Saturday, November 18, 2017

Book Review of Anastasis:The Harrowing of Hell

Like I have said before, one of my favorite things about being a writer is being a reader. This book was on my list to buy for my children before the author even approached me about a review. When he asked if I was interested in a review copy, I jumped at the chance. For the record, I was not paid for this review and my only compensation is the book itself and the sweet card from the author's wife and the thoughts expressed in my review are mine alone.

If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you will see that we gave a framed illustration of this artist to our daughter for her name's day. You can see a photo of this further down in this post. I chose not to lead with that photo since ultimately, this post is about this book and I want to keep you focused on this.

This graphic novel is written at a level easily approached by children from about ten years old. The illustrations are not icon-based if you have wondered about that, but a lighter not quite cartoony but approachable sort of drawing. It is full color throughout and beautifully laid out with a flow that keeps the story moving. If you are a subscriber to New Martyr Magazine or following any of the social media accounts of Creative Orthodox, you might be familiar with Michael and his art style. I am admittedly a fan. His goal is to use his gift for art to bring Truth to children and he does it beautifully.

This particular book deals with the very real matter of the Harrowing of Hell and the setting begins before the Resurrection of Christ. Some parents have mentioned they think it might be inappropriate for children but I want to reassure you that it is very delicately done. Michael's art is well balanced and while he does portray Death and Satan with his demons, he is careful to not dwell on those images.  They represent only two out of forty-seven pages.Those particular pages involve little detail and rely on their starkness to express the gravity of the moment. There is a seriousness and a gravity without being graphic in any sense. This does not mean that Michael minimizes the very real presence of the Evil One but rather he wants to remind children of what it is that we have been saved from without frightening them. That might lead you to wonder why he then chose to focus on this topic at all.

It is because we would do a disservice to our children to pretend that the Darkness is not real.  Evil is a presence in our lives and our children are at times acutely aware of it. We need to show them that while there is Darkness, the Light will always be greater. Evil has already been conquered for us. As the mother of eleven children, I want them to always know that when they feel small and afraid and overwhelmed by the real effects of very real evil in the world, that they have already been rescued. All of my children over ten have read this to themselves and my children ten and under have read it with or been read to by an older child or myself. Not even my four year old was frightened and while she is a pretty sturdy child, she is still four. Some of the reason I think that she was able to absorb the book and not be disturbed was the presentation of the images. They are full of meaning but not graphically frightening.

The colors chosen for the scenes of Hades are muted and darker and earthy which make for a beautiful contrast to the Risen Christ and the bright, almost glowing pages. The visual flow of the book supports the moving storyline. The book is not an exact retelling of the Bible but a story account for younger children. The book opens with the entrance of the Prophet Simeon with Isaiah as a guide for him and the reader through the story. It is not unlike Dante or Lewis in the Great Divorce. Several figures of the Bible, all with their distinct personalities interact and present a situation in which they cooperatively try to understand what God's will is and when the Savior will come. There is a good balance of more simple language and more complicated but with some terms explained, such as what is the Bosom of Abraham.

This is an excellent teaching tool and one I will use often with my children. One of the things that I tell my children over and over again until they are probably sick of it, is that Christ trampled down Death by Death. Death is and was a reality that we face but the Death that we will know, after the Ressurection, is a pale imitation of what came before. I want my children to know exactly what it means to say this. It is not a platitude when we comfort someone with these words when they have lost someone they loved, it is real and is powerful and I want my children to know the weight of the words. I want them to know what it means to say it. When my children see Satan, who just a few pages prior was powerful and ominous, crushed by chains and stripped of power, they will remember what this means. Satan has a very limited reach. When they see Christ reaching down into the tombs and dragging weeping Adam and Eve out and raising them up, they will remember what this means. This is the image I come back to again and again because it feels so real to me. I cannot climb up to Jesus. I cannot meet him in the cloud. The best I can do it reach out my arms and allow Him to pull me to Himself.

In the end, this is what it all comes down to, this final scene. We are not saved by any means of our own but simply by allowing Christ to come to us and drag us from the tombs. Fleeing the Evil One, resisting temptation, finding strength in loss, all comes down to that. All we need to do is stretch our arms toward Christ and know that He will reach down and pull us to safety because He has done it before.

My daughter Sophia's name's day gift from us.
These are big thoughts for children to wrestle with, they are big thoughts for me to wrestle with at times, and images often help with framing the discussion. This is why we have icons. This is why a graphic novel is an excellent way of teaching these truths, these events. You can not avoid teaching these uncomfortable things with your children, the existence of Satan, of Hades, of Evil, but discussing these things can be complicated and difficult to find a framework for and this book can establish that framework. I wish I had this book back during Great Lent so we could remind our children of what it means when we sing that Christ has trampled down death by death. For that matter, I wish we would have had it when my father died of cancer after a terrifyingly fast battle. I wish we had it when my father-in-law had died of a sudden massive heart attack. I did not have it then but I do I have it now and we will regularly read it so that my children will not forget that death is destroyed, the curse annulled, and Adam and Eve set free.

Interested in getting your children (or even yourself a copy)? Check out Michael's Amazon Author's page HERE. It retails for $15 here in the states. I have no idea what it sells for in Canada but I am pretty sure it can be bought there since that is where he lives.


  1. I had heard a lot about the story of the book but never had time to read a review of it. Thankfully came across this post and after reading it I think that I plan on buying it.

  2. I enjoyed every page of the novel. The artist is very creative & talented. On addition to that , the story is based on the most credible church teaching about the subject. It is a masterpiece graphic novel .


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