The Indigo King
Category: Children's, Fantasy, Young Adult
Tags: arthurian, dragons, literary pastiche, myth/fairytale, time travel
Two Caretakers of the Imaginarium Geographica, John and Jack–better known to history as Tolkien and Lewis–have just discovered a message in a medieval manuscript . . . signed by their friend Hugo Dyson. Then Hugo accidentally walks through a mystic doorway and apparently changes history. Suddenly England is a wasteland ruled by dark forces, and the Archipelago is even worse off. Their only hope is to use Jules Verne’s time machine to go on a desperate quest through time, to find out what Hugo changed and set it right.
I wanted to like this book better than the first in the series. For a while, I did like it better. Owen’s prose has definitely improved, the threat of a dystopian England was much more visceral than the dangers in the first book, and “we must hopscotch through history to set the timelines right” trope is one of my favorites. The characterization is also a bit more interesting, due to Charles being replaced by Chaz, his cynical and not-quite-completely-corrupted alternate universe counterpart.
Plus, Hugo is plucked away into the past in the middle of the famous walk that he, Tolkien, and Lewis took through Magdalene College, wherein they convinced Lewis that myths were not simply lies–a conversation that proved instrumental to Lewis’s conversion. Seriously, how cool is that?
Unfortunately, while this book is better than the first one, it still suffers from the same flaws–especially the patchwork worldbuilding. I think patchwork worlds can work in fiction, but here. The Archipelago is not supposed to be a conglomeration of older myths–well, it is, but interior to the story, it’s not–it’s supposed to be an ur-myth, whence all myths and legends spring. And it doesn’t convince me that it is one.
More unfortunately still, this isn’t the most serious artistic failing of the book. Apparently, someday Dan Brown will be one of the Caretakers too–because this book makes major use of the idea that the Holy Grail is actually the secret bloodline of the descendants of Jesus. What is the response of J. R. R. Tolkien, who was a devoutly traditional Catholic all his life? “Sweet, we have our MacGuffin. On to the next plot point!” And this is all supposed to happen just before Lewis converted to Christianity.
Look, if you are going to write about the Inklings, you have to face the fact that they were serious Christians of a traditional type. And that doesn’t meant they thought Jesus was a vaguely cool dude; it means they would have gone to the stake for every article of the Nicene creed. If your story has the Inklings as main characters and religion as a major sub-plot, you cannot ignore this. It’s like writing a story where Harriet Beecher Stowe thinks that slavery isn’t a big deal.
Needless to say, the “Jesus had babies” idea is also a moral problem, being pretty offensive to just about any orthodox Christian. I would strongly recommend against handing this book to children unless they’re really prepared to read it critically.
(Content-wise, the book also vaguely implies extramarital sex in a positive sort of way, but seriously: why worry about sex when there’s heresy?)
 Tolkien and Lewis, anyway. I will confess that I am not well acquainted with Charles Williams, and while my impression is that he was on board with general Christian orthodoxy, I can’t guarantee that. Though I do recall him writing very enthusiastically about the Athanasian creed.