Tag Archives: Christianity

Book Review: Sword of Clontarf by Charles A. Brady

Sword of Clontarf : Charles Brady : 9780976638681

Whew! After that streak of Star Wars reviews, some of you might have been worried that I had no other books to talk about. Fear not, hardy readers! There are a couple of different novels which I have up my sleave, one of which we will discuss today. Since we are only a few weeks from December (where did the year go?!?!), however, I will have time for just one more book review this year. That slot is going to another Dean Koontz book, as promised to Mr. Bookstooge. All others will have to wait until January of 2019.

There will be more Star Wars reviews next year, though, so stay tuned for them! I have had to postpone one of my promised Spotlight! articles – the one I described as rollingly entertaining here – until January, too. This is on account not only with the focus of the upcoming Spotlight! post, but of the last article discussing Wedge Antilles. Still, he had to do a lot of rolling in his X-Wing, so maybe we can count him as the promised Spotlight! discussion. Next year’s first two Spotlight! foci will be different, however. Trust me. 😉

All right, with that out of the way, let us turn to today’s subject. This would be Sword of Clontarf, by Charles A. Brady. Sword is a children’s book, obviously, centered on a fictional character who shows us a piece of history. Originally published in 1960, the reprint I have came out in 2006, so you can buy a good copy of this story new if you desire, readers.

The book begins with Niall (pronounced like “Neil”) Arneson being shaken awake by his Irish, Christian mother. Taken to Iceland after being captured by Vikings during a raid on Ireland, Etain the Fair is known throughout Eaglewaterheath, Iceland, as the Dumb Woman. No one means disrespect to her with this title – especially since she is the second wife of the steading’s master, Arne Helgison. Etain is known as the Dumb Woman because she can’t speak.

Only, now she suddenly is speaking to Niall. And she is speaking in Irish!

Finally on his feet, Niall learns from his mother and his uncle, Hjalti, that his father has been murdered. Clearly, this is bad, but on it’s own it is not enough to warrant such an urgent wake up call. Nor is it cause for Niall to flee his home all of a sudden. By rights, Niall should be out with his three older half brothers hunting his father’s murderers.

Image result for sword of clontarf by charles a. brady

But you see, that is where the crunch comes. Niall is a Christian. His older half brothers are pagan, just like his father. Arne allowed Etain to keep her faith and have Niall baptized, but he retained his pagan views. His first three sons followed his example, but they have never liked Etain or their kid half brother. With Arne gone they are likely to seize the chance to murder Niall themselves before chasing down Arne’s killers.

Etain, naturally, does not want that for her son. While Hjalti would be happy to offer Niall protection and care, being fonder of him than of his other nephews, the idea of having to kill his brother’s other sons to defend the youngest does not appeal to him anymore than it does to Etain. Thus the two have come at this early hour to prepare Niall either to flee or to fight. It is his choice.

Seeing the reason behind their arguments (eventually), Niall accepts their plan and dresses quickly. As he is preparing to leave, his mother drops another bombshell on him. Through her, he is related to the former high king of Ireland, who now serves as the current High King’s chief advisor and friend.

Who is the High King – the present Ard Rhi – of Ireland in this year of 1000? The answer to your question is Brian Boru.

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Brian Boru

Unlike King Arthur, Brian Boru is confirmed to have lived. Around the year 1000, Brian united all the clans of Ireland under one banner, becoming the High King of the island. Traditionally, the position of Ard Rhi didn’t mean what we would think today. The head of every clan in Ireland had a king; becoming Ard Rhi or High King wasn’t like becoming King of England or King of France. It was a somewhat temporary position and it didn’t have a lot of power attached to it.

Biran Boru changed that. For ten years he ruled a united Ireland, keeping the peace and making it the safest it had ever been. There is a legend that, during Brian’s reign, a well dressed young lady with a solid gold ring walked the length of Ireland (35 miles) completely unmolested. That is the type of peace Brian brought to the country.

