Thursday, August 19, 2010
Heathen Valley, first published in 1962 by the noted playwrite Romulus Linney, is a beautiful book which deserves a far wider readership than it has enjoyed.
The novel is the story of Episcopal Church Deacon William Starns who is sent by the Anglican-Catholic Bishop of North Carolina to establish a mission in the far reaches of the Appalachian Mountains.
The book traces Starns life from his early childhood until his death. Starns was born in poverty in the Mountains, becomes a drifter, kills a man, goes to prison and escapes, and finally is hired by the kindly Bishop as a janitor in the Cathedral Church in Raleigh. After being rescued from alcoholism by the Bishop, Starns undergoes a profound conversion experience. After an experienced Episcopal minister and his wife fail in establishing a Mission Station in the mountains, Starns is ordained as a Missionary Deacon to the mountain people. Eventually the Bishop attempts to found an Anglican Religious Order at the Mission Station.
There is much human drama in this novel which is well written and beautifully told. There are also many horrific episodes and some graphic depictions of sexuality. The descriptions of the Mountain culture and the natural beauty of the Appalachia are wonderful.
For Anglican groupies, the novel also deals with the Evangelical verses Anglican Catholic divide in the Episcopal Church. The novel is very loosely based upon the real story of North Carolina Episcopal Bishop Levi Stillman Ives who eventually left the Episcopal Church and converted to Catholicism. The character of Starns is based upon Deacon William West Skiles who established the Valle Crucis Mission Station in Western North Carolina in the 1850s.
Heathen Valley is a great work of literature which deserves to be read.