Bewildering Stories welcomes...
Thomas E. Lange
Tom says he’s a full-time worker, father and writer. He’s finishing up a BFA degree in Creative Writing at Minnesota State University, in Mankato. He specializes in fiction and creative non-fiction.
“A Vicar’s Baptism” comes just in time for the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, and that is the background in front of which the story takes place.
Note to prospective readers: Since the story is so timely, the following departs from our customary welcome format. It discusses the Challenge questions and is, therefore, all “spoiler.” Please read the story first.
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“A Vicar’s Baptism” contains a story within a story; but it is technically not a “frame” story, because the embedded story is told not as a flashback but in real time by the veteran soldier who has come to make his confession.
The young vicar, Nathan, is naive and somewhat full of himself. He is the opposite of the veteran, who has endured the horrors of the trenches. And fresh-faced Nathan is the opposite of the dissipated and disillusioned Father George. Clive is the incarnation of the Devil himself: he kills for the fun of it.
The gospel passage is not cited in Nathan’s story; rather it is an early didactic story intended to illustrate to the faithful exactly what their baptism meant: a renunciation of evil. Even though the veteran had been a criminal before the war, his experience of combat and his confrontation with Clive appear to constitute a kind of baptism of fire that brings him to a self-realization. If the veteran’s newfound moral clarity seems unlikely, readers may chalk it up to the fact that he could have found or done nothing worse than World War I.
The veteran’s account baptizes Nathan with a vicarious vision of the same fire. The young vicar hears the veteran’s confession not with horrified fascination but with revulsion. He is too sick to take Communion, but Father George offers him a drink. Fr. George’s compassion is Nathan’s own absolution, and whiskey will substitute for the Communion wine.
One might better understand the veteran’s confession and his reaction to Clive if he were not a conscienceless criminal but someone who had committed one crime for which he felt remorse. Likewise, Nathan’s revulsion seems oddly extreme. Readers may wish they knew what in his background might account for it.
Perhaps Nathan embodies the naive optimism of the late Victorian age, a smug complacency that was destroyed by the war of 1914-18 and buried by the “total wars” — those including entire civilian populations — of the rest of the 20th century. The 21st century may be more aptly known as the “century of fear,” because the horrors that began at “places named Verdun or the Somme” may now occur anywhere.
Thomas E. Lange’s bio sketch can be found here.
Welcome to Bewildering Stories, Thomas. We hope to hear from you again soon and often!
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