Category Archives: Fiction

Voted Most Influential Fictitious Character

Who are the top three most influential fictitious characters in your life? They are probably listed in a new book, The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived: How Characters of Fiction, Myth, Legends, Television, and Movies Have Shaped Our Society, Changed Our Behavior, and Set the Course of History. Three scientific authors wrote up their subjective list, including Frankenstein, Mr. Hyde, Prometheus, Jim Crow, Siegfried, and J.R. Ewing. Their top three are The Marlboro Man, Big Brother, and King Arthur. (No, no, the legend of Arthur which transcends whatever the reality was. No, I’m not going to argue over it, because you’re probably right.)

I think my personal list would be:

  1. Bilbo Baggins, who left his comfortable home to apply his skills in ways he could never have foreseen
  2. Winnie the Pooh, who is fun and compassionate if nothing else (I should learn more from him)
  3. Wolverine, an angry man who has been a bad influence on me. I should work to replace him with The Man who was Thursday, who strove after God.

Who are the characters on your list?

The Chess Machine, by Robert Löhr

For his first novel, accomplished German author and playwright Robert Löhr spins a remarkable yarn from an obscure historical incident. In 1770, Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen revealed a clockwork device called the Mechanical Turk. It was a chess-playing automaton or at least was presented as such. In reality, it was a clever bit of gears and controls beneath the wooden façade of a stern Turkish chess master (about which Edgar Allen Poe writes in this essay, having witnessed the Turk many years later).

In The Chess Machine, Löhr uses that stone to produce a 300-page soup of deception, ambition, lust, loyalty, prejudice, and faith—with a touch of murder. The lead character is the man within the machine, the brilliant Tibor Scardanelli. Tibor’s religious worldview frames most the drama. When he is first offered a job as the automaton’s mind, he refuses it, citing the commandment to avoid false witness. Within a day his circumstances become so desperate that he runs to find Kempelen to accept the offer. From that point on, Tibor, a dwarf who had lived as an outcast of society, has to become non-existent, because no one can know that Kempelen has been associating with a man who could fit inside his new chess machine.

When he arrives at the workshop which is to be his entire world for several months, Tibor meets another outcast working with Kempelen, a Jew named Jakob whose woodcarving gives the Turk its mystic aura. The three men are a wild success everywhere they perform, which stirs up envy among the mechanicians who know it can’t be done and fear from priests and parishioners who believe it’s of the devil. The deception grows dangerous when a beautiful woman dies while alone with the machine. That’s more of a teaser than you’ll get from the video created by the book’s Dutch publisher.

Tibor causes the most trouble for himself when he sneaks away from Kempelen’s in-house arrest to breathe the wild air of the world. One time he gets caught up in a Viennese masquerade party. Another time he takes refuge with a somewhat deranged sculptor. In both cases, he is carried away by the lust of the flesh and deeply troubled by his sin. This is the most realistic conflict Löhr describes. Tibor is powerless over his sin, and he pleads for God’s absolution. Yet even while he prays, one time, his thoughts turn salacious. Horrified at himself, he stabs his legs with carving tools, hoping to pay for God’s forgiveness. I wish I could say he learned that forgiveness was already bought for him through Jesus Christ, but the story ends ambivalent on this point—perhaps leaving his faith at an altar, perhaps only leaving one faith tradition for another.

The Chess Machine winds up slowly and spins a dramatic finish. It isn’t a safe book (thinking of Association of Christian Retailer guidelines), but it is enjoyable and smart. Translator Anthea Bell did an excellent job bringing this work to English.

How Well Do We Know Our Parents?

Novelist Natalie Danford has written her first novel, a psych-thriller, about secret family histories. In an interview on Nextbook, she talks a little about her own family.

My paternal grandfather created this whole story that he had come over here when he was 12 and that he didn’t speak any English and pulled himself up by his bootstraps. Many years ago, after the Ellis Island records went online, my father idly punched in his own father’s name and it turns out that my grandfather came here when he was three with his entire family. He had come from Austria and the family name was Deutsche. Later he changed our name to Danford. My father asked a relative about it. It turns out in reality that my grandfather was part of a blended family. His mother died when he was an infant. His father, a widower, had remarried and between the two of them they had something like 15 children together.

It’s not the story that was so important as the idea that there was this family member who was not honest about his own past.

On my mother’s side, we always thought that my great-grandfather left Russia because he didn’t want to be conscripted into the Czar’s army, obviously a pretty bad deal if you were Jewish. One of my mother’s cousins did genealogical research in the late 1970s; it turned out that he actually killed somebody and hopped a boat.

Her novel, Inheritance, was released early this year.

More on Auralia’s Colors

If you check the “View Recent Comments” in the sidebar, then you probably saw that author Jeffery Overstreet replied to my criticism of his opening sentences. That conversation has carried over to the Arts and Faith forum.

Also here’s a bit from the Publishers Weekly review:

Overstreet creates a world with not only its own geography but its own vocabulary—it is haunted by beastmen, home to cloudgrasper trees, vawns (something like dinosaurs) and twister fish. There are Christian bones to the story—particularly in the mystery of the beast called the Keeper, who is “always moving about, but he likes to hide just to see who’ll come seeking”—which may be too obvious to some and not at all clear to others. Overstreet’s writing is precise and beautiful, and the story is masterfully told.

Looks like a good one.

The Dark River by JXIIH

The splash made two summers ago by The Traveler from John Twelve Hawks (JXIIH) is about to return with his next book, The Dark River. From the publicity poster anonymously pasted on a brick wall outside Brandywine Books International Headquarters and Yogurt Emporium:

In a post-9/11 world, The Traveler struck home with its disturbing yet familiar themes of state-sponsored paranoia, the dismantling of individual privacy and the ever-increasing number of personal liberties a society is willing to relinquish in return for a sense of security. Picking up where The Traveler left off, The Dark River follows the Harlequin warrior Maya and her charge, Gabriel Corrigan – one of the fabled and endangered mystics known as Travelers – from New York’s Chinatown to a thousand year old Irish monastery, from the catacombs in Rome to the ruins of WWII bunkers in Berlin, as they race to stop the Tabula from unleashing a powerful weapon of surveillance that will change the balance of power across the globe.

A Publishers Weekly reviewer recommends reading The Traveler before diving in to The Dark River, which I don’t plan to do in order to give this book a chance to stand on its own. Maybe that’s a bad idea.