Tuesday, December 27, 2011

LHP Review: Personal Projects




Bramwell, T. Emmett. The Gift and the Defender. Independent. 2010. 267 Pages. (pdf edition reviewed.) Available in Kindle, paper, and cloth. Prices vary based on format. http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-gift-and-the-defender/14448487  http://www.amazon.com/Gift-Defender-Lumen-Legends-ebook/dp/B004AM5BDK/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1325021074&sr=8-2 (LHPN)

Baldwin, Warren. Roaring Lions, Cracking Rocks, and Other Gems from Proverbs. (Ulysses, KS): Xlibris, 2009. 210 Pages. Paper. $15.00. http://warrenbaldwin.blogspot.com  http://www.warrentbaldwin.com/store (P)

Palmer, Robert Leslie. Archibald Zwick and the Eight Towers. Bloomington, IN: Crossbooks Publishing/LifeWay, 2010. 251 Pages. Paper. $19.95. (Hardcover and e-books also available.) http://www.crossbooks.com (N)

Palmer, Robert Leslie. Truth in the Eight Towers. Bloomington, IN: Crossbooks Publishing/LifeWay, 2011. 159 Pages. Paper. (Hardcover and e-books also available.) $13.95. http://www.crossbooks.com (N)


Self-published books have a bad reputation.

They are noted for poor formatting, lack of editing, questionable grammar, and texts not yet ready for the light of day.

Fortunately for our readers, the four works of this review by three new voices are edifying and are worth your time, even if they are all still a little rough around the edges.
 


T. Emmett Bramwell merges our world and a fantasy realm together in The Gift and the Defender, the first volume in a planned series.


Michaelis, a young peasant, answers the call to arms in the stead of his dead father only to find that he is in the midst of the bleakest, bloodiest war his people have ever known. The Lumen Kingdom needs a hero, someone to unite them and lead them to victory. Can Michaelis be this man? Can he muster the courage to deliver the Lumen Kingdom from the brink of total annihilation? Ill-practiced traditions, time, nature, and a ruthless enemy hell-bent on eradication stand in his way.

Afraid of becoming a nobody, Adam Malloy leaves his small town for New York City where he longs to make a difference in our dark and uncertain world. He awakes one morning to find that he has been given a unique ability, one that will alter the world as we know it forever. Is the gift a blessing of unparalleled proportions? Or is it the curse to end all curses? The answer lies under layers of deception, misguided intentions, and Adam’s insatiable desire to make a difference despite the cost. (publisher's website)
Readers will find meaning in the names used by the author. They may even suspect a convergence of the two stories told in parallel. I would recommend this for Christian readers who like the fantasy genre, like those who have read Brian Litfin. Christian fiction should embrace a Christian worldview. Gift succeeds in that regard.

There can be a temptation for new authors of fiction to give meaning or symbolism to everything. Preachers learn a similar pitfall when interpreting the meaning of Jesus' parallels. Not everything means something. Not everything has to. Allegory is a tool in storytelling. Sometimes the best part of a good story is that it is simply a good story told simply and well.

While not on the same level with Tolkien or Lewis, the author aspires to be and this is a worthy first effort. Fantasy fiction is a craft that took Tolkien and Lewis a lifetime to master. That is why their work stands the test of time and continues to live on after their lifetimes. I look forward to seeing growth in this new author, especially over the course of his planned series. Series are an opportunity to develop depth, complexity, and richer meaning in a growing fictional world.

This first novel by Bramwell is an exercise in human nature. Time, place, and cultures change, but a sinful human nature always remains. We are all sinners in need of grace and the Light of Christ.


Warren Baldwin provides a sermon illustration reference for preachers with his Roaring Lions, Cracking Rocks.



Pastors who are looking for an exegetical reference to the book of Proverbs should look at the CPH Concordia Commentary volume. Baldwin's book distills a career's worth of pastor experience, Biblical knowledge, and personal stories.


