The Ale Boy’s Feast Day 3: Spiritual Elements

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Some tour members questioned whether Overstreet wove Christian themes into his work or only presented generic values that any individual could appreciate regardless of faith. John Otte advanced this view in his final tour post. In contrast, a non-tour related blogger protested what he perceived  as heavy-handed Christian beliefs. So which is it? I think it likely that people with other faiths could enjoy Overstreet’s novels, but I found the content strongly suggestive of Christian themes.

However, if the faith elements depicted in fantasy existed along a spectrum, Jeffrey Overstreet would fall much closer to JRR Tolkien than CS Lewis. As I mentioned in Monday’s post, The Auralia Thread doesn’t contain direct allegory, yet like Tolkien’s work, it presents thought-provoking representations of spiritual realities, many of which remain hidden until you see the story in full. While not overt, they give the story added depth and power. CS Lewis once stated, “To construct plausible and moving ‘other worlds’ you must draw on the only real ‘other world’ we know, that of the spirit,” and it seems to me that Overstreet has successfully done that.



Sometimes symbolism in The Ale Boy’s Feast presented itself in small ways (perhaps not even intentional by the writer), like the river that restores life and brings healing or the old hunchback man serving bread and wine or the paraphrases of Scripture spoken by characters in fitting moments.

In addition, the themes drawn over the wider canvas of the story resonate with the spiritual world we live in. A Curse binds the Expanse, a Curse brought on by the deceit of tricksters who exalted their own power above that of the maker, the mystery, the master, who first appears in their midst as one of them, and then astounds and angers them by his power. Even then the maker says, “Don’t you have a notion by now? I’ve come to call you home to me. Give up your boasting. Don’t waste your days on thieving. Come back…Come back home, my friends, and you’ll have all you need. I’ve missed you there.” Krawg reveals all this in the powerful story he recounts in Raven’s Ladder, a tale he doesn’t understand, but one that has shaped the entire course of his life and the history of the Expanse. He tells further of the tricksters’ rebellion and rage against this mystery, against the idea of a maker and master, and their determination to steal his children from him. Even as they rage against the maker and seek to turn his children away from him, he tells them, “the more you unstitch what I’ve made, the more you’ll fray and fumble and fail. But there is a golden thread that runs through everything. Should you ever lure my new family into forgetfulness, that golden thread within them will burn with secrets of the weave they were meant for. If even one of my prodigal children traces that thread and makes it through all your snares and illusions, he’ll find his way home. When he does, I’ll give him the power to bring everyone else back with him. Slaves and crooks, kings and queens and heirs to thrones, thieves and killers, youngsters and old folks. He’ll bring ‘em back by way of the innermost strand, a thread that can’t be broken. And so I’ll draw all threads back into my weave.”

When the tricksters succeed in luring the maker’s children to rebellion, the Curse takes root in the Expanse, and over time the children lose memory of their true home and the mystery that created them. But the beauty seen in Auralia’s colors, the glimpses of the majestic Keepers, and the dreams that haunt the sleep of children, awaken desire in individuals across the Expanse, a lovely reminder of how art and beauty in their best and truest forms, captivate us and point us to the ultimate Artist. Cal-Raven, Jordam, the ale-boy and others witnessed otherworldly beauty in Auralia’s colors, and it compelled them to search until they found its source, the true home the maker fashioned for them. The answer wasn’t in the colors themselves, but that to which the colors led.

In The Ale Boy’s Feast, we also see the ultimate end of the tricksters, when their schemes and mechanisms have failed, “They could craft nothing themselves but more opportunities for their rival to redeem and reconcile, increasing mystery’s mastery and sharpening their shame.”  No matter the suffering they cause for a while, they have no hope of success in the end, for the master will win every time.

In short, the story contained in The Auralia Thread provides a beautiful image of redemption, and the longing of our maker for his children, a reflection of a greater reality.



Some might find the fact that it isn’t a direct allegory troubling, since the equivalent of a Christian belief system doesn’t exist in the world of the Expanse and not everything has clear-cut parallels, but to force the story into that structure would have robbed it of its power. I think we need stories that incorporate faith on a variety of levels–filling in the entire spectrum–and I’m certainly glad Overstreet wrote these novels just as he did.

What do you think? Absent a direct allegory, can a fantasy novel still reflect a Christian perspective? Did you question the spiritual threads to the story (or lack thereof)?

Don’t forget to visit some of the other tour participants for reviews, interviews with the author, and more discussion:


    • Sarah Sawyer
      May 19, 2011 - 5:04 pm · Reply

      Jeffrey, I love writing about novels I enjoyed, and this series certainly fit the bill. I look forward to your next book!

  • John Otte
    May 18, 2011 - 6:54 pm · Reply

    Perhaps I was a bit hard on Jeffrey Overstreet. I think you raise some valid points, that this one falls closer in line with Tolkein’s work than C. S. Lewis. And you definitely stirred some thoughts for me about the spiritual payload of the story. I apparently need to be a bit more careful when I read these books. :I

    Thanks for the great post!

    • Sarah Sawyer
      May 19, 2011 - 5:05 pm · Reply

      Thanks for stopping by, John! I always appreciate the perspective you share during the tours, even when I have a different take on the story. 🙂

      Krawg’s story made a deep impression on me when I read Raven’s Ladder, so I was looking for that to be further fleshed out in The Ale Boy’s Feast. Actually, I also have the feeling that there’s more to the books than I observed in my first reading, so I look forward to revisiting them one day.

  • Timothy
    May 19, 2011 - 2:01 pm · Reply

    Sarah, the spiritual points you mentioned made me stop and think. I wasn’t able to read the Ale Boy’s Feast, but the title and what you wrote seem like a good allegory for the celebration all belivers will one day enjoy with The Lord.

    • Sarah Sawyer
      May 19, 2011 - 5:05 pm · Reply

      I’m glad it gave you some food for thought, and I hope you get a chance to read the book soon. It’s well worth it!

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