One trend in publishing that I applaud is the move toward well designed and illustrated children’s fantasy. From the Spiderwick Chronicles to The Edge Chronicles I find these little jewels to be full of fun and imagination. Perhaps it is my inner child or maybe I am just getting prepared for when my daughter is old enough to read. Either way I have a hard time not buying up the newest series whenever I see them at the bookstore.
Given this background, I was excited and intrigued by a new series in this mode but with a Christian theme and outlook. Landon Snow And the Auctor’s Riddle by R. K. Mortenson is the first in a series of books aimed at 8-12 year olds. The series is published by Barbour, a Christian publishing house best known for Oswald Chambers’s My Utmost for His Highest. The author, R.K. Mortenson, is an ordained minister with the Lutheran Brethren who is currently serving as a Navy Champlain in Florida.
As the title indicates, the central character is Landon Snow, an almost 11 year old boy from Minnesota. The story opens as Landon is traveling from his home in Minneapolis to visit his grandparents in Button Up, Minnesota for his birthday. He is excited about the trip because Button Up is not only home to his storytelling grandfather and his lemon bar making grandmother, but it is also to a large and magnificent library. Landon, like most 11 year olds, is very inquisitive; he likes to “have reasons for everything.” (In contrast his sister is a young number cruncher, constantly counting things.) What’s not to like about a kid who loves books?
Landon’s grandparent’s house turns out to be the entrance to an adventure reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Awakened in the night when his grandpa is hurt working on an old car, Landon finds a secret passage behind a bookcase that takes him through an underground tunnel to the town library and on to some magical worlds. I won’t spoil the story, but Landon’s adventure involves falling into a book, a dangerous game of chess, falling from the sky on a talking horse, and avoiding being punctured by arrows in the land of Odds.
The book is full of rhymes and riddles that Landon must decode in order to return home. The answers to these questions will also help him find the meaning he is always seeking. The first riddle sets Landon off on his adventure and forms the underlying theme of the book:
Could it be chance, mere circumstance
That man eats cow eats grass eats soil
And then man dies, and when he lies
To soil he does return?
As you can tell from this riddle, the book touches on a pretty big philosophical question. But it does so in a roundabout way. Hard core skeptics won’t find anything particularly sophisticated here, but neither is it a lightly veiled argument for intelligent design. It isn’t about the technical details of evolution or the origins of life. Rather it is about the underlying meaning of life. Landon is always asking questions; always wondering why. His adventure helps him to understand that knowledge and meaning bring order and purpose to life. Without them life becomes random and chaotic.
The Auctor’s Riddle is explicitly Christian. The characters pray and read the Bible as a normal part of their lives. Fellow Christians will find that comforting, but I don’t think non-Christians will find it cheesy or intrusive. Mortenson has created a likable central character and an interesting adventure full of imaginative settings and creatures. As a result the story is enjoyable regardless of your philosophical or faith perspective.
The language is lively and the story moves at a good pace. Mortenson injects plenty of humor and uses a light hand when discussing serious subjects. You never feel like you are being lectured or that the story is being set aside so the author can make a point. The adventure is full of surprises and keeps you guessing. It seems well suited to be read by young readers or read to those not yet up to the task.
Landon Snow And the Auctor’s Riddle is a promising start to a fascinating new series. Christian families will be thankful for something aimed at them but with all the qualities of popular bestsellers. But really anyone who enjoys a good story will enjoy this imaginative work. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series: Landon Snow And the Shadows of Malus Quidam.