Venator: The problem is that Hunter not only has A sin nature; he has THE sin nature. He, not Sam, Hope, Faldyn, or anyone else, produced the Fall. (Take a good look at p. 346.) That's why he is the key to undoing it: he IS Solandria and its Fall. However, in that case, his salvation should eliminate or marginalize the Shadow. But it also means that no one else (except Aviad and the Author) can exist: Sam and friends cannot truly be part of his sinful inner world, which is also somehow a dire influence on the Veil.

Thus the paradox (or even contradiction): Hunter both MUST BE and CANNOT BE Solandria. Now, Aviad (or Jesus, anyway) can be both: He is and is not Adam, he is and is not Israel/the Church. But then, he's fully God and fully man, too. A mortal who isn't fully God couldn't do it.

How does Hunter manage it?

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Well, I read Hunter not as Adam but as having Adam's nature, meaning that he would do exactly as Adam did if given the same circumstances. It was this he discovered. His seeing himself as Venator.

I suppose I read this and saw what I myself believe. And the thing is, he didn't really solve the problems for Solandria, so I suppose the front end of the book that makes the story all about the evil forces bent on stopping him and the good bent on helping him succeed isn't consistent with the back half when he learns he can't do what needs to be done. I see what you're saying.


Steve said...

The problem is (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!) that "Venator" is Latin for "Hunter." When I first saw that, I thought, "Okay, Good Hunter and Bad Hunter." Wrong: they're essentially the same person, which is how Venator gets in Hunter's head and vice versa. The twin situation is unique to Hunter/Venator, apparently.

Now, it's true that all of us were in Adam and participated in his sin. That's why we needed a virgin-born savior: he would be fully human but out of Adam's loop, because being born of a virgin, he wasn't "in" Adam. (See Heb 7:9-10 for a similar concept.) So technically, everyone in Solandria should carry around a sliver of Bloodstone.

But instead, Hunter alone has the Bloodstone, because he is Venator. And that leads to major problems that I won't go into here.

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