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Monday, February 06, 2012

The Celtic Crusades trilogy by Stephen R. Lawhead

I recently read the Celtic Crusades trilogy by Stephen R. Lawhead. The books concern one Scottish family, and some Norwegian allies, and a search, during the time of the crusades, for three relics of the time of Christ, namely the spear that was driven into Christ's side, while He was on the cross (The Iron Lance, see here and here), the cross, itself (The Black Rood, see here and here), and the cup Christ used in The Last Supper (often called the Holy Grail, but called The Mystic Rose in Lawhead's series -- see here and here.)

Lawhead writes Faith Fiction. That is, his books are marketed towards a conservative Christian audience, and often sold through the Christian Bookseller's Association. At least one of the three books won the Christy Award. Books of Faith Fiction generally do not use the f___ word and other such words, do not usually include sexual intercourse between characters portrayed as good, who are not married to each other, and often include some explicit religious experience, such as a conversion experience. Faith Fiction may be historical, contemporary, romance, in the sense of being mainly about falling in love, murder mystery, fantastical, and more. (See here for the source of the term, and my analysis of a discussion of it by an author who writes Faith Fiction.) I prefer to read mainstream fantastic literature, having usually been somewhat disappointed by fantastic Faith Fiction, either because it is too preachy, or not well written. I read Lawhead's series, the Pendragon Cycle, five volumes about the story of King Arthur and related characters, many years ago, and have never been moved to re-read those books. I would call them fantastic literature, inasmuch as magic, and myths, were an important part of the plots. (I like magic and myths in fantastic literature, by the way.)

I don't want to give away much of the plot of the three books under discussion, since I was pleased enough by them to recommend them to readers who are interested in historical faith fiction. I will say that there was no magic, as such, in the books, except for some miracles and visions. There was no waving of wands, no spells cast by wizards. At least some parts of the books were true.

The writing was good. The plots were interesting, and at times gripping, and occasionally surprised me. There were interesting characters, including strong female characters. The main character in one of the books was female. There was no conversion, as such, but some of the characters had visions which were life-changing experiences, and were challenged to live an unselfish life, dedicated to the service of Christ, and of others, when they had been selfish, ambitious, proud, seeking personal vengeance, or a combination of these, before the experiences. There was an emphasis on true Christianity, as opposed to the emphasis on politics and profit in much of the church in the time of the crusades. (And before and after that time.)

The main character in each book fell in love, and two of them got married. This is often a characteristic of Faith Fiction.

The main problem that I had with the books was their premise, which, I guess, was realistic enough, considering the time when the stories took place, namely the importance of the sacred relics. I (and many other Protestants and others, and even some Roman Catholics) are not happy with the emphasis placed on, say, The Shroud of Turin, or the Ossuary of James. My faith does not depend on such items, and emphasizing them, genuine or not, could easily become a kind of idolatry, as I see it. The fictional people in the books, including the main characters, did revere the three objects.

Another interesting aspect of the books is that some of the Middle Eastern characters were fabulously wealthy, seeming to have enough servants, enough liquid assets, and a large enough dwelling to be able to accomplish almost anything. Some of the things that they did accomplish were for the good, by the way. Could there have been so many wealthy people in the area in the same time period? I'm not sure. There must have been many, many, poor people, as well.

Well, enough said. Thanks for reading.

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