History

Book Review: Robinson Crusoe

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I never thought I would enjoy Robinson Crusoe.

Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe was assigned in a literature class I am taking this year as the second book of the semester. I entered into it with a slight sense of dread, trying to temper that with the hope that it wouldn’t be as bad as I thought it might. After all, how could a book with a single character for the majority of the story be interesting?

Much to my pleasure, Robinson Crusoe showed me.

Rather than purely an adventure story (though there is plenty of adventure both before and during Crusoe’s island stay), Robinson Crusoe is the exploration of a man’s heart.

At the beginning of the book, Crusoe is a headstrong young man. He would rather have his way than listen to the pleading and reasoning of his parents. So he goes to sea. After a few mishaps (and some good fortune), Crusoe is the only man to survive a storm at sea and is deposited on his island for most of the remainder of the book.

And this is the point where I believed I would lose interest and have to start forcing myself to read. But once the physical journey of Crusoe’s life slows, Defoe begins to emphasize the spiritual journey.

Being left alone on an island leads to plenty of hours for introspection. Fortunately for Crusoe, a few Bibles were preserved from the storm and he begins to read them, having never done so seriously before. From there, Crusoe surrenders his life to Christ. He is made into a new man and now sees his island as God’s providence rather than his own ill fortune.

Robinson Crusoe had its dull moments, of course. But overall, Defoe wrote a satisfying and convicting spiritual story. Often, when Crusoe recognized sin in himself, I came to see the same within my life. Unlike in many other stories however, Crusoe turned to repentance and Scripture at such turning points rather than his own intelligence or even depression.

Daniel Defoe’s classic adventure novel holds the treasure of biblical truth which the majority of books today fail to follow. Without waxing on about the depravity and darkness of most of today’s literature (if it can be so called), I will only say that the clear acknowledgement of God in Robinson Crusoe gave me great pleasure to read.

As to whether I would recommend this book, I would say yes. Read it. Push through the boring parts because there is truth and excitement just around the corner. Besides, it does us modern readers good to stretch our attention spans every once in a while. Especially for such a worthy book.

Kira

Staircase to Hell

One quick thing before today’s post:

I was published on the Rebelution this week! If you remember my post on complaining from a few weeks ago, they published it on their site under the name 5 Things I Learned on My Quest to Stop Complaining.

And now on to our regularly scheduled program. This week’s post is a short story I wrote based off of Dante’s Inferno (an epic poem about Dante’s journey through Hell on his way to Purgatory and, finally, Heaven). Please keep in mind this is all fiction and everything written here was done so on caffiene and with tongue firmly in cheek. My own mini epic is entitled…

Staircase to Hell

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Forgetting a flashlight was my first mistake. Locking myself in was my second. I hadn’t meant to forget to prop the door open, but there you have it. The cellar was pitch black and smelled of wet cats. And I was stuck in it.

I banged on the door and yelled for a few seconds, despite knowing that no one else was home. It was just me and long dead wet cats for the next couple hours. Counting my blessings that I wasn’t scared of the dark, I settled onto the top stair with my back against the door and closed my eyes. Someone would be home soon.

Minutes ticked by – or maybe hours. The darkness morphed the time. I yawned and twisted around to get comfortable, to no avail.

Something at the bottom of the staircase flickered, just for an instant. I rubbed my eyes. Ridiculous. It was too dark to see.

But no. There it was again. A short flicker, then it died out. I rose to my feet and descended, running my hand along the wall to keep my bearings. The flicker came back and stayed. Was it my imagination, or were there a lot more stairs than I remembered?

I kept walking, down and down, the fiery light welcoming me in as I stepped deeper into the ground – for underground I must be. The steps kept going.

“Hello, my dear.” I screamed at the hissing whisper in my ear. I might not be afraid of the dark, but sudden silky voices out of nowhere do have an effect on me.

The echoing voice laughed and a figure shimmered into being in front of me.

“Surprise you, did I?”

“Who are you?” I was determined not to show my fear. Why did the man’s body waver like that in the heat?

“I am the Fuhrer. Surely you have heard of me!” He straightened up and somehow managed to look down his nose at me, despite being a few steps below.

“Hitler?”

He made an irritated noise in his throat. “Fuhrer will do. I am here to guide you through the depths of Hell. Your God has determined you should see it, and I am to accompany you.”

“Through Hell?” Fear was replaced by shock. Surely I couldn’t have heard correctly.

“Yes, Fraulein. Lass uns gehen.” He reached for my hand and all went dark again.

When I could see again, we were no longer on the staircase. Flickering fluorescent lights glinted off of miles of splotchy tiled floor. Every few feet, what I assumed to be a soul covered its ears and wailed. Each was surrounded by demons. Some only two or three. Others ten or twelve. The demons crowded in close, vying for attention. Some screeched, others laughed, and more babbled incoherent words.

“What is this place?” I had to yell above the noise.

“Why don’t you ask one of the shades themselves?” the Fuhrer suggested.

I looked around and chose a soul with only four demons surrounding it. “Who are you? And why are you here?” I shouted.

The soul raised its eyes to meet mine and groaned. “I am a nobody. You would not know my name should you hear it. But I spent all my life as the cause of agony for those who work for hourly wages. I gave no one my full attention, but talked on the phone while checking out, fixed my mascara while ordering food, and made countless cashiers wait to hand me change so that I might only finish replying to a text.”

I took a step back as one of the demons screamed to my right.

“That doesn’t seem so bad,” I yelled.

“Ooohhhh! I didn’t think so either. But I didn’t value the image of the Great One within the people I ignored. I considered their needs as nothing and my own distractions as monumental when I should have placed them above myself.”

I backed away and re-joined Hitler.

“Do they suffer like this forever?”

