God and Fiction – A Second Look at Tuck

Yes, the CSFF Blog Tour featuring Tuck by Stephen Lawhead (Thomas Nelson) is over. But in visiting other participating blogs, I saw others address the issue of the spiritual in this story.

In my first look at Tuck, with God in mind, I commented that I felt as if Mr. Lawhead allowed God to be a part of the story as the characters experienced Him. In the end, though, when I did my review, I felt as if the spirituality was thin. And now I think I understand why.

But first, let me mention that other bloggers disagree. For instance, Rachel Starr Thomson felt the story was particularly strong in showing the power of prayer. Robert Treskillard, on the other hand, felt the story did a great job calling attention to sin and the coming judgment, thus serving as a seed-planting story (as opposed to one that also shows the growth and harvest 😉 ). John Otte was just happy that a variety of faith traditions cropped up in the story. One other blogger, I don’t recall who just now, thought the story did a good job showing the pursuit of peace winning out.

Why, with God clearly showing up and with the presence of these spiritual themes, did I feel as if the story was thin and not deep? It has to do with the struggle, the internal conflict of the characters. Since this third volume of the King Raven Trilogy was told primarily from Friar Tuck’s point of view, his untarnished faith came through.

Bran, on the other hand, who endured the burden of leadership with dwindling followers and the disappointment of broken promises and unmet expectations, apparently did struggle. But because the story was about him and not his, readers can only look on and see the outworkings of whatever spiritual issues Bran dealt with. Some bloggers found him arrogant, others found him dark and brooding, but no one said he was sympathetic.

I thought he was. I mean, if I underwent the betrayal he experienced, if I’d invested as much time and put myself at such risk as he did for his northern cousins, then had to walk away empty handed, well, I think I would be a bit brooding too. Yet he came around. When Tuck wanted to pursue peace, Bran came to the point of choosing to do what was right.

But what struggle did he go through to arrive at that place?

From the reader’s vantage point, it was nothing but Angharad’s counsel that put him onto the right path. It seemed easy and quick. Not something I think most of us can identify with. Wouldn’t it be great if we came to the truth and made right decisions with just a word of reminder?

But for most of us, a crisis in our world generates something of a crisis in our souls as well, and with Tuck telling the story, we just didn’t see that struggle in Bran, that crisis in his story. Thus, I came away feeling the theme was thin.

Tuck and Terrorism

What, you might be wondering, does Stephen R. Lawhead’s latest novel Tuck have to do with terrorism? For whatever reason, as I read this CSFF Blog Tour feature, I was struck by the similarities between this reconstituted Robin Hood legend and any number of other conflicts involving an undermanned group going against a more disciplined, seasoned fighting force, usually representing the reigning ruler.

One such instance would be the American Revolution. After the initial confrontations in Lexington and Concord, Minutemen—ill-equipped farmers—hassled and harried the disciplined English infantry from behind rocks and trees and whatever cover they could find.

It’s the same tactic used by the Viet Cong in the 1960s and 70s during the Vietnam war. It’s a mixture of fighting and hiding that has also played out in Nicaragua, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

I’ve heard the statement, One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. And at first blush, the line seems to be true. In the Robin Hood legend, as told in Tuck by Mr. Lawhead, the French viewed Rhi Bran y Hud as an outlaw and a rebel while Bran viewed the Ffreinc as unjust and cruel usurpers, oppressors to be dispatched by peaceful means if possible, but by resistance if that’s what it required.

So were the Grellon who followed Bran terrorists?

The very idea is discordant with the traditional concept of Robin Hood as a hero. He was noble and good, giving to the poor, bringing justice to the land, fighting for the downtrodden when they couldn’t fight for themselves. Robin and his merry men, terrorists?

Well then, were they instead, freedom fighters? Or is it only perspective that creates the label?

I think it is more than perspective. As I see it, Bran was a type of freedom fighter. At least as Mr. Lawhead painted the scene in the King Raven Trilogy, the Normans, in authority because they conquered the land, did not have the interests of the Welsh people at heart. Their leadership was corrupt and self-serving, pompous and oppressive.

