‘Meet, Write, and Salutary’

Got a nice plug for The Elder King today from Mary J. Moerbe of the Meet, Write, and Salutary blog (for the unenlightened, that title puns on a line we all memorized from Luther’s Small Catechism). I’m not entirely sure whether she’s read the book, but she talks it up through general praise of its author.

It absolutely set me off daydreaming. Lars Walker has written, what, nine books now? (Sorry, but this is going to get into some of my personal neuroses.) That’s a lot of books for a mom with young children to read—these are books I’ll want to read back to back! Possibly multiple consecutive times. Knowing that Lars Walker offers quality reading, awesome viking material, rigorous research, and rich insight makes me want to have quality time with each of his books!

Read it all here.

‘Neon Prey, by John Sandford

Another year, another John Sandford Prey novel (this one’s number 29). In Neon Prey, hero Lucas Davenport, still living in St. Paul and now operating as a US Marshal, gets called to a bizarre crime scene in Louisiana. Cops raided a hit man’s house, and discovered a number of bodies buried in the adjacent swamp – and those bodies show signs of being butchered. This killer is a cannibal. Lucas and his two regular partners, marshals Bob Matees and Rae Givens (double gags there – “Bob and Rae” for old radio fans, plus a hat tip to Elmore Leonard) join the hunt for this guy. They trace him as he hooks up with his brother, a home invasion expert, and members of his gang in Las Vegas. The clues are few and far between, but the cannibal proves no asset to his brothers’ gang, and in the end it will be every person for themselves.

Author Sandford offers the usual pleasures of a Prey book here – the familiar, interesting hero, plus a lot of politically incorrect cop humor. But I have to say that if this had been the first book in the series I’d read, I probably wouldn’t read another. I found the ending highly unsatisfactory.

So, my verdict is this: If you’re a fan of the series, you’ll probably enjoy Neon Prey, at least up to a point. If you’re not, I really don’t recommend it.

Cautions for language, violence, and very disturbing scenes.

The Curious Christian, by Barnabas Piper

I remember a relative in the family of one of my college friends telling me about his bright young son (maybe grandson) before going to school. He was inquisitive about everything and was encouraged to love learning. But after a year in first grade he shut down; he didn’t ask questions or chat about his observations anymore. His father (or grandfather) blamed it entirely on the school system, took the boy out, and taught him at home. I think he said it took a few months for the little guy to regain his curiosity. A nurturing environment was all he needed.

I remembered this story while reading Barnabas Piper’s book, The Curious Christian: How Discovering Wonder Enriches Every Part of Life. His premise is as simple as that subtitle. We need curiosity in our lives to worship the Lord fully, engage our world courageously, and live together as God directs. We may call it by another name: invention, devotion, problem solving, hospitality, or even perseverance; Piper draws all of those things together into curiosity. That’s what we need.

By having curious minds we will take interest in others and in the culture around us. We will share stories and listen to others share theirs. Too many of us believe we have resolved the answers to the big questions and fear the answers or exploration others have found if they differ significantly from our understanding. Our school system presses us into this mold: know what’s being graded and repeat that answer for the test. If you ask too many questions (particularly the wrong sort of questions), you’ll get shamed or possibly kicked out.

From behind our overprotective hedge, we don’t have anything like this passage in mind:

All of creation resonates with God’s voice, sometimes only as echoes faint, distant, and indistinct. It reflects Him in some way, blurry or clear. Nothing exists that was not created by God and sustained by God. Sustained means that every day He keeps it existing. We have a hard time imagining the opposite of this, so we take it for granted. But without God’s sustaining power, we would cease to exist. We would not fall down dead. We would not crumble into dust or ashes. We would not melt like wax. We would be erased, all of our matter simply gone. Just as God spoke the world into existence–out of nothing, a total void–with His word, so He keeps it in existence daily with His word. And so the world continues to bear God’s mark and echo His divine voice.

