Classics for the Young: Junior High Literature

Simone Weil, a noted Jewish philosopher, remarked, “Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.” Whereas many Hollywood films offer this imaginary glamour of evil and dullness of virtue, Hans Christian Andersen’s genius as a storyteller captures the glorious, adventurous drama of a real life of goodness that is filled with wonder and marvels. In stories like “The Little Mermaid,” “The Snow Queen,” and “The Traveling Companion,” Andersen captures the essence of goodness as a small seed buried in the earth—a seed that in time produces a bountiful harvest that surpasses all expectations. The doer of a good deed should forget it, but it is not forgotten because it accompanies him like a best friend.

Classics for the Young: Middle School Literature

In A Wonder Book and The Tanglewood Tales Hawthorne retells some of the famous classical myths in an imaginative and charming style that captures the universality and moral wisdom of the stories and expresses the beauty of goodness and the ugliness of evil. He retells these favorites: “The Minotaur,” “The Pygmies,” “The Dragon’s Teeth,” “Circe’s Palace,” “The Pomegranate Seeds,” and “The Golden Fleece.” In “The Pygmies,” for example, Hawthorne portrays not only the littleness of the creatures only six inches in height but also depicts the smallness of their minds and the narrow-mindedness of their thinking. Smallness of mind means selfishness, pettiness, quarreling, and revenge. Living next to their neighbor, the giant Antaeus, who possesses “more strength on his little finger than in ten million of such bodies as theirs,” the Pygmies receive many benefits from the good-natured giant’s friendship. Antaeus with the breath of his mighty lungs moves the windmills, with the shadow of his great bulk provides shade in the summer, and with the size of his outstretched body offers a playground for the children “dodging in and out among his hair” and “running races on his forehead.” The gigantic Antaeus, however, is not only large in body but also great in mind, a magnanimous hero who overlooks all the irritations the Pygmies inflict upon him. He is large-minded enough to forgive and forget, to tolerate no grudges, and to ignore the impertinent behavior of the Pygmies who imagine themselves more intelligent than the giant.

Ever Ancient, Ever New #3

“It is not enough that your actions are good. You must take care that they appear so.” In Henry Fielding’s novel Tom Jones, the wise Squire Allworthy offers this advice to the young who are often negligent of the importance of manners, public appearances, and first impressions.

Truth in Fiction

I have been honored and privileged over the past few years to speak at homeschool conferences across the United States and Canada. The key element in all of my talks, and the theme that binds them together, is that Western Civilization is a specifically Christian inheritance that it is the duty of parents to pass on to their children. Indeed, a failure on the part of parents to nourish their children with the cultural fruits of Christendom is tantamount to starving them of the cultural and spiritual sustenance that they need to survive as Catholics in a darkly secular world.