“Yes. For all eternity they must endure the demons all crying for their attention since they were so willing to divide it on earth. Kommen Sie hier. We have more to see.” He took my hand and the blackness returned.

This time the darkness cleared to reveal that we were in a hedge maze. The bushes towered high above on either side, closing us in. An assortment of animal like sounds, including the occasional human scream, rang through the air.

“What punishment is this?” I took a few steps forward, but retreated as the bushes just ahead rustled. Footsteps pounded the earth, coming nearer.

“Why don’t you ask Mr. King?”

A soul appeared from around the corner of the maze. He stopped abruptly at the sight of us standing there. He took off his glasses and rubbed them on his shirt, looking over his shoulder with terror in his eyes.

I leaned closer to get a better look at him. “Are – are you Stephen King?”

“Yes.” He glanced around, every muscle tensed.

“What are you doing here?”

“In life, as I’m sure you know, I wrote horror. I became deliriously famous and wealthy. But that good fortune came only at the expense of my readers. I preyed off of their fears – their terror provided my daily bread.”

“And your punishment is running through a maze?”

“My eternal burden is confinement to this labyrinth with the creatures of my creation. Every book I wrote, every movie adaptation. The monsters are here. Each of us in this place is given our own such arena.”

Something screeched nearby and Mr. King jumped. “I must go!” He vanished around the corner.

“I’ve seen enough,” I said.

“Oh, Fraulein…there is so much more!” The Fuhrer spread his arms wide and laughed.

“Take me back!” The screeching was coming closer.

“If you insist.” He grabbed my hand and the darkness fell.

I had never been so relieved to find myself alone in the black cellar. I leaned back against the wall, breathing hard, thanking God that it was over and determined to never forget a flashlight again.

Kira

Please Read the Gospels

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Have you ever heard a story that you loved so much you could listen to it over and over again? Is there a book that you’ve worn through from so many re-readings? A movie with scratches on the disc because you have to watch it again?

Stories are incredible and many of them are so good that we could experience them again and again without growing bored. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched The Princess Bride or Annie. Whinnie the Pooh never gets old and Narnia will always have a special place in my heart.

But even those stories can wear down some eventually. I have to take a break between Doctor Who marathons and Lord of the Rings can only be seen so often.

But there is one story that is just as awe-inspiring and moving no matter how many times you read it. The gospel feels just as fresh the first time as the thirtieth, as we see our sin and then see what Christ went through to save us from it.

I’ve been reading through Luke for my morning devotions and I love to read all the stories of Jesus’s ministry again. The two that stand out, though, are His birth, and His crucifixion and resurrection.

My soul magnifies the Lord along with Mary and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior (Luke 1:46-47).  How could Christ have humbled Himself so much and been willing to suffer so much just so that I could be with Him? How could anyone love me that much?

And yet, God does love me that much. He loves all of His children that much. And the four Gospel accounts are refreshingly full of that love.

It seems simple to read through the Gospels over and over again. Shouldn’t more mature Christians be studying other parts of the Bible? We already understand salvation.

But the Gospel is the basis of Christianity. It is Christianity. They are encouraging and lovely and convicting and beautiful all at once.

Don’t forget to read the Gospels. Don’t forget the most important story ever told.

Kira

What’s your favorite part of the Gospels?

Why I Read Old Books (and like them)

Let me start by apologizing for going AWOL for the past couple months. I’m back and I’m working to find a blogging schedule that isn’t interrupted by the rest of my life. Now, onto the post…

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Have you ever read Chaucer? Dickens? Thucydides? I have. Granted, all of these examples were for school, but I am glad of the chance to consume such literature.

A common problem in many readers today is that of reading only recently published books. But (and I am generalizing here) many of those books are shallow. They contain love triangles, vampires, and dead parents. Especially in books written for teenagers, the writing itself is simple and contains small words. The plot is straightforward and the characters have no crushing moral dilemma beyond whether it is socially acceptable to date whichever attractive person they are desperately in love with.

Now look at old books. Yes, some of them do contain these elements. Jane Eyre is quite the love triangle. But it is more than that. It is a young woman’s journey of growing up and learning what sacrificial love really is. It contains rich dialogue, deep characters, and a morally gripping plot.

Old books not only use more complicated sentences and bigger words (offering wonderful exercise for the brain), they also bring us into the thoughts and ideals of people in the past. Charles Dickens wrote about the French Revolution in A Tale of Two Cities, giving a story of political tumult and redemption which combined many plots into a rich climax. He offered his perspective on the revolution through his characters and his storytelling.

Of course, so far, I have only mentioned novels of a few hundred years ago. But the nonfiction is just important, even though those books may be a bit more dull than their fiction counterparts at times. The Federalist and Antifederalist Papers show us the discussions and disagreements between some of the core founders of the United States. The History of the Kings of Britain shows both the complicated history of Britain and the political corruption (and purity) in some major players in said history.

The theological books are, yet again, powerful and offer insights into the early history of the church. Eusebius gives us a thorough Ecclesiastical History, as does Bede. Augustine wrote countless books on different aspects of theology and the Christian life. He examined the kingdom of God in The City of God; he wrote his own testimony in Confessions; he looked at some basic Christian truths in On Faith, Hope, and Love (the Enchiridion). Calvin wrote almost too much to read in his Institutes of the Christian Religion and while we may not agree with everything these theological giants believed, they were pivotal in the development of the church and fighting the heresies of their day.

Old books offer us wisdom that recent books are unable to provide. They put at our fingertips the knowledge of the ages and the ideas and records of thousands of years. Old books are priceless. They enrich us.

Let me leave with the the advice of the great writer C. S. Lewis in his introduction to Athanasius’s On the Incarnation:

“It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.” (full introduction here)

Go forth and read!

Kira

What’s the last old book you read? What did you learn from it?