A book for Advent

 The Advent Calendar, by Steven Croft (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2006)

The Advent Calendar has something of the genre of the fantasy novel with a more or less significant Christian subtext ­ one thinks of C S Lewis or JK Rowling ­ written primarily for children and describing everyday life as a jumping-off point for the exploration of a fantasy world. Yet the journey of the calendar, made by Alice and her uncle Sam, is a whirlwind tour through the Old and New Testaments. Through references to one book of the Bible whose name is never revealed but can be deciphered by the reader with the aid of a mobile phone, the calendar becomes a lesson in the richness of life flowing from a single verse.

Waiting for the codes that open the doors in the calendar becomes a challenge to be negotiated alongside the demands of Alice's and Sam's daily lives Such incongruity, deliberate in fantasy narratives that weave magic elements into stories about the real world, acts in The Advent Calendar ­ sometimes predictably ­ as a symbol of the stormy and fertile interaction between faith and life. We share in the emotional impact of the characters' adventures on life at home, school or work, and witness emotions ranging from disappointment, indignation, impatience and lack of understanding to love, acceptance, repentance and forgiveness.

Quirky, entertaining and moving, the book manages to convey the excitement and anticipation of a season set aside for welcoming the mystery of Christ's birth in very ordinary and difficult circumstances. Mary says to Alice and Sam on 22 December: 'God's ways are paths of gentleness and hope. Find the life that is there. [] Nurture it. Even if the reed is bruised and broken, do not give up. It can mend, given time. Even though the lamp burns low, do not put it out. Tend it and protect it until it burns strong again.'

first published LONDON - 4 December 2006 - 324 words

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