Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tall Tales: A Healthy Reading Diet (Part One)

We were not brought up according to the government-made healthy eating guide. I remember in home ec. fumbling through an assignment to plan a week's worth of meals, where each day received the required portion of servings from the pyramid. Let's just say that towards the end of the hypothetical week I was missing a few grains and vegetables. (Honestly--6-11 servings a day?! Before we went politically correct, of course, and now it's two cups of vegetables per person, per day. )
As I thought about this, I went off on a side-tangent in the area of reading. Many of us try to conform our reading to politically correct amounts of 'so much fiction', 'so much nonfiction', and a couple of romances for 'discretionary calories'. Nonfiction, by the way, would be in the fruits and vegetables slot.
I'd like to see anyone eat two cups of carrots every day.
The following article contains some of my thoughts regarding a healthy literary diet, starting with each type of book, debunking myths, and laying forth healthy eating principles. It is not meant to be a flawless authority, but simply a selection of six categories and twelve principles to help you break free from politically correct literary expectations.
The Book Groups
Here are six workable definitions for a literary food group:
1. Grains
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Literary 'grains' include themes of hard work, family commitment, the dominion mandate, and pioneer living. Parents discipling children, school, church, and the cycle of birth to death are absolute musts that we should be constantly reminded of. Spiritual literary 'grains' are God's sovereignty, His creation, His salvation, and His character--the qualities undergirding our existence. Such authors as Jane Austen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Gene Stratton-Porter fall into this category.

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. --1 Thessalonians 4:11-12
In other words, literary 'grains' are plots including a quiet life and the work of our hands.
2. Vegetables
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Literary 'vegetables' include factual information. Astronomy, medicine, biology, geography and names and dates of history comprise facts, as well as many other things not mentioned here. Vegetables are not to be despised, for they are often used in fiction to set the scene by describing ship's instruments during a sea battle, or to picture the breath-taking Scottish coast in a MacDonald romance.

And you thought they were so bad. ;)

Spiritual literary 'vegetables' include the basic groundwork of theology and doctrine: sacraments (baptism, marriage, communion, etc.) eschatology, apologetics, Christology, ecclesiology, and missiology are all sub-divisions of basic Christian doctrine, and vital ingredients for a healthy book.

Books in this category are often banished to the school realm; but some authors including Edwin Way Teale (nature) Dietrich Bonhoeffer (theology) and Michael Oard (creationism), give us the vegetables of facts and theology in an engaging and valuable way.   
3. Fruits
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If vegetables engage the mind, it is the duty of the fruit to engage the senses. Music, art, mythology, fashion, principles of literature, and descriptions for the five senses are all encompassed in literary fruits. Often fiction uses both fruits and vegetables to good purpose; for instance, in Alexandre Dumas' Count of Monte Cristo, you're going to get both dates and facts surrounding the rise of Napoleon, and elegant dinners that engage all the senses to simply read about them.
Spiritual literary 'fruits' take the vegetables of fact and turn them into personal application. Relationship advice and biblical modesty, principles of music, and biblical fashion techniques fit this description, for relationships take theological principles and force people to act them out in the physical world. A 'vegetable' is the definition of meekness. A 'fruit' is the application of meekness.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.--Galatians 5:22-23
Authors such as Jane Austen are good at incorporating cultural delights into their everyday stories.
4. Dairy
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Dairy in the physical diet gives calcium, carbohydrates, and healthy sources of fat. This is an essential part of good literature, for even though it doesn't have a physical equivalent, dairy often gives the feeling of satisfaction or fullness after a good meal. Literary 'dairy' means that each book has the right ending for the story, even if the ending is not necessarily a happy one. 'Dairy' also means (for fiction) that the book is realistic, so that we can believe our favorite characters actually exist (kind of). For nonfiction, it means that the facts are engaging, interesting, and applicable. Dairy is often used in real cooking to hold together the ingredients from other categories, and the same is true in literature. Dairy means good plotting, good grammar, and good characterization.
5. Proteins
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 I place adventure in this category. Taking dominion, fighting battles, and grappling with evil by the throat. While 'grains' keep a civilization going, 'proteins' keep a civilization strong. There is a time for war as well as a time for peace, and time and again God raises His people up to abolish evil. Actually, physical and spiritual proteins are much the same thing, for war is partly a spiritual thing. Therefore, war, missions, espionage, and social reform are all vital proteins for a healthy literary diet. Such authors as Charles Dickens, J.R.R. Tolkien, John Buchan, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Douglas Bond fall into this category.
6. Sweets
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We often describe literary sweets as things like marriage, physical desire, dating/courtship, adventure, etc. However, I would like to give them a different definition, for I consider marriage and adventure to be in two very different and essential categories. (Grains and Protein). Sweets are twaddle--marriage/dating for pleasure instead of dominion,  soupy theology, fake Christian moralizing, and any book that doesn't ring true.
So here we have all the ingredients necessary for a healthy reading diet. But the wrong cooking technique, poor quality, or the wrong amounts can send a good diet south. Next Tuesday we'll be studying twelve application principles for healthy reading.
Lady Bibliophile
P.S. Yesterday some of you may have celebrated the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice. I'm stretching my celebration out to encompass the entire year, so look for a review of this famous novel in the next few weeks on My Lady Bibliophile!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Brother Cadfael: Double Edition

When I look through my bookshelves after a particularly exhausting round of reading or life in general, I quite often fall back on Brother Cadfael. There is nothing quite so peaceful as solving a foul murder mystery in Shrewsbury with the Abby's progressive-minded herbalist, whose ideas of justice often surprise and delight me.

And so today, after a short foray back into Cadfael's world, I bring you a double review of the thirteenth and fourteenth Cadfael chronicles.

About Brother Cadfael
 I haven't read the books in order (my acquaintance being with the 10th, 9th, 5th, 13th, and 14th of The Cadfael Chronicles, in that order) and I find that in spite of this I catch on to Cadfael's past history quite well. With the help of a Wikipedia article to fill in the gaps, I can tell you that after a stormy life serving in the Crusades (contracting a few secrets along the way) Brother Cadfael repents of his past and decides to take on the life of a monk in the service of the church. Though I have yet to find if this is due to his religious devotion or a certain disappointment in the affairs of the heart. His knowledge of medicine and the world in general allow him to assist the local magistrates in more than one deadly mystery, and give him large amounts of freedom outside the abbey walls.

Don't ever visit Shrewsbury, though, especially the abbey. You're likely to be abducted or murdered withing 24 hours of your arrival. ;)

Perhaps some readers may find the Roman Catholic influences off-setting, they are neither heavy, nor overcome-able. In fact, though the Catholics had much erroneous theology, reading Brother Cadfael offers a peaceful place of entertainment and reflection, often giving you the idea that you're in the cloisters yourself for a holiday. Besides, it is both valuable history and a part of the early Church of Christ, before the split of the Reformation.

Ellis Peters (the authoress) sets her series during the civil war between King Stephen and the Empress Maud, both fighting for the throne of Great Britain. Throughout the books she deftly weaves in this fascinating time period, and even those who know the ending bite their nails as they wait for the outcome of the two monarchs' fray. Peters lived in Shrewsbury, and her geographical descriptions and depiction of the people are quite detailed, adding a charm and personality to the plots.

