At the outset, I really enjoyed this book. Knox's style is conversational, engaging, and funny. He was good friends with one of my favorite authors ofAt the outset, I really enjoyed this book. Knox's style is conversational, engaging, and funny. He was good friends with one of my favorite authors of all time, G.K. Chesterton. I've experienced his writing in the context of mystery stories as well and found it fun.
So I feel like I need to justify giving the book such a low rating. First of all, I should point out that it's not as though the book has nothing good or worthwhile in it. The first three chapters are excellent, and there are little gems throughout the entire book that are highly quotable and useful. Hence, the two star rating rather than one.
Second, I'm not rating the book low because Knox is a Roman Catholic and I am a Protestant. No, I, staunch Calvinist Presbyterian that I am, absolutely love Peter Kreeft, I adore G.K. Chesterton, I revel in a host of Catholic fiction authors such as Flannery O'Connor, J.R.R. Tolkien, Evelyn Waugh, Sigrid Undset, etc. So I am quite happy to take Mr. Knox on his own terms even though I don't agree with him about everything.
The reason I was so dissatisfied with his book is simply this: it was sloppy and muddled, and became more so the longer the book went on. For context, this book is a series of lectures on apologetics given to undergrads at Oxford University, and in many places shows all the depth of a lesson cooked up by a lazy youth minister 30 minutes before bible study. Knox spends a large part of the book hand-waving theology and condescendingly talking down to his audience rather than equipping the students to engage in the defense of the faith. After a series of lectures on apologetics, one would expect the listeners to go forth in the spirit of crusaders with their shields of faith polished and shining in the sun, and when struck by unbelief one would expect to hear a ring like cold iron about them. After sitting through this series of lectures, I would expect that anyone who struck out at the worldview of the listeners would hear a squish like cold jello.
Knox lets his students know that the question of free will and grace is a poser, that lots of theologians have thought about it a lot, that St. Augustine probably thought about it too much, and that you students don't need to worry your pretty little heads about it really. *Squish* Knox admits that divine revelation is important to know certain things, like the Trinity for example, but after all the Trinity isn't really that important. Without it "we might have had rather half-baked ideas about the Incarnation, but we could have muddled through somehow." *Squish* Knox decides that talking about Original Sin or material sin would be too boring and unpractical for these modern college students, and anyway shouldn't we call those things something other than sin since it's formal sin that we are interested in anyway? *Squish* And the atonement? Well that was strictly unnecessary as God could have just forgiven everyone's sins outright without sending Jesus, but He didn't choose that and so we've just got to go with it. *Squish*
I'm sure that Ronald Knox was a very intelligent man, and I'm sure that I would love to sit down and enjoy a nice pint with him and talk theology. But if you're a Catholic and looking for an introduction to apologetics, why not check out Fundamentals of the Faith or Handbook of Christian Apologetics both by Peter Kreeft? Better yet, why not pick up De Doctrina Christiana by Augustine? Then follow it up with a regimen of Anselm. (To see Anselm's answer to the questions that Knox flubbed above, read De Concordia [for free will and grace], Monologion and Proslogion [for the Trinity], On Free Will and On the Virgin Conception and Original Sin [for sin], and Cur Deus Homo [for the atonement].) Then when you're done with that, grab some Aquinas and go to town.
So in summary, I had high hopes for this book at the outset and then felt let down by the end. Pass on this one, it's not really worth the time....more
These devotionals were beautiful, poetic, doctrinally rich, and perfect for family reading during Advent. They sparked many great conversations with oThese devotionals were beautiful, poetic, doctrinally rich, and perfect for family reading during Advent. They sparked many great conversations with our kids over dinner.
