This anthology consists of seven short stories set in Estcarp, the Witch World imagined by Andre Norton. I don’t normally enjoy short stories because I prefer longer tales that allow me to get to know the characters, but this collection worked for me precisely because the imagined world was familiar. My favorite short story in the set was The Toads of Grimmerdale.
I share D. S. Martin`s love for the writings of C. S. Lewis. For that reason, reading Conspiracy of Light was for me a double pleasure.
On the one hand, I can enjoy D. S. Martin`s poems on their own merit. For example I can picture a lion standing between two mountain ashes in What Lucy Saw and be carried on to plumb the depths of what it means to follow Christ even when the path is unclear and uncertain.
On the other hand, when I re-read one of Lewis`s books, I can also read a poem associated with it from this collection. D. S. Martin has a helpful Notes & Acknowledgements section in the back which makes it easy to read the poems associated with a particular Lewis book or essay. Reading “Conspiracy of Light“ in conjunction with Lewis adds a dimension to my enjoyment. The beauty and logic of Lewis`s writings is amplified by the pictures and emotions that D. S. Martin`s poems evoke.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves reading Lewis.
The Importance of Focusing on the Ideal. A Lesson Learned from G. K. Chesterton’s WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE WORLD
I recently had a conversation with a friend at my cottage about one of the injustices that occurred in our past in Canada and the inevitable question came up: “What do we do about it now?” As various potential answers to this question were proposed, they seemed unsatisfactory. Indeed often they seem to propose a new injustice visited on people who were, of course, not alive one hundred or two hundred years ago to redress wrongs in which they had no direct part.
I was just reading G. K. Chesterton’s What’s Wrong with the World at the time, and it struck how illuminating and helpful his work was for enabling me personally sort through this puzzle of separating good solutions from bad ones.
Chesterton made the point that so often when we try to fix what is wrong with the world, we pay insufficient attention to defining what the ideal is or should be (the picture of flower reminds me of an ideal). He uses the metaphor of a medical doctor. If a doctor is to heal a patient, he has to have an accurate notion of what a healthy person looks like. If he just focuses on defects or things that are wrong, then the remedial action may actually make things worse rather than better for the patient.
To use an extreme example to make a point, a doctor distressed by the lack symmetry in a one legged patient, may decide to restore the symmetry by removing the other leg, rather than enabling some walking capability by providing the patient with a prosthetic.
Similarly for the injustices in our past that face us now, I need to ask “What kind of society do I want to live in? What would make it fair and just? For me, asking this question, removes from consideration many options which simply implement new injustices to make up for old ones.
If you haven’t read Chesterton’s What’s Wrong with the World, I suggest you give it a try. I think it was first published in 1910 (some say 1900 but I think that’s too early since Chesterton first began writing books in 1900) yet it seems prophetic and anticipates so many questions facing us today.
Of all the Reacher books I have read so far, I liked this one least. I had a difficult time deciding if I should rate this book three stars or two stars. I finally decided on two stars. I primarily have two reasons for the low rating: the over-used modern literary trope of the evil preacher (or lay preacher in this case) and the implausible ending.
The over-used trope led to a number of contradictions in my view. The story portrayed a lay preacher (Thurman) who believed he had the key to understanding the Book of Revelation and it’s prediction of the future, yet felt he had to help events along by setting off a depleted uranium bomb designed to blame the Iranians for the blast and start a global apocalyptic conflict. To me this is inherently contradictory. He believed the prophecy yet acted as if he did not.
The ending was also implausible. Thurman, the lay preacher and his workers, had assembled this bomb containing twenty tons of TNT surrounded by depleted uranium in a container that had been welded shut. The TNT was triggered by a simple cell phone. As soon as the cell phone number was called, the detonator exploded. No security code, simply a phone call. Who would do such a thing? A wrong number, a telemarketer auto-dialing numbers in a particular area code, even Thurman’s cell phone provider asking how he liked their service, would set off this explosion off prematurely.
To add implausibility on top of implausibility, Reacher told Thurman he was going to dial the detonator number. A steel container completely shields microwaves. If the cell phone is outside the container, all Thurman had to do was disconnect the phone. If the phone was inside the container, Thurman only needed to disconnect the external antenna to deactivate the bomb. He had considerable time to deactivate the trigger but did nothing until he and the whole complex was destroyed by Reacher’s phone call from several miles away. Why assume Reacher won’t call?
Having said that I enjoy novels that, as a side benefit, explore science, theology or philosophy. There was some of that here with Reacher the Preacher attempting to put Thurman in his place with some well-placed theological one liners. That was the best part of the book for me. Reacher’s one liners and statements deserve some thinking about and make up for some of the plot deficiencies.
Perhaps it was because I am reading Eric Metaxas’ excellent book Amazing Grace that the words of the hymn Amazing Grace (John Newton, the ex-slaver-Christian-convert likely influenced William Wilberforce to work to eliminate the slave trade) struck me so forcefully at the Good Friday service at my church The Meeting House in Oakville.
It was the lines:
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!
It struck me how often this sequence of “ grace teaching my heart to fear” followed by “and grace my fears relieved” is followed.
The fear of the crucifixion … was followed by the joy of the resurrection
John Newton’s fear that his sins were too great to be forgiven … was followed by the joyful revelation that grace is greater than all his sin
The Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus had to endure the fear of blindness … until grace restored his sight and gave him a new mission [Acts 9]
When Peter, James, and John fell on their faces, terrified at the transfiguration … Jesus touched them and said “rise and have no fear.” [Matthew 17:1-13 ESV]
When Isaiah in his vision of the LORD was compelled to cry out “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” … one of the seraphim touching Isaiah on the mouth with a burning coal was able to say: “your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” [Isaiah 6]
For me this pattern of “grace teaching my heart to fear” followed by “and grace my fears relieved” is important. The first step teaches how dangerous my current state is and how insufficient I am to rescue myself, while the second proves that my rescue is taken care of by someone who loves me. All I have to do is give my honest permission.