by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

Our June 2014 selection.

Life often poses questions we ought to answer, yet we do not even recognize that a question is being asked. It is one of the tasks of good novels to help us confront such questions in a congenial format, but novels today seldom do. Thus, it has been a delight to discover the Imager Portfolio (eight novels) by L.E.Modesitt, Jr.—or at least the first book in the set, Imager. It is a genuine aid to learning to think with discernment.

The would-be imager is Rhenn, who starts the novel as an artist in training—in training to paint portraits. He is very good at his craft, making journeyman. But his master dies in a curious accident, and no studio will take on a journeyman, even though Rhenn has been receiving commissions from the wealthy.

An imager is someone who can cause things to appear—or disappear, if appropriate. Rhenn begins to suspect that he has natural talent as an imager. But imagers are not well-liked in general society, so it is with great reluctance that he crosses the Bridge of Hopes and presents himself at the Collegium D’Imagers. He is enrolled as a low primus.

At the Collegium, Rhenn learns to develop his latent imaging skills—and learns to focus his mind as well. He receives his tutelage from a Master Dichartyn, so named so as to create the impressions of a René Descartes, who analyzed everything. Dichartyn poses all kinds of questions, inspiring Rhenn to beginning thinking about life, not just react to it. Among the questions he asks is: “How much does air weigh?”

“Air weighing something…had his question been as random as it seemed?” Rhenn wonders. “I’d never thought about air weighing something, but since a barometer worked by measuring the change in the weight of the air, I suppose I should have.” In fact, as he reflects on this seemingly innocent question, Rhenn realizes that it is a big clue to helping him solve a basic imager puzzle.

Rhenn’s interaction with Dichartyn is a masterful instruction in learning to use the mind to bridge the gap between finite and abstract thinking, since imaging, although concrete, requires the abstract use of the imagination to succeed. Rhenn’s instruction includes question after question that he must answer in this way, each one helping him solve practical problems of imaging.

“Why do imagers wear uniforms?” To protect the individual members, and imagers as a group.

In less that a year, he moves from primus to secondus and then tertius—until he becomes a master of his new craft in record time.

“Why do imagers wear uniforms?” To protect the individual members, and imagers as a group.

Modesitt is no Shakespeare—his attempts to create a mythic world fall far short—but he does what few authors do. He reveals the inner dimensions of life and how they fit naturally into the physical scheme of things. He demonstrates the importance of the mind in this process, and offers practical instruction in how to do it. We learn as Rhenn learns.

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