Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Prince Caspian Book Excerpt

I thought it was a great coincidence that Prince Caspian (Chapter 4) had these opening paragraphs about the power of stories. They go well with last week's post.

Prince Caspian lived in a great castle in the center of Narnia with his uncle, Miraz, the king of Narnia, and his aunt, who had red hair and was called Queen Prunaprismia. His father and mother were dead and the person whom Caspian loved best was his nurse, and though (being a prince) he had wonderful toys which would do almost anything but talk, he liked best the last hour of the day when the toys had all been put back in their cupboards and Nurse would tell him stories [of old Narnia].

...“What do you wish?” asked the King.
“I wish – I wish—I wish I could have lived in the Old Days,” said Caspian.
“Eh? What’s that?” he said. “What old days do you mean?”
“Oh, don’t you know, Uncle?” said Caspian? “When everything was quite different. When all the animals could talk, and there were nice people who lived in the streams and the trees. Naiads and Dryads they were called. And there were Dwarfs. And there were lovely little Fauns in all the woods. They had feet like goats. And…”
“That’s all nonsense, for babies, do you hear? You’re getting too old for that sort of stuff. At your age you ought to be thinking of battles and adventures, not fairy tales.
“Oh, but there were battles and adventures in those days,” said Caspian…

“Who has been telling you this nonsense?” said the King in a voice of thunder… “Who has been telling you this pack of lies?”
“Nurse,” faltered Caspian, and burst into tears.
“Stop that noise,” said his uncle, taking Caspian by the shoulders and giving him a shake. “Stop it. And never let me catch you talking – or thinking either – about all those silly stories again. There never were those Kings and Queens… And there’s no such person as Aslan. And there are no such things as lions. And there never was a time when animals could talk. Do you hear?”
“Yes, Uncle,” sobbed Caspian.
“Then let’s have no more of it,” said the King…

Next day Caspian found what a terrible thing he had done, for Nurse had been sent away… Caspian missed his nurse very much and shed many tears; and because he was so miserable, he thought about the old stories of Narnia far more than before.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

John Wesley Quotes

My husband just reminded me that on this day 270 years ago John Wesley had his famous "heartwarming experience". Since he's one of my favorite writers I'm going to post a few favorite quotes here.

Here is a short, a plain, an infallible rule, before you enter into particulars. In whatever profession you are engaged, you must be singular - out of the ordinary - or be damned! The way to hell has nothing singular in it. The way to heaven is singularity all over. If you move but one step towards God you are no longer as others. But do not regard this. It is far better to stand alone than to fall into the pit of hell. (From a sermon on Matthew 7:13)

From one of my favorite sermons, "The Cure of Evil Speaking":

Are you determined to speak evil of no man? Then learn one lesson well: "Hear evil of no man." If there were no hearers, there would be no speakers, of evil. And is not the receiver (of stolen goods) as bad as the thief? If, then, any begin to speak evil in your hearing, check them immediately. Refuse to hear. Let him or her use ever so soft a manner, so mild an accent, ever so many professions of goodwill for the one he is stabbing in the dark.(Whew! If that won't keep you from gossiping, what will?!)

And finally, The desire of anything that does not lead to happiness in God tends to barrenness of soul.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Tending the Heart of Virtue by Guroian

I just finished Tending the Heart of Virtue: How Classic Stories Awaken a Child's Moral Imagination by Vigen Guroian in which he makes the case for awakening a child’s moral imagination through fairy tales. I know there are two schools of thought on this among Christian parents. One group discards fantasy and fairy tales as dangerous and untruthful; any mention of witches, goblins, wizards, etc. is considered evil. The other group contends that the presence of fantasy and “unreal worlds” in stories reinforces the “mysterious” and opens the child’s heart to truths regarding the supernatural (i.e. realities beyond our visible universe). Guroian says that “Fairy tales lead us toward a belief in something that if it were not also veiled in a mystery, common sense alone would affirm: if there is a story, there must also surely be a storyteller”. (p. 39)

The book was worth the purchase price alone because I finally saw in print a phrase from C.S. Lewis that I’ve heard quoted (and misquoted!) for many years. The idea presented to me has been, “If it’s not good enough for an adult to read it’s certainly not good enough for a child to read. But the actual quote is: “I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story.” (From Of Other Worlds by C.S. Lewis, p. 24)

Guroian decries the sterilized teaching of “values”. It is one thing to tell children it’s bad to lie, but quite another to show them the awful consequences of it in a story. Guroian also makes an interesting distinction between values (basically subjective in today’s culture) and virtues (unchangeable).

While I enjoyed this book, I’m not sure it would have converted me to “fantasy literature” if I had belonged to the aforementioned “anti-fairy tale” group. Guroian leads the reader through several of his favorite books, pointing out the virtues (or lack thereof) of the lead characters. I resonated with his favorites that were also mine (The Princess and Curdie , The Wind in the Willows , and Charlotte's Web ) and remained skeptical about some of his other favorites that I’ve considered too dark. (Once when I tried to read the original Pinocchio  story to my boys they begged me to stop!) The only book he influenced me to get out and read was Prince Caspian , but my sudden enthusiasm for the book may also be because the film arrives in Brazil next week and I can’t bear to see a movie without reading the book first.

Here are some great resources for book lists that build the heart:

Why Johnny Can't Tell Right from Wrong by William Kirkpatrick
Books Children Love by Elizabeth Wilson
Books That Build Character by William Kirkpatrick
Children of a Greater God by Terry W. Glaspey
Honey for a Child's Heart by Gladys Hunt

Friday, May 9, 2008

Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

After reading several book blogs referring to Wodehouse is laugh-out-loud funny, I was happy to see that our tiny school library had a copy of one of his books. I must say I enjoyed Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, but I couldn’t take Wodehouse on a regular basis. After almost 20 years of deliberately choosing literary “health food”, this seemed too much like candy. I could enjoy this kind of thing in small doses: while waiting in an airport, let’s say, or while lying in a hammock on my vacation.

One thing that I did quite accidentally, but which I think enhanced my enjoyment of the book was that I had previously listened to B.J. Harrison at Classic Tales reading a Wooster/Jeeves story (episode #50 of his podcasts). That podcast made it much easier to imagine the harried Wooster depending on the ever-tranquil Jeeves. The monotone voice Harris used for Jeeves was priceless. Clearly the butler was unflappable! My two friends who are Wodehouse fans recommended the BBC production of Jeeves & Wooster (which stars Hugh Laurie of House fame), but I didn't enjoy it. In the book Wooster has at least half a mind (enough to write of his escapades anyway). In the TV show he’s an absolute idiot and I find it hard to watch movies or read books in which the hero is unlikable. (But book lovers already know that the books are usually better than their cinematic counterparts!)