Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Classics in Christian Perspective

Leland Ryken, Realms of Gold: The Classics in Christian Perspective. Eugene, Ore.: Wipf & Stock, 2003. 230 pages. ISBN: 1-59244-340-0.

Leland Ryken's Realms of Gold: The Classics in Christian Perspectives attempts to explain his love of the classics and why Christians should read them. In the introduction Ryken provides good advice on reading the classics. The rest of the chapters cover a particular classic work. The major works discussed are Homer's Odyssey, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare's MacBeth, Milton's Paradise Lost, Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, Dickens' Great Expectations, Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilych, and Camus' The Stranger. Ryken even has a chapter on "Poetry and the Christian Life." In each chapter Ryken does a good job of both discussing the classic and how to read in its particular genre.

Ryken wrote this book particularly because so many of them do not read the classics. He seeks to refute myths that many Christians have about reading Literature. A few of these fallacies are: We should read only non-fiction since fiction is not true; we should only read literature that shares our viewpoint; works by non-Christians cannot tell the truth. In addition Ryken instructs how we can misread the classics. For example, reading the classics for their ideas or discounting the pleasure we can get from reading the classics. The author also includes good information on reading and the imaginative life.

One could not find a better tour guide to the classics and why one should read them than Leland Ryken. The book is entertaining in itself. One thing Ryken emphasizes is that the classics can delight and teach and that is what he accomplishes in this book. The reader will want to go read these classics after reading this book or while reading this book. One recommendation that Ryken makes in the concluding chapter "is that everyone would benefit from claiming an author as his or her own specialty." This is something I have practiced most of my life. When I become interested in an author I go on to read widely in his works and read even what others have said about him. It is a way to enter into a conversation with a community of readers.

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