13.1.11 | By: Megan Langham

The Undiscover'd Countries

They are infuriating. They are exhilarating. They are lowly. They are noble. Humbly they wait, meekly they wait, quietly they wait to be recognized; and in that moment of recognition, friendships are born. They are, in fact, our particular pet books that nobody else in the entirety of Christendom has ever heard of—except, of course, for one or two, who have accordingly advanced to that higher level of friendship known as Kindred Spirits.

I have a fair pickings of these. I am not sure how many, since I have never counted them. Perhaps one day when I have come into possession of a gently-used monastery hung about with cobwebs and a creaky wooden table liberally decorated with dust, then I shall. But until then my books must sit sweetly and demurely on plain white shelves in my bedroom, which is only somewhat dusty. All of them but five shall sit there, that is, as I am bringing out these five seldom-before-heard-of books to show you.

1. Four Faultless Felons by G. K. Chesterton. When most people hear the name “G. K. Chesterton” they think of either The Father Brown Mysteries or Orthodoxy; a growing minority may also mention The Man Who Was Thursday. I am quite fond of all three books, but the one I look on with the most affection (currently vying for first place with Father Brown) is Four Faultless Felons. It isn’t your typical mystery. It isn’t even your typical religious mystery. What does it mean to be the exact opposite of a hypocrite? Is it wrong to place yourself in the worst possible light for the defense of another? Is it possible, as a man, to atone for someone else’s sin? These are some of the thought-provoking questions it raises. Prevalence of paradoxes and abundance of alliteration make it obviously Chestertonian, but there is still something about it that sets it apart from the rest of his works. I have read this book five times at least, and every time I discover some new aspect, some charming thread of an idea which has somehow slipped my gaze before. That, I believe, is the mark of a classic.

2. Enemy Brothers by Constance Savery. This will not come as a surprise to many of you, since I’ve been dinning the title into the ears of my long-suffering friends for, oh, three years now. On the face of it the story is simple: during the Second World War a young English boy has grown up on the Nazi side, and it is up to his estranged older brother to rescue him from darkness. But the depth of the characters and the sheer quiet emotion make it so much more than that. Dym Ingleford, the young boy’s older brother and a pilot in the R.A.F, is among the best and purest—the most Christlike—of any characters I have met, and I have read few chapters more beautiful in simplicity than his explanation of the world’s wars that symbolize the deeper conflict between heaven and hell. Suffice it to say that I thoroughly adore this book, and I shan’t even try to count up the number of times I’ve read it.

3. Watch Fires To The North by George Finkel. Now here is a novel that another—Jenny, actually—introduced me to. Even apart from her recommendation I should have read it just for the cover (which you'll just have to imagine, as I couldn't find a picture of it), and this is one of the rare instances when I would have been right to make such a shallow surface judgement. It is the story of Arthur—or rather, Artyr—told from the perspective of his friend and fellow soldier, Bedwyr. There is no magic in this story, no dragons, no stone-built Camelot. Here is Arthur stripped of all the misty legend that has grown up about him; here are his knights in Roman armor, here is his Gwenyfer without a queenship or a Lancelot. As a person who thrives on all the mystery and magic of the gloriously fantastical Arthurian story, I should not like this book as much as I do. But it has managed somehow to capture a bit of that mysterious magic and encapsulate it in the purely sensible, very probable realm of 6th century Britain—and the result is a story that is ageless, that is all the more enchanting for being pragmatically historical.

4. The Harvester by Gene Stratton-Porter. I am not a romance person. That’s not to say I am against romance—I think it can be quite lovely in its place—but I am much more likely to enjoy a plot centered around friendship or sibling relationships than boy-meets-girl. This book, however, is an exception to that general rule. Perhaps that is because the love of the Harvester for his lady is based not on fleeting feelings, not on physical attraction, but on the heartfelt cry of one soul to another. The Harvester yearns for someone to save and protect; the Girl is in desperate need of protection and saving; and from the moment of their meeting it is the Harvester’s one desire to bring the young girl from helpless misery into the light of his love. It is a strong love set against a beautiful backdrop of healing herbs and fairy flowers…a quiet and tender battle for a shivering soul.

5. Heroes and History by Rosemary Sutcliff. Begone, dull history textbooks! Fail and fade away, ye dry and dusty distorters of true stories! This understated masterpiece of Rosemary Sutcliff’s is just what a real history book ought to be. It is small and selective, focusing on only a handful of legendary heroes from Caratacus to the Marquis of Montrose, and it is like a collection of tiny pearls on a string. I first met Llywelyn ap Gruffydd here. Robert the Bruce and Owain Glyndyr I knew already, but never so well. Sutcliff has lifted these men from the hidden places of history and dusted them off with gentle hands, revealing their true value and beauty—as well as a scratchy failing or two, which no man is without.

There they are, my five undiscover’d countries! Aren’t they glorious?

Books are such charmingly maddening things.

3 missives:

Jenny said...

*shakes Megan heartily* No! no! no!

*sits down in a huff* I shan't ever be able to read all these books in time. Well, bother time! I've read one, at least, and I've had enough taste of Chesterton to know he's worth savouring, and I have to read Enemy Brothers - I did promise, didn't I, once? - and of course I want to read Stratton-Porter, and of COURSE I want to read Sutcliff's book...

Why have there got to be so many of these hidden books about the world? My life must look like a Family Circus comic, running about after them all. Well. You're all bricks and I'll never forgive you for making me tear my hair out trying to get all these books to read. :P

Here's Watch Fires:

"A book at the foot of the bed attracted her attention. She shifted round and leaned over to look at it. It was not a very pretty book; it was a hardback, with a picture that appeared to have been done in charcoal depicting three men on a rocky crag and short green turf. The man on the crag had been shot through the face with an arrow and was tumbling backward—thankfully there was no gore shown, only the pitching body—and in the foreground stood a young blond man wielding a spear against a horn-helmed individual whose face was turned from her. Gingerly turning the book over, she saw a man in a white tunic and short blue cloak just releasing the string on his bow. He was the one who must have shot the man on the crag. She recognized him from his dress as being Roman, and the man with the helmet and the man getting shot must be some kind of Viking heathen."

I know, lovely, idnit? ^.^

Megan L. said...

Ha! I feel that way every time I get into any sort of book discussion. For every amazing book I read, there are at least five more waiting for me.

(You did promise about Enemy Brothers, and I shall hold you to your promise.)

It's - it's that quote! It's Meriwen waiting for the time-between-times! I can't tell you how often I've delighted over that story; I think it must be responsible for some part of the joy I take in Watch Fires. ^.^

Jenny said...

It was such a shameless self-insert, but so much fun. I wish I had the time to keep working on it. But yes, now whenever I pick up Watch Fires, I think of that story too.

You keep wringing stories out of me. Flavius and Justin, Tabby... You'll be the literary death of me. :P

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