I know, I know. I already did a novel recently, and these are by far my least popular posts, but come on people! Boox Я gud 4 U! I realize that a lot of the time we (as human-type people) just want to veg out, watch a movie or a TV show that doesn't ask a lot of us, or even just search the web for memes or interesting threads. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, within reason, but there's also a time and a place to put some effort into art. This is not something only books or poetry require, there are works which ask a lot of the "art intaker" in every medium, but for me I find myself "grinding" through a book more often than a movie or a TV show.
The book in review today is one I have been wanting to do for a while, but for whatever reason haven't gotten around to: Shardik, by Richard Adams. There and two things that embarrass me when it comes to this book: 1) Yet again, this is a work I know of only because of Mr. King's recommendation, as a "version" of Shardik himself appears in the third Dark Tower novel. 2) It took me more than four months to read this book. I share that with you not because I like publicly shaming myself, although that is not to say that I don't, but because in my life this is the quintessential example of something I really had to force myself to finish, but afterward appreciated more than most of the titles I read. I am a religious person, and this is a religious book. That is not at all to say a non-religious (or even non-spiritual) person would not get much out of it, for it is expertly crafted, but there is special significance to those of us who want to live a religiously moral life, but sometimes find it difficult to do so.
As I see it, the entire book is an allegory exploring what it is like to live a Christian life. Technically it is a fantasy epic, but it's pretty light on the fantasy aspect. Virtually nothing which is beyond the realm of accepted reality occurs within its pages, once you get past the twenty-something-foot tall bear, Shardik. As per my usual, I'm not going to delve much into the plot, as that is something people should discover on their own, but I will say the story involves the discovery of Shardik, a bear which is believed to be a physical representation of God on earth by the villagers nearby. The protagonist of the story, Kelderek, has a special connection with the bear, and is conflicted about how to handle that.
He is told by a holy woman that God expects him to follow Shardik. The "following" is quite literal. She explains that the young man is to walk behind Shardik wherever the bear goes, and in His own time and way, God will reveal the greatest mysteries of the soul to Kelderek. But the holy woman is not the only person with vested interest in the young man's connection to the bear. The village leaders explain that Shardik must be a gift from God to be used as a powerful weapon of war, so that the village can retake its rightful place as the true authority of the land. Though he respects the holy woman a great deal, Kelderek does not understand how following the bear could bring forth the blessings she promises. War, however, is something he understands.
The story goes on from there for quite some time, but I'm not going to divulge anything more of the plot. I think it is sufficient to say that this allegory is beautiful to me. We all have our plans, our human understanding, but God sees above all of this. He has an understanding which puts ours on par with that of an infant, or an embryo, even. I often reflect now on how much better it is to "follow the bear" than to simply do what my impulses tell me, to rely entirely on my pitiful understanding. What looks like a straight line to us does not to God, and his paths often seem bizarre. I have found in my own life it is only in looking back do I see that what He wanted, what the Spirit revealed to me, was actually the "straight" line, the path that got me somewhere of worth.
The book is also packed with action, incredible ideas, and excellent writing. It is an epic, so expect some real work in getting through the walls of description and stage-setting, but the payoff is big. Really big.
I think I may have been hesitant to write this review because I have seen more and more that religious morality is not an acceptable factor to many professional reviewers. Reviewers are expected to not allow God to influence how they feel about a work, but I think that's rubbish. My pursuit to be closer to God is a part of my life, a part of who I am. It has to be a factor. I would never discount the worth of a review on the basis that its writer did not believe in God, and I hope the worth of my review in the reader's
mind will not be devalued for the inverse reason, even if the reader does not share my feelings on the matter.