The Cadfael Chronicles are best read one or two at a time, not the entire series at once, as you'll find many of the same plot elements in each book--a pair of young lovers with insurmountable obstacles, a dead lord or monk, as the case may be, and generally a runaway Handsome Young Man fleeing from his master's oppression. Very nice things in themselves, but best enjoyed spaced out, avoiding a gluttonous intake of all of them at once.

Oh, and by the by--I just discovered today that while many people pronounce the monk's name (CAD-file), Ellis originally intended it to be (CAD-vel) though the traditional Welsh pronunciation would be (CAD-vile). I plead guilty, and must re-train myself in either Peters' or the traditional Welsh pronunciation.

And now, after that brief word of introduction, I give you the following Brother Cadfael mysteries.

The Rose Rent--the 13th Brother Cadfael Chronicle
After her husband died and her child miscarried, grief-stricken Judith Perle willed his property to the abbey at Shrewsbury. She only included the stipulation that once a year, on a certain day, she must receive one rose from a certain rosebush in the garden as payment. If the rose is not given, the contract is annulled. The brothers have faithfully carried out their end of the agreement for three years running, sending it by the hands of 20-year-old Brother Eluric. However, eight days before their fourth delivery, the widow Perle's carefully laid plans disintegrate. Brother Eluric, dedicated by his parents at the age of 3 to the monastic life, asks for release from the delivery of the rose rent because he loves Judith. Prior Radulfus agrees, and gives the duty to the cottage's tenant, Niall the bronzesmith.
Many men desire the widow Perle, particularly Vivian Hind, who could really use the income from her extensive property; Godfrey Fullers, who desires to join her weaving works with his own business; and Branwen, Judith's foreman at her weaving works. Each of these men badger Judith to take back her property from the abbey and marry one of them, since the abbey's holdings would double her dowry. But Judith wants no marriage, and along with her capable cousin Miles, runs the factory quite well on her own.
The night after Brother Eluric seeks his release, Niall the bronzesmith finds the rosebush savagely attacked, and Eluric dead beneath it. Cadfael confirms that Eluric happened upon the rosebush as someone tried to destroy it, and the person effectively silenced him.

Two days later, Judith Perle disappears, and Cadfael suspects abduction.

Fingers point to the three lovers, for if they are able to keep her past the rent day, then the contract with the abbey is effectively annulled, and if they force her into marriage during that time, they will have gained control of all her property, thus securing it from falling again into the abbey's hands. With Judith's good reputation in peril, Hugh Beringar (the local magistrate) sends out his men to search every corner of Shrewsbury, while Niall the bronzesmith keeps watch over the rosebush.

And Cadfael is in for some surprising twists as he tries to solve the mystery before the clock runs out.

The Hermit of Eyton Forest--14th Brother Cadfael Chronicle
King Stephen has the Empress Maud effectively trapped  at Oxford Castle with her two main supporters--Richard of Gloucester and Brian Fitzcount--separated from her. Fitzcout needs money, so the Empress Maud sends a messenger with her jewels to supply his army. The messenger's horse is found with empty saddlebags, but Renaud Bourchier is gone, most likely murdered.

So much for affairs of state. The abbey has problems of a different kind.

Prior Radulfus has guardianship over ten-year-old Richard Ludel, whose father has just died after the wounds he received after the fight at Lincoln. Richard's grandmother wants him to come home and marry a girl 12 years his senior, so that the adjoining lands may be added to Richard's estate. The ten-year-old is horrified, and elects to stay at the abbey under Radulfus' care.
His grandmother reluctantly consents, and busies herself establishing a strange hermit, the holy Cuthred, in a chapel on Richard's property. A young man accompanies Cuthred, carrying messages from the holy hermit imploring Radulfus to give the boy back to his grandmother.
The Handsome Young Man, Hyacinth, falls under suspicion when vicious Drogo Boiset rides into the abbey looking for his runaway villein named Brand. Radulfus isn't going to try very hard to help return the boy to a life of cruel usage, but Richard Ludel hears the over-righteous Brother Jerome tell Drogo  about Hyacinth hiding with the hermit, and rides off in hot haste to warn him.

Richard never comes back. When Drogo Boiset rides off to check out this Hyacinth, he never comes back either. Cadfael finds Boiset murdered, but Hugh Beringar and his men can find neither Richard, nor Hyacinth.

They should have asked the pretty young girl in the forest. ;)

Drogo's murderer must be found, and Richard must be rescued before he is forced to marry Hiltrude.

Perhaps the strange Rafe of Coventry can help Cadfael solve the puzzle.

My Thoughts
I must claim Hugh Beringar as my perennial favorite character. Entertaining acquaintances such as Hyacinth and Niall come and go, but Hugh's friendship with Cadfael endears him to me. I look forward to reading of their first meeting one day in One Corpse Too Many, but I haven't gotten around to it yet. Hugh has the knack of turning a blind eye at all the right spots.
The Cadfael Chronicles contain sundry profanities, but not often, and correction tape takes care of it for those who chose to do so. Our library got rid of these books and I snapped them up as soon as they came through, but I have now read through all of mine, and I shall have to look for the others as I attend various book sales this year. They are definitely worth picking up.
So far my favorite Brother Cadfael mystery is still The Pilgrim of Hate, which I reviewed here. This book introduced me to Brother Cadfael, though I do warn you, it has some pretty big spoilers if it's your first one out.
 As I mentioned in that post, the Mass Market paperback editions have rather lurid front covers, but don't be deterred by them, as it's there for shock value.
I must say, I was relieved after The Rose Rent that the murderer does sometimes get brought to justice. It's not good if they get away with it every time. ;) However, I love Brother Cadfael's twist on on human justice mixed with biblical justice, and in some cases, mercy to the criminal. So far the only one I raised an eyebrow on was Dead Man's Ransom, but I'll probably read that again sometime to see if I missed something. I think Ellis Peters brings a valuable facet to the mystery genre, that of forcing the reader to think through the moral implications of the character's actions. That's a good book, when it forces you to think, while all the while giving you relaxation and enjoyment, and I'm quite impressed with the way she carries it off.

If you have a quiet afternoon, or are in need of a light read, Try out Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael mysteries. They are sure to delight you, and I guarantee you'll be fast friends with this unorthodox monk  by the end of them. :)

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Over the weekend, I have undergone lengthy debate in my mind as to which book to review today: Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, or Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael. After much deliberation I have selected Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, but rest assured, I've added the others to my line-up. :)

I bought Ivanhoe two years ago (or was it three?) and it has lain quietly in my stash of books, waiting for me to pick it up ever since. Finally a fit of madness took me mid-December, and I decided that I would close out the year by racing through this famed classic. Surely, surely it would be no problem. Five hundred pages, two weeks to do it in? Just a bit of application, and we have a goal well met.

You may or may not have noticed it on my list.

Floundering through really captures my experience, for after 2012 changed hands with 2013, my interest in Ivanhoe fizzled out. Granted, for the first couple of weeks of the year I had a hard time applying myself to any book, but take a 500 page classic that does not race ahead like Great Expectations, and you can picture my perturbation. Who gets stuck in Scott? Maybe many do, and I don't blame them after my experience.

