Hailstone Mountain: A Review & Invitation for Discussion

Like several of you, I have purchased Lars Walker's newest work, Hailstone Mountain. I finally had time to finish reading it last night, and after reflection I wanted to offer a review. Since I know that I am not the only one among us to have read it, it's also a good opportunity for us to discuss it in the comments below.

Two things I thought the book did exceptionally well. The first is in the early chapters, when Erling is cursed and must show his heroic nature in a very different way: by struggling to eat though it is painful, and by accepting the shaving of his head. This is done so that he can look like a slave, but with all the connotations of loss of hair -- loss of beauty, loss of identity, and with a nod toward Samson, a recognition of his loss of that physical strength that is characteristic of the hero. These are clear analogues for the kind of courage that is required of those who fall victim to cancer, and other severe illnesses of the body. So much is lost, and so much must be borne. Those who manage to come through this without surrendering their dignity of soul are indeed demonstrating a kind of high heroism, though it is one difficult to portray in a novel of the sort that people find pleasant to read. I thought that was well done.

Even more than that, I liked the way in which Father Ailill struggles with the violence of creation. There's a comforting answer given toward the end, but for the most part the book looks in the face the strength that death has been given in the world. It is a difficult theological problem, and it is good to see a religious figure represented as treating it with the severity of mind that it deserves.

One thing that I wish to raise -- not as a criticism, but as a point of theological discussion, because I think I can see two viable arguments here -- is a point Mr. Walker also raises in Troll Valley. As you remember, toward the end of that book a mysterious figure in town comes to speak before the local Lutheran church, and he speaks on the Pharisees.

"We get a bad picture of the Pharisees from the gospels, but I think we miss the point.... The Pharisees were the best and wisest of Israel. I do not say that in irony.... I do not say Jesus was a Pharisee. But it is a fact that he agreed with them in many things. As to why He condemned them, the answer to that is a hard one. It is found in Hebrews 12:6 -- 'For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.' Christ wasted little time on the Sadducees. Their souls had long since been sold. But for the Pharisees He had hopes, I think, and so He argued with them, hammer and tongs, for three years. The Pharisees were lovers of the Law.... and like many kinds of lovers, certain kinds of parents... they way they chose to love only smothered the Object of their love." (There aren't page numbers in the Kindle book, but this is 92% through the work.)

So in Troll Valley, Christ argues with those whom he loves best -- even the ones who do not lay down the Law and follow him as disciples. They are wrong, but they are almost right -- they are trying to be right -- and yet that means they are still completely wrong.

In Hailstone Mountain, we have an interesting variation on the same problem. Now the speaker is Christ himself, coming to Father Ailill in a vision:

"Do you know what the greatest enemy of the good is?... [T]he greatest enemy of the good is the almost-good. The thing that is nearly true but not quite. The almost-good brings men to damnation at the least cost."

This is wrapped up with the meditation on how Jesus came to send not peace but a sword, and it is nicely done. The almost-good has managed to bring actual peace and safety to a community. People have laid down their weapons, and children can travel freely and in safety even across the river to hear the popular public sermons. The people don't hurt each other any more. There is real peace.

What Christ wants Ailill to do is to destroy that peace, because it is based upon lies and an unjust bargain. He wants Ailill to restore -- indeed, to very much heighten -- the violence and destruction, so that most of these people living in peace will be killed at war. That is the narrow road.

This is a hard problem, and it is a good problem. Good problems are very good things to have. You can burnish your mind and your soul by rubbing against them.

So rather than taking the problem away from you, I'll ask you to tell me what you think about it. Let's share the problem together.


Russ said...

I have not read the book but wanted to comment on the Pharisees.
Jesus was angry at them because they were supposed to lead Israel to God. Instead, they set up roadblocks to keep people away from God.
Luke 11:37-52
37As Jesus was speaking, one of the Pharisees invited him home for a meal. So he went in and took his place at the table.l 38His host was amazed to see that he sat down to eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony required by Jewish custom. 39Then the Lord said to him, “You Pharisees are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and wickedness! 40Fools! Didn’t God make the inside as well as the outside? 41So clean the inside by giving gifts to the poor, and you will be clean all over.

42“What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore justice and the love of God. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.

43“What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For you love to sit in the seats of honor in the synagogues and receive respectful greetings as you walk in the marketplaces. 44Yes, what sorrow awaits you! For you are like hidden graves in a field. People walk over them without knowing the corruption they are stepping on.”

45“Teacher,” said an expert in religious law, “you have insulted us, too, in what you just said.”

46“Yes,” said Jesus, “what sorrow also awaits you experts in religious law! For you crush people with unbearable religious demands, and you never lift a finger to ease the burden. 47What sorrow awaits you! For you build monuments for the prophets your own ancestors killed long ago. 48But in fact, you stand as witnesses who agree with what your ancestors did. They killed the prophets, and you join in their crime by building the monuments! 49This is what God in his wisdom said about you:n ‘I will send prophets and apostles to them, but they will kill some and persecute the others.’

