I love fanstasy epic written for young people – well, some of it, and not the sci-fi stuff so much. Looking at how they handle the big themes of good vs evil makes me look again at our Biblical epic with fresh eyes.
One favourite series is Susan Cooper’s The Dark is rising, which engages a band of young people in a fight with evil, moving in and out of time settings, with the Arthur epic as its framework. The last book, Silver on the Tree, ends with a sort of Ascension event.
The children have triumphed over the Dark in the company of Professor Merriman Lyon – Merlin – and King Arthur. These last two are set to sail out of Time on the ship Pridwen to the castle at the back of the North Wind, but the children are anguished at the thought of Merlin leaving them.
“Shall we never see you again?” “No”, Merriman said … “For remember, it is altogether your world now. You and the rest. We have delivered you from evil, but the evil that is inside men is at the last a matter for men to control. The responsibility and the hope and the promise are in your hands … The hope is always here, always alive, but only your fierce caring can fan it into a fire to warm the world.”
I guess that’s Ascension, but before Pentecost. And it has a seductively dangerous hint of Pelagianism in it – that it’s all up to us, without much room for grace and the Spirit. My experience is more and more of the randomness of what we might call ‘success’: that you put in a lot of effort which you hope is for good, but any fruit that appears is on a quite different branch, without obvious connection to your efforts.
But I like the ‘Prologue of John’s Gospel’ flavour to Merlin’s last vision in this tale: “And the world will still be imperfect, because men are imperfect. Good men will still be killed by bad, or sometimes by other good men, and there will still be pain and disease and famine, anger and hate. But if you work and care and are watchful, as we have tried to be for you, then in the long run, the worse will never, ever, triumph over the better. And the gifts put into some men, that shine as bright as Eirias the sword, shall light the dark corners of life for all the rest, in so brave a world.”