Interestingly, in the latter part of Tuck, Bran’s men raid the Ffreinc’s supplies. In answer, the Ffreinc raid the barns of local farmers. In other words, Bran targeted soldiers, and the Ffreinc targeted non-combatants.

And isn’t that kind of ignoble act one of the things that marks a terrorist? Instead of helping the helpless, terrorists target them or use them. A terrorist is still self-serving and may even be pompous and oppressive, but from a position of weakness rather than from one of strength. Sure, the goals may seem similar to the heroic goals of Robin Hood, at least on the outside, but the terrorist is willing to climb over the untold number of bodies of those who have no part in the war in order to get what he wants.

There’s a reason a Robin Hood is admired, and it has less to do with distributing wealth than with self-sacrifice. In Mr. Lawhead’s version told in the King Raven Trilogy, and culminating in Tuck, Bran wanted justice. He was a good king and ruled his people with equity. He was honest, a man of his word, fair-minded, willing to make peace, but he was also committed and firm and unwavering. As a consequence, and because of the odds against him, he lived in poverty, put his life at risk over and over, and lost some of the people closest to him.

As I see it, that’s a hero, not a terrorist.

I’d recommend a couple other stops along the Lawhead Tuck Tour. Rachel Starr Thomson has a beautiful review; in her post, Ryan Heart included a book trailer I didn’t even know about; Steve Rice brings up the issue of syncretism in his “Weak Points” post (brought to my mind the criticism C. S. Lewis received for including Greek gods in his Narnia tales); in his review, John Ottinger found the characters weak (and especially Bran who he “disliked intensely”); John Otte takes a comparative look at various renditions of the Robin Hood legend. There’s more—lots more—but that’s enough to get you on your way. Enjoy! 😀

Published in: on May 20, 2009 at 10:54 am  Comments (4)  
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Tuck – A Review

I want to mention a few of the CSFF Blog Tour posts about Tuck by Stephen R. Lawhead (Thomas Nelson). There are some interesting opinions and observations you won’t want to miss. Start with Fred Warren‘s excellent story summary. Then read Phyllis Wheeler‘s comprehensive review.

For those new to the King Raven Trilogy, Jason Joyner posted his reviews of the first two books, Hood and Scarlet.

For an inside look into one reviewer’s process, visit Terri Main, then follower her on Twitter.

That should get you started. 😉 For the entire list of participants, with check marks that link to their posts, see God and Fiction – A Look at Tuck. On to my review.

The Story. Since I gave a summary of the King Raven Trilogy yesterday, I won’t repeat that information. Tuck doesn’t either. It picks up the story right where Scarlet left off. Bran and his people are on the run with little hope of survival or, of equal importance to them, of justice. After half his followers give up and leave, Bran seeks help from his mother’s family. A good portion of the book, and much of the fun and intrigue, comes in Bran’s efforts to win their support. Meanwhile Mérian has her own ideas about acquiring help, and in Bran’s absence, she pursues them. And how does it end? You didn’t seriously think I would tell you, did your? 😀

Strengths. Mr. Lawhead is a skilled writer. Very quickly I was absorbed in the world he created and engaged with the characters of his imaging. In the end, I thought how plausible his suggestion was, that the Robin Hood legend was based upon the history of a minor Welsh king and eventually became larger than life as an adaptation for an English audience. This kind of believability is a result of excellent research and masterful use of language. Throughout the story I had the sense that I’d been transported to another time and place.

I also loved the action. I thought the pace was perfect. I wanted to know what would happen next, but I didn’t feel like the action overshadowed the characters. I found Bran’s responses to his circumstances believable and in places even admirable. I had one moment of true grief because of one plot point.

Weaknesses. In spite of my post yesterday about how God is portrayed in Tuck, I’d have to say, I think the theme is the biggest weakness in the book. Not because it is false but because it is … weak. As I thought about the story, which I enjoyed immensely, I had to consider long and hard to arrive at any lasting meaning. Was it a story about people fighting for what they believed in, despite great odds? Or was it about giving to others in return for what they gave? Or was it about pursuing peace even when war seems inevitable?

