“In and Out of the Moon” by Jeff McInnis

jeff-mcinnis-in-and-out-of-the-windAnyone 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.

jeff-mcinnis-shadows-and-chivalry-cs-lewis-george-macdonaldI 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.

jeff-mcinnis-in-and-out-of-the-wind-audioAmazon Book Description:

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.

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About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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6 Responses to “In and Out of the Moon” by Jeff McInnis

  1. L.A. Smith says:

    Sounds interesting, thanks for sharing! I don’t normally pick up books with children as the heroes, which is one of the reasons why I haven’t picked up Harry Potter yet ( I know….I will! ). But this one sounds good.

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  2. tess says:

    Sold! 🙂

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  3. Jeff McInnis says:

    Thanks very much for the encouragement, Brenton! You’re very kind to mention it here. I’m very grateful. You really deserve a medal for getting through the audio version!…And thanks to encouraging folks like you, I’ve actually gone ahead and finished writing the the second book of the planned trilogy. With luck it should be all typed up, proofed, and published in the next couple of months.

    You bring up good questions about the length and intended audience. I hope it’s one of those stories that can really be enjoyed by lots of different kinds of people (like lots of the old fairy tales, or the Narnia books, or Tolkien, and perhaps Harry Potter). Yes, it would be too much in many ways for most elementary-aged children (though perhaps not bookish fifth-graders). But I think you may have mistaken the age of Kabe, the blind protagonist in this first book. He’s in middle school, around your son’s age. His younger sister Meg is the only one of the three children who’s really a little kid.

    I know modern publishers like to target well-defined age groups, but I like what Tolkien and Lewis have said about many fairy tales and fantasy stories not being for just one age group. Some of the people who seem to like my story best are adults. But I do think many pre-teens would enjoy it despite its length (I know one real life case of this) and that many teens would enjoy it despite the lack of a teen-aged protagonist in the first book (though Troy, the older brother, a major character, is a teen and comes to show a kind of heroism in the first book). The Harry Potter books keep me hopeful: not that mine can achieve similar success, but that it is possible that longish books can be enjoyed by lots of pre-teens, teens, and adults. I know the first Potter book was not awfully long, but others were enormous.

    Each book of this trilogy will be longer than a single Narnia book, but I think the content itself is at least as accessible as Narnia for pre-teens, and more accessible than LOTR or Hobbit…And yes, there is darkness in the story, beginning with the sad family situation on Earth, but I think there is also lots of light and beauty (and good humour) to keep readers hopeful. That’s one of the reasons I wrote it. It’s dark as lots of the old fairy tales are dark, as real life often seems dark for lots of people. But as you say, this is a book with a Christian heart. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

    Thanks so much again, Brenton. I appreciate your kindness, your thoughts, and your encouragement. And I wish you the best with whatever novels you’ve got in your desk drawer! 🙂

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    • Thanks for all those clarifications, Jeff. Yes, I underaged Kabe and put Troy at about 13. Moving them ahead a year or two helps. And I think there is tolerance for longer, darker, and more complex books out there–it is a matter of connection.
      I’m glad you wrote volume 2. Well done, and I look forward to seeing it.
      And I didn’t think your voice was bad. Trust me, there’s lots of bad author readers out there. This one fits in the “good” category. I did listen at a much faster speed (1.45x).

      Like

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