The Fate of the Epic Hero

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Like a true journey of discovery, we do not know what is around the next bend. Often our way is obscured from view. All we can do is simply take the next step, in hope, in faith, that with the following forward thrust, all will be well. Yet we should not neglect the journey, for our quest is not only about the destination. What happens along the road could make all the difference. It may shape the future of more than ourselves.

In many works of literature, we see the importance of the journey. This trek into the unknown is a metaphor for self-discovery.

It is the fate of the Epic Hero.

What defines an epic hero is that he must leave home, travel into the unknown, descend into darkness (death), be transformed (reborn), and ultimately return home a different man. A good example of an epic hero is Bilbo Baggins in J.R.R. Tolkien’s, The Hobbit.

Bilbo is the reluctant adventurer, forced upon a journey in which he must face many hardships. As he enters into the Mines of Moria, and then again, into the evil forest of Mirkwood, he descends into darkness, and in the depths of his fearsome trial, he finds his true self. Something inside of him has changed. He is now (reborn) an authentic hero; he fulfills his quest, survives battle, and returns home a different person than when he left (There and Back Again).

Throughout THE STONE OF EBENEZER, we experience the journey as we look with different eyes.

We follow the young Hebrew, Nagad, as he fights for his nation. We trek after the Philistines as we see a vision of their quest. And we follow the Seat of Yahweh, the Ark of the Covenant as it, too, is forced to wander.

In each case, something important is about to happen. The journey for each ripples through the saga to impact the destiny of those that will shortly follow. Come along on this epic quest as our hero journeys toward self-discovery and, ultimately, helps decide the fate of a nation.

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Nagad watched as a third of the army turned and marched slowly away, their backs to their destination. Another path would have to be forged through the wilderness, another trek over the mountains. Their journey would be more difficult, their fate a different path than the remaining host. Fortunately, the priests with their sacred burden had made it beyond the flood before the torrent raged. The seat of God would continue on as planned. And the host of men would follow, a holy battalion on its way to its own destiny, unknowing the distant course that would be their doom.

Nagad glanced over at Orach, “Will the others make it in time?”

“They will find their own path and they will come when they come.”

“Those hills are difficult. It will be a challenge for so many to travel the mountain path. I am glad we are on this side of the stream. I do not envy their journey. I will not feel at ease ‘til we get to Eben-Ezer. I fear our delay will have dire consequences.”

“It is the journey, Na’ar, that is important. For with each step we are a little closer to finding ourselves. When we arrive, it is over and self-discovery is at an end. Yes, Na’ar, it is the journey that is important. Which path we are given is up to God.” (Pg. 30)

~ Susan51JU0NxzPNL

Read the exciting first book in the Trilogy of Kings Saga, THE STONE OF EBENEZER.

A nation falters, an enemy approaching; can one man overcome his past to lead his people back to God?

“An amazing, vivid account of biblical events is historically accurate where God’s judgments, treacherous journeys, blood battles and even romance come alive to the reader in this skillfully written epic story.” −Rev. Judith Wiegman

Grand Prize Winner in the New Look Writing Contest January 2015.

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A Three-fold Struggle: Symbolic Significance in a Story

In literature, a motif is a recurring element that has symbolic significance in a story. Through its repetition, a motif can help produce other narrative aspects such as theme or mood. In THE STONE OF EBENEZER, we see Nature coping with the same 51JU0NxzPNLcrisis that our main character must face—it represents the contrast between the world God created and the world marred by man.

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As they journeyed through the mountain pass, the cavalcade crested yet another hill. Below lay a lush valley full of orchards. The sweet fragrance of apple blossoms rose to meet them. A gentle breeze lifted pale pink petals into the air, twirling blossoms around the party, teasing the men until the flowers showered down like snow upon the mountain.

