A good book, but a number of flaws keep this from being a truly great book.
The first is that there is simply not enough material about the war time exA good book, but a number of flaws keep this from being a truly great book.
The first is that there is simply not enough material about the war time experiences of Tolkien and Lewis to form the basis of solid book length treatment. Secondly, the book is just riddled with minor errors that will be easily recognizable to any fan of the books, that somehow escaped the editor. Usually these are in the form of misattributions and simple confusion and misidentification, but they are annoying especially when the author is using and perhaps over relying on the text of the books to prove his points. Thirdly, the approach that the author gives to the text is far too loose for my tastes. If you want to say that a piece of text relates to the author's war time experiences, I'd prefer much more solid evidence. Fourthly, at least for my part, most of the book was well covered ground and well known to me. The unusual focus on the little explored portion of Lewis and Tolkien's life proved mainly to instruct that it is little focused on because there is little definite to say about it. Finally, this book is going to be really of no use whatsoever to a non-Christian audience, as it is far too clear that the author is not merely a historian building a literary and historical case, but is also an evangelist that admires the works as sermons and wishes to expand upon them. Even as a sympathetic ear that agrees that the books work as sermons, and has taught doctrine from them, this inability to choose between the unbiased voice of the historian and the passionate voice of the evangelist is a bit jarring.
Still for all that, I can recommend the book to a limited audience of Christian readers that have some knowledge of the works but don't already have a lot of insight in to the minds of the authors who created them. To them, it will likely be a revelation. Even for someone like myself, who have read the works dozens of times, read all manner of unpublished notes by Tolkien, many books of literary criticism and interpretation of the works, and dug into the text in fandom circles to levels that will seem absurd to many, there were still occasionally unlooked for vistas which were like looking out on a well known valley from vantages you'd never seen before.
In particular, I was struck by Loconte's interpretation of the mindset of Tolkien after the great war that lead him to create his work. The idea of Tolkien passing through the great war, seeing the broken state of his nation, weeping and then deliberately and consciously taking up the burden of healing his entire nation by bringing them a myth that reflected to them divine revelation just leaves me in renewed awe. Who does that sort of thing? Can you just conceive what the mind must be like that in the middle of its tears says, "My nation is broken. Their myths about themselves have deluded and failed them, and they have no stories of their own to fall back on. I know, I'll give them a new story, a great story, a light to lead them out of this dark place." My jaw hits the floor. The vision of the Good Professor once again humbles all my understanding.
It is easy to see why he is often imitated, quite often scorned, occasionally mocked, and yet no one has really come even close to equaling his work. ...more
In terms of enjoyment alone, this books might deserve but three stars for me. It gets an extra star from the sheer quality of the writing and executioIn terms of enjoyment alone, this books might deserve but three stars for me. It gets an extra star from the sheer quality of the writing and execution of the story. Despite the exotic fantasy setting, Mrs Monette writes of normal life with all the grace of Jane Austin, creating a keep you up way past your bedtime page turner of ordinary conversations, domestic politics, and a young man's emotional struggles when under stress. I found the level of craftsmanship to be exceptional, and I can only hope and pray that the author's health and inspiration recover so that we can get new stories within the world she has created.
One other area that I liked is that despite the works obvious modern political references, the writer managed to stay her own person and chart her own path with her own reasoning, rather than being a mouthpiece for one group or the others uniform partisan beliefs. I'm thinking that hyper-partisans of all sorts are going to be uncomfortable with parts of this story. And I think that once again, the insight of Rod Serling - that speculative fiction is often a more appropriate vehicle for exploring sensitive subject matter than a straight forward approach - is proven sound. In particular, exploring ethnic tension between a race of dark skinned and white skinned elves with no obvious connection or analogy to any particular human ethnic groups, means that the two fantasy groups can stand in for any two different peoples that find the need to share the world they are living in, and can comment on that problem without inflaming the sensitivities of any real groups. If these were humans borrowing real world ethnic traits, I think it would be too easy to miss what was being said, amidst concern over stereotyping, cultural appropriation, and whether or any of this really represented the true sources of the conflict fairly and appropriately.
The story loses a star for me (yes, it really is THAT good), because at some level it is all far too easy. I don't mind that the story of an 18 year old man is at some level a young adult story, but a story for young adults doesn't mean the story of the young man's hardships needs to be largely over by the time the story begins. Despite the difficulties that Maia is presented with, they compare not at all with the hardships he endured prior to the story and yet not only does Maia come out of those hardships largely unscathed in mind and soul, bearing only a superficial bodily scar, but he immediately finds hyper-competent and trustworthy people to entrust his life to.
Despite every evidence of bureaucratic corruption and inefficiency, when Maia needs something to happen to further his security on the throne then it happens with delightful efficiency. He is dependent completely on his personal secretary from the moment he arrives in the capital, a man he falls in with entirely by accident, and yet that man proves to be utterly incorruptible and superhumanly insightful and competent. From the moment Maia receives Csevet, he really stops struggling because whenever he is inadequate, he can just have Csevet do it for him. And this man Csevet who moments ago had no great station and no base of power, working for an outcast boy emperor that no one likes and half the court believes is a cretin or insane, can nonetheless just get it done and is obeyed. Likewise Maia's heir, his eventual Prime Minister, his eventual empress, his grandfather, and the man who becomes effectively his spy master all just sort of show up without a lot of interviewing and prove each as capable as the Batman and as incorruptible as a saint, continually knocking over obstacles for him rather than raising any of their own. Even with the various plots on his life, this is just too romantic of a picture not only of government, but life generally for me to take it fully seriously. Maia never really struggles to build a power base - it just happens. His plans never crumble because of the weakness of his allies. The betrayal of others never really touch him, and only strengthen his position. Part of me would have rather read the more believable story of Maia having to secure the throne with only the advice of Setheris - the man who both hates and needs him....more
2 1/2 stars would be more fair, and that only because once it finally got going it was frequently fun.
Also, "Fuzzy Fountainhead"?
Still, the book jus2 1/2 stars would be more fair, and that only because once it finally got going it was frequently fun.
Also, "Fuzzy Fountainhead"?
Still, the book just reminds me why I was flabbergasted by the fullness of the conception of 'Redshirts'.
Scalzi writes likably and starts from fascinating ideas, but never seems to know how to explore them. He got famous for 'Old Man's War', which starts from a fabulous place and then curb stomps the idea hard in favor of a feel good fantasy sometime around chapter 2 that undermines everything about his initial idea and makes it pointless and irrelevant to the story. This is not much better in that regard, except that he spends a lot longer getting past the point where you are no longer hoping that the story is about what it purports to be about and you can have a funeral for the first contact story, mystery or science fiction story that Scalzi didn't write despite the good start. The loose exploration of the ethics of self-interest is about as close as you are going to get to anything to think about. But once Scalzi has managed to kick all possible depth out of the whole, "What makes for sentience, and how would you recognize it?", and sets fire to all your hopes that this is a science fiction story and then urinates on the ashes of that for fun, and once the book just goes full on made for TV court room drama IN SPACE (or at least on another world) with a smart aleck lawyer protagonist and Judge Judy upholding his every motion with a tolerant but motherly hand, the book goes from being a chore to a nice fast enjoyable story for 6th graders (except for the vulgar language, and the 3 references to prostitution in the first 15 pages or so, and well... yeah)....more