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The LORD who created must wish us to create
And employ our creation again in His service
Which is already His service in creating.
(Chorus IX from "The Rock", T.S. Eliot)
Man at his best, is an instrument of God, especially in his artistic efforts -- his creativity -- whether it be building, or poetics, or music, or writing. This gift given by God to man, if it is to have meaning beyond the immanent, is always and humbly returned.
To be sure this worldview is rarely considered in the postmodern era. Those that accept the dichotomy of man as spirit and body capable of receiving "gifts from God" are a dwindling remnant. The light of Truth is receding into the darkness of the age, yet there remains the tiniest flicker of hope, one example being the artist who "...participates in his humble way in God's creation-as the instrument through which God creates order out of formlessness, and as the creature that offers in service to God the products of the gifts he has received from God."
One contemporary writer who accedes to this notion is Dean Koontz, an immensely popular novelist given to intricate tales of sublime mystery that capture the reader on the first page and draws him through a labyrinth of horrific malevolence, emerging on the final page with palpating heart! But that is a very superficial look at Koontz's work.
For Koontz, as well as Henry James, the symbols always recognize "...order, God, the soul, and the earthy, commonsense existence" and, in the manner of Flannery O'Connor, his grotesqueries are summoned to express both the diabolical as well as the potential for evil in all of us.
The most popular of Koontz's literary creations is one, Odd Thomas, a very young man possessing remarkable "gifts." You see Odd, among other activities, involuntarily communes with the dead, and not just humans-as in Frank Sinatra- but canines as well- as in the ghost dog, "Boo!" And, Odd, given his natural inclination to love his fellow man, tries mightily to help these apparitions-at least the human ones-to "move on," acknowledging his only qualification is his considerable experience with time and the timeless.
Odd has taken center stage in three previous works: Odd Thomas, Forever Odd, and Brother Odd, all of which are reader favorites. The book under review, Odd Hours, Koontz's fourth in the on-going series, is written with the author's usual panache and vigor, the required convolutions of plot and intricate characterizations, and most importantly the underlying acceptance of man's "open existence" to God. Koontz eschews the idea of the autonomous self or the Hegelian extrapolation best described as "self-salvation," where "the ego transcends the cosmic order to rise triumphant in an immanently closed world." Consequently, he develops symbols representative of the deformation, but only as they define the deformity in his villains. Contrasting his exposition of evil in man is his depiction of the abiding consciousness of Odd Thomas, a consciousness in harmony with the presence and flow of God in the world and one immune to the noetic (reason) and pneumatic (spiritual) breakdowns that characterize the modern. Odd Thomas represents a unique American literary figure in that his consciousness is not merely determined by the sensorium of the body but by his spiritual acknowledgement and awareness of God's mysteries!
Two important elements of this novel are geography and climate. While Dostoyevski froze in the frigid clime of Russia, and Flannery O'Connor baked in the heat and humidity of Georgia, Koontz delights in detailing the seemingly perfect weather of southern California, where if the temperature plunges below seventy-two people run for their "hoodies." While the author may be utilizing the geography of southern California simply because of his familiarity it may be that this place symbolizes, in much the same manner that T.S. Eliot utilized Burnt Norton in Gloucestershire,"the historical continuity that appears as a stratum in the soul..." Continuity, soul, and place all have a depth of meaning yet to be substantively explored in literary criticism, but for Koontz, Magic Beach, California, the place of the novel and a name pregnant with symbolism, serves well enough as the stage for the conflagration between good and evil, where the immanent world reality is submersed in the transcendent!
Odd does not stand alone in his resistance to evil, there are allies: the mysterious Annamarie, her silver bell, and her command of coyotes, "The rest of the world is yours, but not this place at this moment;" the unflappable Birdie Hopkins who renders assistance with six gun and kindness; and, loveliest of all, the horribly disfigured, Ms. Blossom, who "When she had delight in her heart, her face transcended all her suffering, whereupon the scars and the deformed features and the mottled skin became the remarkable face of a hero and the cherished face of a friend." In the end Odd loves Stormy Llewellyn the daughter of Cassiopeia because that is what's true; time melts into timelessness, as it must.
Dean Koontz has developed a symbolism "that seeks to express the relations between consciousness, the transcending intraworldly classes of being, and the world-transcending ground of being, in the language of a process constructed as an immanent one." He understands in an ontological sense that transcendence exists in immanence, and he is able to express the reality of the various levels of being, to incorporate their meaning in the myth, and to explicate them in the "meditative complex of experience" that opens the reality of world-immanent process as one that is "conditioned by a process in the ground of being."
Koontz knows that man dwells along the tension between good and evil, where the field of tension is defined by the Greeks as the metaxy, and where Plato wrote that "The whole realm of the spiritual is halfway indeed between god and man (Symposium, 202a)." And, as a mystic, he understands that any reductionist philosophy that extirpates the notion that man is more than a mortal extinguishes the intrinsic pull in man toward immortality, and not only reduces him to the immanent, but to a condition that is less than human as well.
The impoverished, aesthetic, and transient fry-cook, Odd Thomas, stands as the literary figure eminently qualified to challenge the hegemonic spirit of the libido dominandi. Alone, in a world fraught with great peril, Odd takes on the garb the knight errant to challenge modernity's deformed ideologies, it's egophanic rebellion, and its demonic second realities.
The mystical Odd Thomas gives us hope that all is not lost!
© 2008 Robert C. Cheeks
Robert Cheeks is a freelance writer living in Ohio. His recent work has appeared in Philosophy Now, The University Bookman, Crisis, Touchstone, and The South Carolina Review.
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