November 28, 2021
“But when these signs begin to happen,
stand erect and raise your heads
because your redemption is at hand.”
I enjoy fantasy. Perhaps my first exposure to this literary genre was The Chronicles of Narnia series by C. S. Lewis. The books belonged to my uncle Byron, who is just two years older than me (my dad’s youngest brother), and I read the seven books in a week while I was visiting my grandmother in Cincinnati. I was about 11 years old. Each night, I would start one of the books at around 8:00 p.m. and read until I was finished, sometimes at 3, 4, or 5:00 a.m. I would sleep without an alarm and wake to my grandmother preparing a meal and plans for the day. It was a magical week filled with activity and, each night, with a world of wonder and larger-than-life symbolism, meaning, and adventure. My mind soared with musty wardrobes, a talking lion (I think I cried at Aslan’s death) among a host of other talking animals and mythical beings, and ships sailing on seas. I was engrossed in another world of possibility.
In high school, I first picked up The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant (unbeliever and wielder of white gold). Through the six books in the series, at the time (I have recently learned there are an additional four books published 21 years after the sixth book), I entered an alternate and decidedly more adult and darker world than Narnia. It caught my imagination, again, and I encountered a world that hinged on an imperfect protagonist overcoming real-world limitations to accept destiny and improbable power in an ultimate battle against evil. The necessity of purification, the ambiguity of human motivations, and the final acceptance of what we can be or become resonated as themes through this world of magic, giants, lore, and the strange power of white gold. It had such an influence on me that, years later, I would actually choose white gold as the metal for my class ring at the Air Force Academy. This series is less than a classic, but I have recently begun rereading it in preparation to read the four books I only recently knew existed.
Above my reading chair (it is also my prayer chair) in my bedroom is a framed poster for The Lord of the Rings. This series, along with The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien, has a pride of place in the Shooner family and in my own experience. My uncle Matt read the series to each of his five sons and my poster is a copy of the print that hangs in their own family room. Of this series, Tolkien wrote, “The Lord of the Rings is, of course, a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like 'religion', to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.” It is a fantasy world filled with Catholic imagery and consciousness. I was also taken by the movie adaptation and have rewatched it several times. In the movie version of The Two Towers, before the Battle of Helm’s Deep, the wizard Gandalf says, “Look to my coming on the first light of the fifth day, at dawn look to the east.” At the moment of despair and acceptance of death, though not with the resignation of defeat, Gandalf arrives with allies to win the battle.
As we begin Advent, we hope for the coming of Jesus. The cross, opposite of our expectations, brings life. The love of Christ, which conquers all things, will destroy death forever. This is not fantasy. It is the very promise of God. Jesus is coming. Dawn is rising. This Advent, look to the east!