Friday, April 29, 2016

Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan

Once upon a time (when each household had only one or two books), Pilgrim's Progress was the most widely read book apart from the Bible. A Christian classic worthy of the name, it tells the story of Christian's journey from this sinful world to heaven and the heavy price one must pay to remain faithful. No wonder this title has gone out of fashion!

If I needed any proof that the internet has fried my brain, this book convinced me. I've read it three times in the last thirty years and I've never before struggled with the archaic language. This time my shortened attention span made it a struggle to plow through. Don't get me wrong. I still loved it, but I really had to make an effort to persevere to the end.

Occasionally I would compare my hard copy of the original to the updated version I found on Kindle. The newer version has four big advantages. First, the actual scriptures are included (rather than just the references). Second, the editor has taken the stilted dialogue and made the prose flow much more smoothly. Third, the original illustrations are included. (My version did not have them.) And, four, the updated version is divided into chapters. My hardcopy had no breaks, which added to my inability to feel like I was making headway.

If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know that I am no fan of dumbed-down language, but here the rich language is only slightly modified.

original: This miry slough is a place that cannot be mended; it is the descent whither the scum and filth that attends conviction for sin doth continually run, and therefore it is called the Slough of Despond; for still, as the sinner is awakened about his lost condition, there ariseth in his soul many fears, and doubts, and discouraging apprehensions, which all of them get together, and settle in this place. (p.16)

updated: This miry slough is a place that can't be repaired. It is a low-lying place where the scum and filth that come with the conviction of sin drains and collects as the traveling sinner becomes aware of his lost condition. It is the fears, doubts, and discouraging apprehensions about oneself that arise in his soul.

Some of my favorite lines -

[Hypocrites] do puzzle the world, blemish Christianity, and grieve the sincere. (p. 100)

Christian's response to prosperity preaching: You must also own religion in his rags, as well as in his silver slippers; and stand by him, too, when bound in irons, as well as when he walketh the streets with applause. (p. 119)

On pride: Let us not be tickled with thoughts of our own manhood. (p. 156)

There is a marvelous section on reasons for backsliding, one of them being, "they seem to be hot for heaven, so long as the flames of hell are about their ears, yet when that terror is a little over, they betake themselves to second thoughts." (182)

Amazon has three free versions: The slightly modernized version mentioned above, a children's version (which I have not read) and the original. For someone with no familiarity to the story in it's old-fashioned language, I highly recommend the newer edition. Every Christian should be familiar with this classic of English literature.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Men of Iron by Howard Pyle

When our sons were small we read them an abridged version of Men of Iron. They loved the scrapes that Myles Falsworth got into as a boy and also the battles he fought as an adult. When I saw it on sale at Audible, I decided to give the full-length book a try.

Men of Iron is a swash-buckling tale of 13th Century knights. The title refers to their armor, but also to the molding of the character of our hero, Myles. Richard II has been deposed and King Henry IV is enthroned.  Conspirators against Henry have been killed. Myles' father had been a faithful counselor to King Richard, but had no part in the conspiracies against the new king. Nevertheless he is branded a traitor and loses his position and his lands. Myles spends his life seeking to regain his father's honor.

Although occasionally verbose, the language is beautiful. A sample from chapter 28:

Myles went to France with Lord George. He was there for only six months, but those six months brought a great change in his life. In the fierce battles and the evil life which he saw in the Burgundian court - a court brilliant, wicked, witty and cruel - the wonderful liquor of youth had evaporated rapidly and his character had crystalized as quickly into the hardness of manhood. The warfare, the blood, and the evil pleasures which he had seen had been a fiery crucible test to his soul. And I love my hero that he should have come forth through it so well.

Modern readers may have difficulty understanding the need for men "to fight to the death" for their honor. Others may find it difficult to read a book with few female characters. It is not a romance, though Howard Pyle ends the book with, So Myles was married so how else shall the story end? 

I loved the gentle rhythm of each carefully crafted sentence. I appreciated Pyle's emphasis on manliness and nobility of character. And I relished the excellent narration by Robert Whitfield.

(Librivox has a free version with a mixed bag of readers, some of who have southern accents, which definitely does not fit the tone of this work of British historical fiction.)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Happy Birthday, Charlotte Brontë!

April 21, 2016 marks the 200th birthday of author Charlotte Brontë. I owe her a tremendous debt for introducing me to great literature when I discovered Jane Eyre in the 8th grade.

Some links for Brontë lovers:

The Life of Charlotte Brontë by Elizabeth Gaskell (99 cents)

Jane Eyre on Kindle Free

Jane Eyre at Audible, read by the wonderful Juliet Stevenson

Friday, April 15, 2016

Free for Kindle - Vintage Fiction

Last summer I wrote a post blasting poorly written romance novels. But I often enjoy light-hearted stories in between heavier ones, so where do I look? Below is a list  of authors of "light novels" who have stood the test of time and who write beautifully. ("Vintage" is a label I give to writers who are post-Victorian and pre-modern. Be forewarned. Some of their books are sappier than others.) I've listed the titles I've enjoyed below.

Authors available for free on Kindle:

Gene Stratton Porter (Girl of the Limberlost, and others)
French mystery writer Maurice LeBlanc (Arsene Lupin and others)
Kathleen Thompson Norris (The Rich Mrs. Burgoyne and others)
Joseph Crosby Lincoln (Cape Cod Stories, etc.)
Harold Bell Wright (The Calling of Dan Matthews,etc.)
James Oliver Curwood (The Courage of Marge O'Doone, etc.)
Grace Richmond (The Brown Study, etc.)
O. Douglas (Penny Plain, etc)
Frances Hodgson Burnett (The Secret Garden, etc.)

Vintage authors with less flowery language (whose books cost money)

Elizabeth Goudge (The Dean's Watch is my favorite.)
D.E. Stevenson (Miss Buncle's Book is a good place to start.)
Miss Read (The Fairacre Series)

Do you have any suggestions? Any opinions on the authors listed? My friend, Carol, reads classic children's lit for her light reading, which is another great way to rest your mind, while still avoiding drivel.

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Harold Fry has retired from the brewery and potters through his days avoiding his hostile wife and his painful memories. When he receives a letter from an old acquaintance who is on her death bed, he decides to visit her. By walking 600 miles. This journey will change his life and the lives of many around him.

There are many things to love about this book: the quietly eloquent writing, Harold's faithfulness, the raw honesty of many of the characters, and the balance of heartache and hopefulness. And, of course, "the gorilla man."

A sample from Chapter Fifteen: He had faced his shortcomings and overcome them. And so the real business of walking was happening only now. . . He was no longer afraid. If anything, he was more sure. . . . His walk had become a battle against himself and he had failed [with injuries and false expectations]. Now he followed a set of gentle stretching exercises each morning and rested every two hours. He stopped to study the plants and to treat his blisters. Once more it surprised him how much was at his feet if only he had known to look.

As he learns to pay more attention to his own bodily rhythms and the world's natural beauty, he also learns compassion for his fellow pilgrims.

Harold walked with these strangers and listened. He had learned that it was the smallness of people that had filled him with wonder and tenderness. And the loneliness of that too. The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other. And a life might appear ordinary simply because the person living it had done so for a long time. To Harold every person began to look the same as well as unique. This was the dilemma of being human. It was as if all his life he had been waiting to get up from his chair. . . .

My love for the book is not unequivocal. The short, very strong outbursts of profanity rankled me more than usual because I was listening to the audiobook and these words tended to play and replay in my mind. And faith in God is gently ridiculed throughout.

Still, even with the presence of profanity and the absence of Bible verses, Joyce has written a book that Christian authors can emulate. It's a powerful story of brokenness and the longing for redemption. I'm only sorry the ending was as shallow as it was, with it's fluffy ideas about death and the hereafter.

Even with its imperfections, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a wonderful look at the beauty and fragility of humanity and man's deep-seated need for love and meaning. If you can stomach the vulgar language, I highly recommend the version expertly done by Jim