Review: The Ward of Heaven and the Wyrm in the Sea

by Caleb Nelson
Posted on Saturday, September 8, 2012, at 11:30 am

It's a lot like an unread classic: Colin J. Cutler's The Ward of Heaven and the Wyrm in the Sea (Eden Books, 2012) is not bestseller material. Even the title makes war on short attention spans. But told as it is by an expert defamiliarizer, the story makes the reality of God's mighty works fresh to a jaded generation.

Cutler is a first lieutenant in the Virginia National Guard, an infantryman who makes his living by tilling the ground. He has never been to sea, but he loves Moby-Dick, and that devotion is very marked in this, his first published work.

Herman Melville didn't do Norse mythology, orthodox Christianity, or short books. But other than that, he could have written The Ward of Heaven and the Wyrm in the Sea. The deep currents of the language, swelling and moving in great cataracts of imagery, clearly hark back to Melville, even as the surface churns with the kenning and alliteration of old Germanic poetry.

Cutler casts Christ in the role of Germanic hero, a Beowulf figure who spends three days and nights in the deep, fighting with the dragon that is in the sea. Weeds wrap around His head, and His heel is wounded by an ice-dart. But with His mighty hammer, He crushes the dragon's head.

The work opens with a movingly rendered storm at sea - I do not cry at books, but I was sobbing by page 13. Like many works of art, this one wrestles with the realities of suffering. Why are good men lost in ships upon the stormy sea? Cutler answers this question in the only satisfying way - that is, obliquely, with stories of even greater suffering endured by the noblest hero of all. That stuff doesn't sell.

It redeems.

Caleb Nelson

Caleb is the pastor of Harvest Reformed Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Gillette, Wyo.

Read more from this writer