Now that is a pretty sight, thought Nagad as he took in a deep breath, savoring the smell of peace and beauty. And he wondered at the contrast between this loveliness and the horror of battle. How could the two reside in the same realm? Truly, Yahweh had created the world in beauty. Man it was who marred the land with war, tearing the very foundation of the earth asunder with the rampage of contention and rage. Yet the quest toward battle continued ever onward against the backdrop of God’s landscape. (pg. 23-34)

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One of the main themes that runs through THE STONE OF EBENEZER is Revenge vs Forgiveness. The narrative speaks to the motives that drive what one does in order to come to terms with loss and trauma. Battle is used as a metaphor for personal struggle.

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Dominating the landscape, across the undulating ground, Nagad beheld various shades of yellow and crimson, short-lived flowers of summer, fluttering in the soft morning breeze. The smell of spring, of the uncertain glory, hung in the air, a variant wave of freshness faintly perceived, coming with the distant scent of apples wafting up from the golden blooms of the crown daisy. Breathing in the smell of the field, the green lap of the vernal season beckoned from sleep and issued forth a flood of memories of youth and peaceful times, of white linen robes and youthful love, and the soft laughter of a virgin.

Transfixed by the flowery field, by the scarlet crowfoot residing close to the ground, each with a single stem that terminated in one ruby flower, and the gilded display of the crown daisy towering over the crimson carpet, Nagad thought: how like a flower we are. We come forth and then we are cut down and fade; as a shadow we do flee, lost in the dark of night, and continue not. Of neither do we make much account, for neither can bear our confidence, for all wither and are gone.

“At the end of day, we shall be lifted up,” Nagad spoke under his breath as he raised his sword before his face. “Though the way be long and hard, we will endure.”

Tiphcar, as he displayed his blade before the readied troops, exclaimed in a loud voice, “New is the dawn before us! Now is the hour that the Lord will be glorified! If God be for us, who can stand against us!”

And there, between Mizpah and Shen, the Philistines came rushing toward them in great number, hastening unto their own fate. The vision of the heavily armored and highly trained Philistines moving forward in tight formation sent fear into the hearts of the Hebrew lines. Yet, through the knee-high stems of the crown daisy, trudging through the bushy display of glorious yellow heads, the Israelites marched onward, increasing their pace until they surged forth in swiftness of speed.

Across the expanse they sprung, as lodestones drawn by an unseen attraction, which urged them onward. Colliding, the opposing lines recoiled, the violent concussion of the forceful impact sending men back a step in a carom of clashing colors. Trampled underfoot by the myriad of sandaled feet, by the forward thrust of the rushing troops, the scarlet flowers were soon crushed and covered in the crimson stream of life’s hemal nectar. As a wave strikes a boat amidships, the soldiers dashed against each other dealing deadly blow upon deadly blow. In contention they strove to obtain what the other possessed, but which only one could hold. (pg. 255-256)

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In this scene, flowers are used to illustrate the drama of the battlefield, foreshadowing what is to come for the men fighting upon plain. Another motif is weather—the weather of the world—literally and figuratively—reflects the action and tension within the story. As nations erupt, so too, the sky ruptures in conflict.

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Thunder sounded overhead as lightning streaked across the darkening sky. Rain came down in sheets, driven with great force by the west wind, as the thundercloud burst open, the heavens rent, suddenly violent, issuing forth a forcible storm. The silent expanse of nature, whose bowels gave way, ruptured with tumultuous agitation, the dreadful fury of the tempest amid fitful bursts of wind.

The road became impassible as the route quickly turned into a sea of mud. The Ark threatened to topple as the soldiers fought to keep their footing on the slippery roadway. A breach in the lines formed as the company stood leaning into the wind, fixed firm against the storm, yet no progress made toward their destination. Bludgeoned by sound, the roar of the driving rain and wind, accompanied by the crash of thunder, obstructed the exchange of words.

“Sar, dark is coming on fast, and we are surrounded by the tormented terrain,” yelled out Phicol. “We will never reach Ekron by nightfall. The way is too difficult.”

