Oddities only strike ordinary people. Oddities do not strike odd people. This is why ordinary people have a much more exciting time … The old fairy tale makes the hero a normal human boy; it is his adventures that are startling. They startle him because he is normal. The fairy tale discusses what a sane man will do in a mad world.G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Chapter 2
And you are mine.
So, the Sunshine Blogger award is given to bloggers by other bloggers who believe that the recipients spread sunshine. Imagine how surprised and thrilled I was to be given this award by Rachael Corbin at The Crooked Pen. Thanks, Rachael!
The Sunshine Blogger award is also a tag. If you get tagged, you must …
- Thank the person who nominated you and provide a link back to their blogging site.
- Answer the questions.
- Nominate 11 other bloggers and ask them 11 new questions.
- Notify the nominees about it by commenting on one of their blog posts.
- List the rules and display the sunshine blogger award logo on your site or on your post.
So, Numbers 1 and 5 down, 2 through 4 to go.
Here were Rachael’s questions:
- What was the most transformative reading experience you have ever had?
I am going to leave out those times when I’m reading some passage in the Bible and all of a sudden something jumps out and punches me in the gut. Or when it crawls into my head and becomes lembas that I feed on throughout the day. Some of you readers will know what I mean.
Other than that, my most transformative reading experience has been ‘Til We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis. I read it in college. The tortured friendship between Orual and Psyche in the book closely mirrored a relationship that had been toturing me through the previous several years … though of course with a much more tragic yet satisfying ending. Anway, it helped me see that some of the problems we were having were not purely my fault nor purely hers, but built into the nature of reality. Also, Faces is just packed with insights and it’s set in an ancient pagan culture, which I love. C.S. Lewis is under-appreciated for his ability to write horror, and there is plenty of that in this book.
2. What is a book you wish someone would write?
To be honest, it’s probably already been written.
I’m a sucker for well-researched fiction set in ancient cultures. So I would love to read a book set in the heyday of the Anasazi … or Carthage during the Punic Wars … or a Noble Savage book where the noble savage is one of the Gauls during Caesar’s Gallic Wars … or What Was Really Going with Stonehenge.
I have seen people take a stab at some of these, but never as thoroughly as I’d like. But, again, they are probably out there. I just haven’t discovered them yet.
For example, Bjorn Andreas-Bull Hansen has written some novels about Vikings. I think these are exactly the Viking novels I’ve always wanted to read … but they don’t exist in a language that I know! Aargh! (By the way, go to his site. Sign the petition to get his books translated into English.)
But I have, in my possession, waiting to be read, Pompeii by Robert Harris and People of the Silence (about the Anasazi) by Kathleen O’Neal Gear and Michael W. Gear. I have high hopes for both these books.
3. Where is somewhere you really want to go, but have only read about in a book?
It would be shorter to list places that don’t match that description.
I guess my current #1 place would be Mongolia. I had to research it for my first book, and it looks so beautiful. It also resembles my home state a bit in the sense of being vast, treeless, high-altitude, and far inland. And I love the herding culture. The food is gross though. (Follow that link and scroll down to the heading “Exotic Nomad Foods.”) Also, my kids are extremely interested in the Mongolian Death Worm.
4. If you could have a book re-written, which book would it be?
1984. I know, I know, the ending is integral to the book itself, but … still. I would like to see Winston hold firm at the end. Or find out that Julia had.
5. What is a book you dislike that everyone else loves?
1984 and The Great Gatsby. (Or, I guess people love these?)
6. If you had the power to bring any mythical creature to life, which creature would it be?
The Mongolian Death Worm.
Just kidding. I don’t know. Maybe Grendel so I could find out whether he was really a T-Rex.
7. Where is your ideal reading spot?
When I am reading, any spot becomes ideal. (Car, bus seat, middle of a party …) But I prefer to be comfy (plushy chair or sofa) with a view of the outdoors and some place to set my coffee.
8. What is the most disappointing book you have ever read and why?
OK, I am going to pick on one particular book here, but it’s representative of a whole category of disappointing books.
