Friday, May 14, 2010
Authors tend to have themes that fascinate them, things they return to again and again, such as Jack Finney’s longing to return to a by-gone day, or Philip K. Dick’s obsession with human identity. For author David Niall Wilson, there is a recurrent theme of the nature of religion, or more exactly the role religion serves in his characters lives. Sometimes the religious themes are font and center, as with his classic novel This Is My Blood, and sometimes it serves as subtext. Since this is something of deep interest to me, this is possibly part of the reason I enjoy his work so much. Ancient Eyes is another novel with this as a focal point.
The principal character in the novel is Abraham Carlson, who grew up in an isolated community in the California Mountains (despite the California location, it seemed more rural Southern to me, but that would be a personal prejudice). Abraham’s father was the spiritual leader of the community, and when Abraham was a boy, took action against a dark presence residing in the mountain and vanquished it, although not permanently. In the years since, Abraham’s father has died, and he has moved away, becoming a writer and putting his past behind him. Until he receives a cryptic message from his mother, “He is returned…come home, boy”. It seems that Abraham’s family is part of an ages-old struggle against evil, and Abraham must return to his birthplace to continue the fight.
Ancient Eyes works just fine as a simple classic good vs. evil story, with the “good” stone church opposing the “evil” white church. But Wilson is one of the best authors working today, and for those who want something deeper, there is plenty here. Of particular interest is the fact that Reverend Koz, the nemesis of Abraham’s father, doesn’t see himself as some disciple of evil. He truly believes he is following the proper path of God. The parallel to modern religious fanaticism is clear. No matter how evil we see religious extremists; to themselves they are doing the right thing.
Whether it was deliberate or not, the book shows (I think) influence from Welsh writer Arthur Machen, who used similar motifs in his work. For those looking for a decapitation or an evisceration on every page, it may not be quite what they are looking for, but for anyone who appreciates good writing. The book was published by Bloodletting Press, and is very well put together, with a gorgeous cover (seen at right) and internal illustrations by Don Paresi.
Since I’ve been doing this little blog, I’ve posted on several of David Niall Wilson’s books, including This Is My Blood, Roll Them Bones, and now Ancient Eyes. I think it bears mentioning not only are they three great books, but they are very dissimilar to each other. Many authors basically write the same book over and over again, but Wilson gives you something new and different each time, and does it well.