Passages: Parallel Worlds, Universal Truths
A book series review by Hannah P.
W hen I was little, my family used to listen to the radio quite often. I remember listening to the acclaimed Focus in the Family Radio Theatre drama series The Chronicles of Narnia , a fully dramatized audio adaption of the beloved books by C.S. Lewis. I marveled at how real the world seemed even though I was only listening to it. As a result of those days of radio drama I developed a love for fantasy stories and was thrilled to discover “Adventures in Odyssey,” a weekly audio drama show that Focus on the Family put out. I became obsessed with the show and listened to every single episode I could put my hands (or ears?) on. I became the ultimate trivia know-it-all and though my obsession has cooled as I have grown, I still know as much about the show as any fan.
One of the “Adventures in Odyssey” shows is called Passages, a two-part show (released in 1999) that follows the adventures of two children from Odyssey as they are pulled into another world. These children find themselves caught up in an adventure in a land called Marus, and through a series of events that have a suspicious resemblance to the Biblical story of Gideon, help the Marutians’ recover their lands from foreign invaders. I liked the show, thinking it inventive and thought provoking, but I didn’t realize that it was an audio tie-in to a series of books authored by Paul McCusker, one of “Adventures in Odyssey’s” scriptwriters. The Passages spin-off series contains six books, all following a different Biblical story. The threads tying them all together (and tying them to “Adventures in Odyssey”) are two of Odyssey’s pivotal characters, John Avery Whittaker and Jack Allen.
The discovery of an old school notebook that contains a fantastical story about Marus, leads Jack Allen and John Avery Whittaker (or Whit, as he is best known) to investigate the origin of the story. Along the way they find more notebooks containing more stories, six of them in total (although they are told more are out there). These six manuscripts become the main portion of the six Passages novels.
Passages Book #1: Darien’s Rise
Also called “The Chronicle of the Chosen,” Darien’s Rise is the first in the series. It follows two siblings named Kyle and Anna and their adventure in Marus. While exploring an old abandoned house in the woods behind their grandparent’s home, the children suddenly find themselves in another world. Both have been called to the land of Marus by the Unseen One (the name for God in Marus) to help a great Marutian general fulfill his destiny to become king. Both are gifted with special powers to help them accomplish this task; Kyle becomes a ‘protector,’ gifted with extra senses to help keep Darien safe from the schemes of the conniving King Lawrence, who feels that Darien is a threat to his crown. Anna becomes a ‘voice,’ gifted the ability to see glimpses of the future and of others’ lives. Through dreams and visions sent to her by the Unseen One, Anna is able to see important events that will influence the lives of Darien and his loyal followers. Together, Kyle and Anna help Darien achieve his destiny to become king of Marus and lead the people back to faith in the Unseen One.
Following the story of David, King Saul and Prince Jonathan in the Bible, this book is a strong beginning to the series, well paced and filled with interesting characters.
Passages Book #2: Arin’s Judgment
Titled “The Chronicle of the Destroyed” in the school notebook Whit and Jack find; Arin’s Judgment is the story of Wade Mullens and his adventure in Marus.
When Wade discovers that a friend possesses the information needed to assemble an atomic bomb, Wade takes the plans with the intention of destroying them. An attack of the flu prevents Wade from doing so immediately, but when he is finally about to destroy them, he is pulled into Marus while still holding the dangerous papers. Wade finds himself at the home of Arin, a mysterious and eccentric man who lives behind a wall and who keeps a bomb shelter in his yard. Arin tells Wade that he is the fulfillment of a prophecy foretelling the destruction of the world. The world has become so evil and corrupt that the Unseen One has promised to destroy all living things, with the exception of Arin and his family, the only true believers in the Unseen One left. Arin tells Wade to stay within the walls of his property for his own protection, but Wade ventures a look at the outside world and is kidnapped by Arin’s enemies. He soon finds himself involved in a power struggle between the leaders of Marus, in which he becomes influential due to the plans for the atomic bomb that he still carries.
The second book is based off of the Biblical account of Noah, and continues the series well, building tension and mystery in the investigation by Whit and Jack. It feels like a spy novel at times, and a science fiction novel at others. This book contains many elements of surprise and some frightening moments, making it the most spine-tingling book in the series.
Passages Book #3: Annison’s Risk
This is the “Chronicle of Intercession,” the third Marus manuscript. As their investigation continues to lead them on strange paths, Whit and Jack discover this new manuscript telling the story of Maddy and her adventure in Marus.
After being transported into this other world from underneath her porch, Maddy finds herself caught up in political intrigue complete with devious plots and assassination attempts. A Palatian king has conquered Marus, and in order to keep the peace and establish a connection to his conquered people, the king plans to marry a Marutian maiden named Annison. Maddy becomes a faithful lady in waiting to the future queen, helping Annison to navigate the treacherous affairs of the palace. Maddy becomes an instrumental player in this game of politics, helping the Maruians as the king’s most trusted advisor persecutes them, determined to wipe out the followers of the “Old Faith” forever.
