I haven’t finished any books worth reviewing in the last week, so I decided to do something a little different and review a (book-related) music album. Like my other favorite group, The Gray Havens, this artist is heavily influenced by my favorite author, C. S. Lewis.
Title: Into the Lantern Waste
Artist: Sarah Sparks
Length: 36 minutes (10 songs)
Rating: 5 of 5
The Chronicles of Narnia is one of my favorite series of all time, second only to Lord of the Rings (see my full review of Narnia here). It works as both a set of charming fantasy stories and a theologically rich exploration of the person and work of Jesus Christ. C. S. Lewis viewed these books as a “supposition” of what it would look like for Jesus to appear in another world.
This album picks up on many of the theological themes that Lewis wove into his stories. Songs center around major characters and events from Narnia as well as parallel thoughts from Lewis’s other writings (e.g. Mere Christianity) and the Bible. I was pleased to notice that the song order matches the books’ original publication order rather than the chronological order that prevails in newer editions…it’s a small, nitpicky thing, but it made me happy.
The folksy/ballad style and jazzy vocals lend the perfect contemplative air to the album. The haunting Blood for Blood about the redemption of Edmund is especially effective. Occasionally, the vocals may be a bit too soft compared to the music, but overall I highly recommend this to any fans of Narnia and Lewis!
Title: Doctor Faustus:
The Life of German Composer Adrian Leverkuhn as Told by a Friend
Author: Thomas Mann
Translator: H. T. Lowe-Porter
Rating: 3 of 5
Despite the review title, don’t expect Mephistopheles to show up much in this modern retelling of the Faust legend. The suave devil (who never actually gives a name) doesn’t put in an appearance until about halfway through the book, if he’s real at all. Mann leaves it up to the reader whether the devil is actually there or is a product of syphilitic madness …or whether it even matters one way or the other.
To Mann, the important thing seems to be exploring a variety of philosophical themes. Most central to the plot is the connection between artistic genius and suffering, especially in the form of madness & alienation. Other themes includes the character and history of the German people (especially as it relates to losing both World Wars), avant garde art, apocalyptic imagery, and highly detailed music theory.
As the subtitle indicates, the novel is presented as a biography of the tragic life of (fictional) composer Adrian Leverkuhn. The narrator sounds agitated, apologizing for his poor organization, jumping around in the story, and digressing into his own personal life (he, like the author, is a German living through World War II). I found the style believable but somewhat irritating. Leverkuhn himself is presented as a sociopathic genius whose musical masterpieces are only fully appreciated by the few truly cultured people. As in any Faust story, in the end, there’s a price to be paid when you make a deal with the devil (or contract syphilis).
Overall, there were a lot of interesting ideas in this book, but after 500+ pages it felt overblown and pretentious.
Additionally: I’ll be using this for my 20th Century Classic category at the Back to the Classics Challenge.
How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church
Authors: Keith & Kristyn Getty
Rating: 5 of 5
The conservative Christian circles in which I grew up spent a lot of time arguing about music. Unfortunately, most discussion centered around “proving” that most styles of music (regardless of lyrics) were inherently sinful, physically and spiritually dangerous, and quite possibly demonic. For example, I remember reading this gem whose title translates to The Traitorous Dangers of Rock:
This drive to justify/sanctify traditional preferences led to generally absurd question-begging and straw man arguments based on dubious research and Bible verses pulled grotesquely out of context.
In Sing! Keith & Kristyn Getty don’t stoop to engage in these “worship wars.” Rather, they offer a comprehensive view of what the Bible as a whole actually says about music and (especially) singing in the Christian life. They say very little about style because *gasp* the Bible says very little about it. The writing style is a quick, easy-to-read combination of beautiful theological insight and encouraging application interwoven with and illustrated by lyrics from the Psalms and newer songs. The “Bonus track” appendices offer some specific applications for pastors, worship leaders, musicians, and songwriters that perfectly round out the book.
Overall: if you want to know what the Bible actually says about God’s beautiful gift of music and song, this is the book to read. As a survivor of the “worship wars,” I’m glad that I can enjoy and benefit from a wide variety of Christian music whether the Getty’s own traditional-sounding, theologically rich In Christ Alone (one of my all time favorite songs) or something like Fix My Eyes by for KING & COUNTRY or The Greatest Story Ever Told by Shai Linne who raps the story of the Bible in about 4 minutes with more theological precision than some classic hymns.
(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this through net galley (thanks guys!) in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affects the content of the review…it really was an excellent book!)