In the year 1014 the pagan Norsemen – known better to modern audiences simply as “Vikings” – tried to invade Ireland. They raided the country pretty regularly prior to Brian’s reign; I believe he might have become Ard Rhi mainly to drive them from the Emerald Isle’s shores, though it is possible that I am remembering my history incorrectly. Either way, in 1014, on Good Friday, the Norsemen tried again to take Ireland at the Battle of Clontarf.

It was a pitched battle, and if the Norsemen had won, Western civilization might never have risen as quickly or as well from Rome’s ashes. As it is, the Irish turned the assault aside when the tide went out, taking the Norsemen’s boats with it. Some might say this was coincidence, or good planning on the part of the Irish. It was neither; it was Providence, pure and plain and true.

The Battle of Clontarf was a great engagement, and the Irish distinguished themselves well there. But the fight had a cost, too. During the battle Brian Boru was slain in his tent, where he was praying for victory. His death ended Ireland’s unity, though not her civilization, nor her contributions to the West. But it was a sad loss nonetheless.

Before all of this happens in the novel, however, Niall receives something precious and deadly from his mother. Etain didn’t feign dumbness when she was captured by the Norsemen. Not on purpose, anyway. The reason she did not speak when the Norsemen captured her was because she had something in her mouth. It was a talisman they valued highly called Thor’s Ring.

Now the Thor you encounter in this novel isn’t the jovial, knightly, Christianized hero of Marvel Comics’ fame. (Yes, I said ‘Christianized,’ readers. What is more, I meant it; let the new Marvel hierarchy gnash their teeth about it if they like, but the truth is that Stan Lee Christianized the old Norse myths. That includes Thor Odinson.) The Thor in this novel is like the original Norse interpretation: fierce, bloodthirsty, and dangerous. And the Norsemen worship him and his fellow Asgardians accordingly.

Whether one believes such a talisman ever existed or that it had some kind of power does not matter. What matters is that the Norsemen believed it had power. As long as the Irish held the Ring and two other talismen of import in the novel, they could force a truce on the Norsemen. But if the heathen Northmen ever got their hands on the three talismen, it would mean all out, open war between the two factions again.

In order to protect the Ring and her people, Etain hid it in her mouth during the raid. She couldn’t speak without giving away her secret and, when the Norsemen came to the conclusion that she had been born dumb, she kept up the charade out of fear for her life. This fear extended to her husband, whom she came to love deeply. Eventually she felt guilty for keeping him in the dark about her ability to speak. She kept trying to work up the nerve to tell him the truth, but put it off every time. Now, of course, it is too late to set the record straight for him.

Anyway, that is the set up for the first chapter. After saying his good-byes, Niall sets out from Eaglewaterheath with an Irish thrall his mother and uncle have freed. After a series of adventures, he reaches Ireland and joins his mother’s kin…..

….And that is the last of the spoilers you are getting, readers! If you want to know what befalls Niall in Sword of Clontarf, pick the novel up today. A good read that is full of history, it is well worth the purchase price. Enjoy it, readers!

‘Til next time!

Image result for sword of clontarf by charles a. brady

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Star Wars Rebels Review: Twin Suns

The Star Wars Rebels episode “Twin Suns” was teased just a wee bit too much as the final confrontation between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Maul.  While they did indeed confront each other and Maul, as expected by most of us, died, their battle was very brief.  If you watch the above Rebels Recon show, they explain why.

I admit that I thought the fight would last longer than it did.  However, I also see the wisdom of the writers in keeping it so short.  Maul and Obi-Wan dueled for years during The Clone Wars series, and so it makes sense that this battle would be quick.  For one thing, Obi-Wan was in better physical condition than Maul was.  At the beginning of the show it seems that Maul’s been wandering around Tatooine searching for Ben Kenobi, and from what I saw of him, he did not have a pack full of water and food on him.  This indicates to me that he’s been wandering around in the desert heat hoping to pick up some sense of Obi-Wan’s location through the Force.  Not a particularly smart move, in my opinion, but despite Maul’s animal cunning I do not think I would ever label him as brilliant.

