Destined Warriors – Into the Unseen

Julia Caroline Gollasch
VMI Publishers

Unlike many people I know, I consider allegory and fantasy to be different—cousins but not twins. I love a good fantasy but I cordially dislike allegory. So, consider this fair warning!

I don’t understand why some people like The Pilgrim’s Progress so passionately. It’s too serious, too plainly didactic. It’s like an undressed parable. It’s been stripped of the cloak of mystery that a parable wraps around itself, it’s been shorn of subtlety and generally misses both humour and irony. Perhaps that’s an unfair assessment. But that’s the way it comes across to me.

Fantasy can also be very earnest in tone but in general, it has the shifting light and shadow of a fairytale. The kindly woman by the wayside may turn out to be a witch or a warrior. In allegory, such uncertainty is rare. One thing you can be sure of: both Faithful and Giant Despair will live up to their names.

The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis are often said to be allegory. But that is a failure to distinguish between these closely allied genres. Not all Christian fantasy is allegory because not all fantasy has the strict parallelism nor the broad predictability of allegory.

Allegory aims to exhort, edify, instruct, warn. It touches my head while fantasy touches my heart. I’ve never bawled my eyes out in an allegory but I’ve wept copious tears in fantasy. The plot and characters of an allegory are subordinate to the teaching which lies, for all to see, on the surface. That’s the primary purpose of allegory: to educate.

In fantasy on the other hand, teaching—if there is any—is incidental to the story. It forms part of the story, like incidental music, it may even be integral to the plot, but you’d still have a story without it. Oftentimes in Christian fantasy, the teaching is hidden below the surface. Nothing new about that: Jesus did it all the time.

When CS Lewis said he hadn’t set out to write Christian doctrine in the form of a fairytale in The Chronicles of Narnia, I believe him. I don’t think many people really do believe he simply set out to write about a picture of a faun standing in the snow—a picture that had recurred in his imagination since he’d been a teenager. Certainly Philip Pullman doesn’t.

The reason I make these upfront comments prior to reviewing Destined Warriors—Into the Unseen is because the cover blurb and testimonials mention that this is a fantasy as modelled by CS Lewis. I beg to differ. On the contrary, this is a mixture of allegory and fantasy with the scales so far tipped towards the allegorical side of things that the fantasy is minor. (In fact, it could be argued that there is no fantasy at all in Destined Warriors but that it is in reality science fiction.) Unlike Lewis, Gollasch has deliberately set out to write Christian doctrine in the form of a fairytale.

The mix, of course, puts me in a bit of a quandary. Allegory and speculative fiction blended together—do I love it or loathe it?

Destined Warriors is outstandingly written, that’s for sure. I admired the author’s style frequently. But admiring an author’s style is an admission that I never really ‘entered’ the story. I observed it. This is, I suddenly realised, exactly why I dislike allegory. When I read I want to be inside the skin of a story, I want to experience the narrative through the eyes of the characters. I don’t want to watch from the outside. Not everyone feels like I do, but for those who do, this kind of story is a real challenge.

The sweep of the narrative is wide, covering the majesty of heaven and the degradation of hell. When twelve year old Tess McClain discovers a menacing cryptic letter in her school bag, she is unsure whether she is in danger or whether someone is playing a practical joke. She enlists her twin brother Zeek and her best friend, Annya in the search for answers. They are helped in their investigation by the mysterious Pneuma and the grey-coated stranger Phosetar. They learn of the ‘unseen’ planets Shameh and Eremos, the terrifying Darkness and the spectacular El Shaddai. When the riddle is solved, Tess, Annya and Zeek are confronted with a stark choice: do they accept what they are told the truth or do they reject it as lies?

I didn’t really like any of the protagonists—Tess, Zeek and Annya—but I’m not sure I was intended to. I think the author deliberately portrayed Tess as manipulative, rash and stubborn as well as curious, brave and generous. Her friend, Annya, is also complex: kind, weak, timid and stubborn. Zeek see-saws between irritating and interesting. Mostly what came across was Tess as controlling and scheming (even if it was for everyone else’s good) and Annya as petulant. Consequently, I didn’t identify much with the characters—except a little with Annya. I therefore wouldn’t have liked to have read this book as a vulnerable teenager when the character I felt drawn to from the start was the one being bullied by an impetuous, adventurous friend into doing something she didn’t want to do, even if it was for her own good.

Tolkien said that one of the major purposes of fairytale is to offer hope and consolation. This is true of traditional classic high fantasy but not necessarily the case with allegory. For Annya, there is no hope. For Tess and Zeek, it is there in abundance. There are some confronting scenes in this book. Gollasch rightly points out that the battle between light and dark is not pretty.

So, with a final reminder that Destined Warriors is more allegory than fantasy and that its purpose is to instruct, not to comfort, I have to say that I’m intrigued enough to put aside all my reservations and to look forward to the next book in the series.

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