Hey, how many of you know about the Stoic emperor, Marcus Aurelius?
Well, I know one of my readers is actually a practicing Stoic, and thus is familiar with the “last good emperor’s” philosophy. Another writer friend mentioned him in a story. And I’m aware of at least one other fan of ancient Roman history among my readers. As for me, I only began studying Stoicism relatively recently, and I find it very interesting. Not that I can claim to be Stoic, or even a reasonably accomplished student of Stoicism. No, indeed; I am probably the worst Stoic in the world. This comic describes me to a “T”. But, you know, as Martyn Green’s singing instructor told him: “With you? We start on exercises, and hope!”
I hear the cry go up, “Berthold, we’ve come here for a book review! What are you going on about?” Well, it so happens that Zachary Shatzer’s latest novel includes many Stoic themes.
Of course, on a superficial level, this is another of Shatzer’s comic tales, this time set in a laid-back beach town, where the titular Beach Wizard comes into conflict with a formidable Sea Wizard, putting the entire lifestyle of the beachgoing population at risk.
I’ve compared Shatzer to Wodehouse before. It’s not a comparison I make lightly, but I’ll do it again. As with Wodehouse, you can’t be unhappy while reading one of his books. If you enjoyed any of his previous humorous novels, you’re going to like this one, too. It combines all the elements we’ve come to expect from him: a varied and entertaining cast of characters, recurring jokes that gradually become sub-plots in their own right, and a story-within-the-story that forms an engaging narrative.
But this one has a little bit of something else, too, besides all the fun. The Beach Wizard is not just a stock character who uses magic as a deus ex machina anytime the plot demands it. No, he is a well-rounded character, complete with wisdom befitting his age. Think Gandalf, if Gandalf had found his way into a Frankie & Annette picture.
Actually, the whole beach town reminds me of Tolkien’s Shire, with its simple, easy-going, goodhearted folk who live their lives in quiet tranquility. And the Sea Wizard is no Saruman, of course, but he brings about the closest thing to a scouring that the chilled-out beach bums have ever experienced.
Not that the Sea Wizard is truly a villain, you understand. Shatzer is like Chuck Litka in that he is capable of writing a conflict without resorting to characters who are simply evil. Everything the characters do is understandable and reasonable, given who they are and what they know.
Which brings me back to the Beach Wizard and his philosophy. At one point, the Beach Wizard gives a beautiful speech that I partially excerpt below:
“It is a difficult thing to understand someone who lives a very different life from your own. Many people choose not to make even an attempt at understanding, and simply dismiss such differences as being “Weird” or “Stupid” or what have you. But I don’t wish to criticize…
Lack of understanding is, well, understandable, but working through one’s ignorance and casting away petty feelings and resentment is of the utmost importance. At least, I believe it is so.”
And what I like best of all is that, even for all his experience and wisdom, the Beach Wizard is fallible. He makes mistakes. He comes up short of his own standards. But he recognizes when he fails, and resolves to do better. And he does. Any Stoic, including the good emperor himself, will tell you that nobody’s perfect; all you can do is keep trying to be better.
The Beach Wizard is a wonderful story that everyone should read. I can’t recommend it highly enough.