Any of those, maybe all. But there’s the problem. In saying several things weakly, the story left me unaffected. I finished the book, left the March with sadness, but felt unchanged by the characters and their struggles. I guess I’d just like more.

Recommendation. In a heartbeat I’d encourage anyone to read this book. It is a tale skillfully told. It’s unique, yet familiar. The characters seem true to life and each has an identifiable voice that helps them come alive. Those who enjoy historical novels along with those who love mythic, legend-like stories will like this best. For those two categories of readers, this is a MUST. For all others, I highly recommend Tuck.

Published in: on May 19, 2009 at 11:46 am  Comments (4)  
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God and Fiction – A Look at Tuck

tuck coverThis month the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring Tuck, the third book in the King Raven Trilogy by Stephen R. Lawhead (Thomas Nelson).

While I do intend to review the book, and have another issue I’d like to discuss connected with the story, I thought it might be informative, as part of the series I began last week, to examine how a skilled author like Stephen Lawhead incorporates God in his fiction.

First an introduction to Tuck. The King Raven Trilogy is a reframed telling of the Robin Hood myth. “Reframed” because Mr. Lawhead gave his trilogy a new setting and different players from the well-known bandit-in-Sherwood-Forest-Nottinghamshire rendition. (Most fascinating to me is the clever way in which Mr. Lawhead ties his story to the more famous legend in Tuck‘s epilogue). In this new version, the “real” Robin Hood is a Welshman, Rhi Bran ap Brychan y Hud, in conflict with the invading Normans. A king in his own right, Bran is nevertheless forced to flee his home to preserve his life. Under the cruel and unjust reign of the Ffreinc, the homeless and disenfranchised gathered to him. And thus develops the story of the undermanned outlaw fighting against the corrupt and oppressive forces in power.

And where does God fit in all this? Most interestingly, He appears as the characters in the story see Him. Some trust Him with their lives and rely on His guidance. Some only know Him by reputation and by what the Church has to say about Him.

Tuck opens with a prologue in which King William of Normandie is begrudgingly paying a sum of money to an abbey so its monks will pray his father out of purgatory, or perhaps, out of hell. Throughout the story, this idea of money spent to forestall the consequences of the king’s own wrongdoing and that of his father serves as a believable motive.

In contrast, Friar Tuck seems to carry on a running dialogue with God. Here are some examples from the first chapter:

“How long, O Lord? How long must your servants suffer?” he muttered. “And, Lord, does it have to be so blasted hot?” (p. 11)

God bless you, Little John, thought Tuck, and keep your arm strong, and your heart stronger. (p. 12)

“Thank the Good Lord,” gasped the friar, scrambling up the dry, rutted track. “I thought I’d never catch you.” (p. 13)

    “What do you want me to do?” Tick shouted.

    “Pray,” answered Bran, pulling an arrow from the sheaf at his belt and fitting it to the string. “Pray God our aim is true and each arrow finds its mark.”

    Bran moved off … Tuck watched him go. Pray? he thought. Aye, to be sure—the Good Lord will hear from me. But I will do more, will I not? (p. 17)

The point is, God shows up in the story in just the ways the characters know Him. If they have a false idea about Him, that’s not “corrected.” No one comes to King William, even at the end of the story, to tell him that he doesn’t have to pay money to secure forgiveness for sin because Jesus paid it all, as true as that is.

Instead, the false and the true lie side by side within the story, without authorial tampering. Never is there any heavy-handedness in dealing with spiritual matters. That which is endemic to the characters comes out naturally. And the reader, then, is left to think through the divergent views.

Yet, the false rings false and the true rings true. One way Mr. Lawhead accomplishes this is by giving the protagonists the views most closely aligned with Scripture. At the same time, corrupt churchmen are unmasked, casting their untoward practices into the proper light.

This ordering of Truth with noble heroes, however, is not done in a stereotypical manner. Instead, because the characters are fleshed out in believable ways, their spirituality seems like one more part of who they are. It is a powerful way to tell the truth about God.

I invite you to join the CSFF Lawhead Tuck tour this week. Visit a few of the blogs participating (there’s quite a list—click on the check marks to go to specific posts), and tell them I sent you. 😉

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