With sound radiating through time, notes rising then lost to decay, Caphtor retorted above the thunder’s bend with dreadful voice uttering violent denunciations, oracles severe, as the storm grew more feral. The internal pressure of nature mounted a crack of thunder as though the fissure of doom rent forth with a terrible fulmination, accompanied by the intense display of light, discharging upon the atmosphere with violent exertion. Unable to control the instinct, soldiers dropped where they were, ducking with arms raised to protect their eyes from the dreadful display.

“Sar,” called out Phicol.

“Fall out,” bellowed Caphtor. “We go no farther; make ready camp.”

Amidst a thicket of storax trees, the company of men set up camp with great difficulty. Tents were torn by the terrible tempest, supplies flung about in harried havoc, the battle for dominance over the tent spike continued into the darkness. The rush of the angry wind continued through the night as the sky flew apart and then collided with a loud explosion that shook the foundations of the earth. (pg. 176-177)

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It is a three-fold struggle:

The conflict is an immortal struggle—a world ruled by the gods

The Philistine god—Baal vs the Hebrew God—Yahweh

A national struggle

The Philistine nation vs The Israelite nation

A personal struggle

The Philistine soldier Ekwesh vs the Hebrew soldier Nagad

The battle is brutal; the way is tough. We all face battles in this life, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual, and these battles are brutal, even as the conflicts are within THE STONE OF EBENEZER. And like our hero, we must push through the fight. This is the true sense of an epic journey, a journey that leads toward resolution.

May all your trials bring you to a place of peace.

~ Susan

THE STONE OF EBENEZER: The Story Behind the Story

There are some things that should not be forgotten, some truths not forsaken. This is a story torn from the pages of antiquity, in an age where gods ruled the land: two men, two nations, drawn into an immortal struggle.

THE STONE OF EBENEZER is a sweeping saga of loss and revenge that takes place in the days of the last judge of Israel. You will travel from the foothills of Ephraim to the coast of the Great Sea, through a tapestry woven with details.

 

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There is always more to a story than what is read upon the pages of a book. It is when you understand the experiences and motives of an author that you can truly see the message delivered within the novel.

As you read, ask yourself:

Why did the author choose to write this particular story?

What message is the author attempting to convey?

When you know the answer, a depth of revelation strikes you, a secret insight that you alone share with the writer.

So what led me to write THE STONE OF EBENEZER?

On September 11, 2001, my father was killed by terrorist. The aftermath of this tragedy threw me into a struggle with doubt, grief, and trauma. I sought relief by reading, especially works of Tolkien. His experiences and insight into the subject of death and loss helped me to come to terms with my own journey.

Through this experience, I began to feel a story growing inside of me.

THE STONE OF EBENEZER—the stone of help—became an outlet for the lessons learned upon this road I was forced to travel.

Yet why this particular story?

I wanted to write about King Saul. The epic struggle between this tyrant king and his man, David, spoke to me. As I was developing the novel, I felt strongly that I needed to build up to the story of Saul, bringing to light the relationship between God and His people so that there would be an understanding of why it was wrong for the Israelites to ask for an earthly king like all the other nations.

The story came, but this nagging image of another character kept taking my attention. I added scenes to the beginning of my book in an attempt to quell the voice of this one leaning heavily against my mind. Then it came to me, as so often thoughts do, in the dark as I lay in my bed: make it its own story.

There was a message that needed to be told, a tale of importance, if not for the reader, for me. For you see, Nagad’s story is my story. His hurts, his thoughts, his struggles: they are all mine. To read this story is to read who I am. It is the journey I have taken.

THE STONE OF EBENEZER is a metaphor of life, my life.51JU0NxzPNL

It may very well be of yours. Whether your struggle is physical, or metaphysical, the battles we face are brutal. Yet, even as we face the trials in our life, there is One who can help us—our Stone of Help.

We have a choice: lean on God, or do it our way.

THE STONE OF EBENEZER is such a tale. As the characters face the struggles in their lives, they also have a choice. But will they choose well?

There is but one way to find out—

THE STONE OF EBENZER, Book 1: Trilogy of Kings Saga

May the Light of God shine upon your path.

