Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Chasm - A Book Review

I found The Chasm by Randy Alcorn sitting on my kitchen table in the Multnomah packaging at about 12:30pm MST today. At about 1:15pm I set the book on the coffee table and had read the entire book in one sitting. The last time I did that was with John Piper's The Supremacy of God in Preaching and that was because I love non-fiction. I rarely finish fiction that I start so for me to read this book in roughly an hour is an amazing thing. This is not a boast in my reading ability however, but rather a tribute to how well this book draws the reader in to what is a very familiar story.

Initially, the book didn't grab me. Chapter 1 was slightly confusing and I started to think that this book would be added to the "unfinished fiction pile" that sits in my office. However, I just kept reading hoping it would all become clear. The somewhat confusing beginning almost makes sense in light of what Randy Alcorn is trying to do. He is telling a story of a man who is both sure of himself and unsure of his path at the same time.

Without giving away too much of the story the main character, Nick Seagrave, is on a journey to find the city of Charis, although throughout the book he questions whether he actually wants to go there or not. He finds himself having to choose between multiple paths before him and has several guides along the way. These guides however are either at work to help him or hurt him and their motives are not entirely clear to Nick until about halfway through the story. All the while Nick is realizing more and more with every step he takes, and finally reaches a full understanding of his journey when the story comes to its weighty climax.

In a nutshell, Randy Alcorn is walking in the footsteps of C.S. Lewis in the Narnia series and The Great Divorce as well as John Bunyan and his Pilgrim's Progress. This story is a very well done allegory of a person's path either to eternal death or eternal life. While it is shorter than the books I just mentioned it gets the point across quite well, and as I read it I saw myself in the main character. For a reader to feel that type of pull while reading is quite the feat and Randy Alcorn should be commended for this little book.

Another inclusion in this book is a handful of illustrations that match up with the text on the page. In all honesty I found these both helpful and somewhat irritating. While they are well done for the most part some of the expressions on people's faces as they plummet into the chasm are almost comical. I hate saying that because most of them are quite good, but there is something about them that didn't quite match up with the picture I had in my mind. Truly the book is so well written that there is really no need of illustrations. Here is a passage that I thought was particularly vivid:
Later, alone, I climbed a hill. Glancing down, I was surprised to see a huge figure, a giant in a flowing black robe, standing on the hillside, looking down over the roads...The ominous black-robed being cast a long shadow across the hillside, and when he moved and the shadow fell over others of the little people, I heard howls and whimpers. The man - or was he a great beast - stood smiling, gloating, taking pleasure in the pain he saw on the roads below him. He took out a lyre and played music and sang an otherworldly song. It sounded compelling, yet at moments seemed like a fraud, a counterfeit of some truer and deeper song. He laughed and pointed his finger at the sprawling misery and played his music like a cosmic Nero, fiddling while a world burned. He blew smoke out his nose. Then, to my horror, I saw him putting little people into his mouth. He smoked men as if they were cigarettes. Soon he had a half dozen in at once, a macabre sight that turned my stomach and made my knees tremble.
The book is full of imagery like this and it really made me feel as if I were there.

If you are the type of person that enjoys fiction, and better yet allegorical fiction, you should pick up this book. It will remind of you of Lewis and Bunyan and even more importantly it will remind you of how desperately we need a Savior. I'm glad I read this book and hope others find it as enjoyable and helpful as I did.

(I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. Thanks WaterBrook!)

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