“Are you going to run, Vulture?” Sam asked. “Are you afraid?”
The Vulture’s eyes hardened. “Today you die, Miracle. Forever.”
Sam smiled. “After you…”
One of the marks of a great writer is what Owen Barfield called “presence of mind,” which he used to describe his good friend C.S. Lewis, meaning this: “What he thought about everything was secretly present in what he said about anything.” Wherever Lewis went, there he was. The truths he believed resided so deep in his bones, they flowed inevitably into every story and sermon and poem he wrote.
By now, N.D. Wilson has produced enough for the same to be manifestly true of him. His most beloved themes (distilled in his two nonfiction works, Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl and Death by Living) are incarnated in every children’s novel to date: courage, self-sacrifice, thanksgiving, feasting, wonder at the world, laughter in the face of evil, joy in our own finitude, faith in the God of perfect stories.
In Book 2 of Outlaws of Time (coming April 18), the prevailing theme is two-pronged: reverence and gratitude for old age, and therefore fearlessness in the face of death. Do not dread or deny the advancing years, but wear them stately and heavy like a crown. We are not meant to be young and wrinkle-free forever; our bodies are meant to change, to be given away, to be “lovely as a ripened field; rich as an ancient tree still bearing fruit in her final season.” Wilson develops this theme not primarily in Sam Miracle, the hero of the first book, but—surprise—Glory. And that’s just one of the fun shifts in Book 2.
Book 1 was a chase; cat and mouse; hunt while hunted. Book 2 is a race against time, through time, outside of time, in many times, sometimes spinning through various times in a little hamster ball of your own time. If you’re dizzy, you should be.
In The Song of Glory and Ghost, we trade the oven-baked desert of Arizona for Wilson’s own stomping grounds in the moody Pacific northwest. The setting—a post-apocalyptic world largely destroyed by the Vulture, lawless bands of survivors claiming territories and camping out in abandoned mansions—employs a popular motif in modern entertainment. (Think The Walking Dead, The Maze Runner, The Last Ship.)
It’s a timely switch-up for Wilson. The motif could easily feel cliché, but he wards this off with a characteristically robust and inspiring cast (you’ve never met anyone quite like Ghost, hands-down the best new character) and high-spirited theology. The result feels like listening to your favorite artist cover a familiar song; the pleasure lies in recognizing the old theme and appreciating how this new recording sounds.
“You need courage beyond measure, and a heart always pouring but never emptied.”
I hate spoilers, so I’ll keep the plot recap simple. The Vulture is wounded and dangerous. Young Peter is in mortal danger, and because he must grow up to become the old man who saves Sam in Book 1, this puts Sam in mortal danger, and because Sam is the only one who can defeat the Vulture, the life of the entire world is at stake.
Enter Wilson’s new superhero: Glory. If you’re a Sam fan, get ready to have the hero take a backseat while the sidekick is promoted. It’s a testament to Sam’s coolness that I missed hanging out with him, but Glory is truly tremendous. Equipped with terrifying new skills she can’t (yet) control, she must journey back in time and rescue Peter from the wrong death, thus preserving his future death as an old man in which he sacrifices himself to save Sam.
She is far braver than I ever would be. Every superhero fumbles around with their new powers at first, but forget Ironman accidentally torching his cars or Spiderman missing a skyscraper—this is no fun and games. The scariest scene Wilson has ever penned is when Glory is testing her new gift. (Look for it on pages 204-206.)
Throw in revolting new villains, a redheaded fangirl, a bearded pirate with a questionable moral compass, the same entertaining Lost Boys (but with more screen time), hellish sea monsters, and a mysterious white-haired demon, and you’ve got the funnest middle-grade adventure I’ve read since, well, Book 1 (elected one of the best books of 2016).
“Your war awaits you, but do not forget your joy.”
Here’s the truth that sank home for me. Glory’s mission (and her gusto for it) reminds me of Gandalf’s oft-quoted words to Frodo: “All we have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given us.” And Boniface, less well-known but just as good: “I know I shall die, and I shall die on time. Therefore, I must make the most of the moments between here and there.”
What does this mean? Our greatest mission is to die the deaths we are meant to die. They are already written—so chase them. How? Every moment you live, you are dying; how you live is, naturally, how you die. So if you’re living for others, you’re dying for them.
Peter dies multiple times. So does Sam. So can we. Die in little things, big things, dishes, car rides, diapers, picking up chores for your sister, stopping to talk with the nagging acquaintance who never has anything interesting to say. Spill your years like wine. Spend them like money lavished at Christmas. Give till you’re gone. Receive Glory’s charge: “Take up the life that is yours. Walk the lonely winding roads to the deaths that are yours. Live with open hands.”
Just like old age, the right death, the timely death, the daily death, is a crown. Welcome to its weight.
Live well, die well, and you will hear glory, hallelujah.
Watch the thrilling book trailer for The Song of Glory and Ghost!
Preorder a signed copy of Outlaw of Time 2 here. Get your copy signed at the release party hosted at BookPeople in Moscow, Idaho, on Monday, April 17, 6:00-8:00 PM. Visit OutlawsOfTime.com. Keep up with N.D. Wilson on Facebook and Twitter.