Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Light Across the River 2: Good points

When I was in high school, our US history class had a role-playing exercise. As I recall, we were a community in the 1850s somewhere in the US that apparently had no specific law covering escaped slaves. (I find this doubtful now, but anyway...) And we happened to have an escaped slave turn up in our midst. What a stroke of luck!

Everyone had some kind of part to play, of course. I was the editor of an Abolitionist newspaper.

Now, the odd things were

1. Though practically all Abolitionists were devout Christians, there was no hint of that for my character, though I provided it, and

2. The local minister was rabidly pro-slavery.

There were pro-slavery ministers back then, as Stephanie Reed acknowledges in her books. But while the pro-slavery position was open to Christian and non-Christian alike, Abolitionism was dominated by Christians of some kind or other, and the major voices for freeing the slaves were at least sympathetic to Christianity and usually dedicated to that faith.

Why did our exercise ignore that fact?

Well, the simple (and probably accurate) answer involves the word "bigotry." If they're going to lie, we need to tell the truth loud and clear. I wish I had had Reed's books back then, but at least the current crop will have this resource. That's my first and probably strongest reason for recommending these two books.

(In case anyone's interested, since the minister was wanting to throw the slave to the wolves, I decided to out-Christian him: my argument was exclusively Biblical, and my opening text was Deuteronomy 23:15--"Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee." That's about as clear a proof-text as you could want. I was mildly surprised that it didn't turn up in Reed's first book, but it's in this one.)

Where The Light Across the River itself is concerned, the strengths are

Stronger focus. The first book had to establish the setting, and there were places where it lost focus as a result: although I technically knew Lowry was the main character, there were times when it was easy to forget that fact. Here, the focus is split between Johnny and Eliza, but so precisely that there's never any doubt. The marked contrast between Eliza and Johnny also helps.

More action. The Light Across the River is primarily character-driven, but there's more action and suspense throughout than in Across the Wide River, where the action came in lumps, so to speak.

More direct. The meandering tendency of the first story pretty well disappears.

More Christian. The Christian element here is stronger as well. While not absent from the first story, it wasn't as focused there and sometimes came across as generically spiritual or inspirational. Not so here.

(And tomorrow, as usual, I'll explore the story's weaknesses.)

You can purchase The Light Across the River at

Christian Books



And Yahoo.

I've pushed the book; let's see if you can push my buttons!

1 comment:

Stephanie Reed said...

Stephen, I'm amazed at your in-depth analysis of my two books. Thanks for taking the time to explore them fully.

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