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Book Review: The Astonishing Stereoscope

The Astonishing Stereoscope (Hall Family Chronicles #3)The Astonishing Stereoscope
by Jane Langton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Such an interesting book for it’s time. Set in the 50’s and written in the 70’s it tackles issues of religion, atheism, philosophy, mythology, magic, illusion, education, science, finances, politics, ethics, biology, evolution, and more. These themes are very reminiscent of works by Madeleine L’Engle and her fabulous Time series. Langton’s novel seems to be channeling that vein of spiritual challenge via fantastical literature. Using the freedom and wonder of a children’s story to ask very mature questions.

Rich in religious symbolism, the adventures in this story are multi-layered and very complex. The details and hidden meanings of the different events are often left unexplained for the reader. This allows us to experience the environment the same way that the children do, as they are not schooled in theosophy and religious iconography, and therefore experience the events with wonder and total reliance on their intuition for guidance as to the meaning and relevance of each adventure.

For instance, the symbolism of the sacred cat (in this case the cross-eyed Herman, and the feline totem pole) is present in almost every culture, and represents hidden knowledge and a gateway to the Otherworld. Another example is the vine-covered cathedral and the grapes are clearly a reference to biblical scripture, “I am the vine; you are the branches…” in John 15:5 (which goes on to state that [the divine] is the source of power that dwells within us all, and without it, we cannot change or thrive).

Having some background in this area, I found the adventures extremely complex and teaming with information. At times, the environment was too complex, and seemed to shift and change chaotically, like a fitful dream. A dream that leaves more questions than answers. But that is life, after all. And I love the fact that this aspect of reality is not dumbed-down for the readers. Although the book does include a rather random happy-ending, the disappointment the children experience due to some of life’s answers, and their struggle to cope with no answers at all, is presented in an open and raw manner for the reader. Children reading this will not be given a sugar-coated version of these important life-questions.

The pace of the story went a little fast in some areas, so it read a little rushed. I would have liked to have spent more time in each adventure, and have some more details of the environments, and how they got through and back. Sometimes, the events relating to the mythos Langton create didn’t make sense—meaning, certain aspects of the adventure didn’t follow the “rules” as to how these fantastical events would occur. For example, the last two events, the kaleidoscope and last stereoscopic adventure, when the rules for traveling though the hidden worlds changed abruptly. Not to mention, the confusing issue as to how the adults appeared physically and consciously within the stereoscope without proper introduction or explanation.

None of these issues make the book unreadable or any less worth-while. The first book in this series, The Diamond in the Window, is a masterpiece of children’s literature. This last installment featuring the original Hall family doesn’t compare, but it’s still pretty remarkable in it’s psychological scope and theosophic challenges.

The tough questions it asks are applicable to adults as well as children in any place in time: questions like, “Which religion is the ‘right’ one?”, “Why do some people enjoy hating and harming others?”, “Why do different groups have such conflicting ideas about what is ‘wrong’ and what is ‘right’?”, “What happens after we die?”, “Why do people believe in sin and Hell?” and “Is there such a thing as an unforgivable act?”

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

I’m a pan(en)theistic Pagan with a quick tongue, black thumb, and no sense of elemental direction. Otherwise, I’m awesome.
Posted By Mnemosyne Mars

I'm a pan(en)theistic Pagan with a quick tongue, black thumb, and no sense of elemental direction. Otherwise, I'm awesome.

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