But now that a couple of weeks separate me from the finish line, I have had some time to reflect on the history and the plotting techniques Scott used, and I find many points of interest to share. I would definitely read it again, though maybe I wouldn't attempt it in December.

The Story
Cedric the Saxon wants the glory of his people restored to it's full height after the oppression of the Normans, and to do this he is determined to marry his ward, Rowena, off to Aethelstane, the last of the Saxon royal line. Rowena's love for Cedric's son Wilfred, however, throws off his plan to unite the Saxon people with this politic marriage. Cedric the Saxon has already disinherited him, both for his political and romantic affiliations. Thus, the conflict begins.
Prince John takes over the throne in his brother's absence, giving rise to the oppression of various Norman nobles on their tenants, particularly Reginald Front-de-Bouf and Maurice de Bracy. Against such designing villains Rowena's beauty stands no chance.
After a disastrous tournament for all concerned, in which two strange knights recently returned from the Holy Land sweep the honors, de Bracy plots to make Rowena his fair bride, and takes her, her father, Aethelstane, and two Jews under their protection to the castle of Front-de-Bouf for safekeeping. Things look ill for Ivanhoe, who they discover was one of the knights in the fair, wounded after his last contest. The Saxons must face threat of fire and torture at the hands of their Norman oppressors, while Prince John grows ever more desperate at rumors of his elder brother's return. If Rowena will not marry de Bracy, he tells her that he will show no mercy to the wounded Ivanhoe.

Damsels in distress with a vengeance. And rest assured the book contains much more than I've mentioned here.

The History
Ivanhoe fascinates the reader just as much with its history as with it's fiction. Set after the disappointing results of the Third Crusade (possession of Jerusalem meant everything to the Norman invaders) Scott dives into the muddy waters of British history, and makes them even more murky with his fictional embellishments.

I know not exactly how the Saxons invaded Britain. Theories abound, ranging from a peaceful settlement alongside the Celtic Britons to a wholesale massacre of the inhabitants after the Romans deserted their outer stronghold. However sorry I felt for Cedric at the mistreatment by the Normans, I didn't sympathize with him too much over losing the chance to reclaim his people. After all, he's merely taking the medicine that his people dished out a few centuries before. It's hard to take sides during this era, for most of the monarchs had their good points and their bad, while peoples invaded continents and then wept and shook their fists when they were invaded themselves.

Aside from World War Two and the turn of the 20th century, I have probably read the most in the era of the Crusades.  Between Robin Hood, The Brethren, Brother Cadfael, and other stories, the wicked machinations of Prince John are more familiar to me than what happened in yesterday's news. I did enjoy Ivanhoe's different perspective on King Richard, to expand my understanding of him. And it's always good to have Robin Hood as long as he's properly understood, like Scott and Creswick portray him.

Along with the politics, the corruption of the church provides further cause for interest. Priests who blatantly disregarded their holy vows practiced about the same level of corruption as the Roman Catholics during the Reformation. Maybe it never stopped; I really couldn't say. The legalistic dedication of Lucas de Beaumanoir, leader of the Knights Templar, contrasts strongly with the indifferent corruption of Prior Aymer. At a time when holiness could be bought, what need had they to become conformed to the image of Christ? The people vacillated between relying on works or indulgences, and it's a pretty depressing image of Christianity in England. Truly, when the ministers don't teach their people the Word of God, the main flock is cast upon the darkest ignorance.

That leads us to the treatment of the Jews. It really is tragic, in Ivanhoe, how God's chosen people bore the contempt of the general populace. True, Isaac of York's greed is almost ludicrous, and the average Jew had sunk to the position of  an avaricious money lender, but the fact remains that Jews are God's chosen people. Though they are in ignorance of salvation while the Gentiles are brought in, they will one day be brought to a knowledge of repentance. We Gentiles are wild branches, grafted into the olive tree of Israel.
Again I ask: Did they [Israel] stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!
I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?  If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root,  do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.
-Romans 11:11-15, 17-21

The Prose
Scott's motto: Why say in one sentence what can be said in four? I couldn't help falling into fits of laughter over the length of his character's homilies. Draw a sword? Why don't you take a breath first? After a while it looked like he was trying to herd chickens towards the climax point, and the chickens had a mind of their own. Darting up passageways, threatening fair maidens, going off for a drink of ale and a song with their monarch. You name it, they did it. Oh, yes, it was exciting, and I wish more of us had the turn of phrase that Scott was able to command. But dear me, he took his own sweet time about it.

I think that's what threw me off about Ivanhoe: I was used to Scott's wanderings before, but in the form of poetry. I've enjoyed The Lady of the Lake four or five times, and long rantings over wild eglantine suit the rhythm of the book. The wild fury of an oppressed people sounds heart wrenching with a few well-turned lines. Even if it goes on as long as an entire Canto, put it to rhyme and the reader no longer cares about such ordinary things as a deep breath. Draw your swords, comrades! The prose, however, is quite poetic without having the structure of regular poetry, and therefore gave me some difficulty.

Scott employs the literary technique of stringing his readers along so that they can't put the book down, keeping them in torment the whole time. Adding insult to injury, he doesn't even employ myriads of scene breaks like modern readers do. He can build up the tension in a 17 page chapter with one object: to get a monk past the castle gates. Oh, to be so talented at saying so much to say so little.

My Thoughts
Ivanhoe contains occasional language, but most of the statements, though a little more comfortable in talking about the devil  than the average reader is used to, are not profane in nature.

By far the largest literary debate surrounding Ivanhoe begs the question Rebecca or Rowena? On a similar level to Masouda and Rosamund in Haggard's The Brethren, both women are matched in beauty, and both have brains to couple with their grace, which is not often the case where two women are pitted against each other. I thought Rowena was a bit spoiled, and didn't have much backbone with men, though perhaps she used the best technique in her confrontation with de Bracy--tears. I would like to see a woman in literature who uses both wits and tears to good purpose, just to add a little variety. But I couldn't warm to either of them. I liked Wilfred and Robin Hood best.

Scott may be a bit slow (try Howard Pyle's Men of Iron if you want a similar, quick read) however it's fascinating history and interesting plots more than make up for any difficulties with wordiness.

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, January 18, 2013

Beyond The Barricades: Les Miserables (Part Three)

Welcome, friends and fellow bibliophiles, to our final post on Les Miserables. Today we have many interesting points to discuss, including the movie and the musical. If you need to catch up, here are links to part one and part two. Today's post is a longer one than normal; I recommend splitting it up into two parts, unless you've got the time and inclination to do it all in one sitting. :)

Victor Hugo's book impacts the hearts of many that come in touch with his story, with good reason. The redemption of a man's soul, the mistreatment of women and children, and zealous youth dying for social reform are all ills that our culture wants to fight against, no matter what their religious beliefs. But, as I have read the book  and watched the musical, it is hard to see Victor Hugo pinpointing issues and providing less than biblical solutions to them--or in some cases, no solution at all.

