Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ranger's Apprentice: The Ruins of Gorlan

A couple weeks ago, I was on Facebook and saw an ad that said that if I "Liked" the page for the Ranger's Apprentice series, I could download the first ten chapters of book one, The Ruins of Gorlan. Since I enjoy books of that sort, I decided to go for it. The free download, as was their intention, hooked me, and over $40 later, I am now a proud owner of the first six books. :-)

Book one begins with the preparations of Morgarath, the evil Lord of the Mountains of Rain and Night and former baron of the fief of Gorlan in the kingdom of Araluen. Fifteen years earlier, he was driven out of his fief in a sound defeat, and he has been lying in wait, preparing his army of Wargals, a sort of humanoid creature with features of dogs and bears, to attack and make another attempt at conquering the Kingdom. Also on his side are the Kalkara, huge hulking animals like bears with ape-like features.

Meanwhile, in the fief of Redmont, a group of orphans lives in the ward of the castle of Baron Arald. When they turn 15, they are eligible to apply for apprenticeship to varying Crafts, or occupations, that are each very important in their own way to the running of the fief and the kingdom. Young Will, the smallest of the eligible orphans for this year, has always dreamed of joining battleschool and becoming a brave Knight like his father, whom he never knew but pictures as a valiant knight who died gloriously in battle shortly before Will was born, and was instrumental in Morgarath's defeat. Unfortunately for Will, his small size is against him, and Battlemaster Sir Rodney turns him down. However, his agility and ability to hide, sneak and climb catch the attention of the mysterious Ranger Halt. The Rangers of Araluen play a vital role in the running of the kingdom. Each Ranger is assigned to a fief, and he must protect the fief, scout out threats, and remain unseen. The previous defeat of Morgarath was due in large part to a critical tip from a Ranger who went ahead of the army and alerted them to the location of the enemies. Due to the secretive nature of the job, the Rangers are a mysterious bunch.

Over the next few months, Halt begins to teach Will the skills he will need as a Ranger in the coming war with Morgarath, especially developing a keen sense of observation, as well as knife throwing and archery. Will Will be up to the task before him, which is more daunting than he realizes?


This book is masterfully written. Author John Flanagan does an amazing job of keeping the reader anxious for more, while crafting a true work of art. He brilliantly weaves danger, intrigue and humor. Will and his fellow wardmates each encounter unexpected challenges, and they learn the power of teamwork as well as developing their talents. Horace, another orphan of Will's age, encounters a trio of ruthless bullies in battleschool, and must deal with the constant torment that they cause him. Will shows great promise in his skill as a Ranger. Horace discovers his natural talent for swordplay. Both boys find they must work together at times to overcome incredible odds. As for humor, I love how Baron Arald loves to crack jokes that only he fully appreciates. The Ranger Gilan, who we meet later in the book, has a clearly mischievous side, though he is a masterful Ranger. Even Halt, who hardly ever smiles, proves to be hilarious at times, although his humor is often more subtle. Another thing I appreciate about this book is Will's honesty. When confronted with a past misdeed, he owns up to it and agrees that it was wrong. At another time, he is involved in a victory, and the stories of his part in the battle are blown way out of proportion among the villagers. This bothers him because he wasn't nearly as heroic as they make him out to be (although he did do a very courageous thing), and he is very concerned that the other people involved don't get much credit. Oh, and did I mention that Halt, Will and Gilan enjoy coffee? :-)

The only negative bit I saw was that some of the names seemed a bit cliché. With a name like Morgarath, how can he help but be the villain? His name reminded me of the land of Mordor in Lord of the Rings (not to mention that in those books, Frodo was stabbed with a morgul blade). It also very closely resembles Mulgarath, the archvillain in The Spiderwick Chronicles (which I haven't read, but I enjoyed the movie). The Wargals, which even have dog-like features, reminded me of the Wargs in Lord of the Rings. Come to think of it, their name is also similar to the Urgals of The Inheritance Cycle, who play a similar role. Also, the Rangers are similar to what Aragorn and his kinfolk do in Lord of the Rings, although Flanagan says that he based that element more on the Texas Rangers (not the baseball team). Interestingly, his publisher made him change the name of the Kingdom of Arathon because it sounded too much like Aragorn. (The series was originally called The Arathon Rangers.) So it became Araluen instead.

Oh, and there is a little bit of mild language.

Overall, The Ruins of Gorlan is an amazing book, and I can't wait to read book 2. I can tell I'm going to enjoy this series.

(I got the picture from the downloads page on the series' website.)

Update: I just watched some videos from the author, and realized that he puts the stress of Morgarath's name on the second syllable, rather than the first. That makes it sound much less cliché.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Mixed Feelings

Last night, I checked my e-mail "one last time" before going to bed and found some significant news. President Obama announced that a small group of Americans had found and killed Osama bin Laden, and they had positively identified his body via DNA tests.

It was 1993 the first time I remember hearing about Bin Laden. A bomb went off in the parking garage below the World Trade Center. Bin Laden took credit, and he was attempting to take the building down by destroying its base. Thankfully, that attempt failed, and the damage was repaired.

The next time I remember hearing of him was that fateful day in 2001. I woke up the morning of September 11, and I was headed toward the bathroom to start getting ready for work. My mom stopped me at the door of my room, and she was visibly shaken. She told me that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Not being fully awake, my first thought was, "Who cares?" As it sank in, I started to realize that I cared. We hurried into the living room and watched in horror as the news reports showed a huge plume of fire and smoke billowing out of the World Trade Center. Further horror ensued as we watched a plane slam into the second building. At that point, I had to start getting ready for work, as I wanted to be sure to arrive on time. I took a small portable radio into the bathroom while I was getting ready, and I prayed desperately. It was then that I heard on the radio that a third plane had slammed into the Pentagon. I prayed even more desperately, and later heard that a fourth plane had crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, thanks to the heroic efforts of some passengers who had tackled the hijackers and prevented them from reaching their target. Walking to work, I glanced at the newsstands and saw a headline about whales...suddenly such a trivial subject. By lunch time, the papers had been replaced with special editions proclaiming, "ATTACKED!"

My job at the time was on the 9th floor of a Seattle highrise. At the time, nobody knew where the terrorists' next target would be, and early in the day, our managers told us we could go home if we wanted. I opted to stay, as the worst that could happen was that a plane would slam into our building, I would be killed, and then go to heaven, never to suffer again. That didn't seem to me such a bad option. Thankfully, there were no more attacks, but one thing I will never forget is the news reports of people dancing in the streets in the Middle East, celebrating the fact that America had been attacked and thousands had been killed. It hurt deeply to see their sick glee.

I never dreamed that nearly ten years later, the same celebrating over a death would be taking place in America. At long last, the perpetrator of these attacks has been caught and brought to eternal justice. Part of me is thankful that Bin Laden will no longer be inflicting his fierce hatred on America. I'm grateful to our brave troops for going in and doing the job that needed to be done, carefully avoiding the killing of innocent lives, and getting the bad guys. This is a great victory, and for that I'm glad. However, it saddens me to see Americans gleefully celebrating a man's death. I don't care who he was or what he did, celebrating any death is a sin. Proverbs 24:17-20 states:
Do not gloat when your enemy falls;
when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice,
or the LORD will see and disapprove
and turn his wrath away from them.
Do not fret because of evildoers
or be envious of the wicked,
for the evildoer has no future hope,
and the lamp of the wicked will be snuffed out.
It makes me incredibly sad to think that a man who had so much potential could go so wrong. He was definitely an evildoer and an enemy, but Jesus gave His life for Osama bin Laden just as much as He did it for anyone else. Whatever evil Bin Laden did, it is truly a tragedy that he now has to pay with an eternity of fire and torment. It is without a doubt what he deserves, but that is a punishment I would not wish on my worst enemy, and it is what all of us deserve.

I think about Bin Laden's sympathizers dancing in the streets celebrating the attack on America, and I am ashamed to think that we would do the same thing when Bin Laden is killed. Yes, victory is a cause for celebration, but death is not.

On the other hand, just yesterday our pastor preached on King David's friends later in life. One of those friends was General Joab. David's reign was threatened by a bitter enemy named Absalom, who was determined to overthrow the King and take over. One catch: Absalom was David's son. David commanded Joab to crush the rebellion but to spare the life of his son. However, when Absalom's hair got caught in a tree and Joab was nearby, Joab took that opportunity to put an end to the threat to the King's life. When David heard the news that his son was dead, he was heartbroken. He mourned so deeply that his army slunk away as if they had suffered a defeat rather than a great victory. Joab then had to go to the King and remind him that the army had saved his life. While David didn't celebrate his son's death, he did realize the need to encourage the army and his subjects, and he returned to his duties.

Another thing that just came to mind was that after the Israelites crossed the Red Sea on dry land, and then the sea collapsed on the Egyptian army, the Israelites sang a song of praise to God for delivering them from the oppressive Pharaoh. They brought out their tambourines and danced in celebration.

All that to say, I have mixed feelings about Bin Laden's death. This is a great victory, and I think we should be thankful for God's protection and that He allowed us to get the bad guy. I believe that this action saved thousands of lives, and the soldiers who carried out the attack on his compound did a truly heroic thing. But the fact that he died without a Savior or a hope of salvation is a great tragedy.

Maybe the thing we should be celebrating is not his death, but the fact that the lives of who-knows-how-many people that would otherwise have been killed by his evil have been saved.

Finally, I will say something that may sound strange at first. I am thankful for Osama bin Laden. I know he was an evil man. He was a perpetrator of genocide, and he probably would have made Hitler proud. But he did what very few people have done in recent American history. His deed on September 11 united America. Democrats and Republicans and people of all religions came together in a way that I have only seen once to march behind a common purpose, and for once, we all agreed on something. It was a beautiful thing. For that, I thank Bin Laden. May we continue in that spirit of unity.