Saturday, August 1, 2015

Farewell, and See You In God's Country

Dear readers,
Tomorrow evening I board a plane headed west. At long last, I am entering this grand adventure called Wyoming Catholic College. And I will be so busy reading Great Books and climbing mountains and making friends and praising God--that I will not have time to keep up this blog any longer.
The two years I've spent writing "The Pen and the Sword" have been very fruitful. I've been able to share countless insights and enthusiasms about my favorite authors, poets, and Church traditions. I want to thank everyone who read my posts, especially if you showed your appreciation by leaving comments. I've learned a great deal about blogging, networking, and developing a readership. Thank you all!
Sometime in the future, I will probably start another blog. Although I will not be updating this one any longer, it will remain online as an archive. Please feel free to browse and comment on any post, no matter how old. I still appreciate it.
Throughout the next year, I may occasionally pop in as a guest blogger on the Catholic Writers Guild, relating my college adventures. And I will probably maintain a slight presence on Facebook. For the most part, though, I will be immersed in the fantastic curriculum, outdoor programs, and spiritual life of Wyoming Catholic College. I would ask your prayers as I leave home for the first time! This adventure is going to take a lot of trust in God.
I'd like to share one last literary quote before I officially sign off of "The Pen and the Sword". For summer reading, the College sent all the freshman a copy of Owen Wister's The Virginian, the classic Western novel, set--naturally--in Wyoming. Besides being a gripping adventure story and the best romance I have read in years, it's also a gorgeous portrait of the land itself. Here is a passage from the beginning of the book which set me daydreaming of Wyoming once again:
The air was like December, but in my blankets and a buffalo robe I kept warm, and luxuriated in the Rocky Mountain silence. Going to wash before breakfast at sunrise, I found needles of ice in a pail. Yet it was hard to remember that this quiet, open, splendid wilderness (with not a peak in sight just here) was six thousand feet high. And when breakfast was over there was no December left; and by the time the Virginian and I were ten miles upon our way, it was June. But always every breath that I breathed was pure as water and strong as wine.

Pure as water and strong as wine. That, too, is my memory of the mountain air and the Wyoming sky. And I am returning to it, not simply to visit, but to live, learn, and pray there. I am seeking wisdom in God's Country. I'll see you there.
Farewell, blessings, and thanks to all,
Mary J. Woods

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Heart-cry

Ilya Yefimovich Repin (1844–1930), Cry of the Prophet Jeremiah on the Ruins of Jerusalem,
State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Today I post on an impulse, and in a different vein than my usual. I do not generally write on current events, but the things which have happened in this country the past week demand that every Christian, every lover of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty, stand and shout. So here is my heart-cry. Lord, shield your people!
The spirit groans in me as I read of the world's corruption, and our country's sickness in particular. The Church stands as an island in the mad world's river-rush. Per-se-cu-tion. It comes, a sure and no-longer-so-faint roaring from up that terrible stream. I do not fear for the Church in an ultimate way. Christ told us the very jaws of Death would not prevail against it, and in two thousand years they have not. But I fear for the people--the people of the Church who are weak, and the people outside the Church who roar against us, for whose hearts God also agonizes, though they do not yet hear Him. And I am afraid of the pain--the loss and misunderstanding and helplessness and injustice and suffering. For holding a firm hope in the Lord does not mean that suffering will be taken away or eased. It must be endured. Faith allows that we endure it with purpose, and not in vain. But the pain itself will not be alleviated, until all things have been fire-purged and drawn to their destiny.
O God, God! Jeremiah's words echo eternal:
I did not sit in the company of merrymakers,
nor did I rejoice;
under the weight of your hand I sat alone,
for you had filled me with indignation.
Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable,
 refusing to be healed?
Truly, you are to me like a deceitful brook,
like waters that fail.
Oh, cry, prophet, cry for all of us, for all times when nations and peoples turn from their natures and destroy themselves, in a tsunami of evil and agony. When will we stop, Lord, when will we stop?
And when our heart-grief and our strength is spent, and we grow weary of asking why this has happened to us, and how we are ever to stand, let us lie in that tear-cleansed silence, and listen with Jeremiah to the Lord our God's reply:
 If you turn back, I will take you back,
and you shall stand before me.
If you utter what is precious and not worthless,
you shall serve as my mouth.
It is they who will turn to you,
not you who will turn to them.
And I will make you to this people
a fortified wall of bronze;
they will fight against you,
but they shall not prevail over you,
for I am with you
to save you and deliver you,
says the Lord.
Listen, my people, listen and turn! Stand before Him! Utter the precious Truth! If this is an age of suffering for the Church, it only means it is an age of saints, and our weeping should be not only for anguish but also for indescribable joy! Christ's very Cross is our sign of this; torment, transformed to salvation. So brothers, sisters, lay your hands on that Cross with Him, let the splinters tear your skin and the beams crush your shoulders. Mingle your soul-bleeding with His own. Surrender and undertake the trial. You will find this bitter water changed by His touch into the very wine of Life.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, come to us and save us!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

