The Singer by Calvin Miller


For most who live,
hell is never knowing
who they are.
The Singer knew and
knowing was his torment.

Recalling the popularity of  The Singer: A Classic Retelling of Cosmic Conflict by Calvin Miller when I was younger, and having a vaguely positive recollection of reading and enjoying it as a teenager, when I saw it for a dollar at a library sale I snatched it up.  Seeing it as a quick and potentially inspirational read, I read it read it that same week

It is a rather unique book (the first of a trilogy), a sort of poetic narrative – some poetry, prose – that re-imagines the Gospel in the form of a classical myth or fairy tale of a troubadour compelled to sing the song that points man back to their creator.  His opponent is the World Hater who seeks to keep mankind enslaved and unaware of the song.

And even after all these years, it stands up very well. A little forced in places and certainly “artsy” in a sense but with beautiful and evocative language that re-imagines this timeless story in a way that knocks the dust off and allows us to see it fresh.

What struck me most was the way the story could help explore both the universal and simple nature of the Gospel in terms of love and redemption but also how the aphorisms at the start of each chapter were thought provoking and somehow fragile – if you thought about them too much or for too long they fell apart, but if you glanced at them they seemed quite profound.

I also really enjoyed the way the relationships played out.  The emotions involved in how the Singer interacted with God, his mother and the people he encountered really seemed to capture the Christ of the Gospels in a fresh and insightful way. This simple prose poem somehow cleared away the clutter and allows you to see the arc of history and Christ’s sacrificial love as the touchstone of that arc.

To give you a taste, here is an aphorism or poem that introduces a chapter:

Oftentimes Love is
so poorly packaged
that when we have
sold everything to
buy it, we cry in
finding all our
substance gone and
nothing in the tin-
sel and the ribbon.

Hate dresses well
to please a buyer

As noted above, I find this introductions very interesting. There is a sense of the profound about many of them and yet they are hard to nail down and unpack. They sort of hit you on an almost subconscious level.  They give the larger story a philosophical and spiritual weight.

I am sure there are many who might find the poetry to heavy handed or the allegory too thin; a work such as this has a lot to do with taste and style.  I am no expert on poetry or poetic narratives but I found it thought provoking and at times powerful.  Something different and daring even if it doesn’t always succeed.

If you enjoy poetic language and storytelling this is a Christian Classic worth revisiting.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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