The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

Dante’s classic fourteenth century poem is really three books in one, each describing the abode of those who have departed from this world. Inferno, describing the horrors of hell, was the most interesting to me, and has probably shaped the world’s view of hell more than the Bible has. Purgatoiro depicts purgatory, that once again has influenced Roman Catholic thought on this subject as much as anything. The final poem is Paradiso and is a picture of heaven, which I found relatively uninteresting. The Divine Comedy has been reviewed thousands of times and needs no further thoughts from me. I will say that I was surprised by the blend of Medieval Christianity, pagan thought and mythology. Along with John Milton’s Paradise Lost, this work has molded the way many Christians view the next life, even though the vast majority of the contents are imaginary....

The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown

Dan Brown tells a good story and everyone loves a mystery. Put these ingredients together, mix in a bit of history, ancient and secret rituals, claim that your novel is based on truth, and, oh yes, scandalize Christ in the process, and you have the makings of a runaway best seller. The premise of Brown’s novel is that the Roman Catholic Church has lied about and covered up the true identity of Jesus. It seems, according to Brown and his Gnostic resources, that Jesus was a mere mortal. He married Mary Magdalene and fathered a daughter before He was crucified. Understandably, if the “true” story of Jesus leaked out it would destroy the Christian faith, hence the great coverup. But now, the “truth” being hidden for two millennia is in danger of being exposed. While Brown’s half-truths, guesswork and blasphemy is supported by virtually no historical evidence, many will...

The Call of the Wild / The Sea-Wolf by Jack London

The Call of the Wild is far too well known to need review. If you like adventure stories with animals as lead characters few have surpassed London, his best being The Call of the Wild (with White Fang a close second). The Sea-wolf is almost as good as London’s animal stories, and of a similar genre. Just replace Buck (the dog) with Wolf Larson (the sea captain); Alaska with the sea; the dog sled with the ship; wild, vile, one-step-out-of-the-wild dogs with wild, vile, one-step-out-of-the-wild men; add a sissy-boy with a sophisticated woman and you have the recipe for The Sea-wolf . It is an engaging sea story more interesting than Moby Dick and in the same league as Mutiny on the Bounty....

The Book of Virtues by William J. Bennett

This 800-page volume is a collection of stories, poems, nursery rhymes, myths, fairy tales and short biographies designed to encourage moral conviction in a society that no longer places much store in morals or convictions. There are ten chapters, each dealing with a separate virtue: Self-discipline, compassion, responsibility, friendship, work, courage, perseverance, honesty, loyalty, and faith. The Book of Virtues is worth reading, at least selectively. It is of course refreshing to think that a book about “right and wrong” can still be a best seller. On the negative side, Bennett is not a believer, to my knowledge, and therefore while his stories all have a moral bend, they don’t all have a Christian bend. Some are actually anti-Christian in philosophy. Morality and Christianity are not synonymous; as a matter of fact, morality can be the enemy of the gospel. So even in a book dedicated to virtue, discernment...

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs

When I was a child my father instilled a passion for reading within me by telling stories based on books he had read. The most memorable tale was that of Tarzan of the Apes . Perhaps my love of reading can be traced back to the fictional story of a young man swinging through the trees of the African jungle. Yet, I had never personally read Burroughs’ classic until now. I did not find it great literature, neither in style nor story line, but it was certainly fun. You might want to read it sometime – and tell it to your children. Who knows, it may fuel a passion (hopefully not the swinging from trees or eating with their hands kind)....

Tales of the Kingdom by David and Karen Mains

Tales of the Kingdom at any given point reminds the reader of The Wizard of Oz, Aesop’s Fables, Arabian Knights, Chronicles of Narnia or any number of Disney’s children’s classics. Tales of the Kingdom is comprised of a dozen short, interconnected, fantasy stories directed at children. Like Aesop’s Fables, each tale ends with a moral. Like C.S. Lewis’ imaginary world, children, magic, mythological creatures and a Christ figure are prominent throughout. The stories are fairly well written and beautifully illustrated. Two things will trouble some readers. First is the magic/mythical element. Scripture condemns involvement with sorcery of any type and strictly forbids the believer being involved with such. Yet much of children’s literature, including Christian-based, is full of magic, sorcery and the like. Some believers are deeply bothered by this glorification of the forbidden. The problem is being consistent. If the Mains are wrong to lace their tales with...

Paradise Lost by John Milton

The four horsemen of the poetic world are considered to be Homer, Dante, Shakespeare and John Milton. Milton’s poetry is not as dynamic as Homer’s, as hair-raising as Dante’s or as versatile as Shakespeare’s, but for my money (whatever that is worth) give me Milton. Perhaps it is the subject matter. Homer wrote of gods and warriors, Dante of hell, Shakespeare of mortal heroes and villains, Milton of God, Satan and the fall of man. Paradise Lost made Milton immortal in the world of literature. His descriptions of heaven, hell, angels and demons have done more to shape the average person’s view of these things than even the Bible itself. This of course draws a word of caution from us. Milton traffics in fantasy; Scripture in reality. What Milton wrote is great fiction; what God wrote is powerful truth. All we really know of the spirit world is gleaned...

Nicolae by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins

Unfortunately, having now read Nicolae, I am convinced that our boys should have stopped after Triblation Force. Their writing is steadily going down hill — and it would appear that they are planning a number of sequels. Nicolae did start out better with a great deal of action, and gratefully, the poorly written romance was kept to a minimum. But the authors simply replaced romance with technology as a filler. I believe there was more written about Range Rovers, super laptop computers and cell phones than there was about opening of the seal judgments. Add in a long and boring bus chase (yes, a bus chase), constant repetition of events detailed in the first two volumes (and sometimes earlier in this one), huge numbers of petty conversations, and you have the recipe for a yawner. Maybe a groaner would be a better term, as I actually found myself groaning...

Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre

No, Nausea is not a description of the feeling we get at tax season; it is Sartre’s indictment of life. To Existentialist philosopher Sartre, Nausea occurs when we come to grips with the fact that we do indeed exist, but it makes no difference (p. 122). Sartre’s summary of life is, “Every existing thing is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness and dies by chance” (p. 133). It is the goal of this novel to prove this thesis, therefore Sartre, through the fictional character Antoine Roquentin, systematically examines everything from religion to education to work to love and pronounces them all as meaningless. When Roquentin looks inside himself he finds nothing. From this comes his despair; everything is absurd. He is an accident; a product of chance and therefore nothing matters. As you can tell this is not exactly an uplifting book, but it does offer insight...

Lord Foulgrin’s Letters by Randy Alcorn

That Alcorn would even attempt to copy C. S. Lewis’ classic Screwtape Letters says something about the man’s courage and confidence. Alcorn does not ascend to Lewis’ level, perhaps no one ever will, but in truth he does a good job. It is an intriguing approach to endeavor to view our lives from the vantage point of the demonic world. Usually we ask the question, “What is it that God desires?” But it may be almost as fruitful, and rather refreshing to query, “What would the Devil want?” If we could infiltrate the counsel of the demons what would be their plan for us? How would they try to twist truth? What would they do to keep us distracted from God? How would they present sin so as to make it most enticing? This is Alcorn’s and Lewis’ approach, and it has merit. As for Alcorn’s theology, based on...