Anyone who has spent any amount of time haunting coffee shops or pubs with academics knows that many scholars have a novel or two in their desk drawer. This is especially true of scholars who study imaginative writers or speculative fiction, and may even have been why we were drawn to our field of study in the first place. It is true of me, as it is of Jeff McInnis, author of Shadows and Chivalry: C. S. Lewis and George MacDonald on Suffering, Evil and Goodness (2012). In 2015, McInnis released In and Out of the Moon, the first volume of The Sword of Aucsanthium trilogy.
The story is centred on Kabe, a blind preteen boy who is growing up in a family that began strongly but is now failing. The grandfather that has been both tutor and translator is ill, the brother that used to be a playmate is disappearing into a world of gadgetry and distraction, and a loving father is losing his family to the remedies for grief. Kabe’s younger sister, Meg, can hardly remember her mother, who was the moral strength of the family and taken from them far too soon. On the eve of their grandfather’s operation, the children find a wand that begins the adventure that draws the children out of this world to another, and from the mundane worries of a faltering family to a rich moment of history in a splintering world. Each of the children find their stories in this new land, but it is Kabe who has the deepest transformation and the strongest responsibilities in the great quest of Aucsanthium.
I picked up In and Out of the Moon–actually, it was an audiobook read by the author–because I was curious to see how McInnis would integrate his scholarship into his fiction. In my reading quest I was not disappointed. While I am less familiar with George MacDonald and so didn’t see the influences as clearly, In and Out of the Moon is a reflection of the thought of C.S. Lewis. None of this is sitting at the front of the story. Aucsanthium is not Narnia, or even particularly Narnia-like. The world of In and Out of the Moon is an older, darker world with its own textures and colours. But the spiritual and philosophical principles of Lewis are soaked through the work. Reading this book is a reflection on Lewis’ short story “Light,” a meditation of “Meditation in a Toolshed,” and a working out of Lewis’ theology of the small–and all this done by a scholar who thinks Christianly about themes of good and evil, suffering and hope, and the role of the imagination.
None of this influence is obvious: McInnis hasn’t bent a homespun tale into a Lewisian frame. Rather, some of Lewis’ most deeply resonant worldview features are built into the framework of the entire Aucsanthium world. It is a well-written story, imaginative and evocative. The sensual matter and the way that Kabe engages with his world is particularly poignant, making me sad that the grandfather was not a greater feature of this book. In particular, the Ragman servant-king is, like Harry Potter or Strider, a compelling Christ figure whose presence communicates the core principles of the author without simply serving as a parable.
There are some weaknesses in the book. It is a bit long, and could use the severe editorial hand of a large publishing firm. Folks who aren’t in a hurry won’t mind this feature as it is a good read, but I struggle to understand what market McInnis is writing for. My twelve year old would enjoy the book, but it is not one that a child the age of the protagonist could read independently. It is a dark tale with deep lessons. And it is weighty. Provided volumes two and three were about the same size, the book of Aucsanthium would be more than 1000 fairly full pages. It is a perfect teen book, but I don’t know if teens today will read a book about little kids as the heroes. It’s too bad, too: many teens could use the resources that Kabe and his siblings discover in this world beyond the world.
Aside from marketing–which is not a problem I care about as a reader–the critical issue is that the series isn’t finished yet. The audiobook ends with a personal appeal to share the story of this story, in case there is a publisher or patron peaking in. This is my role in that appeal: to share a good book with lovers of good books, hoping that this will prod Jeff McInnis to finish the tale.
Though incomplete, I loved reading In and Out of the Moon. Fans of Madeleine L’Engle and C.S. Lewis will enjoy the tale, as well as readers of adventure stories of the old type (they used to be called Romances, but that word is pretty much ruined). It is also intriguing to watch how scholarship soaks its way into works of fiction. As Lewis’ love for myth and the medieval imagination found its way into all his fiction, In and Out of the Moon benefits from being rooted in the well-watered soils of worldview-infused mythopoeia.
A mysterious dark wand that keeps getting darker, an ancient song of hope, and a winged visitor from beyond the moon – they all lead Kabe, Troy, and Meg to magical, daring adventures far away from their troubled home. The MacCaw family has struggled since losing their mother and wife when things went wrong at the hospital years ago, and now their grandfather is in the hospital too. But just before visiting his ill grandfather, young Kabe MacCaw, blind since birth, discovers a mysterious dark wand while trying to teach his dog to fetch. After struggling to discover the secrets of the wand, the MacCaw children find themselves in the middle of a dangerous conflict in a beautiful but threatened other world. The wand grows darker by the hour, and the fate of a world and a family hangs in the balance.