The Prehistoric Man

[Spoilers]

Strictly speaking of course we know nothing about prehistoric man, for the simple reason that he was prehistoric. G. K. Chesterton

Kit keenly regretted having wandered off, but who could have foreseen being kidnapped by cavemen? The Bone House, pg. 311

This, my favorite line of The Bone House, is at the beginning of my favorite part of The Bone House. At Kit’s first sight of the cavemen, he “recognized it instantly, but knew he had never seen it in the flesh before. The face peering down at him was attached to a swarthy, rugged, square head covered with a heavy pelt of hair so thick and matted it looked like yak fur. And the features were those of a clumsily executed caricature.”

But Stephen Lawhead’s portrayal was anything but a caricature. He knocked down the stereotype of the caveman in page upon page. The cavemen of his novel were civilized in every way that matters most; their minds possessed abilities ours do not; Kit, living among them, was impressed with his inferiority and not theirs.

Interestingly, Lawhead presents his cavemen as a different species, rather than the earliest types of our own. And he makes it very clear they have souls. In the end, his treatment of the caveman reminds me of G. K. Chesterton’s commentary on the subject. Below are excerpts from The Everlasting Man, chapter I “The Man in the Cave”.


Today all our novels and newspapers will be found swarming with numberless allusions to a popular character called a CaveMan. …  So far as I can understand, his chief occupation in life was knocking his wife about, or treating women in general with what is, I believe, known in the world of the film as ‘rough stuff.’ I have never happened to come upon the evidence for this idea; and I do not know on what primitive diaries or prehistoric divorce-reports it is founded. Nor, as I have explained elsewhere, have I ever been able to see the probability of it, even considered a priori. We are always told without any explanation or authority that primitive man waved a club and knocked the woman down before he carried her off. But on every animal analogy, it would seem an almost morbid modesty and reluctance on the part of the lady, always to insist on being knocked down before consenting to be carried off. And I repeat that I can never comprehend why, when the male was so very rude, the female should have been so very refined.

The cave-man may have been a brute, but there is no reason why he should have been more brutal than the brutes. And the loves of the giraffes and the river romances of the hippopotami are effected without any of this preliminary fracas or shindy. The cave-man may have been no better than the cave-bear; but the child she-bear, so famous in hymnology, is not trained with any such bias for spinsterhood. In short these details of the domestic life of the cave puzzle me upon either the revolutionary or the static hypothesis; and in any case I should like to look into the evidence for them; but unfortunately I have never been able to find it. But the curious thing is this: that while ten thousand tongues of more or less scientific or literary gossip seemed to be talking at once about this unfortunate fellow, under the title of the cave-man, the one connection in which it is really relevant and sensible to talk about him as the cave-man has been comparatively neglected. People have used this loose term in twenty loose ways; but they have never even looked at their own term for what could really be learned from it.

In fact, people have been interested in everything about the cave-man except what he did in the cave. Now there does happen to be some real evidence of what be did in the cave. It is little enough, like all the prehistoric evidence, but it is concerned with the real cave-man and his cave and not the literary cave-man and his club. And it will be valuable to our sense of reality to consider quite simply what that real evidence is, and not to go beyond it. What was found in the cave was not the club, the horrible gory club notched with the number of women it had knocked on the head. The cave was not a Bluebeard’s Chamber filled with the skeletons of slaughtered wives; it was not filled with female skulls all arranged in rows and all cracked like eggs. …

This secret chamber of rock, when illuminated after its long night of unnumbered ages, revealed on its walls large and sprawling outlines diversified with colored earths; and when they followed the lines of them they recognized, across that vast void of ages, the movement and the gesture of a man’s band. They were drawings or paintings of animals; and they were drawn or painted not only by a man but by an artist. Under whatever archaic limitations, they showed that love of the long sweeping or the long wavering line which any man who has ever drawn or tried to draw will recognize; and about which no artist will allow himself to be contradicted by any scientist. They showed the experimental and adventurous spirit of the artist, the spirit that does not avoid but attempts difficult things; as where the draughtsman had represented the action of the stag when be swings his head clean round and noses towards his tail, an action familiar enough in the horse. But there are many modern animal-painters who would set themselves something of a task in rendering it truly. In this and twenty other details it is clear that the artist had watched animals with a certain interest and presumably a certain pleasure. In that sense it would seem that he was not only an artist but a naturalist; the sort of naturalist who is really natural.

