I just finished Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped for the first time. Amazing story! I listened to the unabridged audio version, and that made it all the better. It takes place in Scotland in the mid 1700’s, so all of the characters speak with a deep Scottish brogue and dialect, so getting to hear it added depth and richness to the experience. Since I listen to books in the car, I was always eager to get in to head to my next destination so I could hear the next part of the story.
For those that don’t know, it is about a 17 year old boy, David, who seeks out his rich miserly uncle when his father dies. The uncle first tries to set up a fatal accident, then sells him to a ship captain to be sold as a white slave in the colonies (didn’t realize there were white slaves over here until this story—now there’s a field of historical study that has been largely ignored!). The ship wrecks, and he finds his way back across Scotland, during which time he’s framed for killing a royal official, and so on…
The characters have depth, with few being cardboard. There is action, new vistas, a new culture and time period, the journey motif, loss and restoration, and so on. It is simply good literature.
So why post about it? Ecclesiastes 12:12 says “Of the making of many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness to the flesh.” (A favorite verse to share with students before finals!)
How does one go about selecting a few from the vast library of human literature to require students to read? With the truly limited number of possible plots to stories, how does one select the best ones? What makes a book enduring?
C.S. Lewis argued that the stories that endure are those that point to the True Story of Christ—stories that accurately tell of the human condition and point to God’s solution for it, stories that reflect Jeremiah 29:11, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Plans to give you a hope and a future.’”
I will add that the enduring stories are ones that not only show our depravity and fallenness, but also show the nobility of our Divine origin—the imago Dei. Fallenness without nobility breeds despair. Nobility without fallenness is empty. Only when the two are brought together and strive with one another can the reader find identity and then hope.
A people who have forgotten how to tell stories have lost their soul, for telling stories is a spiritual activity. The story both engages and bypasses our minds, planting seeds in our souls. Nobility and courage are not taught in a textbook, but birthed by inspirational example quickening the imago Dei that lies dormant in our hearts. Stories, whether true or not, that demonstrate the best that is human serve to show us our higher selves in the context of temptations towards baser behaviour, and teach us that some rewards, the best rewards, are obtained even when we lose the earthly struggles while winning the battles for character, righteousness, and goodness.
The best stories, perhaps, are those that teach us by example that it does not profit us to gain the whole world if it costs us our souls, and that if we lose our lives for Christ’s sake, we will gain more than the world can offer.
“It's a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done. It's a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.” Sydney Carton, A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens