I am a serious fan of T. M. Doran’s novels. I have read, enjoyed, and recommended everything he’s published since I stumbled upon his Toward the Gleam back in 2010. You can read my ’10 Questions Interview’ with him about Gleam here and about his Terrapin here. Doran’s Iota is another excellent read.
When I heard that he had written a sequel to Gleam, consequently, I was all over it. I read The Lucifer Ego when it came out last summer and re-read it today. I recommend it to you for four reasons.
(1) Lucifer Ego is a Thriller-Mystery featuring a Great Trio of Characters — and The Lord of the Rings: Toward the Gleam told the tale of John Hill’s discovery of an ancient manuscript and his struggle to understand what it reports while protecting it from the wicked men trying to steal it. It is a barely disguised historical fiction turning on J. R. R. Tolkien and how he came to write LOTR with a great cast of characters to include C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, and even Winston Churchill. We get glimpses of Tolkien, Lewis, and some of the Gleam characters in a few Lucifer Ego brief-flashback chapters, but the adventure in the sequel is contemporary England, France, Bosnia, and Germany and what the three new heroes, a paleoarcheologist, a psychologist, and an Intelligence agent for MI6, have to do to find the ancient manuscript. Hill/Tolkien had left it in a monastery but a mad monk had made off with it…
(2) Doran Can Write: Reading J. K. Rowling for two decades and discussing it with serious readers for almost as long have given me an appreciation of and taste for writers who are writing as much about other stories inside their own works as they are about the stories they’re telling in the surface plot. Rowling does this with her mythological story scaffolding, references to favorite books, and alchemical and Christian symbolism. Doran in The Lucifer Ego is all about texts ranging from Virgil’s Aeneid to The Lord of the Rings, which you’d expect, but also with interior stories characters are trying to figure out (the best being a children’s book called Beakie the Turtle) and a master villain whose psychological super power is creating narratives to manipulate anyone and everyone he meets to do his bidding. Like most good books, repeated reading reveals the careful drops and structuring you miss on the first quick page-turning.
(3) There’s a Message: Doran is someone who gets the spiritual crisis and the philosophical errors that define our age. He doesn’t beat you over the head with the meaning he wants you to walk away with, but, by having the bad guys act on ideas they believe and discuss and by presenting the good guys’ struggle with temptations both with respect to these ideas and their own internal issues, the reader confronts them, too, and, as Doran said in my Gleam discussion with him,
I desired to expose these crooked ideas while, as Tolkien might have said, respecting the freedom of readers to reach their own conclusions. I wanted the malignant characters in the story to be more than one-dimensional, even if they were unattractive; in this mission, I struggled as Lewis described struggling with The Screwtape Letters. Like Tolkien, Lewis, and Chesterton, I wanted readers holding different beliefs to be able to ponder and reflect on the ideas in the story, while still enjoying a (hopefully) rousing story.
A writer and story craftsman who thinks seriously, presents challenging ideas in his novels, and yet one who respects intelligent readers sufficiently not to have to draw out the moral of the story in painfully obvious fashion — Doran is a keeper. And The Lucifer Ego is worth every minute you give it because of that care and respect, if Iota may be his best book in this regard.
(4) Good News and Bad News: I don’t think someone who hasn’t read Toward the Gleam will get half the enjoyment of the reader who has — which is just one more reason to get a copy of Gleam. The odd thing and good news was that, after reading the first book, I didn’t think a sequel was possible or even desirable. I looked forward to re-reading the book, as I do with everything Doran has written, but I was more than satisfied with the ending. With The Lucifer Ego and its three heroes, I again cannot see how they can continue the story, at least not with the ‘Manuscript that Becomes Lord of the Rings‘ backdrop, but I want very much for there to be more Lyle-Sam-and-Beatrice adventures.