Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc
Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, Volume 1 and Volume 2, by Mark Twain (American classic)
“Regarded by many as the most luminous example of Twain’s work, this historical novel chronicles the French heroine’s life, as purportedly told by her longtime friend—Sieur Louis de Conté. A panorama of stirring scenes recount Joan’s childhood in Domremy, the story of her voices, the fight for Orleans, the splendid march to Rheims, and much more. An amazing record that disclosed Twain’s unrestrained admiration for Joan’s nobility of character, the book is matchless in its workmanship—one of Twain’s lesser-known novels that will charm and delightfully surprise his admirers and devotees.”
Joan of Arc’s fascinating holy life, combined with Mark Twain’s superb storytelling, make Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc the most compelling, uplifting novel I’ve read in a while. With this novel, Twain accomplishes what I believe is a difficult, if almost impossible, feat for an author—he makes a holy person both believable and accessible. At the other end of the spectrum, his evil characters are also just as real and believable—horrifyingly so. Moreover, all of his characters, both fictional and historic, are unique and interesting. With his phenomenal insight into human character, Twain helped me understand how so many real people—both commoners and aristocrats—could have believed that a seventeen-year-old peasant girl had been visited by angels and called of God to deliver France from English bondage. Continue reading
The Return of the King, by J.R.R. Tolkien (fantasy)
“The Companions of the Ring have become involved in separate adventures as the quest continues. Aragorn, revealed as the hidden heir of the ancient Kings of the West, joined with the Riders of Rohan against the forces of Isengard, and took part in the desperate victory of the Hornburg. Merry and Pippin, captured by Orcs, escaped into Fangorn Forest and there encountered the Ents. Gandalf returned, miraculously, and defeated the evil wizard, Saruman.
“Meanwhile, Sam and Frodo progressed towards Mordor to destroy the Ring, accompanied by Smeagol—Gollum, still obsessed by his ‘precious’. After a battle with the giant spider, Shelob, Sam left his master for dead; but Frodo is still alive—in the hands of the Orcs. And all the time the armies of the Dark Lord are massing.”
As the armies of the Dark Lord amass, Denethor, the Lord and Steward of Minas Tirith, works to prepare his people for battle. In the first chapter of this volume, one of the soldiers of Gondor says this about Denethor and his captains: Continue reading
The Two Towers, by J.R.R. Tolkien (fantasy)
“Frodo and his Companions of the Ring have been beset by danger during their quest to prevent the Ruling Ring from falling into the hands of the Dark Lord by destroying it in the Cracks of Doom. They have lost the wizard, Gandalf, in a battle in the Mines of Moria. And Boromir, seduced by the power of the Ring, tried to seize it by force. While Frodo and Sam made their escape, the rest of the company was attacked by Orcs.
“Now they continue the journey alone down the great River Anduin—alone, that is, save for the mysterious creeping figure that follows wherever they go.”
The Two Towers begins with the death of Boromir and the capture of Merry and Pippin, two hobbits who are the kinsmen of Frodo. The remaining members of the fellowship—Aragorn a Man, Legolas an Elf, and Gimli a Dwarf—set off across the plains of the country Rohan—also known as the Riddermark—in pursuit of the Orcs who captured Merry and Pippin. Several days into their journey, they encounter Éomer, the nephew of the king, and the men of his household, who have been in pursuit of the Orcs on horseback. Aragorn declares his kingly lineage, shows his famous sword, and explains that he is searching for “Halflings,” which are creatures of legend to the Men of Rohan. Éomer responds with this observation: Continue reading
The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien (fantasy)
“In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, the Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him. After many ages it fell into the hands of Bilbo Baggins, as told in The Hobbit.
“In a sleepy village in the Shire, young Frodo Baggins finds himself faced with an immense task, as his elderly cousin Bilbo entrusts the Ring to his care. Frodo must leave his home and make a perilous journey across Middle-earth to the Cracks of Doom, there to destroy the Ring and foil the Dark Lord in his evil purpose.”
We are told in the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring that Saruman the White is the most powerful of the wizards in Middle-earth and trusted by wizards and Elves as a wise, formidable enemy to Sauron, the Dark Lord. When Gandalf the Grey goes to Saruman for help, he learns that Saruman is no longer working to destroy Sauron but to supplant him and has, therefore, become a traitor. Here is a piece of this conversation as Gandalf tells it in Book 2, Chapter 2: Continue reading
When we gaze into our own “fairyland of the soul,” what do we see? Do those lovely scenes reflect the glamour of the world or the glory of Zion? The illusions of Satan or the visions of God? Continue reading
Phantastes, by George MacDonald (classic fantasy)
“First published in London in 1858, this adult fantasy novel follows Anodos, a man who searches for his ideal of female beauty in a dream-like world. Anodos has many adventures and faces many temptations in this fairyland, from tree spirit confrontations to a long trek to the palace of the fairy queen, where he eventually meets the Marble Lady. MacDonald would later astonish and influence writers such as C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and W. H. Auden, who saw in this work the successful embodiment of the depth and meaning of our inner, spiritual world. The poignancy of ‘Phantastes’ lies in its representation of a spiritual quest, one in which ideals are compromised, and the ultimate surrender of the self brings both overflowing joy and profound sadness.”
The women in my book group wanted to try something written by George MacDonald, so I recommended “The Light Princess,” thinking they would like that one better than Lilith, which is quite strange in a way I wasn’t sure the other members of the group would appreciate. After I re-read “The Light Princess,” I decided to try Phantastes. Phantastes isn’t a long novel, but it took me several weeks to get through it. Part of that was because the plot structure was episodic, lacking a strong narrative drive, but more than anything, George MacDonald simply isn’t a writer one can read fast. His work, like poetry, demands to be savored. Continue reading
“The Mansion,” by Henry Van Dyke (American classic, story)
“John Weightman wanted the best of everything. He surrounded himself with beauty and riches, and was very careful with how he spent his money. ‘No pennies in beggars’ hats,’ he liked to say. Until one night he dreamed that he died . . .
“Finding himself with a group of travelers dressed in white, John joins them on their journey to the Celestial City where each individual will be rewarded with a mansion based on treasures set aside. Thinking that his mansion will be the most grand, John Weightman learns what it truly means to lay up treasures in heaven.”
“The Story of the Other Wise Man,” by Henry Van Dyke (American classic, story)
“Long, long ago, a wise man named Artaban, a priest of the Magi, discerned from heavenly signs that the time was at hand for the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy—the birth among the Hebrews of a holy Prince and Deliverer of Man. Hastening to join three fellow Magi for the long journey into Judaea, he paused to help a dying man and was left behind. And so Artaban began his pilgrimage alone, striking out not toward the realization of his life’s deepest longing, as he hoped, but only toward misfortune and suffering. Or so he believed until one blessed, radiant moment.”
These two classic Christmas stories illuminate the human progression from goodness to righteousness to holiness. Continue reading
The Idiot, by Fyodor Dostoevsky (Russian classic)
“. . . a saintly man, Prince Myshkin, is thrust into the heart of a society more concerned with wealth, power and sexual conquest than with the ideals of Christianity. Myshkin soon finds himself at the center of a violent love triangle in which a notorious woman and a beautiful young girl become rivals for his affections.”
Daystar, by Kathy Tyers (Evangelical science fiction)
After fleeing to their sanctuary world for safety with other telepathic Sentinels, members of the Caldwell family must decide whether to accept or reject the claim of a previously unknown family member that he is Boh-Dabar, the prophesied Messiah.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking—that only a person with a very strange brain would talk about a Russian classic and an Evangelical science fiction novel in the same breath. Despite the obvious differences between these two books, they are based on the same premise: What would happen if Jesus Christ came to live among a particular group of people? How would He act? How would people react to Him? What would He require of those people individually and as a community? Continue reading
As I begin this quest to capture and share glimpses of Zion from the fiction I read, a few of you may wonder whether you should read some of these books that may promote religious or social ideas you don’t agree with. A few of you may be troubled by the fact that I’m recommending books that don’t agree on many points with the tenets of my own church, which, in the effort of full disclosure, is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some of you may think that I’m glossing over the very real doctrinal differences between religions to present a view of life that has no basis in reality. Some of you may be looking for tools to help you better evaluate the religious content you encounter in your own reading. For all of these reasons, I want to address the issue of doctrinal differences up front and get it out of the way. Continue reading