Category Archives: Authors

A Problem with Stephen King

It is all summed up in the handy chart below (source linked to the image). You see, at some point he started referring to his own works a little, and fans thought it was great, all sorts of stuff was happening in the same ‘world’ but ultimately I think it is a sign of staleness. This and yet another ‘Dark Tower’ novel really shows only one thing: none of these are really new ideas, they are tumors on one or two original ideas that were very cool indeed. The very first Dark Tower novel ‘The Gunslinger’ is really quite good, the whole series is far too long. The story is like a radical regenerative from Orson Scott Card’s Treason. It has a lovely arm or face, but it also has 4 legs and three other arms and an extra head growing off its spine… You can chart below to pick stories, anyone you don’t find on this chart like The Green Mile (or only has one outbound connection like The Eyes of the Dragon or Lisey’s Story is perhaps its own story. (Links obviously.. should be obvious… go to Amazon since those three books are actually worth reading. Insomnia doesn’t get a link because it is terrible and I could only manage a few pages before my insomnia was cured forever…)
Stephenh-King-Universe-FLowchart-900px

One final note: the fact that most SK works take place in Maine and even similar places in Maine is not, in itself, any problem. He knows Maine well, and so he writes about the people convincingly….

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The End of the Affair: Graham Greene

Here is the first book to be reviewed that I have read since I started the blog. (I have read a few others, but I liked this one most.)

My local library had a book sale, mostly books donated for the purpose to raise the library some money. So I went and browsed around and found an exceptionally beat up copy of The End of the Affair by Graham Greene. It is so beat up that I keep it in a bull clip so I don’t lose half the pages. (Fortunately, it only cost me a quarter.) My triumph was complete when I read the book, it is truly a treasure.

The books center is expressed in Sarah’s diary, after she has died, and the narrator Bendrix is reading it. ‘O God, if I could really hate you, what would that mean?’

The plot generally is this. The narrator is Bendrix (last name), an author who sets out to tell the story of his hate for a former mistress, her husband, and perhaps ‘that one other’. The story is so subtle at the beginning that by missing the import of one or two words here and there, or just by missing the words themselves, one might never guess that God is involved at all. It starts with the spite filled Bendrix agreeing to have a private investigator follow his former mistress, so that her husband doesn’t have to go. He does this, and all his future actions out of spite and hate. But he wonders, as does several others, where the hate and the love begin and end. He remakes contact with Sarah (A serial adulteress, who for some reason, love? Remains married to her husband throughout.) and Sarah dies. I am not really giving away anything about the story by saying that, the story is about Bendrix’ hate, not Sarah’s death.

Although the feel of the story is quite different, the book deals with the same idea as Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis. The major difference is this: in Till We Have Faces, Orual thinks her hate is love, and here, Bendrix (and Sarah too) seems to think his love is hate. Both deal with the sinfulness of un-sanctified human love, but The End of the Affair more boldly paints the idea that strong emotions overlap with their opposites. The idea that one would not Hate a God that you believed did not exist. One might have a distaste for that non-existent god, but one could not hate him. However, one can hate the God that does exist, and in this age of unbelief, Hate can very well be the first step to adoration.

One last interesting observation, one more reason to read the book, is to think about how God might use sinful human passion to bring his elect to himself. There is a particularly potent entry in Sarah’s diary that I will abridge for here. That way you can enjoy thinking about it before you read the book (which you should do… )

‘Did I ever love Maurice (Bendrix) as much before I loved You? Or was it really You I loved all the time? … For he gave me so much love and I gave him so much love that soon there wasn’t anything left when we’d finished but You. For either of us. I might have taken a lifetime spending a little love at a time, doling it out here and there, on this man and that. … You were there, teaching us to squander, like You taught the rich man, so that one day, we might have nothing left except this love of You.’

The book, Sarah’s faith, (and Grahame Green in general) makes me think of a verse from Chesterton’s The Ballad of the White Horse.

Belief that grew of all beliefs
One moment back was blown
And belief that stood on unbelief
Stood up iron and alone.

Charles Williams (War in Heaven)

If you are looking for a new author, here is one you might not have heard of/ decided to read. Although he was an associate of C. S. Lewis and Dorothy Sayers, Charles Williams for some reason has managed to escape the notice of many. This is a great shame. His novels are strong, brave, philosophical and complex. For now, though, I will write a little bit about my favorite, because this is my blog 🙂 For beginning with Charles Williams I suggest War in Heaven.

War in Heaven is about a war to protect the Holy Grail in modern (at Williams’ time) England.  The battle takes place between an unlikely set of men called to be guards of the Grail, and a man much like Dr. Weston from C. S. Lewis’ ‘Out of the Silent Planet’.  The best distinction here, however, is that Lewis’ character is scientific who is taken over by supernatural evil, Williams’ character starts with the knowledge that the supernatural exists, and seeks to take and use it to his own ends. This same character shows up in the book ‘Many Dimensions’ as well.  This character uses different tactic and means to steal the Grail.

I don’t really want to discuss the plot or hash it out. I do want to comment on two things that are more generally related to Charles Williams than perhaps War in Heaven. These are 1) The archetype characters and 2) William’s treatment of the spiritual, the supernatural, as real, everyday experiences.

First, the characters. These characters are so solid, so true to the kinds of people you meet, that they are living breathing archetypes. (Like when the Archetypes get lose in The Place of the Lion also by Williams.) Characters are not exactly like real people, (Not like Mr. Micawber anyway) but the sum up people very well. In fact, I would swear that a character in War in Heaven is modeled after me (and my Mom would too) if it weren’t that I was born an 30-40 years too lat (At least) and an ocean away.

Second, and perhaps more important, is Williams introduction of spiritual warfare as humble. Unlike the spiritual warfare one finds in Frank Peretti and so forth, these spiritual warriors are not special. They live with flaws and as if God’s grace really is sufficient for them. Another import aspect is that sometimes they are required to do things (Like Ransom finally has to actually physically fight the un-man in Perelandra.)

I guess this is a bit short. My mind is a little pre-occupied with a few sonnets I am trying to write, to crush my opposition. But, if you want a new author, Charles Williams is a great place to start. Other than War in Heaven, I think All Hallow’s Eve, The Place of the Lion, Many Dimensions, and Descent into Hell, and The Greater Trumps, to be great… ok, that is probably most of them except Shadows of Ecstasy which, quite frankly, I will have to try again. I sort of felt I missed something the whole time. (Might have been the shadows… or perhaps I never saw the ecstasy….)  I guess every author one reads probably has at least one book that has that effect on any given reader… (Like Chesterton’s Manalive…. Just never clicked for me)

Stephen King

Obviously, Stephen King could have many blogs dedicated to nothing more than discussing and reviewing his books, their ideas and so forth. I am also quite sure that a good number of his works will appear here in the future. However, I have found that many people  (especially Christian women) immediately dismiss King as an author obsessed with horror and horrible things and therefore not worth reading. I have two different replies to this belief but for now, I will mention only one. (The other is its own point entirely.)

There certainly are many examples of vile and disgusting books by King, and many more that have so much objectionable content they seem to overflow with it. I attribute this to King having a split author’s personality. You could say that it depends on which King writes the book. Examples of books with nothing good in them, and with nothing true (in the ultimate sense) other than that man is evil, that they are not worth reading. Such titles include Cujo, Gerald’s Game, and Under the Dome. Unless the reader wishes to be revolted by the depths of human depravity and expects nothing more, these books can be safely left at the library. A slightly different case might be Pet Semetary a book so creepy it holds the award for being the only book to ever keep me up an entire night. Certainly the book had little in the way of redeeming characteristics, but it was well written, engrossing, and it showed the result of people trying to fight true evil on their own.

In stark contrast to these books, there are many books that are truly good. (I have not done a census, but I think these outnumber the other category.) In fact, there are books that King has written that really touch deep into the human soul. In his Dark Tower series King puts himself in it in the last book. (Probably to be discussed in its own review.) In it, King writes that his character has to keep writing the stories that the ‘Beam’ sings to him. For those who have not yet read the Dark Tower series, I certainly recommend it, but the beam is what hold all the various worlds together, King’s muse. And there are so very many times when reading King’s works that the reader can hear the song the muse has sung to him. This is an incredible talent and an absolutely amazing experience for a reader: something I would not miss at all. Books that sing the song of mankind, of its greatness, of its tragedy, of its ability and futility are rare, and King has several. Among those I found to be clearest are: The Eyes of the Dragon, The Green Mile, Lisey’s Story, The Dark Tower series (all 7!), Desperation The Shining, and others.

Of course there are some books between these two sides, and that leads me to my recommendation on how to read Stephen King. Pick up a book, any book, and read the first chapter, by then you should be able to tell which of King’s personalities wrote the book. If you don’t like it, throw it to the floor, if you think it is worth a shot, persist, and listen for the song of the beam!

If you have never read King before, I recommend starting with either The Eyes of the Dragon or The Green Mile. The former is very similar in style to C.S. Lewis, and the latter is deep and moving. Neither show King’s inclination for gratuitous horror or ‘literary elephantiasis’ as I think he put it himself.