All this means that Obi-Wan was fresh and able when he faced Maul beside the campfire.  On the other hand, Maul had been weakened by his wanderings through a strange, harsh environment while he was looking for Ben.  So physically, it makes sense that Obi-Wan would be able to best him so swiftly.  Also, he had what Maul lacked –

Hope.

We will go back to that momentarily, but for the moment, I want to discuss Ezra’s part in this episode.  IGN’s Eric Goldman (and doubtless others as well), thinks that having Ezra take center stage for the majority of the episode was a mistake.

I disagree.  The reasons why Ezra was central to “Twin Suns” are manifold:

First, as the writers pointed out, Ezra was the one that got the Rebels involved with Maul.  His determination to find a way to bring down Vader – “to destroy the Sith,” as he put it – left him open to Maul’s manipulation, which Obi-Wan pointed out.  Ezra’s desire to stop the Sith was morphing into an obsession.  If he did not let it go, it would eventually have gotten him and his friends – along with possibly the entire Rebellion – killed.  Someone had to snap him out of his fixation on annihilating the Sith.

That someone turned out to be Obi-Wan.  This makes a lot of sense and leads to the second reason for Bridger being central to the story.  When a person becomes obsessed, even in the less-than-maniacal way that Ezra was, interventions by close friends and family can be less effective than those done by total strangers.  Kanan and Hera stage an intervention of sorts for Ezra at the beginning of “Twin Suns,” but he ignores their reasonable arguments and runs off anyway.

Obi-Wan, a master Jedi he has heard of and admires, points out that he really, really should not have come to Tatooine.  Maul was using him to find the man he hates more than anyone but the Emperor.  Ezra’s determination to find Obi-Wan himself in order to find the “key to destroying the Sith” blinded him to this fact.  Kanan and Hera did not have this blinder over their eyes (pun intended; even though he is physically blind, Kanan smelled a trap), and so they saw the danger in following Maul’s breadcrumbs.

Of course, Obi-Wan also deflects Ezra from discovering the truth about the fact that he is, actually, guarding the key to wiping out the Sith.  This is both to protect Luke, who is not yet ready to fight in the Rebellion, and also to protect Ezra.  Luke still has some growing up to do, and the fact is that the Rebellion is not nearly ready for him yet.  They are still in the building-up phase.  If Luke were to join them now, and the whole thing collapsed under its own weight (or Thrawn’s), then all hope of defeating the Emperor disappears with him and the Rebellion.

We know that this is not going to happen, but Obi-Wan does not know this.  He only knows he has to keep Luke safe.  And, if things were changed here in this interim between Rebels and A New Hope, the TV series would qualify as fan fiction, not a tie-in series.  And that would never do.

As for Ezra, if he were to learn about Luke, he would begin trying to recruit him into the Rebellion.  Obi-Wan cannot let that happen.  He shoos Ezra off so that the boy will not recruit Luke too soon.  This will also, hopefully, keep Ezra safe.  As long as he remains oblivious to the fact that Vader is Anakin Skywalker, when he later meets Luke, he will not be able to reveal anymore about Luke’s heritage than Obi-Wan already told him.  In fact, he will be able to reveal even less.

This appears to be a sort of backhanded indication that neither Ezra nor Kanan has figured out that Vader is Anakin Skywalker.  This is in spite of Ezra being present when Ahsoka let slip her suspicion, to his mind, that her old master had become the Emperor’s apprentice.  Whew!  😉

Also, as the writers pointed out, Ezra naturally feels responsible for leading Maul to Obi-Wan.  He goes to Tatooine to make up for his mistake, but he nearly makes it worse.  This is why he has to be present throughout so much of “Twin Suns.”  Ezra has to let go of his need to kill Vader, or it will destroy him and his friends.

