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470 CHRISTIANITY AND LITERATURE The Alpine Tales. ByPaul J. Willis.Seattle:WordFarm, 2010. ISBN978-1602260061. Pp. 592. $28.00. In this new, mammoth edition, WordFarm has collected all four of Paul Willis' fantasy novels-No Clock in the Forest, TheStolen River, TheSilver Spire, and The White Fawn of Otium-under the title The Alpine Tales. This is an enormous and generous gift to lovers of good fantasy. As forces of good and evil carryon an epic struggle, Willis' characters are called upon to make choices which, though they are human and fallible, have the power to shift the moral balance in the world. And as we read, we experience those choices with the characters and discover the joy or terror of the outcome. TheAlpine Talestake place in TheThree Queens Wilderness, a rugged landscape of ice, snow, mountain caves, and dangerous peaks. The landscape resembles the Pacific Northwest, where Willis has spent years guiding and climbing. He has written of his climbing experiences in Bright Shoots of Everlastingness: Essays on Faith and the American Wild. No wonder the fantasy world of TheAlpine Tales is filled with the paraphernalia of climbing and informed by wonderfully precise language from the sport. The pages are filled with avalanches, glaciers, frostbite, ice axes, trail mix, quick snow squalls, crevasses, Alpine flowers, mosquitos, and backpacks. All the characters are acutely aware of the weather. Although they are often in danger, they love the landscape and eagerly take on the challenges of the wild, sometimes in competition with one another, but more often with the awareness that they must work together or die. In fact, the frozen wilderness becomes the primal ground on which the war between good and evil works itself out in TheAlpine Tales. Paul Willis is a poet as well as a naturalist, and as I read these novels I thought about the landscapes of Tomas Transtroemer, the Swedish poet who won the Nobel Prize for Poetry in 2011. In Willis' novels, as in Transtroemer's poetry, ice and cold become metaphors for psychological states. The whole landscape can be thought of as alive.It functions almost as a sentient character-or perhaps better stated-it functions as a vastje ne sais quoi, a kind of unconsciousness where humans must work out their destinies. The quartet inspires awe for what happens in the realm of the unconscious, which always remains beyond explanation, a mystery. Reading the book, one feels both fascination for and dread of the dangerous, not entirely knowable wilderness we traverse. One also feels that whatever threatens that wilderness trivializes the complexity and significance of human choices in the moral world. As in the fiction of Tolkein and Lewis, Ursula Le Guin, Susan Cooper, Lloyd Alexander, and other modern/contemporary fantasy writers, the forces of good and the forces of destruction remain beyond explanation in The Alpine Tales.Those forces are mythic in their power and they exert an enormous pull on the human BOOK REVIEWS 471 characters who struggle to comprehend them. They try to understand the rules of the moral landscape because they must move forward, wielding their ice axes, checking the weather, deciding when to venture out, making choices. Their survival depends on their ability to read signs and interpret signals. But maybe to talk this way about The Alpine Tales is to risk making the book sound pretentious. It is not. The characters are richly developed, fallible,often funny human beings who are trying to figure out which side is which. They stumble and joke around and get into verbal contests and eat delicious picnics on bright meadows and spend sleepless nights worrying needlessly about the weather. The visceral title of one of the chapters is "Want to See My Blister?" The character Grace has very little grace (at least when we first meet her) and Lancelot is anything but chivalrous. There is a character named Chambers who scatters terrible (mostly Latin) puns into every conversation. And the ledger at the top of one of the mountains inscribes remarks from climbers like: MY FIRST CLIMB!! I CAN'T BELIEVEI DID THE WHOLE THING!!and Sweet. But don't lookdown. and I would like to dedicate this climbto Linda...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2056-5666
Print ISSN
0148-3331
Pages
pp. 470-474
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-04
Open Access
No
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