Light Across the Prairie by Norman King


Perry Wheeler is an energetic and earnest young newspaper reporter, who finds Des Moines not enough of a challenge. He quits his promising position at the newspaper there and buys a one-way ticket to the town of Batesford, where he’s sunk his life’s savings into the town newspaper, the Batesford Bugle.

Things turn out to be a bit more complex than simply running a newspaper. The previous owner made ends meet by taking on side jobs of whatever the townspeople wanted to print–handbills, fliers, leaflets, whatever they needed. On a more personal note, Wheeler has become enamored of Miss Melita Pomroy, a pretty girl who came to the station to meet her father, on the same train as Wheeler…but who proved inappropriate for the third, and possibly most important, issue in the book: Wheeler is a Christian, and a particularly devout and evangelical one, who holds dancing, drinking and strong language to be sins.

To his horror, Wheeler discovers that, at least in his eyes, this is the sort of frontier town more typically found in the secular B Western movie: all the inhabitants are yokels and the main business street consists of saloon, lumber yard, saloon, grocery and dry goods, saloon, barbershop, saloon, hotel, saloon, hotel with a saloon, livery and saloon which doubles as a dance hall. Not only is there no chapel or other place of (Christian) worship, when he inquires after same, or even a Christian hostelry at which he might rent a room, the politest of the townsfolk are uncomfortably silent and the outspoken jeer.

His efforts are a success from Wheeler’s perspective on a number of fronts. He revives the Batesford Bugle. Despite alienating Miss Pomroy, he befriends her younger sister Leota, who proves more suitable. He puts the ladies’ father in his place with a bit of fancy legal work through friends back in Des Moines. He wins over a crude but good-hearted member of the community by consoling the devout doyenne of the family on her deathbead. While the town has not got a chapel by the end of the book, it’s clear that he’s won the town into righteousness by the virtue of his example and strength of his will.

The general tenor of the book should come as no surprise to anyone who so much as picks up a copy. It was published by Zondervan, a prominently evangelical Christian publishing house on a par with Bethany House in terms of overtly Christian agenda; the former produced the Left Behind Series while the latter publishes Janette Oke and Beverly Lewis. While there’s clearly still a market for books such as this, I suspect that many readers will be left thoroughly sympathetic with the townspeople; while they’re presented as a singularly unpleasant stiff-necked example of the ungodly life, not everyone appreciates being harangued by someone they perceive as holier-than-thou. Zondervan’s not merely got an agenda with this book, but seems to have completely missed out on the significance of “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”

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