I like to listen to books on CD. I wish I could tell you that I put on a CD of someone reading one of the big J's (Edwards, Owens, Piper, Bunyan), but that would be a lie. I like to listen to fiction books on CD. Recently I listened to the whole Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz ("Odd Thomas", "Forever Odd", "Brother Odd", "Odd Hours"). Beyond enjoying listening to these books, I found the worldview they express to be interesting. As I mentioned in my last post, I am taking a break from critiquing atheistic worldviews, and while I do not know about Dean Koontz himself, the Odd Thomas series does not express an atheistic worldview.
Odd Thomas is your average 20 year old fry cook except that, Aside from cooking, Odd has some other talents as well. Odd has the ability to see dead people, supernatural creatures called Bodocks, and he has intuition strong enough to put him on the edges of the psychic category. Odd considers his abilities as a gift that come with the obligation to do what he can to combat evil and injustice.
Before I outline, allow me these two caveats. One, I have only listened to this series on CD once through while I was driving between meetings for work. While I typically keep an amateur ear open for worldviews in my entertainment, I am not claiming to be an Odd Thomas expert. Two, my post contains several spoilers for the series (read at your own risk).
Odd Thomas series outline:
God does not have any direct role in this series. The Metaphysics of the book (see below) would certainly imply God, but he does not get a whole lot of direct attention. In book three, "Brother Odd", the villain is accused of trying to play God, while ironically, he [the villain] attempts to work on a quantum physics formula to prove God. That is, as I remember it, as close to a direct reference to God that the series has. God will be mentioned in passing or as an aside, but He does not have a central role. However, implications of God abound in the metaphysics portion of the worldview.
- Three possible things happen after death.
A.) All evil souls are taken immediately to hell (though I cannot remember if the word hell is ever directly used). Furthermore, I use the word taken because of one quick vignette in the last book, "Odd Hours", which details one of the evil souls being grabbed by a figure who comes out of a mirror, and is subsequently taken into the mirror. I think that maybe Odd, while witnessing this incident, might have seen some fire in the mirror for a brief second (but I cannot remember for sure). Otherwise, the evil souls just go with the assumption that they cross over to the evil side of the afterlife.
There was one exception to this rule in the first book where an evil soul wanders around for a while. The exception is important to the story, but was not reconciled, to my satisfaction, with the series stance on evil souls after death.
B.) Some good souls linger on earth because they do not want to "cross over." The reasons these good souls do not cross over vary. Elvis, for example, does not cross over because he is worried what his mom will think of the decisions he made after she died. A lot of the ghosts Odd sees do not want to cross over because they were murdered and want justice.
C.) Some of the good souls cross over automatically. There seems to be an unspoken dividing line in the books regarding the crossing over rules. If a ghost is on the evil side of the dividing line he is taken immediately to the evil side of the after life (see note on the exception above). If a ghost is not immediately taken to the evil after life, then it is understood that he is on the good side of the dividing line, even if he chooses to linger on earth. Therefore, the ghosts that remain are only prevented from crossing over by their choice, and not by some divine judgement that makes them stay on earth until they are good enough e.g. a kind of purgatory. Part of what Odd Thomas does, other than to seek justice for the murdered ghosts, is to help the ghosts like Elvis to realize that it is better to cross over than to stay lingering on the earth.
- Two views of what the good side of the after life entails: The books, although presented from the first person perspective of Odd, have two views of what the good side of the after life may be.
A.) Odd's view: The after life is a place of final rewards and final rest. Odd's view of the after life is basically the popular view of heaven. Gaining the good afterlife and the rewards of the after life are based upon how one lives life here on earth.
B.) Stormy Llewellyn's (Odd's girlfriend and "true love") view: The after life is actually "service" where good souls are called upon to once again fight for good in order to defeat evil. After service, good souls get final rewards and rest. The reaching of the final good afterlife and final rewards are based on ones actions on earth and in service. So, first life is on earth, second life is in service, then one reaches what could be called heaven.
- Souls: The book presents a clear understanding that people are not just their physical bodies. The "Odd Thomas" series does not portray a naturalistic worldview. People exist after their bodies die. There is, however, no notion in the books that the non-physical existence after death will ever become a physical existence again. In other words, there is no concept of resurrection.
-Gifts: Odd Thomas considers his ability to see dead people and his souped up intuition, which he calls "psychic magnetism", to be gifts. The books never mentions from who, what, or where the gifts come, however, it could be consider an implicit concession to God (god, gods, or the force).
The ethical rule of the book could be summed up as do what you can to help others, and do not harm others. In the third book, "Brother Odd", the head nun hangs up a picture of Odd because of his humility (it makes sense if you know the rest of the context). Humility, therefore, is also considered a virtue (no surprise there). Odd and Stormy are also extremely honest in an almost passing manner. In other words, honesty comes off as being a part of who they are, not something they do.