Piper encourages us to lean into God’s mark on the world by asking questions and taking an interest in what’s around us. How is the Holy Spirit active in our community? What new avenues can we take in love, joy, peace, and the rest that will worship our Lord more wholeheartedly and love our neighbor more selflessly?

This review may come too late in the season, but I think The Curious Christian would make a great graduation gift. It’s a short, well-written book that could light a fire under people who feel a little hemmed in by undefinable cords. Its message is easily one of those that seem obvious at first blush but need to be repeated and applied in various ways to truly stick. It’s easy, enjoyable reading, though it could be improved by adding some stories.

Viking deeds

Here’s a famous scene from the 1958 film The Vikings, where Kirk Douglas runs on top of the oars along the side of his ship.

I wonder how many people know that this scene was pulled directly from a passage in Snorri Sturlusson’s Heimskringla. Snorri writes of King Olaf Trygvesson:

King Olaf was in all bodily accomplishments the foremost of all the men in Norway of whom we are told. He was stronger and more agile than anyone else…. One of these is that he climbed the Smalsarhorn and fastened his shield on the top of the mountain; and another that he helped down one of his followers who had before him climbed the mountain, and now could get neither up nor down…. King Olaf could walk along the oars outside the Serpent [his ship] while his men rowed. He could juggle with three daggers, with one always up in the air, and he always caught them by the hilt. He wielded his sword equally well with either hand, and hurled two spears at the same time.

You may have noted that Kirk Douglas did not quite match Snorri’s account of Olaf, as he had the men hold the oars horizontal and rigid while he ran, while Olaf (reportedly) did it while they were rowing. I’m pretty sure that latter thing is impossible, though, and what we see in the movie seems more likely.

Kirk Douglas turned 102 years old last December. Whenever I see a picture of him today, I think of this scene, in which he seems the epitome of physicality and masculine vigor.

And I’m not getting any younger myself.

Unsolicited endorsement

Pat Patterson dropped a rather nice review of The Elder King over at Goodreads:

Take Major Mythic Story; kick it HARD in the nose; and then…DANCE! (while you can)

On the off-chance that you HAVEN’T read Lars Walker until now, you are in for a treat. When “The Elder King” became available on March 14, I murmured “HOORAY!”The only reason I was that restrained is because of the overwhelming backlog of reviews I owe, of excellent books written by excellent writers. I really did NOT want to disrupt my queue! However, I downloaded the book, and then let my affection and Need to Read take over.

Thanks, Pat. Read it all here.

‘The Body on the Shore,’ by Nick Louth

In a quiet English town, a young architect is shot to death in his office. Shortly after that, far away on the Lincolnshire coast, a man is found murdered on the beach. The police don’t know it yet, but the two crimes are linked. Meanwhile, a wealthy mother is concerned about possible threats to the lives of her adopted children – but the police don’t take her seriously. When the two children are kidnapped from their school, though, Detective Chief Inspector Craig Gillard is forced to investigate – having no idea that the kidnapping is tied to the murders. He will discover the common thread before long – Albanian origins. And he will see things that shock him to his core when he follows the trail to the wilds of Albania itself.

I discovered when I bought The Body On the Shore, second in a series, that I had bought the first book already. I must have set it aside for some reason. I persisted with this one, and was rewarded with a pretty good read. Though not a world-beater, in my view.

I have read other books by Nick Louth, and one thing I enjoyed about them was their occasional flouting of political correctness. I take it Louth has turned over a new leaf with this more recent series, as the social consciousness lessons are there (though I’ll admit they’re subtle). The excursion to Albania was calculated to shake any reader. I can’t say the events there were exaggerated, but I found the action a little unbelievable. That’s how thrillers tend to be, though. I really prefer mysteries, but the genres are blending these days.

The Body On the Shore is well-written, with an engaging hero. Recommended if you like this kind of thing. Cautions for language and mature situations, including one real shock.

