Review Scorn for "One Bright Star ot Guide Them"
Alas, some reviewers hold me to a higher standard that my poor talents can match.
A writer automatically loses honor if he disputes with critics of his work. A story should speak for itself. But in this case, the critics miss the mark so badly that I think my gentle readers will be amused to see the dart fly past the target and hit Maid Marion sitting next to the Sherrif in the grandstand.
Lois Tilton at Internet Review of Science Fiction (http://www.irosf.com/q/zine/article/10522
) had this to say:
Thomas Robertson comes home from celebrating an unwanted promotion to find a familiar black cat in his hedge.
The black cat spoke in a voice as soft and clear as rippling water. "I am come to summon you to tourney, Tommy, to face a knight of ghosts and shadows. No weapon of mankind can cut him; and once he is called to come, no door nor gate can keep him out. Only one who knows his secret name can hope to vanquish him. He is the champion of the Lord of Final Winter, who also is called the Shadow King. He has been summoned to your world, now, and all of England is at hazard." The black cat looked up at him with eyes as yellow and mysterious as moonlight. "The call is given. Listen: you can hear the trumpet of the Wild Huntsman. Will you go?"
As a child, he and his friends had fought the evil and triumphed, but now they are growing old; only Thomas is willing to take up the quest again.
The epigraph is the old line about putting away childish things; the story is about picking them up again where the characters left off. This is another Narnia grown old but unchanged, with all the expected appurtenances, including a glowing lion. Indeed, Wright has thrown the fantasy kitchen sink into the mixer, with magic keys, swords, mirrors, books [written in invisible elvish script], ships, ad inf. I think most readers may be waiting for the point of view to shift, for the childish things to be revealed as childish, for a mature vision to prevail–but the author plays this one straight, all the way through, until it gleams with his faith and sincerity. There is also a whole lot of lecturing about the nature of evil and the struggle against, in which some of the triumphs seem to be a bit arbitrary. I think it requires a reader far less corrupted by cynicism than I to appreciate.
My comment: First, let me salute that last line. This reviewer is skilled enough to distinguish between personal taste and critical judgment.
Second, I think we would have to have a discussion as to what constitutes ‘mature vision’ before the merit of that criticism can be allowed. Using children fairytale elements to criticize modern ills in grown-up society can be well done or poorly done, but we cannot say it was not attempted here. That was what that “whole lot of lecturing about the nature of good and evil” was.
You do not have to be religious to see that fairytales are children’s versions of grand religious myths: fairies are little gods, fairy magic is child-sized miracles, and fairytale happy endings are scaled-down models of the Resurrection of the Just on Doomsday. In other words, a ‘mature vision’ or grown-up version of C.S. Lewis’s THE LAST BATTLE is not Sartre’s NO EXIT, but the Apocalypse of St. John, which is hardly a book for kids.
“The author plays this one straight, all the way through, until it gleams with his faith and sincerity.” Faith in what? This tale was written by an atheist.
Colin Harvey at Suite101.com (http://scififantasyfiction.suite101.com/article.cfm/fsf_aprilmay_2009_reviewed
) Gives my tale the Room 101 treatment:
John C. Wright's "One Bright Star To Guide Them" concludes the issue with a sadly derivative tale of a man called to save the world from the evil Knight of Shadows. It feels like the conclusion to a non-existent Narnia-like series built out of stock fantasy elements, with many "As You Know, Bob" conversations peppering the narrative, and a wholly unconvincing depiction of an England drawn from American TV.
My comment: This reviewer is less skilled, comicly so. He does not correctly identify the point of the story. Derivative, was it? Feels like the conclusion to a non-existent Narnia-like series, does it? Sort of the same way Alan Moore's WATCHMEN is derivative of Carlton comics, and feels like the conclusion of a non-existant Justice League-like series, maybe? Hm?
I hope the reviewer is merely being snarky here. Because if not, he actually thinks he was reading a botched attempt to retell a Narnia tale, where the author fooloishly decided to set the story fourty years after the action ended.
No doubt there are real errors in discription when it comes to England. I am not English. But the unconvincing description of England comes not from American Television but from English children’s books, like C.S. Lewis’ Narnia or Alan Garner’s Alderly Edge series, who wrote in a brighter time. The England of the 1950’s and 1940’s may seem unconvincing to eyes grown used to modern darkness, even in the hands of a writer more skilled than I. (Why American? Why television? I can think of American-made movies set in England, such as Mary Poppins or Peter Pan, but the only shows set in England seen on the small screen are BBC shows, Doctor Who, Fawlty Towers, Jeeves & Wooster, etc.)