Book Review: Killing Lions
Title: Killing Lions
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
[Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book from Thomas Nelson BookLook Bloggers program in exchange for my fair and unbiased review of this book. I am required only to be honest with my review. I was not compensated or asked to write a favorable review.]
If I recall correctly the history of my reading, this is the third John Eldredge book I have read in my life. I'm not sure what the other two were–maybe The Sacred Romance and Waking the Dead–I really don't remember. All I can say is that neither left a mark on me. I think when it comes to John Eldredge books you either get it or you don't. I fall into the latter category. I'm just not quite able to put a finger on what it is he is writing about or why he's writing it. I don't think that is an indictment of him or his writing as much as it is a nice way of saying I just don't care for his writing.
Now add his son Samuel to a book. That's where I'm at with Killing Lions. And given that this is the third of his books I have read it's not like I haven't tried. I still don't get it. Furthermore, given the wide range of life experiences of young Samuel, I find it hard to believe that many people–many young men–will be able to relate to his peculiar brand of 'woe is me.'
The book is billed as a guide through the trials young men face. Sounds admirable. Sounds interesting. Sounds like a great way for a dad to get his son's writing career off the ground. Half-way through the book I couldn't shake this thought from my head, by the end nothing had changed. I'm not saying there is anything necessarily wrong with that. I wish my dad could do the same thing for me and Lord knows if I could do that for my sons I would. But whatever sympathy I might have had for young Samuel quickly evaporated when I had to read, at least once per chapter, about his world travels and how terribly broke he was while he traveled to Malaysia (56, 95), or completed a Vision Quest at the age of 14 by climbing the Grand Tetons (63), or went sailing, or suffered as RA at the college he went to or how he had to spend a semester abroad because he was rejected by a girl (4 months to be exact. I remember one time I was rejected by a girl. I had to get up the next day and go to work. See pages 40, 115), or how he was certain his writing career was never going to get off the ground (51). This poor kid has done more by the age of 20 than most of us will do in a lifetime.
But he was struggling to find himself. And his career. Until one day his wise friends told him, "God was after how I saw myself" (55). I'm all about finding yourself and wading through the struggles of a young man–learning that alcohol is not helpful, that serial dating is a waste of time, that we often have to find the right career by being fired or quitting a fruitless job–and that's what this book amounts to: one young man's journey. The problem, as I see it is, is that his dad's advice is good for him. It might be helpful for others; it might not be helpful for others. I'm not sure who the audience is for this book because the people who probably should read it won't and the people who will read it will already agree with Eldredge because they have bought into his rather strange philosophy of warriors, masculinity, and romance. You either get it or you don't. There's nothing unique or inspiring about the content of this book.
The book is full of quotes. It is clear that the authors either read a lot or are good at quote mining because there are a lot quotes from all the people one might expect: Chesterton, Lewis, Tolkien, Buechner, U2, Frankl, Pascal, Dostoyevsky, and a few other philosophers and authors–some known, some obscure. The things these people have to say are important in certain contexts, but I think in this book they were filler. Use of these quotes always felt kind of forced and convenient-even if the quotes were the good quotes one might expect to see from these authors. I like quotes, but there was nothing surprising about these quotes.
I think when it's all said and done, as I noted above, you are either a reader who gets John Eldredge or you are not. If you are not, you will find a lot of the 'dialogue' tired and boring. Most of us do not live in a world where we discuss or engage in things like the 'Warrior' stage of life, go on Vision Quest's, eat Tiger beer as curry mee in Malaysian food courts with friends (I've read pages 95-96 two or three times and I'm still not sure what Samuel is trying to tell us in this story because I'm not sure what a person falling down and cracking their head in a Malaysian bathroom is reason enough to ask the question, "Why God?"), or 'suffer' from relational paralysis. Most of us don't have time because we are too busy living to take the time to 'find ourselves.' For most of us life and the journey is discovery enough without having to dedicate time to the specific task, and I can assure you that writing one book, traveling through Europe, and getting married will not end your journey to self-discovery. I am now 44 years old and I still learn, and will continue learning, but not so much about myself. At some point we need to grow up and give up the notion that learning about ourselves matters. We will do so when we start seeking first the Kingdom (Matthew) or when we fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews).