To sum up, the Odd Thomas series does not have anything in the ethics category that would be considered unusual or unexpected. There is no concept that ethics flow from the nature or will of a creator God. Elvis' drug use and overdose were considered to be mistakes in his life, but there was no real sense that Elvis had sinned. Actually, the only time anything is considered morally wrong is when it is over the top e.g. participating in a plan to nuke a city or killing people. However, the books do at least maintain an objective sense of good and evil.
In my unprofessional opinion, I find that epistemology is usually the most subtle part to sift out of fictional entertainment. The book never affirms knowledge gained by scientific means i.e. through repeatable experimentation. However, considering the books do not deny that as a valid means of knowledge, it is probably safe to assume that the books affirm that means of knowledge to some degree. Still, the books delineate some other interesting ways of gaining knowledge.
Odd Thomas realizes at one point that he had made mistakes in the past because he did not trust his intuition enough. In fact, a lot of the main propositions from the book e.g. the existence of the after life, is based upon what the proverbial heart says or feels. Odd believes in the after life because he can see ghosts, however, many of the characters in the book believe in the after life without that benefit.
In the third book, "Brother Odd", the antagonist is a quantum physicist who believes in God because he has developed a mathematical model of the very base make up of the universe which the physicist says only makes sense if it is a representation of the way the "mind of God" works. However, in the end, the book rejects the quantum physics model as a valid way of knowing that God exists. "Brother Odd" concluded that faith is the only way to know God exists. Faith, in the books, is the idea of belief without reason.
In the first and last book "Odd Thomas" and "Odd Hours", respectively, Odd knows things that will happen in the future based upon visions that he has in dreams. The series also contain some loose examples of Odd knowing things based upon communication from the supernatural world. For example, in the first book, Odd, in a way, receives loose knowledge of what will happen based upon the actions of Elvis' ghost. In the second book Odd receives communication from his departed, true love Stormy, who speaks to him through a brain damaged child. Odd can also see "Bodocks". Bodocks are some kind of shadow creatures which only Odd can see that probably feed off fear and violence. Odd, therefore, can surmise that something evil is going to happen based upon Bodocks gathering in large numbers. Again, since the books are from Odd's perspective, the readers (or listeners) are not given much information in regards to how other people without Odd's talents or gifts come to know things (or affirm that they know things).
Stormy knows/believes Odd can see ghosts etc based upon the trust she has in Odd. Her trust is in turn based upon their love and intimate relationship. The police chief believes Odd because he has never been wrong when he has helped the police solve a murder case as well as the trust developed from their relationship. It seems that maybe Ozzy believes Odd because of their deep connection to each other, which, in my opinion, was meant to be seen as a result of two souls in pain finding companionship. To simplify, it seems that the series affirms the common idea that some things are known through relationship with others.
I found anthropology to be the most interesting part of the series' worldview. The books present a clear picture that mankind is not all our modern culture tends to think that mankind is. There are "good" people in the book, however, people are often presented as greedy, sadistic, weak etc. The books show us examples of what people are really like when the chips are down. I realize that most books give us examples of people at their worst, but this particular series normalizes the idea that people are inherently bad more than is common. I appreciated the more honest characterization of mankind, but I also found it at odds with the weak view of what constitutes moral wrong.
In the end of the second book "Forever Odd", Odd Thomas is explaining to the police chief that he has figured out what is wrong with the world. Odd explains that through humanities misuse of the will, they broke themselves. Furthermore, Odd explains that people did not just break themselves, they broke time and the world as well. I know that it is not the Biblical doctrine of the fall, but I thought it was a refreshing break from the typical "humanity is really good at its core" spiel.
The problem is that Odd's overall solution to the problem seems to be that people need to stop being bad, start being better, and fix the world one step at a time. The discontinuity between the nature of people and the good results people are supposed to be capable of producing struck me as quite astounding.
I think the Odd Thomas series is very entertaining. I think people will quickly fall in love with the kind, quirky, and witty character of Odd Thomas. There were times when I was listening to these books in the car that I was either laughing almost hard enough to pull off the road and there were times when I was on the verge of tears. I think I would give the series about a 8 and half out of ten on the worth reading scale. If you are only going to read one of the books, I would recommend either the first "Odd Thomas" or the last "Odd Hours." There is also a graphic novel version "In Odd We Trust" that I have not read so I cannot comment on that particular book.
I do want to give a word to the Parents. All of the books contain quite a bit of violence, some language, and mature content. The second book contains obvious sexual references and innuendos. The last book revolves around a theme of Terrorism (that Odd is working to stop), and the antagonists of the first book are satan worshipers. If you were to ask my opinion, I would say that the first, third and fourth books would be okay for older teens (16 and above), but I would be leery about recommending the second book to anyone under eighteen.