Interestingly enough, Ezra is forced to do this in a desert, a very dry and tough place.  The hermits in ancient times and even during the Middle Ages who lived near or traveled to arid regions would retreat into the desert or some other desolate place to remove all distractions.  Obi-Wan does this when he moves to the cave a few hours travel from Owen Lars’ moisture farm; Yoda does this by retreating to Dagobah – and Luke, it seems, did the same thing before The Force Awakens.

Ezra’s journey is more reminiscent of a spiritual retreat than going into a hermitage, naturally, and it fits the episode nicely.  Lost in the desert – more so perhaps than even Maul is – Ezra must confront not only the former Sith’s evil in a manner similar to the way that Christians must face the temptations of the devil, but also his own obsession with destroying the Sith.  It is a journey of purgation for him, leaving him a stronger, more clear-headed Jedi apprentice by the episode’s end.

Now we will go back to the battle between Obi-Wan and Maul.  It is a brief battle, but a loaded confrontation all the same.  Maul states that he has come to kill Obi-Wan, then suggests that his revenge might be better served by letting him live in the “squalor” of Tatooine’s desert instead.  Obi-Wan calmly points out that Maul’s jab shows how spiritually empty he is.  He has traveled around the galaxy for years seeking to destroy the Sith, to possess power, and to become “great” according to the Dark Side’s standards.

The pursuit has left him an empty shell.  At the beginning of the episode, according to Mr. Goldman, Maul seems dangerously close to slipping into the madness Savage Oppress first found him in during The Clone Wars series.  Having never watched more than a few episodes of that series, I cannot confirm this.  But it makes sense.  Maul has been consumed by his hatred, not fed by it.  It has destroyed him, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  Though he expresses contempt for Obi-Wan’s style of life, the former Jedi Master is actually far better off than he is in all the categories which I just mentioned.

This infuriates Maul.  His hatred reacts violently to Obi-Wan’s calm tranquility.  He has no such peace in his own soul, and for that reason he seeks to destroy it in Obi-Wan by digging for the reason that Ben would come to the desolate world of Tatooine.  He gets close, of course – too close to be allowed to live.  Obi-Wan knew that would happen.  Plus, he has already lost two people very dear to him to Maul.  He cannot and he will not lose Luke to the former Sith apprentice.

And before you ask, no, Maul would not kill Luke.  He would do something far worse, and Obi-Wan knows it.  We saw how Maul tempted Ezra to court the Dark Side at the end of Rebels’ season two and several times throughout season three.  If he had killed Obi-Wan, he would have found Luke, and he would have taken him as his apprentice to teach him the ways of the Dark Side.  Thus Maul would have destroyed all hope of building a new Jedi Order and a New Republic in the future.  That is a threat which Obi-Wan must stop.

But even after he permanently neutralizes Maul, Obi-Wan does not gloat over his victory.  Instead, he holds Maul as he dies.  Considering the Zabrak killed his Master and the woman he loved, his showing compassion and pity toward his old enemy shouts volumes.  Obi-Wan did not have to stay with Maul until the end.  He certainly did not have to tell him Luke was actually the Chosen One foretold in the prophecy (apparently).  But he did it anyway.  Not because Maul deserved it, exactly, but because he felt compassion and pity for this creature that had been destroyed so thoroughly; first by the Emperor, then by his own hatred.

For his part, Maul seems to have some regrets about his life.  But if he had the chance to live it over again, I think the only thing he would do differently was avoid getting cut in half, if he could.  Maul is totally committed to the Dark Side.  He is ruined.  Asajj Ventress may yet have been redeemed by her love for Jedi Knight Quinlan Vos, but the fact is that Maul has had no such opportunities to reform.  He has hated for so long, too, that it is doubtful he would have accepted such prospects for redemption, even if they had been handed to him on a silver platter.

So he dies reiterating the Dark Side’s will to vengeance.  What is interesting is his use of the word “us” when he says this.  It is possible he means the entire race of Dathomir and, most specifically, his mother and brother.

