Monthly Archives: October 2008

The Alchemyst by Michael Scott, a Review

The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel
by Michael Scott, Delacorte Press, 2007, 369 pages.

Worldview:  Darwinian atheism.

Style:  A high-action, imaginative story with memorable characters that will draw your kids in.

Review:  An Elder Race used to live on the earth, while humans were still hanging out in trees.  These elders, who have magical powers, are divided into Dark Elders and others.  The Dark Elders would like to return to power, enslaving or killing the human race.  Their puppet is the human villain, Dr. John Dee.

This story has a strong hook:  it mentions the Immortal Nicholas Flamel on the cover. Flamel is one of the characters in the Harry Potter stories, but he wasn’t invented by J.K. Rowling. Instead, Rowling took a legend and based a character on it.  Scott has done the same. Scott’s cover also looks faintly like one of the symbols featured in the Potter books (the Deathly Hallows).

Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel are legendary French individuals, born in the 1300s, supposed to have found the secret of immortality. In Scott’s tale, Flamel becomes mentor to American teenage twins Josh and Sophie Newman as the result of a struggle described in the opening scene of the book. In the struggle, Dr. John Dee and his henchmen rob Flamel of his magic book, except for two critical pages.

As the story unfolds, Dee is pursuing Flamel and the twins.  The twins find out they have powers and are the subjects of a prophecy about powerful twins.  Flamel takes Sophie to an Elder One to have her powers awakened. Josh has to wait till the next book (when his powers are awakened by a Dark Elder).

The central characters are clearly the twins.  They are motivated by loyalty to friends and to each other, a tribal sort of morality rather than a Biblical one.  One of the main themes involves the question of Josh’s attraction to the dark side. We’ve heard this one before.  The kids lie to their parents about where they are. The author excuses this by implying the parents wouldn’t believe them.

This book and its sequels will probably draw the attention of your teen at some point.  My 16-year-old fantasy fan was drawn to them.  Be sure to discuss the atheist viewpoint.–Phyllis Wheelerthumbsdown

Pendragon Series by D.J. MacHale, a Review

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Pendragon: the Merchant of Death (Book 1 of a series)
by D. J. MacHale

Aladdin Paperbacks, 2002, 374 pages

Worldview:  A moral universe with no discernible higher power.

Style:  High action.

Review:  This tale describes a story taking place on another planet, Denduron.  It is mostly told by the protagonist, Bobby Pendragon, a 14-year-old American boy who strangely enough takes the time to write to his best friend Mark and girl friend Courtney, who remain back home, whenever he has the opportunity.  The reader reads the letters along with Mark and Courtney.

Bobby is taken to Denduron through a wormhole gateway by his Uncle Press, who embroils him in a conflict between two factions who live there. One of these factions has enslaved the other. Meddlers from other worlds, called Travelers, are both good guys and bad guys.  One, the oddly named Saint Dane, is a hugely evil bad guy who is abetting the conflict.  Others, including Press and Bobby Pendragon, are trying to stop Saint Dane.  Bobby starts off as feeling himself to be very incompetent, and gradually picks up some courage and competence as the story unfolds. He and another young Traveler, Loor, work together to foil Saint Dane.  Saint Dane excapes to another planet through a worm hole. We suspect that will be the setting of the next book, with a similar plot:  foiling Saint Dane, this time in a different world.

The story has many imaginative aspects as well as interesting characters. However, it fails to move me on several counts.  One is the breezy teen-speak that Bobby uses for most of the book. It’s just not that easy to read.  Another is the improbability of the plot resolution.  Once Saint Dane is removed, the warring factions simply stop their conflict and begin to help each other.  This is a feud that’s been going on for longer than Saint Dane was present. So why would removing him completely solve it?  It’s not clear to me.

Another irritation was that some plot elements are left dangling, to be resolved in future books I suppose. These are major plot elements having to do with who Bobby is.  We are told near the end of the book that the family that raised him is not his real family, and that Uncle Press is not his uncle. Bobby’s family has vanished, so he can’t come back to “second earth” and live a  normal life. He is stuck being a Traveler now.

Despite these irritations, I do recommend this book for young readers. The high action is sure to please, and the moral compass of the work is sound.–Phyllis Wheeler

If you would like to buy this book, please buy it here to help pay the expenses of this Web site.

Reading Fantasy Can Bring Us Joy

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Fantasy is a matter of taste. Some people just aren’t interested in it. I think it’s a matter of the leap of faith that you have to make as a reader, deciding to suspend your disbelief. Some people don’t want to do it or have difficulty doing it.

But for Christians who love fantasy stories, there is always a challenge in the wings from Christian skeptics. Isn’t this a genre that speaks of magic, witches and werewolves? Doesn’t the Bible forbid consorting with witches?  Isn’t fantasy therefore leading you, the reader, away from God?

Fantasy stories that have blessed me greatly all have a fantasy world set up by the author which has a moral compass.  You can tell which is right side up. The evil bad guy acts evil. The good guys act good.  There is conflict. The fantasy setting allows for magic, dragons, and other things that are not “real” but that nevertheless can help tell a good story.  Having the possibility of using magic increases the author’s creative vocabulary mightily.

In 1947, JRR Tolkien published an essay, “On Fairy Stories,” framing the “fairy story” or fantasy story as an art form that dates from the dawn of time. We are made in the image of God. What does that mean? It means that we love to create, he argues. So we love to make up stories, including stories with elements that are “not real.”

For Tolkien, the heart of the great “fairy story” is the happy ending. That’s not just any happy ending, but one that happens suddenly, when all seems totally bleak. That is what gives us joy.

As a Christian fantasy reader, I have experienced joy, when reading the Narnia tales and Lord of the Rings. I have experienced a letdown and disappointment when reading fantasy books that seem to have been written for the purpose of scaring me.  And I have also experienced a letdown and disappointment when reading tales that have a wrong view of God.

I am hoping that you, my readers, and I can discuss a variety of books and our reactions to them on this blog.

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer, a Review

Artemis Fowl
by Eoin Colfer, Hyperion Books for Children, 2001, 277 pages

Worldview:  Amoral.  The “good guy” is a criminal. This is bound to confuse younger readers.

Style:  A young adult novel with plenty of action to keep readers turning pages.

Review:  Artemis Fowl is the name of a 12-year-old genius who is also a criminal mastermind.  As the high-action story unfolds, it becomes clear that Artemis is, in fact, the hero–we find ourselves cheering for his nefarious plots. This is a confusing position to put a child reader into!

We also cheer for his victims, who are morally upstanding members of the fairy police.  Artemis eventually makes friends with these members of the fairy police, so that the book emphasizes tribal or friendship loyalty as a supreme virtue.  It puts other moral no-nos, such as thievery and deception, on the “naughty but OK” list.  There are two successful thieves in the book whom the author clearly likes: Artemis and a dwarf. Also, the word “damn” appears in the book. In addition, the author makes up a fairy swear word and has his fairy police using it all the time.

Your children will probably check the Fowl books out and read them, if they have library access. My kids all have.  The reason is that, despite the amoral framework, this book is a good read.  The characters are memorable, there is plenty of action, and the story has a zany science-fiction quality to it.

Artemis and his bodyguard Butler are seeking to kidnap a fairy and hold it for ransom, in order to enhance the depleted family fortune.  Turns out the fairies have mostly left the surface of the earth to colonize the center of the earth, driven below-ground by human activity.  Their advanced technology allows them to travel back and forth to the surface.

Artemis and Butler manage to kidnap a fairy police woman named Holly Short.  Ransom is eventually paid, and partly stolen by the dwarf thief  At the end, Holly is released, Artemis is rich, and so is the dwarf. On the way, Holly has saved Butler’s life and that of Butler’s sister.  And she heals Artemis’ depressed mother.  All’s well that ends well. Or is it?

This imaginative story will draw  your teen in. Be sure to discuss the world view.–Phyllis Wheelerthumbsdown