The Sign by Raymond Khoury, 2009. This book was disappointing for many different reasons (see my full review of it here). But the main reason was this: it promised mystical adventures but delivered only international intrigue.
It is not the only book that has this problem. It’s just the only one that I happen to be able to remember the title of.
9. What is your favorite genre of book and why?
Ancient mysteries/historical fiction set in ancient cultures. But I don’t read a lot of this genre for two reasons. Firstly, it’s kind of hard to find. Too often, purported “ancient mysteries” books end up being modern thrillers. (See above.) And when I do find a book that scratches this itch, I have to be careful. If I’m writing my own version of this genre at the time, I don’t necessarily want to be pulled into another world until my own has gelled.
So what I end up reading a lot is mysteries, especially mysteries with an anthropological bent like those by the wonderful Tony Hillerman.
As for why the “ancient mysteries” genre is my favorite (also why I like my mysteries to be anthropological), I can do no better than to quote the following poem from C.S. Lewis, titled, “To Certain Writers of Science Fiction”:
Why did you lead us on like this
Light-year on light-year, through the abyss,
Building, as if we cared for size,
Empires that covered galaxies,
If at the journey’s end we find
The same old stuff we left behind …
Well-worth Tellurian stories of
Crooks, spies, conspirators, or love,
Whose setting might as well have been
The Bronx, Montmarte, or Bethnal Green?
Why should I leave this green-floored cell,
Roofed with blue air, in which we dwell,
Unless, beyond its guarded gates,
Long, long desired, the unearthly waits:
Strangeness that moves us more than fear,
Beauty that stabs with tingling spear,
Or wonder, laying on the heart
That fingertip at which we start
As if some thought too swift and shy
For reason’s grasp had just gone by?
10. If you could make one book required reading, which book would it be and why?
The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton. I almost listed this one as my transformative book because it set me free to love paganism while still remaining a Christian. I think everyone should read it because there is a ton of misunderstanding out there about the pagan roots of all cultures, and this book clears that up in such a beautiful, lyrically written way even though it’s nonfiction.
One major qualifier. Chesterton frequently lapses into anti-Semitism and it’s really jarring, not to mention inconsistent with his usual generous way of viewing the world. (TEM was published in 1925, before the Holocaust.) Also, as this book was written almost 100 years ago, Chesterton can come off as overly focused on the West and a bit insensitive and ignorant about non-Western cultures. Nevertheless, his insights about paganism can be fruitfully applied to any traditional culture, and I think they ought to be.
Other than that, I heartily recommend this book. I am thinking about doing a Hallowe’en post that relies heavily upon it.
11. What is your favorite bookish ship? (noncanonical and crack-ships are acceptable answers)
Haha, so at first I was going to name the Dawn Treader from Voyage of the Dawn Treader because I don’t read a lot of sea stories …
For those who aren’t up on fan fiction terminology (as I barely am), a ship is when you imagine two characters from a book or books getting together as couple. (Short for “relationship.”) Non-canonical ships are pairings that didn’t happen in the original book or series. “Crack” ships are pairings that you would have to be on crack to even think of.
I am not a big noncanonical shipper. I just enjoy the ships as they show up in the books. But, I did always think that rather than going off to live with the dwarfs and eventually get kissed by the Prince, Snow White ought to have run off with the huntsman.
Now, here are my questions for you …
- What kinds of non-fiction are you most likely to read?
- What is your culture crush? If you are a book blogger, you must have at least one. But please feel free to list more than one.
- What one currently living writer would you most like to have lunch, a beer, or coffee with? (Pastors count if they have written a good book or two. Bonus points if it’s a pastor you could have a beer with.)
- What genre do you think is not your favorite, but find yourself picking up again and again?
- Sex scenes: poetic, explicit, or none at all?
- Favorite animal protagonist from a book or series?
- Have you ever stopped identifying with the point-of-view character in a novel, and what caused it?
- Did you then finish the book, or put it down?
- Dream vehicle from real life or fiction.
- If you currently have a Work in Progress (or are pitching a recently finished one out), give us your one-sentence hook for it.
