CSFF Blog Tour – The Spirit Well by Stephen Lawhead, Day 1

The Bright Empires series

This morning I posted my regular Monday article over at Spec Faith, and I couldn’t help but think of The Spirit Well, third in the Bright Empires series by Stephen Lawhead, the CSFF Blog Tour’s October feature. In “The Success Of Fantasy By The Masters” I take a look at why Narnia and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth became popular, even with people who would not identify as “fantasy readers.”

Ultimately, I have to agree with Dr. Michael D.C. Drout, author of EXPLORING FANTASY LITERATURE, in saying that these books mediate between contemporary readers and the authors’ fantasy creations–often built on the backs of earlier myth and legend.

As I looked at the divergent methods Lewis and Tolkien used to forge the bridge that would give readers access to the fantastic, Stephen Lawhead came to mind. In his current series, The Bright Empires, he also mediates between the reader and the world of what-if which he created.

What’s interesting to me as a writer is that he employed a “reluctant hero,” much as Stephen Donaldson did in his Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever series.

Tolkien’s first hero, Bilbo, wasn’t so very different. He, too, was reluctant–until he wasn’t. At the bottom of Bilbo’s heart was an untapped desire for adventure.

In Stephen Lawhead’s primary protagonist Kit, there is perhaps curiosity and a desire for validation, but I don’t see a desire for adventure.

Another difference is that Bilbo had a happy life. He lived securely and was content for the most part, especially if he could avoid those certain relatives that annoyed him.

Kit, on the other hand, came across in The Skin Map, the opening book of Mr. Lawhead’s series, as a discontented, contrary young man, unwilling to move beyond his comfort zone, even to help a long lost relative.

My point is that Bilbo induced a certain amount of sympathy. I felt put out for him, having unwanted and unexpected dwarfs show up at his door and intrude upon his quiet. I also felt a little annoyed that Biblo wouldn’t be more forceful with them and send them packing. But once they left without him and he went running after them without his hat and all, I realized, at his core he wasn’t really reluctant.

Kit is much more truly reluctant. What he doesn’t want is to be duped. He wants to know that his venture into another realm was real, so he looks for validation. In this regard, he’s more like Lucy Pevensie in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. She also ventured into another realm, only to return to the scorn of those who didn’t think she was telling the truth.

In some ways, Lawhead utilizes a combination of Lewis’s and Tolkien’s methods of bridging the gap between contemporary readers and his speculative world. He employs a type of portal but also characters with whom the reader can identify–flawed characters, not fitting into their contemporary world, or rather, into our contemporary world. Their problems are our problems, and their accidental escape into past dimensions that end up strengthening them and refining them might resonate with readers who have longed for a simpler time.

But how simple can it be when opponents are tracking you from one ley line to another, intent on killing you to take what you both prize? Clearly, Lawhead’s appeal is not solely due to an attractive, slower lifestyle. Rather, he builds a solid and convincing bridge that gives twenty-first century readers access to his speculative multiverse.

I’ll give my review of The Spirit Well later in the tour, but for now, take time to visit the other participants who have also posted articles about this book and see what they think.


  1. That’s a great comparison to make … one reluctant hero to another, and Bilbo certainly is a good example. Kit certainly doesn’t “drive” the story in the 3rd book, but he does show a kind of peace with where God has led him, something that we all need in life. We may not understand why we are where we are, but there is a purpose.


    • Thanks, Robert. I started out comparing how Mr. Lawhead drew contemporary readers into the historical/multiverse world he created and how Lewis and Tolkien accomplished similar tasks. Unfortunately I didn’t stay focused, so I’m afraid that point was lost. But I do think there are similarities to other reluctant heroes, and honestly, I hadn’t realized until I wrote this post that Bilbo fit that category.



  2. Becky, I enjoyed your comparison to the LOTR and Narnia characters too. Each character made choices about where they were going. SOme good. Some bad.
    I also liked your mention of Dr. Drout. He’s got some amzing books on Audible.com about literature.


    • Thanks, Tim.

      I don’t remember now how I found Dr. Drout’s work. I really like his instruction. Wish I could afford some of those audio books.



  3. Like the other two have said, great comparison!


  4. That’s the main reason I really enjoy Lawhead’s books.


  5. Kit has really grown up so much since the first book – he makes huge strides in maturity as we can now see in this the third book.


  6. Thanks, Memzie.

    Nathan, I think Mr. Lawhead did a better job in this series than in the other books of his I’ve read–a limited number, I have to admit. I actually think he nearly lost some of us with the reluctant hero, but Kit came close to death so early, and Mina proved to be far stronger than I’d imagined upon her introduction, so he kept me intrigued.

    So, yes, I’d agree with you, Jennifer. Kit has grown so much. This is the first of the three books that I liked him and cheered for him all the way through. This very natural, subtle maturity is a great strength in the series, I think.



  7. […] this is one man’s opinion. Becky Miller keeps a list of all of the tour participants, and there is more information there. Jim Armstrong […]


  8. […] Does this book sound interesting to you? Leave your thoughts below. Be sure to check out the other blogs posting. Becky Miller keeps a list of the posts for you. […]


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