‘The Book of Three’ by Lloyd Alexander

“Most of us are called on to perform tasks far beyond what we can do. Our capabilities seldom

match our aspirations, and we are often woefully unprepared. To this extent, we are all Assistant Pig-Keepers at heart.”

I was at Half Price Books awhile back, a usual hangout for me when I have some time to kill, and I was browsing through the young adult fiction section. As I was glancing around I saw a book, cover facing outward, with a Newbery medal. And for some reason, whenever there is a big golden or silver medallion on a book my brain programs it as: “This one has to be awesome.” Unfortunately for me it was book 5 in a series of 5. Now, enter the dilemma of all readers of young adult fiction: do I really want to start a new series when I am in the thick of about 50 other series that I already enjoy? Let’s be real here, the reason the collection is up to 50 is because we can’t say no to a good (kids) book. So I grabbed the 1st in the series of Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain,’ called ‘The Book of Three.’

The book follows an assistant pig keeper (that’s right, an assistant pig keeper) Taran, in the mythical land of Prydain (which bears an incredible resemblance to Wales). Taran is frustrated in carrying out the menial tasks of an assistant pig keeper in Caer Dallben, and longs to be an adventurer like Prince Gwydion. When his oracular pig, Hen Wen, escapes, Taran must chase after her outside the safety of his own home. His quest to find her becomes a wild adventure with classic elements of fairy tales and fantasies that lovers of Narnia, Middle Earth, and Hogwartz will all enjoy. It is a fun and funny coming-of-age tale that satisfies the reader, while creating a sense of excitement to tear through the next installment.

While reading the book I had to set aside my frustrations with similar themes I was finding in Prydain with Tolkein and other works of fantasy literature. But after doing a little research, it was clear that Alexander wrote the Prydain Chronicles in an effort to retell Welsh mythology. And while he does utilize elements from other writers, (most notably a character that could literally be replaced with Gollum) his enchanting book is a gripping collage of what fantasy readers love best.

The Book of Three, written for a younger audience, is packed with intriguing lessons that children and adults alike can benefit from. Told with a magnificent sense of humor intertwined with powerful prose, there is a constant thread throughout the book of how true heroism is not something that can only be accomplished by a king, a bard, or an adventurer, but can be found in the most unlikeliest of places: like an assistant pig keeper. This quote comes from a moment when Taran attempts to sound heroic and noble while talking to Eilonwy, one of his partners on the quest, as they flee a wicked queen and her crumbling palace:

‘Spiral Castle has brought me only grief; I have no wish to see it again.’ ‘What has it brought the rest of us?’ Eilonwy asked. ‘You make it sound as though we were just sitting around having a splendid time while you moan and take on.’

Alexander often has sharp retorts for conventional ‘heroism’ or nobility in a way that makes the reader understand that they are capable of great things even if they aren’t a king. And even if they’re an average man browsing the young adult fiction section in a second hand bookstore.

4 out of 5. I’m excited to read the second book.

Afflicted with Belief

All Rights Reserved 2011©

Roger dashed from station to station, barking orders at his high-ranking officers.

“Increase the thrusters to full power!”

“Man the battle station!”

“Prepare to make the jump into hyper-space!”

His frantic pace left him breathless but there was no time to rest. The fate of the world rested in his hands.

“Teddy!” He hollered to his copilot of the Starship, “I need to take the helm, I have to board a fighter… our troops are far to inadequate to face this vicious alien race without me.”

With that, the captain firmly placed his helm over his head, and zipped up his suit all the way to his throat, and with no fear at all hopped into the cockpit of his self-designed “fighter-ship 5000.” And was off at the speed of light.

“Take that you alien scum!” He shouted nimbly dodging their missiles, and firing his own in response. The speed of the Grungos (the alien race trying to destroy the earth) was blindingly fast, but it was no match for Roger’s ship. Sadly all of his companions had been shot down in the nobility of battle, and it was up to the skill of the captain to defend his home planet against the thousands of alien fighters. Gripping the controls in his hands even more firmly than what he was, he felt the rage burning behind his eyes. Confident that his alien enemies didn’t stand a chance he furrowed his brow and stared down the oncoming army.

“Let’s do this!” Roger yelped pushing the thrusters forward to evade the lasers that began rifling towards him.

 

“ROGER!”

No… it can’t be!

“ROGER! TIME FOR DINNER!”

It was in fact the arrival of the only opponent Roger had never defeated: His mother. She had stormed into his room to inform him that his “ritualistic nutrient replenishment” had arrived. Honey, why is the fish bowl on your head? And why are you wearing your wet suit… my little astronaut.”

“Mom! I’m saving the universe from certain destruction from the Grungos!”

“Can you just put it on pause until after you eat sweetheart? Heroes have to eat to or they won’t be big and strong enough to beat up the bad guys! Especially 6 year old starship captains.”

Jill knew her son well. She knew that all it took to get his agreement was to make him think he was either saving the world by eating, or giving himself a better chance to defeat all the alien races he created in his mind. And once again, it worked…

“Ok mom! Give me one minute and I’ll be there in a nanosecond.”

“Alright sweetheart, and you know the rules, no fish bowls at the table.”

“Check!”

 

As Roger easily slipped back into his science fiction fantasy, the sights of the flashing lights of the Grungo ships, the feel of the cold steel of his fighter plane, the smell and taste of his sweat were all flooding back to him. He hurriedly flipped some switches and shouted:

“Super impenetrable force-field shields ACTIVATE!”

Followed soon after by a sly grin and, “You silly Grungos didn’t you know that I have a flux capacitor that can STOP TIME!”

KRAKOOM!

The ships were frozen in place after Roger punched the red button. Shielded by the bulletproof glass casing that only he had the key to. Now he had to go strengthen himself for the battle that lay ahead.

 

Popping off the fish bowl, Roger sprinted to the dinner table downstairs, with his copilot, Teddy (bear) hanging on for dear life in the sweaty palm of his captain. It was taco night, the best thing a protector of the universe could possibly eat. After setting Teddy next to him, Roger firmly planted himself in his cockpit seat at the table, and awaited his mother to serve him his beloved meal.

“How’s the universe today son?” Frank, Roger’s father asked with a serious point of interest.

“It’s doing ok. The universe is pretty much suspended within the tensions of angry alien races and inferior technology of a human race that is lagging behind the rest of the solar system.”

“I see,” came Frank’s solemn reply, “And that is why you see it as your duty to hurry up our technology to help out the rest of our respectable race?”

“Precisely!” Roger responded, with unbridled excitement at the appearance of his beaming mother with a plate full of her famous tacos, equipped, of course with Frank’s Red Hot Sauce.

And it just so happened; that Roger did believe it was his duty to push forward the technology of the age. If you really pressed Roger, you would find that he was no simpleton. He knew that the explorations and fantasies of his imagination were not real… to him. But he clung to a hope that there were adventures he would one-day experience. In fact, he had been building a rocket ship in his back yard for the past six months, determined to go beyond the limitations of adventure that the world pressed upon him.