- Post a favorite poem or fragment of poetry. If you don’t read poetry, then song lyrics count.
By the way. Commenters, if one of these questions really pulls your chain, feel free to answer it in the comments.
The following bloggers are my sunshine:
Kathleen Rollins of Misfits and Heroes
R.S. Rook of The Rookery
David of The Warden’s Walk
Black Sheep of Not Sheep Minded
Ed Mooney of Ruinhunter
Jaclyn of Tiny Ticky Tacky
Colin of ColinD.Smith.com
When I think about The End of the World as We Know It, one thing I worry about is the availability of coffee.
I am sure this is a concern of yours as well. Assuming that you get through the Zombie Apocalypse, the EMP, the Rising Sea Levels, or whatever your personal big fear is, and find yourself among a group of scrappy survivors, I guarantee you some of them are going to want coffee. It might even become a hot commodity. Worth its weight in gold.
The Inspiration for this Project
The project documented in this post was inspired by S.M. Stirling’s The Change series. In the first book, Dies the Fire, the world of the 1990s is interrupted when all electronics, engines, and gunpowder suddenly cease to function. At that point the series becomes alternate history. The series migrates toward Game of Thrones style fantasy the longer it goes on, but the first few books especially are more in the post-apocalyptic genre, about people surviving and starting to rebuild society in the Northwest and in Northern California. And once they get a steady food supply going, their coffee substitute is “roasted, ground chicory roots.”
I could probably find chicory coffee at a co-op type food store, but I want to try to make it myself. That’s the only way I can learn about the process and find out if such a thing would be feasible.
Lessons from the Chicory Experiment
Chicory is a wildflower that grows all along the highways in our region at certain times of year. Though there is an abundant supply of it on the medians, that’s not the safest place to gather it in this pre-apocalyptic world where vehicles of all kinds are still whizzing by. So I had to seek chicory on a back road. In this picture, the plants with lavender colored flowers are chicory and the ones with white flowers are Queen Anne’s Lace.
Today’s weather is very humid, and it’s so hot that there is a heat advisory. Also, it turns out that chicory grows surrounded by thistles and extremely sharp-bladed grass.
Lesson 1: Gather chicory in the early morning, before the day gets hot. Wear cowboy boots, not flip flops.
I assumed that chicory would have a taproot similar to a dandelion’s, so I brought a small trowel. I couldn’t find my dandelion picking tool, so I brought a large screwdriver, which is almost as good for digging down beside the taproot to loosen the soil.
It turns out that chicory roots are similar to dandelion’s, but much larger, deeper, and woodier.
Lesson 2: I probably could have brought a regular garden shovel instead.
Here is the chicory I gathered. I have no idea how much “coffee” this quantity will make, but I’m hoping it will be enough for one cup. Finding out is part of the purpose of this experiment. I don’t have the time or energy to dig more due to having come at the wrong time of day. Clearly, I have a lot to learn as a hunter/gatherer.
Next step. Google the process just to make sure I don’t accidentally poison myself by skipping a step. (We won’t be able to Google stuff after the apocalypse, which is all the more reason to do it now.) The search takes me here. Hank Shaw is a “hunter, angler, gardener, forager, and cook” and he seems to know what he’s talking about. Uh-oh, he says you need to harvest chicory in the fall. But he seems to have harvested some in the summer with no ill effects. Onward.
Here are the roots after being washed. I need to cut them into thin slices, dry them for two or three days in the sunshine, and then roast them as directed. Cutting them yields mixed results. Some have a woody core so tough that I have to saw it, with dirt trapped between this core and the outer, soft layer. Others are softer, solid and cuttable all the way through, more like cutting a carrot. My guess is that Hank’s nice, plump “root chicory” is more like this.
Lesson 3: Wild chicory might not be the way to go. It might be smarter to cultivate it.
My roots have yielded this measly tray of chicory slices. Following the expert, I sun them on the back of my vehicle. They dry out for a few hours, and then promptly get rained on. I sop them up with a paper towel and move the tray to our sun porch.
Lesson 4: Obvious.
