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By Paul Horgan
The best description of Humble Powers is that given by its own author. It is “a triptych whose panels illustrate in settings of the recent past certain humble powers as old as mankind.” In these three novelettes, these powers are qualified by the virtue of humility, and thus do they find their place within “the context of an uninterrupted and universal Christianity, through which they speak in these stories.” Illustrating the power of faith is “The Devil in the Desert”: old Father Louis confronts the Adversary in the desert of the Rio Grande country; the power of love, “One Red Rose for Christmas”: a nun and an orphan contend with the torment of loneliness at Yuletide; and the power of sacrifice, “To the Castle”: an Army platoon and its chaplain must capture a medieval castle from the Nazis so the Allied forces can advance on Rome.
“When evil is recognized all other powers move together to defeat it.”
Flannery O’Connor, reviewing Humble Powers, marks the rarity of “fiction about people with affirmative values who triumph by the exercise of virtue.” “Such fiction,” she concludes, “is indeed rare because it is the most difficult to write, but Humble Powers by Mr. Horgan should prove at least that it can be found.”
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Paul Horgan (1903–1995) was an American Catholic historian and novelist, praised by David McCullough as “a writer of large vision and many-sidedness” with a matchless “command of language and feeling for human nature.” Author of forty-plus books, including seventeen novels, Horgan received two Pulitzer Prizes (in 1955, for Great River: The Rio Grande in North American History; in 1975, for Lamy of Santa Fe) as well as nineteen honorary degrees and the University of Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal.