“In first century Judaea, Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur is betrayed by his childhood friend Messala and sentenced to life as a Roman slave. When, during a pirate attack in the Aegean, Ben-Hur saves the life of a galley commander, his fortunes improve and he returns to Galilee a free man. There, his quest for vengeance turns into insurrection, but his life is transformed when he witnesses Christ’s baptism by John the Baptist.”
When I was a child, one of the three big television networks in the U.S. ran the film Ben-Hur  every year around Easter. In those days, the only way to watch a motion picture was to see it in a theater when it came out or watch it on network television. There was no streaming. There were no DVDs. There was no cable TV. There weren’t even video cassettes! When one of the networks broadcast a major motion picture like Ben-Hur, it was a big deal. Families like mine made arrangements to watch it, because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t get the chance to see it again for another year.
Because of that, the movie Ben-Hur not only became a part of my Easter tradition, it became ingrained in my consciousness. I loved this film as a child, and I still love it as an adult. It should be no surprise, then, that shortly after I became a part of the Great Books Group, I suggested that we read Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. Imagine my own surprise at the time when, after reading a good part of the book, I realized that I didn’t care for it enough to even finish it.
I’m excited to announce the publication of Alien Roads, the second novel in the Dominion Over the Earth series, in print, epub, and Kindle. I’ll have to admit that I shed a few tears when I held the proof of this one in my hands. It took me thirteen years to get an ending on it and another three years to get it to this point. There were times I wondered if it would ever be done!
The Keys of the Kingdom, by A.J. Cronin (historical fiction)
“Francis Chisholm is a compassionate and humble priest whose individuality and directness make him unpopular with other clergy. Considered a failure by his superiors, he is sent to China to maintain a mission amid desperate poverty, civil war, plague, and the hostility of his superiors. In the face of this constant danger and hardship, Father Chisholm finds the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Recognized as A. J. Cronin’s best novel, The Keys of the Kingdom is an enthralling, fast-moving, colorful tale of a deeply spiritual man called to do good in an imperfect world.”
The Keys of the Kingdom 1944
I just finished The Keys of the Kingdom and believe it’s a perfect novel to read during the Christmas season. It doesn’t contain the aura of glitter and magic of modern Christmas stories, but it is a love story—it dramatizes the love that a Christ-like priest has for his fellow human beings, his church, and God. Father Chisholm experiences many horrific situations, and during much of his life, he believes he’s a failure. Through it all, however, he never loses his focus—never forgets the Being he is really serving. Later in his life, he writes, “I have bumped my head so often . . . and so hard, in my strivings after God” (Part 4, Chapter 11). Continue reading
Back in 2003 I launched Novaun Novels with the electronic publication of my fifth novel, Fall to Eden: An Apocalyptic Fantasy. Since I didn’t have a cover for the ebook at that time, I selected the above photo from NASA to represent it on the website. Now, at long last, Fall to Eden is available in print and for direct download to your dedicated reading device or app. Continue reading
“The third novel in the science-fiction trilogy by C.S. Lewis. This final story is set on Earth, and tells of a terrifying conspiracy against humanity. The story surrounds Mark and Jane Studdock, a newly married couple. Mark is a Sociologist who is enticed to join an organisation called N.I.C.E. which aims to control all human life. His wife, meanwhile, has bizarre prophetic dreams about a decapitated scientist, Alcasan.”
Of the three novels in the Space Trilogy, I think That Hideous Strength has the most compelling plot and the more interesting themes. I especially like the way Lewis dramatizes the scriptural comparison between sin and sleep: Continue reading
“The second novel in Lewis’s science fiction trilogy tells of Dr Ransom’s voyage to the planet of Perelandra (Venus). Dr Ransom is sent by the Elida to Perelandra (Venus) to battle against evil incarnate and preserve a second Eden from the evil forces present in the possessed body of his enemy, Weston.”
In this novel, Dr. Ransom’s “battle against evil incarnate” is both philosophical and physical. The philosophical struggle adds meaning to the physical conflict and raises the stakes. Because the stakes are so high, the resolution of the story arc between Ransom and Weston satisfied me more that it would have had it come at the end of Out of the Silent Planet. Dr. Ransom’s battle is also fantastical, so much so that I wasn’t disturbed by the fact that the novel contains, at its core, a view of the “fall of man” that is very different from my own. Reading this book, in fact, inspired me to ponder these matters in a way that I hadn’t in a while. I particularly like this conversation between Ransom and Tinidril from chapter 9: Continue reading
Out of the Silent Planet, by C.S. Lewis (science fiction)
Out of the Silent Planet
“In the first novel of C.S. Lewis’s classic science fiction trilogy, Dr Ransom, a Cambridge academic, is abducted and taken on a spaceship to the red planet of Malacandra, which he knows as Mars. His captors are plotting to plunder the planet’s treasures and plan to offer Ransom as a sacrifice to the creatures who live there. Ransom discovers he has come from the ‘silent planet’–Earth–whose tragic story is known throughout the universe…”
I read this book a couple of years ago and came away from it with an “eh” feeling. After my recent reading of Perelandra, the second book in the Space Trilogy, I went back and re-read much of Out of the Silent Planet, and my experience was much more satisfying. My problem the first time around was that the adventure started strong and then seemed to fizzle out in the end. What I failed to understand during that reading was that the true villain in the stories of C.S. Lewis is never completely the antagonist; it is the fallen nature of the protagonist. God always exists, is always a major player in the outcome of the story struggle, and will always win. I believe that this quality, more than anything else, is what makes the Space Trilogy radically different from standard science fiction, defines it as Christian science fiction, and marks it as a standard for modern faith-based science fiction, including my own. The question of a C.S. Lewis story is how it will end—which is generally quite unique and creative—and whether the protagonist will end his or her struggle on God’s team. Continue reading
Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold, by C.S. Lewis (fantasy)
“Haunted by the myth of Cupid and Psyche throughout his life, C.S. Lewis wrote this, his last, extraordinary novel, to retell their story through the gaze of Psyche’s sister, Orual. Disfigured and embittered, Orual loves her younger sister to a fault and suffers deeply when she is sent away to Cupid, the God of the Mountain. Psyche is forbidden to look upon the god’s face, but is persuaded by her sister to do so; she is banished for her betrayal. Orual is left alone to grow in power but never in love, to wonder at the silence of the gods. Only at the end of her life, in visions of her lost beloved sister, will she hear an answer.”
After Psyche is banished, Orual returns to her people and determines to “go always veiled.” She does this to hide her face from her people, herself, and from the gods. She also veils herself—although it’s not clear she realizes it—to mimic what she sees as the silent and inapproachable nature of the gods. As time passes, she realizes the power that the veil gives her: Continue reading
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