Monday, November 11, 2013

The Riddle

Book: The Riddle by Alison Croggon (The Second Book of Pellinor)

Description: Maerad is a girl with a tragic and bitter past, but her powers grow stronger by the day. Now she and her mentor, Cadvan, hunted by both the Light and the Dark, must unravel the Riddle of the Treesong before their fractured kingdom erupts in chaos. The quest to solve this ancient puzzle lures Maerad ever closer to the seductive Winterking--author of her sorrows and the ally of her most powerful enemy, the Nameless One. Trapped in the Winterking's icy realm, Maerad must acknowledge what she has always suspected--that she is the greatest riddle of all. (book jacket)

My Thoughts: The Riddle has always been my favorite book of the Pellinor series. I relished the chance to reread it.

In many ways The Riddle answers many of the problems I had with The Naming, especially how easily Maerad seems to adjust to her new lifestyle. The Riddle opens and closes with Maerad struggling to deal with her own fears and assumptions and way of thinking, many of which things are heavily influenced by her earlier life as a slave. She struggles against the feeling that she doesn't belong anywhere that she and Cadvan travel to as well as with her feelings of inadequacy and ill-preparedness.

Again, The Riddle is masterfully written. Maerad and Cadvan travel all over the land of Annar and beyond, so that the story has an impressive breadth. Croggon doesn't create any radically new cultures, but each feels unique and authentic. Everything they encounter is beautifully described, and it was a joy to read, as always. Maerad's emotions were described beautifully as well, in a way that truly allows you to enter into her struggles and triumphs.

I was truly struck by a moment in Maerad's lessons, when her teacher tells her, "There is no single truth [...]. But all these truths, woven together, might give us a picture of what is true. That is why it's important to know all the different stories. We can never see all the sky at once." (p. 44) My first reaction was negative--there is only one truth!--but the more I thought about it, the more I was... well, intrigued. Of course it's not the first time I've run across this idea, but I was reading the novel right after reading a similar idea in the Old Testament class. A lot of modern scholarship on the first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch) is based on the documentary hypothesis, which is that several sources were combined by final editors to create the Pentateuch as we know it today. Our textbook makes the point that the final editors weren't concerned with forcing each of these sources to agree; rather, they wanted to preserve the sacred tradition that each represented.* I interpreted this (quite possibly incorrectly) to mean that the final editors believed that each source contained truth, even if each source also appeared to contradict the other sources; there was a deeper truth that had to be preserved. As I write, I am also reminded of a C. S. Lewis example, of how each person ultimately experiences something of God that is different than what every other person experiences, and so knows God in a different way than any other person.** In both of these examples, I see an acknowledgement of the reality that no one single person (or book, or moment, or...) can perfectly and totally contain and represent the person of our infinite God. That is why different perspectives are so important (otherwise why have four gospels? Why not just one? Why have so many prophets preaching at the same time and the same place?). Each one contains truths--and probably also untruths. It is narrow and arrogant to assume that each person has the same experience (as you) in life, and those different experiences mean that certain truths and perspectives will resonate and make sense and seem more true to some people than they will to others--each person has different passions! But each perspective contains a unique knowledge of an uncontainable, indescribable God.

A wonderful story of maturing, and beautifully written. As always, the Pellinor series is highly recommended!

* Michael D. Coogan. The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scripture. p. 106.
** I'm afraid I have no idea where this example is from. If I had to guess, I would say either Mere Christianity or The Problem of Pain.

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