Have you ever knocked on the back of a wardrobe just in case something was there? Do you see a particularly lovely and enchanting glade and immediately wonder if, just maybe, elves and hobbits dwelt there once? I think most of us have hoped that our favorite works of fiction had some grounding in reality at some point in our lives. Toward the Gleam is a work of fiction that satisfies that desire, offering us an alternative view of history and of one of the 19th centuries most beloved works of literature. 

The story follows the exploits of a young husband, WWI veteran and Oxford professor named John Hill (yes, names are significant in this book). Recently released from active duty for health reasons and on a recuperating vacation in the country, John has an adventure, getting caught outside in a rainstorm and having to seek shelter in a mysterious cave. The escapade nearly costs him his life, but the pay-off seems to make up for it—a mysterious box from an unknown civilization containing a book bound in red velvet. The discovery is a linguist’s dream, and John becomes absorbed in the project of translating the ancient text, somewhat to the detriment of his family life and much to the chagrin of his wife EM. John however falls in love with the story he translates, especially as he sees the evil forces present in the legend reflected in the modern evils of Nihilism and the Nazi threat. The evil philosophies however, soon take human shape and other, more sinister forces, take interest the book. John and his family find themselves fighting for their lives against an unstoppable force that seeks to claim the book and all its powerful secrets. 

Toward the Gleam is story of mysteries and secrets with further layers of mystery on top of mysteries. One of the highlights of the book is that most of the main characters are historical figures. The twist is that none of them are explicitly named but are always referred to by a pseudonym, nickname or simply just a first name. This leaves the reader always pondering just how many of the characters are actually fictional (I am currently aware of twelve that are historical). The most intriguing character is the villain Alembert (an unknown real vs. fictional character) whom critics have described as being “Moriarty like” in his lethal cunning and machine-like mind. “His secrets have secrets” as Sparks would say. He and the other characters make the mystery of the story go further than the plot itself and extends it to the audience.

Another marvelous aspect of this book (aside from the really smashing one which I will not tell for fear of spoilers) is that John does not only fight the physical evil of Alembert and his regime, but as a professor he battles the dangerous ideas taking root in the thoughts and beliefs of the modern era. Whether in conversation with an anarchist student, debate with a philosophic woodsman or battling wits with the power hungry Alembert, John is forced to defend his beliefs in Theism and human dignity as much as he defends the priceless artifact he has discovered. 

Toward the Gleam is a book that defies classification. It is a philosophic thriller and historical fan-fiction. Most of all, it is a work that will send Tolkien geeks running to search out every cave in England. The reader comes face to face with the possibility of what we have so long loved, researched meticulously and wondered of in the depths of the night, could really be based on fact. Whether or not our fantasies become facts, Toward the Gleam proves that legends begin with history, and history is happening all around us. The battles between good and evil sung of in John’s book are those which continue in the real world. Monsters, armies of extermination and sinister wizards exist to this day in various forms, and the Christians of the world must fight them heroically every day. 

Eulalia Hogers