April 19, 2004

Sarah
Rebekah

by Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card is mostly known for his sci-fi books but he has written a trilogy about the wives of the Old Testament Patriarchs. These are the first two in the series. I haven't been able to find the third and probably will end up ordering it from the bookstore just to find out how he handles the Rachel story.

These are fiction and it's important to remember that going into them. Card takes the very bare bones of a story and extrapolates on it. He leaves things out that are repetitious from one story to the next, so that while Abraham claims Sarah as his sister in Egypt, Isaac later does not. And Card adds in elements to the stories that are not based on what is in the Bible but which are plausible based on our knowledge of the cultures of the times and of human psychology. Hagar the Egyptian is a maid that is given to Sarah by Pharaoh in Egypt when he has her in his house of women.

One of the most interesting things Card does is define the blessing given to Abraham by God as the written works of the Old Testament. The blessing then becomes a real thing, a knowledge of language and of God that is written down and kept alive by each generation. So when Jacob fools Isaac into giving him his blessing rather than his brother Esau, it is the possession of the Book that he is really getting and the privilege of continuing on with the creation of the Scripture. That's a very interesting thought.

The other interesting thing he does is create a very complex relationship between Abraham and Isaac stemming from the willingness of Abraham to kill Isaac at the command of God. I've often wondered how Isaac felt about the whole thing; apparently Card did also. The father/son relationship is strained to say the least and Abraham as an old man comes across as a bit of a tyrant over his son and his son's household. The unequal love that Isaac feels for his twin sons Jacob and Esau are a reflection of the scars he carries from his relationship with his father. As I said, not biblical but certainly humanly plausible.

That was the interesting thing about these books. They took bare bones stories and made them rounded and developed. How accurate his retelling is is questionable but for sheer storytelling, they're really good. I enjoyed them.

Posted by Deb English at April 19, 2004 07:05 PM

Phil said:

That is interesting. I remember Madeline L'Engle remarking on the tension b/w Abraham and Issac and God's enjoyment of story. I wonder if Card considered her thoughts when writing these books.

Deb said:

I've scoured Card's website a couple times and havent seen any references to L'Engle, which, of course, doesnt mean he hadnt heard of her thoughts. As Will pointed out to me also, Card is a Mormon and since I know nothing about Mormonism, I have no clue how their theology influenced his work. Still, they were good reads, if for no other reason than that he can write, if you take them with a huge dose of salt. They reminded me of the Thomas B. Costain novels I read as a teenager.