We Are God's Poeima: Poetry and the Human Person

Photo by DeduloPhotos,
In the midst of novel-writing, volunteering for the Catholic Writers Guild, and starting to prepare for a freshman year of college which seems threateningly close, I find I have neglected my own blog (again) for a full two weeks. Sadly, I still haven't time to make a proper post! In lieu of that, however, I will share a couple of related links I've found over the past few weeks, on that favorite subject of mine--poetry-philosophy-theology.

The first is a video series called For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles. The best description I can make of this is that it's a sort of modern, film equivalent of Mere Christianity. While I have not been able to buy the entire series, the trailers look excellent--a straightforward and fervent, contemporary and beautifully artistic exploration of what it really means to be a Christian today. Evan Koons, the creator of the series, also has a Youtube channel with a vlog where he posts numerous other beautiful and insightful bonus videos. They are all worth watching, but today I'd like to draw your attention to the one below. Do not be deceived by the informal and humorous opening--it becomes stunningly profound.

The same afternoon after I had watched this video (and was still rather giddy with the beauty and holy thrill of it), I had picked up my latest issue of Dappled Things Magazine and flipped open a random page--the middle of an essay by Ryan Wilson called "How To Think Like a Poet". To my astonishment, my eyes fell upon a paragraph in which the author made reference to the exact same passage from Ephesians that Mr. Koons had in the video above; "we are His poeima."
I had encountered the exact same spiritual concept in virtually identical words from two different sources in the span of two hours. Usually when that happens I know the Holy Spirit's up to something. By the time I had read the essay from beginning to end, I felt as if my brain were on fire with enthusiasm and excitement. I have read and thought a good deal about the purpose and craft of poetry (not to mention writing some of my own), but this essay beautifully pulled together the most important concepts into an integrated whole. Read it here on the Dappled Things website. It is not a quick read, but for anyone with any serious interest in poetry, art, and the philosophy (and theology!) behind it, I would strongly urge you to set aside some time to carefully read the entire thing.
The work of Mr. Koons and Mr. Wilson is, I think, far more edifying than anything I could write on short notice. Explore, enjoy it, and then go out and be God's poetry!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Divine Authorship: Reflections for Novelists from "Mere Christianity"

Photo by JulesInKY,
In my post last week I mentioned that one of the most significant events of my spiritual retreat was reading C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. It was the last major work of his I hadn't yet read, so I was very pleased to find it in the monastery library. As usual, Lewis' perceptive insights, personable style, and profound implications made Mere Christianity very much a life-changing read. Venturing into this book is a little like a conversion experience in itself--whether you're already a Christian or not.
During the "dramatic arc" of my retreat, I strongly heard God calling me to a complete surrender of my will to His own, and a renewed faith in the reality of His love. There were many, many passages in Mere Christianity which guided me through that week's journey--too many to write about in one blog post. Instead, I would like to share one particular passage which, while not directly related to the main "drama" of my retreat, still affected me deeply--thanks to my experience as an aspiring novelist.

In the chapter "Time and Beyond Time," Lewis attempts to explain in layman's terms the mind-boggling mystery of God's life in eternity:

Almost certainly God is not in Time. His life does not consist of moments following one another. If a million people are praying to Him at ten-thirty tonight, He need not listen to them all in that one little snippet which we call ten-thirty. Ten-thirty--and every other moment from the beginning of the world--is always the Present for Him. If you like to put it that way, He has all eternity in which to listen to the split second of prayer put up by a pilot as his plane crashes in flames.

