Books

A Blast to the Past! Battlefield Earth

A Blast to the past! Spoiler-Free Book Review:

Battlefield Earth: a saga of the year 3000

by L. Ron Hubbard

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

A quick summary:

Our hero, Jonnie Goodboy Tyler is sure there is something wrong in his village. The people aren’t populating, and when they do happen to have babies, they are born deformed. He doesn’t believe in the monsters the villagers claim are out there. He decides to go find another place for them to live. While he’s at it, he thinks he will also search for one of the ancient cities he has heard exists.

In the meantime, one of the inhabiting aliens, a Psychlo named Terl, has discovered a vein of gold that is inaccessible to the Psychlos. But, if he had some humans, he could train them, get that gold, and be very rich. He goes hunting in the ancient man city.

It is there that Terl captures Jonnie. And it is there where Jonnie realizes his people were right… The monsters do exist!

Really cool stuff about the author and this book!!

  • L Ron Hubbard started writing Science Fiction around 1938 – at the dawn of the “Golden Age of Science Fiction.”
    • After writing for 50 years, he decided that he wanted to write a “PURE”  Science Fiction noveL.
    • Battlefield Earth is his attempt at writing that pure Sci Fi novel.
    • Battlefield Earth is the only book he ever wrote just “to amuse himself.”  (xxi)  It is one of the best-selling Sci Fi books of all times.

The setup of the book

Battlefield Earth was written in the early 1980s. As it was published, in 1982, it is 1050 pages. It’s a wonderfully satisfying read with only a few cons. That being said, some readers – but definitely not this one! – might find that length to be daunting. Had it been written/published today, I believe that it would have been set out as a trilogy. The following chart is how I could see it divided.

1st Third – The beginning of the adventure. Our introduction to the hero and the villain. Most of the action takes
place in the Psychlo compound. It is fast paced, full of action, and introduces the reader to things of the
past and things of possibility, ie: Sci Fi.
2nd Third – In this part, the action begins with our hero in the African Rainforest. Most of the story happens here,
but the final part of this section ends in Scotland and the dubbing of a Knight. It is slower paced, very
likely a technique the author used to demonstrate how difficult it was for Jonnie and his gang to
progress through the rain forest. Its feel is more serious and heavy than the first third of the novel.
Last Third – This final part of the book focuses on Earth’s outer atmosphere and begins with the planet under
surveillance. It is action packed, not as fast paced as the first third, and because it is a little slower, it fills
the reader that sense of urgency our hero must feel. This section contains many funny moments – I
know that this reader laughed aloud a number of times.

L Ron Hubbard’s thoughts on Science Fiction:

  • The science/inventions in a story occurs before  a scientific discovery, development, or invention exists.
  • The fiction part of Sci Fi is the actual tale being told; however, the science part is only partly fictional – ie:  to be credible, some degree of plausibility has to exist.
  • Science Fiction can be used to tell any type of story except Fantasy. 
    • Fantasy is its own genre and is different from Sci Fi.
    •  A Sci Fi story could be enclosed in a story of adventure, economics, air war, detective, spy, medicine, love, sociology – and that’s precisely what he tried to make Battlefield include  … ALL OF THOSE types of stories. …

It is not prophecy … It is the dream that precedes the dawn when the inventor or scientist awakens and goes to his books or his lab saying ‘I wonder whether I could make that dream come true in the world of real science.’ ”   

L Ron Hubbard p xvi

… Did he succeed?

Using the L Ron’s previous list of stories that could support Science Fiction, I will now touch on each alphabetically:

