Review: Golly’s Folly: The Prince Who Wanted It All

Golly's Folly: The Prince Who Wanted It AllGolly’s Folly: The Prince Who Wanted It All by Eleazar Ruiz
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Golly’s Folly is the work of two brothers and the wife of one of those brothers. It is an artful take on several biblical themes, coupled with richly colorful and imaginative illustrations.

Golly is the son of King Zhor, and because he envies his father’s glory he asks for his father’s crown. This is the prodigal son demanding his inheritance, the fool who thinks a crown brings glory instead of symbolizing it.

And at first it seems Golly’s Folly will take a standard route “modernizing” Jesus’ parable (though in this case “modern” would refer to some unstated point in the Middle Ages among excessively brawny Vikings). But the story quickly takes an unexpected turn by recourse to a different scriptural theme—that of the vanity of life even among the rich and successful. This is Solomon, the son of a great king who inherits unbelievable treasure, achieves incredible wisdom, and still must conclude that life is vanity under the sun.

Golly discovers that vanity, and humbly (and believably) discovers a solution to it by the end of the book. Instead of laying up his treasures on earth, Golly perceives the all-importance of love.

This reviewer wondered whether “Golly,” “Zhor,” and the name of their steward had any significance—no, the author said in a private conversation, they are simply fun words (and therefore, incidentally, Golly is not a “minced oath”).

The book is made with excellent quality and attention to detail under an imprint—Patrol Books—created by the authors. The illustrations are both contemporary and evocative of a textured, purposefully two-dimensional 1960s style that will interest children visually. It may possibly be read as an anodyne addition to the picture book genre by readers who do not grasp the biblical themes which underlie the story and give it its true depth. It is recommended, therefore, that teachers and parents discuss the story with any kids who happen to hear it.

This review originally appeared in the Christian Library Journal and is used by permission.

Review: The Warden and the Wolf King

The Warden and the Wolf KingThe Warden and the Wolf King by Andrew Peterson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The ending brought tears to my eyes. The narrative kept us all (me and my 6- and 4-year-old) going for months. That’s all good.

I did think the series had trouble deciding whether it was a whimsical bedtime story constructed on the fly (the first two books or so) or a “serious” story with symbolism and character depth (the last two books or so). And at a few key times the attempted depth wasn’t convincing, especially when Janner (in a moment meant to be like Orual’s discovery of her own depravity in Till We Have Faces) comes to see his own selfishness. It just wasn’t right; Janner wasn’t selfish. He was a pretty ideal Throne Warden, protecting his brother even when he was frustrated—and protecting him till the end.

But four stars still means “really liked it.” There were several flashes of depth that really struck me, like when Janner had to give up his desire to study books in order to protect his brother by joining the Durgan Guild. There were also some beautiful turns of phrase I had to stop and highlighted (which fascinated my children, who wanted to do it, too):

There’s a powerful magic in songs, you know. They can aim the heart, point it at what matters.

Yeah. I agree.

We all forget from time to time, and so we need each other to tell us our stories. Sometimes a story is the only way back from the darkness.

Yup.

Trails threaded through the white flowers where Leeli and Nia had walked, as if their footsteps had begun to write a new story into the island’s book.

Beautiful.

When you run out of hope, everything is backwards. Your heart wants the opposite of what it needs.

Good.

And nice chapter title: “The Former Fangs Have Passed Away.”

Definitely a good read for parents and kids.

Review: Doing Our Own Thing: The Degradation of Language and Music and Why We Should, Like, Care

Doing Our Own Thing: The Degradation of Language and Music and Why We Should, Like, CareDoing Our Own Thing: The Degradation of Language and Music and Why We Should, Like, Care by John McWhorter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m a big McWhorter fan. His lecturing style, which is just like his writing style, is so engagingly brilliant.

This was such a wonderful and odd book; it revealed more of ΜcWhorter’s personality than previous reads and listens, specifically his dedication to musical theater—and the fact that his pop culture knowledge is almost scarily extensive.

And that fact also points to a fundamental ambivalence—I almost said “equivocation”—in the book: does he really and truly lament the collapse in the distance between casual English and the more elaborated written form of English that used to be common coin? He doesn’t write in the formal language of yesteryear (and he knows this). He doesn’t like poetry (and he knows this). He does draw the line, apparently, at the vapidness of much rap and pop. But he ends up providing reams of analysis with little explicit evaluation. There is implicit evaluation, the reader has to think, all the way along, but when the explicit evaluation comes it sputters. He doesn’t think we can do anything to change our cultural-linguistic situation, and he’s not even sure it’s all bad (immigrants, for example, fare better in a cultural situation in which people aren’t so prissy about English style). All he knows is that we have lost something we used to have. If anything, that something is love for our country, knowledge of and pride in its story—casual writing is a symptom of this malaise, he says. We’re not proud of English because we’re not proud to be Americans (or Brits as the case may be). That’s not something a linguist, or any individual, can change.

McWhorter’s is the only book-level treatment of this topic I’ve read. I don’t know a better analysis. But I’m not entirely persuaded by this one. Correlation and causation just cannot be established with perfect certainty on a culture-wide scale. But I honor him for trying, and I’ll be meditating on his analysis for years to come, I think. He’s already proven to be one of the stickiest writers I read.