These Nameless Things

Reviewed by:

G. Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.

Title:

These Nameless Things

Author:

Shawn Smucker

Publisher:

Revell

http://bakerpublishinggroup.com/revell

Publication Date:

June 2020

Length:

352 pages

OVERVIEW

Dan and his friends all escaped the mountain. They try to avoid talking about what they experienced inside it, the people who tortured them. Yet they find they cannot move away from the village next to the mountain, not quite yet at least. Then dreams remind them of someone they discover they all had some connection to: Dan’s brother. Dan begins to realize that if he wants to ever get away from the mountain, he must first go back inside and bring his brother out. Doing so will force him to face his own part in the events that tie his brother to everyone else.

Smucker writes in his afterword that he intended this book to an inverted version of Dante’s Inferno. As in the Inferno, the story focuses on a journey into a dark cavernous place where people are punished for their sins; various scenes are deliberately modeled on scenes from Dante’s poem. However, while some scholars (such as Divine Comedy translator Dorothy Sayers) have analyze the Inferno as an allegory, Smucker doesn’t seem to be aiming for allegory here. Allegories require a strict correspondence between the story element and philosophical ideas. For example, in The Pilgrim’s Progress, every natural feature (canyon, rock, path, etc.) that Christian sees has some kind of theological meaning. Smucker includes a few too many personal details about the characters, details which don’t seem to have any theological significance, to make this book an allegory.

Instead, Smucker seems to be aiming for something closer to fables or fairy tales. Fables, the literary that Jesus’ parables fall into, are about communicating one “big picture” idea; the details don’t need to each correspond to philosophical ideas. The parable of the prodigal son is about God’s forgiveness and acceptance; the fact the prodigal son got a job feeding pigs doesn’t have a special significance (the pigs don’t represent the Pharisees or anything like that). Fairy tales take this idea even further. You can see moral themes in a Hans Christian Anderson story, but the story also has little decorative details that flesh it out, whereas fables are usually told with minimal description. Smucker’s story has lots of details which just flesh out the story, making it feel like a dark fairytale, but there’s a sense the story is building up to one or more “big picture” ideas, making it feel like a fable.

Viewing the story as fable-fairytale makes it clear that Smucker is paying homage to the Inferno so he can consider questions that story gets into, but he takes those questions in different directions. As he puts it in the afterword, “I hope this book serves as a mirror to the Inferno, providing hope for those of us going through our own personal hell and leading us to task questions about guilt, hope, and forgiveness.” His story considers guilt, repentance, and how forgiveness requires radical love and grace. Chapters taking place within the mountain cavern play with the idea that some people may punish themselves for their sins more than anyone else. Later chapters take place between the mountain and a location representing heaven, and describe people being tricked into turning back toward the mountain. The point seems to be not that people can actually be tricked into giving up heaven, but that it’s easy to fall back into old ways of thinking and lose sight of God’s grace and forgiveness. All these elements are in some way an homage to the Inferno, but going in a reverse direction, highlighting the power of forgiveness and that sometimes the hardest thing is to forgive oneself. Obviously, reading the story as allegory would damage the point, implying one can escape hell or be tempted away from heaven. Reading it as Smucker intends makes it a clever and compelling discussion.

Smucker’s fable-fairytale approach make this book an interesting exception to the usual rule. Most Christian Fiction thrillers communicate their themes very literally, and don’t require the readers to do much effort to understand what the author is trying to say. Characters trade generic church phrases when they talk about how they found forgiveness or faith. God gets referenced by name, and if an angel or other supernatural figure appears, anyone who grew up reading Bible storybooks can quickly recognize them by the descriptions. Smucker aims for something more subtle, which work perfectly for the themes he’s talking about. A more literal approach would have taken the Inferno elements very seriously, and spent half the book assuring readers in some way or another that “of course, no one can really get out of Hell…” Such an approach would have told the readers almost immediately what the story was all about, which could kill the dramatic tension. Readers would know from the story what the story was supposed to be about and never experience the story as a story. They would immediately start analyzing the ideas without enjoying the story’s images which would help them see the ideas in new ways.

Ultimately then, Smucker’s subtlety pays off in a big way. He leads readers into a story that grapples with interesting questions and he pushes readers to think more about his ideas than the average Christian Fiction thriller would.

A gripping and ultimately inspiring tale about repentance and forgiveness.

ASSESSMENT

Rating (1 to 5 stars)

5 stars

Suggested Audience

Readers looking for psychological thrillers or dark fairy tales with elements of fantasy or parable, as well as readers interested in homages to Dante’s Divine Comedy, particularly the Inferno section.

Christian Impact

The author creates a plot that forces the character to come to grips with their painful pasts, with mistakes they’ve made, and then learn to repent and forgive. By choosing to present these ideas in story form, describing how characters feel, and avoiding obvious religious jargon, the author makes these ideas feel unusually powerful.

These Nameless Things


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