  • Adventure:  Absolutely!  This book is full of action.  The action did slow down a little in the 2nd 1/3 of the book when the good guy, main character,  Jonnie Goodboy Tyler was traipsing the rainforest of Africa at an extremely slow pace. Mostly though, the story had me turning the pages quickly.   What I do want to say, however, is that moving through the rainforest is a laborious job with the thick jungle plants, the wetness, and the need to be alert to one’s surroundings.  The fact that this section seemed to slow down to a point that I had to re-read some paragraphs and pages to re-determine what was happening, makes it feel like this was an intentional device he used so the reader could feel Jonnie’s frustration – because, if you didn’t realize already, the progress through the rain forest was so slow.
  • Air War:     YEP… many types of aircrafts and flying machines were used throughout the entire story from beginning to end.  They included aircraft that was real from the “past”  such as Russian MIGs to aircrafts that were inventions of the author.
  • Detective/Spy:   another YEP.   …
    • The bad guy – TERL, the Psycho’s Security Agent on planet Earth used the skills a detective uses to manipulate people/Psychlos, such as using/paying informants and using hidden cameras.   He also used blackmail, lies, and torture both mental and physical.  
    • The difference in the two’s useage of many of the same techniques was that one used some deception in order to blackmail others into cooperating so that evil/bad could happen and the other used deception in order to protect the greater good.  …
    • The good guy – Jonnie Goodboy Tyler, used many detective skills also.  His goal was to figure out what Terl was up to, so he could get to other members of the planet in order to get them organized so humankind could fight against the Psychlo regime.  … Jonnie used informants and hidden cameras.  He also used listening devices and cloak and dagger strategies to con Terl into thinking one thing was happening when it wasn’t.  
  • Economics:  Although there are some  mentions of Intergalactic credits and the value of ores and gold in the first 2/3 of the book, it is the last third of the book deals much with economics… from minting new money to deflation and setting up values for money. 
    • The earth bankers McAdam and Baron von Roth play a huge role along with Dries Gloton, of the Selachee Alien race , who is the Branch Manager of the Galactic Bank and Lord Voraz, the Central Director, CEO and overlord of the Galactic Bank who is also a Selachee.  
    • Together, they bring about an interesting twist in the way the battle for earth plays out in the end.
      • I would also like to touch on Mathematics at this time. 
        • Although this was not a “type” of book L Ron Hubbard said he wanted to write to show that it could be written as Science Fiction, he did include some interesting mathematical issues/concepts/concerns for the readers. 
        • The primary math concern was the use of Psychlo math, which is based on 11  (called the undenary system  as opposed to our decimal system which is based on 10)   …
        • Without spoiling the story and the mathematical moment of discovery for the reader, as well as an interesting complementary concept, I will just say that Jonnie needs to discover how to work Psychlo math in order to learn how to rig motors for Psychlo vehicles as well as for transshipment rigs. 
  •  Love:  L Ron Hubbard did have love running throughout this book, but I felt that the better example of love was of Jonnie to the planet and the people as a whole rather than as a love story.
    • The reader knows that Jonnie loves Chrissie, but his thoughts about her weren’t of the romantic type.  The author didn’t even mention if/when the two ever got married – though we assume they did by things stated in the latter end of the book
    • The regard for women in general as well as a woman’s viewpoint was lacking.  Did it hurt the story?  Not really.  However, I don’t think that L Ron Hubbard met this goal of writing a love story that  was Sci Fi very well.
  • Medicine:  Psychlo medicine was a theme in the last third of the book … It was interesting to discover how Jonnie and gang tried to figure out how to see inside a Psychlo as well as hear the earth doctor, MacKendrick, get excited over exploring their anatomy.
  • Sociology:   Well, this book is full of the exploration of other cultures… L Ron Hubbard definitely met his goal with this department. 

Sociology of the Aliens of Battlefield Earth

RACEPlanet/System of Origin
if given
Physical Description
if given
Sociology
if given
Balfan
blue colored, can breathe Psychlo breathe-gasare slaves on the planet Psychlo
BoxnardUniverse Sixsupposedly stole or invented teleportation, Psychlos destroyed them by the time of the story.
Boldodbigger than Psychlos, shapeless bodies, “hands” always in fistsStrong, considered stupid by the other races
Chatavorian5 feet all, flat heads, buck teeth, orange tan color, webbed handsfast nimble workers, best defense builders, work with stone, architects, eat wood.
ChinkoGalaxy Twoas tall as Psychlos, but “thread thin and delicate,” air breathers, old race, cheap, knew the cultural arts, were the recorders of information, wiped out by the Psychlos by the time of the story.
HawvinDuraleb Systemoval head, ear antennae, long noseless face, no teeth but are blade-gummed
HocknerDuraleb SystemNo nosesRumored that Psychlos defeated & wiped them out a couple hundred years ago.
Jambitchowgold scales, eyes where the mouth would be expected to be.
SelacheeSelachee Systemsmall grey people, rough grey skin, dull gray-blue eyes like the sea, heavy eyelids, round hairless heads, upturned noses, gills for ears, 4 fingers & thumb on each handBankers of the universes, can eat anything – and lots of it!
Tolnep1/2 the size of a Psychlo, body density like iron, fangs, bad eyesight: see in infrared only.Pirates & Slave Traders, deadly poison in fangs which takes 6 days to regenerate after biting, immune to Psychlo breath gas, enjoy interrogating, blind when subjected to short wavelength light, can only be killed with ultraviolet weapons, have mastered time control & can hold it frozen.

But what’s a Psychlo?

Psychlo Sociology
Physical Description: height: 8-9 feet tall width: about 3 1/2 feet wide weight: about 1000 pounds
* Body is covered in hair.
* Have eye bones – not eyelids, brow bones, and lip bones.
* Have amber colored eyes.
* Have 6 digits on one hand, 5 digits on the other, (hence the use of the undery – base 11 – system of mathematics) * Have talons at the end of the digits on their hands.
* Their brain is located low and in the back of their head.
* Life span of about 190 years.
* When they get old, their hair turns blue.
* When they die, they do not suffer from rigor mortis.
* Cannot breathe air. They breathe what they themselves term as “breath gas.”
* Uranium is deadly to their breathe gas – even a few bits of its dust would explode the breathe gas.
* They have green blood
* Are composed of viral strands – they have viral metabolism, not cellular like humans. This makes their body
denser than humans.
* Cannot eat cows/horses/ or animals with that kind of metabolism
* Along with whatever food they do eat, they chew or drink a substance called Kerbango which affects them like
alcohol consumption does to a human.
* The female births a litter of babies, usually 3 or 4 at a time.


Other information
* They are from the planet Psychlo
* They are sadistic, vicious, and enjoy being cruel, though there is no word for cruelty in the Psychlo Language.
* The Psychlo Language is actually a conglomerate from many other languages around the universes.
* They have a monopoly on Transhipment consoles and on the motors of many vehicles. They refuse to share their
technology for making them with others – so much so that if someone tries to take apart and examine any of the
aforementioned items, the console/motor is rendered incapacitated.
* Although their math is based on the number 11, it is not logical. Other races have tried for years to understand
how it works. None have been successful. If a Psychlo is asked about their math, the Psychlo goes into a coma
called ‘lapsin.’ It is illegal to cure lapsin, and the Psychlo suffering from it dies or is euthanized.
* Psychlo females are not taught math.
* The Psychlos have wiped out many races.

Man is an endangered species.”

Terl p 1.

The Villain: Terl

  • Terl is the epitome of a Psychlo as listed above.
  • He is on a 10-year tour of duty to earth
  • He is greedy, cruel, always looking for “leverage” so he can manipulate others.
  • He is the Psychlo Chief of Minesite Security for the Inter Galactic Mining Company to Planet Earth.
  • He is obsessed with getting off the planet and going back to Psychlo as a rich Psychlo.
  • He calls humans “animals.”
  • He is rather insane – and gets more mad as the book progresses.
  • He has a weapon which will totally destroy a planet. He plans to use this weapon on Earth when he leaves so all his devious deeds are not discovered.
  • He never calls Jonnie by name.
  • He is an all round BAD GUY!

The Hero: Jonnie Goodboy Tyler

  • 6 feet tall, 20 years old, bronzed skin, yellow corn-colored hair and beard, ice blue eyes.
  • Jonnie lives in a place called High Peak … what was Colorado in the years of the 2000s.
    • Jonnie is sure there is something wrong with the place where his people live;  The animals above and below his village mate, but the people don’t.
    • Not only are the people not populating, but when they do have babies, many are born deformed. 
    • Deformed babies are tossed out as the people are afraid of monsters, though Jonnie muses that he has never seen a monster.
    • When Jonnie’s dad died, his dad’s bones were crumbling away.  Jonnie insisted on having a proper burial.
  • Jonnie rides an extremely well-trained horse named Windsplitter.
  • He uses pointed rocks b/c there are no knives
  • He uses a kill club – there are no rifles.
    • He has slain a puma and wears its pelt.
    • Even after he learns to use modern weapons, Jonnie still keeps his kill club handy.
  • Has a girlfriend named Chrissie
    • Chrissie is 18
    • She has a sister age 7 named Pattie
  • Jonnie is intelligent.
  • He is patient.
  • He is charismatic, a true leader.

You can’t go very wrong putting your chips on Jonnie.”

Baron von Roth p 976

So … What about the story? Pros & Cons …

I love this book! This is about the 4th time I have read it over the past 20 years. That being said, I do have a couple of cons which is what makes this only a 9 out of 10 for me. (I used Paige’s rating scheme so that you would have consistency here on the blog.)