Now it is needless to note, except in passing, that there is nothing whatever in the atmosphere of that cave to suggest the bleak and pessimistic atmosphere of that journalistic cave of the winds, that blows and bellows about us with countless echoes concerning the CaveMan. So far as any human character can be hinted at by such traces of the past, that human character is quite human and even humane. It is certainly not the ideal of an inhuman character, like the abstraction invoked in popular science. … In other words the cave-man as commonly presented to us is simply a myth or rather a muddle; for a myth has at least an imaginative outline of truth. …

Indeed I once knew a lady who half-humorously suggested that the cave was a creche, in which the babies were put to be specially safe, and that colored animals were drawn on the walls to amuse them; very much as diagrams of elephants and giraffes adorn a modern infant school. And though this was but a jest, it does draw attention to some of the other assumptions that we make only too readily. The pictures do not prove even that the cave-men lived in caves, any more than the discovery of a wine-cellar in Balham (long after that suburb had been destroyed by human or divine wrath) would prove that the Victorian middle classes lived entirely underground. The cave might have had a special purpose like the cellar; it might have been a religious shrine or a refuge in war or the meeting-place of a secret society or all sorts of things. But it is quite true that its artistic decoration has much more of the atmosphere of a nursery than of any of these nightmares of anarchical fury and fear.

Strictly Speaking

[Mild spoilers]

“The room we’re interested in is somewhere back there. At least, it was the last time I was here.”

“Correct me if I am wrong,” suggested Thomas, his steel-rimmed glasses glinting in the faint light as he turned to address Kit directly, “but strictly speaking, you have never been in this tomb.” – The Bone House, pg. 210

As theories of the multiverse gain traction with scientists, the inevitable inquiry begins: Is Christianity compatible with the multiverse? It reminds me of the old question of whether Christianity could handle the existence of aliens. In either case, the answer is the same: There is nothing in Christianity that particularly supports the idea, and nothing that particularly opposes it, and at any rate it’s only an idea.

Still, the fun of speculative fiction is speculating. For Christians, there’s the added fascination of fitting new, strange realities with ancient, eternal truths. The question, properly phrased, is not, How does Christianity work with the multiverse? It is, How does the multiverse work with Christianity? In answering you can find an interesting angle on both.

In The Bone House, Stephen Lawhead revelaed Arthur Flinders-Petrie’s quest to find Christ in the multiverse. Lawhead imagines countless versions of our world and our history. By a necessity people are duplicated along with it. That much orthodox Christianity allows. What it does not allow is the duplication of the Man who split history in two, or of the death and resurrection of God.

For a Christian writer like Stephen Lawhead, and for Christian readers like us, it’s an interesting tension. An interesting resolution is possible. We could, for example, imagine that the Incarnation is the focal point of the multiverse, at which all worlds converge and are one.

This is, I think, the only really urgent question when Christianity meets the multiverse. But I think another, lesser question is raised by the notion of duplicate selves. This is a well-established reality of the Bright Empires Series. When I read The Bone House I kept thinking that Kit could very well run into another Cosimo. After all, who knows how many Cosimos there are, and how many of them ended up wandering the universe? Heck with it – there could be multiple Kits exploring the ley-lines. Kit could run into himself.

You know who really ought to run into himself? Arthur Flinders-Petrie. There has to be more than one of him; there’s more than one of everybody else. It’s wholly possible that there is another Arthur Flinders-Petrie exploring the multiverse. If so, there’s another Skin Map out there, which is good news for our heroes.

What’s bad news for our heroes is that there may also be multiple Lord Burleighs prowling the multiverse. Of course, that would probably be bad news for the Lord Burleighs themselves. They might get in each other’s way. Can you imagine Lord Burleigh giving himself his “We can be friends or we can be enemies” speech? But I suppose Burleigh could have ended up good in some realities. There are more possibilities here than we could ever contemplate without ibuprofen.

Though this is fun – I’m trying to recover from my tangent here – it does have philosphical implications. You have people with the same genetic make-up often leading very much the same lives. But are they really the same people?

The essential dilemma is the one created by clones. Recall C. S. Lewis’ words: “You don’t have a soul; you are a soul. You have a body.” Human beings – or nature – could duplicate DNA and, with it, the bodies. But God would have to duplicate the souls. Do you suppose – or would you, for the sake of a story – that He ever does?

CSFF Blog Tour: The Bone House

The universe is big. What’s more, it’s awfully crowded.

It may be hard to tell, but they’re there, just a ley-leap away – countless worlds, people beyond number. Very few people know this; very few have traveled the ley lines to other dimensions. And those few people are constantly running into each other, often in extremely unfortunate ways.

In The Bone House, second book of the Bright Empires Series, Stephen Lawhead continues his grand exploration of the mutliverse. Most prominent of the explorers, but by no means the most adept, is Kit Livingstone. He is driven and pulled into adventure by forces greater than himself – the mysterious workings of ley lines, Lord Burleigh, Wilhelmina Klug.

