I have read and enjoyed The Last Castle several times. I enjoyed it so much, I am reading it now in its much longer, original, unedited version. The title MacDonald originally chose was St. George and St. Michael.
MacDonald’s story begins in 1641 shortly after Thomas Wentworth, The Earl of Stafford was arrested by Parliament, tried for treason, and beheaded. King Charles I, a personal friend of Stafford, signed the order for the execution and regretted his decision to his dying day.
MacDonald, as a masterful storyteller, does not chose the easy road and cast the conflict between Parliament (Roundheads, Puritans) and the King as a one dimensional conflict between Good and Evil, but rather he shows how two groups of people, the Heywoods on one hand, and Henry Somerset , the Earl of Worchester, and his subjects on the other hand, find themselves by differing honorable convictions on opposite sides. Although on opposing sides, they fought each other for noble and altruistic reasons.
The Earl of Worchester, a catholic, and his followers had given their allegiance to the King and would stand by him to the bitter end. Hence St George is in the title, representing the red cross of England and the crown.
On the other hand, Richard Heywood and his father, believed their first allegiance was to their conscience and truth. For that reason they chose the side of Parliament and the Puritans. The archangel St. Michael stands for truth.
Although they were on opposite sides of this great civil war, when they met they respected each other since they saw a true man, a man of principle in the other. They were taking part in a war that was a collision of two imperfect causes (I think this phrase was used by MacDonald but I cannot locate the reference).
Indeed when Richard Heywood is captured inside Worchester’s Raglan Castle, The Earl now a Marquis offers him freedom if he would renounce his cause or even share his secret how he came to get into the castle. Richard declines and is sent to the dungeons.
After Richard is taken away the honorable Marquis says to himself:
“I doubt not the boy would tell everything rather than see his mare whipped. He’s a fine fellow, and it were a thousand pities he turned coward and gave in. But the affair is not mine–it is the King’s. Would to God the rascal were on our side! He’s the right old English breed.”
How Does This Speak to Me Today?
In Matthew 7:1-2 Jesus says:
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”
The reason I am not to judge, is not because judgment must never happen, but rather because I am so poor at it. I am too ready to excuse myself and condemn others. I know nothing of the background, assumptions, or personal history that led to a particular action in others. If this is true of contemporaries I know reasonably well, it is much more true of historical figure in whose shoes I have never walked and whose motivations I could never fathom. Yet, as I get to know people from other eras through what they have written , that reading can be invaluable in finding out about myself, my own biases and about the uncritiqued assumptions that so plague my thinking.
We live in a time when the wholesale destruction of our history is taking place. Statues are torn down, graves desecrated, and places named after historical figures are being renamed. We act as if we moderns are uniformly righteous and those that have gone before us are irredeemably evil. Even if that were true (we are too complex as human beings for that to be so clear cut) we would still be better off to leave our history intact and learn from our past both good and bad. It is better to have a view into the past from historical eyes than to leave the writing of history to the biased ideologues of today who desire us to think in a certain way.
Every war is a collision of two imperfect causes. Those on opposite sides may indeed be there for different, honorable reasons. I hope I continue to have the courage to respect that.
It was a rainy day when we arrived at Gideon’s Springs, a beautiful area with clear water bubbling up at the back of this shallow cave.
From there the water flowed across Ma’ayan Harod National park.
This enchantingly beautiful place was the likely the location (see Judges chapters 6-8) where Gideon selected the three hundred to begin the rout of the Midianites.
In a land of desert and stone such as Israel, the appearance of a well-watered place such as Ein Harod must have inspired reflections on God’s love and provision.
Here is one of my favorite passages:
Isaiah 41:17-21 English Standard Version (ESV)
17 When the poor and needy seek water,
and there is none,
and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the Lord will answer them;
I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
18 I will open rivers on the bare heights,
and fountains in the midst of the valleys.
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
and the dry land springs of water.
19 I will put in the wilderness the cedar,
the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive.
I will set in the desert the cypress,
the plane and the pine together,
20 that they may see and know,
may consider and understand together,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
the Holy One of Israel has created it.
Even when we are in a dry place and are driven to the border of death by thirst, Isaiah reminds us that when we are driven to ask, God will provide and provide abundantly. For me, Ein Harod is a beautiful picture of God opening up a fountain in the midst of the valley and the bounty and fruitfulness that living water can bring.
Canard is a world in trouble. It is sustained by a life-giving song which emanates from a huge, damaged tree. The Conclave, a severe religious order, is purportedly working to keep the tree alive and nurture it back to health. Yet the tree continues to grow weaker.
Trystan dan Tenkor, a prince and bard-in-training, Danethor Thomas Whitley, a dewin (wizard), and Sara Moore, an artist and college student in our world, are linked to the attempt to rescue the tree. Anne C. Miles, weaves their stories together with great skill. I learned to love the beauty of Canard and was troubled by the unfolding evil in the leadership of the Conclave. It is a beautiful story, with surprising plot turns and characters that captured my interest and allegiance.
There were many surprising and delightful moments in the plot. Without giving away too much, in one poignant moment, Danethor had been captured by the Conclave and was being pressured to cooperate. To me it was clear he would be tortured until he broke or died. I was calling for him, as a reader, to pretend to collaborate. He did not and the following events, although unexpected, were very satisfying.