Think about it: Les Miserables isn't translated The Anguished for no reason. *spoilers* Fantine dies  in poverty because of her life of sin. Valjean never receives justice on earth, and dies after his son-in-law, who has mistreated him, comes to patch it up at the last moment. The Thenardiers go on with their life of squalor, Eponine dies heartbroken, Enjolras' ideas, and those of the Friends of the ABC, perish with them at the barricades. Javert commits suicide after his legalism cannot reconcile with God's mercy. The only really happy person throughout the book is the adult Cosette, who is so shallow and selfish that she can't see Jean Valjean is dying by inches in front of her. *end of spoilers*

Friends, Les Miserables, regardless of the morality of the tale, is a dark and unresolved one. The mercy and grace of God sheds hope, and light, and justice, if not on earth than for eternity. Les Miserables does not.

Eight sections to discuss today. Let's begin. :)

*This post contains mature thematic elements, the most mature being in today's post. If you are under 14, please consult a mature adult before reading this series.

The classic men-at-odds plot: Javert, who dispenses justice with an iron grip, and will not allow for mercy. Valjean, who binds up the broken-hearted and sets the prisoner free, has had only bad experiences with justice. People typically understand this to mean that Javert (justice) is wrong, while Valjean (mercy) is right. After all, God is a God of mercy.

But this is perhaps Hugo's most brilliant theme in the entire book.

Without Javert, where would we be? Over-run by people like the Thenardiers and the Patron-Minette, who murder and lie and steal, oppressing their wives and children, and forcing them into a life of crime.

 For thou hast maintained my right and my cause; thou satest in the throne judging right.
Thou hast rebuked the heathen, thou hast destroyed the wicked, thou hast put out their name for ever and ever.
O thou enemy, destructions are come to a perpetual end: and thou hast destroyed cities; their memorial is perished with them.
But the Lord shall endure for ever: he hath prepared his throne for judgment.
And he shall judge the world in righteousness, he shall minister judgment to the people in uprightness.
The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble.
-Psalm 9:4-9
God is also a God of judgement, and the brilliant tension between Javert and Valjean show both sides of His character, as in a mirror. His law is inexorable, and His mercy is relentless. We need people passionate for mercy and justice to bring peace and social reform to the earth.

Without Javert, there would be no Valjean.

Note that I'm not embracing Javert's extreme legalism. Javert's problem is that he makes Law his god, and that's why he comes to a sorry end. When his god is toppled, then his life holds no meaning. We must not hold justice and mercy as higher than God himself. We worship the God who works justice and dispenses mercy, not mercy and justice in themselves.

So even though Javert worships justice, that doesn't mean justice is wrong. ;)

The Battle At the Barricades
By far, the most blood-stirring event of the story, aside from some of Valjean's inner struggles, is the battle at the barricades. Who wouldn't love a group of handsome young university students piling up crates and dying for their convictions? By the time we're done, we'll do anything to join the cause, and every one of us would threaten to blow the district sky-high along with Marius, if we could just be there.

Most of us would do anything to follow Enjolras.

Enjolras and his little band's revolt started much sooner than Les Miserables. It started during the French Revolution. God was abandoned, government was toppled, and the people turned reason into a goddess. They wanted rule by the people, abolition of class systems, and even distribution of wealth. Blood flowed without appealing properly or endeavoring to flee oppression, and therefore it flowed to excess. A brief pause ensued when Napoleon took over, and then King Louis XVIII took his place upon the throne of France. Fast-forward decades, and Enjolras and his band decide to continue what the French Revolution began. Oppressed? Take up your arms, comrades! But because they were building on the foundation of a godless revolt against authority, they fell into the same difficulties, and perished at the barricades.

It is not wrong to "dissolve political bands" when oppressed by tyranny, as long as we follow the proper sequence of appeals to do so. The American Revolution separated themselves from an earthly authority while holding themselves to the supreme law of God, and providing themselves with another earthly government. The Friends of the ABC neither relied on God, nor had an alternate government ready to take the place of the old one. For a revolt to be successful, it must stand on the principles of a constitutional republic (e.g. United States) or a constitutional monarchy (e.g. Great Britain) but it cannot be a democracy (e.g. French Revolution).

Enjolras and his band are brave. And we mourn that their bravery is misinformed. Even if they had been successful, it would not have yielded the results they dreamed of.

We're almost ready to move into the musical, but before we do I want to discuss two things: Victor Hugo's writing style and the 2012 movie that just released.

Victor Hugo's Writing Style
Call me audacious if you will; I stand firm in the belief that Les Miserables: The Book doesn't deserve the rank of "classic". Hugo could have written this book in 900 pages much more concisely, and much more powerfully. Hundreds of pages of back story that holds very little relevance, long jaunts into political theory, and huge rabbit trails into history swallow up most of the story. In fact, it would be better to classify it as nonfiction with fictional anecdotes to illustrate his theories. ;)

From a professional standpoint the musical is much better. The writers took all the story that mattered and cut out all that didn't, turning it into a powerful and heart-gripping drama. People only love the book because the musical's so good.

If there were no musical, Les Miserables would not be a classic.

People read the book for the musical's sake; they wade through tedious rabbit trails, holding themselves up with the knowledge that Cosette and Marius will be singing 'Heart Full of Love' somewhere in the next 300 pages. And because the musical is running in their head the entire time, they miss the fact that Cosette and Marius never sing 'Heart Full of Love'.

Friends and fellow bibliophiles, our time is too valuable to read a long and wandering story simply because it's a classic that has become a musical. If the story deserves "classic" standing, then the musical should receive that rating, not Hugo's original work.

Ask yourself: why do you love the book? Is it because of Valjean's redemption? And when you think of Valjean's redemption, does a quote from the book come to mind, or this:

But remember this, my brother
See in this some higher plan
You must use this precious silver
To become an honest man
By the witness of the martyrs
By the Passion and the Blood
God has raised you out of darkness
I have bought your soul for God!

Trollope and Dickens pack a much more powerful punch for social justice, without needing a musical to slide it down.

The Movie
The difference between a book and a musical is that the musical adds rhyme and melody to stamp the themes upon your mind. The difference between the musical and the movie is that a movie makes the visuals real. However heart-stirring it is to see Eponine dying on stage, it's still acting.But in a movie, it's not. You're watching it actually happen.

I have not seen the 2012 Les Miserables, nor do I intend to. Besides the themes that I have already explored in this series which cause me to question the story of Les Mis, the 2012 movie contains the most blatant sex and nakedness you can have under an "R" rating. And many people I've talked to say it deserves an "R".

"But I skip those bits."

So where do you draw the line?

If you go to the theatres, you see it. Even if you look away, you hear everything. And what you see and hear, you endorse.

For those of you who have not seen the movie PluggedIn reviews it from a Christian perspective. But I strongly recommend that if you don't know the story you don't read the review. Give it to your parents so they can evaluate the violence and mature thematic content.  I wasn't expecting it to be quite that bad, but when I looked it up I had to skip over the section on Sexual Content. It's so graphic and vile the reviews themselves are almost unreadable.

"But the Bible's graphic too."

The detail included in the written Word of God, and the detail included in a secular movie are two different things entirely. That's an excuse.

But we'll come back to the idea in an article someday, Lord willing.

The Musical
I don't recommend watching the musical from start to finish. I went to see it acted in November 2011, and while I love some of the songs, many of them are blasphemous and full of crude language. Following are two lists, based on the principles put forth in this review, of the good and bad songs. I like to end on a positive note, so I've saved the good songs for last.