Here's what you can expect inside:

  • A devotional commentary based on the NIV text
  • Jesus as victor, substitute, and example (70, unfortunately listed in that order) and only seven index references to Jesus Christ (206)
  • More references to the Gospel in the text would strengthen it. A general predominance of the Gospel message of our Lord Jesus Christ would strengthen generic Christian preaching and avoid the situation the author references with regard to anxiety over salvation (137).
  • An appreciation for the power of God's Word and a proper approach to it (108-9), yet a proper distinction between Law and Gospel is not always evident.
  • The author's touching story about his daughter's question (159-160) would have been answered with more concrete Bible references in a Lutheran context. Jesus made promises to His people in how and where He delivers the forgiveness, life, and salvation won on the cross and the empty tomb. His word, not mine, ties delivery of His gifts to the Word, declaration of forgiveness, Holy Baptism, and Communion.
  • A two page piece on 188-189 laments the outcome of Marburg. Luther and Zwingli agreed on 14 of the 15 topics presented but not on the presence of Christ at the supper. What history records, is that Zwingli rejected Christ's words on this matter and Luther embraced them. What good is external unity if there is not unity on all articles of the Christian faith. History has shown that where two different views have been tolerated in a church body, usually, the false one gradually eliminates the Biblical one. I rejoice at Luther's courage to obey God rather than men!
This volume is strong because the author is a Christian, a pastor, and a person who takes God's Word seriously. It lacks the depth it could have because of a lack of knowledge of the original Hebrew of the book of Proverbs. I personally appreciated the author's insights and passion for truth and for the people he serves.
Warren brings the ancient proverbs into contemporary focus by applying their truths to modern situations. Marriage, parenting, friendship, work, money, and other topics are brought under the scrutiny of this ancient wisdom. Each chapter in this thought-provoking must-have is a short essay on a specific proverb that makes God’s word come alive with fresh relevance. (author's website)

Christian readers in general may benefit from Roaring Lions as a devotional study of the book of Proverbs.


The last two books for your consideration are both by Robert Leslie Palmer.  

Archibald Zwick and the Eight Towers is a work of Christian allegorical fiction. Truth in the Eight Towers is the author's own explanation of the rich Christian symbolism in the prior work.

Softcover, hardcover, and electronic versions of both works are available. I recommend the electronic versions simply because of the price factor alone.


First, some words of advice for readers:
  1. Read the novel first. 
  2. Then, read the commentary. 
  3. Finally, re-read the novel again.

Over the course of 250 pages, Palmer develops a complex world where young Mr. Zwick has quite an adventure.


Sixteen-year-old Archibald Zwick is vacationing with his family on a remote island in the Bermuda archipelago. Almost immediately on arrival, he takes his kayak out into the open ocean, where he soon becomes caught in a freak storm and is left disoriented and alone, not knowing where he is or how to get back.
When fatigue and fear have almost caused him to lose hope, he comes upon a mysterious city inhabited by a strange but friendly people. Archie, however, wants only to return to his parents, something that the inhabitants of this mysterious city seem unable – or unwilling – to help him do.
Instead, Archie becomes the center of a struggle that plunges the city into a deadly civil war, and he finds that his own fate is inextricably linked to that of his strange new world.
Will Archie ever find his way back to his parents and his home? And are there clues in the city’s eight towers that will point the way home?
Join young Archibald Zwick in this epic battle of good versus evil. (Publisher's website)
Why eight towers? What is their significance (44, 145, et al)?

Why do only two royal houses remain (38)? 

How is this book a Christian allegory (243)? Where is Christ preached (116, 147, 206, et al)?

Why does a wagon wheel adorn each chapter title page (24, et al)?

I had questions as I began the novel. Some remained afterward.
I appreciated it as Narnia meets A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court in a Christian "Atlantis" the Bermuda Triangle. I can imagine preteen and teenage boys appreciating the battle sequences. Some Christian parallels were obvious. Some detail was simply part of the imagined city of K'truum-Shra.
 
I knew there was more significance to the book than a first reading would give me. I suspected a connection to the beatitudes (246ff).

Before I had a chance to re-read the novel, the explanatory volume arrived. More of my questions were answered.

Truth in the Eight Towers is a fresh neunw study of the Beatitudes, suggesting that because they are Christ’s introduction to the Sermon on the Mount, they summarize not only that sermon but the gospel message as a whole.  In the eight Beatitudes, Christ succinctly explained not only how to become a Christian, but also how to mature in the faith.