50“As a result, this generation will be held responsible for the murder of all God’s prophets from the creation of the world— 51from the murder of Abel to the murder of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, it will certainly be charged against this generation.

52“What sorrow awaits you experts in religious law! For you remove the key to knowledge from the people. You don’t enter the Kingdom yourselves, and you prevent others from entering.

Joel Leggett said...

I would love to read Mr. Walker's new story but it is not available in printed form. As I do not have a Kindle I cannot read it. Unfortunate.

Ori Pomerantz said...

You can get a Kindle application for a computer, smart phone, etc.

Grim said...

Yes, the Kindle-for-computer application from Amazon appears to be free to download. You can get it here, if you like.

I also prefer printed books, but I can't argue with the price differential. Many of the greatest works of history are entirely free, and I can carry the whole library around in a back pocket (or in a saddlebag, should I want to ride up somewhere beautiful to read and think). So, understanding the preference for a real book, I also have a Kindle.

Grim said...


One of the things I liked about the Troll Valley approach was that the interpretation was put into the mouth of a man, so we're free to take or reject his argument. It's an interesting point: Jesus didn't bother with the others, much, but he fought the Pharisees directly. If we look at their lives, we see that they were following the Law very closely, but missing the huge truth that stands behind the Law.

Are they wrong to follow the Law? Well, no, not really. Jesus doesn't bother washing his hands ritually, but he says it's fine if they do it. He says to go ahead and tithe even from their herb garden.

Lars' point in TV was to bring that forward, and compare it to a Christian community in which everyone is very careful about the proprieties. They don't break the Ten Commandments. But they do break the Great Commandment, and in fact they break it just by focusing so much on the Ten that they come to despise or look down upon those who don't keep the Ten. There is, the sermon says, a great peril in focusing on keeping the small, easy rules -- the kind of rules that lead to a very peaceful and pleasant society, one in which people don't steal or kill or commit adultery or lie. In HM, they've achieved a society in which there is really peace and people can be free from fear, seemingly a huge accomplishment for the Viking Age. But both of these societies are terribly corrupt, in the manner of the Pharisees, and need to be overthrown.

That's the argument, at least as I understood it. Do you agree or not, and why?

Joel Leggett said...


Thank you for the recomendations concerning the Kindle app. Unfortunately, I am deployed to Afghanistan and the internet service does not have enough bandwith for me to download anything. I will check it out when I get home.

Grim said...


I hadn't realized you were deployed again. Good luck to you. Are you blogging anywhere about this deployment?

Russ said...

I just bought the book. Let me read it and I will come back to it.

Joel Leggett said...

Deployed again. I am with II MEF (Fwd)/Regional Command, Southwest (RC(SW)). Not blogging anywhere currently.

Ori Pomerantz said...

Joel, first thank you.

Second, if you e-mail ori simple tech com I'll send you the book in text file format. Just buy it from Amazon whenever convenient after you get back.

Grim said...

In addition to that, is there anything we can do for you? If you feel inclined to occasionally write something about the ongoing mission, I'd be happy to give you a login here.

Joel Leggett said...

Thanks for the kindness. I am afraid that I am in a position that does not give me the liberty to talk about the more interesting aspects of my job.

Joel Leggett said...

If anyone is interested, my work email is joel.leggett@afg.usmc.mil

Russ said...

I managed to buy Lars' "Troll Valley" instead of "Hailstone Mountain" so it will be a bit longer before I can comment.

I can, however, comment on Captain Rygg's message. He was correct, by the way. The Pharisees killed the very thing that they had been praying for because they got so caught up in keeping the rules that they missed the relationship that the rules were intended to foster.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13: "1 If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 3If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing."

Captain Rygg's message is an amazingly accurate depiction of the Pharisees problem, as well as, an app description of the trap set for modern Christianity.
"Putting a hedge about the law" is a trap that modern Christians face when dealing with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit moves in ways that are not always tidy. See Acts 2:1-47. The Holy Spirit, in general, will move as long as He is welcome. I say in general because He will do as He sees fit. Unfortunately, far to many churches would rather be dead than take the chance that someone might abuse the moment and do something for self aggrandizement.

The Pharisees, like a lot of modern Christians, want rules to follow because they are too afraid to take a chance on having a relationship with God. In Exodus 20:18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”
God wanted to speak to them, but they were too afraid.

I know that it is the wrong book, I had a good laugh when I realized what I had done, but I wanted to comment on the writers accurate portrayal of Christianity.

Loc 318 Don’t anybody get the idea that I can pray better than you, or love my neighbor better than you. If you’re looking for somebody to shift those duties off onto, don’t come to me. (We all get to do the stuff the bible talks about)

Loc 738 For things made must first be made free to fall, and fail, and be broken, or they are only imagined and not truly made. (The reason God allows evil in the world)

Loc 1580 Grace – It means that God loves you all the time- not just when you’re good. (Amen)

Loc 1618 But others took piety, and said that where there was no sure word the only sure word can be mercy. (This would solve half of Christianities problems)