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?
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 Catnip, so 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!
P.S. The reading plan for Shiloh
February 14: Chapters 1-12
February 21: Chapters 13-26
February 28: Chapters 27-38 (the end)