Thursday, June 10, 2010

So... The Midnight Dancers

So... I said I might do a review of this book.
Well... here it is, though it might not be a typical review. :)
First of all, though, I want to quote the author, Regina Doman:

There's a deeper reason why you might not like Rachel. Some of you have picked up certain Christ-like elements in my portrayal of Paul. Well, this book was my first stab in fiction at the relationship the Bible makes its central theme: the relationship between God and His people: Yahweh and Israel, Christ and the Church.

So in a certain sense, Paul does symbolize Christ: a man overflowing with goodness, who didn't need to get involved with the petty squalid disagreements and rebelliousness of a family of girls, but who choose to get involved anyway.

And Rachel's feelings about Paul are probably similar to the feelings that many people have towards Christ: suspicious of His motives, wanting their own freedom, thinking they understand everything about Him so they can dismiss Him quickly, never really bothering to get to know Him, mocking his challenge to them to change their lives, being tempted to fly into a rage when He blocks their selfish desires.

In a very real sense, Rachel is like us: us in relationship to God. IF we are very honest with ourselves, we might be able to see this.

That's one real reason why she's not very likeable, I think. After all, how many of us are likeable when it comes to our relationship with God? God is the one who knows what a selfish jerk I really am: even though I can fool most of the people in my life, I can't fool Him.

But God loves me despite this. He loves us anyway, and one of my favorite parts of the book is that Paul still loves Rachel and understands her rebellion even while he's thwarting her. He's not "in love" with her, btw, until the last paragraphs of the book. He just loves her with a sacrificial love.

Obviously, as I posted here, I picked up on this. :) So you already know that I really did like that part. It was such a good illustration that when it hit me... yeah. :) Amazing.

But what was the book about? Short synopsis: Rachel Durham is an 18-year-old Protestant girl with 11 sisters and 2 brothers. Her father remarried 5 or so years ago, her parents joined a new church, and now her father is retiring from the military. Unable to reconcile her love for freedom, beauty, and excitement with her church's rules and hypocrisy, she begins to split her life between the day and night. Like in the original fairy tale, she and her sisters end up boating to an island every night to dance with boys, breaking rules right and left as they immediately begin to wear skirts as short as they can, play with boys, make-up, smoking, and everything they would never be allowed to do during the day. Their puzzled father, having exhausted the options regarding boys at his church (he senses something is up, but does not realize it is those very boys who are taking his daughters out), finally asks a young man he met during his last overseas tour to help him. Enter Paul Fester - soldier, medic, and juggling ninja. He is also Catholic, which makes for some interesting dynamics with girls who look down on him for being a pagan, even as their own behavior shows them to be unsaved themselves. Simple storyline, eh? :) I don't know, I don't think I've read anything like it, even the original fairy tale. :D

What did I think of it? That's a little harder... Because so much of the book revolved around the strictness of the church and how it drove the girls crazy, parts were a little difficult. I know the author did not mean to imply that all Protestant churches were that way, nor that no Catholic families have the problems that the Durhams did. Still, I felt that there was a lot more Catholicism in this book than in previous ones, which, since I'm not Catholic, did make it slightly less enjoyable, although it was very interesting to see the girl's questions and Paul's answers. The girls were very rebellious, and their struggles are quite plain. Their "badness" and Paul's extreme "goodness" would have been rather awkward had Paul not been a picture of Christ.

*spoilers* However, I did not like Paul's involvement in aikido - aikido's basic premise I find very cool, but the fact that is is extremely intertwined with the Ōmoto-kyō religion was disturbing. His bent towards alternative medicine... I hope to find out more in medical school. :D
There is a torture scene at the end, which fit the picture of Christ very well, but might be difficult for some people to read, and this book is definitely not for younger readers. The girl's behavior (which includes lying, swearing, smoking, and kissing boys they pretty much just met) and the attempted rape that their disobedience eventually leads to, make it for older readers only. In fact, I would say that, unless you have people like the sisters in your life or are already dealing with some of these things, it might not be a helpful book for you to read. If you have a background similar to the Durhams, without the problems that they encountered, you might find it un-enjoyable and a distraction, if you know what I mean...

Like I said before, though, I found the exploration of beauty and goodness very interesting. A lot of the things that the Durham's church did/stood for were not wrong. The disconnect that the girls felt, however (it's ok to wear fancy, beautiful dresses to a Renaissance festival, but absolutely nowhere else) was wrong. If you do believe that girls should only wear denim jumpers, then there really shouldn't be exceptions , should there be? Because the girl's relationship with their father was extremely strained, the book also illustrated the need for strong father-daughter relationships. (You have to show your daughters that you love them or they'll start looking for someone who will.) The book showed the hollowness of what the world calls "fun" - The problem was, he knew, that in the heart of the forbidden fruit was nothing but dust, an empty husk of life, its potential wasted, its soul shriveled into rot.

Personally, I have known girls who saw "goodness" as boring. Who saw "meekness" as an insult. Who saw nothing really attractive, nothing really beautiful, in "being good." Bo-ring. NO! At the end of the book is a note that says, "As human beings, we need goodness to be incarnated as beauty so that we can more easily love goodness." If we do not see the beauty, the awesome glory and joy, and absolute incredibleness that is our God, how can we love Him? You cannot separate out the beauty from God's perfection and holiness. Look and see how many times the Bible talks about the beauty of holiness and the beauty of the Lord! There is nothing more exciting nor more beautiful than our amazing God! The author says, "I had grown up knowing many jaded Christian teenagers who were sure that they know "all about that stuff," Christianity, and they were sick and tired of it. To them, goodness was truly boring. What could be done for them? To try to figure out the answer, I wrote this novel." Those are the ones for whom the book is written, the ones who be blessed by reading it.

Not to switch the focus here, but as I read this book, I found myself remembering another book that I read last year. Written in the late 1800's/early 1900's, it was a book by a Protestant author about a man who almost became a Catholic for some of the very reasons that The Midnight Dancers discusses. I had to go find The King's Service and look for the passages discussing beauty again, which I found very interesting.

"Why, he asked himself, had he abandoned his early faith? Because it had never quite satisfied either his intellect or his heart. But was that its fault, or the fault of his instructors, or of himself? Looking back dispassionately upon his early life, he thought Master John Aird had not dealt wisely with him. He had tried to silence his doubts and questionings instead of answering them. He had virtually forbidden him to think for himself by branding all independent thought
as either foolish or sinful... Moreover, the minister was cold and austere, both in his manner and his rule, which the Jesuit assuredly was not. The one prescribed amusement and indulgence, where the other would have used the rod...

He remembered standing outside the cathedral of Prague, and looking up at the coloured windows - mere blots, opaque patches of dull matter, broken into segments without order or beauty. But presently he went in, and then the soft light came to him through the rich medium of a thousand jewels - sapphire, amethyst, topaz, emerald, each a separate glory, yet all combining in the pictured and beautiful forms of saint and prophet and apostle. So to those outside the Faith there might be chaos and darkness, where to those within there was beauty, order, and light...

He lost himself in a dream of grand old cathedrals, their jewels of pictured glass, their sculptured monuments, their long, dim, pillared aisles, their chanted masses, with the pealing of solemn organs and the sweet treble of childish voices - all the spells which art and music and romance had woven around his heart. Was it these things after all that had made him a Roman Catholic?

Gifted with a rich imagination, an exquisite taste, and an intense love of the beautiful, he had failed to find satisfaction for those parts of his being in his early home or in the Church of his fathers. He was rather taught to think that they were vain, sinful propensities, which ought to be crushed and repressed..."

This last paragraph could have been written exactly about Rachel Durham! Somehow I think that if another book is written about her, this also will be true of her:

"It seemed to him as though he had lived all his early days in a close, dark dungeon, and the Roman Catholic Church had set him free, and opened for him the gates of an enchanted garden of beauty, music, and art. That within him which was - if not his deepest, truest self - at least very close to it, found at length the rest of full satisfaction."

As a Protestant, I found this part of The King's Service also very interesting:

"There may be more thrilling music in the Huguenot's Psalm than in the chanted mass, and more to touch the imagination in
the belfry by the grey kirk,
In whose shadow sleeps our dead,
than in the grandest of cathedrals. there is certainly more poetry in the faith of John Knox than in that of the Council of Trent: for the one gives the people a free Bible, that living fountain of inspiration, in the lower as well as in the higher sense of the word; the other feeds them on the dry husks of a dead theology.... In his early days he learned a great deal about Christ, but he never learned Christ. He knew
the truths of Scripture as a blind man might know by name the colours of the rainbow, their order and their relation to each other. He told me that the Catechism and the Confession of Faith seemed to him like unadorned, unsightly cups, earthen vessels, men taught him to prize because, as they said, they were full of living water, though he had ever found them dry and empty."

Once he came to see the rainbow, to learn Christ, he found Living Water indeed.

Since however, this is not Catholicism vs. Protestantism, but Christianity and beauty, I absolutely love how The Midnight Dancers ends.

"I know goodness. It has a name."

And that, I think, is the answer. How can we help those who are looking for beauty in all the wrong places? By living so that others can see God working in our lives. Showing them the goodness and beauty that is to be found in our Lord - the peace that keeps our hearts and minds, joy that passes all understanding. That is what I can take away from this book - a desire to be like Paul Fester in that I am a picture of Christ to those around me, willing to sacrifice myself so that others can see Him, with His beauty and His glory and His love, in me.

3 thoughts shared:

Maggie said...

Neat review! Thanks for sharing!


Sophia White said...

Okay, I know this is a really old post and you may not see this comment, but who wrote "The King's Service"? I'd really like to find it and read it (funny how a review for one book turned out a recommendation for another that way), but I can't find a mention of it anywhere with only the title to search for.

Katherine Sophia said...

Yay for comment notification! XD
Deborah Alcock is the author, and I definitely enjoyed that particular book. But if you end up looking into her books, my favorite is Crushed Yet Conquering with The Spanish Brothers next...a few are on Project Gutenberg.


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