Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Second Time Around: Biblical Reading

The Holy Bible is the best-selling book of all time...if you use that term loosely. The Bible has probably been printed more than any other book, but it is often given away free and that generates no sales figures. Even if you don't follow the various religions associated with the Bible, you can't deny that it contains a rich tapestry of stories. The imagery is fantastic: sulfur raining from the sky, Lot's wife turning in a pillar of salt, the rainstorm that swallowed the world. It all beautifully lends itself to fiction, and some fantastic books have been written with Biblical themes. One of the best re-tellings of a story in the Bible I've read was written by (who else?) a Catholic priest. 


Andrew M. Greeley has written many bestsellers that blend Irish lore and culture, religion, Chicago culture, history and modern-day settings -- not necessarily all in the same book. I've read lots of his works, but one of my favorites is based on a book in the Old Testament.

The Original 

The Bible is thousands of years old, and has been translated and printed for wide audiences for more than 1400 years. It's separated into two Testaments: Old and New, and divided into books with intriguing names like Deuteronomy. Each book is subsequently divided into verses, some longer than others.

And frankly, even the translated version is a monster to read. The language is archaic, the arrangement of words is strange, the themes are hard to understand and the names of places difficult to decipher. It's a nightmare to read the Bible, but there are many, many different versions available that are more readable. Book stores offer teen versions, children's versions, study versions -- every imaginable version of the Bible is out there.

The actual Book of Tobit, also known as the Book of Tobias, is difficult to read. The summed-up story goes something like this: a young man named Tobit has been exiled by his king and blinded by bird droppings. A young woman named Sarah is being plagued by a demon named Asmodeus, who has killed all of her husbands on the wedding night. God sends archangel Raphael to her. The archangel heals Tobit's eyes. Together, Raphael and Tobit travel to Media.

During the journey, Raphael tells Tobit about Sarah, his cousin (and therefore a marriageable female). The archangel tells Tobit how to banish the demon. They are married, Tobit drives the demon away, and everyone enjoys the wedding feast.

The Redux

Of course, in Greeley's hands the story becomes one of romance, a little history...and the Internet. Even better, the angel in the story becomes a woman.

Angel Light is the sequel to Angel Fire, but you don't have to read the first book to enjoy the second. In fact, none of the characters in the first book carry over anyway. This novel introduces us to G. Patrick Tobin, nicknamed Toby, who stands to inherit several million dollars.

But if, and only if he first goes to Ireland, then settles the long-standing Tobin family feud and, in a gesture of peace, marries his eighth cousin, once removed. Trouble is, Toby is a lovably clumsy and absent-minded young man with no real motivation to inherit several million dollars, and most certainly not to get married to an Irish girl he's never met. He's too busy working on his computer program, a search engine which will revolutionize the Internet. 

All the bugs haven't been worked out of the program. When Toby makes some tentative searches in a half-hearted effort to make the journey to Ireland, the computer brings up a strange sort of travel company that's headed by a rather bossy female. Almost against his will, Toby is soon taking passport photos while his travel agent makes all the necessary arrangements -- and then some. The agent ends up taking over everything from his wardrobe to his luggage, and soon Toby's on his way across the ocean.

The travel agent is, of course, the archangel Raphaela. She and Toby chat through his computer during the trip to Galway, Ireland, where Toby begins to change. He finds himself more confident, more natural, and more inclined to being called Patrick. 

When he finally meets the girl he's supposed to marry -- naturally, her name is Sarah -- he's even less excited about the strange quest he's on. She's a drunk, she's insolent, and she's trouble. But the reader eventually finds out she's having trouble because of the demon (who is a person in this version, and not an actual demon). 

Angel Light paints rich pictures of Ireland and Irish culture, and as always Greeley's characters shine with multiple shades of believability. The best part about this modern-day Bible redux is that Greeley acknowledge the source material for the story within the book; Toby and the angel talk about the Book of Tobit. It's all very well done and full of romantic comedy. Angel Light is much easier to read than the Bible, and the updated version of the story is completely delightful.

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