Songs I Don't Recommend:
At the End of the Day--contains a man accosting a woman, and crude language.
Lovely Ladies--I was able to skip this one in the musical, and I am forever grateful for it.
Master of the House--crude language and inappropriate content.
Look Down (2nd occurrence)-- Crude language and content
Little People--language and crude content
In My Life/A Heart Full of Love--see the section on Cosette and Marius in Part Two of this series.
Drink With Me--mistress content
Dog Eat Dog--Thenardier; blasphemous
Turning--women who despair of the use of prayer after their sons die at the barricade.
Beggars At the Feast--crude song and crude language to match.

Songs I Recommend:

All lyrics can be found here.

I Dreamed a Dream (Lyrics)--a song of a woman dreaming she can get away with sin, and how her dream crumbles. This song contains mature themes, and is not necessarily a happy one, especially this version. But I think it holds a warning, and a good one, that we can't sin and escape the consequences. Watch it with the understanding of Fantine's delusions, for she is still holding on to the dream that the man who didn't respect her as a single woman would would respect her as a married one. If you don't know the song, read the lyrics first before watching.
Who Am I--Two instances of a word commonly used as a swear word, but in this instance used in a correct way. Jean Valjean is thinking about winning freedom forever at the expense of another man. (Lyrics Youtube)
Stars--Javert singing of justice (Youtube)
Do You Hear the People Sing? (Youtube)--guilty pleasure. I don't endorse Enjolras' revolt, but the song's rather nice.
On My Own (Youtube)--likewise.
One Day More (Youtube)--good and bad people coming to the realization that only the Lord can see into the future.
Bring Him Home (Youtube)--I find it ironic that in the musical Valjean's praying that the Lord will save Marius, and in the book he's ready to kill him for loving Cosette.
A Little Fall of Rain--Eponine's death; contains two misuses of the Lord's name, which I mute out. The link I give to the Youtube video is a live acting of the musical, so there's a lot of blood in the first 45 seconds, but it's the best singing version. I recommend reading the lyrics before watching. (Lyrics Youtube) To watch one without the visuals, click here.
Finale--all poor people do not go to heaven, but the song in itself is rather nice.

I had to cut out bits in this series. :) I was going to go into more depth with Fantine's story and character, but for lack of space, I will only say this: Hate the sin, and love the sinner. Fantine's sin begin with Cosette's birth, and led her into deeper trouble. But by the grace of God, she was shown mercy in spite of it.

And that, my friends, concludes Les Miserables. I love the story through the Focus on the Family audio drama, and select songs of the musical.

All the love....all the drama. That's taking a book captive to the glory of God.

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Beyond the Barricades: Les Miserables (Part Two)

Welcome, friends and fellow bibliophiles, to part two of our series on the greatest fad sweeping the literary realm.

Les Miserables.

If you haven't read part one, click here to get caught up. While the last post didn't contain terribly mature themes, this one and the next one will contain much more information. If you are younger than 14, please consult a mature adult before reading this series.

Believe me, I do not challenge lightly the dream sweeping the circles of the blogosphere. Thank-you for listening thus far, even though it has been difficult. You may yet decide to read and watch and enjoy Les Miserables after this series is done; my purpose is simply to dig deeper into its themes and worldviews, so that, if we must read and watch, we do so informed of what we are viewing.

You may be thinking of this series as a party-crasher at this point; that's far from my intention. I, too, heard the people sing and joined with them last year.

There's a reason why my book list doesn't have 62 titles on it instead of 61.

Only a few short years ago when I was fifteen years old, I listened to the story through the Focus on the Family radio drama, and it was the first one that ever moved me to real tears. Later that same year I saved up my money and bought the book, keeping it stashed away until I could find time to read it. After seeing the Broadway musical--not merely sung, but acted--I determined that 2012 would be the year. 900 pages into the book, I couldn't take any more of the sin.

Do you know how hard it is to quit a book after 900 pages? Now every time I read someone saying "I've read The Brick!" I think of those 600 pages between me and the biggest trophy on any bibliophile's reading list. I could have done it, except my conscience stood between. Conscience is a hard thing to listen to sometimes.

To Clarify Before I Begin
In the last post, a couple of points came to mind that I would like to explain before I go any further. First of all, lest my words betray my meaning, I do not believe that books should avoid sin. Portraying sin can have a powerful effect in warning the reader of its consequences. The Bible includes some pretty serious sins--prostitution, rebellion, murder, etc--and with the appropriate means for the appropriate audience, an author can use sin to quicken the reader towards repentance and the grace of God. So it is not the fact that Hugo included sin that I have a problem with, nor the particular sins he included, to a certain extent.
Nor am I saying that non-Christians in stories should not sin. In my last post, I pointed out that Jean Valjean was sinful for stealing a loaf of bread. One of my readers thought that we should not judge Valjean so harshly because he was not a Christian when he sinned, and therefore, did not know of the love and provision of God when he committed the theft. Good question, and we'll be addressing it later on in this post.
In fact, I will take this one step farther and say that even if a non-Christian sins, they do not necessarily have to repent for it to be a biblical story--so long as justice is done and wrong is punished. Cain never repented in Scripture, yet we all know that murder is wrong. Countless kings of Israel and Judah lived and died in rebellion towards God. So in the end, I'm not calling for a sweet-green-pastures story where nobody sins and they all repent in the end anyway.

But I am saying that if a book includes sin, whether or not the character repents, we should not be so emotionally wrapped up in the story that we say sin is excusable. Sin separates us from fellowship with God, for now and for eternity.

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. --James 2:10-11

But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.--Revelation 21:8

By this, both Jean Valjean and Fantine have their place in the lake that burns with fire, because Valjean is faithless (or unbelieving) and Fantine is sexually immoral.

But the fact is, we all are.

That's a pretty harsh judgement. Keep reading, for grace will come.

On Morality
We've already discussed the main themes of sin in the last post, and the danger of excusing it because of a character being sinned against. Sinned against does not eradicate the character's original sin.

But all that aside, I would like to bring up four obvious sins in the story.

First, let's take language.
Every story has it; I've already talked about how I deal with it in a post entitled "How to Deal With Dirty Words", which you can find on the Articles page. :) Certainly language is not an overcomeable obstacle, and some people are able to look past it altogether without a problem. However, I will warn you that Les Miserables takes language to the whole next level. It's not those two or three words that we've become so used to hearing that we no longer are bothered by them.  Victor Hugo chose to call it The Anguished because he's drawing his characters from the scum of Paris streets. You'll find plenty of mud clinging to them, including every kind of curse with both God and the Devil, and words derogatory towards women.

Next we have sexual immorality.
I'm not going to address Fantine in depth until Friday's post, so this section isn't even meant to talk about her. Iin Les Miserables, most of the characters have or are a mistress. Hugo never addresses this. In fact, the main theme of his story seems to be that if you sin in squalor and poverty than you're abused by law and society, but if everybody can sin with comfort and a good income, then there's no problem. Hugo himself had a mistress, Juliette Drouet, who devoted her life to him. Even though his wife had already died, the fact that he chose to have a woman (that had already borne a child as mistress to another man) shows that he's not going to judge that sin too harshly in his own novel. And he doesn't. The Friends of the ABC discuss women and mistresses like wares at the market; almost all of them have one.

Are these the heroes that we sing with so passionately?

Third, we have serious blasphemy.
To be honest, I had to put and end to Les Miserables (the book at least) due to the blasphemy. I almost didn't make it through the section with the Friends of the ABC after Grantierre's long speech, at the end of which he curses God with all the callous abandon of a man succumbed to alcohol. I would put the sentence here to prove myself, but I'm not going to do it. After dubiously whiting-out Grantierre, I continued on, only to be hit with the Thenardier family in a squalid room of an upstairs apartment. That's when I called it quits.

I can hack through the squalid streets of Paris, I can evaluate unbiblical ideas of democracy and Reason, but when the characters start lifting their fists and cursing God, I can't justify it any further.
And to clarify, I'm not talking about the misuse of His Name. I'm talking about literal curses.

Next, we have tolerance.
We often laud the Bishop Myriel for his redemption of Valjean. Catholic or not, he was the instrument of bringing Valjean back to a life of usefulness, and I would say, Christianity. He is a good man, a loving man, and greatly to be lauded for his compassion and commtiment to his people. The only problem with his theology, is that of his refusal to involve himself with the disputes of the church, and his tendancy to rely on  good works and religious tolerance. 1 Peter 3:15 says that we are always to be ready to give an answer, and Bishop Myriel had a strong vulnerability to those who were wrong, as in the case of Book 1, Chapter 10, when he's listening to the man who sat on the Council during the French Revolution. It's a disturbing chapter, full of wrong theology, and the bishop ends by asking the man's blessing.

Les Miserables has a tolerant view towards Christians/Catholics. They are good in the story, and that's a good thing. But it also has a tolerant view towards Napoleon, Reason, the French Revolution, and the idea that "whatever is truth for you is truth". That's a dangerous thing to expose ourselves to if we're so wrapped up in the drama that we miss out on evaluating the character's worldviews. It's the same as drinking poison because it tastes like lemonade.

On Love
Let's take a look at Cosette and Marius for a moment. The innocent love of a virtuous student and a sweet young girl contains more then can be seen at first glance. Marius leaves his grandfather after the man suggests he make Cosette his mistress, and rightly so perhaps. But Cosette has a guardian and father in the form of Jean Valjean, and she hides both her love and her midnight meetings with Marius from him. It's not right to sit beside a young man in the dead of night for hours on end without having adult accountability. However innocent it seems, Cosette is not the virtuous, feminine young lady she looks on the surface. She's a rebellious girl who's getting what she wants with deceit, and when Valjean finds out, he is crushed utterly.

Bear with me for a little longer. I know that this is a tough article, but we're almost done--and a breath of fresh air is coming.

On Justice

Les Miserables is a novel about social justice, or so I am told. So lets see who recieves justice. *spoilers*

Thenardier, child-abuser, thief, and possible murderer (I know he attempted it, at least) gets paid off by Marius to go to South America, where he becomes a slave trader. That's not justice. And Thenardier doesn't deserve mercy.

Valjean and Fantine recieve mercy, and rightly so, because they ask for it. Justice mixed with mercy, in both their cases. Though neither of them deserve it, this is a clear and accurate picture of the grace of God.

Javert commits suicide when he betrays his sense of legalism and cannot reconcile it in his mind. A form of justice, I suppose.

Marius and Cosette get their happy wedding, and happily-ever-after. Their deceits all turn out for the best, their abuse of Jean Valjean is forgiven, and they go sailing off into their honeymoon. They deserved at least a spanking over that one. But youth had it's way, and sent the wrong message to lovers everywhere--that rebellion turns out for the best in the end.

Love does not excuse all.

It's a novel on social justice. But it's not biblical justice. And a novel on biblical justice would develop both  justice and mercy, and give the law its due.

This post has been a heavy one for many of you, I'm sure. Take the time you need to think about it, to pray about it, and to do some reasearch into the themes of Les Mis for yourself. Let's use discernment in our reading choices, and not blindly follow just because it has select bits of truth, or is the current fad among period drama lovers. Our time is valuable, our minds are to be protected, and we need to be very careful how we use that time and what we allow into our minds. Once it's in, it's not going back out again.

But let's end on a somewhat more agreeable note.

On Valjean and Fantine

He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.
For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. --Romans 2:6-16, ESV
When a character sins, we must remember that whether or not they are Christians, the law of God is written on their hearts, and they are accountable to it. God doesn't have a seperate law for the Christians and the non-Christians. He judges them both based on one law.
According to that law, Valjean and Fantine are condemned for their sins, whether they are confessing Christians or not.
But praise be to God, that's not where it ends.
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!--James 2:12-13
If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.--2 Chronicles 7:14
Judgement must be given before mercy can be shown. If Valjean and Fantine did not sin, then from what were they redeemed? But thanks be to God, who does not end with judgement, but who shows mercy to the prostitute and to the thief on the cross. It is by his grace, that even though they have sinned without excuse, they are forgiven.
Next Time
The final post in this series on Les Miserables, we will look at the good and bad songs of the musical, Victor Hugo's writing style, the character of Fantine, the contrast between Valjean and Javert, and the rights and wrongs of the battle at the barricades, as well as touching on the 2012 movie that just released.
I love some of the musical songs. :)
Thank you for coming, and for those of you who listened with open hearts. May God guide you with all wisdom as you decide which books to fill your thoughts and time with.
And may we still dream the dream of justice and peace for all mankind.
Lady Bibliophile

Friday, January 11, 2013

Beyond the Barricades: Les Miserables

The story of an abused criminal, a loveless teenage girl, and a sweet woman's idyllic romance captured the hearts of period drama lovers by storm. Now, two years after the 25th anniversary Broadway musical and just after the release of the musical-turned-movie on Christmas Day, fans' passion for the story of Les Miserables has erupted at an all-time high. Visit any blog, and you'll be sure to see some reference to Les Mis in posts, comments, pictures, or sidebars.

It would be remiss of me to turn a deaf ear on passionate cries to "join in our crusade".

If you've dreamed the dream, or even if you haven't, welcome to My Lady Bibliophile for my in-depth impressions on the book and the Broadway musical. I'm going to be splitting this into two parts, as each deserves its own post, and if coupled together, might rival the length of Hugo's work itself. Though I would hope not. Affectionately known as "The Brick" amongst its fans, Les Mis maxes out at 1500 pages in it's Signet paperback edition, and that's a lot to write.

Before we begin, I must start with two disclaimers. I was reluctant to write this post only one short year ago. But after the release of the movie, I tried in vain to still the burning in my soul, and I have come to the prayerful conclusion that someone needs to say "the emperor has no clothes". Keep reading; I love fellow Les Mis fans and their passionate reviewing of the tale of the oppressed. Every book should be read with such passion. I'm not bashing the story in its entirety, and I certainly don't want to cause hurt to anyone. I simply want to bring attention to the fact that the book in its original, and the story we fans are loving, are two different things. Les Mis contains themes and worldviews that the average reader isn't being informed of, and we're swallowing the bad along with the good. My purpose is to do Les Miserables justice. Giving it its meed of praise for that which is good, and giving it its meed of rebuke for that which is not, according to Scripture. There is nothing threatening in this. After all, if we are afraid to bring any book to the light of Scriptural evaluation, then that in itself is the indication of a serious problem. So don't be afraid to read on, for my intention is not to be unduly critical. There is certainly material to be admired and excited over in this story.

