How We Came to Read Shiloh {Book Club}

I have to admit that reading fiction that I have never read before and then discussing it in Book Club makes me a bit twitchy.

What if it is poorly written? Do I just keep chatting, pretending I don’t see the big piece of lettuce stuck between the front teeth of the book (so to speak)? I am a bit of a snob when it comes to Christian fiction (and I’m not even sure this month’s choice fits in that category, but my bias runs so deep, that Shiloh by Helena Sorensen is close enough to count as Christian fiction).

Last February Elizabeth suggested we read The Witch of Blackbird Pond and we ended up having such a rich discussion throughout the month about being a TCK and living cross-culturally that when Elizabeth suggests we read a book, people we are going to read it. Shiloh is such a book.

When Kimberlee sent me the January book club post (about Christmas and Epiphany) she mentioned she was excited to see we were reading Shiloh because Elizabeth had read about the book on Kimberlee’s blog. Kimberlee knows the author and would I like to be put in touch with Helena?

Would I?!

If in the movie world everyone is six-degrees away from Kevin Bacon, I’m convinced that in cross-cultural world we are all six degrees away from Elizabeth and in the book world, six degrees from Kimberlee. Yes, yes we all would love to meet Helena.

So, this month, for the first time, I’m going to read a section (I haven’t read Shiloh before) and I’ll share a few thoughts and then email Helena questions as I read.

Okay, more cards out on the table. I’m not normally the biggest fan of fantasy or allegory or whatever category Shiloh would fit in. This is also an example of God’s mercy to me, because if I had known it was fantasy, we might not be reading it and then we would have missed out on a thought provoking story.

I’ve written before how Eden Is My Catnipso as I started this book I could feel my soul start to purr.

  • Three tongues of flame. (Kindle, 155) Anyone else think of the trinity right away?
  • Greetings and salutations of “May the light shine upon you.” (198)
  • The talk of lost clans (213) Isn’t that what we are? Lost from Eden?!
  • The cataclysm “where the world was unmade.” (213) What a phrase, eh? “Where the world was unmade.”
  • The great lantern in the sky somewhere outside the shadow. (213)
  • They all had “never seen more than twenty paces distant.” (232) Well, if this doesn’t just about summarize my whole life!
  • The nod to the tensions between the genders and how that is so Eden Lost (or Shadow Lands). (540)
  • The four eternal laws of Shiloh. (750) The giving of The Law to help us know God and ourselves better.

What I kept thinking of is how in Advent, the light grew week by week until it burst forth in the birth of Christ; while we are still in Ordinary Time, March 1st will start Lent. From Circle of Seasons, last year I got seven small votive candles and placed them in the shape of a cross. Each week, I lit one less candle and slowly the light went away as the cross drew near.

The themes of light, flame, shadows, fear, the Wielder of Fire, and The Dreamer, have been thinking about Eden, Eden Lost, and how in Ordinary time we can forget that we are also living in the Shadow lands.

I asked Helena a bit about the themes in this first section.

I have written about Eden and Eden Lost. The idea was sparked by a poorly translated sign  — how we were to live in Eden, but now live in Eden Lost and are so familiar with Eden Lost we forget this wasn’t supposed to be where we live. It seems a bit like the Shadow Lands. Where was the idea for this series birthed?

I read your post, and it was great. I go into that idea of a “loss of Eden” much more in Seeker. Answering questions about inspiration is always tough, though. The truth is that everything we have ever experienced is inspiration–everything that has ever surprised us or moved us or made us curious or broken our hearts–all of it shapes us, and ultimately it turns up in our work. I grew up in a church that used the King James Bible, and the passages about light and darkness and shadows are numerous. I remember being struck by the passages about “those that sit in darkness and the shadow of death,” and seeing “through a glass darkly.” I wondered what it would be like if those spiritual realities were rendered physically, visibly. I wondered what it would take for someone in such a world to believe in anything beyond that darkness. That was the beginning of Shiloh.

I’m also curious about the names. Some seem Biblical (Amos, Abner, and Simeon), while others not so much (Wynn, Darby, Isolde, Sullivan). As an author, how do you go about naming characters? Am I reading too much into the names?

