Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Cast of Stones: A Book Review

Recently Patrick W. Carr, a popular Christian fantasy author, offered the first book in his trilogy, The Staff and The Sword, for free.  Because I'm the mother of a kid who can easily read books far above her age range, I preview books for her.  Not as many as she would like, since she can devour books in no time flat, but still I try to be careful about what she reads.  

So when a Cast of Stones began with the main character of the book, a teenage boy, Errol, lying sodden on the floor of the tavern, I was not too enthused. 

Among Christians there is diversity of belief about alcohol.  I know godly people who have a glass of wine nightly and just as devout ones who are ardent teetotalers.  I was not only concerned that the book might take a casual view of the boy's drunkenness; I was equally concerned that it might either be a Pharisaical morality lesson (which my 12 year old sees right through) or merciless condemnation.  

It was none of these things.  Instead the book has a wonderful picture of sin.  From the very beginning the boy clearly has very little control over his alcoholism.  He is obsessed with getting the next drink; he hates himself and the ale.  It's not until Errol nearly dies of pneumonia, spending two weeks unconscious that his will is actually brought back into play. Until then the drink runs him.

This realistic picture of addiction and its consequences was heartening to me. I let her read the book on the condition that we have a talk afterward about the role that drinking plays in the story. She rolled her eyes.  She pointed out that under no circumstances was she going to start drinking.  (I am sure this is the attitude of every 5th grader who signs that "Say NO to Drugs" pledge too.  We've all seen how well that works out!) But even before she had finished the book we had a lot to talk about.  When the boy was suffering withdrawals, my daughter looked up to say, "Hey Mom that's not real, right?  I mean people wouldn't DIE if they stopped drinking."  By the time she had finished the book we were in a great place to talk about the key lessons that can be taken from the author's portrayal. 

One is what Jesus does for us.  He gives us our will back.  Just like in the story the boy had to very nearly die to regain the power to refuse the alcohol that had enslaved him, we have to die to sin and be buried and resurrected with Jesus to have the power to refuse sin.  It is no longer our master.  The character who nursed him back to health pointed out to him that sometimes people replace one addiction with another.  My daughter commented that people do that with sin too.  That they may be able to squash one evidence of sin in their lives but the very effort may itself be sinful. In other words before Jesus saves us, even if we change our behavior sin still masters us!   

The second lesson in the book was the parallel between the young man's evident sin and the less obvious sin around him.  A village priest beat and publicly humiliated him-his self-righteousness was no better than the boy's drunkenness.  Two hermits alternately were kind to him and ignored him. Their indifference, their real lack of love had horrifying consequences.  My daughter and I talked about the fact that as fellow sinners we have no room to look down on anyone.  Whether a person is an alcoholic, a drug addict, a gambler, or a liar, they are no more or less sinners than we.  Jesus, the only sinless man, overflowed with compassion; how dare we do less? 

As a parent, I was struck by the compassionate, realistic and spiritual treatment of addiction.  If you've got a tween or teenager, especially the sort that reads fantasy anyway, I'd recommend Cast of Stones in a heartbeat, and then I'd urge you to get them to talk to you about it.  It's deep.  

On the other hand, if you happen to be the parent of smaller kiddos, or older kiddos, or no kiddos at all, let me recommend it to you on other grounds.  The plot is fast paced. The Christian allegory is deep and well-played, and it is a well-written piece of fantasy (being sheer good fiction isn't something "christian fiction" always does well!).  It's worth reading just for the ride.  
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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