  • PROS
    • It’s 1050 pages. I love that I am able to visit these characters and their lives from the start of the story to the finish.
    • Most of the characters are extremely well developed. The good guy is one we love from the moment of the start of the book, and the bad guy is one we love to hate.
    • Although the ending is a little cheesy, the story is wrapped up in the end.
    • I loved the little hints, clues, and cues given throughout the book that were like puzzles that we could guess towards as we were reading. Especially fun were the little descriptions of items Jonnie didn’t understand which are daily items of our time.
    • I also loved the juxtaposition of the things that were from the year 3000.
    • I liked that we are introduced to some of the Psychlos who we like and that even though they are a cruel people, we find some who don’t fit the mold.
  • CONS
    • It’s 1050 pages. Although this is one of the pros for me, I can see that for a not so avid reader, this would be a daunting undertaking.
    • Above, I said that most of the characters are well developed. One of the things that niggles at me is that Chrissie and Pattie are pretty much cardboard popups when they appear. We could give a list of many of the characteristics about many of the other characters, even ones who don’t stay in the story very long, these two remain pretty much unknown to us.
    • The ending is cheesy. It works. The story is wrapped up in the end, but I would have been more satisfied without it being a ‘legend’ type ending. All the way through the book Jonnie is real to me and in the end I feel like now L Ron Hubbard doesn’t really have a satisfactory way to finish Jonnie’s story so he ends it abruptly. (To be fair, maybe he was just finished and didn’t want to explore any more.)
    • Without spoiling some of the specific things that happen, I wonder why the author didn’t explore cloning. The process was being explored by the time he wrote this book and just 2 years later Dolly the sheep was ‘born’ out of that process. With this thought and the cheesy ending being fleshed out, so to say, we could have had a 4th part of the book and another 250 more pages to read!!

The version of the Book I used was Battlefield Earth: A saga of the year 3000 by L Ron Hubbard (c) 1982 Published by Bridge Publications Inc.

Here is an excellent, thorough, and fairly spoiler-free website I found. https://galaxypress.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Meet-the-Characters-of-Battlefield-Earth.pdf

Books

Study Guide: The Sound and The Fury by William Faulkner

Cover of The Sound and The Fury

Study Guide:

The Sound and The Fury by William Faulkner

Trigger warning: Suicide

Intro

This article was co-written by P. A. Wilson and Ashley Ostrowski.

We read The Sound and The Fury in the class 20th Century American Novel at Grove City College (GCC). Dr. Messer taught the class, and we would wholeheartedly recommend taking that course for anyone attending GCC.

Background

The Sound and the Fury was published in 1929 by William Faulkner. The action is centered around a single family in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County where most of Faulkner’s writings are set. Originally, Faulkner wanted to use several colors of ink to make the chronological shifts in the novel less confusing, but it was not at that time possible to publish a book that way. Faulkner described his book as “a real son-of-a-bitch…the greatest I’ll ever write”. Most college students would agree with at least the first part of that assessment.

Q&A

What makes this novel so difficult to read?

The reason that this novel has a reputation of being hard to understand is partially due to the beginning. The story begins from the point of view of Benjy, a character with a severe intellectual disability.

I ran into the box. But when I climbed onto it, it jumped away and hit me on the back of the head and my throat made a sound”

Benjy

Benjy has no notion of time, so the story continually shifts from past to present without much warning. If he hears or sees anything that reminds him of past events, his thoughts will launch back into the past.

One way to figure out the time period of each part of Benjy’s section is to pay attention to who his caretaker is. If it is Versh, Benjy is in his early childhood. When you see the name T. P., Benjy is in his middle teens. Luster cares for Benjy at age 33.

Quentin’s section is almost the opposite of Benjy’s, as he’s methodical and logical. The section is almost scholarly and academic. That makes it almost as hard to read as Benjy’s.

Jason’s and Dilsey’s sections are easier to read.

What is unique about Faulkner’s style?

  • Changes from present to past memory are indicated by italics
  • His questions aren’t ended with question marks
  • Faulkner doesn’t always use:
    • Complete sentences
    • Quotation marks
    • Apostrophes in contractions

What is the difference between the various perspectives and levels of awareness for the characters?

Benjy is the least aware. His understanding of things is almost entirely viewed through basic sensory perception. He doesn’t reflect on his actions and the actions of others. Sometimes one of his senses will remind him of the past, for example, when Luster tells Benjy to crawl, Benjy is reminded of a time with Caddy.

“Wait a minute.” Luster said. “You snagged on that nail again. Cant you never crawl through her without snagging on that nail.”

Caddy uncaught me and we crawled through. Uncle Maury said to not let anybody see us, so we better stoop over, Caddy said. Stoop over, Benjy. Like this, see.

Benjy’s section

Who is the most unpleasant character?

It’s a toss-up between Mrs. Compson and Jason. We agreed that Mrs. Compson is one of the worst mothers in literature. For example, she wears mourning black after she finds out that Caddy was kissed by a guy. She is a hypochondriac, which is not her fault, but she is also melodramatic and always feeling sorry for herself.

Nobody knows how I dread Christmas. Nobody knows. I am not one of those women who can stand things. I wish for Jason’s and the children’s sakes I was stronger.”

Mrs. Compson

Mrs. Compson doesn’t act like a mother to her children and gets angry when Caddy tries to play surrogate mother to Benjy. She is unpleasant because she is always complaining and often passive-aggressive.

I know I’m nothing but a burden to you…But I’ll be gone soon. Then you will be rid of my bothering.”

Mrs. Compson

Jason is the other unpleasant character whose perspective we are forced to endure for a fourth of the book. He is sadistic, racist, sexist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic. One time he cuts up Benjy’s dolls, and another time he leaves the gate open so that Benjy escapes and gets into trouble. He treats the girl Quentin (Caddy’s daughter who is named after her deceased brother Quentin) like trash and steals the money that Caddy is sending for her. He is constantly bitter that he was supposed to get a job at a bank through Caddie’s fiancé, but when the arrangement fell through he did not get it.

From the first line he speaks, Jason is a discordant nuisance in this book:

Once a bitch always a bitch, what I say.”

Jason

He is evidently sexist, as the quote below makes apparent:

Yet they [women] try to make men believe that they’re capable of conducting a business.”

Jason

How does Faulkner utilize biblical imagery?

Caddy was forbidden to climb a certain tree by her father. When she disobeys him, a snake slithers out from under the house. This parallels the acts of Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis of the Old Testament.

Versh: Your paw told you to stay out that tree.

Caddy: That was a long time ago.

What is the significance of Caddy’s muddy drawers?

Our teacher made the distinction between earthy and dirty. Earthy is a word with healthy, natural connotations, while dirty has the implication of corruption. Earthy is a word that makes more sense to associate with Caddy. Her drawers got muddy from her playing outside. Caddy is not corrupted; she is a healthy young girl.

“Just look at you…It done soaked clean through onto you.”

Dilsey

How does the theme of parenthood affect this novel?

if I’d just had a mother so I could say Mother Mother.”

Quentin

Mrs. Compson fails to be an adequate mother figure because of her supposed illness and her irritating personality. She is aggravated when Caddy tries to play mother to Benjy, but Mrs. Compson does not act like a mother toward him. Quentin laments that he does not have a close mother figure who he can rely on as well.

Mr. Compson is an alcoholic and nihilist who can not sate his children’s emotional needs because he is so hopeless himself.

Does Faulkner accurately portray mental illness?

We’re not psychologists, so we can’t say for sure whether or not Faulkner portrayed Benjy’s character with accuracy. We also don’t know the name of the mental illness that Benjy has and other people don’t seem to either, except that it is generally regarded as an intellectual disability. We don’t know these things, but we do know that Faulkner portrayed Benjy’s character with a great deal of sympathy and care.

Did Quentin commit incest?

When we took courses in college, our teachers did not believe that Quentin committed or should have committed incest. Quentin tells his father that he and Caddy did it but his father doesn’t believe him. His father does not follow the Southern code of sexual morality that Quentin wants to hold onto. Quentin is appalled by his father’s disregard for morality and he wants to cross a line to make his father care. One of our teachers believed that Quentin wanted to admit to committing a sin so grave that he would be cast out of the family. Even if we think that Quentin may have done something like this, there isn’t evidence that Caddy would have agreed.

Why is Quentin so obsessed with clocks and time?

Quentin is obsessed with the chivalric past, which he sees through rose-tinted glasses. He recognizes the past as a better time for the Compson family. As a result, Quentin abhors change, but he is more disturbed by mechanical time, a human construction based off of the concept that time is measurable, and made necessary by the human desire to control and rationalize the abstract.

Near the beginning of his narrative section, Quentin suddenly breaks his watch by smashing the glass and ripping off the hands; afterwards, he is aggravated by its continual ticking which is unhindered by the loss of its hands. Time is not something physical or personal that he can suspend or defeat through force, it is above and beyond his control. The watch by its existence suggests that humans are able to in some way control time by quantifying it. Quentin demonstrates that mindset by his attempt to destroy the watch, aware that anything man-made can usually be destroyed by man, but forgetting that the mechanical watch is not synonymous with time itself. He finds that the passage of time is inevitable even if he cannot see a clock, or if none of the clocks in the shop he visits are set with precision, but continues in his delusion. “I was in time again, hearing the watch” Quentin muses. Eventually he fully recognizes that mechanical time is not the same as natural time, and attempts to remove himself from both through suicide.

Why was Quentin’s suicide not depicted in the novel?

We’re not sure, but we have some theories.

  1. Quentin is already suicidal, so showing him do it wouldn’t add anything to the story.
  2. Faulkner may have wanted to be careful about the issue. People are often very careful about how they depict suicide now and there are often trigger warnings and such when it is depicted.
  3. It may have been an artistic choice on Faulkner’s part to let us find out about Quentin’s suicide through secondary characters. Part of the nuance of The Sound and the Fury is the portrayal of wildly different perspectives and characters.

