Can’t decide whether to read history or fantasy? Try this book from David Carthage:
The Jericho River by David Carthage is designed to land right into the middle of a World History class and to reach students interested in fantasy. (http://www.jerichoriver.com/)
That is a big order. As a teacher, I see some students who love history, some who love to read fantasy, some who love both, and some who love neither.
This book is subtitled A Magical Novel About the History of Western Civilization. The fantasy-loving kids might very well read it on their own. The key to a good book is that it is read willingly, not just because it is required. If the student is primarily interested in history, he might have to be prodded along a bit to read it. But everyone needs to see and read beyond their own personal interest area. As for the students who like neither history nor fantasy, we might have to reconsider the good benefits of flogging. On the other hand, we should be patient (but nevertheless, demanding).
The Jericho River includes many of the traditional, ever-recurring, never failing elements of story-telling. First, there is a quest. Second, there is a journey. Third, there are companions. Fourth, there is redemption. In those last four sentences, I have described all of the literature of the world. I have also described every life that has been lived.
Every story contains a fictional, fantasy element. Every story is magical. If I tell you about my canoeing experiences of bygone years, something magical and fictional takes place. You hear and likely visualize a much younger me and a canoe and a river. You are “seeing” something, but not the actual thing. You enter into a world where you are on a river, seated in a canoe, feeling the pressure of the water as you paddle through your imagination.
A major theme of this book is the presence of lumins. In this book, lumins are mythical, magical creatures that inhabit the world and serve as protection or aid to humans. They are the magical and fantastical feature of the book.
In fact, the whole conflict in the book, which stretches from the “real world” to the magical world of Fore is the existence of such magical creatures. Just as Tolkien created Middle Earth and Lewis created Narnia and Faulkner created Yoknapatawpha, so Carthage has created the world of Fore. Central to Fore is the Jericho River which is history. Travel to one part of the river and you are in ancient Sumer. Travel up river and you go through the civilizations of Egypt, the Hebrews, the Greeks, Romans, the Middle Ages, and up to the present.
Like Narnia, time in Fore is different from time in this world. But dangers there can end your life in this world.
The story in The Jericho River is that of a boy, named Jason Gallo, who is trying to find his father, Professor William Gallo, who is lost in Fore. Throughout the book, we have snippets of lectures and writings from Professor Gallo, who is an historian. These snippets range from broad explanations of historical events to trivial but highly interesting tidbits (which pretty much explains most of the work of historians). Jason faces a number of threats and dangers. This is, after all, a river novel. Following in the tradition of Mark Twain, a journey down a river is filled with a multitude of life experiences.
And journeys cannot be alone. Jason meets a number of people and has a group of companions, notably, Tia, an Egyptian priestess, Zidu, a lion-featured lumin, and Rim-Hadad, a more murky character (perhaps comparable in personality to Gollum).
No plot outline or spoilers will follow. Instead, I will deal with and answer some objections or concerns.
First, this is not Christian fantasy. I don’t think that Tolkien or Lewis were specifically trying to write fantasies about Christians, but it informed their worldview. If someone is shocked at a critical reference to the Bible story or to a curse word or two (and only that much), they will find such objections here. I honestly don’t know enough about the genre, authors, and works in the field of fantasy to know how to evaluate this work.
Personally, I believe in training students to detect things they don’t agree with and to read on. If I operate on the premise, “I don’t agree with some of the things this author has said, so I am not reading this work,” my library is gone and my reading life is over.
Second, this is not a history text. I think students in a history class could read it as a fun supplement. It is not a historical novel in the sense that Johnny Tremain, Killer Angels, the Horatio Hornblower, William Faulkner’s Unvanquished, or Tolstoy’s War and Peace are historical novels. (And I know that my list there will raise a few eyebrows.)
Third, fantasy involves entering into a different world and into a world where there is a certain magic, or a certain way that things happen. As it happens, the landscape of Fore is Western Civilization. The magic has reference to the spells and uses of shamans and lumins.
Fourth, the novel is meant to be fun. But, in some sense, aren’t they all? Literature is written for pleasure. Certain types of books are demeaned as being “escape reading.” But when is an escape necessary? Anyone who has watched World War II movies knows that the first duty of a captured prisoner is to find a way to escape. So, we are all trying to escape the mundane, the trivial, and the unimaginative. So even if this book is used in the classroom, the end goal should be the reader having enjoyed the experience.