“VROOM! Pow Pow Pow! NOOOO!” Roger was moving his tacos around shaking them at each other pretending the lettuce leaves were missiles.

“Roger no spaceships at the t…”

“Look out boy the Grungos are coming at you on your 9!” Frank always had a way of getting lost in his son’s imagination. He had currently packed his taco so full of lettuce that his son’s tacos had no hope of escaping the chaotic shower of green that was happily lapped up by the dog once it fell to the floor.

“I just nailed you with about 7 missiles!” Came Frank’s enthusiastic claim.

“Yeah, well I just installed impenetrable walls all around my ship!”

“But my missiles are impenetrable wall, penetrating missiles!”

“Ah! Smart choice, but it was I who invented the impenetrable wall, penetrating missile technology, and because I did, I can make the missiles turn around and fly back at you at the speed of light once they touch my walls.”

“Boys, save the world later, eat now! Your tacos are getting cold.”

Wanting to see his son’s excitement stir, Frank pressed Roger on his favorite topic.

“Well we have to get that rocket ship going son!” Frank’s bubbling enthusiasm was slightly forced, he wanted to encourage his son in his dreams, but was also concerned at the heartbreak that would come from the failure of launch day… brimming on the horizon.

“Launch day is in a month, 4 days, one hour, 7 minutes, and… 30 seconds.” Roger had bought a Star Trek watch, and continually checked it to count down the arrival of the day he had been eagerly anticipating.

“Can I try to bring you any more things from work? There is a lot of interesting things lying around up at school you know.”

“O ya! If you see any more of those PVC pipes you had lying around, those would be great. Or if there is anyway you could find a little couch for the cockpit that would be awesome. And I still need a copilot… one who can fit in the piloting chamber.”

“We can put an ad in the newspaper.”

“Too risky, with an opportunity like this, we’ll have weirdoes coming out of the woodwork.”

“Good call, this is a special position that has to be filled by someone you trust.”

“I’ll find the right person, I have to! The universe depends on it!”

“Boy’s, let’s pray, your tacos are getting cold, and Roger can’t defend the universe or build a rocket ship on an empty stomach.

 

After dinner it was family time in the living room, where the 3 of them sat together and played nertz, Roger’s favorite card game. Roger, however, never one, because he always fixated his eyes outside on his rocket ship. He made it from a collage of junk that his father would bring home from work everyday. Frank was a janitor at the local high school, and was the recipient of tons of busted appliances, machines, and mysterious junk that no one wanted anymore. And the rocket showed it. The body was an assorted mesh of washing machines, dryers, toasters, and more. No one would have suspected it was actually the project of a small boy that held his hope in life for adventure.

“What is that?” Jill saw something on the side of her son’s ship that hadn’t been there the day before?” It was covered by the swaying branches of the windy evening. Startled, Roger rushed to the window to discover what it was that his mother had seen.

“No!” He shouted.

In one motion Roger exploded out of the front door and to the side of his prized possession. In big block letters that had been spray painted on, he read aloud:

“The S.S. Geekface.” It was Alex Scales again… He was the bully of the elementary school. A fifth grader that had nothing better to do but destroy the things that kindergarteners love most. He forced the entire school to call him Alexander the Great, but in retaliation Roger always called him “Alexander, lots of weight,” as most bullies tend to be. This of course resulted in lots of blows to the stomach, relentless bullying, and a lot of stolen lunch money that Roger was too proud to tell anyone about. A hero isn’t supposed to be picked on.

Roger was choking back tears, and before he could even let a sound out, his father was already spray-painting over the writing in black.

“Don’t you worry about the Scales boy, son. He’s just jealous.”

“That’s right sweetie, he just doesn’t have dreams like you do.” Mother chimed in.

“But it’s not just him!” Roger’s voice quivered at the searing pain. Everyone calls me a nerd, or a geek!” I don’t even have friends, not even one who will be my copilot!”

Roger’s parents, understanding the pain of their son took him by the hand and sat him down inside. His frustration and pain were brewing inside him, multiplied by the fact that he had no companion to carry the burden with him.

“Roger listen to me,” Frank began. “You are a blessed kid. You have dreams that no other child your age has. But the bad part about that is, dreamers always seem crazy… until they live their dream. You are going to make it into space someday I know it. You can make that thing fly, and don’t let anyone tell you different.”

His son’s sniffles were the only response to his words, despite Roger’s intense lock on his eyes.

“Do you remember the Wright Brothers, son?”

“Of course, they’re the guys who invented the airplane right?”

“Right! Roger… Everybody thought that they were absolutely crazy; no one thought they could do it. But what happened to them… they became 2 of the most famous people in the world because they kept following their dream. Just like you will. If you follow your dreams, they’ll never steer you wrong. One of the Wright Brothers, Wilbur, said once that he was afflicted with belief that human flight was possible. Just like you think you can get the rocket in the air.”

“What does afflicted mean?”

“ It means that you want it so bad it hurts…”

“That is how I feel.”

“Sometimes, God gives us pain like that, so we can work up the courage to live our dreams. I think that is exactly what he is doing for you…

“Thanks dad.”

“Always.”

With that, Roger gave his dad a tight hug around the neck, and his mother a rushed kiss on the cheek and scampered off to his room to get ready for bed.

“Afflicted with belief huh?” Jill’s sarcastic tone stung Frank a little bit, but she slipped her delicate hand into his rough work-warn palms, and assured him she was only teasing.

“Maybe that was the wrong thing to do. What do you think babe?”

“I think it is better to pursue a dream and fail than not have one at all.”

 

It was Saturday! Roger went through his typical weekend routine: Lucky Charms, cartoons, and Legos before he put on his hero attire that the neighborhood had grown so familiar with: His goggles that his father used to ski with back in college, his wet suit used only once while on a snorkeling trip in Florida, and of course the old blanket tied tightly around his neck to make a perfect cape. This was the only thing that could be worn while building the world’s soon-to-be fastest star ship.

Roger stepped into the front yard, closed in only by the knee high wooden fence and looked at the new words splattered across his rocket in bright yellow letters: “Afflicted with Belief.”

“Dad must have done it.” Roger thought to himself.

“What does afflicted mean?” It was Lucy, the girl next door. Her furrowed brow disturbed her soft blue eyes, and her thick blond curls that swayed across her forehead.

“It means I want this thing to fly so bad it hurts!” Came Roger’s quick retort.

“I saw what Alex did yesterday, I like the new words better.”

“Me too.”

“So what is it?”

“A spaceship.”

“Whatcha building one of those for?”

“The Galaxy needs more security.”

“I think my uncle already has one, you want me to ask him.”

“I seriously doubt that.”

“How come? Maybe I work for NASO.”

“NASA?”

