Beyond the Summerland (The Binding of the Blade, Book 1)
L. B. Graham
P & R Publishing, 2004
593 pp., $16.99
Reviewed by Newlyn Allison
Graham, who studied at Oxford for a time, says his story began when
a footnote in an anthology of poems by W.B. Yeats and an image from the book of Isaiah collided in my imagination. … The story began with the image from Isaiah, the image of swords and spears being remade into pruning hooks and plowshares. It occurred to me as a fan of fantasy, a genre full of young warriors defining themselves with their battle prowess and yet often using that same skill to achieve peace, that the restoration both they and I hoped for might involve more internal identity crisis than I had thought. Would a hero still be a hero if the essential tool of his heroism was melted down in the end and turned into a set of steak knives or horseshoes? … And in that restoration,[sic] lies the final struggle, to let go of the sword that has defined you, and to take up the plow you have fought for.
The Bible itself should give pause to anyone who thinks that only representational realism is legitimate. Ezekiel and other prophets had visions of things we don't see every day. Our Lord Himself is revealed from the very beginning as serpent-slayer, the hero in an epic struggle to destroy the works of the devil. We catch a glimpse of the battles of principalities and powers. Or we recognize, when we've been protected from disaster, that angels are about and our world is filled with more than what we see. With Job, we confess that we only grasp at the fringes of His ways. In this light, fantasy is "not … for whimsy-lovers," as Donald Barr, one of Tolkien's earlier reviewers, so aptly wrote.
One benefit of fantasy is that it can be potently anti-egalitarian, with its hierarchical ranks of otherworldly beings, mortals, and creatures. It fleshes out the order of Psalm 8: God, angels, mankind, the animals. In this way fantasy can serve as a corrective for our culture's insistence on leveling every distinction of rank and office. Fantasy like Graham's can also remind Christians of the daily battles we face against the flesh and that old serpent: we are called to be warriors in Christ's service. Douglas Wilson has written:
The serpent of Genesis is the dragon of Revelation (Rev. 20:2), and we are called to rejoice that a dragon has been slain. In contrast, we have reduced the gospel to four basic steps toward personal happiness, and we are much farther from the truth than our fathers were when they told their glorious stories. This is another way of saying that dragon-lore is truer than therapy-speak.
(Future Men, Canon Press, 2001).
L. B. Graham's tale is not as seamless as Tolkien's or his characters as flawlessly rendered. But buy the book; it's eminently enjoyable, and you'll be supporting a brother. (P&R Publishing should be commended for venturing out of their theology and self-help.) Those of us who are intrigued to see how Graham will answer his own question—about a world of warriors populating the peace they fought for—are already looking forward to the next volume in the series.
Newlyn Allison is a writer living in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
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Beyond the Summerland: Book 1, The Binding of the Blade is available from Amazon.com and other book retailers.
More information is available from the publisher.
Books & Culture Corner appears every Tuesday. Earlier editions of Books & Culture Corner and Book of the Week include:
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