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Book Review: The Green Ember

My imagination seems to have done the opposite of what it's supposed to do as one "grows" farther and farther away from childhood.

As a child, I loved all books (other than textbooks, of course), but I preferred "realistic" stories about other children. I adore Dr. Seuss now, but back then I would think, "Animals don't look like that in real life."

But the older I get, the more unrealistic those "real life" stories seem. Instead of narrowing as I age, real life has blown up to more of its actual size. Jesus is bigger, every corner of nature more intricate and purposeful, and my life on earth but a temporary journey through time and space on my way to eternity with the God I said YES back to.

Two Kinds Of Stories

In his essay On Three Ways Of Writing For Children, C.S. Lewis has somewhat harsher words to say about those "real life" stories vs. classic, timeless stories such as the The Green Ember pictured above:

"I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story. The good ones last. A waltz which you can like only when you are waltzing is a bad waltz. This canon seems to me most obviously true of that particular type of children's story which is dearest to my own taste, the fantasy or fairy tale."

He goes on to remind us that throughout history, fairy tales were never exclusively made for and read only by kids. That is, until people began saying fantasies gave kids a false sense of "real life," as a said above. But children aren't dumb, or some sub-human species. They are us - they are simply at an earlier stage of development. Like a tightly wrapped flower bud. They have spirits, they have minds and emotions, they have dreams and specific talents. They need love and knowledge and to know how and why they were created. Children can see with their own eyes that wizards and talking cats aren't present in their daily life. But they feel, like we all do, a sense of right and wrong, and a sense of life and themselves being more than meets the eye.

"I never expected the real world to be like the fairy tales. I think that I did expect school to be like the school stories. The fantasies did not deceive me: the school stories did. All stories in which children have adventures and successes which are possible, in the sense that they do not break the laws of nature, but almost infinitely improbable, are in more danger than the fairy tales of raising false expectations."

A Larger Story

My favorite part of C.S. Lewis's comparison of "realistic but improbable" stories and fairy tales really applies to any story for any age. In his words, both types can be accused as "escapism" that "arouse wishes." But we return to our regular life feeling very differently depending on which type of story we've just read. "Real life" stories in which we accomplish something no one else can in a real life setting are "all flattery to the ego. The pleasure consists in picturing oneself the object of admiration." In contrast, fairy tales give life its depth. We all have a longing we can't quite put a finger on, and fairy tales always touch on this. In these stories, our "minds are not concentrated on [ourselves]."

We were made for a story larger than ourselves and our own ego, so when I run across great classics, despite the marketed age range, I take special note to add them to our home school as my boys age. I also really enjoy them and often think about and reread them.

Technically, The Green Ember by S.D. Smith, is a middle grade adventure book, but it felt more like a timeless classic for all ages. I'm still thinking about it and its given me a new appreciation for the power of a good story. I will absolutely be reading this to my preschoolers once they're older and will definitely make sure the entire series is in our collection. I've read a lot of inspiring books this year, but this has lit the fire for writing more than anything else.

Rabbits with swords. A fallen king. Enemy wolves and hawks. A lost home. A coward choosing bravery and saving history.

Get the book.

The End.


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