“See you don’t even know what I’m talking about. Maybe you should be asking me questions about rocket ships.”

“Ok. Call your uncle.”

“Do you have a cell phone?”

“Not on my person.”

“What person?”

“No that is a saying that means: not on me.”

“Why don’t you just say not on me?”

“It sounds more sophisticated.”

“You’re in kindergarten.”

Just then, Roger heard a laughter that was unmistakable… Alex Scales.

“That’s him!” Lucy squeaked, and started to take off down the street in the other direction. “Aren’t you going to run away too, he’ll grind you into baby powder Roger!”

“Maybe I like baby powder…” Roger wanted to sound tough in front of Lucy Violet; she was the prettiest girl in all of kindergarten. And he was bound and determined to start being her friend as soon as she lost her cooties, which was probably somewhere around 4th grade, depending on her genes. Roger stood his ground, sweating and shaking beside his pride and glory, the rocket, while certain destruction lumbered closer and closer.

“Hey geekface!” Alex shouted, his mouth was stained with some sort of tomato sauce, and his tiny shirt showed that he enjoyed his meal more than the average kid, and had done it too much, too often; the small sleeveless shirt showed his gut lapping over his ridiculously baggy pants.

“Why’d you paint over my masterpiece dorkwad? It looked better than that ever will!” With Roger’s eyes frozen on Alex’s eyes, over a foot above him, he cowered at a harsh step taken in his direction used only to test his nerves.

“What a wimp. I eat crap like you for breakfast.”

“You eat crap?”

“Watch your mouth you little worm? Or I’ll pound you into creamed corn!”

“A: you don’t need any more pounds. And B: you certainly don’t need any more food.”

With the last line of stupidity or bravery, Roger took a closed greasy fist right in the eye. Smashing the goggles and cracking the skin of Alex’s knuckles, the villain hunched over by poor Roger, huddled in the fetal position next to his rocket, and snagged his goggles and angrily stepped on them.

“Don’t get smart with me you little kiddy-Gartner. I’ll punch you in the face so hard you’ll be able to smell sound.”

“Smelling you is bad enough.” It was dumb, he knew it… but he thought he would go out like a hero. Defeated by an enemy that he fought all the way. But before Alex could slam his 11 year old size 9 foot in Roger’s already swollen face, Lucy was back, giving Alex the world’s most vicious purple nurple! She twisted his nipples until she couldn’t twist anymore.

“Whistle Alex!”

“I can’t!” Alex was completely paralyzed. Even he knew that he couldn’t directly hit a girl. But he would sure make her life a living hell after this.”

“OOOOOWWWWWWEEEEEEEE! OWE OWE OWE OWE OWE! LEMME GO!”

“Only if you whistle!”

“Alex desperately exhaled as much wind as his frantic lungs could get out, but not even a hint of a whistle could be heard.”

“Come on tough guy! Not so big and strong when your purple is getting nurpled are you? Name 5 cereals if you can’t whistle!”

The tears were coming, but Alex saw a mode of escape, trying to calm down he spat out the cereals he could think of in between his groaning and wails.

“Cheerios… Honey nut Cheeri…”

“DOESN’T COUNT!”

“Frosted F…F…F…Flakes!”

“Lucky Charms!”

“Fruity Pebbles!”

“Cocoa Peb…”

“Not a chance!”

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaand… Count Chocula!”

With that Lucy, ripped her hands from the boy’s now swollen nipples and rushed to the side of Roger.

“You dumb girl, how is that going to stop me from killing your boyfriend in frozen blood?”

“It’s cold blood! And if you touch him, the whole school will know that the smallest girl in kindergarten made you cry!”

Alex stared Lucy down hard. Took a glance over at Roger, He was still on the ground with his mouth open, amazed that he was rescued by the cute girl next door. Scales walked over to the rocket and knocked down a supporting beam, causing one of the dryers/wings to collapse.

“That’s your face Roger! And watch your back chick!”

In unison, Lucy and Roger stuck their tongue out at Alex strutted away. Afterward the two walked over to the rocket to see what needed to be done in order to salvage the wreckage. It was certainly going to take a lot of repairs. And on top of that Roger and a swelling eye, and busted hero goggles to worry about. He wasn’t really sure how to thank Lucy; she had saved him from certain death. All he could do was look at the dirt and paw at it with his rubber boots that he had his jeans tucked into. (This was also signature attire for heroes) Still in silence, Lucy quietly ran away, leaving Roger alone again, something he had grown accustomed to but also hated, like vegetables: mom will make you eat them, so you have to, and you might as well just get over it.

Frustrated at his set backs, he started to rebuild the parts that had fallen. It would be close to impossible to do it alone. There were no friends to help, and dad wouldn’t be home until 6:00. With all his strength, Roger was violently shoving the misshapen dryer back into place, but still didn’t have the might to get it where it needed to be… his eye was killing him, and the little league baseball team was just getting done with practice across the street. That meant more ridicule… Here they come.

“Hey nerdsville!”

“Nice Junkyard!”

“Yeah! What happened? Montgomery Wards throw up in your front yard?”

“The idiot actually thinks he’ll get the thing to fly!”

“Give it up Roger, I can jump higher than that thing will ever go.”

The blood rushed to Roger’s face. He was in too much pain to argue back, to frustrated to explain the physics of the ship… It just wasn’t worth it. So he let them go… As always they threw rocks at the ship, leaving dents all over it every week, and left their Gatorade bottles in the yard. It was almost more than Roger could take. He plopped on the ground and started rubbing his puffy eye, thinking what he could tell mom and dad this time, so he would still seem like a tough hero.

“I wish I had copilot to be my friend.” He whispered choking back the tears he thought he had so successfully repressed.”

Just then he felt a cold lumpy substance cover his eye. It scared him half to death, so he snapped up like a war veteran from a bad dream. It was a bag of frozen peas. Lucy and come back and tenderly laid it across his swollen face. Before Roger could say a word, Lucy reached deep into her “Hello Kitty” backpack and pulled out a pair of ski goggles and gingerly fastened them around Roger’s head in order not to hurt him.

“My dad doesn’t go skiing anymore, and I don’t like peas. Hopefully mom won’t notice.” Lucy then calmly walked over to the misplaced dryer/wing, pulled out a hammer and started banging away at it, obviously thinking she was helping.

Roger chuckled to himself at the uselessness of her banging, but was determined not to hurt the feelings of the only friend he had. Lucy was working up a sweat and turned back to look at Roger.

“Roger, come on! I want this thing to fly so bad it hurts!”

 

It was official; Lucy was the first person that had ever been allowed into Roger’s rocket. They sat on the floor of the cockpit (lacking the couch he had been searching for, for months) and Roger kept glancing around the windows of the rocket as if he was being followed.

“Lucy, what I am about to show you, I have never shown to another soul, not even mom and dad. If Alex Scales got a hold of this, or the baseball team, my life would be over, as we know it. You can’t tell a single soul, not even your best friend, or even any of your teddy bears, they can’t be trusted.”

“I promise.”

“Pinky promise?” Roger questioned, thrusting his pinky towards Lucy.

“Pinky promise, cross my heart, hope to die, stick a Lego in my thigh.” It was a done deal now; she had made the Lego promise.

Roger scampered over to the far wall of the rocket, and lifted what once was a dishwashing machine door, inside was a piece of blue paper about 2 feet wide that was tightly rolled together and held firmly by a thick rubber band. Roger gently rolled the stubborn rubber band off and unrolled his precious scroll.

“Blueprints! For the rocket!” Lucy was bubbling with excitement.

“That’s right, these are my plans to get into space.”

“I’m in! Can I go with you?”

“Whoa, that is a big question, we’ll have to see.”

“Come on! I can be your copilot, who else is going to do it? Alex Scales?”

“I’m accepting applications if you’re that interested.”

“Well let’s just keep building this thing and we’ll see what happens.”

 

And so it came to pass that Roger had made his first real friend. Lucy was a companion unlike any other, she was always sweet to Roger, and did nice things for him. She loved to make him chocolate cake with the chocolate chips just barely melted so they were still chewy (Roger’s favorite), write him notes that told him how smart he was and how his rocket would fly, even though the baseball team, and Alex Scales told him it wouldn’t, and sometimes for breakfast, she even made him cinnamon-pinch-me-cake. It was really awful that she still had a terrible case of the cooties. She was a perfect addition to the construction of the rocket, because Roger would always dream up extravagant things like having an “Impenetrable force field,” or “heat seeking missiles,” and even “cold seeking missiles” (Just incase there was ever cold blooded aliens that attacked of course), and Lucy would be the one that would bring him back down to earth in a sense, and tell him that they should just try and get the thing in the air first. Behind every good man, is a woman telling him what to do. It doesn’t mean that man is stupid, it just proves that it isn’t good for him to be alone.

One Saturday morning, about a month to go until blast off, Lucy and Roger were hard at work on what Roger called the thrusters. They were ultimately fire extinguishers that had been rigged for some unknown purpose, hidden deep within the blueprints, and the mind of Roger and Lucy. While they were pounding away, Roger heard a TINK TINK TINK, on the opposite side of the ship. Slightly startled he wheeled his way around and found that it was Alex Scales, and the entire baseball team throwing rocks at the ship.

“Hey four eyes! You better get running if you know what’s good for you!”

“What do you mean by that Scales?”

“It means I’m sick of seeing this stupid hunk of garbage in front of your house, we’re going to destroy it!”

“No way that’s happening.”

“Look here, Roger, if you don’t get out of my way, I’m going to break that new pair of goggles you have, hang you by your stupid cape, and then throw your little girlfriend in your wet suit.”

Before Roger even knew what was happening, he heard Lucy yelling, she had been grabbed up by Big Bertha: The largest 4th grade girl any human had ever seen, she was the center for the pee wee football team, and a darn good one. It had to have been Scales’ way of justifying laying hands on a girl. By getting the closest thing he good find to a girl in his squad of cronies. Bertha’s man hands were tight around Lucy’s wrist, and her baked bean teeth mouth smiled wildly at Roger’s panic stricken face. Whenever the rest of the team would make fun of her dental hygiene she would always say, “They’re my baby teeth, and I’m going to lose them anyway, so rot on!”

Roger didn’t know whom he was more furious with, Alex for threatening his precious project or, Bertha for apprehending his only friend. Bertha won. Roger was sprinting at her full force, abandoning every teaching his father ever gave him about not hitting girls. He clinched his fist as tight as it could be clinched, reached back, and socked Big Bertha in her big belly as hard as he could. It felt like smacking a bowl of pudding, and she didn’t even flinch despite all of his efforts. Now he knew he was in for it.

Scales snapped his fingers, and the two outside linebackers had Roger pinned to the ground, their knees driving deeply into his back, pulling his hair hard enough to force him to look at the destruction that was beginning to unfold. Scales had whipped out an aluminum baseball bat and began to wreak havoc all over the appliances that constructed Roger’s work of art. Pieces of glass, steel, plastic, and rubber were going everywhere. Shreds of machinery that took months and months to get just right were falling apart before his very eyes, but then the worst thing of all happened. Amidst the laughter of the football team, and the vicious blows of Scales, he finally shattered a dishwashing machine door, and a tightly rolled sheet of blue paper rocketed out of its hole. The frantic chuckles of Scales stopped momentarily as he shot his oily, meaty, hands in the air and snatched the blueprints.

“What the heck is this?”

Roger eagerly waited in anticipation while he hoped that Scales would assume it was nothing and discard the newly discovered sheet.

“Plans for your failure of a ship, are they not?” Alex triumphantly marched over to where Roger was being held captive, and unrolled the paper again right in front of him.

“I suppose these have some value to you Ro-jerk. And for that reason I won’t absolutely torture you. I’ll just make sure I destroy these quickly so you won’t suffer. Butts!” Butts was one of Scales cronies that hobbled over to his boss and instinctively handed him his BIC lighter that he had stolen from his chain-smoking father. (Of course at this age, if you can get your hands on a lighter you are automatically accepted into the mischievous troublemaking crowd. Little did Butts know this was his only value to his friends) Scales quickly set the map ablaze by dangling the corners just over the dancing flame of the cheap lighter.

“NO!” Roger squealed. The rocket was in shambles, and his plans were completely gone. Scales’ victory had finally been achieved. With a snap of his fingers Lucy was released to rush to the side of Roger, and our hero crumbled into the fetal position fighting the agony of heartbreak. It was over… all over.

 

 

It had been days since Lucy had seen Roger, the destruction of the rocket turned him into a recluse that barely came out of his room, only for bathroom breaks from space invaders, and the hot soup his mother would make him. He was a boy with dead dream, and when dreams are dead, hope dies with it. Lucy knew that she had to somehow restore the hope of her dearest friend. So she sat down one rainy Saturday afternoon with a brand new box of fresh crayola crayons and got to work. It wasn’t long before she had restored the blue prints as best she could. She knew what to do too…

By the end of the day, Lucy had knocked on every door in the neighborhood explaining the situation with Roger, or more commonly known as the boy that wears the goggles and the cape. The story pulled at the hearts of everyone that heard, and there was a massive effort to reconstruct the rocket that Roger had built based on the blueprints that Lucy had made.

“It won’t fly though.” Said Mrs. Weatherby, “But Roger is such a sweet boy! Take my old washer and dryer.”

“Wait you mean that kid that’s always runnin’ around the street making laser gun sounds? He’s as funny as all get out! Take my old dishwasher,” came the laughter of Mr. Goodman.

“That crazy boy, he’s a French fry short of a happy meal, but sure is a good kid.” Came the response of Old Man Davis that lived in the creepy mansion at the end of the street. “You can have my fire extinguishers if you need’em”

Lucy was amazed at all of the responses that she received from neighbor after neighbor. After her tour was done, her dad helped her load all of the equipment in a shopping car that she insisted on calling a “buggy.” and they mercilessly dumped all of it into Roger’s yard. The deafening noise of all the junk smashing into the yard startled Roger and he leapt to his window to peak through the drawn blinds.

There was Lucy, as clueless as ever when it came to building: Banging a hammer against the side of a dryer, only denting it. Roger chuckled to himself then dashed outside to see what was going on.

“Lucy where did all this stuff come from?”

“The neighbors, they gave it to me, and I am going to build your ship again whether you like it or not!”

“But there is no way Lucy, months of my work crumbled in front of us, I’m not even sure I remember how to build the ship like it was.”

“Can’t never could until he tried!”

Roger glanced over at Lucy who was pleading with him through her icy stair.

“Roger, let’s do this, I’ll help you build it. “I’m afflicted with belief that we can get this thing in the air!”

 

A new wave of excitement flooded over Roger, his hope had returned and he had determined that he indeed would help Lucy restore the emblem of his dreams, whether it would fly or not, he would certainly do his best to attach the wings to his dreams.

 

Rumor spread of the triumphant return of Roger’s rocket and the whole town wanted to play a part. It wasn’t rare at all for Roger to be working while dozens of people watched him hammer away at his masterpiece. Even his attire became a popular style for the rest of the parents and children in the neighborhood. Kids went to school with blankets tied around their neck, at the dinner table children were feasting in their tight wet suits, and even parents were excited to let their little ones wear a goggles. Roger had captivated the imagination of an entire neighborhood… Things were going really well for once, and the countdown to the big day was approaching.

 

 

It was the last day of school, and the launch day as well. Roger could not have been more excited about the events that were going to take place later that day. As usual, as it had been for the last couple of weeks, small children and even a few older, were following Roger and Lucy around like they were their shadows, asking questions and for autographs, neglecting to respect their teachers or principle as he past by.

“Why is everyone so concerned about Roger?” Principle Prickly asked.

“He’s going to fly a rocket out of the galaxy!” Came an excited reply.

The celebrity of the two children, all excepting Alex Scales, and the baseball team, captivated everyone. They saw Roger and Lucy laughing loudly in the cafeteria with tons of smaller kindergarteners and first graders around them, laughing even louder trying to catch his attention.

Alex noticed they were doing the typical cries for attention that kids those age usually do:

  1. Shooting peas out of their nose.
  2. Shooting milk out of their nose.
  3. Eating Ice Cream after it had fallen to the floor.
  4. Shooting corn out of their nose.
  5. Shaking sodas and letting a clueless stranger open it.
  6. Mixing crazy things in their chocolate milk.
  7. Shooting spit wads. And of course…
  8. Shitting spit wads out of their nose.

 

Alex couldn’t handle it anymore. These were the same kids that he was terrorizing for months that had grown to fear him, and give up their lunch money as a result. With a meaty palm he started throwing small children over tables as they yelped in horror being thrown off their feet.

“Roger! You and your little girlfriend have done it now! I’m gonna’.”

“Cream you like corn? Ya ya I know…” Roger’s arrogance was flaming in response to his fan club that eagerly camped around him. Lucy nervously nudged him to make sure he didn’t go too far she always did. “Get some new lines Scales.”

“Your dead.”

“Are you really going to punch me in front of the principle?” Prickly, not paying attention at all was huddled in the corner speaking with a student that had that had messed with the TV’s in the cafeteria with his universal remote. Roger was determined to get another shot it, “You’ll be suspended so long you’ll forget the alphabet… wait, maybe that wouldn’t be long at all.”

Lucy fiercely gripped his wrist.

“Maybe I can’t touch you Roger,” Scale’s face was red hot with anger. “But I can trash your rocket one more time before the big launch that would fail anyway.”

With a snap of his fingers the baseball team sprinted out of the cafeteria and mounted their bikes and took off towards Roger’s home. Scales stayed behind and cackled evilly. His wink at Roger let him know that if Roger tried to chase after him, Scales would destroy him.

Roger started sweating profusely, his hands were clammy cold, but he had to do something. He took one step forward… the deafening silence was accompanied only by the crackling of Scales’ knuckles.

Surely he won’t hit me in front of the staff. Thought Roger… He was wrong.

“PAGING PRINCIPAL PRICKY, PAGING PRINCIPAL PRICKLY.” The P.A. system was like the bell tolling; ushering in the death of Roger. Without even a second thought the only adult on the room: principal Prickly left Roger with no defenses except the little kindergarteners that could only bite the ankles of the giant before them.

With one swift move Scales shouldered Roger into the ground with a deep thud. Roger scampered to his feet and threw his fist up ready to defend himself… however, it was to no avail, in flurry of movement, Scales had landed a combination punch that left Roger startled on the ground, he struggled back to his feet and once again faced the goliath before him.

“You’re done Roger! I’ve had enough of your games. You’ll have some beautiful new bruises to go with your busted rocket!” Scales tightly gripped Roger by the collar and reared back to land one last explosive blow to Roger’s head. Until…

“Hey FATWACK!” It was Lucy with a handful of lasagna leftovers. With here eyebrows furrowed in a tight “V,” she launched her messy handful of mediocre cafeteria food and shouted the most dangerous word in elementary school language as the clump of food splattered in Alex’s eyes.

“FOOD FIGHT!”

Chaos. Absolute chaos. Except it wasn’t even a fight. It was a slaughtering. Tons of kindergarteners, first graders, second graders, third graders, anyone who had ever been bullied by Alex Scales was joyously grabbing fistfuls of slop and hurtling right into the face of the world’s meanest boy.

The enormous boy could barely be seen through the pounds of mashed potatoes, handfuls of lasagna, and gallons of chocolate milk.

Alex Scales had got his.

“You probably just saved by life Lucy.”

“I know.”

“I’m going to hug you now.”

The two smiled fiercely at each other as Roger gave her a tight hug.

“You owe me two now.”

“Holy Cow! The rocket! Lucy we have to make sure the baseball team doesn’t destroy it, or all of our work will have been useless.”

“Already on it! My mom is in the parking lot ready to drive us to your house!” The whole cafeteria was listening now, and a thunderous response erupted from the kids, they were ready for flight day, and to see if this rocket would get off the ground. The frantic race to the car was complemented with laughter from Roger despite the weight of the situation. He had just seen the downfall of his archrival, and was going to get launched into space… hopefully…

 

Lucy’s mom, Rita was the world’s sweetest woman. Roger loved coming over all the time while they were building the rocket because she always made the best food! She had world famous chicken spaghetti, lemon chicken, and at Christmas time always had fresh treats for her whole family. Her happiness was the happiness of those around her, and it made her one of the best kinds of people to be around. But her typical cheerful demeanor was distorted by the urgency of the moment. She floored the gas and sent her white Acura hurtling towards Roger’s. They dashed in between cars, and wove in and out of other slow drivers, desperately trying to make it in time. Roger could almost hear the collapsing of his prized possession. There were even a couple of times that Rita couldn’t wait in the traffic so she just drove over the grass to get to the access road. It was going to be a close one for sure.

When Rita finally entered Roger’s neighborhood, she was driving absolutely reckless. In fact a woman was pulling out of her driveway that forced Rita to slam on the breaks! When she did, her anger drove her to honk her horn, and because she was too nice to give anyone a gesture involving a certain finger, she scrunched up her face and jerked her thumb to the side, looking like a confused umpire… she was obviously not a seasoned veteran in criticizing others.

As they peered around the corner, Roger knew it was too late.

He saw tons of bicycles thrown down right in front of his house… he didn’t even want to look and see the rocket, there was no point. It had to be in shambles. Roger lowered his head in defeat… it was over.

“Roger look!” Came Lucy’s sweet comforting voice. With tears in is eyes, Roger looked up and saw the most amazing scene he had ever beheld.

 

The entire baseball team was planted firm in their tracks facing an army that had created a barrier of soldiers between the rocket and the baseball team. The barrier was made up from Old Man Davis, Mrs. Weatherby, Mr. Goodman and the rest of the neighborhood! They all had their arms folded and were protecting Roger’s rocket from the imminent threat it was in. They were all dressed in wet suits, every one of them, with blankets tied around their necks, and goggles on their heads. They had dressed up like Roger for his big day… At the front of the massive army stood Roger’s parents, determined more than anyone to once and for all defend the dreams of their son. The rocket wasn’t going to be touched unless it was Roger or Lucy. And to top it all off, hanging in the highest window in the hose was a big red neon sign that lit up that said, “LUNCH!” But Roger’s mom had doctored it with a stream of Christmas lights and made an arrow pointing in between the “L” and the “U,” leading to a giant letter “A.” Launch. They were all here for launch day.

Calmly, Roger grabbed Lucy’s hand and started walking towards the rocket. He quickly passed the dumbfounded glances of the humiliated baseball team, politely nodded at the kindly people of the neighborhood and kissed his parents lightly on the cheek. As Roger and Lucy stood before their construction, they took one quick look at each other and walked into the structure that had taken them so long to build.

Different hushed whispers started coming from the crowd.

“Did we do the right thing?”

“Maybe we should have let the thing be torn down.”

“That boy is going to be heart broken.”

“He’ll never recover.”

“He’s just using his imagination, let him think he’s flying.”

“He’ll never want to work at anything ever again.”

Roger’s mom and dad looked at each other with a sad glance, they had made a commitment to protect their son no matter what. And if that meant watching his dream fail, then they were going to do it. Surely it would be a growing experience. While Roger’s mom shed a single tear, she clung tightly to her husband, terrified that the next time she saw her son, he would be the saddest a little boy could be.

Inside the rocket, Roger and Lucy were finally strapped down.

“Lucy?”

“Mmhmm.”

“I never asked you to be my copilot.”

“You didn’t have to.”

“Thanks.”

“Always.”

“Lucy?”

“Mmhmm?”

“You’re my best friend.”

“Roger… you’re mine too.”

The two, closed their eyes and held hands as Roger said a silent prayer.

With that, Roger started to flip all the switches and press all the right buttons. The hum outside caused a gasp from the neighborhood and a small burst of laughter. The people were surprised it did anything at all.

But then came a deep rumbling, the rocket began to quake with power. The shaking grew more and more intense. The startled crowd with jaws dropped, backed away from the amazing spectacle. What was happening? An explosion of fire burst from the thrusters on the ground… Shrieks came from all the women… the rocket started to lift from the chains gravity had imprisoned it with. Slowly Roger’s rocket climbed higher and higher leaving behind the stale dreams of every child who put limits on their imagination. The rocket was flying, and flying fast, nothing was stopping it. The perplexed neighbors watched in astonishment as the wording “Afflicted With Belief,” grew smaller and smaller as the rocket was hurtling into the sunset. The pale hue of the evening cloaked the majesty of the homemade rocket until all sight of Roger and Lucy had evaporated into the heavens. Roger and Lucy, the best of friends had done it. They lived their dream, because they were afflicted with belief, as we all should be. Lucy was Roger’s perfect companion, the friend that catapulted him to pursue his dreams. We all need a copilot like Lucy, to remind us that we were once afflicted with belief: that our dreams really are possible.


For my wife…

 

Die Hard and Fairies? Artemis Fowl!

A genius. A criminal mastermind. A millionaire. And he is only twelve years old.

Eoin Colfer describes the Artemis Fowl Series as “Die Hard with fairies.” Let’s be real. We love them both. Think of John McClane emptying a couple of clips trying to tag Tinkerbell from Peter Pan, who just happens to be armed to the teeth with firearms as well. Yippee Ki Aye. The first book in the series called ‘Artemis Fowl’ is an intriguing story that merges elements from James Bond, Harry Potter, Douglas Adams (Hitchhikers), Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Percy Jackson, you name it.  It was an absolute blast to read, and if the others are as gripping and hysterical, it is a series I plan on finishing.

Artemis is a 12 year old genius that uses his cunning intellect to succeed in organized crime. That’s right, a 6th grade mafia boss of sorts. In this installment, Artemis is plotting to restore his family fortune that has been nabbed by the fairies (don’t think of cute Disney characters, or cartoons on cereal boxes, these guys are an organized force with progressive agendas). His plan to regain the gold at the end of the rainbow is to capture a fairy as hostage. Unfortunately for Artemis, he kidnaps one tough cookie: Holly Short of the LEPrecon unit. (Coolest name for a military unit EVER). Once the rest of the fairy world catches wind of Artemis’ tactics, the book becomes a wildly fun and funny hostage situation with twists and turns that will keep you flipping pages till the end.

The humor in Artemis Fowl was witty and crisp, from a butler named Butler who happens to be a highly trained killing machine, to the hygiene habits of trolls, to projectile flatulence,  Colfer is relentless in his gags, but thankfully embeds them within a well-written work. Artemis Fowl has kidnapping, blackmail, and magic… all the things that make you glad you’re still a ‘young adult reader.’

4th shelf of 5.

More from the Heretic: Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis

“The Christian faith is alive only when it is listening, morphing, innovating, letting go of whatever has gotten in the way of Jesus and embracing whatever will help us be more and more the people God wants us to be.”

Cool quote right? Who is going to disagree with this? But let’s face it, the line comes from a book by Rob Bell- Velvet Elvis, and the very name of the author is going to produce some serious controversy regardless of his opinions or theology. I found myself reading with the same lens: I was desperately searching for the heretical claims of Bell in order to wag my finger at his trendy poetic book. I was gritting my teeth imagining him tapping away at his macbook pro, with his black rimmed glasses, sipping french press coffee, and wearing a scarf with a t-shirt. After my wife talked some sense into me, I understood that I needed to remove my agenda from the reading, and just investigate what it is that this rising star in the realm of Christianity really has to say. Then it started to dawn on me that people with skinny ties and Toms shoes can have something valuable to say. (Are you guys picking up on my unnecessary bitterness?) Lo and behold, his points that are buried in (almost) stream-of-consciousness writing, and difficult metaphors- are actually pretty good.

The book is difficult to summarize as a whole. Its subtitle is ‘repainting the Christian faith,’ but it is done by targeting about 7-8 different issues in his chapters that Bell calls “movements.” I’ll try my best to give you the pop of each movement in a sentence:

1. JUMP: Our beliefs should be flexible and capable of changing and evolving just as we are as a people and as a culture. Cool quote: “Doctrine is a wonderful servant and a terrible master” (25). WARNING: Bell will use the word trampoline in this chapter about a thousand times.

2. YOKE: Living for Jesus is like becoming the yellow part of an egg. (Just kidding) The bible is a living book; any ‘bible based teaching’ is someone’s interpretation, and our interpretations should be susceptible to change and growth. Cool quote: “Jesus expects his followers to be engaged in the endless process of what it means to actually live the scriptures” (50).

3. TRUE: The truth of God is found throughout the entire world, and not just confined to ‘Christian’ experiences. (I think this is the best chapter… oops… movement in the book)

4. TASSELS: The plan of God through Jesus goes beyond forgiveness –  it is restoration.

5. DUST: Jesus believes in us, and we are actually capable of being like him despite how unqualified we seem. He has an awesome illustration here about being covered in the dust of your rabbi. The imagery is following Jesus and following him closely.

6. NEW: We are new creations that should live in the identity of how Jesus sees us, and not in the sinful ways we see ourselves.

7. GOOD: The body of Christ and the church is something that is good, and we should strive to be the original body and church that God had in mind.

Velvet Elvis is a good book to read that is worth your time. I think the overall message is great. Bell wants Christians to migrate away from a rigid harsh faith that has beat people down –  Christians and non-Christians alike for centuries. He wants to broaden the scope of how we see truth, and to live life in a way that really replicates that of Jesus and not just a garbled interpretation of scripture. Good stuff.

But frankly, I’ve never cared much for his writing style. It is still impossibly cool, and too postmodern for my taste. And I always feel like his reasoning is flawed. In one point in the book Bell argues that Jesus actually gave us authority to have different interpretations of scripture:

“Notice what Jesus says in the book of Matthew: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

“What he is doing here is significant. He is giving his followers the authority to make new interpretations of the Bible. He is giving them permission to say, “Hey, we think we missed it before on that verse, and we’ve recently come to the conclusion that this is what it actually means.” And not only is he giving them authority, but he is saying that when they do debate and discuss and pray and wrestle and then make decisions about the Bible, somehow God in heaven will be involved. Jesus expects his followers to be engaged in the endless process of deciding what is means to actually live in the Scriptures.”  (p. 50)

What? Where in the world did that interpretation come from? Jesus isn’t talking at all about interpreting scripture differently. And it seems to me that Bell’s ultimate aim when it comes to doctrines and dogmas is to foster discussion about what the meaning of scripture really is. Discussion and debate that sharpens and changes our beliefs is great, but I can’t get the continual emphasis that Paul places on knowing doctrine and truth out of my head as I read the book. Of course it will be our particular interpretation of truth, but it should be sought out none the less. It seems that Bell often will throw the baby out with the bath water. He nuances truth in such a way that to me almost makes it seem relative to each person. And he always comes to these conclusions by unlocking a mysterious Greek or Hebrew word that has had a hidden concept for centuries. I just want a reference, something that shows me where these ‘concepts’ come from. They’re really cool but Bell would have to admit that they will dramatically challenge a great deal of Christian traditions. A footnote or two on these translations would be sweet.

However, like I said before, Bell does an excellent job at detecting the shortcomings of the church, and his challenges of these failures make Velvet Elvis a good one. But his logic, writing style, and interpretations of scripture knock down the book to the 3rd shelf out of 5.

Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

“The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.”

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger was not at all what I was expecting. I tend to think of classic American novels as depressing books that explore themes like isolation and alienation (an idea that is in a state of reformation), which is precisely what this book did, while somehow still being thoroughly enjoyable. It seems like through the years The Catcher in the Rye has been a controversial novel that has attracted a great deal of attention by being frequently taught in schools despite its ‘salty’ language and ‘provocative’ scenes. In addition to this, Salinger’s recent passing, and seeing the cover in every bookstore as long as I have been alive, I finally bit the bullet and gave the novel a shot. (Did you catch my play on words?)

Holden Caulfield, the novel’s protagonist, is a classic antihero stuck in a puzzling identity crisis. His complex dilemma, however, on the surface appears to be a cut and dry case of isolation and alienation resulting from the mistreatment of his peers. But due to the entire novel being written in a first person, stream-of-consciousness style we see that Holden’s unbelievably critical description of his friends and classmates as ‘pimply’ and ‘phony’ make the reader question the reliability of the narrator while simultaneously understanding that Holden Caulfield’s predicament is self-inflicted.

The Catcher in the Rye is Holden’s desperate and yet unconscious attempt to find a sense of belonging, and to make a connection with another human being. And despite the intensity of the above plot description, Holden’s thoughts are often so critical, naive, and subjective, that they will undoubtedly make you giggle or laugh out loud… if not, you are taking yourself and the book too seriously. The book’s themes are also remarkably easy to connect with. Salinger’s novel is a guaranteed one-way-ticket to nostalgia land, with his unmissable commentary on the loss of innocence, the hesitancy of engaging adulthood, and the refusal to mature. (It’s like a very intense rendering of the old toys-r-us theme song). You’ll be frustrated with Holden, you’ll want him to just get it so badly. But the masterful writing of Salinger fabricates such a lovable character in Holden; through his humorous and guileless speech, you have the feeling of reading a beloved family member’s journal. Of course you may get angry with their actions, but they’re family… you’re obligated to love them. Check these quotes and tell me you can’t enjoy a character like this:

When I really worry about something, I don’t just fool around.  I even have to go to the bathroom when I worry about something.  Only, I don’t go.  I’m too worried to go.  I don’t want to interrupt my worrying to go.

All morons hate it when you call them a moron.

I’m the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It’s awful. If I’m on my way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I’m going, I’m liable to say I’m going to the opera. It’s terrible.

What really knocks me out is a book, when you’re all done reading it, you wished the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.