But personally, I think he may have meant himself and Obi-Wan.  After all, Obi-Wan would not have cut Maul in half if he had not killed Qui-Gon Jinn.  Maul would not have done that if his mother had not handed him over to the Emperor to be trained as a Sith instead of a regular Dark Side wielder.  If he had not been cut in half, Maul would not have gone on to wreak such sorrow on the galaxy in general and Obi-Wan Kenobi in particular.  It sounded to me as though this was the implication behind Maul’s line that Luke “will avenge…us…”  I might be blowing smoke, of course, but there is always the possibility that I could be correct.

Now, Mr. Goldman points out that the manner of Obi-Wan’s kill strike does not show the appropriate level of contact for such a maneuver.  While he is equally quick to mention that Rebels is not as flexible as The Clone Wars when it comes to realistic death scenes, the fact is that this is a kid’s show.  It would not do to show Obi-Wan cutting Maul in half vertically instead of horizontally.  Doing that also would have spoiled the ending we all enjoyed so much.

That being said, the implication that Obi-Wan gutted Maul is quite clear.  And remember, readers, that he is half-droid.  There is not much to gut; slicing through what is left of his torso and the droid part of his body would certainly finish Maul for good.  I, for one, am quite satisfied that the Rebels writers went this route.  It is not a graphic death scene, but it still fulfills the Internet meme showing Obi-Wan moaning, “I should have cut him in half the other way!”

The last thing to address is the fact that Ezra doesn’t tell the Ghost crew or the rest of Phoenix Squadron that Obi-Wan Kenobi is alive.  At least, he does not do so on camera.  It is possible that he will tell Kanan and the others in a more private setting.  It is just as possible that he will not, though I think that Kanan will want to know whether or not Ezra killed Maul.  Ezra will have to tell him no, because even if he fibs – or were to attempt to fib – Kanan should be able to sense that he is fudging the truth.  Or he will at least be able to sense that Ezra is not telling him everything.

Mr. Goldman points out in his article that we never see Obi-Wan telling Ezra to keep the fact that he is alive a secret.  For starters, I think Ezra would be smart enough to realize that, if Obi-Wan wanted to avoid a fight with Maul, he does not want anyone to know he is alive.  It is also possible that Obi-Wan saw Ezra and Chopper off of Tatooine.  He is (presumably) riding the same Dewback he lent them when he approaches the Lars’ farm the next evening, after all.  I do not think the animal would just wander back to Obi-Wan after Ezra and Chopper had dismounted and climbed aboard Maul’s ship to take off.  He had to get it back.

If that is the case, then Obi-Wan might have taken the opportunity to tell Ezra, “I’m here because I don’t want to be found.  Best not to mention me to anyone when you get back.”  We do not know if this is what happened, but it seems to be a logical assumption.  The fact that Obi-Wan’s mount at the end of the episode is the same one he loaned to Ezra and Chopper before the fight strongly implies this theory.

Another thing to love about this episode is all the little tweaks and nods to A New Hope buried in it.  Ezra and Chopper setting out together is quite the nod to Threepio and Artoo’s journey across Tatooine before they get picked up by Jawas.  The attack by the Sand People is somewhat spooky for me, since I recently acquired and began playing Knights of the Old Republic.  I did not quite have flashbacks of all the times the Sand People killed me and my team, but I have begun to find their honking cries rather annoying.  Their Gaffi sticks are equally irritating.  But I did not celebrate when Maul killed them all, as you might have expected.  He set them up to die.  It is not something to cheer over.

Obi-Wan’s fatherly (or is that grandfatherly?), kindness and admonishments to Ezra reflect how his teaching tactics have changed since he lost Anakin to the Emperor.  He is now well prepared to take on the fatherly role of mentor when he leads Luke to make the fateful trip to Alderaan.  This could be seen as a dry run for his mentoring of Luke two years hence.

His subtle deflection of Ezra from the truth is also reminiscent of how Luke later confronts him about the fact that he hid Vader’s true identity from him, although he did not quite lie about it.  Both times Obi-Wan stretches the truth to protect the young fellas, and I doubt that Ezra would – or will – be any happier than Luke when he finally learns that Obi-Wan fibbed to protect the two of them from Maul, Vader, and the Empire at large in this episode.

