When it comes to fantasy stories, The Hobbit stands alone. The world of Middle Earth has its dangers yet has remained a sweet escape for generations of readers. It’s also a product of its time, and our moment is quite different—which isn’t to say that Tolkien’s work isn’t timeless, only that new voices can speak to our circumstances in similar tones.
The Wizard’s Stone is the sophomore novel from Herman P. Hunter, telling the story of Odo, an orphan taken in by the wizard Remfrey. While the outside world was recently torn apart by war and whatever civilization that might have existed is still being rebuilt, Odo is at peace working the land. While Remfrey is stern, but kind, he cannot provide the sort of familial support Odo needed to grow up with self-confidence.
When Remfrey tasks Odo with delivering a stone to a faraway king, Odo can’t refuse his master, though the idea is frightening. To see him there safely, Remfrey hires a band of mercenaries, led by Captain Inoch, who know the ways of the world. Unlike the One Ring, there’s no danger from the stone itself, and, though Odo visits many terrible places, this is mostly a journey of self-discovery. Odo finds what he’s made of and what he can do.
The only beauty to be found in this harsh landscape is what remains in Odo’s heart. The Captain is harsh and demanding, his companions are crude, and the various cities and countrysides they visit are ugly. When kill-or-be-killed situations arise, Odo sees them as tragedy. Yet he persists. There’s magic in this story, but it has its limits and isn’t explained in depth. Nor is the violence gruesome.
Odo fervently believes in the All Father, and Remfrey’s teachings provide guidance for every challenge. Real-world applications are there for the taking, but The Wizard’s Stone never strays into allegory and is instead focused on telling a good, relatable story. At some point we all feel like outsiders, uncertain of our abilities or who we’re meant to be. We all do things that trouble us. Like Odo, we all long for things we might never have on this side of heaven. Despite everything, faith in our calling and the one who called us keeps us going.
In the 11th chapter of Hebrews the author recounts the stories of those who walked by faith. He notes that they all died as strangers and exiles in the world without receiving what they were promised. They never looked back, only ahead to a heavenly country, and they saw what was promised them from a distance. More than The Hobbit, these are the stories that Odo’s most parallels.
A library might put this on the YA shelf, and that’s fine. But there’s a story here for all exiles who are old enough to understand what it means to walk by faith, no matter their age. (Hph Lore Forge)