After two days of drying on our sun porch, the chicory slices had visibly shrunk and felt dry. I put them in a 350 degree oven for about an hour and a half. During this time, the house filled with a curious warm malty smell, as predicted on Hank Shaw’s web site. This was reassuring, because it meant that I was in fact roasting the right kind of root. On the other hand, my family complained about the smell.
Lesson 5: There is going to be a lot of complaining around our house after the apocalypse. But I kind of knew that already.
This is what the chicory roots looked like after about 90 minutes. They look done.
Next, I ground the chicory in a food processor …
… And put it in a one-cup coffee filter. As I had hoped, it was just the right amount for one mug.
As you can see, the roots don’t grind up nice and even like coffee grounds. There are some bigger chunks, and then there’s some powder that’s as fine as French Press coffee or even baking powder or something. Perhaps I could have gotten the chunks chopped up further if I’d been willing to grind them for longer, but as I was grinding, fine dust kept escaping from the food processor and coating the surrounding counter. I stopped when I figured the grounds would be sufficient. If you were grinding roast chicory in large quantities, there’d be certain to be a lot of dust.
If there were no electricity, I guess I’d be forced to crush it in my marble mortar:
I poured hot water over the grounds, and it worked great! A very creditable cup of something that looks exactly like coffee.
The wet grounds, and the liquid itself, smell very smoky. I’m going to try it black first, because after the apocalypse there is unlikely to be spare milk, let alone hazelnut creamer.
It tastes exactly as Hank Shaw describes it: “a brighter acidity than coffee and … ‘earthy.'”
I give a sip of it to my trucker husband, who ought to know about mediocre coffee.
Me: Does it taste like truck stop coffee?
Him: Truck stops couldn’t sell coffee if it tasted like this.
Well, it tastes OK to me. But I might be slightly invested, seeing as how I made it.
I add milk and continue to drink. It tastes most coffee-like when hot. As it cools, it begins to taste more and more like … smoke. Now I realize I’ve had this before. I think it was called “smoke tea.” It must have been chicory. I like the flavor, but I realize it wouldn’t be for everybody.
But the bottom line is: I did it! I did it! I dug up a common wildflower and forced it to yield a coffeelike substance. It was a bit of a project, but not hugely inconvenient and actually took less processing than I’ve heard real coffee takes.
Lesson 6: It is possible to make a coffee substitute from chicory, even if you have little previous knowledge or skills.
A fellow blogger, Never Not Reading, made this delightful post: More Religious Characters Please. She points out that devout religious characters, particularly Christians, are extremely rare in fiction compared to their distribution in the general population.
I Have my Doubts about the Concept of Representation
She comes at this from the “representation” point of view, which is predicated on the idea that every kind of person ought to be able to find someone like them in fiction, and that if they can’t, this is somehow unfair or discriminatory. I don’t actually buy in to the assumptions behind this view. There are philosophical problems with the concept of “someone who is like me” that, if we parsed them, I suspect we would never get to the bottom of. I also think there are some other faulty assumptions packed in to the idea of representation: assumptions about what fiction means to the author and what fiction is meant to do for the reader. So, I find the whole idea of representation suspect.
Is This Persecution?
However, Never Not Reading is right about one thing. Religion plays a large role in life for very many – perhaps the majority – of people. It does not play any role in the characters’ lives in much of the fiction that is out there. This is even true of fiction set in historical periods such as the Middle Ages.
When religion does play a major role in a story, it is often portrayed as a force for evil. That goes double for Christianity.
What is the reason for this?
Never Not Reading goes out of her way to emphasize that she is not saying this lack of religious characters is a form of persecution. I agree. I think there are many complex reasons for it, which we will explore below.
Possible Reasons Non-Christian Authors Don’t Portray Devout Christian Characters
They don’t know any Christians in real life. Although polls will tell you that the majority of U.S. citizens identify as Christian, there are large pockets of society that are very secular. One of these is New York City, home to the publishing industry in America. Another is L.A., home to Hollywood. If you are an artist or writer, you are likely to move to one of these places to launch your career. There, it is easy to live your life without ever interacting with anyone who is openly Christian. It’s easy to get the impression that most people are secular, at least most normal people. And if your mental image of Christians is some variety of kook, it’s possible that some of your acquaintances are believers and you don’t realize it because they seem so normal.
