By Amanda Cleary Eastep
Have you ever seen a beautifully decorated cake and thought, “Wow, that’s too pretty to eat”?
Well, if you’re an avid reader and on Instagram, you will at some point see gorgeous “bookstagram” posts of popular fantasy novels. These still lifes are composed of almost-too-pretty-to-read hardcover books strung with tiny lights and illuminated by candles named after book characters (but that hopefully don’t smell like some of them).
I’m not sure if these pictures entice people to actually read the books. But as a book editor and book lover, I do appreciate these visual celebrations of stellar cover art and favorite stories.
After all, books become important elements in our own “still lives.”
In general, my Instagram book photos are a bit more . . . utilitarian. Not because I don’t love photography. My Instagram style probably reflects my “dog-eared” life too. Muddy hiking boots, noisy walks to the city train, and days up to my wrists in garden dirt mimic my messy handwritten drafts, novels yellowing with age, and dusty bookshelves.
Still, I have lots of those beautiful new books on my reading list. But let me also suggest some classics, especially if you’re a younger reader–not only for their outward beauty but for their timeless story of the battle of good and evil.
The Tower of Geburah and The Iron Sceptre
In this good vs. evil fantasy, three children are exploring their uncle’s attic when they are whisked away to the magical world of Anthropos.
Aside from Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia and L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, John White’s Archives of Anthropos series (books 3 and 4) included some of the first books I read in the young adult fantasy genre as a kid.
(Oddly enough, back in the early ‘80s I missed that this was a series. How is that possible? The only way you knew about new books in our small farm town was by visiting the school library [and if it hadn’t been for my 5th grade teacher, I wouldn’t have discovered some of my most important reads]. Or by making a pilgrimage to Kroch’s and Brentano’s in the mall 30 minutes away. There were no social media recommendations or Goodreads bookshelves. And we had to walk 10 miles in the snow . . . )
What fascinated me as a kid about these books was the obvious religious symbolism (not unlike Lewis’s and L’Engle’s). This use of symbolism wasn’t White’s attempt to help me escape my small town life or to teach me some moralistic lesson in the guise of fairy tale . . . totally the opposite.
English writer and theologian G. K. Chesterton explained a biblical truth inherent in the fairy tale:
Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey.
What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.
Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him by a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.*
I was raised to believe–and still believe–in a good God and that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). And also that the “enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
(Some would say that is the ultimate fantasy.)
But what if our love of fantasy fiction and of stories of good (eventually) defeating evil comes from some deep soul place, from a beautiful truth we still carry in our bones?
Photo by Stefan Steinbauer on Unsplash
4 thoughts on “Book beauty is only cover deep, but truth goes to the bone”
I LOVE The Archives of Anthropos and have these same editions still on my shelves (although I’ve read them so many times, they have fallen apart completely now). I don’t think I’ve ever encountered anyone else who has read them — what a treat! My favorite of the series is The Sword Bearer, but I probably read The Tower of Geburah more than any of the others. White demonstrated to me that a writer could imitate Lewis’s style of gateway or liminal fantasy without plagiarising or outright copying his ideas, and that was so important for me to learn and see as a young writer. Anthropos lived with Narnia and Middle Earth in my imagination as a child in the eighties and early nineties when there was so little else to choose from in the way of speculative fiction for children. I still have the “Blue light is true light” rhyme committed to memory! (I did not discover Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain until I was an adult and, sadly, I never got into L’engel as much — although I tried!). I’m so happy to see these books featured on your blog! My oldest son has read them, but I need to get new editions before I have my other sons read them.
How funny is that? I haven’t re-read the books for years but need to find the others in the series first anyway. The cover art on the late 70s/early 80s editions is just beautiful. I loved Alexander’s books and read them early on too. In high school, I flew through a bunch of Piers Anthony’s books. So good to connect with you!
Love this one Amanda. Beauty, hum, sort of like my latest attempts at painting. I think it’s not all that good, yet others say, they are. Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder I guess?
I use to think I was the ugliest little child God made growing up. All that self hatred was not healthy for me at all. Did I know that back then, nope! But do now and know that no matter what assets we’ve been given in life, we need to make the best of them.
Keep on writing what God lays in your heart, I’m sure they are inspiring more to write. Love and hugs, Auntie Linda
You’ve always been beautiful to me! Love you!