The kicker, though, is when Obi-Wan stops within hearing of Beru Lars’ call to Luke to come in for supper.  As she does this we get to see his shadow as he races indoors in answer to her summons.  This scene is magnificent, and if I am not mistaken, they took the voice of the actress who played Beru Lars in A New Hope and used it for this episode.  She called Luke in exactly the same way before she reminded him to find a droid that spoke – I believe it was Bocce.  And when I say she called him the same way, I mean exactly the same way.  They clipped out her call from A New Hope and put it in the ending for “Twin Suns,” if I am not mistaken.  As a final note, Stephen Stanton’s imitation of Alec Guinness could not be better.  I am amazed and impressed.  Well done, Master Stanton.  (Author bows respectfully.)

Well, readers, this is my take on the third last episode of season three of Star Wars Rebels.  It was a good episode and I enjoyed it.  Marvelously animated and masterfully told, “Twin Suns” is an episode we are all going to want to show our children at some point in the future.

Remember, readers:  the Force will be with you.  Always.

References:

http://www.ign.com/articles/2017/03/18/star-wars-rebels-twin-suns-review

Book Review: Voices by Ursula K. Le Guin

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Miss Le Guin’s works are myriad. She has written A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels, The Earthsea trilogy, and The Lathe of Heaven. The one series which I know best, and that is not saying much, is her Catwings books. It is not saying much because I am missing one of the novels, perhaps two, and so I have lost part of the story.

Voices is the first Le Guin novel I have read in years. It is also the longest Le Guin story I have ever read. What inspired me to pick it up?

That’s a tale in the telling.

Voices takes place in the city of Ansul. From what a reader gathers, Ansul was once rather like Ancient Athens. The capital city of a small nation which was democratic and full of learning, Ansul kept no standing army. They had a merchant fleet but the ships were armed mostly for fighting pirates. Though they had good equipment, Ansul only has the one coast.

So when the Alds from Asudar came storming over Ansul’s land-locked border, the resistance to their invasion was scattered and haphazard. A country which relies on only words and learning to defend itself is not going to do well. This is a fact. Still, Ansul has an extra excuse for their dismal defense. The Alds’ assault was a complete surprise. They had had no forewarning of an attack, let alone an invasion.

The city of Ansul, which was home to the most libraries and their great university, held out against the Alds for a whole year. When it fell, red ruin played out in the streets. The Alds considered any woman walking alone in the streets to be free fodder for rape. As a result, many “siege brats” populate the city in the intervening years. Only old women and children, along with men, can safely go to the market. Any girl over a certain age who goes out alone and undisguised is at risk of being raped.

This would be bad enough for the people of Ansul to bear, but there is more. Their religion is believed by their conquerors to be unholy, and so practice of it is outlawed. Even the mildest gestures can be punished with death. Also the Alds, at the behest of their priests, have invaded Ansul looking for the gateway to their version of Hell. They call this the Night Mouth. And they believe the Night Mouth is somewhere within the city of Ansul.

So after they had control of the city, the Alds wrecked all the libraries. They destroyed the university. Then they went from home to home, building to building, searching for every book they could discover. Considering books to be demonic and full of witchcraft, the Alds would not touch them, so that they would not be defiled by them. Instead they had the citizens of Ansul pile the volumes into carts, then throw these tomes, weighted with stones, into the river and the harbor to drown. They do this because they consider fire sacred, so burning books is the same as elevating them to the sacred.

For seventeen years the Alds have ruled Ansul in this manner. Memer Galva, the Ansul “siege brat” daughter of Decalo Galva, has lived in her grandfather’s house for all those years. A Waylord – that is, a taxman – Memer’s grandfather was taken and tortured for information during the siege. The tortures left him crippled, so that he tires after walking around the ruin that is his house for too long without a rest. He cannot stand up straight and his hands are deformed from the torments he endured.

