By Dr. Charlie W. Starr
I seldom read New York Times best sellers. I’m “trendy” when it comes to movies, but not so much with books. I’m even less likely to read a book with religious themes that’s been approved by the New York Times. Books like that usually have as much value as something like The Da Vinci Code. This leads me to just how surprised I was by Danielle Trussoni’s 2011 novel, Angelology (Penguin Group, USA).
At the beginning of this year I found myself reading two books about angels: Trussoni’s novel and Milton’s classic Paradise Lost (Barnes & Noble, 2004). Milton is not something you read lightly and probably not “for fun,” though some might enjoy the challenge. That people still read his most famous work 350 years after it was published, however, is one proof of its value. Milton wanted to write an epic like Homer and Virgil had, but he wanted his epic to be utterly Christian in subject. And so he wrote of the fall of Satan and his angels, the temptation of Adam and Eve, and the promise of victory to come in Christ. His language is beautiful, and though his science and theology reflect his times, neither is so outlandish or heretical that Christians can’t enjoy reading Paradise Lost.
We all remember the controversy behind Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. Fortunately America has moved on to other things, but at the height of Brown’s popularity, Christians were once again sorry to find out that our culture just doesn’t “get” us, and we had to defend orthodox truth against the fabrications of a writer who knows how to entertain. I remember thinking, “Why can’t we have a Dan Brown who writes from a truly Christian point of view?” That’s exactly what we get in Trussoni’s Angelology. It’s a book that does what art should do: it entertains us, it appeals to our imaginations, it elevates us. It is foremost a book we can read and really enjoy. At the same time it is rooted in a Christian vision of the world.
Having said that, I want you to nevertheless be aware that the book is a work of fiction. It is not trying to make claims to theological truth, but it is far more based in traditional Christian beliefs than much of what’s out there. The book is about angels: about the “sons of God” in Genesis who married the daughters of men and produced human-angel hybrids called Nephilim. The novel supposes that the descendants of these Nephilim still live in our world today, exercising political and economic influence in ways normal people do not see. They are selfish and ruthless, and they are dying. But they have a hope: an ancient artifact which may restore them. However, the location of this supernatural device has been hidden away by a secret society of believers called “Angelologists” who have fought against the Nephilim through the centuries to bring an end to their influence on the earth. The secret is kept safe until an academic skeptic and a faithful nun begin uncovering clues at a convent in upstate New York, clues that run the danger of falling into the hands of an enemy the protagonists do not know exists.
Don’t read Angelology for its theology of angels. It offers interesting ideas from the long traditions of the church (especially the apocryphal writings and Medieval theology) mixed in with some Greek mythology and historical legend. But it is not at all anti-Christian and the supposals behind its supernatural fiction are rooted in Christian thought. It’s a fun read, it has a positive message, and it may move some of its readers to crack open their Bibles to see what God really says about angels.
I like fiction about angels. I’ve been a fan of C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters (HarperCollins, 2009) and Space Trilogy (Scribner, 2003) for years, and I recommend them highly. If, however, any of you are interested in the non-fiction truth about angels, let me recommend another book. Of course the best place to go for theological truth is always the Bible (but you know that); however, a book published in 1982 by Mortimer Adler called The Angels and Us (Schuster & Schuster), offers a short but very good introduction to the history of Christian thinking about angels. Adler was a specialist in the Western Classics. He knew all the works in our cultural tradition that speak of angels, going back to and including the Bible. His book is a very good starting place, especially for those who enjoy studying philosophy and theology. As with any book on theology, The Angels and Us should be read with the Bible, not instead of it. But it helps clarify and organize centuries of ideas on the nature and work of angels.
Dr. Charlie W. Starr teaches English, humanities, and film at Kentucky Christian University in Grayson, Kentucky.