Molly’s father is teaching her all about the invisible armour she must carry through life: the Belt of Truth, the Breastplate of Righteousness, the Shoes of Peace, the Shield of Faith, the Helmet of Salvation and…
“Is there more?”
“Yes, the Sword of the Spirit.”
“The Sword of the Spirit? What’s that?”
“The Book of Truth.”
I should mention that the book’s extended use of the Armour of God from Ephesians 6:10-17 is one of the few halfway solid ideas it has. And even then, it manages to botch things with the blatant mixed metaphor above.
Along the way the two travallers receive help from a Lucidian girl named Star, who is living with an evil fortune teller. Molly’s father succeeds in nudging Star away from occultism, and a the same time makes the book’s first overt reference to the crucifixion of Christ:
Dad’s voice softened. “By yourself you can’t get away from the Baron, Star. He holds on tight to his slaves. But we can ask the King to free you–if you promise never to use the Baron’s tools again. Will you agree to that?”
Star didn’t hesitate. “I agree!” she said. “And I want to get rid of this goddess. She can’t help anyone!” She loosened a chain with a little goddess-shaped amulet from around her neck and threw it as far as she could. It landed in a pile of rocks and disappeared. Then she looked at Dad again. “Now would you please ask your King to help me.”
“Star, our King has provided a way for everyone to become part of His Kingdom. I don’t mean crossing the river and moving into His land secretly. His way to the Kingdom is much better. You find it by trusting His goodness, rather than your own.”
“That part should be easy. I already know I can’t trust myself.”
“There’s more. Long ago, the King did something very special. He died for us. He took the punishment we deserve, and made it possible for all to be His children. Now, if you are willing to trust Him and do what He says, He’ll make you part of His family forever and ever.” Dad looked right into Star’s eyes. They were no longer full of tears.
Even by the standards of The Invisible War, this is preachy. And the preaching continues when the group tangle with some more of the Baron’s underlings, but are able to ward them off merely by mentioning the King:
As soon as they started up the steps to the boat, a big man in a black uniform jumped down from the upper deck and blocked their way.
“Where do you think you’re going?” he thundered.
“We’re crossing the river on this boat.” said Dad quietly.
“Oh no, you’re not!” shouted the man.
“Yes, we are. We come in the name of the King, and you can’t stop us,” said Dad.
The officer looked confused. He muttered something Molly couldn’t understand and climbed back up the ladder to start the boat.
“Wow!” said Star. “When you mention the King, they don’t dare pick on you.”
This chimes in with the point I made earlier: children in the target age range of seven to twelve will be able to see how dishonest this is. Surely even a seven year old will know full well that, if you’re confronted by a criminal, mentioning God will not immediately send them packing? This kind of thing might have worked had Kjos set her novel in a Narnian world of fantasy where things aren’t meant to be taken literally — but she instead gave the story a bizarre Ruritanian backdrop, detached from any recognisable country but clearly taking place in the present day, with freight trains and action figures.
The novel’s dubious faith in the material effects of religious fervour shows up once more when the characters encounter Sasha, the dog picked up by Colin. She happens to be hurt, but after a quick prayer, she heals:
“She must have heard me whistle earlier, and she used her last bit of energy to find me.”
“Can we ask the King to make her strong again?”
“I don’t see why not,” said Dad. “Let’s ask Him together.”
Molly closed her eyes and prayed. “Dear King, we know that nothing is impossible for you. Would you please make Kaya well? And would you let her help us find Tom? Thank you, King.”
Sasha lay still for about five seconds, then she began to jump up on Tor trying to lick his face. “Is she well?” asked Molly.
“Wow! I think she is!” said Tor. He watched Kaya race in a big circle around all of them. “Your King amazes me!” He looked at Dad. “Does He always do what you ask? Does He always heal?”
“No,” answered Dad. “He always wants us to ask Him. But He knows better than we do what’s best in the long run. Sometimes He uses our illnesses to train us to trust Him more.”
Meanwhile, Tom is still under Rama’s spell, and we perhaps catch a glimpse of Kjos’ dislike of Narnia:
Tom was dreaming. Rama’s soft voice, mystical music, and soothing words had put him into a trance-like sleep. Too tired to resist, he had let his imagination flow with the hypnotic sounds and images. Her visualizations had carried him through the skies to a beautiful imaginary forests. There, animals spoke in human language, a little elf offered to be his friend forever, and a beautiful woman started to tell him what he should do with his life.
