CSFF Blog Tour: Someone’s Got to Label

There’s been a lot of variation in how The Wolf of Tebron is classified. I’ve seen it labeled Children’s, Adult, and Youth; I’ve read reviewers say it was above children and even above teens. I’ve read that it’s good for some teens, good for young adults and up, and good for everyone.

Who is responsible for all this confusion? The publisher, first of all. If they had just told us who the book was good for – if they had printed “Adult’ or “Youth” or “Children” on the cover – we’d have repeated it. Instead, they checked “All of the above.” The book’s back cover assures us that it “will delight readers of any age”.

Obviously, they don’t want to be stuck marketing The Wolf of Tebron to one age group. Some people did agree – and say – that the book is for everyone. But the cumulative effect of the publisher giving it no label was to scatter everyone to the four winds, trying to label it themselves.

I said that the confusion is due first to the publisher. It’s due second to the book itself. If The Wolf of Tebron were made definitively for any age group – think Sesame Street or John Grisham – no one would try to sell it to all of them.

That being said, The Wolf of Tebron is plainly not for children. It has themes of marital jealousy and betrayal, of uncontrolled rage and nearly suicidal despair. Intellectually, it’s also rather heavy for children. All the quotations from Nietzsche, Lewis, and Chesterton are meant for an older crowd.

Nor does the novel bear many of the hallmarks of YA fiction. It is not a coming-of-age story, it does not feature the problems of youth, and its protagonist is not an adolescent. Joran is a young man, but he is a man, with a wife, a house, and a career. (Also, at one point, an impressive beard.) The one trait it does share with YA books is its length: only 272 pages.

The Wolf of Tebron is written above children, and it does not have the most distinguishing features of YA novels. Still, those who label it as a young adult book, and even a children’s book, have their reasons. The book is short, has a limited cast of characters, and a relatively straightforward plot. It’s sold as a fairytale – a term most commonly used for Disney movies. And it is written – and advertised – as continuing in the tradition of a children’s classic.

Finally, there is the publisher’s decision to market The Wolf of Tebron to all ages, but that brings us back to the beginning.

CSFF Blog Tour: The Wolf, the Lion, and the Messiah

Yesterday I said that there is a strong Christian aspect to The Wolf of Tebron. I wrote a little about it, but there is much more that can be said. Today I hope to say some of it.

I’m afraid that, in order to discuss certain elements of the book, I’m going to have to give away major parts of it. In other words, if you want to remain spoiler-free, abandon hope, all ye who enter here.

The wolf of Tebron is Ruyah. He’s a striking animal, even a kingly one – enormous, his silverish fur capturing and breaking “the light into hundreds of rainbow hues”. Anyone who has read the book will understand why I thought of Aslan. The similarities between wolf and lion run deep. Both reflect Christ in important ways: ageless, more than they appear, coming in a different form, guide to the hero’s journey and ultimately his savior, by a self-sacrificial death.

But the characters diverge in important ways. Aslan is not a constant character in the Narnia books; he can’t be. He’s too big for that. He would overwhelm the other characters, and even the story. His mere presence is overpowering – even to the White Witch. (“If she can stand on her two feet and look him in the face it’ll be the most she can do and more than I expect of her.”)

Ruyah does not overpower. He is constant in The Wolf of Tebron, and he has the fallibility that makes that possible. It works well in the book that Ruyah is tied up by ruffians, and driven away from the Moon’s house by his reaction to her splendor, and fallen under the mesmerizing lull of the Sun’s palace. But it’s impossible to imagine Aslan caught by anyone’s splendor or lull or desire for a valuable pelt. Perhaps the difference between Aslan and Ruyah is most concisely shown by the fact that Joran can think of Ruyah as his wolf.

All this is to illustrate what may be the most fundamental difference between them. Ruyah represents Christlike qualities in the tale; Aslan represents Christ.in Narnia. Ruyah cannot be Christ in Tebron. He isn’t big enough. Nor could Christ appear in any world as being made pure, or as having a physical wife and son, or as being on par with the forces He battles.

The South Wind is a similar case. “She searches into all things and wanders where she wishes, but you do not know where she comes from and where she is going.” 1 Cor. 2:10 states that “the Spirit searches all things.” And Jesus told Nicodemus, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

The use of verses about the Holy Spirit is not coincidental. The South Wind searches Joran’s heart and teaches him the truth. Jesus called the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of truth”. The Nicene Creed teaches that He “has spoken through the prophets”, because we find in the Bible that the Holy Spirit reveals the truth and testifies to the truth.

