Author Archive | Stephen Barkley

Stardust | Neil Gaiman

The cover of Gaiman's StardustThe town of Wall has an eponymous stone wall to the East. There is only one six foot break in the wall that separates Wall, the city, from the realm of the fairy. For thousands of years the town had posted two guards at the entrance to prevent traffic between the two worlds. This arrangement worked well until a certain Tristran Thorn decided to chase a falling star.

Stardust is fairy-tale at its finest. Although first published in 1999, it feels like something far older—something George MacDonald might pen. The classic themes of love and adventure, mystery and sacrifice, are woven into a tale that will linger in the reader’s mind.

I read Stardust in one evening. It has that sort of compelling power. It’s the perfect companion for a candlelit evening when the power goes out and the world seems strange. Read it and you’ll never look at a shooting star the same way again!


Gaiman, Neil. Stardust. New York: William Morrow, 2016.

Christian Ethics | D. Stephen Long

The cover of Long's Christian EthicsChristian ethics, for some, is an oxymoron. “For some modern persons, the term ‘Christian’ conjures up images of past immoral activities: crusades, the Inquisition, the conquest of the Americas, religious wars, the Galileo affair, defences of slavery and patriarchy” (1). D. Stephen Long argues otherwise. In this very short introduction (135 small pages), Long covers the history of Christian ethics from its pre-Christian roots through two millennia and into the postmodern era.

Long understands Christian ethics in terms of Abraham’s call in Genesis 12. Abraham was called to be different from the world for the sake of the world. Christians are different from the world in that “the community of faith … seeks to embody the life to which God calls” (70). The second part—for the sake of the world—is the more controversial element which has led to all sorts of difficulty. Indeed, “[t]he failure to fulfil this mission was a central cause in Christ’s crucifixion” (70).

There are a number of black marks on Christianity’s ethical history. Still, Long’s brief historical survey demonstrates that the issues were not as black-and-white as some suspect. Indeed, it was mainly Christians who, against fellow Christians, recognized the injustices listed in the first paragraph and sought to change them.

Long completes his short introduction with an application of Christian ethics to some of the major issues of our day, categorized by money, sex, and power.

So what is Christian ethics? It is the pursuit of God’s goodness by people ‘on the way’ to a city not built by human hands. It is not a precise science but the cultivation of practical wisdom that comes from diverse sources. (121)

Christian ethics is a call to develop the sort of wisdom needed to navigate postmodern waters in a Christlike way.


Long, D. Stephen. Christian Ethics: A Very Short Introduction. London: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Norse Mythology | Neil Gaiman

The cover of Gaiman's Norse MythologyOdin, Thor, and Loki are literally the stuff of legends. Their exploits, recorded by Snorri Sturluson in his Edda have been reinterpreted for English readers by many people—from J. R. R. Tolkien to Stan Lee! Neil Gaiman dove deeply into Norse Mythology to ground his American Gods, so it seems fitting that he has offered his own rewritten version of the ancient myths.

In Norse Mythology, Gaiman tells the story of the Norse gods from creation to their eschaton: Ragnarok. These are stories of Elves and Giants, of war and betrayal. Gaiman’s prose is as rustic and direct, suitable for the gods of a harsh land. It’s clear that he’s sipped deeply from Odin’s gift.

One sentence in the introduction has stuck with me. We know relatively little about Norse Mythology and what we do know hints at many more stories. “We have lost so much” (14). Fortunately, in Gaiman’s hands, what we do have comes alive a millennium after it was first penned.


Gaiman, Neil. Norse Mythology. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2017.

The Road | Cormac McCarthy

The cover of McCarthy's The RoadThe Road is dystopian fiction like none other—lean and brutal.

The hook in dystopian fiction—and I’ve read more than my fair share—varies. Sometimes it’s a mystery novel in which the reader tries to figure out just how society arrived at its current misery. Other times it’s a constructive story of learning to transform the dystopia into something positive. None of this matters for McCarthy. In The Road there are only three ontological realities:

  1. Father
  2. Son
  3. Threats

The Road is a story of a father and son barely surviving in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Everything extemporaneous to the survival of this relationship is stripped from the narrative. The father and son are unnamed. Even their dialogue reflects this minimalism, quotation marks absent from the text:

You walk too fast.
I’ll go slower.

You’re not talking again.
I’m talking.
You want to stop?
I always want to stop.

I know.
We’ll stop. Okay?
Okay.
We just have to find a place.
Okay. (93)

How do you find a place where no place exists? How do you stop when to stop means to give up? These are the questions that propel McCormac’s desolate vision.


McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. New York: Vintage Books, 2006.

Scripture & Spirit | Craig S. Keener

Craig KeenerThe reason God gives us Scripture as well as the Spirit is to provide a more objective guide and framework for our personal experience of God; it defeats the purpose of having a Bible if it simply becomes a mine for what we hope to find there anyway, whether theologically or experientially.

—Keener, Spirit Hermeneutics, 32.

Wanderers of Time | John Wyndham

The cover of Wyndham's Wanderers of TimeGolden Age science fiction science fiction is fascinating. Imagine the challenge of writing about space travel when no human had yet escaped our planet’s atmosphere!

In “Derelict of Space,” one of five short stories in Wanderers of Time, Wyndham describes just what it’s like to match velocity and trajectory in an atmosphere-free environment. You can forgive Wyndham for imagining an almost-breathable oxygen level in the bottom of some of the moon’s craters (“The Last Lunarians”).

In “Child of Power” and “The Puff-ball Menace,” Wyndham first writes in short-story form about the ideas which would form his full length novels, Chocky and The Day of the Triffids. The title story, “Wanderers of Time,” takes cues from H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine in portraying a world no longer governed by homo sapiens.

Like much Golden Age science fiction, Wyndham doesn’t develop his characters (although he does attempt a secondary love story in “Wanderers of Time”). What these stories lack in character development, they repay in nineteen-thirties novelty.


Wyndham, John. Wanderers of Time. London: Coronet Books, 1973.

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