Following the Biblical story of Esther, this third book becomes one of the best in the series, adding a bit of romance to the tale of political intrigue. This time the reader is offered two heroines to root for, one from Marus and one from our world. As result this book becomes the most female-reader friendly of the series in addition to being another good installment.
Passages Book #4: Glennall’s Betrayal
Whit and Jack finally are able to meet the author of the manuscripts they have read, James Curtis. James lives at the Hillingdale Haven home, a place for the mentally unstable. This doesn’t give the sleuthing pair a very good feeling about the credibility of the stories they’ve encountered. But as they talk to and get to know James, they begin to wonder if he’s more credible than they’d originally thought. They also find another manuscript, one about James Curtis’s own adventure in Marus.
During James’s adventure, he finds himself caught up in a family drama with a Marutian boy named Glennall. James and Glennall’s lives become intertwined Glennall’s jealous older brothers kidnap them and sell them into slavery. But despite hardships, James and Glennall find a means of hope through an extraordinary ability. They discover that when they clasp hands they can sometimes catch a glimpse of future events. This gift, and Glennall’s extraordinary accounting abilities, serve them well and help them through times of sorrow and loneliness. And through their trials they both discover the Unseen One’s hand at work, bringing people, places and events together into a better future.
The Passages series continues with a strong fourth installment based off of the Biblical story of Joseph. This book is different than the others; offering flawed and troubled heroes that can irritate at times. But James and Glennall grow and change for the better in the story and this journey of discovery makes for another well-written and interesting tale.
Passages Book #5: Draven’s Defiance
While visiting James Curtis at Hillingdale Haven, Whit and Jack are given the first manuscript to be written by a different author. This time, a person who never left Marus wrote the story.
Scott Graham’s Marus adventure is special. When he enters Marus he discovers a dead world, a place that never changes. The sun hangs in the sky in the same place at it did when time stopped. Crops don’t grow because it doesn’t rain, people don’t age, get sick, get well, or die. Whatever state they were in when time stopped, they stay that way. Scott has been sent to Marus to help the prophet Draven restart time again, after the Unseen One stopped it years before. But Draven is in a competition with the king and queen of the land over who is able to restart time. Draven issues a challenge to the corrupt rulers of Marus: whoever makes time start again will prove their, or their God’s superiority. The king believes that his scientists will restart time; the queen believes she and her pagan spiritual leaders will restart it, and Draven is certain that the Unseen One will succeed instead. What follows is a retelling of the story of King Ahab, Queen Jezebel and the prophet Elijah, in which Draven and Scott must learn to put all of their faith and trust in the Unseen One.
Draven’s Defiance is another strong installment to the series, this time incorporating some interesting supernatural elements and plot twists, keeping readers guessing. Also, this is the first and only story to be told in first person, adding another unique element to this book and setting it apart from the others.
Passages Book #6: Fendar’s Legacy
Fendar’s Legacy is the last of the Passages series, bringing Whit and Jack’s investigation to a close. After having found the writer and compiler of the Marus manuscripts, James Curtis, and having discovered that he is not the only believer in the world of Marus, Whit and Jack are not sure what to believe themselves. While they believe in the supernatural, they cannot quite bring themselves to accept that another world may exist. Whit and Jack hand off the investigation to a reporter from the “National Church Times,” but not before reading one more manuscript.
This last manuscript is the story of three children, Danny, Wayne and Michelle. After escaping a hippie rally by diving into a lake, the children end up in the land of Palatia, a country that has enslaved the Marutians for generations. Danny and Wayne become helpers to Fendar, the leader of the Maruians, while Michelle becomes an advisor to the king of Palatia. The three children become the instruments of the Unseen One as He helps the Marutians in their quest to return to Marus as free nation. In this story based off of the Biblical account of Moses, the fight for the Marutians’ freedom involves spiritual guidance from the Unseen One, and the ability to trust in Him completely.
The Passages series goes out on a high note with Fendar’s Legacy . This story follows the pattern set down by the previous installments, but includes some unique elements. In this story we get to see the Marutian and Palatian side of the fight equally and understand the reasoning behind each leaders’ actions. It is an interesting book that brings the story full circle, leaving the reader with a satisfying but not completely resolved conclusion, leaving much open to interpretation and speculation by its readers.
When I first began reading the Passages series I didn’t know what to anticipate in a book from an “Adventures in Odyssey” writer. But I didn’t expect to become so interested in the books that I would spend hours and hours reading without regard to the passage of time. I love a good story, and while Passages borrows elements from other fantasy novels like The Chronicles of Narnia , it is unique and original, able to stand on its own. I would highly recommend the books to any fantasy enthusiast, and the books are age appropriate for readers 10 and up. However, I believe that the books would appeal more to teens and adults than to younger children.
Finally, Darien’s Rise has recently been adapted by “Adventures in Odyssey” into an audio drama. This adaption retains all of the excitement and tension from the book and remains family friendly entertainment. For those who choose to read Passages , it is exciting to hear tales such as these come to life.