All that being said, I believe that the brilliance of Catcher in the Rye is not particularly what Salinger writes, but what he doesn’t write. Off the bat, we discover that Holden is recovering from some psychological meltdown, and that the entire novel will be recounting how he got to that particular point. But Holden is NEVER introspective. He is quick to notice (exhaustively) every fault that the ‘phonies’ around him have, but he never takes a look at himself, nor does he let the reader into a full understanding of how he came to be such a pessimist. But we see quick flashes here and there of traumatic events that happen in Holden’s life that he mentions in passing… He refuses to stay on these topics and brings them up for merely functional reasons, but it is an ingenious tactic that Salinger utilizes in helping the reader to comprehend Holden’s damaged psyche.

I loved this book. It’s a short read and worth every second of you’re time. Holden Caulfield is one of the most human characters I’ve ever encountered in a work of literature.

4 1/2 shelf out of 5.

Love Wins: Rob Bell the heretic universalist…maybe

Well, I read it. Love Wins by Rob Bell has been a hot button topic for awhile now. Controversy tends to surround

Bell, and his latest installment in his impossibly cool line of books has given rise to an uproar in the Christian community. The subtitle: ‘Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person who has Ever Lived’ almost makes you hold your breath in tension (Uh oh… he’s going to talk about that?). The twittersphere was exploding with commentary on their opinion of Bell and his book, calling him a universalist, a heretic and any other degrading thing you can possibly imagine (and all of this done without even reading the book… yikes). In my opinion this wasn’t a good move for people who want to discredit Bell because all of the controversy has just made me and the rest of the world want to read the book. So after reading, what was my take? Does Rob Bell believe in hell? Is he a universalist?

In all fairness, the book really isn’t about Bell developing a theology on hell. Nor is he trying to make a statement on hell’s existence. Yes you can conclude (by traditional definitions) Bell is a kind of… mini… universalist, and yes he does deny the existence of an eternal hell(in an extremely ambiguous way that is impossible to tack down). But his real aim is to alter the way we approach the gospel. Bell argues that the gospel is good news and ultimately about the love God has for everyone on earth. And honestly who can’t jibe with that? When you have statements like:

When the gospel is understood primarily in terms of entrance rather that joyous participation, it can actually serve to cut people off from the explosive liberating experience of the God who is an endless giving circle of joy and creativity.

You aren’t going to find many who disagree with this. But is this conclusion only reached by changing our doctrines and dogmas?

The problem is, Bell diverts from the typical ideology of hell in order for the Christian story to be ALL about love. Bell would prefer to define hell (and heaven for that matter) as a place we create here on earth as a result of our actions instead of a place of eternal suffering and punishment away from God. Because how can a God that eternally punishes people be loving? It is a classic anthropomorphic argument (that means he’s ascribing human attributes to God) that attempts to rid God of any characteristics that would seem cruel or unloving if they were credited to humans.

One of the main things that I don’t like about Bell’s books is not his applications for Christians in his books, they are usually awesome, but his logic to get to these particular points always seems so flawed to me. His books, including this one, will have over extended metaphors, wild interpretations of scripture that seem to go beyond what the story is really trying to communicate, and my least favorite, he seems to know all these Greek and Hebrew words that have hidden meanings and concepts that unlock secret messages that have been concealed for centuries. And all of these words conveniently exclude any references or sources that show any evidence for these beliefs. For instance: Bell says that Jesus often used the word “heaven” and was simply referring to God. If this is true, cool. But I’ve never heard it, and you have no sources to validate your claim.

I love the fact that he wants Christians to separate from solely preaching turn or burn type messages, that’s good. (Even though it has worked in the past… see Jonathan Edwards and Jesus) But I don’t think the solution is to change our theology, that’s not the problem. There can be an eternal hell and a loving God. How it works… I’m not to sure. But I’m ok with these two seemingly contradictory elements to hang in tension on this side of eternity.

The book itself, in my opinion really isn’t that good. It has fragmented arguments and tends to ramble and repeat itself. If you enjoy his style give it a shot just to see what all the controversy is about. You’ll have to once again get past

Rob Bell’s

unbelievably…

Dramatic..

Writing.

But the book certainly won’t hurt your faith. It made me want to emphasize God’s love more to others I come in contact with, which is of course a great thing. As always with Bell’s books, go for the application he is getting at, they are almost always great, just disregard a big chunk of the poetic but sketchy arguments he uses to get to the point.

2nd bookshelf of 5.

A Wrinkle in My Brain: A Wrinkle in Time

a wrinkle in my brain

I think most of us had to read Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time when we were growing up. The only thing that stuck out in my mind from middle school was the terrible cover of an obese woman dressed in ridiculous clothing. And my mind for some reason always associated the ‘wrinkle’ in the title to be a description of the decrepit cover lady’s age.

However, lately I’ve been excited to revisit all of the reading we were assigned as kids, and have been delighted to find out that my English teachers who I thought were bores, who took joy in assigning us books that cured insomnia, really did love and recommend awesome literature. Madeleine L’Engle has composed a beautiful young adult epic that is a mix of the Chronicles of Narnia and Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series. It undoubtedly fits the category of books we read long ago that deserve another shot. The narration is witty and clever why still maintaining a quirky sense of humor that makes the book more than just tolerable as it was in 7th grade, but something that is truly enjoyable.

I picked up a copy at half price books, and to my dismay it was a beaten-up old copy that was annotated by some punk middle schooler. Usually I don’t care much for other people’s annotations. I want to discover and make connections on my own, but seeing the novel (in a sense) through a middle schooler’s eyes was so much fun. I think a handful of people remember the book as being a novel packed with new vocabulary words that we had to look up. For instance, it HAS to bring a smile to anyone’s face when you start thumbing through the pages and seeing words like these highlighted in different colors: tesseract, propitious, dilapidated, retort, judiciously, and indignant. L’Engle’s writing is more than descriptive, she has a powerful ability to submerge you in her kooky world with lyrical passages that read like poetry:

Silence fell between them, as tangible as the dark tree shadows that fell across their laps and that now seemed to rest upon them as heavily as though they possessed a measurable weight of their own.

Another facet of L’Engle that I had never appreciated was how ‘Christian’ A Wrinkle in Time really is.  There are undeniable overtones pleasantly blended with direct quotations of beloved scriptures all throughout the book that drove me to check her out on wikipedia (a universally recognized credible source). And if any weight can be given to a wikipedia article, it seems that L’Engle loved Jesus and was passionate about communicating (specifically) His love through her work, especially in A Wrinkle in Time.

Her creative writing traces the time and space traveling trio of Meg Murray, her brother Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin. Together with the help of three enigmatic beings, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which, Meg and her gang go galavanting throughout the universe to find the Murray’s lost father who has been missing for over a year. It’s a heartwarming quest that had me laughing and and brimming over with excitement and anticipation.

The captivating writing, intriguing and unique story line, mixed with the overwhelming message of love’s power put this book on shelf 4 1/2 of 5… go read it again. You know you want to… you’ll like it way more the second time around just like I did.