Dante, in the ‘Depths Not Otherwise Possible’
Imagine my shock and delight when I discovered last night that the great Ralph C. Wood had reviewed How Dante Can Save Your Life for Christianity Today — and that he loved it (five stars). Excerpts from Ralph’s review:
Walker Percy—the novelist, philosopher, and Christian convert—once expressed his bemusement at those who read Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy merely for its “poetic structure.” Percy knew, of course, that the poet carefully constructed his three-part epic (Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso) around complex allegories. He also knew that readers can learn a great deal about the medieval mind by reading it. Yet Percy was mystified that anyone would follow Dante’s arduous journey without getting the real point: Dante wants to save our souls no less than his own.
Rod Dreher gets it. The popular blogger’s new book, How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History’s Greatest Poem (Regan Arts), does more than retrace Dreher’s own Dante-driven recovery of life and faith. Just as the poet Virgil leads Dante into the pit of hell so that he might climb to the edge of paradise, Dreher hopes to lead readers out of their own “dark wood” toward heavenly delight.
Yet Dreher doesn’t turn Dante into a preacher. On the contrary, he attends to theComedy’s poetic nuances, its rich characters and events, its stunning metaphors, and its piercing insights. Even so, this book is more about Dreher than Dante, and I don’t say this to damn with faint praise. By filtering his own personal struggle through the greatest of all Christian poems, Dreher strikes depths not otherwise possible.
A reviewer should avoid spoilers. But candor compels me to say that Dreher is healed but not cured. Not until the life beyond life is there a cure to all evils, what we
call salvation. But Dreher has made a magnificent beginning. There are moments that will move all but the flint-hearted to tears. Especially compelling are the scenes where he helps prepare a friend’s body for burial in Orthodox fashion (Dreher left Catholicism for Orthodoxy in 2006), and where he asks forgiveness from the father who doesn’t really comprehend the blessing he grants his son.
Above all, Dreher dedicates the book to Julie as his own Beatrice, the earthly embodiment of divine love through whom Dante made his way to Paradise. Even though it may require a long by-path through hell to arrive there, the nearest way to the reign of God often lies closest at hand.
Read the whole thing. I’m glad I did not know that Ralph was reviewing the book for CT. The fear of disappointing him would have paralyzed me. But wow, what an unmerited gift his review is to me.
(Another unmerited gift: illustrator Jonathan Bartlett’s image, above, from the Christianity Today piece. Thank you, Mr. Bartlett — and thank you, editors of Christianity Today, for reviewing my book.)
Ralph is a big deal, but he is especially a big deal in my circles, especially for his work on Flannery O’Connor. If you are coming to the Walker Percy Weekend (tickets sold out), you’ll have the chance to hear Ralph lecture on O’Connor, Percy, and the “Christ-haunted South.” He will be flying in directly from Washington, DC, where he will be present as an invited guest for the unveiling of the Flannery O’Connor postage stamp. Look:
Ain’t you glad we’re getting a Flannery stamp? It might not be the End Times after all.
I must also thank this blog’s reader Laurie for her extremely kind review of How Dante, which she read amid her own personal crisis. Excerpt:
I was right there with him. Him, as in Dante and Dreher. The revelation both men offer (even 700 years apart) was just what I needed and I read through the book as if famished, finishing it in just a day and a half. And as soon as I got to the last page, I seriously thought about turning right back to the first page to begin again. Which I will do at some point. (And as if the message isn’t enough, the book cover and end pages are drop. dead. gorgeous.)
It’s good, dear reader. Very good. Dante just might save your life. Who knew?
If you haven’t tried the book yet, please do! You do not have to have read Dante to understand and relate to How Dante Can Save Your Life. I’ll be surprised if you finish the book and don’t want to jump into reading the Divine Comedy right away. But you don’t have to have any prior experience with Dante to understand and benefit from my book.