Don’t Rely on Movies for History

The star of the upcoming biopic on Tolkien, Nicholas Hoult, said he loves what he has learned about the great author’s rich knowledge of history and language. His character demonstrates an early love of language in the film by talking to the woman who would become his wife about a word he felt should mean far more than it does. Entertainment Weekly states, “The give-and-take of their blossoming romance is founded on language, and in such ways, Tolkien makes a case for why the mind of The Lord of the Rings author was as fascinating as his fantasy epics.”

I gather that scene or anything like it actually never happened, which is one reason the Tolkien estate said they would not support or endorse the movie and did not authorize or participate in its production.

Tolkien historian John Garth said theirs is a good plan, because biographical movies like this usually make up things. He told The Guardian, “As a biographer, I expect I’ll be busy correcting new misconceptions arising from the movie. I hope that anyone who enjoys the film and is interested in Tolkien’s formative years will pick up a reliable biography.”

Viking news, and Erling’s grave

Archaeologists in Vestfold county, Norway, recently discovered what they’re pretty sure is a Viking Age ship burial.

A burial site featuring what seems to be a complete viking ship has been discovered in the Vestfold county in Norway. Many spectacular finds have been unearthed in the region over the years, including the famous Oseberg and Gokstad ships now housed in Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum. The latest discovery of the grave in Borreparken was announced at a press conference in the Midgard Viking Center in Horten.

“The data clearly shows the shape of a ship, and we can see weak traces of a circular depression around the vessel. This could point to the existence of a mound that was later removed,” said a spokesperson for cultural heritage in Vestfold county. Researchers will now carry out detailed investigations to assess the size of the find.

Read the rest here.

It’s interesting that the article says nothing about any plans to actually excavate the ship. All the work so far has been done by georadar. That’s cool – it’s definitely a conservative (conservative is always good) way to prevent damage to the site. But it seems to me they’ll want to actually look at possible grave goods at some point. Don’t expect to see the ship resurrected like the ones in the museum in Oslo. Those were very special cases, where the vessels were buried in anaerobic (I think that’s the right word) blue clay, which prevented rotting of the wood. Most Viking ships found in modern times are pretty much decomposed, and you recognize them from the way the iron rivets are distributed in the earth.

Vestfold has always been an important part of Norway – it has good agricultural land and it’s close to the shipping lanes. The king of Denmark generally considered himself the rightful ruler of Vestfold (and often of Norway as a whole) in Viking times. Cultural development and foreign influences were both rich in Vestland.

I hope they dig it up in time. I’m not like Native Americans; it doesn’t offend me if somebody excavates my ancestors’ graves. Especially if they find cool stuff.

In case you’ve ever wondered about Erling Skjalgsson’s grave, it’s never been identified. A history of Sola which I read related a local legend: During a period of hard times, when erosion had stripped much of the topsoil in the area, the farmer at Sola decided to dig up an ancient mound on his property, and distribute the dirt in his fields. Rumor said that he came into sudden wealth at that time. Some suspected he’d found a rich Viking grave, and sold off its treasures.

However, if the story’s true – which is questionable in itself (we had a not dissimilar legend about the farm where I grew up in Minnesota, and it was also dubious) – there’s no reason the grave would have been Erling’s. As a Christian he would have been buried in the churchyard, not in a mound, and with minimal or no grave goods. It would be more likely to be his father, Thorolf Skjalg’s – or that of any of a number of other powerful ancestors.

An authorial sin

When I spend substantial time with a book, and then throw it aside in frustration, half-finished, I don’t like to name the work or its author publicly. After all, I haven’t given either of them the full time they asked for. But I sometimes want to tell you about it, anyway, in case it might be of some use – especially if you’re a writer.

So it is with the book I 86’d over the Easter weekend. It shall remain nameless. It shall not go unchastened.

It was promoted as a sort of Wodehousian comedy, and I guess it was. In a way. It was generally lacking in actual funny lines, but the author did a fairly good job of building up ridiculous situations, so that I sometimes chuckled over the altitude of the gag, if I can put it that way.

But he offended me – as a Scarlet Letter puritan – by treating it as a matter of course that a couple will fall into bed the very evening they fall in love. It got worse when I learned that the (admittedly charming) main female character had been married before to a man who adored her and was faithful, but had dumped him because she wanted more excitement in her life.

That ain’t funny, in my world.

And then, about halfway through the book, the hero made a stupid, stupid decision. A decision calculated to bring him trouble and put him on the run from the law. And I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why he’d ever do the stupid thing. It was illogical and imprudent. Worse than that, it was out of character.

In other words, it looked as if the author had forced the decision on him against his will, simply to keep the plot going. If he’d done anything that made sense, the story would have been over. And happily.

My righteous writer’s fury blazed up against this author, and I cast his book into the outer darkness of Kindle limbo.

Go and do thou differently, O writer.

Logos Theatre steals Past Watchful Dragons

Dwight Longenecker talks about a remarkably good theater group based in an unlikely university that has produced some marvelous Narnia plays.

This is because plenty of religious people have as their true foundation materialistic/secularism and plenty of non-religious people instinctively believe in the reality of the supernatural. . . . I am speaking of the modernists who wear ecclesiastical costumes and spout religious and liturgical language, but whose worldview is materialistic and regard religion as no more than an extension of their preferred ideology or political party but with the sugar icing of religiosity.

The secular materialist (both the religious and the non religious variety) are the most vigilant of watchful dragons, for they breathe withering fire on any sign of the supernatural. When contemplating these dragons, I realize I have more in common with the follower of any other religion that is rooted in a supernatural worldview than I do with many of my fellow Catholics.

‘The Invisible Man,’ by P. F. Ford

Number 14 in the ongoing Dave Slater mystery series by P. F. Ford is The Invisible Man. Our two heroes, former police detectives Dave Slater and Norman Norman of Tinton, England, are contemplating the collapse of their private detective enterprise. Lack of clients is the problem. Then, just as they’re preparing to shut down, a woman comes to see them. Lizzie Becker says that her 14-year-old daughter Lily died in a car crash two years before. The police say the girl had stolen the car, but Lizzie won’t believe it. In any case, she has just received a text message from her daughter’s phone. The phone has not been seen since the accident. She knows her daughter is dead. But what kind of monster would send her a message like that, to open old wounds?

Dave and Norman take the case. An examination of the accident site leads them to a strange homeless man, one who claims to be a war veteran with PTSD, who claims to have seen the aftermath of the accident. Interrogation of the girl’s other family members, and of the family that owned the stolen car, leads them to questions of business fraud, adulteries, and possible child abuse. There are dark secrets here, and deep hatreds, and a ruthless plan for vengeance.

As I’ve said before, I don’t rate the Dave Slater series extremely high as detective literature. The prose is less than masterful, and the plotting (I think) somewhat weak. I like the characters of Dave and Norman (that’s the main reason I keep coming back), but they seem to spend an awful lot of time just chatting back and forth. And the ending of this story was… kind of a letdown.

But it’s another book in a pleasant series, and it was enjoyable. Minor cautions for fairly mild rough language and disturbing themes.

Raising my profile

I clicked over to the Amazon listing for The Elder King today, and was delighted to see that I already have 6 reader reviews, all glowing.

Thanks to everyone who took the trouble write a review. It does matter, and it is appreciated.

It occurs to me that I could appeal to madness of crowds, and ask for promotional tips.

What methods would you suggest for a writer with not too much money to draw attention to his work?

We all know, of course, that the better the advice, the less likely I am to take it. Because really useful promotional techniques generally involve a degree of chest-puffing, arm-waving, and horn-tooting that’s simply beyond my capacity.

But at least you can say you tried.

“Christianity Comes to the Vikings”

Below, my lecture at Union University, Jackson, TN — in case you’ve been longing to spend an hour with me. It opens with a short introduction by none other than Dr. Hunter Baker.

I was a little disappointed that my PowerPoint slides are out of shot; on the other hand, I didn’t always synch them well (my remote clicker didn’t always get through for some reason).

Probably best for me not to comment on the short portion I’ve personally viewed. I’m generally incapable of objective self-assessment. So judge for yourself.

And then make it viral.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture