Category Archives: Great Books

Getting What We Want

I have been haunted by a theme that runs through the Chronicle of Narnia series: that in the end we get what we want. Over and over through the series the characters are confronted with the end result of what they desire.

The self-centered and gutless uncle in The Magician’s Nephew got what he wanted…himself. He was so focused on satisfying his own desires and evil curiosities that by the end of the book, all he could see and understand was himself. The words of the talking animals were incomprehensible. He was cut off from their fellowship, all the while convinced the world was going insane but certainly not himself.

The witch hungered after the eternal youth and power found in the beautiful apples of Aslan’s garden, and succeeded in stealing and tasting the succulent fruit, only to discover the horror of living with the bitterness and hate of her act ever after.

In The Last Battle, the dwarfs tire of being pulled between the battle of good and evil and finally decide to retreat into themselves. They chant “The dwarfs are for the dwarfs” repeatedly until that is all they see…themselves. Like the uncle, they can no longer see or hear anything else around them. Conversely, the characters desiring Truth and Beauty, found in Aslan, are rewarded with the joy of being in his presence forever.

This thought has caused me much introspection. What do I want? I have found myself praying to Jesus to please not give me what I want. Or at least please change my desires. I fear I desire Him too little. I fear that I may end up getting what I want. I can easily turn this fear into a horror movie…I am standing in heaven, there are millions of enraptured worshipers around me and someone comes and places a big mirror in front of me. It is too heavy for me to move and I am sentenced to look at my own reflection instead of gazing upon the beauty of the Lord. Who could stand it?

My source of great comfort is that Jesus knows our nature. He knows that I am not wise or faithful enough to know what I need. I am grateful that Jesus taught us to pray “Thy will be done.” He wouldn’t have left us with that prayer if we were not in need of fine tuning our desires.

I think that I am getting to a new stage where I am starting to sense the dis-harmony between what I want and what the Lord wills. It is sort of like striking two dischordant notes. Let me back up a little and explain. I usually operate on two levels. On one level I am a jumble of mixed up desires…with the prevailing desire to please myself. On another level, I know that the Lord is good and that His will is good, so I earnestly pray for His will. It was easy to leave it at that, being satisfied that in the end, His will would triumph my puny little desires. This isn’t working anymore. It’s becoming increasingly uncomfortable in my soul. I can sense how against His will my desires and actions so often are. I am just realizing as I write this that this should be a praise! He has heard my prayers to not give me what I want and ignorance of my own sinful desires must have been top on my list.

“Fear not,” Jesus had to repeat over and over. I will rest not in my version of a horror film, but in the words found in my favorite Psalm, the 27th:

One thing I have desired of the LORD,
That will I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD
All the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the LORD,
And to inquire in His temple.

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Filed under Giving Thanks, Great Books, His Banner over Me, Thoughts

Movie Review: Heidi (2005)

I have a strict rule in my house. No one can watch a book-turned-movie until the book has been read, and better yet, read recently.

Reading and listening to books is a wonderful opportunity to exercise your brain’s creativity…where and how else can you be director, casting agent, costume designer, and prop/scene artist all at the same time? For young children, there is the advantage of being able to craft their own age-appropriate level of tension, fear, and excitement. The battle scenes of Narnia are much different in the mind of a 13 y/o than in a 4 y/old’s, and I like it that way.

So it is with a certain amount of reluctance that I watch a good book turned into a movie. I know that I will be disappointed and my idea of characters and scenes will be tainted by the director’s vision. As long as I remember that in advance, and watch it for simple amusement (a=no, muse=think), I will still have a good time.

So, last night we rented a 2005 version of Heidi, by Picadilly Films. All in all, it was a pleasant film, missing many of the baser elements found in so many movies today . The Alp was much like I imagined it, although it was darker and less sunny in Slovenia, where it was filmed, than in my mind’s idea of Switzerland. The grandfather was well cast. Klara, Sebastian, and Peter’s grandmother were nearly spot on. I think it would be difficult indeed to cast the perfect Heidi, but Emma Bolger did a very good job and was charming to watch.