As a child, Memer discovers a secret room within her grandfather’s house. It is filled with books. Here she plays and, although she does not know how to read, she respects the books in the room. Once she finishes playing she puts the volumes back exactly where they came from on the shelf.

One day, in a righteous fury, Memer enters the room to find comfort. Instead she finds the Waylord – reading a book!

At first, they are both frightened. Then the Waylord relaxes and asks Memer how she got in. Memer describes the method she used to enter. He begins to ask how she could know it, then remembers her dead mother, and the answer becomes obvious.

After a few minutes of silence, the Waylord asks Memer if she wants to learn how to read. From then on, Memer makes nightly trips to the secret room, where the Waylord meets her. Over the years he educates her in history, geography, writing and reading. During these years Memer observes others from the city come to the house, many at night and in secret, with books hidden in their clothes or accessories. These are smuggled to the house in the dead of night, lest those who carry them be drowned or buried alive in the mudflats outside the city. Memer and the Waylord hide these volumes in the secret room.

Eventually, things change dramatically for both Memer and Ansul through the story of Voices. But this is not why yours truly chose to read the novel.

No, what intrigued me right from the start was the blurb on the back of the book. The blurb states that, in conquered Ansul, reading and writing are considered “acts punishable by death” according to the law of the conquering Alds.

I was immediately put in mind of history itself. The barbarians of the past who invaded the Roman Empire, Spain, and other countries always destroyed everything the civilized societies they found there had built. From churches to libraries down to the meanest peasant’s house, all the knowledge, culture, and wonders which the conquered people had built were subject to ruin. Why?

As G.K. Chesterton points out in The Ballad of the White Horse, it is because barbarians of most stripes think that destruction is the greatest power on Earth. The barbarian’s life is marked by futility, selfishness, and despair. For will he not be struck down someday by death as well, the ultimate annihilation?

In the epic poem, Chesterton has King Alfred explain that destruction is far from extraordinary. The very Earth wastes away beneath us at this moment: deserts encroach on arable territories, river banks crumble, rocks are eroded, trees die, and mountains and hills are worn away, whilst others are raised through formerly flat plains. Destruction is part of nature itself. It is nothing special – not in the way the barbarian thinks it is.

What, then, is more powerful than destruction? If annihilation is natural, what can be more powerful than it?

The answer, in the words of “a nameless man” and “A rhymester without home” is this:

“Ere the sad gods that made your gods

Saw their sad sunrise pass,

The White Horse of the White Horse Vale,

That you have left to darken and fail,

Was cut out of the grass.

– 

“Therefore your end is on you,

Is on you and your kings,

Not for a fire in Ely fen,

Not that your gods are nine or ten,

But because it is only Christian men

Guard even heathen things.”

 

How did the West survive the Dark Ages? How did science progress to the age of “Enlightenment” and beyond? How do we know with such certainty what happened so long ago in Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Athens, Sparta, Rome, Carthage, and lands beyond?

All this is here because “it is only Christian men/Guard even heathen things.” A culture which does not build, which does not learn, which revels only in death, dismemberment, and devastation, is doomed to ruin itself. Though time will one day end, whatever survives to the day when the last man on Earth makes his choice will be there because “it is only Christian men/Guard even heathen things.”

Preservation, not annihilation. Life, not death. These are the powers which war for control of the Earth. This is what is meant by the phrase “light and darkness.” There is no question as to which side will eventually win the conflict. No, there is only one question each man must ask himself:

Which side will I choose?

This writer chooses to “guard even heathen things,” rather than to leave “The White Horse of the White Horse Vale/… to darken and fail.” I choose to fight the Long Defeat, and to preserve what I can. To be the hare “who has more heart to run” than the hunter who has “less heart to ride.” I would rather “Go gaily in the dark” and “go singing to [my] shame” than “know what wicked things/Are written on the sky” or “know all evil things/Under the twisted trees.”

That is my choice.

What about you, reader? Which side will you choose? Or, as Mr. Chesterton said:

 

Do you have joy without a cause,

Yea, faith without a hope?

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review: The Gentle Infidel by Lawrence Schoonover

The Gentle Infidel is a historical novel set in the 1400s, the fifteenth century. It starts out with a Jew named Joseph visiting his friend Nicolo da Montelupo, a Christian Venetian merchant living in Scutari. Just across the strait from Constantinople, Nicolo lives in the territory of the Turkish Empire because its taxes are lower than the Greek taxes. But, because he is a Christian, he cannot have a brightly colored house, as the other inhabitants of Scutari do. His mansion must be painted gray, like all Christian houses in the Ottoman Empire.

Joseph has come to Nicolo looking for unset jewels to present to the emperor’s vizier. Nicolo shows him his collection of jewels – all splendid specimens. When Joseph agrees to pay 100,000 ducats for the gems, Nicolo suggests a diamond would not do for the centerpiece stone. He then calls in his son Michael, asking him to bring in the best and most beautiful of the collection. It is an emerald from India, said to be cursed, and Joseph agrees to pay 50,000 ducats for that one stone. All told, this venture will cost him 150,000 ducats. Ah, the price one has to pay for dealing with an Italian – even one who is a good friend!

The next day, however, Joseph cryptically warns Nicolo to take his son and sail back to Venice as soon as possible – that very day, even. But Nicolo does not heed his friend’s warning, not fast enough…

So when Michael is conscripted into the janissaries, the elite corps of the emperor’s bodyguards which is formed of the sons of Christians who are indoctrinated as Moslems, he is taken completely by surprise. Like any good father, Nicolo fights to get his son back. He even manages to get a meeting with the emperor, Murad II, himself. But, between his physical problems and the heat of the day, Nicolo’s body fails him. He dies of a stroke in the emperor’s palace in Adrianople – and Michael remains in the janissary camp.

The rest of the story focuses on Michael’s journey. Over the years he grows and becomes strong. Told by the masters of the camp that his father lied to him when he said Michael would be in the janissary camp for a few weeks on holiday, over time the younger Da Montelupo develops a contempt for his father and anyone related to him due to his perceived abandonment.

This makes him somewhat nervous when he is sent to investigate a suspected smuggler in Constantinople, one Filippo Bernardi. You see, Signore Bernardi was a friend of Michael’s father. Michael barely remembers him, but he recalls enough. And someone that close to his father might want to make him a Christian again….

But Michael takes the assignment all the same. It would be cowardice not to do so. He visits Bernardi’s home, and as he feared, both Bernardi and his daughter, Angela, recognize him. Angela and Michael were friends as children, and before he was conscripted, Michael gave her his toy dagger. Nicolo recognized the seed of romance in the gesture and, currently eyeing a Turkish courtier’s third wife, Michael does not wish this childhood idea to grow and bear fruit.

Angela, however, forgets the requisite behavior demanded of infidel women before the young janissary several times during Michael’s stay in her father’s house. This is especially true when Bernardi mentions Nicolo da Montelupo. Michael angrily cuts the old merchant off and states that his father lied to him and abandoned him, having never come to see him since he was taken into the janissaries. Horrified by the lie her friend has believed for so long, Angela breaks silence and tells him the truth: his father died a week after Michael went into the janissary corps. His last thoughts were of his son, not himself.

Michael is so taken aback by the news that he breaks his wineglass by gripping it too hard. Despite his training as a Moslem, Michael is known as a “gentle infidel.” He lets Bernardi off with a warning to stop smuggling, and then goes back to Adrianople – where he gets into trouble.

The Gentle Infidel is not a novel for children. All the same, it is an extremely informative story about the late Middle Ages in the Middle East. In it you will find romance, danger, intrigue… Also, in this modern era where much is misunderstood, this novel will enlighten readers about this important epoch in history. Lawrence Schoonover, the author of the book and another historical novel called The Burnished Blade, gave up his successful career in advertising to write both books.

Until next time, readers.

The Mithril Guardian