That is difficult, I know. Let me try to give something, not the same, but a bit like it. Suppose I am writing a novel. I write "Mary laid down her work; next moment came a knock at the door!" For Mary who has to live in the imaginary time of my story there is no interval between putting down the work and hearing the knock. But I, who am Mary's maker, do not live in that imaginary time at all. Between writing the first half of that sentence and the second, I might sit down for three hours and think steadily about Mary. I could think about Mary as if she were the only character in the book and for as long as I pleased, and the hours I spent in doing so would not appear in Mary's time (the time inside the story) at all.

Instantly, when I read this paragraph, I could relate to Lewis' analogy. In working on my own novel over the past several months, there have been countless times when I've left a scene, or even a sentence, suspended while I picked up my journal and did some brainstorming. It's such an everyday experience for an author (or reader) that the profundity of it never struck me before. While I was still marveling over this, a new insight unfolded in my mind, related to my specific relationship with the characters in my story.

I have known my full plot for a long time. I have lovingly crafted my protagonist's journey, aware of both the entire arc of his character development, and experiencing individual events through his eyes as I write out the story. Any event--the trials my character has already experienced, in his "timeline," and the ones he has yet to undergo--can become the present to me, whenever and however long I desire.

The result of this mock-eternal viewpoint is that I know my protagonist fully, and I am extremely fond of him. So I was a little mortified when, after giving the several first chapters of my novel to family and friends, several commented how much they disliked the main character. (He's a cocky, irresponsible hothead of a medieval Scottish prince--I will leave the rest to your imagination.) I admitted that, at the beginning of the story, the protagonist was supposed to be a jerk. So I should not have been surprised at the negative reaction. And yet I still felt defensive of my character. I wanted to exclaim to my readers, "You have to wait and see how he turns out before you decide if you like him!"

Lewis' comments on eternity shone new light on my novel-writing experience. After reading the above passage of Mere Christianity, I realized more clearly how my early readers and I could have two completely different attitudes towards the protagonist. My readers, in a certain sense, share the timeline of the novel's characters. They cannot see (until the end) the full arc and meaning of the events, much less foretell the development of individual characters. They disliked my protagonist, quite naturally, because most of what they saw of him in the early chapters was dislikeable.

I, on the other hand, knew my character not only for his actions at any given moment, but also for who he would be by the end of the story--who I was crafting him to be. Thus I could love him (though not necessarily approve of him) even in the midst of his rash, prideful, and downright dumb mistakes. In fact, I found myself especially close to him in the fury of his darkest and most anguished moments.

All this to say, I realized that God probably sees me--and all of us--in something of the same way a novelist sees his characters. The comparison is only a shadowy hint of the reality, but it is worth reflecting on nonetheless. God loves each of us infinitely and intimately, not for our weaknesses and failures in Time, but for the splendid vision He conceives of each of us at every moment in the Eternal Now. If we thought of this more often, how would it change our approach to life's challenges and trials? And how would it alter our treatment of the people we encounter every day--fellow characters, who are, together with us, being crafted by the Holy Spirit--all towards that astonishing and unimaginable moment, when we will step out of the book of His Story (history) and into Reality--the full life of the Trinity.

C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity reminds us of our true place in the spiritual world. I know I could stand to think about it a lot more often. If you have not read this classic work, I urge you to acquire a copy as soon as possible. Like a mountain climb, it's a self-revealing journey--and the view from the summit is beyond breathtaking.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A Week at Christ the Bridegroom Monastery

