The Anomalous Archive, Part XI: 'Souls are Wild' by Cathrine Bonham

[This review was originally posted on the Anomaly forum on June 2, 2010.]

"Souls are Wild," 2nd in Issue 4 of The Cross and the Cosmos 

A piece of literature that sheds as much light on the human condition and the common human experience so succinctly as does "Souls are Wild" by Catherine Bonham is a rare treasure. What is the common human experience but the continual quest to recover our true selves, to be the people that we know we were meant to be but can never become? Perhaps all literature, or at least all honest literature, takes us on that quest, revealing something of the Person who supplies the answer.

This epic short story makes excellent use of the conventions of low fantasy to produce its profound analogy to the human condition. I say "low fantasy", because I don't know the stricter genre classifications, and because the high/low fantasy designation speaks more of technique than of setting. The author uses unexplainable supernatural phenomena that have concrete and specific affects on the real world to represent spiritual realities. This avoids a difficulty in the use of symbolism that I imagine authors of high fantasy and corresponding forms of science fiction are familiar with. When there is an imaginary world with clearly-defined rules to govern it, any symbolic elements that represent something in our world would never have exactly the same function in the imaginary world as the thing they stand for in the real world.

The story of the protagonist of "Souls are Wild" is, of course, strange and bizarre when taken literally. However, even in the immediate context of the plotline, we can relate to him very well. As an abstraction, this character is a type of the universal Everyman. The story is entirely about the protagonist, showing his progression through several states. The two other important characters are simply functions of the paranormal symbolism, and one other minor character exists only to facilitate the plot.

The author did a good job at balancing the tone of the work, keeping it from the extremes of romanticism on the one hand and realism on the other. Similarly, the prose is neither too verbose after the Victorian fashion, nor too terse and sparing. However, the cadence of the prose is hindered by too many run-ons. Most of these are in dialog and might be intentional, but I think even there the writing could often use more pauses.

Altogether, I feel that this short story accomplishes everything that Christian speculative fiction is made for. The story creates a sense of mystery (other types of speculative fiction would create a sense of wonder instead). It praises good and condemns evil. It portrays the glory of Christ through symbolism. And it tells the Gospel through a story. I'm glad that I read "Souls are Wild." Thinking about this story helped me to better understand the technique and potential of Christian literature.


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