Why was Benjy renamed?

Benjy was originally named Maury after his Uncle Maury but after his parents found out that he had an intellectual disability, they renamed him Benjy.

Why was Benjy castrated?

Jason left the gate open and Benjy got loose and chased some girls. His parents thought he was going to rape them, so they castrated him.

Why was Benjy’s pasture sold?

We will swap Benjy’s pasture for a fine, dead sound.”

Quentin

Benjy’s pasture was sold to get money so that Quentin could go to Harvard to restore the family name.

Why was Benjy acting up at the golf course?

The golfers kept yelling “caddie” and it’s important because Mrs. Compson wouldn’t let anyone say Caddy’s name after Caddy left her daughter behind. She didn’t want young Quentin (Caddy’s daughter) to learn about her mother.

How does this novel handle race?

The text does use the n-word occasionally, unfortunately. The last section in the book focuses on Dilsey, the African-American servant of the Compson household. She is portrayed as the most morally grounded and admirable character in the entire book.

Conclusion

We hope you enjoyed this study guide. We may be making more in the future! If you have any feedback or questions, leave a comment. What did you think about The Sound and the Fury?

Suicide Hotline: 800-273-8255

If you are having suicidal thoughts, please seek help from a professional.

Books

A Rival for The Lord of the Rings

Spoiler-Free Book Review:

The Stormlight Archive: The Way of Kings

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Intro

This is the best book I have ever read. Period. My dad suggested it for me and I could barely put it down, especially near the ending. I was visibly smiling at parts, laughing, and on the edge of my seat repeatedly. In my opinion, it blows The Lord of the Rings out of the water. Read on to find out why this is my new favorite book!

Background

Brandon Sanderson is the author of various books for adults and younger audiences alike. Some of his more famous works include the Mistborn Trilogy and Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians, as well as the rest of the Stormlight Archive. He typically writes high fantasy with fantastic worldbuilding.

Summary

In the world of Roshar, three promising characters struggle against their pasts and continued threats while going on journeys of self-discovery. Kaladin, a mysterious slave with a tragic past. Shallan, an artistic young woman who seeks to become the ward of a famous scholar. And Dalinar, an older man who is trying desperately to unite the Alethi highprinces and create a stronger kingdom of Alethkar.

Pros

  • Multiple intriguing points of view
  • Gripping character backstories
  • Different lifeforms than in any other series
  • Unique magic system
  • Richly developed cultures
  • Objects unique to the realm of this book
  • So many quotable moments
  • So much research put into this
  • Illustrations and other worldbuilding snippets between sections of the book
  • Quotes that introduce chapters are interesting and relevant
  • Phenomenal ending with twists

Cons

  • I honestly cannot think of a con. Sure, it’s very long, but without that length I doubt the worldbuilding would be nearly as impressive.

Observations

  • The length of the book is 1200+ pages, but every bit is important to the narrative as a whole.

Review

Characters

Kaladin is introduced as a slave with a history of troublemaking and a host of enviable skills. The book delves deeply into his backstory in particular, speaking of his numerous losses and continued failures. If there is a character who is focused on the most in the book, I would say it is Kaladin.

Shallan is another point-of-view character, trying to become a ward of Jasnah Kholin, who is a high-ranking scholar. Shallan’s primary concern is saving her homeland, which has fallen into disarray since her father’s death. One of her most interesting skills is affixing an image in her memory and being able to draw a replica of it later on. She also draws from sight with remarkable skill.

When she drew, she didn’t feel as if she worked on charcoal and paper. In drawing a portrait, her medium was the soul itself.”

Dalinar is the third significant viewpoint character, an older man whose visions during highstorms worry him about the state of Alethkar. He has two sons, Adolin and Renarin, who are each very interesting in their own ways. Adolin goes through relationships with all the eligible young women of high enough rank quickly. Renarin struggles with physical weakness that prevents him from engaging in battle.

Lifeforms

This novel has lifeforms different than in any book I’ve read. From thunderclasts to chasmfiends to skyeels, Brandon Sanderson has a high capacity for creativity. My favorites, however, are the spren and the chulls.

Spren appear when something changes–when fear appears, or when it begins to rain. They are the heart of change, and therefore the heart of all things”

Hesina

There are musicspren, fearspren, painspren, windspren, and hungerspren, among dozens of others. Some are large and monstrous, others are like wisps, and some can even shift their form.

Chulls are kind of like large hermit crabs with rock-like shells that are used as herd animals and to pull cargo. See an illustration of one on Fandom here.

