CSFF Blog Tour – The Skin Map, Day 3

I personally will need to extend the CSFF Blog Tour because I’m still reading our feature, The Skin Map by Stephen R. Lawhead (Thomas Nelson). I’ve been feeling guilty about this because I know if I’d pushed, I could have finished reading it on time.

But it dawned on me today, I didn’t want to push to finish. There are some books that drive me on with a fast pace, tension, and suspense. The Skin Map quickly introduces tension, but I won’t say it’s fast-paced. In fact, I’d call it a leisurely pace that builds as the plot weaves and dodges.

I’ll stop there because I don’t want to give a review of merely the part of the book I’ve read.

Instead, I want to talk about something this book has made me think of—the incorporation of moral or spiritual themes in fiction. I’m including “moral” because of the example I’m going to give, but the application for The Skin Map is spiritual.

A few days ago, I read a review written by a Christian about a secular book. This person was positive about all aspects except one. The author had portrayed a homosexual relationship in a positive light, rendering it a normal part of culture, no different than the existence of varying eye colors. In the comments, sadly, this Christian review got hammered by people claiming the blogger was hateful.

But here’s the thing. The blogger (I assume, correctly) identified a moral position woven into the story contrary to this person’s individual beliefs. I applaud the blogger’s alertness to recognize this theme. As I see it, that’s the discernment we Christians need to have.

At the same time, I think we need to write the way the author of the book under review apparently wrote. The theme meshed with the story, was a part of the experience of one of the characters (who had two mothers), and was presented as ordinary.

I believe Stephen Lawhead has done much the same thing with Christianity in The Skin Map. None of the characters (so far) have made any pronouncements of faith. But woven throughout the book are lines about such things as prayer, attendance in church, schooling by Jesuits, Providence, and God Himself.

In addition, I realized some two hundred words into the book that Mr. Lawhead likes playing with names. Early in the story, readers learn the adversaries are known as Burley men. Some chapters later we meet a character named Earl Burleigh. Not coincidentally, he shows himself to be the Man behind the men.

Later, when a new character comes into the story, Lady Fayth, niece of Sir Henry Fayth, Lord Castlemain, I began to wonder if there isn’t significance in these names as well.

Granted, one can get carried away looking for meaning tucked here and there (see for example, some of the works about the Harry Potter books), but in a story, by a Christian, involving the fabric of the universe—time and space—I can’t help but wonder if readers looking for the obvious might not miss the subtle.

As I see it, Mr. Lawhead has established God in his story world (throughout time and across distance) by the fact that some of the character have an almost nonchalant acceptance of Him and by the suggestion through names that some characters may represent more than what they first appear to.

These are things I need time to think about. Without a doubt, I’d miss whatever subtleties and secrets might be in the story if I had pushed to finish.

My full review TBA. In the meantime, visit the blogs of others participating in the tour. You’ll find some excellent discussions and reviews. I’ll recommend Bruce Hennigan’s discussion of providence, Rachel Starr Thomson’s article about expectations, John Hileman’s comparison of the book to a corn muffin (don’t miss this one), and Steve Trower’s (who hardly ever gets books sent to him in the UK) review.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from Thomas Nelson.

CSFF Blog Tour – The Skin Map, Day 2

This month the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring The Skin Map, Book 1 of the Bright Empires series by Stephen Lawhead. As I mentioned in my post yesterday, this accomplished author considers this work his most challenging.

And yet, surprisingly, I’ve seen a number of comments about this adventure story. Truly, there is adventure, and the story has intrigue from the opening page. But the page before the first page should get readers thinking more deeply right from the start.

I’m referring to the short epigraph:

Why is the Universe so big?
Because we are here!”

John Wheeler, Physicist

This short hint to the theme of the book, and probably of the series, tells me a couple things.

1) The story has some scientific underpinnings.
2) The implications are philosophical.
3) The philosophical implications will have theological ramifications.

First a little about the science. The physicist Mr. Lawhead quoted is credited with coining the terms black hole and wormhole, among others. He is known for his work in general relativity, including the theory of gravitational collapse.

He also postulated an interesting theory about Man’s relationship to the universe, now know as his ‘it from bit’ doctrine. Information, he believed, was fundamental to the physics of the universe—”all things physical are information-theoretic in origin.”

It from bit. Otherwise put, every ‘it’—every particle, every field of force, even the space-time continuum itself—derives its function, its meaning, its very existence entirely—even if in some contexts indirectly—from the apparatus-elicited answers to yes-or-no questions, binary choices, bits. ‘It from bit’ symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has at bottom—a very deep bottom, in most instances—an immaterial source and explanation; that which we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes–no questions and the registering of equipment-evoked responses; in short, that all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and that this is a participatory universe.
– John Wheeler, as quoted in Wikipedia’s article “John Archibald Wheeler” (emphases mine)

I don’t pretend to understand all this science or a tenth of the ramifications of it. I’m not sure I understand why Mr. Lawhead chose the quote he did to introduce his story.

I do know these are big issues—the origin of the universe and it’s vastness; our place in it; our understanding of it.

As a Christian, I can’t arrive at issues regarding the universe without asking, What about God? Where does He fit into the equation?

If, for example, I was to answer the question posed in the epigraph, Why is the universe so big? I would most certainly not answer the way Mr. Wheeler did. I would probably say, Because God is bigger still.

What, then, will a story be that begins with the bigness of Man instead of the bigness of God?

These are questions I have yet to answer, but my guess is, all will not become clear until the final page of the Bright Empires series, and then we might have more questions to ponder than answers.

In the meantime, we have an adventure to enjoy.

Be sure to check out what other bloggers on the tour are discussing. Fred Warren has an interesting article on tattoos (no kidding). Author Matt Mikalatos explains the origins of ley lines, a key component in The Skin Map. John Otte discusses the opening of The Skin Map and expounds on what makes a good opening. Don’t forget Robert Treskillard‘s contest and the autographed copy of The Skin Map he’s offering as the prize. For other reviews and articles, check the links at the end of Day 1.

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