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Monday, April 12, 2010

Pirate Freedom, by Gene Wolfe

I recently read Gene Wolfe's Pirate Freedom. Wolfe is a much-honored writer of fantastic literature.

I had been reluctant to begin this book, because I had a hard time figuring out that it could be a Wolfe-like book with that title. I shouldn't have worried. It's Wolfe, all right.

I don't want to give away much of the plot -- if you want a plot summary, click on the first link in the first line -- but I'll say this much. It's Wolfe, because you are never quite sure who is who. The main character may turn out to re-appear as another one. Also, the main character does a lot of thinking for our benefit. Seemingly unimportant characters drop out early, only to show up as important ones later. These are all characteristics of Wolfe's work. This book is more directly Christian than any other Wolfe volume I have read. No, it isn't Faith Fiction -- the leading character isn't a woman who falls in love with a bad guy, who is converted at the end. But the world-view is Christian, and there are at least four passages where there is an explicit Christian message. I'll indicate each of those. There is also some less direct Christianity, such as the main character's name, Chris, or Christofero.

I read whenever I can, the lives of good and decent men and women who sought God and found Him.
I am not like that -- either I have never lost Him or I have never sought Him. When you read this, you can say which. (Gene Wolfe, Pirate Freedom, New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 2007, p. 17) These sentences are early in the first paragraph of the first, and the beginning of the next paragraph, after a brief preface. At the end, I think we can say that the main character, who spends most of the book as a pirate in the Caribbean and the Atlantic, about three centuries ago, did seek God, but not in an orthodox way. He also was a priest, and definitely a believing priest.

on p. 193, Chris hears God speaking to him, as a voice. Others around him heard something at the same time. It is not clear whether they heard words, but Chris did. The voice came in response to a prayer of forgiveness by Chris, who was a pirate at the time.

On p. 242, as a priest, instructing young people, Father Chris tells them that God has given us humans free will, and that He has died for us.

On page 264, Father Chris indicates another experience of God:
I bundled up in my sweater, my overcoat, and so on, and unlocked the church so I could go in and say my mass. (We have to say mass every day, whether anybody comes or not.) The furnace had been turned down the night before, and the church was so cold that there was a skin of ice on the fonts. But the warm presence of God was waiting, and He and I were alone in there together.

Wolfe is a very good writer. He throws in Christianity in an unobtrusive, but unmistakable way in this book, which was published and marketed by a standard publisher of fantastic literature. That is more likely to reach non-believers than a direct approach, or a book published and marketed for a Christian audience. 

Thanks for reading. If you want to try Wolfe, this book is probably the best place to start, as most of Wolfe's works go on for 2 or more volumes. This one is relatively short, and self-contained.

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