Magic System

The magic system is dependant on Stormlight. Stormlight from highstorms infuses many everyday items, the currency, and gems. That energy can then be used to perform lashings–attaching things to each other or moving objects, standing on walls, etc. Very few people are capable of these feats.

Culture

The first notable cultural difference is that men are expected to handle fighting, commerce, and creating glyphs. Yet women are the ones who are able to read and write and it is considered wrong for men to engage in these activities. There are also foods considered to be men’s food vs. women’s food.

In Alethi culture, people with light eyes are considered higher-ranking citizens than those with dark eyes.

There is also the Vorin tradition of having a safe hand, a woman covering one’s left hand with a long sleeve or glove. Uncovering one’s safehand is considered as scandalous in their society as very low cleavage. The society is medieval so there are a lot of restrictions for women and men.

According to Shin culture, one should not tread on stone and mining is an abomination. To them, a dying request is sacred. Farmers are celebrated with lavish clothes and acclaimed for their hard work. The Shin have childlike features. One of the characters in this book is a Shin assassin.

At the end of the book a kelek poem is displayed, which must be the same backwards and forwards (excepting verb forms).

Objects

Shardblades are the most interesting weapons in the Stormlight Archive. It is said that “a shardblade did not cut living flesh; it severed the soul itself.” Slicing through someone’s skin would cause no flesh damage, but would lead to numbness in the area swung through. Slicing through someone’s neck would lead to death and eyes being burnt out.

Soulcasters are objects used to turn substances into different substances. For instance, rock to smoke, or human flesh to flames. It is even possible to soulcast food, but it usually ends up being pretty bland.

Spanweed is an instrument that allows long distance communication through writing.

Quotes

But expectations were like fine pottery. The harder you held them, the more likely they were to crack.”

Shallan’s point of view

Well, I myself find that respect is like manure. Use it where needed, and growth will flourish. Spread it on too thick, and things just start to smell.”

Kabsal

The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.”

Wit

Research

After 10 years of research and writing, Brandon Sanderson produced The Way of Kings. There are many aspects of the story that are realistic and well-thought-out. The medical and surgical knowledge Sanderson included in his book added to the effectiveness of the story. Even though it’s a work of fiction, I felt that I learned more about how wounds were treated after battles.

There were other thoughtful aspects such as how a soldier was told to urinate before battle so during the battle he would not be distracted. He was supposed to do that well ahead of time because armor is hard to get off and back on. Another instance of realism is that the brand that Kaladin has is scabby and needs to heal.

Extras

The illustrations between sections of the book are beautiful and contribute to the illusion of realism that Sanderson creates. Illustrations can be seen at his website, here. The quotes at the beginning of each chapter are mostly made up of the dying words of random people. The reason for these quotes is revealed at the end, and they turn out to be extremely relevant.

Conclusion

If you like fantasy, read this book. I have a feeling this book will become a classic for the fantasy genre. Recommended for ages 13 at least and up, but may be better for an older audience due to length.

Rating System

If you are interested in how I rate books, check out my rating system.

Links

Books

My Favorite Book in 2021: Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis

Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold: Lewis, C. S.: 9780062565419: Amazon.com:  Books

Spoiler-Free Book Review:

Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold by C. S. Lewis

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Intro

In my book reviews, I consider the literary merit of the book by examining aspects such as character development, world-building, illustrations, and storytelling.

Just as a precaution before you delve in–my opinion and preferences have an impact on the rating. When it comes to judging literature, it is impossible not to let personal biases interfere.

I will, however, honestly evaluate the aspects of the book to the best of my ability so my review can help you determine if it sounds like it’s the book for you.

If you disagree with my evaluation for any reason, feel free to leave a comment.

Background

C. S. Lewis is a Christian writer and theologian. He has been extremely influential to Christians of all denominations and has written over 30 books.

Till We Have Faces was written in 1956 and was the last of Lewis’ fiction. Although it was unpopular at first, Lewis said it was his favorite of his fictional works. Lewis felt that all myth had some rudimentary truth to it, a certain value that people could receive from it. His book, Till We Have Faces, is a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche.

Pros

  • Creative and unique character name choice
  • Tough and relatable protagonist with a strong voice
  • Benefits from the structure of the Psyche and Cupid myth with an unexpected point of view
  • Engaging storytelling style
  • Clever descriptive language
  • Tone like all those fairy tales and myths I used to be so pumped up about
  • Yet defies common fairy tale expectation
  • Setting has own culture and mythology
  • Demonstrates how even positively-viewed emotions such as love can be twisted and abusive
  • Considers our relationship with fiction and why stories are important
  • The name of the book holds powerful meaning

Cons

  • I cannot think of any cons. Obviously this book isn’t for everyone–but really, what book is?