I have grown weary of a generation who thinks that life is all about self-discovery. I have grown even more tired of the publishers who think all of these angst ridden tales of spoiled brats need to be published. It seems to me that we all know enough about ourselves. Life is not necessarily a journey to find ourselves. In fact, a better goal would be to lose the self and find Jesus. We truly start living when our ambition each day is to discover Jesus in the faces and lives we see each day, to do everything with love, and to die trying. This is the essence of taking up the cross, denying the self, and following Jesus. And despite the prayers at the end of the book, I don't sense that that is the gist of this book.
It seems that many of the problems young Samuel had to pass through (as are the problems most people face at that age) were self-inflicted problems because he wanted to live the so-called cookie cutter, standard life of a 18-20 something rebel–complete with drinking, smoking, bouncing from girl to girl, and, of course, taking 4 month 'find yourself' journeys in Europe (see page 49-51). I'll be honest when I say that I just don't understand all this angst that Millenials feel they are suffering or this so-called higher sense of awareness they think they have. It all seems so self-centered: "Woe is me. I have to figure out life. I need to travel around the world to find myself and see how God wants me to look at myself. And we will be so aware and sensitive that the world will change. And we are the only people who suffer this way. And blah blah blah…" Really. Get over yourselves already.
And I certainly don't think one needs to travel to Europe and visit Auschwitz in order to know that there is terrible sin in this world and that humans are capable of horrific, ungodly, despicable violence against one another. Look around. Be more aware of what's going on in your own neighborhood. Stop climbing mountains and start stooping down to help someone right next to you.
So Sam and John discuss all sorts of things: girls, relationships, sex, money, careers, church, God, suffering & evil, building cars, travel to exotic locations, video games, and friends. Yes. All 'lions' as they say in due course. Every now and again there were some helpful thoughts, but for the most part the conversation between dad and son sounded edited, written. I'll be honest, it wasn't raw enough. I think this book might have worked in an electronic version where it could have been left raw and unedited and less wooden. Yes. That's word I'm looking for: it's too wooden.
In conclusion, I will say this. I do agree with John's words on page 119: "Christianity is not a 'blind leap of faith' as many have been led to believe. According to Jesus–and the entire canon of Scripture–faith is trust and confidence in a person whom you have good reason to believe is trustworthy" (his emphasis). I think he is right to put the emphasis of faith on a person who actually lived in history instead of upon some strange idea that theologians have conjured up. What I wish would have happened though is that this would have found its way to the front of the book because then maybe young Samuel might have understood life a lot better. Samuel wrote, "My generation is desperate for meaning" (7). Well? Have you read your father's books? Can you get over yourself for five minutes and figure out that life is not about you and your meaning? That you are not the culmination of history? That you are not the reward?
We have meaning. All of us. We don't need to search for it and I'd tell Viktor Frankl that too. Our meaning has been summed up for us nicely in the person and rule of Jesus.
We have meaning already and sadly I don't think this book is going to contribute much to the journey of discovery that some young people seem to think they must go on. Open your eyes. Taste and see that the Lord is good. (Peter)
I don't think this book is meant for a wide audience. It's meant for a niche group of readers who already get the work of John Eldredge.
PS–I disagree thoroughly with his take on Luke Skywalker on page 110. I don't think Luke ever, for a minute, experienced self-doubt. Watch the films again: he wanted off Tattoine to fight; he went into the cave on Dagobah, he left his training to rescue his friends in Bespin, and he left the group on Endor to confront Vader. This is not self-doubt. This was a man who knew what he had to do and did it. He often did it without thinking ahead, but Luke was a man who knew what it meant to be a friend, to be loyal to something pure, and who had a clear vision of right and wrong. There was no doubt in Luke Skywalker and he is not a good model of comparison for this current generation of humans growing up, spoiled, and searching for meaning. Luke knew, in his bones. Frankly, if anyone tried to hold Luke back it was everyone around him.