Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Spirit Well. Day Three of the October 2012 CSFF Blog Tour

The Spirit Well, by Stephen Lawhead
Day Three of the October 2012 CSFF Blog Tour

One of the intriguing developments of Quest Three is the appearance of the Zetetic Society. Cassandra Clarke, a paleontologist working on a dig in Arizona in her pursuit of a Ph.D., is drawn into the world of ley travel and ends up in Damascus, Syria, circa 1930s. Through a poster she becomes aware of the Zetetic Society who promise they can help those who are ‘lost, lonely, and looking for something to believe in.’ Fascinating how that seems to describe Cass. All the more so since the posters cannot be seen by everyone, only by those who are ready and willing to see it.

There are three striking personalities associated with the Society: Brendan Hanno, Mrs. Rosemary Peelstick, and Tess, though the latter comes in rather late. Brendan and Rosemary eventually get around to explaining the mission of the society in earnest. Here is a rehash of the dialog which I have stripped of its beauty, rhythm and homeliness:

Brendan: “It is not too much to say that the future of humankind may depend on the work of the society. We are engaged in a project of such importance to humankind that its success will usher in the final consummation of the universe. . . Our aim is nothing less than achieving God’s own purpose for His creation.”

Cass: “And what purpose would that be?”

Rosemary: “Why, the objective manifestation of the supreme values of goodness, beauty, and truth, grounded in the infinite love and goodness of the Creator.”

Brendan: “Human beings are not a trivial by-product of the universe. Rather, we--you, me, everyone else--all humankind is the reason the cosmos was created in the first place.”

Cass: “I am familiar with the anthropic principle. The theory that the universe was designed to bring about human life--that the universe exists not only for us but because of us.”

Rosemary: “We go further. We extend the principle to say that the universe was conceived and created as a place to grow and perfect independent conscious agents and fit them for eternity.”

Cass: “Human beings, you mean.”

Rosemary: “Yes, dear--human beings.”

Brendan: “What is the aim, the purpose for such an elaborate scheme? [It is] to promote the formation of harmonious communities of self-aware individuals capable of knowing and enjoying the Creator, and joining in the ongoing creation of the cosmos.”

Cass: {Confused, uneasy}

Brendan: “The Omega Point is. . . the point at which the purpose of the universe is finally and fully realised. When the universes reaches the point where more people desire the union, harmony, and fulfilment intended by the Creator, then the balance will have been tipped, so to speak, and the cosmos will proceed to the Omega Point--that is, its final consummation. The universe will be transformed in an incorruptible, everlasting reality of supreme goodness.”

Cass: “Heaven?”

Rosemary: “Yes, but not another realm or world. This world, this universe, transfigured--the New Heaven and the New Earth. It will be a place of eternal celebration of God’s love and goodness where we will live and work to achieve the full potential for which humanity was created.”

Cass: “Which is?”

Rosemary: “Human destiny lies in the mastery of the cosmos for the purpose of creating new experiences of goodness, beauty, and truth for all living things.”

Brendan: “And extending those values into the rest of the universe at large. You see, the universe as it exists now is but Phase One, you might say--it is where living human souls are generated and learn the conditions of consciousness and independence. The ultimate fulfilment of the lives so generated, however, will only be found in the next phase of creation--a transformation we can hardly imagine.”

There are some things I really like about this. One is that the purpose of the creation (in part) is that human beings might know and enjoy the Creator. The other is the corollary to that, that this knowing and enjoying will take place not in another dimension of which we have no point of contact, but in this world, this cosmos--albeit transformed.

But virtally everthing else is wrong. Before I appeal to scripture, let me say that I do so because the Society apparently does. The reference to the New Heaven and New Earth is from Revelation 21, as well as 2 Peter 3:13, Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. And as we will see, Brendan cites Saint Paul.

The significant thing that Peter says about the new heaven and earth is it is where righteousness dwells. It is not so for the old heaven and earth. Paul says that the whole creation is groaning now because of the death and corruption that descended upon everything when Adam sinned (Romans 8:22; Romans 5:12), and it awaits the day when it will be delivered from this corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God, Romans 8:21. Revelation says that nothing will enter into the new creation that will defile it.

What is missing in the Zetetic Society’s eschatology is that the end point is not simply the betterment of humankind, but its rescue from sin into a sinless world. That is what Paul’s eschatology is all about. And it will not take place at a tipping point where mankind seems to wake up and realize its purpose. Mankind will not do that precisely because of its deadness in sin. Men, women, and children are deaf of ear and blind of eye to their sin because they are dead in it, Ephesians 2:1. Man on his own will never wake up to anything spiritual. If he does so, it is only of God’s doing, and it is always a waking up to his own sinfulness and God’s condemnation because of it. He is awakened to a heart-rending awareness of his sin and loathes it. He is aware of God’s mercy and grace in the sacrifice of Christ for his sin, and flees to it. None of this is in the Zetetic Society’s eschatology, anthropology, soteriology, or cosmology.

Brendan appeals to the references of “our guide” Saint Paul, that our conflict is not of flesh and blood, but with “the spiritual hosts of evil arrayed against us in the heavenly warfare.” [p 302]. How much better it would be if Brendan and the society listened to everything their guide had to say.

The Society smacks of universalism. . . it is difficult to see any sign that it is not.

“Human destiny lies in the mastery of the cosmos for the purpose of creating new experiences of goodness, beauty, and truth for all living things.”

That statement sounds like one out of a universalist’s handbook. One of the key passages the Christian Universalist appeals to is 1 Cor 15:22, For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. That reference is in the middle of an exposition by Paul that reveals exactly how the so-called Omega Point will be reached. A proper explanation of that text not only refutes universalism, but also corrects any notion that there is a tipping point.

The Zetetics sound more like an eclectic cult than a Christian society.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson for kindly providing a copy of The Spirit Well for review on the October, 2012 Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Spirit Well, Day Two of the October 2012 CSFF Blog Tour

The Spirit Well, by Stephen Lawhead
Day Two of the October 2012 CSFF Blog Tour

My original intent for day two was to do something that I had done for The Bone House, and that was try to lay out the lines of development sequentially for the principle characters of the story.

I began, and all seemed to be going along just fine, but when I was a good ways into Wilhelmina’s adventure, I got lost.

After Wilhelmina is warned by Lady Haven Fayth that Lord Archelaeus Burleigh has devised a plan that will likely put Mina in jeopardy, Mina decides it is best to leave medieval Prague for a while. Among other things, it will give her some time to look for Kit. She decides she must first go to her mentor, Brother Lazarus and enlist his aid.

On page 96, the back story of how Wilhelmina first came to meet Brother Lazarus begins and continues on for pages and chapters, so excessively that I’m not sure if or where Mina’s tale returns to the point where the back story began. It just seemed that for Wilhelmina the pieces no longer fit together.

Now I am going to assume that on closer inspection, I will find that they do, but the fact that I’m running into such a problem now may indicate that the method Mr. Lawhead has taken up may not be the best after all. Perhaps the story should be told in a more linear fashion for each character. The intersection and coincidence of individual stories prohibit a pure linear tale, but I think I’m ready to say it could be improved upon.

I hope to eventually get it all straightened out, but it is doubtful that will happen before the tour will end. At any rate, when I do, I’ll post it.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson for kindly providing a copy of The Spirit Well for review on the October, 2012 Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour.

The Spirit Well, Day One of the October 2012 CSFF Blog Tour

The Spirit Well, by Stephen Lawhead
Day One of the October 2012 CSFF Blog Tour

The Spirit Well is the third quest of the Bright Empires series. The saga began in The Skin Map which introduced ley travel and Arthur Flinders-Petrie or The Man Who is Map. It continued in the second quest, The Bone House, where the Well of Souls (The Spirit Well) was briefly encountered in its climax. And now, the third quest which advances the saga further wherein the threads of the first two continue to grow and bifurcate – an expected consequence of a story of ley travel.

Ley travel may be taken as a mistaken synonym for time travel but it is really a journey through space and time together. As such, the ley travelers of our story (and the number is growing) take the entranced reader backwards and forwards in time as well as hither and yon across the globe.

Ley travel reminds me of a rather primitive computer game I wrote for my daughter once (she was twelve then). Written in Commodore Basic for the Commodore 128, it allowed two players to compete by controlling their individual figures (best described as a disc) across a grid-like screen. The goal was to snatch and possess as long as possible a green diamond shaped object. The longer you carried it the more points you scored. If your opponent managed to intersect your object, he gained control of the green diamond and began to rack up the points. This was well and good but was too predictable. It needed some randomness, so I placed holes here and there in the grid; as the game progressed, more holes would appear. If your opponent was hot on your tail and you could make it to a hole in time, you could duck into it and come out at another hole whose location was unpredictable. Sometimes that helped, other times it did not – you might pop out right in the path of your pursuer and lose the diamond. My daughter and I enjoyed it for hours.

The popping into a hole and randomly popping out of another is like the ley jumps of our story. You may be in the United States one moment, and somewhere in the Middle East the next, and very possibly in a different decade or even century. Such was the experience of a new comer to the story. Cassandra Clarke, a paleontologist and hopeful Ph.D. is swept from her dig in Arizona and lands in a vast monochrome plain which has the feel of prehistory. Attempting to return the way she came, she is transported to Damascus where she has ‘the sensation of having wandered onto a movie set of a film about the 1930s.’

The Spirit Well is a cast of many characters, most of them introduced to us in the first two quests. Kit Livingstone, parted from his girlfriend (Wilhelmina) by the trickiness of ley travel, has ended up in the stone ages where he has taken up with primitives who have the uncanny ability to communicate telepathically. One wonders over the significance of that. He’s the one who has had a glimpse of the Well of Souls, transported there by ley travel, having slipped through the solid dirt floor of a house of bones the shape of an igloo. What he saw at the Well is significant and certain to play prominently in the grand quest.

Wilhelmina herself, a fussy and rather colorless personality, has ley traveled to medieval Prague, where she has become an enterprising and charming woman who has taken up a partnership with a likable baker. She introduced the coffe house to history and makes a fortune at it. She befriends some of the court of the mad emperor Rudolph and surreptitiously gains the possession of what she calls a ley lamp – a device that can detect ley activity, much like the gizmos of Ghostbusters which detect the paranormal activity of the spirit world. Through much practice, she learns to come and go as she pleases. In this third quest, she finds Brother Lazarus (aka Father Giambattis Becarra), an astronomer in Spain who himself is a ley traveler, a secret he was able to keep until Mina’s arrival. Mina poses as a nun, and learns much from Brother Lazarus about the mystery of the electromagnetic energies that allow one to pop in and out of space and time. He has a theory that one’s departure point along a ley line determines the time period of a traveler’s destination. Get that down and theoretically, one may travel to any point in history.

Lord Archelaeus Burleigh is a ruthless dealer in antiquities who has gained some expertise in ley travel (he is much the genius behind the device for astral exploration, i.e., Mina’s ley lamp) and thereby has obtained countless treasures by which he has made a fortune.

The fate of Arthur Flinders-Petrie and his son Benedict is revealed. Arthur, the original expert of ley travel, who had discovered something marvelous but kept the secret to himself, mapped his travels and discoveries through tattoos on his skin. This map was removed from Arthur’s body and made into a parchment; the details of how this happened are explained in this quest.

Charles Flinders-Petrie (son of Benedict), whose faults and vices are not to be overlooked, turns out to be a somewhat compassionate and discerning character. He manages to do something with his portion of the Skin Map that keeps it out of the hands of his shady and dangerous son, Douglas – for the time being at any rate. Douglas, a college drop out, has his own interests in the Skin Map and does some terrible things as a result of it.

The swelling tide of the story reaches a high point with the revelation of the Zetetic Society and two of its colorful and charming members, Brendan Hanno and Mrs. Rosemary Peelstick. These take Cassandra into their confidence and reveal the purpose of the society. Cassandra seems to undergo a conversion of sorts and is inducted into the Society, the first in over a hundred years, and now the youngest living member.

The Spirit Well, the Skin Map, the Zetetic Society, Arthur’s secret discovery are what the quest of the Bright Empires series is about. This third book, in all of its byzantine threads, carries the reader through ancient Egypt, medieval Europe, and places of the relatively modern day. The customs, traditions, architecture, medical and business practices, legends and myths of eras past are exquisitely woven together with such vividness and pertinence to the story that one has the feel of being there in the middle of it all – and that is the mark of a great writer.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson for kindly providing a copy of The Spirit Well for review on the October, 2012 Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour.

The Spirit Well 
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