I tend to choose names to meet two needs. The first is a sense of unfamiliarity, or, maybe, a sense of the exotic. In a fantasy novel, you don’t want characters with ordinary names. You want to feel fully immersed in a world unlike your own. That is one of the reasons I used accents in this series. I felt that it enriched the world and the culture, that it heightened the sense of entering into something new. The second role the names play is in identifying the characters at a core level. A name is not just a label or a sort of shorthand identification. A name is central to a person’s being. So Phebe is a name that means “bright or shining.” Ram means “exalted one.” Abner means “father of light.” Amos’s name has special significance, because it can be translated as either “burdened” or “carried.” I like how the two interpretations sum up the two perspectives of his experience. Yes, he carries heavy burdens, but ultimately, he is being carried.

So far, the friendship between Amos and Simeon is tugging at the edges of my awareness and I’m watching to see how much like David and Jonathan they are. Which isn’t a question, more of an observation. 

I will not spoil this for you.

Thank you Helena, your answers add so much to the reading of Shiloh.

To help readers enter the world of the Shadowlands, Helena has created Songs of the Shadow Realm and recorded some of the songs! How cool is that? What stirred in you as you read this section? And now to read about the big hunt!

Amy

P.S. The reading plan for Shiloh

February 14: Chapters 1-12
February 21: Chapters 13-26
February 28: Chapters 27-38 (the end)

26 Comments

  1. Elizabeth February 14, 2017

    I won’t say too much either, just how I loved the names (and the accent), and how I was caught up in this world immediately — it usually takes me a while to get “into” the world, but this one was immediate, and just how taken I was with Amos’s family, how different they were and how they wanted to fight the darkness. I was in a dark time mentally when I first read it, so both this book (and the final book in the series) were especially helpful to me.

    I won’t say more for now, but thanks Amy for the mention, and I’m glad you liked the book even though it’s not your usual style. And I’m thrilled Kimberlee put you and Helena in touch! How fun this writing and reading world can be!

    1. Amy Young February 14, 2017

      I agree! I was so taken with Amos and his family as well. I loved how they lived apart from the town (showing that they would be separate), yet they were also connected to the town and people.

  2. Hadassah February 14, 2017

    I’ve started the book, but according to the reading plan you posted, I’m already behind! Are the dates off? Were we supposed to discuss chapters 1-12 today and next week 13-26? Just thought I’d check. If not, I’ll play some catch up!

    1. Amy Young February 14, 2017

      Good catch!! Hadassah, I had the dates one week off. We are just on the first section this week! No need to gun it 🙂

  3. Michele February 15, 2017

    I’m also wary of Christian fiction, though I’m starting to find more and more that’s better quality than what put me off it altogether for quite a few years, and Shiloh (again if you call it Christian fiction) is definitely one that’s won me! Last time I tried to join the book club, I kept getting way behind, so this time I bought the book and started it two weeks ahead. Well, I finished it this past Saturday night… No spoilers, but it gets better and kept me awake a couple of nights unable to turn off the Kindle!

    I actually love allegory/fantasy when it’s well-written. There’s definitely a lot in this genre (again, especially Christian) that’s too cheesy. But I love how the whole Eden Lost idea is portrayed in the Shadowlands. One of the things that really struck me is how the villagers all thought Abner and his family were crazy. We who believe there really is something beyond the Shadow and live like it are really a strange crowd, aren’t we? Wasn’t it one of the Desert Fathers who said the world will continue to get madder and madder, until it points to those who are sane and says they are mad?

    I hit the ‘buy now’ button for Seeker immediately and am excited to explore this world a little more! 🙂

    1. Amy Young February 15, 2017

      Michele!! (As you all know there is absolutely NO pressure to participate and total freedom to participate when you are able to) still … I’m so glad to know you’re reading (or read!) Shiloh. I’m with you on the cheesy factor, that would probably be my biggest beef too.

      I love this: “We who believe there really is something beyond the Shadow and live like it are really a strange crowd, aren’t we? Wasn’t it one of the Desert Fathers who said the world will continue to get madder and madder, until it points to those who are sane and says they are mad?”

      Thinking of you and the kids (a friend of mine has a senior in high school and today he found out he didn’t get into one of the schools he had hoped to be accepted to.). :), Amy

      1. Michele February 16, 2017

        Oops- wrong Michele! I don’t have kids. 🙂

  4. Rachel February 16, 2017

    Reading the post title, I thought this was a book from the ’90s about a beagle. Reading post, I soon realized that this is a completely different book, and I decided to try it out. And wow. I’m hooked.

    I love this genre – especially the ways fantasy can illustrate spiritual truths physically, so I appreciate that question/answer about Helena’s inspiration.

    1. Amy Young February 16, 2017

      So good right?! I didn’t know about the other shiloh until I was looking for the link on Amazon :). I do think I like this one better!

  5. Helena February 16, 2017

    All these cringing comments about Christian fiction are cracking me up. We could get into a whole world of discussions about what it means tor a book to be “Christian.” For me, it often comes down to whether or not the book feels a bit like propaganda, like I’m being manipulated in some way, or like all the key elements, even the ending, are prescribed, and there’s no wiggle room at all. I run from those books, too, because they don’t ring true.

    Thanks Elizabeth and Amy for your kind words!

    1. Michele February 16, 2017

      That is such a great way of putting it, Helena! And I guess the ones that draw me in are the ones that stir up those God-given desires- for eternity, for real beauty, for a meaningful part in a bigger story than mine, etc. Yours definitely fit that category for me! I’m already loving Seeker!

      1. Helena February 16, 2017

        Michele, that’s wonderful to hear! Seeker is the saddest, but it’s my favorite.

        1. Elizabeth February 16, 2017

          I confess I still haven’t read Seeker. After Shiloh I wanted so badly to get to the end of that story that I skipped straight to Songbird. But Seeker is on my reading list for this year! Interesting that you say it’s the saddest but your favorite. That tells me a lot about you, I think 🙂

          1. Helena February 16, 2017

            Elizabeth! I’m not a connoisseur of sad stories. It took me weeks to recover from A Thousand Splendid Suns. But my family has been attending an evangelical Anglican church for the past two years, and I have been struck by some of the liturgical elements. There’s a service called Tenebrae, in which we talk about the darkness leading up to the cross. There’s even a lament service in the fall in which members are invited to speak their laments aloud. Contrast that with my 30 years of Wednesday night services with 40 people, 25 of whom raised their hands to say they had “unspoken” prayer requests. We didn’t talk about suffering or problems. We had verses for every possible situation, quick doctrinal cure-alls for every manner of heartache and struggle.

            I think the Western world as a whole, not just the Western church, doesn’t know what to do with grief and loss and longing. We don’t know how to sit in it, so we fix it as fast as we can. Seems to me that says a great deal about the lack of depth in our faith. “What if I go to those scary places of doubt and pain and there are no instant cures? What if it hurts for a while? What does that say about me? About God?”

            Seeker was a way for me to pause between the inciting incident and the resolution and sit by the grave and grieve. I needed that. I bet I’m not the only one.

          2. Elizabeth February 17, 2017

            I didn’t mean anything bad by my statement! In fact the entire last 6 years for my husband and me has been one long lesson in learning to grieve without apology. We have to grieve what was lost in Eden, or we don’t know what Christ really offers us. So you’re speaking my language here!

            In fact our family loves sad sounding music, we can identify the sadness a mile away even when we don’t have words for it. I think our spirits can sense sadness faster than our brains, and music speaks it for us when we don’t have words. And we need to express that inner loss and sadness somehow.

          3. Helena February 17, 2017

            I wasn’t offended. Just expounding. 😉

          4. Elizabeth February 17, 2017

            Glad to know I wasn’t offensive (in this instance at least). 🙂

            And your portrayal of Wednesday nights sounds all too familiar to me. . .

    2. Amy Young February 16, 2017

      Yes, it’s the manipulation. AND often what puts me off is the overly simplistic resolution of complex situations. Combine that with poor writing? And I die a little bit on the inside 🙂

      1. Elizabeth February 16, 2017

        Amy, because you said “overly simplistic resolution of complex situations,” I’m going to give you a science quote (hee hee!).

        Laura Mersini-Houghton is a physicist who said, “Whenever we get something that doesn’t make sense, we have oversimplified the system.”

        Laura Mersini-Houghton’s job is exploring “novel ways to merge quantum theory with cosmology,” which just means she’s trying to make the math work at the levels of the atom (and smaller) and the galaxies (and larger) at the same time. So far no one has been able to do this, though plenty of brilliant people have tried.

        Anyway, I kept that little quote (from 2014!) because in Christianity I think there’s a lot of “oversimplifying the system,” don’t you?

        1. Michele February 17, 2017

          That’s a fantastic quote that, I agree, definitely applies to Christianity… This and the conversation about grieving above are really resonating with so much that’s in my heart and mind lately. I’m doing a little study of Job and coming to the conclusion things are just not as simple as we try to make them. And mourning is more than okay, it’s actually kind of a must.

        2. Amy Young February 17, 2017

          That so perfectly encapsulates what I have thought and felt. I am going to be chewing on that for a while. Thank you!!!! 🙂

  6. Phyllis February 17, 2017

    This is like a meeting of the Christian fiction snobs club. 🙂 I’m a card carrying member, too.

  7. Shelly February 21, 2017

    Helena, what you have shared about the lament service where peoole voice their griefs, sorrows, hurts intrigues me. Not part of my church experience. And I am all the more enticed to get started on Seeker. (I bought the rest of the series after finishing Shiloh on the beach in Thailand a couple weeks ago.) This story pulled me in right away. A friend observing me as I read said that she wasn’t sure if I was reading or chatting with someone on my phone. Apparently I was shaking my head and reacting to what was happening with the characters. …and Michele, your last comment above also gives me something to ponder as I mourn my mom’s passing and walk alongside my dad and brother as they mourn. Each of us coming at the same experience so differently, yet sometimes being hit by a wave of grief at a similar time though hundreds and thousands of miles apart. So, thinking about the comment: “mourning … is kind of a must.”

    1. Helena February 21, 2017

      Shelly, my husband and I were blown away by that service. There was a time of public prayer when people really said OUT LOUD what they were angry or hurt about. One person said she was tired of trying, in the midst of her divorce, to make God look good. Another said he felt as if the Lord were continually giving him gifts that turned out to be disappointments. I was so moved. I felt deeply connected with these people. I also felt an enormous sense of joy and relief that my children would grow up knowing this is okay.
      I heard a pastor say once that through the prophets God was always trying to draw Israel into a lover’s quarrel. There are many verses where God says (more or less), “I have something against you. What do you have against me?” It’s like he’s poking at the sore spot to make them say out loud how angry they are, but they won’t do it. They prefer the coldness of the law to the wildness of relationship.
      In that lament service, too, I felt I was seeing the psalms come to life. There was a great outpouring of grief and hurt and anger, and then there was the realization (all the sweeter for the honesty and force of the lament) that God is present in it with us, sharing our suffering. It was beautiful.

    2. Michele February 21, 2017

      That service sounds amazing! A year or two ago, I heard a preacher describe what it’s like to have ‘a residue of bitterness’ and I realized he was describing me. I always try to forgive quickly, so I wondered where I was hanging on and brought it before the Lord. I was surprised when he showed me it was him I was angry with! And this went back to a season I tried to just put behind me without giving myself time to truly mourn. I realize now how much better my transition to the next country would have gone if I had let myself mourn properly. And I’ve since found other areas where I’ve had to mourn… that ‘cumulative loss’ thing. Incidentally, though I agree with what you wrote, Helena, about western culture, I’ve found being immersed in Asian culture for 20 years has made me even better at stifling grief and anger.

      1. Helena February 21, 2017

        Wow. Maybe we would be better off asking which cultures handle grief well and learning from them. 🙂

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