Monthly Archives: December 2014

What is a Quest?

The Quest by Nelson DeMille. Available for under $10.00

quest_homeThis weekend I admittedly faced the need for recharging. Sometimes you get so wrapped up in meeting deadline after deadline and solving all the issues, great and small in life, that you suddenly find yourself walking on thin air. With no certain knowledge that you can fly. It was, perhaps, an excellent place from which to venture into Nelson DeMille’s The Quest.

Nelson DeMille is, to me, a consummate storyteller. He will often drag me off into the worlds he creates until I reach the end, and then I linger there for days. Wondering about the characters, what they would be doing, or how they would respond to one or more scenarios in life as I know it. The Quest is a rewrite of a novel that DeMille wrote in 1975 when he was still an obscure unknown. The manuscript doubled in size. There are no wasted words.

The tale is a modern quest for the Holy Grail. The story is constructed around a fictional legend that the Knights of the Round Table did indeed find the Grail and two of them sailed off to Jerusalem to return it to its home. As the Islamic conquest moved south, so did the Grail. Eventually is was secreted away deep in the jungles of that mysterious land of ancient Jews and Coptic Christians; Ethiopia. There are many legends that the Queen of Sheba was Ethiopian and that her time with Solomon produced an heir to the throne of David. It is the Ethiopian revolution and civil wars of the mid 70s that form the backdrop to the story.

This part of Africa is a wellspring of ancient legends and traditions going back thousands of years. The royal house that was destroyed by the rebels in 1974 had been in existence for 3,000 years. There are several Jewish populations within Africa, some dating back nearly 3,000 years. These include the Beta Israel of Ethiopia (connected to the Davidic line) and the Lemba. The Coptic Church grew from the Christian population of the early first century which developed in Northern Egypt (which is how it gets its name). This part of the story is historical.

Beyond these points, the lines begin to blur and DeMille takes us on an Indiana Jones adventure with far more serious consequences. It is complete with beautiful ladies, brave heroes and despicable villains. Unlike Indiana Jones, the story goes beyond the historical value of finding such a true relic. It explores, at least for me, the nature of a quest.

As I traveled with Vivian, Frank and Henry in Ethiopia and in Rome, it became apparent that although the story line drew the three of them into the Quest together, the author used each personality to differently define “quest.” A definition that changed, sometimes daily, for each participant. What they learn about themselves and their fellow travelers is, indeed, an integral part of that Quest.

That is what the hero’s journey is. The ultimate character arc. The discovery of self and how the object of the search, or its interpretation, affects the way we see the world the morning after. In a discussion about motives and how far a vision can or cannot take the human spirit, I once asked someone, “what are you willing to die for?” It may not be a thing, a place, or a person. It may be something so fundamental to our spirit that without it, well, it really isn’t worth going on, is it? When you know what you are willing to die for; you know what you are willing to live for. I think it’s time we all regained a little purpose in our lives. Don’t you?

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History Behind the Curtains

Book Review ~ The Lincoln Myth by Steve Berry Available for less than $10.00

LincolnHistory. The record of human experience recorded by imperfect humans. Sometimes reinterpreted for reasons great and small, pure and not so pure. This time of year reminds me of such things. We as humans love our legends. They are created, passed on, embellished, and polished until the root of the event is lost in the mists of time. All meaning of the original struggle is erased. As an amateur anthropologist, this process is understood and has its own tale to tell. As an amateur historian, it is often a travesty. I believe that we cannot draw meaningful lessons from history unless we are brave enough to explore the real events, motivations and results to the best of our ability. Steve Berry is an author of fiction that combines history and action to bring out possibilities in historical legends. The Lincoln Myth, in my opinion, is a masterpiece. It is also very apropos of current events.

I have quietly argued for years that the Civil War was not fought to free the slaves. Yes. I’m serious. It was not. It was fought due to conflicting interpretations of a concept that was paramount in the formation of our country, state’s rights. In the story written by Berry those rights centered on one very specific issue, the right to secession.

Secession is a hot topic just now. I’m afraid the reasons that most people express for such a move seem rather callow to me. I honestly see no meat in many of the shoutings and rantings present in social media and the media in general. Mostly this is the case because everyone is talking over everyone’s head and few take the time to research the facts before they jump on the favored bandwagon. In addition, few proponents of either side of the issue take the time to analyze the repercussions, the consequences of such an undertaking. It’s exhausting. Berry, in today’s climate, was a breath of fresh air.

The story begins with a scene dated September 10, 1861. The White House visit of General John Fremont’s wife, Jesse, is historical. What occurred can only be surmised. Berry begins with this point and fast forwards to the current day. He articulates rather clearly what the problems of the moment were and are. In 1861, if the Southern states left the union, the North would lose substantial amounts of funding from the port tariffs in place at the time. The raison d’etre of the conflict – the South wanted to run their own ports because they were very busy selling cotton to Britain and Europe and the North could not let them leave or it would go bankrupt. Lincoln himself made very clear that slavery was not an issue. He would free every slave, keep some or none; as long as he could win the war.

Lincoln also made it clear before his presidency that as a lawyer he supported the right of secession. A quote:

“Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable, a most sacred right – a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people, that can, may revolutionize, and make their own of so much of the territory as they inhabit.” Abraham Lincoln, January 12, 1848.

The Revolutionary War was a war of secession: America was not of the mind to overthrow the government of Britain. Why would those who fought that war lock the door for others to leave a union if they so desired?

Interesting, eh? Something else of interest? Lincoln had no power to end slavery. Slavery was enshrined in the Constitution. A president does not have the authority to change the Constitution. Slavery was not abolished until the ratification of the 13th Amendment. The Senate passed the bill in 1864, the House on January 31, 1865. The states ratified the amendment by December of 1865. Then, and only then, was slavery legally abolished.

These are the issues that Berry explores in his fast-paced action novel with historical roots. His characters also explore what it would mean for various and sundry parts of the union to go their separate ways.

I can tell you that the legal and political links between the Canadian provinces are far less entangled than those of the states and yet Quebec has been unable to gain the political and public will to break away. It’s not all that easy. There are consequences and not all of them are pretty.

If I have any advice for those I know and care for who are struggling against one aspect or another of our current government? Think carefully. Understand the consequences of your choices and work to strengthen, not destroy, what was once a great country.

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