When Oxford philologist John Hill (a fictionalized J.R.R. Tolkien) finds a supernatural book from an unheard-of prehistoric civilization, he has a typical academic response: Research! In Toward the Gleam (Ignatius Press, 2011), T.M. Doran sets up a battle between good and evil. Hill's work on the epic takes him into the path of Dr. Adler Alembert, his sharp intellectual and spiritual antagonist. Alembert attacks Hill with a variety of weapons-from exotic creatures to mysterious assassins-but Hill, tried in the trenches of World War I, remains one step ahead.
Coming alongside Hill is a cast of pivotal characters, some of whom are immediately (and sometimes jarringly) recognizable. The Inklings, Agatha Christie, and G.K. Chesterton all make an appearance.
Toward the Gleam is also a novel of ideas. Hill is a classical Christian, though that is left unstated; Alembert is a nihilist. Other characters portray other worldviews. The result is a novel that explores faith vs. scientism, Christianity vs. postmodernism, and good vs. evil.
Toward the Gleam will satisfy the reader who is more interested in philosophical and religious clarity than great writing. The book occasionally feels one-dimensional because the characters don't talk to each other; they exchange philosophical discourses. In an attempt to humanize Hill, Doran makes him struggle with an attraction to another character, despite being in a stable marriage. But that doesn't seem in keeping with Hill's intensely focused character. Still, Doran does a good job playing out the implications of different worldviews within the framework of a fantasy story. While not easy to read, it is an admirable attempt to emulate Lewis, Tolkien, and similar writers.