Karen Hancock,
(Bethany House, 2002)

Allegorical tales can grab one's imagination in a way regular fiction sometimes cannot. Gleaning a lesson or a different perspective from apparent leisure reading offers the reader new understanding that he or she wasn't expecting but may be pleasantly surprised to discover. Karen Hancock offers a twisting tale of a perilous journey home in Arena.

One could not describe Callie Hayes as happy, but neither is she the sort to remain down-and-out for long. Her job raising rats for use in a laboratory strikes a stark paradox against her love of creating art. Callie and her friend, Meg, decide to volunteer for a psychological experiment for some extra money and thus embark on a journey that will leave Callie forever changed. Here is the beginning of an allegory regarding Christian life. Callie must find her way home through the "Arena" while avoiding the heinous Trogs, with only a "field guide" and few scant supplies to aid her.

Before long, Callie befriends Pierce, who has been trapped in the Arena for five years and has all but lost hope of ever going home again. Along with a small band of others seemingly unable to escape the Arena, Callie struggles through trials and close calls with death several times, all the while being tempted with "an easier way" to reach the Inner Realm by those who wish these participants harm. Upon reaching the gate to the Inner Realm, the gang discovers that they must scale huge cliffs to reach their destination.

This portion of the story is an incredible metaphor about the Christian struggle to reach God in its own right. When Callie finally reaches the gate to the Inner Realm, she finds there are 14 gates from which to choose and she must pick the right one. Why are there 14 instead of just one? Why must she choose?

Personally, I find the greatest topic expored within Arena is that of fear and how one can choose to live with it or conquer it. Both Pierce and Callie have some fairly crippling fears, and both grow as people to escape the chains these fears put upon them. Both the tensions among the characters and their individual struggles flesh out their personal natures extremely well, making for a deeply involving read with very well-rounded people.

For those of you who avoid allegorical writing with all of your might, I ask you to set aside that view just for this one book. I cannot guarantee that you will enjoy Arena, but I do believe that you are more likely to enjoy it than not. The beauty of allegory is that the story exists on so many different levels, from the basic plot to the inner workings of the characters to the greater framework about which all of this is woven. Arena appealed to me on all of these levels, and I enjoyed every page of the journey home.

- Rambles
written by Carie Morrison
published 19 April 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.