Wednesday, February 20, 2019

"The Finale" by Calvin Miller

Calvin Miller’s trilogy The Singer, published in the 1970s, took the basic accounts of the books of the New Testament and turned them into epic myth. The Singer was based on the gospels. The Song was set in the world of the Book of Acts and the epistles. And The Finale is a mythologized account of the Book of Revelation, although it must have been something of a challenge to take a text that already existed in almost-mythic language and extend it.

What Miller did in The Finale was to simplify the story of Revelation to its most basic narrative. The old world of Terra is dying, and a new Terra is being born. Before that can happen, there will be a final battle between the forces of the Singer and the forces of the World-Hater. The story includes horrific battles and destruction, but the Singer overcomes evil and darkness, and New Terra is born.

Miller (1936-2012) was a pastor at Westside Church in Omaha, Nebraska for 25 years and then joined the faculty of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for seven years and later the Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. He was the author of some 40 books on popular theology, writing, and other subjects, but was best known for The Singer Trilogy

The trilogy was extremely popular, remaining in print for some two decades and then republished in the first decade of this century. But the cultural context for its first publication was very different from contemporary times. The Jesus movement was at full tide, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were enjoying a huge burst of interest by young Baby Boomers (there was even an animated movie based on The Lord of the Rings), and the first Star Wars movies were released shortly after. 

Politics and the world economy were in broad upheaval as well. OPEC had implemented the first oil embargo in 1973, inflation and interest rates were in double digits for most of the decade, the Watergate scandal had brought a President down, and the decade ended with American hostages being held more than a year by Iranian Islamic radicals. That was the environment Miller’s mythic trilogy was born into and likely somewhat propelled by.

Calvin Miller
It’s also worth noting that the trilogy had both a direct and indirect influence on Christian literature. While most writers of Christian fantasy today will point to Tolkien or the King Arthur stories as primary inspirations, Miller’s epic stories (told in a kind of poetic form) have been an influence as well. I was surprised at how much Miller’s epic reminded me of the stories of C.S. Lakin and similar authors.

The Singer Trilogy is both a period story, very much the child of the decade in which it was born, and a more contemporary story as well. Using the mythic or epic narrative format allowed Miller to escape being forgotten. And it is still a good story, and an interesting story, even if you don’t know the New Testament.


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