Friday, October 24, 2014

The Saint Books by Leslie Charteris

My apologies to anyone who bought Enter the Saint based on my raves in an earlier post. This was a very early entry in the series (1930) and the writer was still developing his hero. (Initially, an adolescent James Bond type.) The only other Saint book I've read has been Follow the Saint (1938), which I enjoyed much more. The truth is that I came to love the Saint stories via movies and old radio shows long before I discovered the so-so novels.

Leslie Charteris began writing the books in 1928 and continued until 1963. The suave, wise-cracking Robin Hood figure caught the imagination of the American public, spawning movies (with the inimitable George Sanders), copycat movies (also with Sanders) , comic books, radio shows (superbly done by a young Vincent Price), and a popular T.V. series with Roger Moore. The regrettable 1997 film character (played by Val Kilmer) bears no resemblance to the original debonair protagonist.

Simon Templar (S.T. = saint) is a droll sophisticate who follows his own code. Like Zorro and the Scarlet Pimpernel he is a "good guy" who is on the wrong side of the law. His mix of worldliness, boyishness and  good humor endeared him to gazillions of fans. Charteris describes him as a "flippant dandy with the heart of a crusader, a fighter who laughed as he fought, the reckless, smiling swashbuckler, the inspired and beloved leader of men..." (p. 123)

In the afterward to Enter the Saint, Ian Dickerson explains why the series was so popular: Aside from the charm and ability of Charteris´ storytelling, the stories, particularly those published in the first half of the ´30s are full of energy and joi de vivre. With economic depression rampant, the public at large wanted escapism. And the public got what they wanted in the chain-smoking, elegant outlaw. And in spite of the smoking and drinking (which were considered highly glamorous), there's a lot of good clean fun. Apart from Templar, my favorite character in the books is the homely, down-to-earth Inspector Teal who is a perfect foil to the reckless gallant.

(Be forewarned that the books and films contain stereotypes that were common in the '30s and '40s.)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Free E-book on C.S. Lewis

Coffee, Tea, Books and Me linked to a free title that sounds really good: Alive to Wonder: Celebrating the Influence of C. S. Lewis.

It is made available at and there are several other free titles (all by John Piper). Worth a look.

While I'm on the subject of Brenda's blog, I want to give a shout out to her excellent post on "Why Bother?" In it she makes a case for taking the extra time (and money and energy) to make something beautiful even when you know that beauty won't always last.

Here's one quote: We bother because every instance we have to choose between getting by and making Beauty, we choose that part of us which is in the image of God. We choose... life.

Thank you, Brenda, for always sharing your life with such grace.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Value of Fairy Tales - Part Two

When I wrote about the value of fairy tales in my last post, I was not referring to the Disney versions. I am not thrilled with the messages that most of those stories convey of ignoring your parents to follow your heart (Little Mermaid, Aladdin, etc.) and female  empowerment (Mulan and Brave). Nor do I support the Princess mentality that says girls are entitled to bling and pampering.

Which brings me back to The Sleeping Beauty. In the version by C.S. Evans, we have an antidote to the fluff mentioned above. As the fairies give their gifts to the long-awaited baby, the third fairy gives virtue. "And the queen nodded her head and smiled, for though she esteemed beauty and cleverness, she knew that neither was of any worth without goodness of heart."

The above quote is one of many examples of the story´s rich language. Here is another: The king's decree required that all spinning wheels, whether they be worked by hand or by treadle or by any other device, together with all spindles, shuttles, bobbins, and all other accessories or appurtenances, shall forthwith be rendered up to the officers of the King. (Hooray for books without dumbed-down language!)

Not only was the story well-written and slyly humorous, it was morally uplifting. It effortlessly dealt with eternal truths such as:

1) We were made for happy endings. No, this is not the same as saying life will have no problems. We live in a sinful world, but Christians are called to be hope-ers. We believe God's power is available to help us overcome struggles and that even with less-than perfect lives, life is a gift worth living. And because we have eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11), no earthly pleasure will truly satisfy  us. We were made for more.

2) We were made to await a bridegroom. Not everyone will get married and live happily ever after, but the key theme of fairy tales is still a biblical one. We were created to live in intimate fellowship with God. This begins on earth when we believe in Christ for salvation, but will culminate when He comes back for his pure and spotless bride. (Revelations 19:7-9, II Corinthians 11:2)

3) We were made to be virtuous. We were created in the image of God and meant to be holy. When Adam and Eve sinned, we were robbed of our heritage. Salvation and sanctification are what God uses to slowly restore what was lost.

Who knew there could be so much theology in fairy tales!?

There are many versions of the fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk, but my favorite highlights goodness of heart. While the huge giant (with his enormously long legs) is chasing after the little, helpless boy, we are amazed that Jack can outrun him, but the narrator quickly explains, "Jack was not a bit afraid, for he saw the giant was so tipsy he could hardly stand, much less run; and he himself had young legs and a clear conscience, which carry a man a long way."

A nice, free source for fairy tales for Kindle is Andrew Lang´s The Blue Fairy BookThe version is only 99 cents.

Any thoughts? Comments? Story recommendations?

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Value of Fairy Tales - Part One

I just finished reading The Sleeping Beauty, which was a poignant reminder of how much I love fairy tales. Why would a 50-something, no-nonsense mom/teacher/missionary who hates sappy books and gushy movies, have a yen for this kind of thing? Aren´t fairy tales unrealistic and unhealthy?

Both G. K Chesterton and C. S. Lewis believed in the power of story to transmit eternal truths. Some would argue that fairy tales are hogwash. (In my early years as a homeschooler I read many diatribes against them.) But I tend to agree with Victorian author Juliana Ewing who wrote:

Fairy tales have positive uses in education, which no cramming of facts, and no merely domestic fiction can serve. Like Proverbs and Parables, they deal with first principles under the simplest forms. They convey knowledge of the world, shrewd lessons of virtue and vice, of common sense and sense of humor, of the seemly and the absurd, of pleasure and pain, success and failure. . . . They treat not the corner of a nursery or a playground, but the world at large, of forces visible and invisible, of Life, Death, and Immortality.

If you read my post on On The Shoulders of Hobbits, you will remember the quote on how politically correct stories have taken the place of  fairy tales. Now instead of virtues such as courage, honesty, and self-sacrifice, we are starving our children´s moral imaginations by teaching them that the highest virtues are tolerance, multiculturalism and environmentalism. Ugh.

Obviously, not all fairy tales are created equal and discerning parents must choose carefully. Hans Christian Anderson is often too dark for my tastes (even though I know the deaths in his stories mirror the self-sacrificing love of Christ). Some versions of Rapunzel have her getting pregnant out of wedlock; other stories deal with problems such as injustice (Cinderella), abandonment (Hansel and Gretel), cruelty, greed and imprisonment (Rapunzel). But it is in the context of these stories that children learn that evil can be overcome. As Chesterton so famously said, Children know that "dragons" (evil) exist. Fairy stories tell them that dragons can be killed. (paraphrase from Tremendous Trifles)

My next post will go into more detail of the lush prose and spiritual imagery of Charles Evan´s version of Sleeping Beauty.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist

One of my favorite books of the year has been Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist (reviewed here) so I was happy to nab one of her previous books, Bittersweet, when it went on sale for Kindle.

 Bittersweet is the practice of believing that we really do need both the bitter and the sweet, and that a life of nothing but sweetness rots both your teeth and your soul. Bitter is what makes us strong, what forces us to push through. . . . Sweet is nice enough, but bittersweet is beautiful, nuanced, full of depth and complexity. Bittersweet is courageous, gutsy, earthy. (p. 11)

Niequist writes of her struggles after job loss, miscarriage, moves and other challenges with a quirkiness and vulnerability that are appealing. I totally "get" her confession about standing in front of the refrigerator and inhaling cold pizza before a writing deadline. I, too, am a nervous wreck before beginning any major project.

She emphasizes the longings we all have and the grace that heals our brokenness. She mercilessly exposes the reasons why we try to "fix" our husbands ("we want the other person to grow because it suits our own needs better") and why we are always running on empty ("because of my insistence that I can do all, my lust for life crosses over into a cycle of frantic activity, without soul or connection.")

She addresses the soul-crushing load of always trying to meet other people's expectations. She does this in a funny way in the chapter on motherhood, but in a more serious way in her essay on priorities. "Deciding what I want [to be] isn't that hard. But deciding what I'm willing to give up for those things is like yoga for my superego, stretching and pushing and ultimately healing that nasty little person inside of me who exists only for what people think." (p. 57)

More favorite quotes: A full life is not the same as a full calendar. (p. 169)

We are where we are. The world is as beautiful and broken as it ever was, and if you're like me, it takes some tricks to get back to centered, whole, deep-breathing, faith-filled places. (p. 132)

And this funny one: Weddings are almost like birth experiences: something entirely new and sacred coming to life right in your midst. Of all the things I get to do, officiating weddings for people I love is my absolute favorite, because it's like. . . being a midwife, but with no blood or screaming. (p. 138)

This book didn't touch me as profoundly as B & W, but it is insightful, witty, and keeps it real. Worth a look.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Recent Kindle Deals

Okay, so I received an Amazon gift certificate this month and have been combing through my gargantuan wish list to see how to stretch my dollars the farthest. (In truth, the wish list is a record of items I want to explore and not necessarily own which is why it boasts over 500 books and some DVDs.)

Anyway, I know bragging is in bad taste, but I just can´t help showing off what I got since many of the most wanted items were available for much less than the average Kindle title. Here are the bargains I found:

World War II - The Boys in the Boat - $3!! (highly recommended by Carol)

Christianity - Flesh: Bringing the Incarnation Down to Earth $2.50 (highly recommended by my friend, Linda), The Exact Place - $4 (recommended by WORLD magazine as "a nourishing read"), Art for God's Sake - $3.50

Just for Fun - Enter the Saint - $4 (because I´m hooked on this this 1940´s detective series), Civil Contract by Heyer - $6.50 (because I´m still not convinced about her and fans say this is her best), and Mystery at the Rectory - $2 (because the sample was so good).

Monday, September 22, 2014

Quote of the Week - The Beauty of the Ordinary

Edie Wadsworth over at Life in Grace opened her post today with this quote:

Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives. 
Such striving may seem admirable, but it is the way of foolishness. 
Help them instead to find the wonder and the marvel of an ordinary life. 
Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes, apples, pears. 
Show them how to cry when pets and people die. 
Show them the infinite pleasure in the touch of a hand. 
And make the ordinary come alive for them. 
The extraordinary will take care of itself. 
- William Martin

Hop on over to her blog to read the rest of the article. Good stuff.