Greetings, readers! It's very good to be back. A few days ago I returned from a week-long retreat at Christ the Bridegroom Monastery in Burton, Ohio--a new women's monastic community in our Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma. It was a beautiful, life-changing experience--the week was so chock full of reflections and insights that I think it will take me the whole next month to unpack them on this blog!
Since I'm still recovering from the experience, so to speak, this is really a mini-post, a sort of preview of what I read and reflected on over the week. Hopefully I'll write in more detail about at least some of these points in the coming month. (If there's a particular one you'd like to hear about, let me know in the comments!)
Also, in gratitude to the sisters of Christ the Bridegroom for welcoming me into their community for the week, I'd like to share the link to their website and blog, and a few points of their mission.
I did more reading over the past week than I probably have in the past three months. It reminded me again just how much I need Great Books--spiritual and literary--to nourish my mind, heart, and soul. Here are some of the discoveries I delighted in, with mini "teaser" reflections!
"Leisure: The Basis of Culture" and "The Philosophical Act" by Josef Pieper
A pair of essays by a Catholic German professor and philosopher, written after World War II. Full of sound and piercing insights on the nature of true leisure as opposed to the "workaday world", receptivity to the "essence of things", philosophy's relation to poetry and wonder, etc. Fabulous. They've inspired me to pick up my Plato again!
Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis
A Lewis classic that I'd been wanting to read for a long time and finally got around to. Reading it was a kind of re-conversion experience in itself. If you've never read this book, watch out--it's life-changing.
Song of Songs and Theology of the Body
If there was one book of the Bible I'd avoided for years, it was the Song of Songs. Similarly, I'd long avoided picking up any works on Theology of the Body. It was a topic I simply didn't want to deal with for most of my teenage years--and my misunderstanding of which caused me quite a bit of emotional and spiritual pain. Finally allowing God to open me up and lead me into a truer understanding of both human and divine love, was the climax of this retreat. I feel a new world has opened up before me.
Christ the Bridegroom Monastery, on their website, describes their identity thus:
We are a Byzantine Catholic monastic community of women in the Eparchy of Parma dedicated to a vigilant life of prayer and hospitality according to the traditions of the Christian East. Laying down our lives in imitation of the Bridegroom, we joyfully embrace the monastic virtues of poverty, chastity and obedience. We participate in the dynamic love of the Trinity by sharing a life of prayer, work and recreation at our monastery. Meditating on Scripture, especially the Song of Songs, and immersing ourselves in a life of personal and liturgical prayer, we enter into a spousal relationship with Christ the Bridegroom. Looking to the Theotokos as our model, we open ourselves to the Divine life of the Holy Spirit, bearing forth fruit for the Church and the world. Our monastery provides a spiritual garden and a bridal chamber in which we draw others into this same life-giving relationship with Christ the Bridegroom.
The emphasis on the spousal relationship with Christ was the most significant aspect of the monastery life for me. I had long been familiar with the icon image of Christ the Bridegroom, but had never seriously ventured into having that kind of personal relationship with Jesus. As I've only just begun to discover, it is infinitely beautiful. The sisters elaborate on this unique ethos of their community:
We seek to reclaim the spousal language from the distortions of our culture, showing not only that monastic celibacy points to mankind’s union with God in heaven, but also that human sexuality is designed by God to lead men and women to this same union and to participate in the life of the Trinity.  Being vulnerable to the movement of the Holy Spirit, our monastery aspires to remind all baptized Christians of this personal invitation to union with Christ as their Bridegroom and to renew a healthy, integrated view of the human person, body and soul. 

It certainly reminded me. Honestly, my life is not the same. God bless these nuns for nurturing this crucial aspect of our humanity and our relationship to the Divine Trinity!
Besides this mission, the sisters also provide hospitality to visitors and retreatants, support of priests and seminarians, a witness to youth groups and pro-life events like the March for Life, and a joyful example of Eastern Catholic monastic life. They are small, but already doing wonderful, wonderful work. Check out their blog here:  They also have a presence on Facebook and Youtube, so be sure be take a look at those links as well! And if you happen to live or be passing through the Cleveland, OH area--what are you waiting for? Go down and stop by for an hour--or a day--or a whole week...
All photos and quotes taken from

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Being Happy Thinking: Tidbits from Stevenson's "Walking Tours"

View of Glen Frankfort (aka Island Prairie Park), where I have spent many hours "being happy thinking".

Dear readers,

My apologies for the irregular blog posts, which will continue to be irregular for a while yet. Working part-time and attempting to finish a novel before August do not leave much time for reading and reflecting on Great Books. Thus this week I do not have much prepared to share with you except a passage pulled from my faithful commonplace book. (See my first post on that here.) It's a quote from Robert Louis Stevenson's essay "Walking Tours".

A bit ironically, this particular selection has nothing to do with either walking or touring, but rather sitting by the fire. It's one of Stevenson's numerous odes-in-prose on the importance of leisure. I thought it particularly appropriate for me just now--the past several months I've been working my head off, applying for scholarships, saving for college, and writing a fantasy novel. But next week I'm putting that all away for seven full days, going on retreat at a small Byzantine Catholic women's monastery in Ohio. I know it's going to be a challenge, denying my workaholism for an entire week, but I believe this retreat will be the best thing I've done for myself for years. I look forward to many hours of being "happy thinking".

