The theologian and writer Alister McGrath has written a novel for children. The first in a muti-part series called The Chronicles of Aedyn is Chosen Ones. I remember reading in the Church of England newspaper that he had long held the view that as Christians, we need to rediscover the sense of story to communicate gospel truths (much as CS Lewis did), and Alister has picked up in the same vein.
The story follows two young teenagers, Julia and Peter as they go to spend the summer holiday with their grandparents in a large house in Oxford. During the course of the night, they discover a garden which seems to have special qualities – a silvery glow that is beckoning them into it. Before they know it, Peter and Julia have been drawn through the garden pond into the world of Aedyn.
There’s no guessing where this part of the story comes from – children away from home in a grand old house find themselves in a magical world – very Narnia. But the world is quite different from Narnia. There are no talking animals, just humans who were living in their earthly paradise have become enslaved by three seemingly eternal leaders – the Wolf, the Jackal and the Fox. Very quickly the children learn that they have been brought here as chosen ones to overthrow their tyrannical power and restore freedom to the people.
There are clear religious themes as well as clear references to some of McGrath’s other work. Comparing the story to the Biblical story, the children can be likened to some of the prophets in the Old Testament. The community has already been saved in some kind of Exodus event, they already have their own version of passover called ‘the remembrance’ which involves salted fish, and they are looking forward to a Great Deliverer who will finally overcome all the evil in the land. I guess we might liken it to the Jews returning from the exile. During the story the children need to come understand that they are up to the task ahead and that there is a greater power, the Lord of Hosts, equipping them and drawing them on.
There are also passing references to the faith vs. science debates that McGrath so often engages in. The tyrants are portrayed as ‘reasonable’ people who only pay attention to fact and hard evidence. McGrath’s storyline opens the children up to the possibility that hard fact is not enough and the existence of a God behind what can be seen and touched.
All in all, it’s a decent story, but it didn’t open up my imagination the way that C.S. Lewis did. Knowing the biblical story so well, I had guessed roughly where the plot was going. The opening few chapters did not grab my attention but I was sucked into the story as the book progressed. In fact, McGrath could have spent less time on the first section while the kids were finding their way, and more time helping us imagine this new world, and more time as the climax of the book approached. There were moments when it was clear that McGrath is more used to writing non-fiction, evident in some of his word choice.
Another reviewer wrote, “Chosen Ones get no points for originality, but you still won’t be able to keep from liking it.” There is an element of truth in that. But all in all, it was a fun read, easily suitable for the 8-12 age group. It will be interesting to see how the story and McGrath’s fictional writing develops as the series continues.