Lifeless. Bloodless. Predictable.
That describes too much of Christian fiction for young people, once you get past C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia and a few other good reads.
But now comes Lee Duigon's Bell Mountain, a new novel that's full of life, is modestly and discretely bloody in places, and is anything but predictable. Here's the opening sentence:
This is a story about a boy who was so haunted by a mountain that it gave him bad dreams. You may have had bad dreams when you were Jack's age, but not like these.
Set in the fictional kingdom of Obann, the story is about a boy and girl who traverse a dangerous land in a quest to ring the bell atop far-off Bell Mountain to fulfill an ancient prophecy. In a world grown grim from unbelief that is enforced with religious fervor, Jack and Ellayne persist in their quest to free their land from a curse. Along the way, they're pursued by a murderous monk and encounter various creatures, people and events that provoke questions of conscience and faith.
Ashrof had his eye on the mountain now, Bell Mountain. It seemed he was reciting the words not to Jack, but to the mountain. Bell Mountain, with its rocky shoulders, its snowy shields gleaming as the sun began to decline westward, and the perpetual clouds that masked its crown – it towered over the valley .... Until he'd started having the dreams, Jack never gave it a thought.
The seemingly "religious" folk are a big part of the problem in the once-grand kingdom. The First Prester of the Temple, Lord Reesh, and his minions discourage curious youths like Jack from cracking the ancient Books. And even the devout teacher Ashrof, whose interpretation of Jack's dream triggers the adventure, is tempted to spin plainly stated Scriptural accounts into mere analogies. Hath God really said, or was He merely suggesting?
Adults and sharp kids will recognize the seeds of the liberal church being planted through doubt and man's conceits – what the apostle Paul warned in Colosssians 2:8:
Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. (KJV)
Anyone familiar with the apostate Episcopal Bishop John Spong, who never met a heresy he couldn't champion, will enjoy Duigon's barbs at Lord Reesh. But the allusions are so deft that they don't get in the way.
A fine storyteller, Duigon is also one of the most gifted and passionate commentators on Christianity and culture today, hurling thunderbolts from his lairs at www.Chalcedon.org, www.Michnews.com and www.chronwatch-america.com. He brings that intensity and style to Bell Mountain in clear prose that will delight intelligent children and adults alike.
Questions arise throughout: Is real wonder still possible? Is faith more than a fairytale? Can men commit great evil and still be capable of redemption? Will a hairy, little, man-like creature prove to be friend or foe? Can children live off the land by bagging rabbits with a slingshot and foraging for vegetables while fighting off giant birds?
Maybe, maybe not. A good yarn keeps you guessing, and this one surely does.
Warning to parents: If your children are accustomed only to Disneyfied stories, Bell Mountain might be a shock to their systems. It's geared to readers 10 and up. And don't be surprised if, while you're reading it to the younger ones, they nestle closer. In Bell Mountain, the world is both scarier and more hope-filled than in typical fantasy fiction – and it contains a good deal of suspense, like the Potter books.
With Lee Duigon, however, your kids are in good, Christian company throughout.