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Yes, Virginia, there is wholesome youth literature

Recently, parents’ confidence in authors of youth literature has plunged to an all-time low, and if you are a parent you have reason for concern.

But there is hope. I have just the novel for you and your youngster and can promise you no untoward revelations out of left field once your patronage of this author has catapulted him to fame and fortune. The new hard cover version of the first novel of A.R. Horvath’s “Birthpangs” series entitled “Fidelis” is a newly edited and illustrated edition of an already wonderful but undiscovered book.

Novelist A.R. Horvath went to a Lutheran school from grades 1 through 12, but as he reports at his website, he was isolated, not insulated, from the world. Horvath fell away from the faith during his first year at a Lutheran university.

He had been sheltered from the world but had never been prepared to function away from the nest, falling prey to the myth that Christianity lacks the intellectual underpinnings to make it viable. He credits the writings of C.S Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien with shepherding him back into the fold.

It is true, however, that Jesus preferred followers with childlike faith, as the account of Doubting Thomas attests, and Horvath acknowledges this preference in a dialogue between Fermion, a Nephilim (sublime creature mentioned in Genesis), and protagonist Fides:

“Obedience to who?” Fides shouted. “You? God? Perhaps I would have more willingly ‘obeyed’ if I had been given a compelling reason!”

“A more ‘compelling reason,’ as you call it,” said Fermion coolly, “would have robbed your obedience – if you had obeyed – of its virtue.”

Set in 22nd century America, “Fidelis” tells the story of Fides, a craftsman who takes on an assignment in the Midwest and winds up embroiled, against his will, in a scheme to protect a priceless treasure from would-be thieves. He is taken captive by his contract partners and is en route by air to the far west when he is stricken by an epidemic that has gripped the nation. He falls into a coma and upon awakening, months later, learns that the country has been devastated and its population decimated by a nuclear war and a mysterious disease that is almost always fatal. The rest of the story has Fides trying desperately to reach his home and family. On the way, he meets people, some earthly, some of uncertain, ethereal ancestry, all of whom are engaged in one or the other side of a war for the physical and spiritual survival of the nation. His engagement in this war, armed with a beautifully crafted sword of unknown origin, forges him into the hero he is destined to become, despite his earlier failings and his sense that he is a coward.

An ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances that forge him, “Fides” is anything but the humanist-materialist Hollywood hero who owns his destiny, but rather a leader who has learned the wisdom of obedience to God.

The book is reminiscent of Horvath’s models Lewis and Tolkien, but also strongly allegorical, like “Pilgrim’s Progress” or the medieval Everyman plays, where man is confronted with his mortality and then the hope of salvation.

On another level, it is a utopia-gone-sour novel in the tradition of “Brave New World,” “Animal Farm” or “1984” – with one important difference: Despite the projection of a horrendous future for the world, it holds out hope for salvation of fallen mankind.

Here is why this novel impresses me:

It prophesies what will essentially happen if our nation continues its course away from constitutional governance. Without preaching, Horvath’s characters hint at the reasons for the future holocaust and the spiritual darkness that precedes it. In Fides’ world, all religions are banned, although there are professionals ostensibly trained to act as religious guides. In fact, their real mission is to explain why religion is bad for people. Hence, religious canons are banned everywhere. Before the holocaust, the U.S. had been invaded by allied Chinese-Mexican forces. At some point, the U.N. had intervened, but once having secured the country, they stayed on, imposing arbitrary rule.

Any keen observer of religious, social and political trends today can see that there is much more in play here than mere fantasy.

“Fidelis” is fluent, gripping and written as though the author had actually been there. I saw not a word out of place or any word that may have qualified as filler. That’s why I simply couldn’t put the book down. Neither could my 13-year-old son.

But more importantly, I felt as though I were in a gold mine with nuggets of wisdom popping up everywhere, like these words spoken by Dor, a member of the mysterious Shadowmen:

There is a power that is made perfect in weakness. There is a power that can only exist with full surrender.

Or those of amateur historian John Henry Lambert, a kind of 22nd century American Solzhenitsyn whom Fides meets on his journey:

In all systems, power eventually gravitates inwards. Someone, some person, eventually decides what is “fair” and what is “equal.” Someone has to make that decision. The Pledge [a partisan fighting force] is right now making the same fundamental mistake of history by assuming that humans are, in the main, good. They are always so surprised when suddenly a bad man is in the position of power. But then it is too late! The bad man has the power!

A.R. Horvath gets an A+ in spiritual discernment and political wisdom, and is a born entertainer to boot – a combination I have not seen in contemporary American fiction.

His newly edited hardbound edition is available through the author or at Amazon. Next installment of the series due out in 2008.

I can’t think of a better Christmas present for a youngster or adult.

Donald Hank is a technical translator and editor-in-chief of Laigle’s Forum.