~ Susan

The Stone of Ebenezer: A Quick Look at Chapter One

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A Dire Need

The sun stood at its full height over the once lush valley, laid to ruin by the ravages of war, now a barren wasteland littered with corpses and blood-soaked earth. Heat bore down upon them despite the early spring season. A sanguineous aroma filled the air, mingling with sweat as it ascended to assault the nostrils. Blood spewed forth from his victim as his sword sliced through flesh and bone. Nagad looked with horror at the great slaughter strewn about the field: soldiers ran, bodies fell, smoke rose. He seemed to be caught in a raging tide that threatened to engulf all in its path. The air rang shrill with the sounds of battle: swords clashing, spears splintering, cries of the dying. Nagad retched as he took in the scene.

From behind, he heard the creak of leather and the scrape of metal. Startled, he spun around. He caught the glint of a sword as it struck out at him. Instinctively, the young conscript lifted his shield to block the blade of the large Philistine. The thrust was deflected, but the tip of the sword nicked Nagad on the left shoulder. Down his bare arm, warm blood trickled.

“Ha! Well, played Hebrew,” scoffed the enemy. “But you have been marked by my blade.”

He had no voice. The enemy lunged at him with intimidating agility. Spurred on with renewed vigor, Nagad sidestepped, striking his foe across the left flank. The enemy recoiled, drawing himself away from the inflicting blade. But his armor was thick; the sword turned aside, marring the breastplate, yet not biting flesh.

The Philistine growled as he swung down upon the young Hebrew. Nagad brought his shield up to meet the enemy’s blade. His footing gave way as the brutal attack pushed him back.

With unrelenting waves, the adversary beat down the young conscript. Size and experience served the enemy well as the youth struggled to stand against the onslaught. Their swords rang as the contest raged. The young conscript grunted in his effort.

Taking a clout to the head, Nagad fell, landing hard upon his side.

“It is enough,” spat the enemy.

As he lifted his shield, the young Hebrew pushed with his feet against the hard earth, scrambling away from the foe.

The Philistine paced toward his prey. Standing over the encumbered youth, the enemy raised his sword.

“Away with you dog!” snarled the Philistine.

– excerpt from THE STONE OF EBENEZER, Book 1: Trilogy of Kings Saga, pg. 1-2

Sorry folks, that is all I’ll give for now. I hope that whet your appetite. Don’t forget to follow this blog to receive email updates to see the progress of this novel. I will be announcing the release date very soon!

~ Susan

Foreword: The Stone of Ebenezer

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In the days of the last judge of Israel, from the foothills of Ephraim to the coast of the Great Sea, THE STONE OF EBENEZER is a thrilling saga of loss and revenge. As nations clash in a struggle for regional dominance, two men, on opposite sides, each strive to overcome the past and reconcile faith in his god.

The battle is about to begin! Summer 2015

I am truly fortunate to have experienced such unfailing support in writing this novel. With pleasure, I here present the foreword to THE STONE OF EBENEZER, written by my good friend and mentor, Rev. Judith Wiegman. Her enthusiasm for my effort is overwhelming; she is a constant source of guidance and strength.

So without further adieu, the FOREWORD:

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As I begin this Foreword, I am reminded of the call from Susan when she completed her manuscript “The Stone of Ebenezer.”  Months before, she had contacted me to pray about writing the Foreword; a request that aroused a feeling of deep responsibility.  I am a pastor, author, and faith writer columnist but this was more than a writing assignment, more than a column for the newspaper, it was a call from Susan’s heart to mine; one I accepted with feelings of immense humility.

