When I first heard Lars Walker had another book coming out, I was very excited. When I read it, I was overwhelmed. You can always tell what’s important to a writer in his work. For Mr. Walker, two things that I determined were important from his other works were the fact he is of Viking descent and that he is a Christian. After reading this one, I know that it is not enough to say he is a Christian—he is a pietist, one who believes in living the Christian life vigorously. Yet “vigorously” doesn’t mean “in your face.”
Pietism was one Christian tradition that I hadn’t researched in my studies of church history. I need to correct that oversight. The pietists who populate this book exemplify the best and worst of that tradition. Some like Bestefar are quiet in their walk but make huge impacts in the lives of people around them. Then there is Signe, who is very outspoken about being a Christian but by her actions has negative impact for the Kingdom. Very happily, the cliché of hypocritical preacher was avoided.
Troll Valley is hard to categorize in genre. Even though the subtitle says it is a fairy tale, it is most definitely not for children. It has elements of Norse folklore woven naturally throughout. But these elements are handled realistically and do impact the story. It reminds me much of C. S. Lewis’ Til We Have Faces.
The book takes place in the early 1900’s in a town of Norweigan immigrants. It covers the life of Chris Anderson from age 8 to somewhere in his mid-twenties. His life is pulled between tradition and progress in all aspects of his life. Neither tradition nor progress is shown as the one-size-fits-all solution. However, one theme is that tradition exists to protect the community from progressing too fast. Progress will happen, but it needs to be weighed by what is best for all the community to continue into the future.
None of the characters of any importance were stock characters. They lived and breathed; each had a saving grace as well as a fatal flaw. They were people who lived in a book, and I could identify with them easily. As one began to spiral into a jerk, I wanted to shake him. As another was run out of his home, I wept for him. And when the full extent of Peter’s frustrations were detailed, I wondered how he had struggled through so long.
As stated, a very important part of the book is the pietism of the characters. All the major characters are pietist Lutherans. It isn’t enough that they are baptized and attend church—confirmation can’t happen without a new birth first. The church members are expected to take part in church government because each believer is part of the priesthood. They are also expected to partake in Bible studies and live lives of holiness. The conflict between legalism and true devotion plays a prominent role.
The only thing I didn’t like about the book was seeing myself in one of the characters. It actually drove me to prayer for change. This book has taken the place of Blood and Judgment (an excellent study on the nature of humanity) as my favorite Walker book and solidified Walker’s place in my top authors.
Full disclosure: I received a copy of Troll Valley for this review.