Some of you out there may well be familiar with Phil Phillips’ Turmoil in the Toy Box, an influential 1986 book arguing that various popular toy franchises of the era (Transformers, He-Man et al) are introducing children to the occult. Phillips was far from alone in this thinking: amongst the writers who followed his lead was Berit Kjos, who went over similar territory with her 1990 book Your Child and the New Age. Kjos, if anything, appears to be even touchier about such matters than Phillips: her website has taken swipes at Narnia, Left Behind and VeggieTales, all of which she deems insufficiently Christian.
But if even Narnia is a bit dodgy to her, this does rather raise the question of what stories she considers appropriate for children. Well, credit where it’s due, she actually put her money where her mouth is and wrote an entire children’s novel. It’s called The Invisible War and, if you want to give it a look, she’s made the whole thing available on her website. According to Amazon, the print edition was originally published in 1993.
And, you know what, I’ve decided to give it a look.
Here’s how the story begins:
Tom and Molly lived in a little white house in the Kingdom of Troth. No place could be more wonderful, for it was ruled by the greatest King ever! Nothing was impossible for Him.
Who but their King was wise and powerful enough to make great mountains, trees full of cherries, and funny little kittens? Who else could feed all the animals in the forest? Who else had the power to send rain to water the grass and sunshine to make flowers bloom? Tom and Molly didn’t know of anyone.
Only their King–and none other–could have created people.
The Kingdom of Troth is a land where war and strife have been abolished:
In school, they learned about a time when there were wars and fighting in Troth. But nobody that Tom and Molly knew–not even their parents or grandparents–had lived that long ago. They had all heard that in those bad years, people were afraid all the time. Now that everything was peaceful, people didn’t worry about war. They couldn’t see any enemies. Some had even forgotten how the King had saved his people long ago.
The King didn’t want people to forget. So he invited them for breakfast each morning in the palace garden. There He read to them from his wonderful Book of Truth. Of course, almost everyone in the royal city came.
So, Troth is Kjos’ idea of a perfect Christian society (or, more accurately, her idea of how a perfect Christian society should be presented to children) and is ruled over by Jesus himself. Contrasting with it is the dark land of Lucidia, which is ruled over by a devilish Baron:
On the other side lay a mysterious land–a dark and dismal place, where thick clouds hung like a leaky ceiling above the ground and made everything damp and dull, even in the middle of summer. People called it Lucidia, as if it was a bright and happy place. They should have called it The Land of Gloom.
An evil Baron ruled that horrible land. All the children of Troth knew that he had attacked the King and started a war long ago, but the King had defeated him. Now the mean Baron could only hurt his own people–and he did that all the time. The poor people of Lucidia couldn’t trust anyone, because everyone there lied, stole and cheated–and the Baron was the worst of all.
The Baron hatches a scheme to infiltrate Troth:
“This is a new age–and it’s ours! We’ll distract them, deceive them and destroy them!” His eyes sparkled with sinister glee. “They will never guess what happened until we’ve taken control from the inside. This will be our Invisible War!”
The terminology is pretty blunt here. Right from the get-go, The Invisible War establishes itself as a parable attacking the New Age movement.
Let us meet the story’s young protagonists. One day, Tom and his friend Peter bump into a little dog that belongs to a newcomer, a boy named Colin:
Tom felt around the dog’s collar for some kind of identification. All he found was a round hard disc with a strange symbol on it. “Look at this, Peter! What does it mean?”
Puzzled, they stared at the symbol. It had two circles. The inner circle framed the shape of a bear. From this center, four lines divided the rest of the symbol into four equal parts.
Suddenly a shrill whistle pierced the air. The dog perked its ears, then shot off in the direction of the sound. Tom and Peter ran after it. Moments later, they stood face to face with a boy about their own age. He smiled and greeted them with a friendly, “Hi, I’m Colin.”
“I’m Tom and this is my friend Peter,” said Tom. “Is this your dog?”
“Sort of,” answered Colin. “I found her on the mountain last week when we passed an old cabin. I whistled and she came running.”
Colin reveals that he comes from Lucidia, and explains the significance of the symbol on the dog’s collar:
“Sure. That’s a quartered circle. It’s a great magic sign. Circles are sacred. The four lines point to the spirits of the North, East, South and West. The bear in the middle stands for somebody’s special animal power.”
Kjos is one of those people who is a little bit paranoid about “occult symbols” in children’s media, and actually links the phrase “quartered circle” to her page on symbolism.
Colin then takes Tom and Peter on a trip to Lucidia. Along the way they find a cabin, and the story dips into heavier territory by bringing up spirit-summoning and drug use:
“They want us to come inside,” he announced.
“Who are they?” asked Tom.
“Two men and a girl. They’re from my country, and they can help us find the way home.”
“How?” asked Tom. He wasn’t sure he wanted their help. This whole place seemed spooky.
“They are spiritists,” answered Colin.
“What are spiritists?” asked Peter.
“Channels, mediums or shamans.”
“What do they do?” Peter sounded curious.
“They talk with spirits and do a bunch of rituals.”
“What kind of spirits?”
“The spirits of the mountain or the trees. Or some wise spirit person or animal.”
“How do they talk to them?”
“They chant special words and meditate until they feel super relaxed. Sometimes they use drums and drugs. When they get into a trance, the spirits come and talk to them.”
“What do they talk about?” Peter was fascinated.
“All kinds of things. Spirit beings are very intelligent and know all kinds of things we don’t know. Sometimes they even tell us about the future.”
“Are they always right?” asked Tom. This spiritism stuff didn’t make a lot of sense.
The casual reference to drugs is… quite remarkable. No set-up, no explanation, no “let’s have a talk about drugs” moment — it’s just taken as granted that the children reading the book will have some awareness of drug abuse.
Meanwhile, Tom’s sister Molly meets another visitor from Lucidia, named Lucy. Although seemingly innocent, Lucy is inwardly a foul temptress who lures Molly away from the King’s daily truth-reading with the promise of not drugs, but pancakes:
“My mom is making pancakes. Do you want to eat with us?” asked Lucy.
“I can’t. I have to go to the palace and hear the reading. Then we’ll all eat breakfast with the King. Do you want to come…”
“Do you have to be there every day?” interrupted Lucy with a frown.
“Yes,” answered Molly. She was beginning to feel uncomfortable.
“Does your King make you go?”
“I don’t think so,” answered Molly. “We just always go.”
“It won’t matter if you miss just once. Your parents won’t care. Wouldn’t they want you to spend time with a new friend?”
Lucy sounded so sincere–and the pancakes smelled delicious. They made Molly feel very hungry. Suddenly she found herself sitting at the table and eating breakfast with her new friend. She had completely forgotten about the King–and her father’s warning.
Phew. I was planning to cover the book in a single blog post, but I’m already exhausted. But tune in later and we shall see how Kjos develops her arguments in this children’s parable…