A few years ago, I had never heard of Jonathan Rogers, S. D. Smith, N. D. Wilson, Jennifer Trafton, Doug McKelvey, Andrew Peterson, or A. S. (Pete) Peterson. Anyone who reads enough of my reviews or who follows the threads I comment on in our Facebook book club, will notice that I have a strong preference for authors who are “long since released from their mortal coil” (Joseph Pearce, Race With the Devil). Not only do I think that George MacDonald, Beatrix Potter, Howard Pyle, Louisa May Alcott, G. K. Chesterton, Andrew Lang, G. A. Henty, and Edith Nesbit were gifts from God to children, I think that their heirs were better storytellers because of them. C. S. Lewis, Lucy Maud Montgomery, J. R. R. Tolkien, Thornton Burgess, the D’Aulaires, Hilda van Stockum, Maud Hart Lovelace, Madeleine L’Engle, and Roger Lancelyn Green all acknowledged, somewhere in their notes or writings, a love for the children’s authors who came before them and gave their genre some of its substance.
As a lover of the written word and the art of storytelling, I have made it my mission to balance my reading of the tremendously good old books with the reading of new books which hope to have similar longevity and success. For the most part, the modern books I have read have left me discouraged. I know that many will disagree with me, but I dislike what most modern literature is doing to young readers. In short, I think that the caliber of today’s writing is in decline and the subject matter is being poisoned with confusing moral relativism and disordered values. For several years, I was so disappointed with modern books that I nearly gave up reading anything new at all. Mercifully, our book club is populated with a great number of similarly-minded parents. Together, we go on a treasure hunt looking for the best books for our children.
Along the way, I had the opportunity to read with some smart women who share my values. My friend Heidi at “Mt. Hope Chronicles” is one of these trusty ladies. When I noticed that these women were recommending new authors, I was curious. I respected their excellent taste and I wondered at their suggestions. What was helpful to me was when some of them linked S. D. Smith’s video at “Story Warren” for his first Green Ember Kickstarter. I could hear his love of the old works resonating through everything he said. When Sam talked about the horns of Rohan (from The Lord of the Rings), it was then that I began to hear the horns in our own modern literary culture. I began to train my ear to follow their sound and meet them in the field of allies. Following the horns from “Story Warren,” I discovered “The Rabbit Room.”
As a student at Hillsdale College, I read the Harry Potter books and loved them. As I matured as a Christian, I began to understand the great struggle in the Christian world over how, when, and whether or not, to approach Harry. Some families are certain that Harry is dangerous and that the books are a celebration of witchcraft. Other families see that Harry is something more like The Lord of the Rings and has the possibility of teaching our children to read through the layers in the storytelling to find the truths that we cherish. As a young mom, I knew that my husband and I would need to pray our way through those concerns and see how God was calling us before we blindly handed Harry over to our children. While I am writing this, my oldest is nearing his 10th birthday. We still have not started Harry. We found this book to be very helpful in discerning what we will do with Hogwarts. I mention Harry because I want to compare that to N. D. Wilson below.
Last year, I discovered Nate’s writing during the release of his newest book series, The Outlaws of Time. I was curious. The Christians and good readers were recommending him when they weren’t recommending Harry Potter. When I poked around Amazon looking for his books, I was appalled by the cover art for the first “Outlaws” book. And yet, my friends with excellent taste were excited about the book. One casually mentioned that it would be available via “The Rabbit Room.” I was still wrapping my head around “The Rabbit Room,” but I knew that they were a community of artists who are seeking to build up the Kingdom of God through story and song. My casual exposure to Wilson confused me as to how these two things could fit together. Heidi referred me to two critical things: this interview with Nate and this book by Nate. It was then that everything popped into place. I got it. Moses and Aaron = white magic; Pharaoh’s priests = black magic. White magic, as CS Lewis says, is the stuff of miracles. Black magic, as Wilson points out, is the stuff we see in the Old Testament when man defies God and tries to use sorcery to steal His glory.
So, with some trepidation, I read 100 Cupboards, while I was waiting for Sam Miracle to release. I was shocked, impressed, and smitten. Wilson took an ordinary character of ordinary means and put him in a unordinary situation that revealed what God can do through us when we submit to His will. Yes, 100 Cupboards is dark and creepy. But it is wholesome. It is dangerous. But life is dangerous. As Nate says in several places, 100 Cupboards (and his other books) exist to help children take off the bubble wrap that we Christian parents are so apt to dress them in. Nate’s writing makes the spiritual warfare, which is very real, obvious to us so that we can embrace the battle.
While I am not nay-saying Harry Potter, I see a big difference between those books and books like Wilson’s. While the Christianity in Wilson’s writing is extremely subtle, it is irrefutable. A little bit like The Lord of the Rings or Narnia, Wilson starts from a position of writing to please God. He doesn’t create his worlds to satisfy himself. He creates them to reveal the subtext of Scripture. That is hard to do, but Wilson does it remarkably well.
Encouraged by Nate’s writing, Sam’s writing, and the Wingfeather Saga, I started shifting my new book focus to “The Rabbit Room.” And, I have been richly blessed by that lane change. The authors at “The Rabbit Room” seem to know who they are, even if they have to write their stories to see it revealed to themselves. They know that they are children of the Lord God Almighty. They know that they are storytellers who have been shaped by the great storytellers who came before them and the greatest storyteller of all, The Author.
I would argue that “Rabbit Room” authors have little to no ego. They write because they must. God made them writers and it is for His glory that they use their gifts in the service of Him. I am convinced that the authors at “The Rabbit Room” are continuing in Lewis’ and Shakespeare’s tradition. Every book I have read by a “Rabbit Room” author is covered in the fingerprints of the literary geniuses who defined their genres. But, like Lewis and Shakespeare, they are not mere borrowers. They jolly well pay back. I have yet to read a “Rabbit Room” book that has not made its genre richer. More Christ-centered. More lovely.
My only regret about “The Rabbit Room” is that they don’t have enough books for me. I am gluttonous and I want more. At worst, “Rabbit Room” books are good and safe. At best, they are excellent and edifying.
C.S. Lewis once said that in writing Narnia, he was hoping to write something out of E. Nesbit. I, and many others, would argue that Lewis showed Nesbit, George MacDonald, G.K. Chesterton, and his other predecessors great respect in his borrowing of their ideas. Lewis built on their legacy in his own unique way. Unlike other modern authors whose stories are confused and confusing, I think that the “Rabbit Room” authors are walking in the great tradition of the Inklings. I think that they know that they are sub-creators who serve The Creator. And I think that they are letting their art into the world in an effort to point us back to the ancient paths of truth, goodness, and beauty.
One final note: this article may give the impression that “The Rabbit Room” is all about children’s books. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, until recently, “The Rabbit Room” was primarily focused on adult books. One of my most favorite modern books is by Rabbit Room author Jonathan Rogers, “The Terrible Speed of Mercy.” Rogers changed how I read in that little book. His biography of Flannery O’Connor made me fall in love with an author I had previously feared. In doing so, I now read all things differently. O’Connor changed the way that I read, but I never would have let her into my heart if it had not been for Rogers. Check out my review of “The Terrible Speed of Mercy” here.
Rabbit Room Authors We Have Reviewed: