Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Ivory Cubicle | What's In A Book?

Every year, after fall has started its swing, the leaves have begun to turn, and the students at the nearby college have begun to settle into their semesterly routine, the town of Purcellville holds an annual, town-wide tag sale. Part of this yearly tradition involves a massive deployment of wide-eyed college students to the library, ready to snag relics of Western Civilization for a fraction of their cost. For a mere fee of 50 cents to a dollar (assuming, of course, you get there before your professor's wife does), you can stand with the Greek heroes on the battlefield of Troy, marvel at the night sky through the eyes of the medievals, descend with Dante through the fiery depths of hell, only to pass through the purgatorial fires to the heights of the celestial spheres.

I love books. There's something about cracking open the aged spine of Thomas a Kempis' The Imitation of Christ, immersing yourself in the courtesy and high chivalry of Chretien de Troyes Arthurian Romances, or being reminded of every single, wealthy man's universal need for a wife in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

I think part of the reason I like books is because they continue to ring true. Nothing makes me to throw down the gauntlet like a person who declares that, say, The Lord of the Rings isn't real. That's not to say that the events of the narrative actually occurred, or that Aragorn himself strode across the plains of this world to reclaim his rightful place as king of men. But when Tolkien breaks down and re-assembles various pieces of human nature (he would call it “sub-creating”), we see truths that are transcendent and absolute brought into sharp relief as they endure across every realm of possibility.

By taking human nature, picking it apart, and putting back together in fantastic and otherworldy realms, we clear away the mundane familiarities of this world so that we can clearly see the bravery, the integrity, the cowardice, and the deception of our heroes and villains. We see the vices of human nature magnified in goblins, sorcerers and tyrants, we see courage strained to the uttermost as our knight slays his dragon, we see the simple comforts of life enjoyed by a score of hobbits at a long-expected party.

But however much the sub-creator might invent new races, lands, weapons and artifacts, he remains governed by a universal moral law that endures across all human experience. He can never rise above that moral law and impose his own standard of morality, because when he does so, he's driving against the grain of the law of God written upon the hearts of man.

Well, I'm not sure that you all need any further motivation to pick up a book. I do want to hear from you guys though. What's your favorite book, and why do you love it?

by Nick Barden


  1. Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis. Fantastic defense of why God and suffering can co-exist.

  2. Firstly. Your book sale is lame. I've gotten 80 books for $3 before.
    Secondly. Thomas A'Kempis was one of those books. Its aged spine was worth more than its contents.
    Thirdly. LOTR taught me why I loved books too. I liked your description. *nods*
    Fourthly. In answer to your question, one of my favorite books is Hinds Feet on High Places (similar concept to Pilgrims Progress). It paints a beautiful picture of God equipping His crippled followers to leap and run into glorious things.
    Fifthly. Is the same true for movies? If so, is there any difference?

    1. *Thomas A'Kempis was good, just not what I expected after hearing it so praised in other books. And it promotes itself too much, which turned me off. It's worth the read certainly.

  3. Here is my top books list. ;) or my list of books that are deff worth your time reading. :)

    Emma by Jane Austen
    Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
    Christian Atheist, Weird, and Chazown- all by Craig Groeschel
    Pilgrim's Regress by C.S. Lewis
    Screwtape letters by C.S. Lewis
    Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller

    Ok, so anything by C.S. Lewis. :p

    My Favorite Book? Oy Vey. Probably for a single book it'd have to be Emma by Jane Austen (with P&P in a close second)Emma is the most real heroin of Austen's, she makes mistakes and learns from them. There are times I could slap the girl while reading, at the end you love her for who she is because she is human and learns from her mistakes. :) Fav Series is Narnia, hands down. Why? Because it's awesome :D Current favorite author is Craig Groeschel.

    Andddd I have a confession... I haven't read LOTR... I did read the Hobbit in 6th grade as part of my sonlight core.... Though, I have seen the extended edition movies thanks to friends at college who wouldn't take me to the Hobbit till I saw the trilogy. :p Does that make me a bad homeschooler? :p

  4. Danni, I have that sitting on my bookshelf in my room, but haven't actually gotten to it yet. I hear it's one of his more intellectually oriented works. Glad you liked it. It's Lewis, so it's gotta be good. :)

    Leah, I think the prices might be due to the cost of living in Northern Virginia. ;) I actually was thinking about mentioning something about movies, since it's an emerging field. The medium of film has its own constraints, there are some things that can't be transferred from book to screen, and vice versa, but I think it's still true. Films are narratives that can be crafted by writers to emphasize certain universal truths. I recently watched the new Les Miserables and my favorite scene in the movie was the death of Javert. The author used the character of Javert as a representation of attempting to earn salvation by obedience to the law, and rightly concluded that when justification by the law came into contact with the mercy (represented by Jean Valjean), the law must die. It's a universal truth that is emphasized by magnifying certain aspects of human experience narrative, so it definitely falls into that category.

    Sara, well, I've read Mere Christianity and Screwtape Letters. My sister keeps recommending Emma to me, but I'm trying to get through de Troyes Arthurian Romances right now, and then from there onto a History of the Kings of Britain and Spenser's Faerie Queen. Narnia is great, I especially like that it's children literature, but engaging for older audiences as well. And...well...I would suggest rectifying your lack of LotRness as soon as possible, but I don't think it makes you a bad homeschooler. ;)

    So, I'm planning on following up this column with an article next week on classic literature. What do you guys think?

  5. Haha fair enough. Massive library sales are the best. ;)
    Mm. Yeah, true. A lot of what you said about LOTR the book is true of LOTR the movie as well. Whenever you guys review movies you're calling to attention the universal truths you see in the movies, same as you would the books. Is it harder for a movie to get those truths communicated in such a way that viewers will notice them, because movie-watchers tend not to be thinking as much as readers? (not a loaded question at all)

    If you convince me to read more classic literature I will be impressed. =P I have trouble getting myself to read fiction at all..

  6. I've always loved ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ because it taught me to never give up, no matter how delusional you are. Also I liked the philosophy that repeating something over and over and over again, no matter how crazed, or even wrong your ideas are, there is still hope in making someone believe you, or at least try your idea just to get you to shut up. The life lesson that book taught me is, persistence, it works.
    Are you my mother, is another fantastic book. It taught me never to talk to strangers and ask them odd questions, such as "Are you my mother" First of all, the person you are asking might turn out to be a serial killer with your name on his/her list. Second; it creeps people out to have kids ask them if they're your mother, esp. asking a teenage girl, its rather awkward for them.Thirdly; don't leave your eggs home alone, get an egg-sitter or someone just in case a bird decides to hatch. Seriously, don't ask a stranger if they happen to be your mom, and don't talk to strangers.
    Thirdly, my favorite book by far would be "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish" its very interesting to study the different things it mentions. Also it makes a good book to write a review on.
    I'll finish my response with this; Lord of The Rings is boring. "I said what I said and I meant what I said...". Call me a traitor to homeschooling, but I can't stand lord of the rings. God Bless -J

  7. Some books I am reaading right now and I love them are the Peleg Chronicles, written by Matthew Christian Harding. Other books I love are the Kingdoms series and the knights of Arethtrae, by Chuck Black. As for movies, I am going to see the Hobbit this Saturday. Can't wait! But as for LOTR, my Mom won't let me watch those, because of the magic. I used to watch them years ago, but now she won't let me. Lately I've been trying to tell her they are based on a christian perspective, but she still doesn't like the idea of them. If anyone could help convince her, that would be great!

  8. J, I LOL-ed...well, actually, I laughed on the inside, at your comment.

    Caleb, I've heard people mention the Peleg Chronicles, but I'm not too familiar with them. What are they about? Are they any good? Let me know what you think of the Hobbit.

  9. Well, all I can say is thay are very good books, and I would strongly encourage you to read them. And I will definitely let you know how I like the Hobbit. How did you like it??? As for LOTR, do you know any ways to help convince my Mom about them??? Any papers written on them, or if you could write out why you think they are okay, that would be even better. My Mom really thinks highly of HSLDA and GenJ. Plus I am probably going to Igovern east this year, so if she trusts you guys to be guiding my ideas not only on politics, but on spritual things too, she would probably have second thoughts about it. Thanks!!!

  10. Caleb, I really liked the Hobbit. I love how Peter Jackson drew a lot from some of Tolkien's supporting works, like the History of Middle Earth, in crafting the story. The magic and literature discussion is a very big issue, and there's plenty of arguments on both sides. I'm actually planning on writing a column here soon about the topic, but I just wanted to be clear that it's definitely most important to listen to your parents if they decide that they don't approve of literature involving magic. Also, just wanted to clarify that the views in my column are not necessarily the views of Generation Joshua.

  11. Yeah, this is the only thing I really want to watch with magic, because I believe it is different then say, Harry Potter which I am totally against. And that makes sense what you said :) I've kind of come to realize that, and I'm sure you know, that sin doesn't start all at once, it happens little by little. And in that sense I don't want to start watching things with magic, because then I will keep getting more and more comfortable with it, which I totally don't want. I'm sure you understand what I am saying, and thanks for the advice :) Me and my brothers actually decided to go see the Hobbit tonight, so I'm pretty excited about that :) Plus I will get to drive, to day I turned 15 1/2 so I can drive with soemone over 25 now!!! I'm pretty happy!!!

  12. Well, I went to see the Hobbit last night :) I thought it was really good. I think it is funny how the original Hobbit was only like an hour long or something, and this was 3 hours, and it only covered 1/3 of the story. Haha so that makes it have about 9 times more stuff in it by the time all three movies are made. I never read the books, but I liked how they stuck to what was in the original. (if only they had "the greatest adventure" it would have just made the movie better.) One thing I didn't like was how the orcs weren't nearly as scary as in the Lord of the Rings. They kind of dumbed them down, which I didn't like. But overall, it was a good movie!