Secondly, while I try to be discreet with every review I read, the story of Les Miserables is a dark one, full of mature themes. If you are under 14 years old and don't know the story, please check with your parents or another mature adult before reading this series.

Victor Hugo
To properly evaluate an author's work, one must know the author's worldview. Hugo's mother was a Roman Catholic, and his father was an atheist. After several years of travelling and marital tension, his parents separated, and he and his siblings were brought up by his mother in the Roman Catholic faith. Here's where his beliefs get a bit fuzzy; but there's enough evidence to give rise to concern. In his adulthood, different theories have been postulated. He did dabble in spiritism during his exile from France, possibly participating in seances with Madame Delphine de Girardin. Communicating with spirits is a very dangerous thing; in Scripture the one time we see this is in the account of Saul and the Witch of Endor, shortly before his death, when he was no longer receiving guidance from the Lord.
Hugo left the Roman Catholic Church in his adulthood, and refused to allow his sons or himself the officiations of a priest at their burials. While the Roman Catholic church has many errors, I can find to evidence that Hugo left it for something better. Some say that he espoused Rationalism, which is the belief that the truth is determined by intellect and deduction. Voltaire certainly influenced Hugo's philosophy, and Voltaire's unbiblical Enlightenment ideas promoted a belief in "God" without religious texts (i.e. The Bible) and his embracing of many different religions made that "God" into something quite different than the Christian God. In his Oration on Voltaire Hugo puts Voltaire's work on a level with that of Jesus Christ.

"Gentlemen, between two servants of Humanity, who appeared eighteen hundred years apart, there is a mysterious relation.
To combat Pharisaism; to unmask imposture; to overthrow tyrannies, usurpations, prejudices, falsehoods, superstitions; to demolish the temple in order to rebuild it, that is to say, to replace the false by the true; to attack a ferocious magistracy; to attack a sanguinary priesthood; to take a whip and drive the money-changers from the sanctuary; to reclaim the heritage of the disinherited; to protect the weak, the poor, the suffering, the overwhelmed, to struggle for the persecuted and oppressed--that was the war of Jesus Christ! And who waged that war? It was Voltaire.
The completion of the evangelical work is the philosophical work; the spirit of meekness began, the spirit of tolerance continued. Let us say it with a sentiment of profound respect; JESUS WEPT; VOLTAIRE SMILED. Of that divine tear and of that human smile is composed the sweetness of the present civilization." ~Oration on Voltaire, by Victor Hugo

This in itself should be enough to give rise to concern regarding Victor Hugo, but I continue.

 Hugo believed in the combat of good vs. evil. He believed in God and the human soul. He believed in heaven, and he certainly believed in some form of hell (at least on earth) though I do not know his view of hell in the afterlife.
In Victor Hugo's will he wrote: "I refuse the oration of all churches. I ask a prayer of all souls. I believe in God." But to be a Christian requires much more than a belief in God. As James says in 2:19 "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder."

Such is a small portion of the philosophy of Victor Hugo. An author's worldview affects his work, and with Hugo, this should give rise to concern.

But suppose it does not? Suppose Les Miserables was somehow able to avoid the errors of Hugo himself? Then I gently request that you keep reading.

Les Miserables: The Book

On Society
Hugo penned Les Miserables to force on the people's awareness the monstrous injustice of penal and societal law at the time. This in itself deserves commendation, for when a people is indifferent, and a justice system is unjust, it often falls to the authors to bring an issue kicking and screaming into the limelight. Certainly as a result of his work, the condition of orphans, women, and criminals has received a necessary share of attention.

Two things, on this section.

First of all, many people point to this reason for reading the book; and I think some are genuine in doing so. Some, after reading Les Mis, are inspired to address the issue of the oppressed.

The majority aren't.

That's okay. It's not a sin to read a book simply for enjoyment. After all, Jean Valjean being buried alive in the cemetery, the battle at the barricades, and Eponine's tragic sacrifice give rise to some pretty nail-biting moments, and it's fun to read a story full of those. But it behooves us to be extremely honest in why we're reading it, and if we're reading it for the story's sake, we shouldn't point to Victor Hugo's original purpose as our defense to read the book.

Secondly, whether or not we are reading it to ignite our passion for the oppressed, Hugo missed something very important in his societal critique. Logicians would call it a "hasty generalization". I wouldn't dare to call it hasty, for Hugo put seventeen years of thought into his work, but a generalization it remains all the same.

The fact is, people aren't righteous simply because they are poor and oppressed. Fantine was not a righteous woman. Valjean, at the beginning, and even later on in the story, was not a righteous man. Cosette was an innocent girl, but in the instance of her relationship with Marius, some of her actions give rise to question. And in spite of this, we love them all for it. Fantine is seen as an abused single mother, Valjean as the epitome of human forgiveness, and Cosette as the sweet idyllic girl madly in love with a young university student. Somehow, what they really are in the light of Scripture has gotten twisted due to the passion of their story.

Because Les Miserables is truth mixed with falsehood, we often excuse the original sin of the characters because they were later sinned against by society. Truth mixed with falsehood tends to be the strongest kind of lie.

But more on that in this next section.

On Sin

"To be a saint is the exception; to be upright is the rule. Err, falter, sin, but be upright. To commit the least possible sin is the law for man. Sin is a gravitation." ~Victor Hugo

"To commit the least possible sin is the law for man." But not according to the law of God. God doesn't have a "least" sin. Any sin, however small or great, will send a man to hell. Romans 10:3 says "Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness." Man's righteousness is "to commit the least possible sin" but God's righteousness is perfection, holiness, obedience. And we all fail that. So that's why we turn to Jesus Christ, who took our sin upon himself, and imputed his righteousness upon us. "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." -2 Corinthians 5:21

So let's place the precepts of Jesus Christ in Les Miserables and see how they stack up. Because Hugo did get some things right.

Take Valjean rescuing Fantine, for instance:

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
John 8:3-11

Fantine sinned. Javert, like the Pharisees, brought her up to be given justice. And Valjean responded similarly to Jesus' words in John: "Then neither do I condemn you. Go now, and leave your life of sin." Notice that Jesus still judged the woman, and told her that she was living a life of sin. This isn't an excusing of her sin, but a free pardoning of it, and a command to use this grace to begin a better life.

Thus for that particular scene.

How many of you think Jean Valjean was wrong to steal a loaf of bread? How many of you think the law was wrong to give him five years in prison for it, that stretched to nineteen?

The fact is, both Jean Valjean and the law were wrong. Valjean stole the loaf of bread because his sister's children were starving, in direct disobedience to God's command "Thou shalt not steal". He blatantly chose not to believe in God's power to deliver and provide for them, and determined that sin was justified under the circumstances. The God who multiplied the loaves and fishes wasn't powerful enough to overcome an unjust society, according to Jean Valjean. But people excuse him for his theft, firstly because his sister's children were starving, and secondly, because the law was later unjust to him.