Susan and I met when as a children’s pastor; I taught her three children in a Dallas area church. Our mutual love for prayer, music, and writing, bound our hearts and minds together as kindred spirits. One summer I learned of Susan’s love for biblical, historical accuracy when she created booths for a children’s vacation Bible school. The children were intrigued to step back in time and experience life in the little village of Nazareth where Jesus grew in “wisdom, and stature and in favor with God and men.”[1] 

I agonized with Susan and her family upon learning how deeply they were all wounded two years prior to our meeting in the powerful tragedy of September 11, 2001.  They were forced to travel a journey, not of their choice, but theirs just the same. One of the passengers aboard American Airlines Flight 77 that hit the Pentagon was her father, Stanley R. Hall.  I prayed diligently for her as she struggled to publish her first book, SILENT RESOLVE AND THE GOD WHO LET ME DOWN. I share her grief each time I pick up the book and re-read any portion.

During our times together, Susan would share about another “book” gathering momentum in her heart and head.  As an author I could certainly relate and was not surprised when she completed her second work, THE STONE OF EBENEZER.  Susan sent this message: “I am sending the manuscript certified mail. It is always a frightening thing to put your manuscript in the mail. It is like sending your child away unsupervised.” Her choice of words struck a memory in my thoughts as they wandered to an Old Testament mother who placed her child in a basket made of bulrushes and “sent him away” unsupervised.  As the mother gave the basket a small push, she trusted God to provide a person that would receive the child and care for him. [2]

I could picture Susan as the manuscript left her hands in Texas headed for mine in Pennsylvania. It arrived! Overwhelmed by excitement, I signed for the treasured box.  I held it in my hands, called immediately to announce its safe arrival and curled up in a sunny spot to begin an incredible journey that began long ago in Ancient Israel. A journey traveled by Old Testament characters, re-born in Susan’s heart, now ready for anxious readers such as myself.

As I began to read, I envisioned the daunting task Susan faced as the overwhelming “I must write” feeling flooded her mind repeatedly in the early dawn. I marveled at the countless hours of research she logged in on this work. Her dedication allowed her to portray the events found in I Samuel chapters 4-7. Its amazing, vivid account of biblical events is historically accurate. The Bible states “So the Philistines fought, and the Israelites were defeated and every man fled to his tent. The slaughter was very great; Israel lost thirty thousand foot soldiers.  The ark of God was captured and Eli’s two sons Hophni and Phinehas died.”[3] God’s judgments, treacherous journeys, blood battles and even romance come alive to the reader in this skillfully written epic story.

Portrayed in her book are characters brought forward from Old Testament antiquity and presented face to face for the reader to experience.  This novel draws the reader to “be at home” in the Old Testament setting. Woven throughout its pages, the reader will readily see the hand of God as it moved in times past to protect the ark of God and the chosen children, Israel.  It will allow the reader to grasp the fact that God’s faithfulness to His Word in both blessing and judgment has not changed and can be claimed by us today.

I am honored to introduce this work by Susan Van Volkenburgh and to encourage her to pursue the completion of the series, TRILOGY OF KINGS SAGA.

~ FOREWORD BY: Rev. Judith Wiegman

Ordained Minister, Church of the Nazarene, 2003

Women’s Conference and Retreat Speaker

Faith Writer Columnist, Jotting Judi, The Dalhart Texan Newspaper 2008-2013

Author: Featured in Teatime Stories for Mothers, River Oak Publishing; Tulsa, Oklahoma

Featured in God’s Vitamin C for the Hurting Spirit, Starburst Publishers, Lancaster, PA

Recent Children’s Books: The Trail of the Wooden Horse,  A Stranger at the Gate, The Night of the Storm, Beacon Hill Press, KC, MO


[1] Luke 2:52

[2] Exodus 1:22-2:10

[3] 1 Samuel 4:10-11

THE STONE OF EBENEZER is the Grand Prize Winner of the 2015 New Look Writing Contest

To learn more about Susan’s experience with September 11, 2001, read her book: SILENT RESOLVE AND THE GOD WHO LET ME DOWN (a 9/11 story). You can find it at Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, LifeWay or your area retailers.

Things are getting exciting here as the release date for my novel, THE STONE OF EBENEZER, draws near. Here is something to whet your appetite–a teaser for the official book trailer.

teaser