Anyone who has read my stuff in the past knows I’m not a fan of the fantasy genre. The minute I see that any story features dwarfs gamboling in the heath, guys in pointy hats wielding black magic (be they wizards or bishops), unicorns, faeries, glow-in-the-dark rings, quibbles, certified public accountants—you know what I’m talking about—I throw the thing down in a nonbiodegradable huff. These loony yarns are always set in the Middle Ages, where there isn’t a decent coffee bar in sight, and there’s always some stupid quest. (Did no one ever just stay home and change shelf paper in 1150?)
So even though I knew author Lars Walker from his incisive comments on my and other Luther-friendly blogs, I had resisted reading his tales of Viking lore, assuming there would be men named Olaf tossing elves at talking dragons while Norse gods played Stratego with virgins and leprechauns. And frankly, the only shields I want to see is Brooke in the first season of Suddenly Susan.
Wow. From the first sentence I was hooked. An Irishman taken as a slave by vikings passes himself off as a Catholic priest in Norway amid warrior heathen—and blood-curdling wackiness ensues. It’s fun, at times funny, and always compelling storytelling. It mixes fiction with history, faith with doubt, and most important, it’s wise and subversive, conveying a gospel message not just to the worshipers of Thor and Odin but to the readers as well. The law has its limits, and human sacrifice is not merely an artifact of ancient civilizations but something still to be excavated from the ruins of every heart.
For reasons that defy reason, The Year of the Warrior is out of print—at least according to Amazon. A book that Hollywood should be snapping up to make into as big an extravaganza as Pirates of the Caribbean is available only from some guy named Dweeble shipping tattered paperbacks to nerds like me out of his parents’ basement. But start there anyway, and buy two copies, in case you lose one in a fire. Then move on to Lars’ latest, West Oversea, then backtrack to Wolf Time, a prophetic spiritual thriller set in the near future.
Before I close, here’s a Douglas Adams-esque taste of what you’re in for with The Year of the Warrior:
(The abbot who expelled “Father” Aillil from a monastery back in Ireland comes to the despondent fakir in a dream to once again deliver a good tongue-lashing.)
“You live in this prison, this shambles, this slave pen on earth and you watch the evils that fall on the innocent, and as long as it touches you not it bothers you no more than the death of a bedbug in Babylon; but let the blow fall on you or someone you care about and you shout, ‘There is no God.’ And the joke of it is that you don’t disbelieve in Him at all. You’re just trying to hurt His feelings to get His attention. As if God suffered by your disapproval.”
“He acts as if He’s not there. What am I to think?”
“Think anything you like. It matters naught to me. I only called you here to give you the message entrusted to me.”
“Entrusted? By whom?”
“By Authority at the highest level, of course. I act only in the orthodox fashion: I come in a dream, which is not, strictly speaking, me coming to you at all, but only a fantasy of your sleeping mind. The fathers of the church condemned with one voice all attempts to communicate with the dead, although Origen…”
I knew he’d go on like this for hours if I let him. “You’re saying you’re dead?” I put in.
He looked at me as if he’d forgotten my existence. “Of course I’m dead,” he said. “You mean you didn’t know? The last thing I ever saw on earth was the welcome spectacle of your back heading down the road and away from the monastery, before I fell into the apoplectic fit that killed me. You may add to your catalogue of sins the occasion of a good man’s death.”
I thought of apologizing, but decided there would be no point. “What’s this choice you speak of?” I asked.
He looked disappointed then, denied the chance to throw my “sorry” back in my teeth. “You have a choice,” he said. “You may take your martyr’s crown now … martyr’s crown, by God!—you who wouldn’t even pay the toll!—or you may go back and continue your mission.”
“Martyr’s crown. You mean—”
“Yes, the blessing of Paradise. Manna for breakfast. Water sweeter than wine to wash it down. Music by David and Asaph and all the greatest bards. Games on the grass with the Holy Innocents. Hunting with St. Sebastian, and your evening dinner cooked by St. Laurence. Then a friendly wrestling match between St. Augustine and Job, and dancing led by Mary and Martha. And with all this to do, you let it all slide just for the pleasure of gazing on the face of the Beloved.”
“Or I can go back to Jaeder and live among people who hate me, going always in fear of my life?”
“And get rained on. You mustn’t forget the rain.”