Truth in the Eight Towers explores the Beatitudes in depth by examining both the original Greek words used in the Beatitudes and related scriptures.  In addition, this study of the Beatitudes explains the symbolism in Palmer’s first book, Archibald Zwick and the Eight Towers, describing how Archie’s adventure is really a journey through the Beatitudes.

While Archibald Zwick and the Eight Towers is intended to draw the teen reader in, Truth in the Eight Towers should prove useful to youth pastors and others teaching the biblical truths contained in that novel to their youth. (publisher's website)
Some might argue that such a volume is unnecessary. "If a book is THAT good, it shouldn't need explanation." Tolkien readers may not only have on their shelves The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but others volumes that show their development and meaning. Truth is more of a book club Bible study companion to the novel with the author's own poetry in each chapter.

The author acknowledges the lack of formal theological training (1). The notes show an over-reliance on Strong's and other Bible reference books for laity. The book would have been stronger with a seminary-trained pastor co-author who was expert in the Biblical languages.

The discussion of repentance and confession would have benefited from a deeper study of confession and absolution (29, John 20). Based on the author's and publisher's theological background, there is an assumed "decision theology" perspective contrary to the full reading of Joshua 24:15 and John 15:16 (39, 138, et al). The author present's his faith tradition's process of conversion (137, 143). I reject the idea of "minor doctrines," (101) as if some parts of the Bible can be ignored.

Personally, I like science fiction and fantasy. The challenge I face as a Christian reader is when a genre, like fantasy, is intentionally less-than-clear, especially with regard to Christ (137). I consider this an opportunity for an author to present Christ and to present both Law and Gospel faithfully, yet creatively.

I did not see the I X TH U S symbolism (135, cover, et al) coming based on just reading the novel. The explanatory volume was helpful in that regard. I can see how this would be of great interest to teens maturing in faith and knowledge of Christ.

The Glossary will be most helpful to fans of the novel.

I will put one of the two copies of Palmer's novel in our school library, but I personally won't be teaching about the beatitudes from the novel's companion volume. I give the Towers set a mixed review.
 
The publisher, Crossbooks, is a division of LifeWay, the publisher of the Southern Baptist Convention, like Concordia Writer's Cooperative is a part of Concordia Publishing House, the LCMS publisher. CWC resources must go through Doctrinal Review. I am not aware if there is a similar process for books published by/through the SBC. Overall, readers can expect a Baptist Christian worldview to the novel and companion volume.


In conclusion, let me share some advicepersonal, independently-published projects like these:
  • I always encourage writers to hone their craft. 
  • Read the best writers. 
  • Find your own voice. 
  • When you are "in the zone," get as much out on paper (or your laptop word processor program) as you possibly can. 
  • Focus on quantity first. Then work on quality.
  • Work hard to spend more time editing and revising your work in repentant humility than you took when writing it in the first place. (After all, the Lord wrote Holy Scripture. As a divinely inspired work, it didn't need editing. Your writing and my writing can always improve.) 
  • Ask other writers for honest feedback. Pastors, teachers, and traditionally-published authors are good candidates. 
  • Don't ask family to critique your work. When they give you honest feedback, it will only create friction in your relationship. If your mom tells you she likes it, her love for you may only serve to swell your head.
  • Unfortunately, reviewers will always be less impressed by self-published works than those from major and minor publishing houses. Not every journal will consider your work for review, nor are they obligated to review it.
  • No one else will ever be as excited about your ideas, stories, and work as you are (and should be). Know when to be humble and graciously accept constructive criticism. Know when to be your own best advocate and persevere with publishers even after multiple rejections.
  • Have humble expectations and be surprised by any success in the publishing world.
  • Keep your day job.
  • Don't be afraid to shelve (or digitally archive) a good idea of yours that turned out to be poorly-executed. All good authors have a file of unpublished material that they never wanted anyone else to see. First attempts to write "the Great American Novel" rarely succeed.
  • Keep at it. 
  • Pray.
  • Keep your eyes focused on Christ and regularly receive His Gospel Gifts.
  • Read, Write, and Revise as a way of life.




Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, a member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.