It’s easier to portray madness than sanity, evil than good. Most people are bored by portrayals of virtue. A story with no evil in it is going to come grinding quickly to a halt. So if you are going to put religion into your story, it is easier to make the religious person the villain. The villain in Stephen King’s Misery, Annie, is a beautifully drawn portrayal of a crazy person who at first seems normal. Nothing beats the creepiness of the moment when, after torturing the hero, she starts to tell him that she has been talking to God.
Religion is also a great way to add punch, depth, and believability to your villain/cult leader. Christian-type religions, when they go bad, go really terrifyingly bad. This is easier to portray than the comparatively sane boring version, especially if you don’t actually know any sane and boring Christian groups.
They may actually hate them. Writing fiction is unavoidably a spiritual practice. Fiction is about how we see the world, people, the problem of evil, the cosmos … in short, about how we see reality. The only instruments we have with which to perceive and portray these things are our own eyes, ears, mind, and heart. These are the tools with which we write fiction.
Fiction will therefore reflect the author’s personal spiritual state as well as his or her unique personality. If a person has rejected God, their heart may actually be at war with God and with His people. This may come out in their writing, particularly if their writing is deep and heartfelt.
Stephen King, again, is a great example of this. He is a brilliant writer. I love his work. I tried to read Insomnia, and I couldn’t get through it because the pro-life character was also a despicable wife-beater (and was showing signs, when I stopped reading, of maybe being possessed by something or other. After all, it’s a Stephen King novel.)
Again, I am not saying this phenomenon is persecution. It is a natural consequence of the nature of fiction. It is always possible, when reading an author, to tell what he or she loves and hates. And some authors do hate Christians.
Possible Reasons Christian Authors Don’t Portray Devout Christian Characters
They wish to have wide appeal. Christian authors are aware that religion of any kind, but particularly Christianity, is Kryptonite to many people. It is enough to make people put down a book. That’s a shame, particularly if the story we are telling can be told without overt Christianity. After all, our first duty is to entertain the reader. We are not preachers, we are storytellers, so the story itself is supposed to be what we bring to the reader.
They fear being defensive. If we do put Christianity in to our book, aware that some readers will be skeptical or hostile, we could fall into making the book an apology or defense of our religion. Good authors don’t want to write a thinly veiled philosophical or political rant. (Hi there, Ayn Rand! Hello, Dan Brown!). They just want to tell a story. This is really, really tricky to do if we are feeling defensive, on account of the whole author’s-spiritual-state-comes-out-in-the-writing thing. So to avoid preachiness, it can be easier simply to avoid the whole topic.
They fear being unoriginal. As an author who grew up in the church, when I first started writing I wanted my writing to be interesting and new. Anything drawing on the Bible would be, I felt, tame and derivative. (Of course, that didn’t stop 12-year-old me from shamelessly ripping off Tolkien.)
Unfortunately, if you want to be wise it does not do to turn away from the font of all wisdom. In the years since, I have discovered that the Old and New Testaments are an incredibly rich source of story, history, myth, emotion, insight and symbolism that literally never runs dry. Some of my favorite pieces of art draw openly from the Bible. But surprisingly, instead of making them tired and derivative, this gives them their power. An example is Johnny Cash’s When the Man Comes Around. The lyrics are literally just a series of random quotes from the Old Testament prophets (plus a few quotes from Jesus), and the song still gives me goose bumps every time.
Religion is just too big to control in our writing.
This, I think, is the #1 problem for both Christian and non-Christian writers. If we are going to write about true religion (as opposed to the fake and hypocritical kind), then we are writing about God. We have just unleashed God into our book. This is sort of like blithely grabbing on to a blasting fire hose. It immediately introduces all these deep, destructive, hard-to-portray realities that are just too much for most writers to corral.
