5 out of 5 stars.... Is it possible to give more stars? I'd like to. Having said that, I'm not sure how, precisely, to review this marvel. It's a collection of stories quite unlike anything I've read before, and that's saying something, my friends, since I read a great deal.
Schein holds a Ph.D. in Ethics and teaching at the University of South Carolina. Her philosophical training serves her well here, as these stories are certainly philosophical. Peter S. Beagle said of her stories, "They are genuinely philosophical in a way which is very rare, frightening in a way far removed from scary, and, most impressively, they are often philosophically frightening — which is almost unheard of." Even he says he hasn't read anything remotely like them in a long time.
Yes, that long time... it brings to mind old tales, myths, sacred stories of ancient cultures, and those are precisely the tales Schein draws from. Her understanding of myth and folk tale is impressive, but so, too, is her understanding of the yearnings, fears, passions of the human (and at times non-human) heart.
Medicine men, monks, immortals, witches, seekers, wise talking animals, all make their appearances. In fact, the world Schein creates is one in which everything, everyone, from tree to priest, vibrate with life and the sacred power of story.
Truly, I feel these are stories with the power to transform. HIGHLY recommended.
So grateful for this generous endorsement for my new novel from Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Robert Olen Butler:
“Lauren B. Davis’s Against a Darkening Sky brilliantly achieves the ideal for a historical novel: period and milieu seem utterly inextricable from character and theme, and together they illuminate timeless and universal truths of the human condition. Seventh-century England is fascinating. Wilona is achingly real. Her quest for an identity and a place in the world are richly resonant. Davis is a remarkable writer.”
—Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
From the back of the book:
"“I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer . . . Why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?”
Haunted by the myth of Cupid and Psyche throughout his life, C.S. Lewis wrote this, his last, extraordinary novel, to retell their story through the gaze of Psyche’s sister, Orual. Disfigured and embittered, Orual loves her younger sister to a fault and suffers deeply when she is sent away to Cupid, the God of the Mountain. Psyche is forbidden to look upon the god’s face, but is persuaded by her sister to do so; she is banished for her betrayal. Orual is left alone to grow in power but never in love, to wonder at the silence of the gods. Only at the end of her life, in visions of her lost beloved sister, will she hear an answer."
A complex, intriguing exploration of the struggles between sacred and profane love.
The structure is interesting: Orual has written this book, she tells us, as argument against the gods, whom she finds opaque, merciless, faithless and cruel. Or, at least, that's the first book she writes. The second book is part of the novel, and here, Queen Orual in old age has reread her book and found it needs editing (don't we all!). She has a series of visions in which she is taken to the gods with her complaints and demands an answer to the question at the end of Book One. That question is: "Why silence? Amongst shattered loves, war, and suffering, why must the gods manipulate humankind without ever a glimpse of divine intent?"
In Book Two, she is able, through a series of visions, to bring forth her case, to demand an answer. She receives one. In the long-dark hall of the gods, silence is her answer, for her case will not be answered by reason but rather by the nature of God. She writes: "I ended my first book with the words no answer. I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer."
There are moments when Lewis as the Christian apologist gets a little heavy-handed and I felt him speaking perhaps a bit too directly through the character of The Fox, the Greek slave and tutor to the three sisters. But it's an easily-forgiven flaw when stacked up against the intelligence of the thesis and the way Lewis guides the reader to question his/her own beliefs and relationship to the divine.
There are no easy answers here and one is forced to wrestle with ones' relationship to, and experience of, Mystery.
Besides that, it a wonderful telling of a wonderful tale and if you'd rather not grapple with questions of faith, read it anyway. Great story.