Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 31, 2015

Wolfspeer, by Richard Falkinger #BookReview

Wolfspeer‘What amazes me,’ said Maureen, ‘is that one reads about such events in the Bible as something that happened a few thousand years ago, but that could not possibly happen in 2020, and to us! We are three people of different backgrounds and cultures who have been brought together, and must struggle to comprehend the meaning of the stranger’s visitation.’ (p. 83-4)

Three world religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – derive from the idea that the word of the deity has been visited upon a Chosen One, and millions of people accept this as part of their faith.  They believe the  words of the prophets because they believe in the visitation as a fact.  But what if an author wanted to write a novel exploring the idea that such a visitation might genuinely happen now, in the 21st century?  The kind of novel the author might write could be very different, depending on which faith, if any, he or she had, and for some, even the concept of speculating about it might be sacrilegious…

I picked up Wolfspeer at the library because the book looks professionally published (great cover design by Gordon Thompson) and the blurb is intriguing:

Wolfspeer the hunter and Rham Aldeab, a Palestinian archaeologist, are on a journey ten thousand years apart, destined by faith to make a connection.  In Jerusalem, in the year 2020, can the mystery that joins them intervene as climate change once again grips the world?

Wolfspeer – signs, visions, and a thread of hope leading to the future.

#BreakingMyOwnRulesLearnedTheHardWay I took it home to read because although it’s self-published under an obscure imprint called Tidal River Press, it is copy-edited by Glenys Osborne (author of the award-winning Come Inside) so I felt confident that the conventions of grammar and punctuation would be observed and that the syntax would be smooth.  (Some copy-editors also intervene if there are other lapses such as gaps in logic or problems with sequence but they don’t do line-editing to address problems at the sentence and paragraph level). I was also rather charmed by the idea that the author (now in his eighties) had written the entire book by hand, but -#Life’sTooShortToReadABadBook – I was ready to promptly jettison it if it turned out to be a disappointment.  (Or if it turned out to be thinly disguised rantings from a climate change sceptic).

Let me say at the outset that the novel has flaws that could have been redressed.  Falkinger’s professional background as an architect intrudes into the narrative in the form of rather too many clunky conversations among non-architects about architectural features in Jerusalem, and as you can see from the excerpt above, natural-sounding dialogue is not a strength of the novel anyway.  Not only that, the novel is a bit evangelical about climate change and interfaith reasonableness, and the female characters have a tendency to behave like a male fantasy of submissiveness and respect for male wisdom.

But Wolfspeer has an enticing beginning in the pre-Biblical past, and by the time I began to have doubts I had invested too much in the book to be put off by the less-successful scenes in Jerusalem in a not-too-distant future…

At a time when the last Ice Age is still within folk memory, Wolfspeer the hunter and his extended family are living a settled life in northern Europe.  One day he receives a command to leave behind all that he knows.  He is out hunting a stag when the moment occurs:

The spear had just left his hand when suddenly Wolfspeer’s eyes were flooded with extraordinary light.  A rainbow, of such colour and intensity that it dazzled him, filled his vision.  The old stag, the spear, the whole herd, vanished before his astonished gaze.  Awestruck, unable to move, Wolfspeer saw only the rainbow.  It filled the valley, its colours shimmering and almost humming.

Wolfspeer heard a voice that seemed to come from the rainbow, speaking words to him that he understood.

‘The peace of the spirit is with you.  Leave your valley and take your family to a far-away land, which I shall show you.  In time, one of your descendants will see the one destined to reveal my covenant to the people.’ (p. 4)

Yes, like most Judeo-Christian readers would, I thought, ok, this is an Abraham who is going to lead his people to the Promised Land.  The interesting bit is going to be seeing how Falkinger deals with the sceptics who haven’t seen the rainbow, right?  My hopes for a feisty wife were dashed, but there is a narky brother called Hagen who dismisses the visitation as a dream, and I liked the way the author handled the practicalities of a land-based people building a ‘float’ (i.e. a raft) to make their way down the Danube to the sea.  (Gundelin, the wife, gets a nice acknowledgement as the one who designs the masts).  The story of their voyage is enchanting, taking them through what would in time become the Bosporus, the Dardanelles, the Aegean Sea and eventually the Sea of Galilee.  They meet some friendly Turks and in Haifa they encounter dromedaries, and it’s on an unnamed hill with Seven Springs that a rainbow tells them that they are at their journey’s end.  (Traditionally this Mount of Beatitudes near Tabgha, is where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount.)

What this part of the story shows is that it’s all very well for the Chosen One who has words of the deity to succour him, but it’s the followers who must have blind faith in the Chosen One.  I admit that I had flashbacks to that Not the Messiah scene in Life of Brian but Falkinger’s plot works well enough if you accept the premise of a visitation and regard the issue of convincing sceptics as a recurring human problem.  And this thread, of course, alludes to the present-day issue of missing-in-action leadership in solving the human problem of climate change.  Climate change needs a charismatic leader.  Al Gore was never going to persuade people that the Inconvenient Truth meant lifestyle changes…

The chapters alternate between the two time frames.  Jerusalem in 2020 is the site of a climate change conference and so there are worthies trying to avoid the disappointment of Copenhagen amongst the religious pilgrims who wash through the city every day.  (BTW Hillary Clinton appears to have become President of the USA and a woman leads Israel too).  Because Rham Aldeab is a part-time tour guide as well as a Palestinian-Christian archaeologist, in the days before the conference he escorts a group to see all the cultural-historical-devotional attractions where he launches into tourism blurbs (yes, with architectural flourishes about their features).   With religious matters he is aided and abetted by Father McGee from the Irish delegation who has a handy way of recalling relevant bits of Ezekiel about Jerusalem being set in the midst of nations, and with the political by Maureen who is never one to hold back on that subject.  They wander around the city, taking in a side trip to Bethlehem where a bomb explodes in part of that infamous wall – where Rham has his second visitation, a pair of piercing eyes among the rubble.

Everyone looked towards the Wall and the noise.  Rham Aldeab looked too, but what he saw, despite the distance, was not the Border Wall or the missing section in it, but a pair of blue eyes, looking at him as they had from the eastern wall at the Lion’s Gate in Jerusalem, and obscuring everything else in his line of vision.  (p. 32)

Like Wolfspeer, Rham has a woman, (his bride-to-be Maureen) who trusts him implicitly, and instead of wondering if he has forgotten to take some crucial medication, she helps him interpret the eventual message of the Stranger who reveals that All Will Be Revealed in a Sign in a few days time on the Mount Of Olives.  But it’s a little more surprising that Rham’s mate Aaron (a nuclear physicist working at Israel’s not-so-secret ‘plant’) is so phlegmatic about a sudden, inexplicable rise in temperature at nuclear installations around the world, putting it down to some sort of spiritual message from God, a reminder that no matter how clever man may be, He is in charge of the world.   (I mean, if I knew in advance about a coming nuclear Armageddon, I’d make haste to gather my family and friends about me and open the best bottles of wine in the cellar, but no, in Wolfspeer everybody just goes on with things as usual.)

But #GivingTheAuthorTheBenefitOfTheDoubt, IMO it’s a mistake to read the book literally.  Wolfspeer is awash with Biblical and Middle Eastern political allusions, and it’s meant to be an allegory.  The signs and portents that look a bit silly in the 2020 scenes are not so different from the ones that the world’s great religions are based on, but it’s not an atheistic novel poking fun at miracles and prophecies.  Rather, it’s almost a yearning for a modern-day sign from a deity that would unite people at odds over religion and territory and would bring them together to ward off the peril that climate change portends.  But that yearning comes with a poignant awareness that nobody would be receptive to the message anyway:

He looked out of the window, hoping for a distraction from the turmoil of his thoughts.  He was still struggling to understand God’s plan in all of this.  Then, for no reason, Abraham’s story of the Old Testament came into his mind.  He took out his well-worn pocket Bible, which for many years had been his faithful companion.  He looked up Genesis, the story of Abraham, where God said to Abraham: ‘Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation.’

Aldeab sought the line that says, ‘So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him…’ He understood that God’s command and Abraham’s unquestioning obedience were part and parcel of the time in which the story had happened, less than four thousand years ago.  Abraham – a good man, who had lived on and with the land in a tent and with animals that sustained him and his family – would have had expectations of life that would have differed markedly from those of anyone alive today.  Abraham would have grown up with the spirituality that God bestows on those who walk with their God in their hearts.

Aldeab thought how different it all was now, with the world so focussed on commercialism and consumerism, and where youth had little time to experience the spirituality of heaven and earth, or of the land that provides life. (p. 115)

But the tendency towards didacticism is kept under control and in the end I was quite fascinated by this short novel.  It’s not like anything I’ve ever read before, and although it has its flaws, I liked the concept, and it was enjoyable to read.  It also made me want to read H.V. Morton’s Holy Land travel books from the 1950s, In the Steps of the Master and In the Steps of St Paul.  I’ve had these (as part of my small collection of H.V. Mortons) on my TBR for far too long…

Author: Richard Falkinger
Title: Wolfspeer
Publisher: Tidal River Press, 2010
ISBN: 9780980864502
Source: Kingston Library

Availability

Try the author’s website.  The link to Tidal River Press doesn’t work, but there are contact details for the author.  You can also get a Kindle edition from Amazon for a song.


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