Classic Monday: The Big Fisherman

Classic Mondays are posts about whatever classic work of literature I happen to be reading at the time.  I shoot for reading five chapters a week (one per weekday), then share what I have read here.  Mostly, this is for my own benefit as a “reading log” of sorts,but those who need a little help through these sometimes-intimidating books or want to know more about them before diving in may find these posts useful.  But be warned: full disclosure and lots of spoilers ahead!

Lloyd C. Douglas is best-known for his masterpiece The Robe, but the Professor assures me that The Big Fisherman is even better.

Admittedly, I struggled with the beginning of this little-known work, but as the Professor raves about it, I pressed on; by the third-or-so chapter (where we begin to meet well-known figures), I was hooked, too.

Our story begins with the marriage/political union of a Israelite prince and Arabian princess. Though the Israelites and Arabians strongly dislike one another, the union is supposed to be positive for both people groups.  Naturally, the youngsters are unhappy with the arrangement and though the princess bears a daughter, she is sent back to Arabia, much to the shame of herself and her people.

What then of the baby, Fara, who is half-Jew, half-Arabian, and not acceptable anywhere?  She is raised to be happy but lonely and vows to avenge the people of Arabia by killing her father.  After her mother dies, Fara disguises herself as a boy and races off into the night on horseback, headed toward Israel and her father the Tetrarch.

This is where it starts to get interesting!  The cutting-off-of-the-hair-and-dressing-like-a-boy reminded me of the Disney film Mulan, so I sat up a little straighter and read more carefully.  Then when a man calls Fara “daughter” and tells her he can see through her facade, I read even more closely: the man was John the Baptist!  The author’s portrayal of John the Baptist draws the reader into the character; he is warm and compassionate and highly intuitive, but he is also still human because he expresses great shock when he learns just who Fara is.  She even confides in him, telling him of her mission.  He tries gently to dissuade her but more importantly implores her to hear the Carpenter speak before she goes about her mission.

Here, we leave Fara and become acquainted with the Big Fisherman, that is Simon (who becomes Peter).  Simon is not overly educated, but he is a good businessman, very strong, and much respected (or perhaps feared).  Again, the biblical character is very human; the author takes great care to present him as flawed but likable and–most important–three-dimensional.  He shows kindness to a stray camel boy who shows up with John (yes, John the son of Zebedee) but is more eager to hear John’s account of the Carpenter, whom he went to see speak the previous day.

Simon and the other fishermen listen hungrily to John’s report, but they are not satisfied with it: they want to hear that he is a crackpot, not that he spoke with great authority or innovatively about the hopelessness of possessions over peace.  But when John says that he saw a crippled man walk, Simon and the others become incredibly hostile, leading to a fight between John and Simon that leaves them not speaking.  Simon shows further compassion on the camel boy by sending him onto his mother-in-law’s home to stay the night.

The mother-in-law, Naomi, insists on a bath and clean clothes for the camel boy.  Though the boy is hesitant, he eventually hands over the items, and an astonished Naomi finds ladies’ undergarments beneath the dirty, boyish clothes! I must admit…I was surprised, too!   I had become so engrossed in the story of the fisherman, I was completely taken off-guard by the return of our heroine.  Naomi promises to keep Fara’s female identity a secret, but she asks David (a Sadducee who comes by occasionally to speak with Simon) what the markings on the undergarments mean and gives the game away.  David leaves pondering things–though he has not said outright that he knows who Fara is–and Naomi worries that she has done the wrong thing.

Meanwhile, Simon has gone in search of the Carpenter himself.  He is drawn to the speech he hears but resists.  Then, there is a great scuffle as a man takes his boy to be healed and the crowd closes in on him as Jesus leaves the place where He had been speaking.  The boy does not walk perfectly, but the man thinks that perhaps his body needs time to warm up to full use of the leg.  Simon remains skeptical at the end of chapter five.

And that’s it for now!  Tune in next Monday {or at the rate I’m going, Tuesday again!} to find out what happens next!

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