This is the last day of the tour, and I’ll close with a few random notes. (1) and (3) have spoilers.
(1) The Christianity of The Skin Map is like the secularism of many popular books and movies: It’s there, but a lot of the time you can’t really tell. Every once in a while, though, there will be a comment or attitude or action, and you’ll see it.
I say this as an observation, not a criticism. There is no degree of religiosity every novel must have. The broad assumptions of The Skin Map are Christian, and there are moments where it really shines through. Take this exchange between the villain and one of the heroes:
“For the love of God, Burleigh,” shouted Cosimo. “Let us go!”
Burleigh stopped in midstep and turned around. “There is no God,” he said, his voice flat and hard. “There is only chaos, chance, and the immutable laws of nature. As men of science, I had thought you would know that. In this world – as in all others – there is only the survival of the fittest. I am a survivor.” He turned again and began walking away. “You, apparently, are not.”
“You are wrong,” Cosimo called after him. “Utterly, fatally, and eternally wrong.”
“If so,” replied Burleigh, moving to the doorway, “then God will save you.”
I quote this because it goes a long way to showing where the book is, philosophically, coming from. I also quote it because it’s good dialogue.
(2) After noticing so much the British style of the book, I was surprised to learn that the author is natively American. He has been living in England for a long time, though.
(3) Years ago I read an essay by C. S. Lewis where he compared the climax of the novel King Solomon’s Mines to the climax of the 1937 film King Solomon’s Mines:
I was once taken to see a film version of King Solomon’s Mines. … At the end of Haggard’s book, as everyone remembers, the heroes are awaiting death entombed in a rock chamber and surrounded by the mummified kings of the land. The maker of the film version, however, apparently thought this tame. He substituted a subterranean volcanic eruption, and then went one better by adding an earthquake. … No doubt if sheer excitement is all you want from a story, and if increase of dangers increases excitement, then a rapidly changing series of two risks (that of being burned alive and that of being crushed to bits) would be better than a single prolonged danger of starving to death in a cave. But that is just the point. There must be a pleasure in such stories distinct from mere excitement or I should not feel that I had been cheated in being given the earthquake instead of Haggard’s actual scene. What I lose is the whole sense of the deathly (quite a different thing from simple danger of death) – the cold, the silence, and the surrounding faces of the ancient, the crowned and sceptred, dead.
In The Skin Map Lord Burleigh imprisons and then abandons the heroes in an ancient crypt – an obvious similarity. But there is a broader one. The great peril of this novel is dying of starvation or “a plague miasma, a curse” of the Egyptian tombs – not dying in an explosion or battle or blaze of firepower. Like Haggard, Stephen Lawhead gave a chilling danger instead of a thrilling one.
(4) The book – the hardcover, at least – is Deckle Edge. Yes, it’s a little thing, but I like it. The Skin Map is suited to this old-time touch.