Stevenson does not venture into the spiritual effects of leisure, although he comes very close, in the moralistic tone he was rather fond of. What I mean to say is, that although he does not bring up the essential part God plays in contemplation, some of his points are spot-on anyway. I'll expound further as we proceed through the quote. Without further ado...selections from RLS's "Walking Tours":

Or perhaps you are left to your own company for the night, and surely weather imprisons you by the fire. You may remember how Burns [Robert Burns, 18th-century Scottish poet], numbering past pleasures, dwells upon the hours when he has been "happy thinking." It is a phrase that may well perplex a poor modern, girt about on every side by clocks and chimes, and haunted, even at night, by flaming dial-plates. For we are all so busy, and have so many far-off projects to realize, and castles in the fire to turn into solid, habitable mansions on a gravel soil, that we can find no time for pleasure trips into the Land of Thought and among the Hills of Vanity.

The poor, clock-haunted moderns Stevenson was referring to, by the way, were the inhabitants of Victorian Britain. How much deeper have we moderns of the 21st century fallen among the "flaming dial-plates"! From education to the workplace to being up on the latest technology, so much of society is focused on that vague thrill of "getting ahead". Apparently the phenomenon isn't quite so modern as we thought, if Stevenson sensed it back in the 1870s.

Another interesting point: "Hills of Vanity" might strike one as an odd phrase at first reading. The word "vanity" generally has negative connotations, calling to mind the shallow, the ephemeral, the ultimately meaningless. But in this context, Stevenson uses the word to the precisely opposite effect. The Land of Thought and Hills of Vanity are those pursuits of leisure which seem vain in the eyes of a utilitarian, materialistic world, but in truth are a return to the contemplation of goodness, truth, beauty, and God--everything that makes us human.

To continue:

Changed times, indeed, when we must sit all night, beside the fire, with folded hands; and a changed world for most of us, when we find we can pass the hours without discontent, and be happy thinking. We are in such haste to be doing, to be writing, to be gathering gear, to make our voice audible a moment in the derisive silence of eternity, that we forget that one thing, of which these are but the parts--namely, to live.

I rather think Stevenson would have disapproved of social media. Even when things like Facebook and Twitter are being used in good causes, so much of it simply makes us crave constant distraction. One of the immediately noticeable things, when watching people in a public place (like the restaurant where I work), is the apparent inability of many individuals to sit still for two minutes without taking out their phones. This includes adults, not just tech-savvy teens! Passing contented, quiet hours without the iPhone or tablet on hand might be unimaginable for these technology users. But our brains and souls need rest--to nurture things like creativity, real relationship, and wisdom. As Stevenson says, to live!

As we've seen, even these couple of short passages contain a plethora of points for reflection. Stevenson was fond of writing about imagination and leisure--just recall any of his famous poems from A Child's Garden of Verses, or, less well known, his essay "An Apology for Idlers" (a defense of leisure against constant work and study). His words are excellent reminders for all of us about the perils of over-activity. That's what our Christian Sabbath is for--to slow, to stop, to turn back towards our Center, Who is God. I look forward to a whole seven days of slowing down as I take my retreat next week in Ohio.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

God's Forgotten Friends: Two Reviews of Susan Peek

Recently through the Catholic Writers Guild I met the wonderful Mrs. Susan Peek, homeschooling mother and novelist. Like one of my favorite authors, Louis de Wohl (whose books, strangely, I have yet to write about on this blog), her specialty is saint stories. In addition, Mrs. Peek is doing her fellow Catholics a beautiful favor by bringing to light the tales of saints who have fallen into obscurity, through her ongoing series, "God's Forgotten Friends." Geared especially towards teens, they are not only inspiring examples of holiness, but also rollicking adventures! I am happy today to offer my readers reviews of two books in her series: A Soldier Surrenders: The Conversion of St. Camillus de Lellis and Saint Magnus: The Last Viking.
In this brand-new edition of A Soldier Surrenders (previously published by Ignatius Press), Susan Peek takes us back in time to a lonely Italian road in the winter of 1570. It's here that we meet Camillus de Lellis--a giant of a young man devoted to drinking, gambling, and offering his sword as a mercenary to the highest bidder. This rough exterior conceals a soul of surprising compassion--he feels deep pity especially for the wounded and dying of the battlefield. But, as a "soldier of fortune", he carries his share of bad habits and hard luck. Despite his skill at the cards, his love of the tavern and the gaming table more often leave him penniless than not. And he bears a secret shame--a mysterious, painful wound on his leg which can't seem to be cured by ordinary doctors.  
The quest for healing brings Camillus to the San Giacomo Hospital in Rome, where, empty-pocketed as usual, he reluctantly serves as a volunteer caretaker in exchange for receiving treatment of his wound. His hospital experiences increase his desire to aid the sick through personal love for each patient. Nevertheless, his raucous tavern habits and his tainted reputation as a mercenary leave him few friends among the hospital staff, with the exception of one kind-hearted fellow orderly, Curzio Lodi. But even Curzio's patience wears thin when Camillus persists in indulging his passions to drown his personal woes. At a crucial turning point of the story, Curzio berates his friend:
"You think you know so much about courage, Camillus? Well the truth is, courage comes in a lot of different forms, and God is only interested in one of them! You're not a soldier; you're not even a servant! You're nothing but a slave, Camillus! A slave to your own self-will!"
Camillus stubbornly tries to forget his best friend's chiding. Dismissed from the hospital for unruly conduct, he attempts to reenter his former life as a mercenary. But continued ill luck and the still-unhealed ulcer on his leg eventually reduce him to destitution and beggary. Finally, at the lowest point of pain and humiliation, he sees the light. He commits his noblest act as a soldier, gives up his own will, and surrenders to God's.

Having given his personal struggles into Divine hands, Camillus finds renewed direction in life. He returns to San Giacomo, where his vigor and commitment in serving the sick earn him the rank of hospital superindendent. But Camillus realizes his vocation does not end there. To fulfill his lifetime longing to minister to the dying souls of the battlefield, he enters the priesthood and founds the order of the Servants of the Sick. Their symbol: a red cross on a black cassock--the original Red Cross organization.

Mrs. Peek punctuates the spiritual drama of the plot with battles, duels, and lively dialogue. While I was a bit taken aback by the modern idiom of the narrative, her contemporary style offers a lively sketch of the boisterous, hot-tempered, and ultimately God-passionate Camillus de Lellis. He's a man we can all imagine knowing--and loving. Applause and thanks to Susan Peek for rediscovering the life of this "saint for strugglers"!


It had never occurred to Magnus, second son of Erlend, to arm himself with a weapon before setting off for Vespers...
This opening line of Chapter 2 in Mrs. Peek's latest saintly adventure story introduces us to Magnus Erlendson, the teenage prince of an 11th-century Orkney Isles kingdom, who would much rather dedicate his life to God in the monastery than spend it as a sword-toting warrior. Fortunately, Magnus is not in line to the throne--his older brother Aerling and his cousin Hakon are. Unfortunately, that is about to change.
When Magnus catches the unscrupulous Hakon committing an atrocious crime, he is swept into a life of turbulence, bloodshed--and holiness. Hakon is banished from the kingdom, swearing vengeance on Magnus. True to his promise, Hakon enlists the help of the king of Norway to overthrow the Orkney Islands. While Hakon snags the throne, Magnus and his brother Aerling become Norse prisoners.
After many trials, spiritual and physical, Magnus manages to flee to Scotland, where he lives for ten peaceful years. Despite his cousin's treachery, Magnus defeats his impulse to hate and now only wants to put his past behind him. But duty calls again when Hakon himself enlists the exiled prince's aid to help put down illegitimate rivals to the Orkney throne. Magnus returns, reluctantly, only willing to leave his tranquil exile to restore the peace at home. But Hakon's hate has not faded over the years--and his further treachery will test Magnus' spiritual mettle to the core. The climax of this story is so heart-racing and heart-wrenching that I dare not reveal it--readers will have to experience it for themselves!
Packed with desperate battles and action galore, this is no saint story for the faint of heart. However, the spiritual themes are an equally integral part of the tale. Magnus' struggle against hatred and revenge proves to be more dramatic--and more important--than any of his clashes with the blade. The unlovable villain Hakon also turns out to be a surprisingly deep character, when faced with Magnus' choice of love over hate.
Mrs. Peek's distinctive contemporary style is noticeable in the book, but doesn't detract in any major way from the historical setting. My only critique would be that some of the minor characters verge on being caricatures, seeming only to further the book's theme of forgiveness. However, the main drama between Magnus and Hakon is well-rounded and fully satisfying.
Overall, Saint Magnus: The Last Viking is a rollicking good tale of a truly extraordinary man--a warrior-saint whose innate peace changed the hearts of everyone around him, including his enemies. It's sure to be a favorite among all young adventure-lovers of the Faith!