Saint Julian: A Novel


Walt Wangerin, Jr. strikes again.

Several people in the last few weeks have commented to me about how glad they are that they discovered Wangerin’s The Book of the Dun Cow here in the Rabbit Room. It really is a remarkable book, and I still can’t recommend it highly enough. It won the prestigious National Book Award when it was first published in 1978, and was only the beginning of Wangerin’s career.

12330194.jpgI just stumbled on his most recent novel, Saint Julian, and was so captured by it that it bumped aside the other four books I’m reading. Last Sunday afternoon–a perfect Spring day–I sat on my front porch swing and read the last half of the book, savoring the careful prose, the pastoral tone, and even the look and feel of the book itself. The cover illustration fits the epic, vivid quality of the story perfectly, and the fonts (I’m a sucker for a great font) added just the right atmosphere.

Saint Julian is a re-telling of the ancient legend of the saint who was cursed with the prophecy that he would one day be the instrument of his parents’ death. Julian flees his home for love of his parents and embarks on a journey into war, loneliness, love, and of course, redemption. That this is a saint’s tale implies that redemption is coming, but the road Julian takes before it ambushes him is long and heartbreaking, making it that much sweeter when it comes. It’s dark, but this book was written with such talent, with such a strong, gentle hand, that I never felt anything but that this story was going to pull me close to the memory of God’s faithful mercy in my own life.

Eugene Peterson said of this book:

“Walter Wangerin’s storytelling never fails to take us into a world resonant with salvation meanings. With Saint Julian, the worst of which we are capable becomes stuff for the best that God can achieve with us. We read and realize, ‘Why, yes–even I could become a saint.'”

John Wilson, editor of Books & Culture:

“Saint Julian isn’t a ‘historical novel,’ nor is it a fable, but rather an act of literary sorcery–white magic, to be sure–whereby a medieval tale speaks to our present moment with a force like the ringing of a great bell.”

Walt Wangerin, though thirty years older now and sick with cancer, is still writing words that dance and whirl and fling color across the canvas of imagination; he is serving Christ with the gift of his pen; he is loving us with the stories he is writing. And because of the nature of stories, and words, and books, people will be blessed by the work of his hands for many, many years.

I write this wondering if Walt will stumble on these words, and hope that if he does he finds encouragement here.


Andrew Peterson is a singer-songwriter and author. Andrew has released more than ten records over the past twenty years, earning him a reputation for songs that connect with his listeners in ways equally powerful, poetic, and intimate. As an author, Andrew’s books include the four volumes of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga, released in collectible hardcover editions through Random House in 2020, and his creative memoir, Adorning the Dark, released in 2019 through B&H Publishing.


  1. Robert Treskillard


    This particular book, Saint Julian, didn’t click with me as much as I had hoped. It seemed very dark at times, but maybe that is because it was meant to reflect our spiritual state prior to God reaching down and plucking us out of our misery. A mirror can be a hard thing to look into.

    Thanks for highlighting Walter’s work. I first ran across his “The Ragman, The Ragman, The Christ” short story as a new Christian in the early 80’s, and I still weep when I read it.


  2. Jason Gray


    Thanks Andrew! I can’t wait to check out this book. I’ve been such a fan of Wangerin’s for years, beginning when I, too, first read The Ragman.

    I think you summed his work up best when you say that he is loving us with the stories he tells. I do feel very loved when I close one of his books, like he has gently shepherded me.


  3. Tony Heringer

    Thanks Andrew. “[Writing] words that dance and whirl and fling color across the canvas of imagination” — I loved that line. I’m starting with The Book of the Dun Cow first and will work out from there.

  4. Arthur Alligood

    Yeh, so I finished the book this morning. Really loved it. It still has me thinking. I am in a book club of sorts with a friend of mine. This is our second book to read. I am looking forward to the discussion. I want to buy an axe now and a crossbow.

  5. becky

    I started reading this book on Thursday, got sidetracked by tornadoes, and just got back to it last night around 9:30 or 10:00. Finished in the wee hours of the morning.

    I want to say thanks for introducing me to this author. I had never read any of his work, and don’t know if I would have otherwise. And that would have been a shame, because the two books I have read are amazing. The stories aren’t all that complex, but they are told in such an intense and moving way. I have been thinking about mercy and grace all day. This book really gave me a different perspective on them. In some ways it reminded me of Ted Dekker’s book, Black. It had that kind of “other-worldly” feel to it, and the intense emotions. I want to start right over and read Saint Julian again, and I must find Wangerin’s other books.

  6. Joshua Gordon

    Anything by Walter Wangerin has my stamp of approval; Book of the Dun Cow slays me. It also makes me say, “What the hell is the point of ME trying to write anything.” I usually almost give up on writing when I read a Wangerine book. There’s incredible latent strength in his prose .

    Hurts so good!

  7. John Haney

    I read Saint Julian in preparation for Hutchmoot. As Walt told us stories on Saturday night, I was reminded of many passages in Julian that were so bold, painful, and beautiful at the same time and marveled at the great storyteller who kept us spellbound for a rapid hour and a half. It was like having the Apostle John drop in for an evening and then get in his car and drive back to Glory. That may be an overstatement, but still . . .

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