Mourning leads to change.
Surrender is gain.
Morality is possible only when it is impossible.
After reading my review of the Christian classic, Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, the author of Archibald Zwick asked me if I would read his book and write a review of it, so I agreed and he sent me a copy. Like the classic Pilgrim’s Progress, Palmer’s story is a Christian allegory that uses the characters and events to symbolically convey spiritual truths to the reader. As others have pointed out, the story is similar to the C. S. Lewis‘ Chronicles of Narnia series, so I think this book would appeal especially to teenagers (and adults) who enjoy that kind of fantasy tale. The story follows sixteen-year-old Archie, who finds himself in a fantastical floating island kingdom reminiscent of medieval England, except the people are smaller than the average human and have green-tinted skin, and the knights ride dolphins instead of horses. Archie cannot figure out how he ended up in K’truum-Shra, a city which apparently doesn’t exist in our world, and he is determined to get back home. As it turns out, Archie’s adventure is a two-fold journey: a physical journey toward home as well as a spiritual journey of self-discovery.
Shortly after Archie’s arrival, the Elders of K’truum-Shra tell Archie about the city’s ways and people, and Archie learns that these people believe he may be the one of whom it was prophesied would come during a time of crisis and restore their society. Before he realizes it, Archie is commissioned to fulfill a vague quest, which he is told will eventually help him to find his way home. A situation arises which results in Archie receiving the opportunity to train for knighthood, which involves developing physical skills, like using a sword and riding a dolphin, and learning about the city’s history and teachings from the sacred scrolls. Then, while in the midst of his training, a civil war erupts, and Archie finds that his new skills and leadership qualities will be put to the test.
In the beginning, it is evident that Archie has a bit of an issue with pride and arrogance; he also displays a short temper and a tendency to seek revenge. So when Archie is betrayed by someone he trusted, he struggles with his desire to get even. And when he hears different accounts about various individuals and finds himself unsure who to trust or listen to, he must somehow decide which side to ally himself with.
The most important things Archie learns during his time in K’truum-Shra concern his own character, and the keys to this process are the city’s eight towers. These towers are each named for a Christian virtue or character trait, and each tower has an inscription which communicates a truth about each specific quality. When he discovers the inscription on the first tower, “Humility is the path to freedom,” Archie determines to discover all of these cryptic statements and to learn their meaning, with the hope that they will eventually show him how to return home.
Throughout the story, events occur which cause Archie to visit each of the towers, and at each one he learns something about himself and grows emotionally and spiritually as a result. Among the various characters Archie gets to know is one individual, an “old bearded knight,” who serves as his trainer, instructor, counselor, and guide. The old knight is the one who teaches Archie and helps him to understand what the qualities represented by the eight towers mean, and how these qualities are connected to one another.
At one point, Archie feels proud of his willingness to show compassion on the prisoners of war, until he comes face to face with the very one who betrayed him. Suddenly his compassion turns to vengeance, and the old knight comments, “The value of a precious jewel is determined by its price. Of what value, then are forgiveness and compassion if they cost nothing in return?” Then later, the old knight has an occasion to remind Archie,
You have twice made the passage from humility to compassion. The first passage was from tower to tower, the second from heart to heart… If you are to grow, you must understand that just as surely as anger and hatred are fruits of pride, compassion always flows from humility.
While the story itself is engaging, for me it’s the discussions between Archie and the knight that add the rich “meat” and valuable lessons that make the book a worthwhile read. Here are just a few more examples of the wise advice the old knight imparts to Archie:
When anger, like fire, is not controlled, it is very destructive and consumes everything in its path. Love and hate are not mere feelings, they are choices…Feelings follow actions. If you practice love, you will soon feel love, and if you practice hate, you will soon feel hate, with all its consequences.
Love does not require us to surrender to evil, and even when we strike the enemy down, it should not be done in anger or with hatred in our hearts, but only to resist evil. And we should mourn not only our fallen but also the enemy fallen.
Fear…reduces our intellect, and it is the enemy of trust. And without trust, there is not peace…You will always have conflict, but to have peace in spite of conflict, you must learn to trust. And to trust, you must become obedient. You must, therefore, surrender your will and accept your circumstances, whatever they may be. When you can do that, peace will reign in your heart.
Archie experiences much during his time in K’truum-Shra and learns lessons about humility, compassion, trust, submission, and sacrifice – even to the point of death – before his adventure comes to an end.
In Archibald Zwick and the Eight Towers, Mr. Palmer has written a compelling story that communicates Biblical truths in an interesting and creative way. Palmer uses the themes of pride, betrayal, rebellion, hatred, revenge and war to illustrate the Christian traits of humility, forgiveness, obedience, love, compassion, and sacrifice. With the exception of the unusual names of the characters, the reading level is fairly easy. The plot includes unexpected twists and thought-provoking dialogue, and the ending provides an opportunity for further discussion and study. Palmer has written a companion study guide, Truth in the Eight Towers, which explains the Biblical truths behind the symbolism and names used in the story, including Scripture references, and is a good accompaniment for personal study or to facilitate group discussion with young people.Never read a Christian allegory before? This would be an easy one to get your feet wet with!