What kind of book we are capable of writing depends on our wisdom and maturity as a writer and as a person. I have made the mistake of trying to write about God when I was an immature writer, and I was not. Ready. For it. Trying to “include” God threw off all the dynamics of the book and basically destroyed it. My writing about the other characters wasn’t deep or wise enough to keep up. I wasn’t yet good enough at writing about the human heart, about suffering, about betrayal. My characters were paper dolls and God was a firehose.
Dostoevsky can do it. Mary Doria Russell did a great job in The Sparrow. But for us ordinary writers, if we choose to stay away from making religion a serious part of our plot, I think it might just be a sign of knowing our limits.
Do You Get “Culture Crushes”?
I admit it: I get “culture crushes.”
My earliest and most enduring culture crush has been on Native American culture. This started very early, perhaps by the time I was five. By the time I could read on my own, I was on a sharp lookout for any book with an Indian on the cover. That was all it took to make me pick up the book and devour it.
Here are some of the books I’ve discovered … as a kid, and then later, as an adult.
This is an incomplete list on two counts. First of all, there are obviously many fine books out there, by Native and non-Native people alike, that I have yet to discover and read. Secondly, this isn’t even a complete list of all the books I’ve read on this topic. I can think of at least
six seven eight twelve other books that I remember vividly, but can’t remember enough about the titles to track them down.
As A Kid
- North American Indians, by Marie and Douglas Gorsline, Random House, 1977. This book was the introduction to Native American tribes and their lifestyles for my siblings and me. It’s a good overview of the different cultural regions of North America, including a map at the beginning of the book. For each region, it names one or two of the best-known tribes and gives a few pages of details about their lifestyle, beautifully illustrated. The last page of the book is about sign language, which it says functioned as a lingua franca for the different Plains tribes. It includes a number of illustrations of the different signs. What could be more fun?
- Runner for the King by Rowena Bastin Bennett, 1962. I must have been seven years old when I read this book. I have no doubt that I picked it up because it featured my two favorite things: Indians, and the word “king.” It takes place in the ancient Incan kingdom, but I didn’t know that at the time. All I knew was that it did not disappoint. The boy on the front cover runs through rugged mountain landscapes. He encounters a fellow runner who has been beaten and tied up by enemies, so the boy must run the next messenger’s leg of the journey as well as his own. He has to climb over a rock slide. At last, he makes it to the king with his message and is personally honored by the king. I now realize, looking at the drawing, that the boy’s face on this cover does not look particularly Incan. It looks more like Peter Pan colored reddish brown. But at the time, this boy – particularly this picture on the cover – instantly became my standard for fitness and beauty. You’d laugh about that if you knew me, because I look less like this lean, fit, dark-haired runner, and more like … well, Shirley Temple.
- Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Scholastic, Inc., 1935, 1953, 1963. This is the Little House book in which the Ingalls family go into “Indian country,” homestead there for less than a year, and then are moved out by changing government policy, not too long after the same government has forced the Indians to leave. This book has been called racist, but that is a foul slander. It portrays a lot of complexity in the Ingalls family’s experience with the Indians. Charles Ingalls, Laura’s “Pa,” in particular clearly respects the Indians. He gently rebukes some other settlers when they speak of the Indians in a dehumanizing way, and he talks with enthusiasm about a buffalo hunt: “Now that’s something I’d like to see!” There is also a scene where Pa has been hunting a wildcat that he knows is hanging around the creek. He needs to find and kill it so that it doesn’t attack his family. He meets an Indian man, who gives him to understand with signs that three days ago he found the very cat and shot it out of a tree.
- Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims by Clyde Robert Bulla, illustrated by Peter Buchard, Scholastic. Squanto’s story is truly an incredible one. The scene I remember best from this book is that of Squanto trying to sleep on his first night in a British room. The bed is too soft and uncomfortable. Finally he sleeps on the floor.
- The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare. An Indian boy and his father befriend a white boy who has been left on his own to manage the family’s new cabin until the rest of his family can join him. The Indian boy teaches the white boy wood lore and such things as the signs that the different clans leave on trees. The white boy teaches the Indian boy to read. The Indian boy is really offended by the role of Friday in Robinson Crusoe, which rocks his new friend’s world.
- Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. I don’t remember this one very well, but I know that I read it as a kid. It’s the story of an incredibly tough and resourceful girl surviving on her own on an island. Catnip to Kid Me.
- Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. Trina Schart Hyman is one of my favorite illustrators, which just makes this book all the better. This book is not primarily about Indians, but they do play an increasingly big role as the book progresses. Caddie befriends them and then ends up sneaking across the river to visit them and head off a conflict.
- Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks. Omri owns a small metal medicine cupboard that can bring his plastic toys to life. When it does, he discovers that they are not toys but have actual lives and personalities of their own. This series is one of the most poignant I’ve ever read.
- I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven, Dell Publishing, 1973. This one barely makes it into the “childhood” category. I read it in seventh grade, in a year when we read many books set in other cultures (such as The Good Earth and Things Fall Apart). And I Heard the Owl definitely belongs in that august company. It rises to the level of literature. Owl tells the story of Mark, a young priest who goes to serve a small Indian community in remote British Columbia. My favorite scene is the one in which he suddenly realizes that some of the women are talking about him, in front of him, and protests that they’ve got their facts wrong. He has acquired a passive knowledge of the language without really trying. He must have quite a gift for languages indeed, because those coastal Native languages are really complex.
As An Adult
- The Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee series by Tony Hillerman. Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee both work for the Navajo Tribal Police. Joe is a tough old cynic. Jim is a young visionary. “Tony Hillerman was the former president of Mystery Writers of America and received its Edgar and Grand Master awards. His other honors include the Center for the American Indian’s Ambassador Award, the Silver Spur Award for best novel set in the West, and the Navajo Tribe’s Special Friend Award. He lived with his wife in Albuquerque, New Mexico.” — From the jacket of A Thief of Time, Harper, 1988, 1990, 2000, 2009. Update: Tony Hillerman’s daughter, Anne Hillerman, is now continuing the Leaphorn and Chee series. I just finished Cave of Bones (2018) by her. It’s really good. Chee has married a fellow Navajo police officer, and Leaphorn is living with a white woman since his wife died of cancer earlier in the series. Anne Hillerman incorporates even more Navajo terms into the books than her father did, and the greeting (Ya’at’eeh) is now spelled with even more diacritic marks.
- The Grieving Indian by Arthur H. and George McPeek, 1988. Arthur H. is a Native pastor, recovering alcoholic, and boarding school survivor. He has many excellent insights about unresolved grief, which he believes is the root cause of most of the problems facing Native individuals, families, and communities.
- Bruchko by Bruce Olson, Charisma House, 1978, 2006. Bruce Olson goes to live among the Motilone Indians of Colombia. After much fruitless struggle to integrate, he is befriended by a remarkable young man his own age who tells Bruce his “heart name.” In time, Christ comes to the Motlione in a way that is very organic to their culture. This book is filled with goosebump-raising moments.
- Black Elk’s Vision: A Lakota Story by S.D. Nelson, Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2010. Black Elk grew up in the Lakota tribe. At the age of nine, he was given a troubling vision that essentially invited his tribe to choose life rather than bitterness. He did not share this vision with anyone for several years. He was present at the battle of Little Bighorn, and later traveled to England as a dancer in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. Besides the illustrations done by the author, the book includes a historical drawing done by Red Horse and many authentic black and white photographs.
- Windigo Island by William Kent Krueger, 2014. Girls are disappearing from the Ojibwe reservation. Cork O’Connor goes off to find one of them, and ends up in North Dakota.
- Thunderhead by Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston. A team of archaeologists discovers a lost Anasazi city and figures out what wiped the Anasazi out. There are no modern-day Indians among the main characters in this book, but near the end, one does play a key role.
Children’s Books Discovered As An Adult
- Little Runner of the Longhouse by Betty Baker, pictures by Arnold Lobel, an I Can Read Book by Harper & Row Publishers, New York & Evanston, 1962. Little Runner is an extremely relatable Iroquois boy whose main goal in life is to get some maple sugar.
- Rabbit’s Snow Dance by James & Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by Jeff Newman, 2012. This legend explains why rabbit, who started out with a long, beautiful tail, now has a short, fuzzy one. It also explains why cottonwood trees are full of “cotton.” Like many Native legends, it contains a not-so-subtle warning about being proud, wanting our own way, and not listening to warnings from our elders. “I will make it snow! A-zi-ka-na-po!”
- A Salmon for Simon by Better Waterton, illustrated by Ann Blades, copyright 1978, first Meadow Mouse edition 1990, first revised Meadow Mouse edition 1996, reprinted 1998. A Meadow Mouse Paperback, Groundwood Books/Douglas & McIntyre, Toronto, Ontario. Simon, who lives in a village on the Pacific coast of Canada, has been trying all day to catch a salmon. When he sees one drop from an eagle’s talons, he has to decide whether to eat it or save it.
I can’t believe that I didn’t know this guy existed until he died.
He wrote dense, “baroque” science fiction, and he helped to invent the machine that makes Pringles. What’s not to love?
On a more serious note, he cared for his wife as she was deteriorating with Alzheimer’s disease. Many many people do similar things, and all of them are heroes.
No, I haven’t read his books yet, but after reading this obituary I am definitely going to look for them. I think that eating Pringles while reading them would be a fitting tribute.
Update: Since drafting this post, I have picked up The Land Across (2013) from the library. In it, an American travel writer goes to an unnamed Eastern European country to research for a book. He is met on the train by some border guards (possibly?) who confiscate his passport and then place him under house arrest for not having one. Things go downhill from there. On the plus side, there are spooks, including (possibly?) the ghost of Vlad the Impaler. What more could you ask? It’s a page turner, and Wolfe does a great job of rendering in English conversations that take place in the local language or in German. I would not call this book sci-fi (not yet anyway), but more of a thriller with supernatural elements.
No, authors don’t kill off your favorite character just for kicks. It’s usually because the story demands it. But why? Why should any story demand such a thing? Unfortunately, it has to do with the spiritual structure of reality.
Jessica McAdams explains why in this recent article at Tor.com. “The defining feature of fantasy is the reality of the supernatural within the narrative …” If, like me, you think that’s a super compelling first line, then follow the link and read the rest.
We will have our regularly scheduled post on Friday as usual, but I wanted to let you know about some cool resources I’ve discovered before I move on to my next book or theology crush and forget about these.
Brian Godawa on Preterism
Brian Godawa writes novels that are sort of similar to mine, but sort of … really different. They are based on some of the same research and like mine are speculative, but they are much more cinematic, featuring lots of action scenes and witty banter.
In the link above, you can find a five hour (!) Youtube interview in which Godawa explains preterism. Preterism is an approach to Biblical prophecy that holds that most if not all of the predictions found in Matthew 28 and in the book of Revelation were predictions about Rome’s destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, and were actually fulfilled then. This is an exegesis that many people haven’t heard of, because usually the people who talk the most about prophecy are coming from a Dispensationalist perspective.
You don’t have to listen to the whole five hours, but it is not boring. I have been listening my way through it while I do various chores. Godawa explains how preterism can be true even though Revelation uses terms like “the great tribulation,” “the end of all things,” “coming in the clouds,” etc. The video is especially fun because Godawa has come late to preterism. As he explains, he himself has held just about every other view of biblical prophecy that is out there. The host, Josh Peck, is a futurist not a preterist but he is extremely humble and enthusiastic, which makes the interview fun to listen to.
John Granger’s Literary Analysis of Harry Potter
Yes, I’m not kidding. His name actually is Granger.
J.K. Rowling spent a long time planning out the entire Harry Potter series before she wrote it. She used a lot of symbolism and was influenced by some of the Great Books. John Granger’s (no, not that Granger’s!) delightful book Harry Potter’s Bookshelf walks us through the layers of meaning in the Harry Potter series. Would you believe that Harry Potter bears similarities to The Divine Comedy, Jane Austen’s Emma, and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels? In addition to many others? If this interests you, go out and get a copy of this book.