Category Archives: allegory

Book Review – ‘Gethsemane: A Story of Us’ by R. Douglas Jacobs

Gethsemane

This was an especially difficult review to write, mainly because over the course of time, I have come to deeply appreciate Jacobs’ friendship and the style of his prose writing, via letters and emails. He has a poetic elegance that is woven through everything he has written me, and I have found his correspondence delightful.  Perhaps that is why I was a bit disappointed by his poetry.

According to the blurb on the back of the book, Gethsemane (a book written in the style of an epic poem consisting of 148 stanzas that are each constructed similar to a sonnet, with no repeated rhymes) is touted as ‘the kind of book that maybe comes around once in a lifetime’, and as ‘a literary innovation destined to be a cultural artifact’. Now, I have read and truly come to appreciate other examples of epic poetry that actually are cultural artifacts, like Beowulf and The Song of Roland, and while I think the premise behind this poem is truly sweeping and vast, I do not think epic poetry was the kind of medium that could truly have done Jacobs’ story justice. I find the emotions and ideas and connections in the work to be intriguing, but I would not put it in the same category as the previously mentioned epics.

I really enjoyed Act I of this book, as it seemed the most promising, and did live up to the vastness of the idea originally presented (which is Lucifer’s story in parallel to ours as a human race). The notion of seeing things from Lucifer’s perspective was dark, yet interesting, though it took me a while to distinguish between the various ‘hes’ since God is ‘He’ but every angelic being is ‘he’, yet each verse begins with a capital letter, so sometimes it seemed as though the honorific ‘He’ had been given to an angel instead of to God.

Act II covered the fall of Lucifer and other angels who were his followers from Heaven to Earth, and how they possessed men and slept with human women, creating a race of monstrous giants called Nephilim that roamed the Earth. The concept has always fascinated me (and its source can be found in Genesis 6 in the Bible), but I found the retelling to fall somewhat short in style and technique than I had hoped, considering Jacobs’ prose style. The poetry was poorly worded and contrived, with little flow. It was difficult to follow on a rhythmic level, and the word choices (like ‘pizzazz’) were often anachronistic and fell short of the grandeur of what Jacobs was trying to achieve.

As for Act III, it seemed completely out of place and disjointed from the rest of the poem. The other two Acts are sweeping and vast, while the last one reads like a cheap paperback, not in content, but in style. Lucifer (who is now calling himself ‘the Gent’) falls in love with a personal trainer named Celeste (the significance of whose heavenly moniker was not lost on me), then discovers her in the act of cheating on him with another man. He feels so betrayed, he possesses the man’s body, essentially rapes Celeste, then kills her and sets the world on fire (clearly what the author believes Lucifer truly does wish to do to anyone or anything associated with Heaven). The content could have been better handled. I felt that the stanzas had been rushed near the end of this poem, the words chosen to describe the events were poor, and not much time was taken to truly explore the depth of the story that was presented. Though he prides himself on the fact that no rhyme was used twice in this epic, I found that in some places, it would have served the story better if that had been the case.

A truly talented writer with big ideas, R. Douglas Jacobs would be best served concentrating his poetic vision into some aspect of the prosaic world, where it could truly be brought to life. Immense effort was clearly put into the creation of this work, but it would have benefited from 2 or 3 more drafts to smooth it out and bring it to its full potential.

2 stars out of 5.

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Book Review – ‘The Cosmic Trilogy: Voyage to Venus’ by C.S. Lewis

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Voyage to Venus (originally published as Perelandra) is the second book in C.S. Lewis’ Cosmic Trilogy. Compared to the other two in the trilogy, this one best fits the mold of a ‘proper’ allegory. Ransom’s journey to Perelandra (known to us as the planet Venus), his subsequent enmity with the creature animating the body of his old rival, Weston, and their fight to either preserve (in Ransom’s case) or corrupt (in ‘Weston’s’) the integrity of the Green Lady, (Queen of Perelandra) during the absence of her husband the King is clearly tied to the struggle outlined in the Biblical book of Genesis between Eve and the Serpent. However, in this book, the idea is that the people of Earth (or Thulcandra) fell to the powers of the Evil One, but on Perelandra another planet’s Mother is given a chance at succeeding against temptation where she of Earth did not, as well as the results of that success. The idea carries through with a great deal of philosophical and theological dialogue back and forth. The dialogue between Ransom and the Evil One reads almost like a treatise in conversational form, and that between the King and Queen of Perelandra, the god Mars, the goddess Venus, and Ransom is clearly rooted in the tradition of Greek chorus. With its dense content and fine print, this book is a more difficult one to get through. It is not a light read. It is a fine piece of intellectual science fiction, especially for those interested in allegory or classical themes, but those looking for a novel will be searching in the wrong place. The next book in this trilogy, That Hideous Strength, is my favourite of the three, however, as it is allegorical like the first two, but also reads like a fantasy novel. It is easy when reading the third book to remember that this is the same man who gave the world The Chronicles of Narnia. The first two books in this trilogy, however, are more reminiscent of the Mere Christianity and The Great Divorce side of Lewis. More character development and description in this second book was nice. I can’t wait to reread the third. 🙂

3.5 stars out of 5


Book Review – The Cosmic Trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

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There are a lot of people who are either on one side of the spectrum or the other when it comes to this book, with not a lot of middle ground to spare. Some people love it because they love both science fiction and C.S. Lewis. Some people despise it because they feel his apologetics in this book are a tad lacking (especially compared to his non-fiction apologetics like Mere Christianity or The Problem of Pain) or that his prose and character development are a bit flat. I actually agree with both sides, and find it very difficult to say I do or do not like this book.
While I am not completely one way or the other when it comes to this book, I have actually read the entire trilogy, and compared to the other two (Perelandra and That Hideous Strength), this one is at the bottom of the list in clarity, elegance, function, and in just plain storytelling.  Lewis’ description is eloquent, and the introduction of other races is mildly interesting, but I felt as if I were reading an essay, or perhaps an article form of a rough draft idea for a sci-fi novel instead of that tying together of story and philosophy and theology that I so enjoy about everything else Lewis has written.

In this first volume of the trilogy, Ransom makes his way from Earth to Mars (or Malacandra) as a sort of crash-test dummy after he is captured on a walk by an old academic rival (Weston). They both end up on Malacandra together and we get to experience the consequences of men who choose to exploit and conquer versus those who choose to learn and love. We learn about Oyarsa (a Christ-like figure who, according to this trilogy, is in all worlds, but in different forms), and we learn that Oyarsa has a plan for Ransom’s future, even after he returns to Earth (or what the Malacandrans call Thulcandra) – enter the second book, Perelandra, which will be discussed in a future post.

The story stands on its own, which is very important in a series or a trilogy, but when all three books are read, the encompassing story arc tells us of our past, our present (or Lewis’ present, anyway – the second World War was on while he wrote most of these) and our future, not only here in the corporeal realm, or even in our own atmosphere, but in the spiritual realms and in all other realms as well. As a book, I give this volume 3 stars out of 5, but I have a much higher opinion of the trilogy as a whole. I would recommend familiarizing oneself with the Bible or some sort of basic level of Christian theology and end-of-days prophecy (especially closer to the end of the trilogy) as you read this, so you can really grasp the full extent of the allegory here, but the books as a set are also worth the read. Perhaps start with borrowing these from the library before you spend money on them, though. They’re not for everyone, though for those who enjoy them, they are certainly worth every penny and more.

Have you read anything by C.S. Lewis? What did you think of it? Happy reading, and be wary of trespassing on mad scientist academic rivals! (The consequences could be out of this world! 😉 )