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Katie Luther: the Graphic Novel

Mother of the Reformation
by Susan K. Leigh
illustrated by Dave Hill

95 pages / 2016

My daughter recently asked, “Why aren’t there more girl heroes? Why are the heroes always boys?”

I explained that some of the heroes we read about are soldiers – generals and others – and that these are all boys because boys are bigger and stronger, so they make better soldiers.

But that conversation also set me off in search of good examples of heroic women. And one very good example is Katharina Luther.

An “ordinary” hero?

This graphic novel biography is a sequel of sorts. In 2011 comic the same author and illustrator came out with Luther: Echoes of the Hammer. This sequel is slightly smaller, but every bit as good.

Of course, not everyone will be impressed. I showed it to a friend and flipped through the page to share highlights from Katie Luther’s life and he suggested that running a household was just something that women back then did. So, hardly amazing or exceptional.

There’s something to that.

On the one hand, Katharina was extraordinary: as a nun she read Martin Luther’s writings, even though that would have been a risky thing to do. Then, at the risk of grave punishment, she planned an escape from her convent. The first attempt was found out, and she was punished. But she tried again, and got out under cover of night, hidden away with 11 other nuns in empty barrels – she had conviction and courage!

As the comic makes clear, she was also a remarkably capable woman – Luther’s household was often very large, with 30 or more students, and as many as 11 children under their care (some of whom were nieces and nephews), plus many others, eating at the table. It was quite a feat to run this all, which was more restaurant and hotel than house.

On the other hand, in many ways what Katharina did is what women have done through the ages: she was an able helpmeet, supporting her husband in his role, even as she took care of the children and managed the house. This supportive role is ordinary in the sense that many wives do this every day, but that hardly makes it unimportant. Supportive roles don’t get the same recognition that leadership positions do, but they are every bit as vital.

So this is a book I’m going to share with my daughter in the hopes that Katie Luther will inspire and encourage her in whatever role – whether ordinary or extraordinary – God sets before her.

Conclusion

At 95 pages, this is a comic that takes some time to get through, so it is not a casual, quick read. The artwork is just as the cover depicts – solid, colorful, and full of detail. There’s also a lot of information packed in here, so anyone, whether teen or older, who wants to learn about Katharina Luther will enjoy it. That’s why this would also be a good resource for schools.

However, this is not a comic most students will pick up on their own. But if it were given as an assigned reading, the graphic novel format does make this pain-free reading for almost any student. It’s a far easier read than any book, and more educational than many.

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Book Reviews, Graphic novels, Teen non-fiction

Luther: Echoes of the Hammer

by Susan K. Leigh illustrated by Dave Hill 2011 / 144 pages I think this is the perfect complement to Luther: the graphic novel, which might be the more exciting of these two Luther comics, but which also plays a little looser with the details. Meanwhile Luther: Echoes of the Hammer is a more reliable history lesson, even as it isn’t as dramatic. I tested this graphic novel on two of my nephews with mixed results. The older one, heading to grade 10, was happy to take a look, and thought it would be a great way to learn about Luther. The other, two years younger, seemed to think it was too much biography and not enough comic book for his tastes. As far as comics go, this one is quite an involved, even heavy, read. Interspersed throughout are explanations of key events, like the Diet of Worms, key terms, like “indulgences,” and key figures, like Charles of Spain, the Holy Roman Emperor. These one or two-page insertions really add to the narrative and make this a highly educational comic. However, a few of these insertions will also trouble informed Reformed readers. In one list of Luther’s adversaries, Calvin is numbered among them! While it is true Calvin and Luther had their differences, it is surprising to see Calvin listed as an opponent. Especially when, some pages later, we find Erasmus listed as one of Luther’s supporters! While Erasmus was, like Luther, critical of the Roman Church, he never left it, and this led to strong, vitriolic disagreements with Luther. In fact, Luther once called Erasmus, “the very mouth and organ of Satan.”  It is downright silly, then, for the authors to list Erasmus as a friend if they are going to list fellow Reformer John Calvin as an adversary. The only other quibble would be the overestimation the authors have of Philip Melanchthon, describing him as “a great Reformer, second only to Martin Luther.” Second? Really? How can they overlook Calvin like that? Those quibbles aside, this is an impressive book. The writing is crisp, succinct and engaging. The artwork is attractive and while only half the book is color (the other half being black and white) it worked. Many of these pictures are also instructive, worth the proverbial thousand words. For example, in the pages covering Luther’s visit to Worms, illustrator Dave Hill shows us the man’s quiet passion, his many supporters, and his opponents marshaled together. This gives us a good understanding of the setting, and thus a better understanding of the courage it took for Luther to stand up for what he knew to be true. Older teens will enjoy it, and many an adult too. (Also worth a mention is that the same team of authors and illustrators have created a sequel, focused on his wife – Katie Luther is a little shorter, and a little less involved, but also quite enjoyable.)...