The tale tried to remain true to the book, save for a VERY important part. In the filmmaker’s effort not to offend anyone, he cut the legs off of the story. How can you tell the story of Heidi and leave out “the good God?” Imagine Heidi without Grandmamma’s counsel to trust in God’s providence, considering all the events in Heidi’s life that He turns from bad into good. How could you leave out the woven tale of the prodigal son and the Alm Uncle’s return to his community? Instead of the reconciliation taking place in church, the town meets the two at the grandfather’s old house in Dorfli to include them in May Day celebrations. Peter’s fabulous struggle with possession, anger, guilt and finally, forgiveness and redemption is completely left out. Peter’s grandmother’s sweet hope found in the book falls flat without “the good God” strengthening her faith at the very time her eyes fail her.  You come away from the movie with nice feelings, but without ‘the scarlet thread’ woven throughout the movie, the depth of the book is sadly not translated to the screen. It is a little like following a dot-to-dot picture skip counting by 10s. The basic outline is there, but the details are missing.

Having recently read Heidi, we enjoyed discussing the differences between the movie and Johanna Spyri’s classic. My children enjoyed the movie, but I am so glad that their memory of the book will fill in the missing dots.

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Filed under Great Books, Movie Reviews

Treasure hunting

I love books. Especially ones that you find “buried” somewhere like hidden treasure.

I recently scooped up a complete 1954 set of Compton’s Pictured Encyclopedias at an estate sale. Thinking I found a treasure chest of rare gems, I inquired wistfully about the price. “Five dollars.” What? SOLD! The lady jokingly said she preferred her encyclopedias on CDs. True, they take up less space, but the real joy of an encyclopedia is accidentally flipping to a page on Coal, and finding it enjoyable, when you really set out to read about Chocolate. Children, in particular, get hooked by pictoral encyclopedias. What child could resist a picture series entitled, “Six Chapters in the Life of a Cheese?”

The best thing about my 1954 set is the engaging way the entries are written. Written before post-modernism, the information is authoritatively stated and designed to impart responsibility to the reader. The title page offers this objective:

To inspire ambition, to stimulate the imagination, to provide the inquiring mind with accurate information told in an interesting style, and thus lead into broader fields of knowledge, such is the purpose of this work.

Of course, many entries are outdated and even shocking, like the picture of Japanese children being fumigated for lice with DDT, under the entry Parasites (are those children even alive today?).But even these open up great conversation.

Reading encyclopedias aloud to younger children can help to hook them on non-fiction. At that age, the line between fiction and non-fiction can be rather blurry. Under Camping, I read this entry to my kids:

“Horace Kephart, famous authority on camp lore, gives us the key to the problem when he says: “Ideal outfitting is to have what we want, when we want it, and not to be bothered with anything else.”

My son let loose a little chortle, and in all sincerity said, “Well, that’s a horse’s opinion.” I looked blankly at him, then it hit me! Horace…horse. All kinds of treasures are to be found in these books!

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Filed under Great Books, Homeschooling, Uncategorized

Classics…and “Classics” re-created

Tonight, we are one chapter away from finishing Heidi. I cannot believe that in all of my childhood, I never read or was never read to from the original Heidi. I thought that I had read Heidi, but now realize it was just a cheap imitation. In fact, a few years ago I ran across a children’s book that contained what I thought was an excerpt from the real thing, and I remember clearly thinking that I did not feel any great need to read it to my children anytime soon, as the selection left a decidedly new age, pantheistic impression. Not so with the real book. It is truly a lovely book full of beauty and innocence, God’s providence, keen observations of nature, and leaves you with the desire to seek other’s well-being above your own. Oh, and also the desire to take a summer vacation to the Swiss Alps.

My copy clearly states on the cover “original and unabridged.” I suppose this is necessary because of the plethora of watered down and re-created “classics” out there. I became aware of this when we started receiving gifts for our children. A thick, heavy book of re-told Beatrix Potter, a re-told Winnie-the-Pooh (no matter what you may think, Disney did NOT create Winnie-the-Pooh!), and many other re-told classics. Why on earth would anyone re-tell Beatrix Potter, for goodness sake? That is nearly a sin. The joy of reading Beatrix Potter is found precisely in her word choices – pleasing and eccentric. Must we dumb down children’s literature? Only if we are bent on raising dumb children. My four year old has listened raptly to Heidi, with its 19th c. formal language and long-winded, though delightful, descriptions of the Alm. Why would we not want to nourish our children’s brain with good language and excellent material? It took Klara time on the mountain, drinking the herb-enriched milk, breathing the pure air and soaking up the sunshine before she was strong enough to walk on her own. It may take some time reading the classics to our own children before they learn to love the language, the dignity, and higher thought processes afforded by real literature, but when they can stand on their own two legs and pick up a classic to read by themselves for the pure pleasure of it, won’t the time have been worth it? So go through your bookshelves and don’t be afraid to throw out those fakes, those re-creations designed for commercial-length attention spans, and read a classic to your child. Just be sure and look for “original and unabridged” on the cover.

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