Review

Character Names

The names of the characters are creative and unique, such as Orual, Redival, Barda, Undit, and Batta.

Protagonist

The point of view character is Orual, the sister of Psyche. While in the myth of Cupid and Psyche the sister has a very minimal and cruel part, in this story she is humanized.

Orual has a strong voice with daring opinions. She rails against the gods themselves and is the sort of person to take her life in her own hands. She claims to be objective, but it is clear she is swayed by her emotions at times.

The story starts with her as an old woman looking back on her life. These are her first few lines:

I am old now and have not much to fear from the anger of the gods. I have no husband nor child, nor hardly a friend, through whom they can hurt me. My body, this lean carrion that still has to be washed and fed and have clothes hung about it daily with so many changes, they may kill as soon as they please.”

Orual

Storytelling

The way that C. S. Lewis tells the story makes it hard to put it down. It has the tone of a fairy tale or myth, with the qualities of an epic story.

For example, Orual describes Psyche like this:

When she trod on the mud, the mud was beautiful; when she ran in the rain, the rain was silver.”

Orual sometimes speaks directly to the reader, giving it more of that oral storyteller vibe.

You know how it is when you shed a few tears or none, but there is a weight and pressure of weeping through your whole head.”

The seeming indifference or hatred of the gods is a source of conflict and struggle for many of the characters. This reminds me a lot of epics like that of Odysseus.

We are their bubbles; they blow us big before they prick us.”

Orual

I wonder do the gods know what it feels like to be a man.”

Barda

The way Lewis uses descriptive language is also unusual and interesting, such as when he says something is as “quick as thought.”

Expectation

With its fairy tale tone and its status as a retelling of a myth, there are certain expectations readers may have. Many of these expectations are subverted. One of the more minor instances of this happens in the first chapter when a stepmother comes into the picture. Anyone who has read fairy tales can’t help but think stepmother = trouble, but this stepmother is young, frail, and terrified.

Culture

The way Orual describes the kingdom of Glome (where she lives) makes it seem like a real place. She speaks of it in the way someone might if they were describing it to a traveler.

The city of Glome stands on the left hand of the river Shennit to a traveler who is coming up from the south-east, not more than a day’s journey above Ringal, which is the last town southward that belongs to the land of Glome. The city is built about as far back from the river as a woman can walk in the third of an hour, for the Shennit overflows her banks in the spring.”

The people of Glome worship an assortment of gods, but especially the goddess Undit, who can be equated with the Greek goddess Aphrodite. They also acknowledge the power of Undit’s son, the god of the Grey Mountain.

There are little aspects of culture of Glome that come out over time, such as the fact that grieving women cut their hair. There is a special oath taken with a sword blade, called an “oath on edge,” that it is sacrilegious to break. There are many other interesting things about Glome that you will figure out if you read the book.

Treatment of Love

Love is rarely acknowledged to be capable of causing great harm in the same way that other emotions like anger are. C. S. Lewis, much like he does in his other book The Great Divorce, demonstrates how love can be corrupted and abusive even when it claims to be for the loved one’s good. I think this is an important message that adds depth to the book.

The Value of Fiction

There is a character named the Fox who has a great love of poetry and yet is ashamed of it when he teaches it to Orual. He frequently brushes off comments about fictional works, saying:

It’s only the lies of poets.”

It is clearly his background in reading myths, poetry, and other works of fiction that contributes to his wisdom, however. This part of the story is relevant to readers because at some point any reader of fiction will wonder–what’s the point?

The point is that it helps one to grow and mature as a person who is able to understand others, to value different points of view, and to think creatively. There are many lessons that I have learned from reading fiction that would have been much hard to learn otherwise–such as the fact that even love can be corrupted and evil, as I mentioned above.

Title

Without spoiling anything, all I can say about the meaning of the title is that it has partially to do with knowing oneself and not masking one’s intentions. Other than that, it suffices to say that it was a profound and well-chosen title–to see why, you should read the book.

Conclusion

I read this book this semester and it has become my favorite book.

It has so much to offer–teaching lessons without beating you over the head with them.

Its powerful storytelling swept me along until I had finished the book. This is a book I would say is far better even than Lewis’ acclaimed Chronicles of Narnia series.

While this book would be more appealing to a Christian audience, I see no reason why people who follow other religions or no religion would not be able to read and appreciate it.

It is the only book thus far I have rated 10 out of 10 stars, and I did it for a reason.

If you have any questions or comments about the book, feel free to leave a comment.

Rating System

If you’re interested in how I rate books, check out my rating system.