“I’m really anxious to find out what happens when we die,” my little boy told me the other day, causing me quite a start. “No,” I answered gingerly, “that’s a long ways away. I’m curious what you’re going to do when you grow up; what you’re going to be and how you’re going to help make the world a better place.”
Death, its all around us, even little children start contemplating it; mostly with curiosity at the beginning which is replaced with raging as our immortality and invincibility waxes full, moving on to acceptance and finally expectation when at last we are tired and anxious to meet our maker, to get His evaluation of how we did with the 70+ years He gave us. It’s the natural way of things; and wondering about the unknown is what sets us apart from the animals. And what could be more unknown than death?
So we popularize it. I was watching the other day on Netflix a series “Myths and Monsters” in which the creators reach back deep into our collective history to untangle the pre-modern fears which still haunt us in the night; the sources of the myths which tell us who we are, where we came from and – yes – where we are going. Enduring stories of demons and angels and floods; of heroes seeking redemption and fair maidens seeking rescue and evil men we must fight and defeat. Perfectly balanced stories, which is why they endure, that in their simple perfection teach us the meaning of life and the steps we are to take as we seek it – before we finally surrender at the end. And what happens to us should we have become wicked and ignored the image of God built into our consciousness. They help teach us about good and evil.
Yes, we are obsessed with death. Into this ancient tradition steps Angelina Allsop with her simple pre-teen book “Peter Green and the Unliving Academy”. About a boy who wakes from his death to find himself in a home for orphaned children – those who died before their parents (and who, hence, have nowhere to go). It’s a story full of monsters – the same monsters that have always lurked at the fuzzy edges of our imaginations – vampires and zombies and werewolves. Carnal ancient fears of the unknown by which villagers sought to keep their children safe, polished up and placed on display but nevertheless signaling back into our deep prehistory. Peter is nagged with a worry, that there was something un-finished on earth; and the quest to lay this to rest also echoes the ghost stories going back centuries of those wronged in life returning in the afterlife to make things right. But can he? And what does that mean for him, should he succeed?
This is a fun book, not at all serious – it is a pre-teen book. And it is not burdened with any painful twisted attempt to force modern “culture war” issues onto the delicate minds of our children; something I am always on guard against. I hope you pick up a copy – I sure can’t wait to find out what happens to Peter next…