Otherworldly Dreams with Ted Dekker
No matter what form of entertainment you might prefer, the truth is virtually all of it is conceived with a single goal in mind: escapism. We want to escape from the reality of our daily responsibilities, and for a while become transported into a different world where no worries can reach us, a safe little space for the mind to recuperate. While some dive into it a little too profoundly, it remains an invaluable aspect of human psychology, making life not only bearable, but in many cases worth living for people with extreme disabilities. While in the real world we can never escape too far from ourselves, in the realms of literature we have a completely different story, like that of Rachelle in The 49th Mystic by Ted Dekker, the first book in the Beyond the Circle Series
Our protagonist is a young and tragically blind girl living in the small town of Eden, Utah, about to witness her life being turned even more inside-out than it already was. After a botched operation to restore her eyesight, strange dreams begin to settle in her mind, visions of another world, seemingly as real as the one she lives in. Soon, the line between reality and fantasy begins to blur, and Rachelle is no longer certain which of the two is in fact the real world. What she does know, however, is she has been prophecized to recover five ancient seals in both worlds before she falls victim to powerful enemies who would seek to plunge everything into eternal darkness. Caught between two worlds, the blind little girl stands unbeknownst to many as the last guardian of humanity’s fate.
The Sight of the Blind
From my personal impression when I read this book, there are two principal layers which need to be discussed, and the first one is the story itself stripped of any superfluous meditations on heavier topics. The plot takes virtually no time to actually get started and very much follows a thriller-like pace, with the chapters feeling short, focused and straight to the point.
Technically-speaking, Dekker makes all the right moves in the early development and setting up of the story, quickly introducing us to the actual stakes and the players of the game. I did enjoy the fact he didn’t patronize us readers with the second world, never really playing up a mystery around its veracity. In other words, he understands we have already accepted the premise of the fantastic and doesn’t feel the need to address it beyond the minimal requirements.
As the main pilot of our journey, I found Rachelle to be absolutely lovely and adorable from start to finish, and I was pleasantly surprised to see she didn’t grow stale or annoying to me as children characters often do (especially in movies). She is definitely wise and mature beyond her years, and there is a very tangible development happening to her character throughout the whole story, one which I found accurately reflected all she had been through. Though I am not exactly certain how much further she can be taken in future novels, she definitely served her purpose in this one. Dekker constantly makes us privy to her feelings, and her determination coupled with her vulnerability make her a truly endearing character, one you end up caring about like a little sister.
Journey of the Spirit
With all this being said, there remains the afore-mentioned second layer of this novel to discuss, and in essence it’s a biblical one. For those unfamiliar with Ted Dekker and his works, there is often a religious touch to them, and if I can be honest, it did discourage me from the novel at first. I am glad I looked past those initial impressions and gave it a shot in the end though, because if there is a proper way to tackle this sort of approach to novel-writing, I am certain Dekker found it.
I never felt as if he tried to force any kind of belief system on me, cram my brain with religious mantras or shove his perspectives down my throat. On the contrary, it feels to me as if Dekker seeks to include above all the kinds of biblical teachings which can apply to anyone’s life, regardless of what they might believe (or not believe) in. He attempts to demonstrate how religious principles can manifest themselves and be applied in regular life, and how in one way or another they do affect us all. For this particular novel, it felt to me his main emphasis was on the concept of personal identity, the arduous path of self-realization which can lead us to fulfill our true potential.
As you may have gathered, I am not exactly a religious person, but nevertheless I felt Dekker’s meditations still offered some interesting food for thought. If you feel you are in the same boat as I am, I simply want to assure you it is entirely possible to simply look past the biblical content and examine the author’s ideas from purely psychological, sociological and scientific perspectives; you are given the liberty to colour these teachings as you see fit.
The Final Verdict
I’ll be the first admit The 49th Mystic defied my expectations, turning out to be a profound novel which delivers both on entertainment and brain food. The story itself and the characters are meticulously crafted to perfection, consistently moving forward ensuring we never even have the time to get bored. The religious overtones were not in the least bit bothersome to me, and I would just like to restate how commendable I found Dekker’s approach to including this aspect into the novel. If you enjoy fantasy mysteries which include deep reflections on life, then I highly recommend you give this novel the fair shot it deserves.
Ted Dekker is an American writer primarily focusing on the thriller, mystery and fantasy genres. Amongst his many works two extremely notable ones stand out, Thr3e and House, both having been adapted into major motion pictures. He is also the recipient of numerous awards including the 2003 Christy Award Best Fiction Book, 2010 Retailer Choice Award, and most recently the 2015 INSPYs Bloggers Award for Excellence in Faith-Driven Literature Mystery/Thriller for his novel A.D. 30.