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The Door Within

Style: Weak → Average

Attitude: Positive

In Brief: Perseverance and loyalty to ones Ruler and fellow warriors. Acceptance of ones responsibilities however difficult. The hidden strengths people possess. Partial Christian allegory. Rather creaky style and language.

Cover of The Door Within

Author: Wayne Thomas Batson

Series: The Door Within

Publisher: Tommy Nelson

Published in: 2005

Age Range: Young Teens

Period: Contemporary

Setting: The Realm

Genres:  AdventureFantasy


Characters:

  • Aidan is a young teenager who resents his family's move across the country until he is drawn into The Realm and must learn quickly to be the Twelfth Knight of King Eliam's Elder Guard.
  • Gwenne is a Glimpse, one of the peoples of The Realm. About Aidan's age, she is already an accomplished warrior and becomes his close friend.
  • Paragor has betrayed King Eliam and is now leading an army to take control of the Realm, helped by his lieutenant Rucifel.
  • Valithor is the King's great Captain, demanding and hard-working but kindly, the only survivor of Paragor's treachery years before.

Synopsis:

Aidan Thomas comes across a set of scrolls which tell a story in which he mysteriously becomes embroiled, travelling to The Realm to join the elite warriors of King Eliam in their attempt to sway the undecided people of Mithegarde. Aidan has to undergo intensive training as a warrior and to prove his worth on the journey, helped by Gwenne, a girl of about his age who's already an accomplished warrior.

Notes:

Within each of us is a door waiting to be unlocked. Perhaps it reveals unsuspected reserves of courage or understanding. Perhaps it opens up the way to deeper questions of religion and Faith. Or perhaps it makes us more aware of the world around us, in particular of our own family. That, at any rate, is the starting point of the first book in a trilogy under the title The Door Within. Whether you think its presentation of this idea stands up to scrutiny may depend on your sympathy for allegorical-style fantasy tales.

Most famous of these, obviously, is C.S. Lewis' Narnia series. (Anyone making a case for Tolkien should be aware that Tolkien specifically refuted the idea of Middle Earth as an allegory). In Lewis' canon, children travel mysteriously to a land peopled by familiar and mythical creatures with a God-like Kingly character, glimpsed occasionally but felt more often in characters' hearts. The children themselves have a certain journey to undergo while helping the land to overcome the enemies of the King who finally sends the children home, sometimes never to return.

There are so many points of similarity in this new trilogy that it's difficult not to be conscious of the parallels. The question is, does The Door Within stand up in its own right as well as the Narnia stories are generally reckoned to do? I would say: only just. If you're coming along for a swords-and-sorcery tale with young heroes and gripping battles, then this may leave you satisified. On the other hand, you may just find the Christian elements somewhat overwhelming, and in contrast the slight creakiness of the writing somewhat underwhelming.

The presentation is impressive. Looks aren't everything, but a lot of effort has gone into the book's appearance. The hardback edition has an artistic blue-themed cover and dust jacket and mottled pages to give a diary effect. There's a hand-drawn map on the endcovers and occasional sword and scroll motifs throughout the pages, although no actual illustrations. Lest I be accused of damning with faint praise, let me add that I found the story enjoyable and engaging and would recommend it to most youngsters who had a penchant for this kind of thing. Nor is there anything which I think any parent would find objectionable; on the contrary it's full of positive values and displays of virtue. But since it's so clearly intended to draw out questions of Christianity, it must be examined from that angle too.

Aidan is a mildly stroppy young teenager, an only child whose family has moved across country, leaving behind Aidan's one-and-only friend, to be near his grandfather rather than leaving him to a care home. His parents are well-meaning and considerate, and his mildly despised grandfather has unsuspected depths. Aidan himself is not without good qualities, but it's clear that he must undergo the rites-of-passage journey into The Realm to complete his training as a Young Man.

At this point, the Christian elements enter and while I have every respect for the author's apparent intent, I don't feel his approach works entirely. Aidan finds a set of scrolls which tell of a land whose King is betrayed by an honoured friend and who gives his life for his people. Aidan's parents and his grandfather recognise this as The Story, a bestselling book which many own but which few have read. Aidan mystically enters The Realm and joins a group loyal to the resurrected King whose task is to sway the undecided people of the land away from the temptations of riches which lead to enslavement and towards the King who offers peace and wisdom.

The parallel with the Christian message is clear: people who follow Christ must win over those who are drawn to more worldly delights. This will involve suffering and sacrifice. At no point in either world is God mentioned, or Christianity. But whereas this is true also for, say, Narnia, the latter can be read without the Christian elements intruding on the story, while in this case, they're far too much to the fore, I suspect, for many people's taste. Your opinion may vary.

In The Realm, Aidan undertakes a fairly by-the-book transformation from untutored stripling into brave warrior, helped by the benevolent ribbing of his comrades-in-arms, and especially the young love interest Gwenne with whom by the end he's held hands a few times and exchanged a couple of kisses on the cheek. The Warriors work well together, supporting each other despite good-natured rivalry. Their countersign, so to speak, is “Never Alone”, a reference both to their comradeship and to their reliance on the power of their King. Each one recognises that he has been chosen in spite of his own defects. There's nothing wrong with all this, but none of it is especially inspired either. In the same expected way, Aidan makes a couple of embarrassing goofs but then makes good by saving a few lives by his own daring and initiative.

Aidan's own language is vernacular (American) schoolboy, which is understandable if not especially interesting. What's less understandable is the form of cod-mediaeval which the Glimpses (the denizens of The Realm) speak, laced with “forsooth” and “verily” but occasionally lapsing into modern-speak. Coupled with the plot device of people in this world having a counterpart in that, you're left slightly with the effect which Peter Pan produces when you realise that Hook is played by the same actor as Mr Darling: you're not sure which is the actor and which the reality. Perhaps that's the author's intention, but if so it's not quite sure enough of itself, I think.

I'm afraid a couple of almost literal Deus ex machina moments really didn't work for me: Paragor's exile along with his followers as described by Valithor, and the other Warriors' escape clause from the Tempest (“the King sent along some dragons”). There are more subtle and consequently more effective uses of the King's power in the book, such as the moment when Aidan is inspired to lay down his sword before the black knight who's trying to taunt him into a fight. Perhaps one can't help feeling that King Eliam is just too much in evidence. The episode when Aidan is dazzled by the King's glory put me rather in mind of a scene from Star Trek.

Then there's the allegory within the allegory: each of the Glimpses, the people of The Realm, has a counterpart in our world, and Aidan meets both his “father” and his “grandfather”, although not his mother's nor his own counterpart. This obviously has the effect of making Aidan think rather more about his own father and grandfather, not least since his infirm and uninteresting grandfather has a virile and vivid alter ego in The Realm. It's an interesting idea, although I'm not sure if the author intends to develop it in later books.

Ultimately I was interested enough in Aidan and his adventures to be interested in future volumes (if I can get my hands on them on this side of the Atlantic) but I hope the author can achieve a rather surer touch with later stories.

Themes:

  • Relationship between religion and real life
  • Parents and grandparents in their younger lives

Aidan had been on the verge of despair, but now there was something he could grab hold of, a thin strand of hope. “Look, Gwenne!” Aidan exclaimed excitedly. “The moonrascals are trying to help us! I bet that tunnel will lead us somewhere safe. Maybe to Alleble!”

“Alleble is leagues away,” Gwenne argued. “And so close to Paragory, how do you know that those snowy moonrascals are not under a spell of the Prince? That tunnel could lead us right to the enemy's front door!”

“Yeah, but what choice do we have?” Aidan said. “We can't just stay here!”

Wednesday 7th February 2007