But he eventually rouses himself, and after crawling through a secret passageway (hidden in a bathroom cabinet, of all places) he comes to a room with a Ouija board, metal pyramid and purple crystals, where he is reunited with Molly and their father:
Tom quickly told him about the events of the day: the tunnel, the train, the mystical music, Rama’s soft voice and visualizations….
“Sounds like hypnosis through guided imagery,” said Star. “That’s one of the main ways people can connect with the Baron’s spirits.”
“You mean talk with demons?” asked Dad.
“I guess that’s what it means. We called them spirit guides or wise persons–depending on the shape they take.”
“Could they be any shape? I mean, could an evil spirit pretend to be an animal or a person–or even an imaginary creature?” asked Tom.
Star nodded. “Anything at all–good or scary.”
“Did you talk with those spirits?” Molly could hardly believe what she was hearing.
“Yes, it’s easy. I learned how to hypnotize people–and myself–when I lived here. As soon as I would get into a trance, the spirits would start speaking to me. Some pretended to be good. Others were horrible. I don’t ever want to hear them again.”
The father snaps Peter and Colin out of their hypnotic trances, and then turns to faith healing:
“Dad,” Tom suddenly remembered something. “Peter hurt his hand in the train.”
Dad gently held Peter’s swollen hand. “You’re right, Tom. Let’s ask the King to heal it.” He prayed, waited a moment, then looked at Peter’s hand. It was still swollen, but Peter was grinning.
“It feels better already,” he said. “I know it’ll be all right soon. Thanks to the King!”
But Colin, it turns out, needs some extra help: he is DEMONICALLY POSSESSED. Like the reference to drug use from earlier, this marks the rather twee story making an awkward stab at heavier subject matter.
Dad turned to Colin and spoke the same words to him. But this time something strange happened. Instead of relaxing, Colin’s body became tense, and out of his mouth came some strange words. His voice sounded deep–not at all like Colin’s.
Dad looked puzzled, but Star understood. “That’s an evil spirit speaking through him,” she said.
“Dad, since the King is with us, can’t He command the evil spirit to leave,” asked Tom.
“I believe He can,” said Dad. “Let’s ask Him to use us to free Colin.” He prayed again. Then he took a deep breath and spoke as confidently as he could. “Our King has won over the Baron’s forces. In His name, we stand against this evil power and proclaim the victory of the Kingdom. No evil spirits can block the plan of our King. This spirit that keeps Colin from hearing the truth must come out of him–right now!”
Colin’s mouth opened in a big yawn–then turned into a smile. “I feel different,” he said. “Like something dark and heavy just left me. What did you do?”
“The King freed you from the Baron’s force–just as He did with me this morning,” explained Star.
“Getting rid of this evil spirit may seem simple,” said Dad, “but to stay free, you need to know a lot more about the King and His ways. If you use the Baron’s forces again, you will allow his spirits to come back and control you. The only way you can stay free is by following the King. What do you choose?”
“You mean no more Ouija boards or Tarot cards–or any of that stuff?”
“None of it!”
Disappointingly, his head never turns 360 degrees. The merry band arrives back in the Kingdom of Troth, where they are greeted by the King:
“The King wants to see you tomorrow morning,” said Mom. “He’ll meet with you right after breakfast.”
The next morning Star and Tor came to the King’s garden for the first time. They, too, heard His exciting message from the Book of Truth. Breakfast with the King was wonderful, but the best part of all was meeting Him in His beautiful throne room again.
“Welcome back, my dear soldiers,” said the King.
“Oh, King, thank you for making us your soldiers,” said Tom.
“And for showing us how to wear the armor,” added Molly.
“…so that we can stay close to you and never be afraid,” continued Tom.
Now that they had seen His great power, they could share in His battles for freedom and truth.
Tomorrow I’ll tell Lucy all about Him, thought Molly. “Our King is so wonderful!” she cried. Everyone agreed.
There’s not much positive to be said about The Invisible War. Compared to Narnia, the obvious comparison point, it fails on every level. C. S. Lewis appreciated fairy tales and understood their narrative strengths; Kjos clearly does not. Lewis knew how to construct a parable, and used his fantasy world not just to preach Christianity but to illustrate it: his characters learned, as a result of their adventures, why Christian values were correct values. Kjos does no such thing: where Aslan was a recognisable analogy for Christ, the King of Troth looks like nothing so much as some sort of cult leader. Reading the story, I couldn’t help but visualise him as David Koresh — only instead of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, he’s being hassled by what appears to be a rival cult leader, one who happens to have a toy company at his disposal.
You know that a religious parable contrasting God with Satan has gone off the rails when both sides start to look the same.