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Have you ever wished you could have a do-over? That’s exactly what Sam Miracle in N.D. Wilson’s Outlaws of Time: The Legend of Sam Miracle gets, but with much higher stakes: life or death for himself, his sister, and possibly millions of other people. And every time, so far, he’s died.

Let me start off by saying that I love N.D. Wilson’s writing, but I can’t stand Westerns (yes, I realize that’s a bit ironic since I live in Texas). Outlaws of Time proved to be an exception. The time-travel element may have something to do with that.

Here’s what I think Outlaws of Time can offer your kids.

The right kind of power comes with responsibility and requires sacrifice. The wrong kind is stolen, regardless of the cost to others. That’s the basic distinction Wilson makes between good and evil in Outlaws of Time. N.D. Wilson talked in his interview on the Read-Aloud Revival Podcast about how he doesn’t shy away from evil in his books. After all, the real world contains evil. But he makes sure the good is strong enough to stand up to that evil. When Sam has snakes grafted into his shattered arms (I’m not giving anything away, it’s on the cover), he is told:

“…every hero needs to be part nightmare. Moses turned a river to blood and called down the Angel of Death. Samson tore a Lion open with his bare hands and killed hundres with a donkey bone…. If you are fire, you need not fear the dark.”

All life is precious.Β As you might expect from a Western, there is a “shoot-em-up” element. Our hero must kill the bad guys. They are unstoppable by any other means. But in our world where violence can be glorified on the big screen or in video games, it is so refreshing to see Wilson’s approach. When Sam shoots his first villain, he weeps. Though he knows the man was evil, he experiences more pain in killing him than in all the previous deaths he has experienced.

A hero cannot stand alone. One of the most beautiful aspects of this story isΒ the way others sacrifice their time, safety, and very lives to help Sam in his quest. As much as Sam would like to protect everyone, he would never survive without their sacrifices. And, inΒ fact, those sacrifices help motivate him to lay down his life and safety for others.

In his article for The Atlantic, “Why I Write Scary Stories for Children,” N.D. Wilson explains his stories this way:

“My characters live in worlds that are fundamentally beautiful and magical, just like ours, in worlds that are broken and brutal, just like ours. And, when characters live courageously and sacrificially, good will ultimately triumph over evil.”

Though this story is a fantasy, it reflects the real world in a way that is important for kids to grasp. The world is flawed. There is real evil and people who will do anything for power. And the world desperately needs heroes who will stand up to that evil, no matter what the cost, and the cost may be the very lives of those heroes. Just like in real life, Wilson leaves us with no assurance that his main character will survive to the end of the series. He may be called upon to give his life to save others. But that will not be a tragedy. It will be a victory.

If you are interested in N.D. Wilson’s other books, here’s my review of his 100 Cupboards series.