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Summa Elvetica: A Casuistry of the Elvish Controversy
By Theodore Beale
(Recommended. Buy it here)
The Author of this book has already explained that he is not overly fond of being compared to Tolkien, thinking himself and his writings not up to the comparison, but I will begin this book review with the one criticism of the “Lord of the Rings” that Tolkien admitted to agreeing with in the forward: The book is too short.
This is my biggest (and perhaps only) serious criticism. Yes, the book is 322 pages long, but the print is big (on average only 320 words per page as compared to 420 in, oh, say . . . The Irrational Atheist) and only 70 percent of these pages are the main story. It feels like an Epic short story (and by Epic, I mean in length, not it tone) with a short story snuck into the middle of it, with two short stories in the Appendix.
That being said, it is good writing.
I wrote about Beale’s last fiction book “The Wrath of Angels” thusly:
There are questions asked by the author in this book that took quite a bit of out-of- the-box thinking.
This is true here also, even more so. Beale has created a unique fantasy world. Here are some of the questions asked: “What if in the Medieval world (specifically the year 1043 apparently) there were Elvish nations (and Orc, and Wolf man and Dwarf) which lived near a Christian nation? What if the Chief religious ruler in the Christian nation set out to determine if the Elves had souls? What if War or Missions hinged on this determination?
These questions are answered with a There-and-back-again story and a protagonist traveler being the philosopher Marcus Valerius who has been given the charge of answering the Elf-soul question. He experiences danger and intrigue on the way to the Elven Kingdom, and more danger and intrigue while there. We see the pride of the humans (who are of the opinion that they are very little lower than the angels compared to the Elves) and the pride of the Elves (who, man for man, can beat a human in pretty much every conceivable way.)
Marcus is a part of a fairly significant Embassy from the Christian nation and is himself accompanied by two bodyguards, notably his Dwarven bodyguard, Lodi, a strong character who gives life and humor to every conversation that he enters into. Beale wrote him well.
This brings me to a fairly subtle theme of the book (which is a bit ironic given the last book by this author): Respect.
In this novel, the good guys are those who show respect for others, even if they are foreign (to the point of being from another race), and even if it takes a while to gain this respect. And the narrative (i.e. the author) treats it’s characters with respect, even down to a raging captive wolf-man, who is clearly from a lesser race. I appreciated this. This is a Christian novel, with several direct and indirect biblical references. Worshipping Christ is honored. Concern for the lost is rampant. What more can you ask for?
Beale has implied that he isn’t planning on publishing any extensions to the world he had created here. Too bad, because my feeling here (getting back to Tolkien) is that this book could be a “The Hobbit”-like prelude to a much more significant fictional writing. This is no slight, because I really liked Hobbit. And I really liked this one, as well.
A few other notes:
– I will be giving this book to my 10 year old son. Happily the cover of this book is more chaste than Wrath. And the contents could be put word for word and scene for scene into a PG movie. Well, mostly. If you handled the violent scenes discreetly.
– The short-story in the middle of the story is quite enjoyable.
– As far as I can see, you will have to read the Appendix to get the only Monty Python reference.
– Do read the Appendixes; there are really good creative questions asked and answered there as well. I specifically appreciated the brief mention of a green skinned character whose heart had been changed – evidently much more changed than two or three characters in The Wrath Of Angels. This did my heart good.
– I enjoyed the cleverness of the theological treatises at the end.
– I found it notable that there was no anti-Calvinist jabs at all in this book. It’s not like there were no opportunities for it.
* I hate it when reviewers get the details wrong. If I did, and you (as a fellow reader or the author) note this, please let me know. I’ll fix it.