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Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Society of Unrelenting Vigilance by Glenn Dakin

Someone who has the ability to melt people with his bare hands could provide lots of suspense for a tween book.

It’s mostly potential here.

It’s not that I don’t think the Gothic atmosphere has no place in literature or the human imagination; it just doesn’t appeal to me much unless the story is superb, a la’ Edgar Allan Poe.

It’s not superb.

The story line begins with a young man held prisoner by his guardian. The boy has been told that this is for his own good and since he must wear gloves at all times to avoid touching people, he finds this plausible. Touching people in his case will melt them into a ball of slime.

When he is contacted and subsequently helped to escape by a secret Society of Unrelenting Vigilance, he begins to learn that his guardian was indeed his captor, who tried to drain and steal Theo’s strange power for his own.

The atmosphere is dark: gargoyles, imps, loathsome creatures, smog, crypts, skeletons etc... This bothers me less than the more casual forays into evil. For example, Mr. Nicely, a servant, gets tortured. The girl who helps our protagonist blatantly desires revenge and never shows remorse. Helpers of the Society for Good Works are chosen because they have few family connections, and are thus easily “disposable” (killed). And, pardon me, I found the part where the creatures working for the bad character, the Dodo, munch on a fresh human skull… disgusting. It was too dark for my taste.

Here’s a sample of the violence: Theo pushes his former “guardian” off the edge of a platform, he falls and is impaled. He climbs off the spike, and crawls back up on the platform while his face is melting ( it played much better in “Terminator.”) to finish trying to kill Theo. I had to force myself to read to the end. (You’re welcome.)

I tried to search for a bit of redemption in the whole thing. Maybe its post-modern angst explains why I had to search so hard to come up so short. Beyond its senseless gore, the post-modern view peeks through with a character who specifically states he is not looking for salvation, just oblivion. He asks Theo to deliver it. And Theo is able because he randomly has that spark-of-life that mystically and magically runs in his family to give that creative power to earth, air, fire, water in their wild and chaotic mix. That’s right… Theo’s got the power of God.

What gags me is when Theo’s predecessor was presented as a hero. This Candle Man, in addition to his efforts to fight evil, would torture and cruelly punish certain enemies of his. A hero would, at the very least, repent and seek… shall I say it… salvation. In this post-modern tale, he’s considered a “complex hero.”

Theo was dubbed “Weirdy” by the robbers who invaded his original home…. Weirdly enough… this book was written by the man who wrote “Shaun the Sheep,” a DVD I let my children watch. I might have to look more closely at that series.

Theo and his cohort did present the idea that individuals could change the world for the better, and Theo overcame his past to become a Candle Man who only used his powers, comic-book style, for defense against the evil. I didn’t find it redemptive enough.


See: Catechism of the Catholic Church, Torture as Offense Against Mankind, 2297, 2298


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