I read the first book, The Skin Map, and thought it was science fiction, even if unconventional science fiction. It’s strange, then, that The Bone House struck me much more as fantasy. I think it was partially the turn toward Mediavel times, with a priest who talked about the tongues of angels; I think it was mainly that the story, for the first time, fully left our world. Earlier it took us to a different London, a different Prague, a different Egypt – but still London and Prague and Egypt, so that this science-fantasy series has a distinct flavor of historical fiction. But The Bone House goes beyond history.

In one area, however, it is thoroughly, classically sci-fi: going crazy with time. Hence we can simultaneously follow the Man Who is the Map and everyone searching for the Map That was the Man, back when he was alive. Lawhead, dealing with multiple dimensions, plays rather loosely with time. Even some of the characters’ storylines are out of order.

The chaotic mixing of dimensions, chronologies, and characters may bother some readers. I enjoyed it. It was intriguing, it kept me on my toes, and it conveyed the bewildering profusion of the multiverse.

But in the jumble of stories and realities, Lawhead asserts purpose and order. Everything, we are told, happens for a reason; all is as it should be – even for those who travel the multiverse. The Bone House was unexpectedly religious, a quiet but steady stream flowing through the book. Yet there was one incident I must raise that, though religious, was not at all Christian. At one point a hero of the book goes to a pagan temple; its priest perform divination for him  – and it is absolutely accurate. I leave this for your consideration.

The Bone House is not a story with much speed, but it has a lot of depth. It lingers in distant times and strange places, portraying each one vividly and sometimes beautifully. The characters are also diverse, also well-rendered. They are complete and convincing, even when, like Dorian Wimpole’s scorpion, they are not wholly lovable.

Then there is the series’ great adventure – the exploration of the universe. Walking the ley-lines begins to feel, in this second novel, to be only part of it. The philosophical discursions, the breathtaking climax, the talk of lives bound together and threads woven by a master of the loom – all seem to be driving to what is both at the heart of the universe and beyond it. The Bone House is a work of spreading imagination, of breadth and intrigue – a masterpiece of speculative fiction.


Now for the links:

the author’s website, and

The Bone House on Amazon;

best of all, the links for the blog tour:

Noah Arsenault
Red Bissell

Thomas Clayton Booher

Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse

CSFF Blog Tour
Jeff Chapman
Carol Bruce Collett
Karri Compton

D. G. D. Davidson

Theresa Dunlap

April Erwin
Victor Gentile

Tori Greene
Ryan Heart

Bruce Hennigan

Timothy Hicks

Christopher Hopper

Janeen Ippolito
Becca Johnson

Jason Joyner

Julie

Carol Keen

Krystine Kercher

Marzabeth
Katie McCurdy
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Chawna Schroeder

Kathleen Smith

Rachel Star Thomson

Donna Swanson
Robert Treskillard

Steve Trower
Fred Warren

Phyllis Wheeler
Nicole White

Rachel Wyant

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Not Too Great a Good

Some Christians place little value on art. But I’m not going to complain about them. I intend, rather, to complain about Christians who place too much value on art.

I am thinking right now of Tony Woodlief and his article Bad Christian Art. I ran across this article while reading Sentimentality And Christian Fiction (an essay you should check out) on Speculative Faith (a website you should check out). Woodlief wrote:

I’m convinced that bad art derives, like bad literary theory, from bad theology. To know God falsely is to write and paint and sculpt and cook and dance Him falsely. Perhaps it’s not poor artistic skill that yields bad Christian art, in other words, but poor Christianity.

I am certain that bad art does sometimes arise from bad theology; more often it merely shows it. But to treat art as a barometer for soundness of belief is to highly overrate art. Bad Christian art = bad Christianity is a false equation; it assumes a connection between good religion and good art that does not exist.

It’s unquestionably true that knowing God falsely means writing and painting and sculpting Him falsely. If that means writing and painting and sculpting badly, we will have to denounce as bad art every movie with New Age overtones, every humanistic piece of sci-fi, every sculpture made by a pagan and every song written by an atheist.

I think we all know better than that; I think we all would acknowledge that there have been great artists who have not known God, and some who have hated Him. And that should remind us of something that, in the great debate of Good Art and Bad Art, we sometimes lose track of: Art has value in and of itself – the same passing value of a good meal and a well-made table and all other good, earthly things. We might say of art, as Augustine said of beauty, that it is a good gift of God, but in order that the good might not think it too great a good, He gives it even to the wicked.

Anything can have heavenly value, but only through being offered up to Heaven. Art is no further from heaven, and no closer to it, than anything else. They say that you can peel a potato to God’s glory if you peel it to perfection. You can also paint and write and film to God’s glory, but that is the real value – not art for art’s sake, but art for God’s sake.

What is done for God must be done well. The mistake of Christians is not in wanting to find – or create – messages in art, but in forgetting that the art as well as the message should be good. The ham-handedly preachy movie and the schmaltzy, overdone book have errors that bear correcting. It’s good that someone points it out; maybe it will help us all to do better.

But we have to hold on to this thought: It may very well be that the preachy movie and the schmaltzy book please God more than the most beautiful sculptures of Greece. Because God never judges by mere appearances; He looks deeper and makes a right judgment.

Review: Vigilante

There was World War II, and then there was the Cold War. There was Vietnam, and Desert Storm, and the war on terror.

Now there’s the war on crime. New York has fallen into the control of crime-lords, and cities throughout America are ravaged by thugs, big-time and small. The government is weak and hapless, and the people are afraid.

But The Hand is here to show them a better way. He protects innocents, stops criminals in the act, and answers 911 calls. He’s like the police, only without paperwork and any regulations besides his own code.

Vigilante, Robin Parrish’s latest book, is a unique blending of familiar flavors – a military thriller by way of a pulp hero with sci-fi gadgetry. The Hand is a masked hero, saving people from an endless line of villains and corrupt or bumbling government officials. But the hero is an ex-Special Forces soldier in a hooded sweatshirt, and the villains are criminals you could read about in the paper. Parrish does not create a new threat so much as he expands an old one until it overpowers society.

There’s a good amount of violence. It’s tastefully handled for the most part, though I could have done without at least one death. It wasn’t gratuitous, just sad.

The novel does have a Christian strain, strong but not loud. Its protagonist is a Christian, and there is a tension in that; the Bible surely turns a cold gaze on vigilantism. Still, the characters never get around to debating the morality of going vigilante. But the book does.

I realized this as I reached the end. All that went on – the undeniable successes of The Hand, the good and bad he did, the temptations he fell to – all show the danger and the draw of a vigilante.

For all the action, the drama of Vigilante finds its heart in one man struggling for a city’s soul, and then for his own. The story is well-told and interesting throughout; in some ways it is grim as Robin Parrish, with ultimate skill, faces that old and captivating figure – the Vigilante.


For the interested: Robin Parrish’s website offers more on Vigilante, as does Amazon.

Emancipating Minors, YA Style

During the recent blog tour of Monster in the Hollows, Becky Miller explored what she believed to be the book’s primary weakness: the fact that Janner, the main character, was “passive or reactive” throughout most of the story. “I believe,” she wrote, “in this climate of literature the young adult in the young adult novel needs to be the agent making things happen.”

As a rule, the hero should always be proactive. Naturally, then, many writers separate their young protagonists from their parents’ care and authority. It’s harder to make things happen when your mother is still making your bedtime happen. Remove functioning parents, and children and teenagers can act entirely on their own. Below is a list of how different writers have accomplished this; orphaning characters is only the most obvious way.

(1) Grady in The Charlatan’s Boy, by Jonathan Rogers. He has no last name, no mother or father, and he can trace his life no further back than his oldest memory: riding in the back of the charlatan’s wagon, looking at himself in a mirror.

(2) Jack in the Dragonback Series, by Timothy Zahn. After his parents died long ago, his crooked uncle took him in. Now his uncle is dead, too, and Jack is trying to make it on his own – and, ideally, go straight.

(3) Tipper in The Vanishing Sculptor, by Donita Paul. Her father is the vanishing sculptor and her mother is, well, the scatter-minded noblewoman. That makes her the responsible one.

(4) The Pevensie children in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis. Their parents sent them away during the bombing of London, so when Lucy began finding countries in cupboards, it could not be appealed to a higher court. The children made the best they could of it.

Later on, of course, they – as well as other English children – were simply pulled into a whole other world from their parents.

(5) Shasta and Aravis in The Horse and His Boy, by C. S. Lewis. Shasta ran away when he learned that his adoptive father was planning to sell him into slavery. Aravis was also a runaway, escaping an arranged marriage. They fled to Narnia and the north for freedom.

(6) Sara Cobbler in The Monster in the Hollows, by Andrew Peterson. Stolen from her parents and put to work with other kidnapped children, she became leader of an armed revolution and the heroine of the Fork Factory.

These are all sci-fi and fantasy books, mainly because the only YA novels I read are in that genre. But I wonder if speculative fiction, drawing as it does from folk stories and fairy tales, is even more likely to separate the young from their parents. We all remember the old stories, with their evil stepmothers, absent fathers, orphaned heroes …