Fantastic Christian Realism: Experiencing Wangerin's The Book of the Dun Cow

There is a beautiful mystery in the fact that we often think of certain novels and poems in terms of our experiences at the time we first read them. This is both appropriate and fascinating, especially when second and third readings of the same literature yield further layers of our experiences with them. We are reminded, then, that we are biographical creatures, storied creatures, and that stories, poems, and sagas do not only entertain us; they help to articulate and explain us. Today in August of 2021 the writer Walt Wangerin Jr. has just recently died. Wangerin, a Lutheran storyteller who received many of literature’s highest awards, is best known for a series of fantasy books situated in a most unusual world—a farm that intersects with the meaning, the dangers, and the promises of everything.The first book in the series is called The Book of the Dun Cow. Dr. Garcia first read it at the recommendation of Jonathan Stark, his friend, a longtime teacher, and a ruling elder at Immanuel, the Presbyterian congregation Dr. Garcia served as pastor. He couldn’t help but read this story as one nearly consumed with his own experiences of horror and pain in a very difficult time of pastoral labor. Nor could Wangerin, it turns out. Perhaps this is why this book has been precious to Dr. Garcia ever since, and yet it remains a compelling and worthwhile book in its own right, quite apart from ways this biographical sketch may or may not prove to disclose. But then, perhaps we should not hesitate to notice such things either, if our stories partake, purposefully, of the features of the story of everything precisely so we can be sure of the Creator’s purposes at work in his creation.Despite its apparently comical setting (talking animals and the like), The Book of the Dun Cow is a profoundly serious book and--as Jonathan and Dr. Garcia both agree in today’s conversation--it is not to be confused with a children’s book. In its seriousness, though, it is also refreshing. It does better justice to the realities of sin, evil, and pain than so much of what the world offers—indeed, than the Church sometimes offer. This alone commands our attention.At long last, then, Greystone Conversations was pleased to sit with Jonathan Stark to talk a bit about one of our favorite topics: Wangerin’s The Book of the Dun Cow. Thank you for sitting with us to listen in. We hope you will consider reading the book yourselves, of course, but would be quite content if we are all reminded by this story that the real world is more fantastic—in the literal sense of the word—than we could possibly imagine in our largely disenchanted age, and that good writing reminds us, even urgently, of reality’s enchantment.

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