In The Wolf of Tebron, the South Wind does the same. But as Ruyah is not Christ in Tebron, the South Wind is not the Holy Spirit in Tebron. Jesus, and the Spirit, are God, and Ruyah and the South Wind do not reflect “His eternal power and divine nature”.

So what do they reflect – certain attributes of Jesus and the Holy Spirit? You could say that. It might be even better to say that in this tale, Ruyah represents the work of Christ in saving, and the South Wind represents the work of the Holy Spirit in searching out and revealing the truth.

CSFF Blog Tour: The Wolf of Tebron

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

How far would you go to save your wife? Would you make good on the old lovers’ promise to go to the ends of the earth? Would you go to the most extreme north, to the house of the Moon? Would you go to the most extreme east, to the palace of the Sun? Would you travel the hot, wet forests of the south, or journey to the unimaginable sea? Would you enter your own dreams?

Most men would have to make a good guess, but Joran – lucky fellow – gets to know for sure. He will discover how far he is willing to go – how far he can go. For his extraordinary journey he has an extraordinary companion: the wolf of Tebron. The wolf is a fearsome and magnificent beast, with an endless supply of wise sayings and apparently nothing to do on the weekends.

The Wolf of Tebron is fantasy, and its world is “wild as an old wives’ tale”. It’s not merely that there’s magic; it’s that everyone knows there is. It isn’t only that people can mindspeak with animals; it’s that mindspeaking is simply a fact of life. The sea is a legend in Tebron, but Joran can believe it exists – almost as easily as he believes that the Moon has a house.

The forest of Tebron is formed by “tall trees with their tops in the heavens, and trunks so thick it would take ten men to circle one of them.” In this one stroke C. S. Lakin makes fairytale live in her story. It brings you, in a sudden rush, to Europe when its forests were huge and alien to the humans who lived alongside them. In folk tales the woods are their own domain – primeval, mysterious, filled with the secret homes of unguessable things.

This element of fantasy is the strongest part of the book. Even the vividness of the characters and the suspense of the plot are fed on it. Joran, as a character, is competent enough, but he doesn’t intrigue like his wise wolf, like the Moon – even the goose woman. You feel pretty sure, reading the novel, that Joran is going to find his wife eventually. You’re not so sure what’s going to happen when he reaches the house of the Moon. The two most compelling sequences of the book had our heroes contending against forces that were more than natural.

I said before that The Wolf of Tebron is its own world. There is no Christianity, no Judaism, no recognizable stand-in for either one. If the humans of Tebron have any regular practice of religion, I didn’t see it. Yet the book has a strong dose of Christian spirituality. At one point wolf and human discuss the “perfect law of freedom” – a phrase taken from James 1:25: “But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this …” Most fantasy novels, when they venture into the pronvinces of Scripture, settle in the Gospels. The Wolf of Tebron, with its allusions to the moral law, Original Sin, and “spiritual forces of evil”, wanders into the Epistles.

The Wolf of Tebron is a quest story, and it has much of the simplicity of the old fairytales. Also like the old fairytales, it has the wonder of a world outside Man’s, with laws that no scientist ever discovered. The spirit of wonder is well-matched by the book’s lyrical prose. If talking animals, anthropomorphic moons, and mysterious dreams ever tugged at your imagination, this book is for you.

The blog tour runs for three days. I am planning to post twice more – tomorrow on the spiritual aspect of The Wolf of Tebron, the day after on its designation as a YA novel. Much more can be learned about the book from:

– the author’s website

– the author’s blog

– the book’s Amazon page

– the other CSFF blog tour reviewers:

Noah Arsenault
Amy Bissell
Red Bissell
Justin Boyer
Keanan Brand
Grace Bridges
Beckie Burnham
Jeff Chapman
Christian Fiction Book Reviews
Carol Bruce Collett
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
April Erwin
Andrea Graham
Nikole Hahn
Katie Hart
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Becca Johnson
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Dawn King
Matt Mikalatos
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
John W. Otte
Chawna Schroeder
Tammy Shelnut
Kathleen Smith
James Somers
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler