Friday, January 22, 2010

The Book of the Shepherd: A book review

The Book of the Shepherd is a fairy tale-like story of a shepherd on an adventure to discover the "New way." Living in a harsh world of laws where an "eye for an eye" is the status quo, there is an extreme lack of grace and mercy. Not able to put his finger on what's wrong, he sets out to find out for in his gut he knows there should and could be more.

His picks up companions for his journey. Elizabeth, the young maiden, and the boy David, who the shepherd helps, make delightful traveling companions. Each has a story that is sad in parts but not without hope. They swap their stories with those they meet along the way, picking up valuable advice and wisdom in the process. 

With the help of Elizabeth's map, they are able to plumb the mysteries of the cave (where the "New way" will be found according to their map from Elizabeth's grandfather) that none have yet to return from. Overcoming great odds, they discover the treasure that is the "New law": The law of substitution, where love is substituted for hate, hope for dispair and so on. 

We later learn where much of the wisdom in the story comes from: an eclectic mix of writings from Charlotte's Webb to the Gnostic Gospels to The Golden Compass
Curiously, while there are many thoughts that find their origin in the Bible, never is that mentioned or given credit even in the "Resources" section. Perhaps this causal attitude toward the Bible is where it's greatest weakness lies. 

While I have no qualms with the essence of the law of substitution (actually comes from "The Simple Prayer" or the Prayer of St. Fancis"), there is a bit of confusioin in the story as a result. Much of it rings true but some parts left me puzzled. 

For example: "If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you." Well, that all depends on what's in you, does it not. If you follow the truth of the Bible, you would want to know if they were following the old nature or new nature from within. And does this mean that you can save yourself or that God in you saves you? And if he's in you, are you not already saved?

I admit a bias to believing that the Bible is truth. This is why I struggled with some of what was written. Other questionable influences include Native American practice and The Golden Compass (A book that is openly hostile to the God of the Bible). 

I tried to envision reading this book to children. I think it reads well that way as the chapters are short, they move crisply and there are lots of stories with lots of dialogue. By and large I liked the stories and lessons they taught. I believe a biblically grounded person could navigate this book of teaching opportunities well. But I call for caution to the lesson informed. 

One must remember that it is a story of stories. Fiction gets more latitude than non-fiction. However, lessons, truths and moral impressions are clearly taught through fiction and that's why I would exercise caution here. The mixture of contrary religious influences could do more harm than good if consumed to an extreme or without the influence of other stronger literature (like the Bible for starters).

In the end, I probably wouldn't recommend picking up this book with so many other better options out there. That said, I wouldn't lose a lot of sleep if you did either. I will probably read it to my 10-year old and use it as an opportunity to test her ability to discern.

Disclaimer: This book was given to me to read and review by Viralbloggers.com.