C.S. Lewis on the Right Way to Read Classics

Love and Mercy

You probably know C.S. Lewis for his imaginative Narnia fiction or perhaps for his non-fiction works on Christianity, but many are unaware of the groundbreaking and brilliant work he did within his scholarly field. Lewis was a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Oxford and the premier professor of Medieval and Renaissance literature at Cambridge, so his knowledge of greater literature itself was deep and profound. His students and colleagues were frequently amazed by his astonishing recall of minute detail in obscure works. He would play a game with you when you came to his office where he would have you pull down any book off his shelf and read a random passage out of it. He would tell you the work, author, and quote the surrounding context. Suffice it to say, the man knew his stuff.

CS-Lewis-on-the-Reading-of-Old-BooksBeing that Lewis had his ears to the ground with his students…

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Classic Remarks: A Much-Read Childhood Classic

Which children’s classic couldn’t you read enough of when you were growing up?

Several books could probably be mentioned here, especially given a loose definition of “classic,” but the ones that stand out to me are the Picture Classics graphic novels Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, adaptations of Mark Twain’s famous novels.

As I flip through them now, I’m impressed by how detailed and faithful they are. Twain’s novels deserve to be read unabridged, but their size and age can sometimes be intimidating to younger readers. The Picture Classics adaptations zip from adventure to adventure and an avid young reader can easily finish both in a day—perhaps more than once each!


Much of the flavor of Twain’s prose is also kept. Characters speak with Twain’s dialects, and the bits of narration in Tom Sawyer reflect Twain’s third-person prose, while Huck Finn preserves the boy’s distinct first-person narration.

In some graphic novels the art doesn’t always make clear what is going on, but in both of these the art is easily readable. It also complements the text well and does a good job of evoking stories’ settings.


These adaptations were my first introductions to Mark Twain’s famous heroes, and I’m glad of that. While nothing quite compares to reading the full novels, Picture Classics did a fantastic job of capturing the essence of the stories. Even though the focus is on action and adventure, Twain’s deeper commentaries still linger in every frame. Characters drive the action on every page, rather than merely reacting. These books thrilled me as a young boy, letting me imagine I was a fellow-adventurer with Tom, Huck, and Jim on deserted islands, creepy caves, cool woods, and the long, storied Mississippi River.

Classic Remarks: My Favorite Jane Austen Adaptation

Which Jane Austen adaptation is your favorite and why?

I am again at a disadvantage. My familiarity with Regency-era literature is so poor that my only Austen novel is Emma. I do have a general understanding of Pride and Prejudice, however, and it happens that the only Austen adaptation I have fully seen is one of that novel. And I must admit I like it a lot.

It’s a very…streamlined production. Lower-budget than most, and far from anything Hollywood would produce. Certainly it fails to capture the breadth and texture of Austen’s work. Nevertheless it wears a charming directness that manages to get to the heart of Pride and Prejudice. Using a clever modern-day framing device, it makes the tale of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy immediately relevant to young people of our day. With a nicely balanced mixture of gentle humor and disarming sincerity, it manages to entertain while still driving home the story’s moral. Additionally, its severely abridged nature and short length directs the interested viewer to the source book.

Which adaptation is this?

I speak, of course, of the Wishbone adaptation.


This was one of the best children’s shows produced by PBS in the 1990s. In it Wishbone, an adventure-loving Jack Russell Terrier, accompanies his boy, Joe, through adventures in middle school and literature. Whenever Joe faces a particular situation in his life, Wishbone will find a similar situation in a work of classic literature and relate the story to the audience. The audience gets to see Wishbone’s own imagination of the classic story interspersed with Joe’s modern-day story playing out in parallel. The result was a children’s show that was highly literate, thoughtful, and empathetic to older kids, and just happened to star a cute and energetic dog.

Wishbone DarcyThe episode entitled “Furst Impressions” is no exception! It’s truly the only Austen adaptation I’ve seen all the way through, so I can’t argue that it’s among the best. But this isn’t completely a joke answer. While the half-hour show only has about fifteen minutes to spare for the Austen sections, it boils the Elizabeth-Darcy relationship down to its essentials, and then takes those essentials quite seriously. Despite the ever-present humor of seeing Mr. Darcy being played by a Jack Russell Terrier, Austen’s story itself is never made fun of nor spoofed.

wishbone-dog-ep-1-furst-impressions-youtube-2012-05-15-22-14-23We see Elizabeth and Darcy both make snap judgments about each other and allow themselves to believe false rumors. In time, through humility and honesty, they sort out their prejudices and discover their mutual love, and end up happy and healthy. Parallel to this we get a story of Joe and his friends, Samantha and David, who are agonizing over a school dance. False rumors set Sam and David against each other, and it looks like the chance of a fun, drama-free dance is gone. Feelings are hurt, tempers flare, and Joe finds his two best friends are unable to be near each other without shouting and accusing the other of lying. Finally, honesty and humility bring about forgiveness and understanding, and their friendships are restored. And just as in Austen’s book, the source of the rumors can be traced to an envious socialite who ends up lonely.

Far from the most nuanced or complete adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, the Wishbone episode “Furst Impressions” nonetheless entertains with a direct, honest paraphrasing of the book’s most essential relationship. By showing Austen’s story side-by-side with a situation any modern kid can relate to (and adults too), it gives its audience a wise message of forgiveness and honesty, while quite possibly arousing interest in the source novel.

And it also stars a cute, energetic Jack Russell Terrier!

What’s your favorite Jane Austen adaptation? And did you ever watch Wishbone or read the Wishbone book series?

Next up on Classic Remarks: What children’s classic couldn’t you get enough of as a child?

Classic Remarks: What to read after “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings”

What Tolkien book would you recommend to a reader after they’ve read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings?

3306190There are a few possibilities for this one, depending on your tastes. But my first answer would be The Silmarillion. This is the book with all the tales of how Middle-Earth came to be. It has the history of the Elves, Men, Dwarves, and a bit of hobbit history too, although for such unadventurous folk their origins are rather mysterious. It is a magnificent tapestry of hundreds of stories that all form a cohesive, meaningful whole. Anyone who reads the tales of Bilbo and Frodo and wants to know more about Middle-Earth should turn first to The Silmarillion.

597790But perhaps you’re intimidated by the size and density of The Silmarillion? You’ve heard it described as “the Old Testament with Elves” and worry that it will be too dry or complicated to jump right into. Even in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien’s language has a dense, old flavor to it that can be hard to swallow for readers unfamiliar with that style, and the promise of more stories told in a still denser, older style can intimidate even those who want to experience the stories themselves. In that case, I would recommend The Children of Húrin. This book tells one of The Silmarillion’s stories in an expanded form closer to a short novel. The language is still high and beautiful, but it’s a quicker, more self-sufficient read, and will give you a good taste of what to expect in The Silmarillion. I do warn you, it’s a dark, tragic tale, but as epic and moving as they come. If you like it, you can rest assured that you will find more of that quality in The Silmarillion, but also many stories that are happier and more hopeful.

Happy reading!

Next up: Is the Phantom of the Opera abusive or romantic? (You can discuss the musical or the book version, or the differences between the two.)

Easter Worship

For this year’s Easter post, I thought I’d share an abbreviated version of what we do at my church. We’re a tiny congregation, which affords us the luxury of some habits which would be more difficult in larger congregations. On holidays, particularly Easter and Christmas, our worship service involves Scripture readings by members of the congregation, with our hymns and praise songs interspersed. The Scripture readings are hand-picked to tell the story of God’s redemption of mankind, from beginning to Christ. I pray that you are blessed by what you read here.

Man Made a Little Lower than God

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” …God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. (Genesis 1:27, 28, 31a)

O Lord, our Lord,
How majestic is Your name in all the earth,
Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens!

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;
What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?
Yet You have made him a little lower than God,
And You crown him with glory and majesty!
You make him to rule over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet. (Psalm 8:1, 3-6a)

Continue reading “Easter Worship”

Classic Remarks 2: Does Jane Austen belong in the literary canon?

Some argue Jane Austen writes “fluff” and others argue she belongs in the canon because she writes witty social commentary.  Do you think Austen belongs in the canon? Why or why not?

Some people are bozos whose literary ears are clogged with the fluff of snobbishness (as opposed to the stuff of flobbishness, which I thought I made up for this pun but can actually mean something about the nature of spit. Google “to flob.”). Jane Austen isn’t quite a personal favorite yet but she is indisputably a worthy member of the world’s literary canon. Continue reading “Classic Remarks 2: Does Jane Austen belong in the literary canon?”

Add me on Goodreads!


Trivial update here. If you hadn’t noticed, the sidebar now features the Goodreads widget, showcasing the books I’m currently reading. I joined Goodreads quite recently, so if you have your own account, feel welcome to add me as a friend. Here’s a handy link to my profile.

You can read abbreviated versions of my book reviews there, and also see other books I’ve given a quick star rating to. I haven’t explored many of the site’s other features, but it looks like it can be a fun place for bibliophiles to meet and share book recommendations and discussions.

Happy reading!