Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity
“God's Child” first appeared in the July/August 2013 issue of Touchstone.
The Odd Thomas Series
reviewed by Hunter Baker
His name is Odd. Not Todd. Odd. When you look into the origins of his name, they aren't clear. Maybe it was some strange kind of family name. Perhaps it was a mistake on the birth certificate. The young man's parents aren't sure themselves. It is as if the Lord wanted to express the metaphysical truth of this exceptional individual and so arranged to have him legally proclaimed Odd.
Odd is a saint, a short order cook, a man of sorrows, a gentle spirit who sometimes has to be violent, a person in possession of immediate and personal proof of the afterlife, and, therefore, a natural enemy of nihilism because he knows that everything counts. Odd frequently finds himself surrounded by the darkest darkness. It is sometimes literally chilling, but the ultimate effect is to make his goodness shine more brilliantly.
The creator of Odd Thomas is a man who is probably the single best-selling Christian author on the planet. He has sold over 450,000,000 books, a number that grows by an estimated 17,000,000 each year. And his name is not Rick Warren, Jerry Jenkins, or Bruce Wilkinson. Those who pass by the paperback racks on their way through the supermarket line will recognize the name of Dean Koontz. His work has successfully spanned changes in the book business from the time of Waldenbooks, through the era of Barnes and Noble, all the way to Amazon and the oncoming dominance of ebooks. He has been cranking out bestsellers dwelling on the great clash between good and evil for decades.
"But a Christian author?" you ask. Indeed he is. And while he admits to having lapsed as a Catholic in the past, the spiritual depth and urgency of his work only increases with time. With his novel The Taking (2004), one could begin to see that he was an author with explicit Christian concerns. At the outset, The Taking appears to be a story about aliens abducting human beings, but it turns out to be a highly original tale of the Rapture. But if you really want to discover Koontz's Abbey Road when it comes to things of the spirit, you have to get to know Odd.
A Survey of Moral Diseases
Years of major market success gain an author freedom to do what he wants. In the last decade, Koontz has invested his considerable artistic capital in becoming a more intentional instructor of the soul. His device for moral and spiritual teaching is a young man named Odd. Odd, like Koontz, is a Catholic. He is bright, handsome, and athletic. His parents are divorced and both highly dysfunctional. Odd's inattentive, playboy father comes from a family with a lot of money. His mother doesn't deserve the name. Given his upbringing, Odd is a miracle. He is God's child more than he is the child of two people who refuse to grow up.
Odd's decision to live simply (he sometimes dreams of moving from the diner to selling tires) is a response to necessity. He sees the dead who have not moved on. In an interesting twist, he also sees entities he calls bodachs. They, like the dead, lack substance and appear as looming shadows in places where great tragedies are about to occur. Odd's grim conjecture about the reason for their appearance speaks to the nature of sin and the development of a broader and deeper crisis in human affairs. He suspects they are time travelers from a future so desperately wicked that its denizens hope to be spectators to bloody spectacles.
Odd's ability to perceive what the rest of us cannot has a tendency to draw him into dangerous situations dominated by depraved villains. As a result, he cannot accumulate material things or set up anything approaching an ordinary life. Just as he feels a responsibility to intervene in unfolding tragedies, the perpetrators of evil acts seem drawn
The villains of the stories offer a broad survey of the diseases of the age. There are thrill killers, power seekers obsessed with mysticism, a scientist who ventures too far into God's territory, people preparing violent political revolutions, a man who uses his mental powers to make playthings of human beings, and immortals who view themselves as far above ordinary men as we view ourselves above fish.
Koontz uses these men and women to point out not only obvious evils, such as hard utilitarianism and Nietzschean ways of thinking, but also those that are more subtle. In one story, Odd observes that a guard has books by Emerson, Whitman, and Wallace Stevens stacked on a table. These, he notes, are "a dangerous crew to let into your head." In Brother Odd, he puts a critique of "enlightened" views of law into the mouth of a virtuous sheriff: "These days law thinks it's about nothin' but laws. Law don't remember it was once handed down from somewhere, that it once meant not just no, but was a way to live and a reason to live that way."
A Trusting Agent of God
As good as the stories in the series are, Koontz's greatest achievement is probably not so much the plots or the action as it is Odd himself. In this young man with a life full of heartbreak and danger, the author has created an unbelievably good character who is nevertheless believably good. Odd deprecatingly describes himself as looking like something out of an Annette Funicello movie. He embodies the very best parts of Christian and, yes, throwback American manhood.
Odd must squarely face all the terrors that surround him—and face them he does. He has no supernatural strength, no potent weapons, no special protection in these battles. Instead, he sees himself essentially as an agent of God and is willing to follow the smell of smoke, though logic would tell him to stay away and not get burned. Hell itself would not deter Odd if he felt he was needed there.
In this way, Odd is very simple. He trusts God with an almost childlike faith. He is gentle, but strong where it counts and fearless when others are in danger. He possesses great love, a powerful sense of duty, and seemingly inexhaustible wells of inner strength. Every time you think he might fall down and die, he reaches deep and finds just enough to sustain
Odd is self-consciously one of Burke's good men: determined to do something rather than nothing in the face of evil. In Odd Hours, he contemplates Burke's dictum and adds that it is essential "that good men and women not be propagandized into believing that real evil is a myth" and that all malevolent behavior is simply the result of poor socialization or bad economic theory. But this awareness of responsibility comes with a price. Again from Odd Hours: "to do what you feel sure is right and in the aid of justice, you sometimes have to do things that, when recalled on lonely nights, make you wonder if in fact you are the good man that you like to believe
Though Odd is an irreplaceable person, he considers other innocent life to be of greater value than his own. A character in Odd Interlude #3 describes him as "one of those wanderers of legend, who goes where he feels he must and, in the going, finds those who need him, and in finding those who need him, fulfills his destiny." It is a nearly perfect description. His regular morning prayer is "Spare me that I may serve."
Koontz's gospel sensibilities come through in Odd's comments on his beliefs in Odd Interlude #2: "My only armor is my belief that life has meaning and that, when my last sun has set and my last moon has risen, when the dawn comes that marks the moment when I am born with the dead, there will be mercy." In that same story, Odd is touched by the faith of a child who exhibits
The stories of the Interlude show Koontz's boldness in being ever more direct in his emphasis on biblical truth.
Though it is clear early in the series that Odd is a Catholic just as Koontz is, the fifth book in the series, Odd Apocalypse, has a more particularistic Catholic spin to it. In this story, Odd travels with a young woman who is very special and very pregnant. The child she carries may have a glorious destiny and may indeed be the result of a most unusual conception. Without necessarily understanding why, Odd has become her protector. By the end of the story, she has offered some evidence of dominion over created things. We are left hanging, though, with regard to the question of her true identity. It will have to wait for another story.
In this book, Odd faces perhaps the greatest evil, perpetrated over the longest period, that he has encountered so far. When he comprehends it, he is provoked to wrath, which he clarifies in the following way: "Anger is a red mist through which you see the world, but wrath is clarity. The angry man shoots too often from the hip and misses his target or hits the wrong one, while a wrathful man proceeds without malice but with a thirst for justice." Here, Odd seems less like the brave boy he has been throughout most of the series and more like a grim force who is God's instrument. The evil is so great that Odd is unable to escape unsullied, at least in his own eyes. Ruefully, but not rebelliously, he concludes, "I must be a scourge."
By giving us Odd Thomas, Dean Koontz has provided a new kind of Christian hero for his generation. In many ways, Odd is a millennial. But in other ways he is a boy from another time who has been forced to become a man both early and under tremendous stress. But he is the kind of person who is tried like gold in the crucible and emerges as the pure and true substance. •
Hunter Baker J.D., Ph.D., teaches political science at Union University. He is the author of The End of Secularism and Political Thought: A Student's Guide.
“God's Child” first appeared in the July/August 2013 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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