Six writers of historical mysteries and thrillers come together in The Lost Prophecies to imagine the far-reaching consequences of a book foretelling future events. Five of the authors I’ve never read, Bernard Knight, Ian Morson, Michael Jecks, Susanna Gregory, and Philip Gooden; the sixth author is a favorite of mine, C.J. Sansom (he has a new book coming out in the new year and I will read it a.s.a.i.c.o — as soon as it comes out). This book is fabulous: to quote a character from The Last Prophecies, “A combination of history, religion, and mysticism was like manna from heaven” to me.
The events prophesied in The Lost Prophecies originate in a small black book, laid out in enigmatic and beautifully lettered Latin: they are the ravings of a possessed orphan in sixth century Ireland. Easily twisted around true events, the prophecies of the little black book seem to hold truth within their twists and turns. Six mysteries of intrigue and treason, rebellion and murder result over two millenia and we the reader are brought to realize truly the power of the written word.
Not that I’ve ever doubted it. The power of the written word, I mean. The obvious proof is the Bible and the psalms, the hymns and the prayers that have survived centuries to lift spirits (or, worst case scenario, render fear and loathing). I prefer poetry and could hold up one great poem after another (The Lake Isle of Innisfree by Yeats, Stepping Backward by Adrienne Rich, Give All to Love by Emerson) as perfect examples of the power of the word; and of course, there is the prose poetry of playwrights and novelists. Nor can we forget the power of the histories and biographies and autobiographies, past events portrayed this way and that way, pointed and counter-pointed. And I will never deny the wonderful power of a good mystery to hold me captive, to keep me reading straight through the pleas of children and spouse, and way past a sensible bedtime, just get to the conclusion of who the heck dunnit. But it is more than knowing who killed the victim and why, or who stole the parchment or sired the son or set fire to the church; I am enmeshed in lives outside of my own, I am involved and caring and have a stake in the people I am bringing to life in my mind, through the power of the well-rendered word.
That is the magic of good writing: draw in the reader and hold her absolutely still as she lives another world of lives and events and places and spaces in time. The Lost Prophecies captivates as it moves through the past and forward in our our current century to a future of small but determined hope for mankind. This book, like all captivating books, has its roster of heroes, good decent people who look for answers beyond (ironically) the written word and the popular lines and doctrines, people who find truth in their hearts, sustenance in their goodness, and knowledge through their very human failings. Maybe such heroes are mythical but I don’t think so. We see something familiar in them, something to hope for and aspire to.
The power of words is in both their ability to mirror our existence (the gossipy comfort of eavesdropping, self-affirming perhaps but more than that, interesting and provocative) and to present a bigger vision of our possibilities, of what we can be, how we can love and flourish ourselves, and how we can sustain and encourage others. Books are not about lonely existence, just because we usually read them silently and alone. Books are a strong and resilient cord between humans, an event to discuss and share, to create bonds. Two people from different continents can connect over a book, a group can gather and discuss a book and transform their thoughts, their energies, their patience and their humor and their charity. A man in New York City can exclaim in shared compassion with a woman from suburban Salt Lake City or New Delhi or Brisbane; a connection forged by words put down by a determined writer. Amazing. The power of words, in plays, in poetry, in novels and songs and sermons, is truly amazing.