The world that Anne Miles has created is also filled with very imaginative and enthralling entities: gnomes, fae, Chymaera, tunebells, grotesques, and Caprices, to name a few. They each have unique properties and characteristics. They lend excitement to the world exploration that is a significant part of this story.
At this point, I would like to add a personal note describing why this story was particularly significant to me. As a scientist and Christ-follower, I tend to see God through the lens of the things I love and cherish. That is to say my love of physics, chemistry, and biochemistry leads me to see God as The Great Mind, The Supreme Logician, The Designer and Sustainer of the cosmos.
In writing this story, Anne Miles has taken a deliberately artistic and musical path. The world is sustained by the Song. Musical notes and the octave play a significant role in the world building. One of the key protagonists (Sara) is working on a sculpture that captures her “heartfire.” As a reader, seeing the world through the artistic eyes of the main characters, I received a whole new perspective that led me to see God not only as a Great Scientist but also as The Great Artist. In writing this story, Miles filled in a blind spot for me.
In closing, this is a wonderful book that I will likely read again and again. I rate it five stars.
As I stated previously, before I talk about my trip to the Golan Heights and Tell Dan, I want to talk about the situation we are all facing with regard to the Coronavirus. One of the most helpful things I have heard was a brief interview Ravi Zacharias gave from a hospital parking lot (he was in for a cancer treatment after a recent diagnosis).
He said essentially there are two extreme responses to avoid: great fear and indifference. I think he is right and that middle road is what I want to follow as I take precautions of “social distancing” and yet do not let fear rule my thinking. Here is the link to his approximately six minute interview by Ben Shapiro.
Ravi passed away a few days ago on May 19, 2020. Although I did not know him personally, I have read so many of his books and attended a course of his that I feel as if I do know him personally. Since, as it turns out, this interview was the last message from him that I heard, it is even more significant for me.
Tell Dan and the source of the Jordan
The land given to the tribe of Dan is very different from the country we have seen up to this point. Close to Mount Hermon and the Golan Heights, this country was lush as opposed to arid. We saw some of the streams that formed the source of the Jordan River.
The abundant water reminded me of Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17, a tree planted by streams of water.
An Ancient Canaanite City
One of the remarkable finds in the archaeological excavations in this area was the discovery of a “Canaanite Arch” (shown above) which predates the Roman arch.
A Canaanite Small City
One of the interesting excavation sites in this area was a Canaanite City (much smaller than what we consider a city today). Notice they do not have freestanding walls but rather back-filled walls. The stone work and foundations required for free-standing walls were apparently not known yet.
In the picture below, one sees the remnants of a frame that held the posts of the sedan chair or throne that would be carried to the outside of the city gate for the king to greet delegations, negotiate with neighboring rulers, or perhaps even hear complaints and charges from his own subjects.
This again verifies the historical accuracy of the Bible as the city gates play such an important role in the historical Old Testament accounts. Meeting strangers outside the city gates also likely served a strategic, military purpose: visitors could not spy out the defenses of the city itself since they were not allowed inside.
The past two weeks have seen the passing of two very important people in my life. My father passed away on May 10th, while Ravi Zacharias passed away on May 19th. They were very different people: my father was a private man who influenced his family, his friends and his faith community; Ravi Zacharias was an international speaker who profoundly challenged everyone who would listen (including me) to think carefully and consistently about their faith.
Different as they were, they both impressed me with their commitment to understanding the Bible rightly and living out a life that put trust in the Lord Christ. Seeing the picture of the tree in the middle of the pool at Tell Dan reminds me to do the same.
For the previous post in this series …
If you are looking for something to read during this time of isolation, my e-books (ePub format) are now also available from Walmart … here are the links:
My Review …
I enjoy books that keep me engaged and keep me reading. But I also like books that get me to think. Indeed, it is the books that have both of these attributes, which I read again and again. THE HERETIC by Glen Robinson excels at both.
On the one hand it is a thriller that kept me reading to find out what happened next. So much so, I couldn’t wait until my next reading session came along. I cared about the main protagonist, DJ, and constantly found myself hoping he wasn’t putting himself into situations he couldn’t escape. The ending was exciting, but to large measure, surprising.
On the other hand, this thriller gave me a great deal to think about. It posed the problem: what would be the fair, just, and honorable response if one encountered a vigilante (or even a terrorist organization in the eyes of the FBI) that was willing to break the law to accomplish good. Would rescuing the kidnapped and giving purpose to those whose lives no longer had meaning, compel me in some sense to approve or condone the actions they took? I would say that the end does not justify the means, but what if the end were unmistakably good and authorities seemed powerless?
Elijah Brown runs an organization he founded by rescuing street gang members, prostitutes, and drug addicts. But he is hunted by the FBI. What the FBI does not know, or will not believe: many of Brown’s foes are supernatural and have powers that make them almost impregnable. Is Brown breaking the law? Yes. Is he bringing criminals to justice? All the time. Does this excuse him and his associates? I don’t know. The story makes it difficult for me to give an easy answer.
If you like a fast-paced thrillers with a supernatural component, this book is for you. My rating—five stars.