The Unpredictable Power of Prayer – Tuck (Day 3)

On Monday I promised to wrap up the CSFF tour for Stephen R. Lawhead’s Tuck by writing about "Deux ex machina , highly improbable happy endings, and the marvelous, unpredictable power of prayer." It is very late now, and I’m typing in the dark at the end of a long day that ran away with me, tired and groggy but still happy to think — and to write — about such marvels.

Marvelous most of all because they affect me so much, so often.

A warning, first off: I’m going to talk about the end of Tuck . I won’t actually tell you what happens, but if you don’t want hints, you might want to read the book first.

End of warning.

On to a quote: Becky Miller, fearless leader of this CSFF adventure, said in her review yesterday that Tuck’s weakest element was theme.

Not because it is false but because it is … weak. As I thought about the story, which I enjoyed immensely, I had to consider long and hard to arrive at any lasting meaning . . . In saying several things weakly, the story left me unaffected. I finished the book, left the March with sadness, but felt unchanged by the characters and their struggles. I guess I’d just like more.

Read her whole post here — it’s good. But in a sense I disagree with her assessment of Tuck’ s ultimate theme. For me, at least, that theme was prayer, and it lead to the last thing I expected — a happy ending.

There’s an old literary term called Deux ex machina, or "God in the machine," which I believe refers back to Greek plays or some such larks, in which sometimes happy endings would occur against every single odd because a god would suddenly show up and fix everything. If you read my writings often, you’ve probably heard me talk about this before. Usually it’s seen as a bad thing. Overdo it, and the critics — especially your readers, the most important critics — cry foul. Life isn’t like that. Endings have to make sense. Foreshadow them, reason your way into them, surprise us but don’t make it unrealistic. Don’t, actually, make it too miraculous.

Because there is no God in the machine.

Except that there is.

As I drew near the end of Tuck , I found myself torn between skeptical disbelief and joyous, readerly abandon — "Of course it turns out like this! Who cares if that would never happen in real life?" The joyous part of me won, because all of a sudden, born on the wings of an impossibly happy ending, truth announced itself.

There is a God in the machine. Sometimes He steps in and changes things. It’s unpredictable. It’s wild. It’s grace. But it happens.

Lawhead foreshadowed his improbable ending all along, from the first time Tuck opened his mouth to ask "How long, O Lord?" and complain about the heat. Most characters in Tuck pray. Friar Tuck does. Angharad does, in her ancient Celtic way. Even some of the villains do. They pray because they know, as so many of us don’t, that God is there and is listening. Even when He doesn’t step in and make things go our way.

Prayer is a good thing, is in fact an absolutely necessary thing, because people who live under the wings of such a God should acknowledge the fact. Because He listens to prayers. Because sometimes, He personally steps in, stirs up the situation, and transforms everything. Deaths into resurrections. Dark nights into dawns.

Horrible, bloody, heartbreaking, humiliating defeats into unexpected happy endings.

So Tuck , which at first seemed to be simply a romp with heart, lacking any deep theme, has stayed with me for days after all. I keep replaying that happy ending and mulling over what it told me. What it reminded me. That God is there. That He listens.

I should go pray.







3 responses to “The Unpredictable Power of Prayer – Tuck (Day 3)”

  1. […] first, let me mention that other bloggers disagree. For instance, Rachel Starr Thomson felt the story was particularly strong in showing the power of prayer. Robert Treskillard, on the […]

  2. […] Rice ? Crista Richey ? Hanna Sandvig ? ? Chawna Schroeder ? James Somers ? ? ? Rachel Starr Thomson ? ? Robert Treskillard ? Speculative Faith ? ? ? Steve Trower […]

  3. Rebecca LuElla Miller Avatar

    Good post, Rachel. I love the way you interact with what you read.

    I guess, for me, I didn’t connect the end as specifically to prayer as you did. When I read your comment on Monday about deus ex machina, however, I decided to write a post about it myself—over at Spec Faith. I think someone else mentioned it, too, but for the life of me, when I sat down to write the post, I couldn’t remember the exact comments or who wrote them (thus no link to your site—sorry! 🙁 )

    Anyway, I definitely think the end was earned, and I concluded Mr. Lawhead’s foreshadowing allowed the events to be a surprise but not unexpected.


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