Also, a thought flitted through my mind while reading this book that also struck me when reading Ann Voskamp's other book, A Thousand Gifts: namely, that I really want to see this woman's commonplace book. The breadth of her quotations is simply astounding....more
The art for this was beautiful. I read this back in college and was so excited when X-Men Origins: Wolverine was being made, because I assumed it woulThe art for this was beautiful. I read this back in college and was so excited when X-Men Origins: Wolverine was being made, because I assumed it would somewhat follow this well-written and awesome story. Unfortunately, they made a nod in this direction during the first two minutes of the film and that was it. It's a shame....more
Note: Whenever I review a Mary Renault book, I try to include a little disclaimer. Renault always attempted tReview of The Persian Boy by Mary Renault
Note: Whenever I review a Mary Renault book, I try to include a little disclaimer. Renault always attempted to write books that would be true to the historical culture she was illuminating. She didn’t try to sanitize or modernize her characters. This means that pagans in her books act like pagans, think like pagans, and do lots of pagan things. Which also means that her books are not for everyone. CAVEAT LECTOR.
Mary Renault writes the best historical fiction I’ve ever read. The way she brings historical characters to life in a believable, realistic way, avoiding any anachronism in their personalities and actions, is simply amazing. I have never seen another author consistently combine good writing and good scholarship as well as Renault. In this way The Persian Boy does not differ from other books I’ve read by her.
The one thing of note about this book that can be discussed, however, is her choice of narrator. The story in The Persian Boy begins several years after Fire from Heaven, her previous book about Alexander the Great, and is narrated by Bagoas, King Darius’s eunuch who becomes Alexander’s lover. This choice of narrator was a bold move on Renault’s part and has some definite advantages and disadvantages.
I’ll talk about the advantages first. Renault focuses the main conflict in the book on the ways in which Alexander attempted to integrate his Macedonian and Greek soldiers that he brought with him on his campaign with his newly acquired Persian soldiers. What better way to symbolize that conflict than to tell the story from the perspective of one who grew up in the Persian court and is shocked and confused by the customs of these Macedonians? In addition, Bagoas becomes a rival to Hephaistion for Alexander’s affection, thus creating a “love triangle” of sorts. The rivalry between the two is there, even though Alexander is too naïve to sense it, and this well symbolizes the tension between his Macedonian and Persian contingents that he optimistically believes he will unify in one new culture containing the best of both worlds.
This being said, there were a number of disadvantages. Bagoas as narrator didn’t really work for me, and I think it was a misstep on Renault’s part. While we do get a harrowing and exciting opening to the book that shows Bagoas being made a eunuch after his family is murdered and a great introduction to Persian politics of the day, we don’t hear from Alexander for quite some time. The opening chapters of the book drag on without him. Some of Alexander’s most iconic victories and battles are relayed briefly by messengers because Bagoas is at Susa and not present at the battles. Likewise, most all of the major battles in the book as well as many of the political conferences have to be relayed second-hand as Bagoas the eunuch is not invited to such places and occasions. As a result, we the readers spend way too much time in the bedroom with Bagoas and way too little time in the field with Alexander.
This lopsided view also extends to the character of Alexander himself. Alexander’s sexuality was something of an enigma at the time. No, I’m not talking about the fact that Alexander had male lovers; that was pretty much commonplace in Greek culture, and no one would have thought twice about it. I’m talking about the fact that though Alexander did have his lovers, he appeared to care very little for sex and seemed to desire it little for its own sake. His self-control in this area was a marvel to those who wrote about him, especially in comparison with his soldiers and other conquerors of the time. Mary Renault showed this aspect of Alexander’s character in Fire from Heaven and makes a few perfunctory nods in that direction here, but, once again, her choice of narrator for this book forces her into an unbalanced emphasis on Alexander’s sex life rather than his character as a whole. I felt like the complex Alexander I came to know and appreciate from the first book is a bit flat and one sided in this second novel.
And speaking of characters I came to know and appreciate from the first book, I was very disappointed that Hephaistion played such a small role in this one. He was Alexander’s dearest friend, oldest ally, and lifelong comrade. He was the Patroklos to Alexander’s Achilles. And yet, because we’re getting the story from Bagoas, we, understandably, don’t see much of Hephaistion. After all, it’s not like he and Bagoas were chums or anything.
Overall, this book didn’t grip me or interest me as much as the first, mostly due to the issues named above. If Renault had continued the third person narrative style of the first book or even told the story in the first person from Alexander’s perspective, it would have done a much better job of giving the readers insight into Alexander’s character and his legendary conquest of Persia. ...more