The law was wrong. Five years hard labor for a loaf of bread is cruelly excessive according to biblical standards of penal restitution, and stretching that into nineteen years raises it to an agony abuse.

Jean Valjean was rightly punished for his sin. The law system also should have been punished for their excessive cruelty. But the latter's sin does not erase the former's. A theft is still a theft.

Next Time
Due to the unexpected length of this article, Les Miserables: The Book will continue for another bonus session on Tuesday looking at the romance, the morality of the story in general, and a continuation of the worldviews that Hugo endorses in his novel, followed with a separate post on the Broadway show a week from today.

My desire is not to kill the dream. It is as difficult for me to write this as I am sure it is for some of you to read. Let us trust the grace of God to give us wisdom in how to apply what we are learning here. There is good and hope yet to come. Please return on Tuesday, when I present how I enjoy the story while avoiding its false philosophies.

Press on, fellow bibliophiles. It is a good and beautiful thing to love redemption, and to champion the cause of the oppressed.

But it never hurts to hold a book or its author up to the light of Scripture.

Lady Bibliophile

*Please note that I welcome comments and discussion on this post; however, if you choose to comment anonymously, please leave some sort of initials/title to identify yourself. Thank-you!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

How Bibliophiles Earn Money

Hello, friends and fellow bibliophiles! It feels so good to be back after a week off blogging, and I'm looking forward to sharing some very exciting things with you in upcoming posts. January is kicking off to a fast start, and I've already got subjects picked through the end of the month.

Today, I'm going to address the issue of bibliophiles and money.

Oftentimes, those spare quarters and dimes really come in handy when it comes to building up your book collection, don't they? After all, books are classed amongst the 'luxury' items for most people, but for the bibliophile they're something a little more than that. They are the spice of life, the inspiration for those of us who like to write, and the fuel we use to change the world. Without books, the world would make the same mistakes the last generation did, because they are functionally illiterate.

"Leaders are readers", so every leader says. But in many cases the budding bibliophile doesn't have the means to purchase new books as much as they would like. Even if you do, what's to argue with more book money?

Let me introduce you to Swagbucks.

Search & Win

I am not part of their blogging affiliate program, nor am I connected in any way to their organization, but I was so pleased with their program that I want to share the joy with all of you. I would have shared it sooner, but I had to test it out first, to make sure it worked.

Here's what Swagbucks is:

You sign up on their website with email and street address, and they start you off with 30 points. Every time you use the Swagbucks search bar instead of a traditional Google bar, your search has the possibility of winning points. You won't win points every time, as it's a random thing. Once you earn 450 points, you can go to the SwagStore and turn it in for a $5 Amazon gift card--or there are various other prizes for various other cards and items.

There are other ways of earning points too--watching a select number of movies, playing video games, taking the daily poll, and survey opportunities. Since I didn't want to use my time playing video games, I've never tried out that feature, but if you enjoy that in your spare time you may want to explore it. Watching the videos was not rewarding enough to waste time on it, so don't go out of your way. Remember that little disclaimer "up to 150 points" when you're disappointed you only got 2 after a half-hour of your time. (Speaking from personal experience.)

 I use the search bar and the daily poll.

The daily poll is a multiple choice question, which might take 20 seconds of your time, and gives you one Swagbuck. I do it if I happen to think of it, but I don't stress out about it every day.
The search bar, as I said before, is a random winning thing. For those families who use extra caution on the Internet, Swagbucks does not display pictures in their search results, which can be a bonus. Also, you get one Swagbuck every day just having it installed on your Internet host site. (Note: even if you have it on more than one computer, you only get one Swagbuck, not one for each computer.) I use it for extensive writing research and online Bible study tools; therefore, I think students and writers especially can use it.

What it all boils down to: you get money while you're working. And that's pretty fun. I don't know how long Swagbucks will keep going, but I'm grateful for this tool as long as it lasts.

What I Bought
Before I was going to advertise this, I had to make sure it worked. So I searched, earned points, and collected Amazon gift card after Amazon gift card. There are various values: you can get $5, $25 or $50 cards, but I calculated out the points, and you get the best value if you buy $5 gift cards (at least from Amazon; I didn't calculate the others.) Amazon gift cards do not expire, and I entered 11 cards at checkout with no problem, so you don't have to worry about entering multiple cards.

This is what I saved up for:

Some books need to be in collector's editions, and I knew I would never save up the $55 necessary to get this. But God blessed me beyond my imagination, and over a year of using Swagbucks, I saved up the money necessary for the LOTR boxed collector's set. They're all hardbacks, illustrated by Alan Lee, and I had to tip the box upside down to get them out because they were so heavy. :) I'm working towards Focus on the Family: The Luke Reports next.

Swagbucks can help a tight family budget, or a student's spending money. It may not give you hundreds of dollars, but an extra $50 a year is $50 you didn't have before.

Swagbucks Dos and Don'ts

Some of us rely on this program so that we can build up our bookshelves and use them wisely. Please steward this resource well so that everyone can enjoy it for a long time to come. Here are some Swagbucks Dos and Don'ts:

Do use the toolbar whenever you need it, but Don't use it only to win Swagbucks.
Don't create multiple Swagbucks accounts for only one user, but Do create one for each family member if they so desire. (It's easier to have one account per electronic device.)
Do install the Swagbucks toolbar on each electronic device you use.
Do use your time wisely. Don't squander it on things that may not win you anything.

My Referral Code
If you are willing, I would be very grateful if you used my referral code while signing up. Within the first 48 hours of you signing up, I would get matching Swagbucks for everything you win, up to 1,000 Swagbucks. Multiple people can use my referral code when signing up.

Here's my code:

Available Prizes

Swagbucks offers gift cards to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Southwest Airlines, various restaurants and online stores. They also offer jewelry, a Kindle, and electronic and kitchen items. I recommend avoiding books, posters, and magazines as they are quite immodest.

You can sign up at www.swagbucks.com!

I am excited about the future things I can save up for through this program, and I hope you find it a valuable resource as well. Have you ever used Swagbucks, or do you have any money-earning tips that fellow bibliophiles can use? We would love to hear about them.

Blog Updates
You may have noticed, but My Lady Bibliophile is undergoing renovation! I just wanted to run over the features for you all.

New? Start Here contains the comment policy, which was last updated 1/7/13, so be sure to glance over it. :) It's short and simple. More additions coming to that page soon, so check back periodically. The Book Reviews and Articles pages are complete, with a link to every post I have done so far on this blog. As I post, I will add each post to the appropriate page. The articles are in the order of their appearance, and the book reviews are listed in alphabetical order by author's last name. Enjoy browsing!
The Movie Reviews page lists all the movies available for review. I will never spam your email address if you request a review. All titles are listed in alphabetical order, and the list will expand as I add more titles. If a title starts with "The" I use the next word instead.

My bookshelf has moved to the resources page, and I look forward to adding other great resources, such as favorite blogs, websites, and other great learning materials.

If you would like to post my blog button on your blog, it is now on the sidebar. :)

Any questions or difficulties with the new design? Let me know, and I'll do my best to make it as reader-friendly as possible.

Lady Bibliophile

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