I’ve just started Alfred Lansing’s Endurance – Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, the story of polar explorer Ernest Shackleton and his crew’s adventure of living on an ice-moored ship near Antarctica for 10 months before their ship sinks, followed by 7 months living on an ice floe in the open sea until finally reaching safe harbor. I can barely put it down.
I’ve always loved real life adventure books, such as Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, Huntford’s The Last Place on Earth, Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, and Stanton’s In Harm’s Way. I follow the stories with maps next to my chair and Google Earth on my IPAD. I do background research on the people, the places and the times. Every one of these stories engages me in a way fiction, however exciting and adventuresome it might be, rarely does.
I think it starts with the obvious fact that these stories are about real people and real events. Now understand I’m a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings, but when the story brings you to the tightest places, I expect Gandalf to show up with some magic, and of course, he or some other character usually does because Tolkien can make it so. In real life adventure stories, there’s no magic. There’s the occasional miracle (I do believe in those), but there’s also a lot of remarkable behavior and action by ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.
So, as a result, I’m always inspired by these stories. They remind me that whatever challenge I’m facing (like a winter in northern Michigan), there’s always others who’ve went through a lot worse and not only survived but were victorious. But I also approach these books as I did business school case studies, an opportunity to learn, to grow and to gain new perspective and insight into people and the world. I learn from both the successes and the failures that are always a part of real life stories.
In particular I love to look closely at the leaders in these stories. I ask questions such as – what was their leadership style? Was it effective? What can I apply in my context? If I could, I would love to sit down and have a cup of coffee with Sir Ernest Shackleton and his men so I could learn firsthand about his leadership. But since that’s not possible, reading a well –written and researched book about him and his adventure is the next best thing. And, in this case, it also reminds me that my winter in northern Michigan isn’t really so bad after all.
Over Christmas our family discussed our favorite childhood books. I shared that my favorite ones are the Chronicles of Narnia. Our kids, on the other hand, all agreed that their favorite books are the Harry Potter series.
Then our daughter Christina said something that started me thinking, she said “I’m going to read all the Harry Potter books to my kids, just like you did, Dad, when you read us the entire Chronicle of Narnia book”. This means not only did R.K. Rowling and her Harry Potter series influence my kids; they’ll most likely influence our grandkids.
Then Christina said, “Dad, you’ve never read Harry Potter have you?”
Embarrassed I had to answer “No Christina, I haven’t”
Then I concluded that I need too.
Because if I haven’t read the one book series that ignited our kids love of reading, and also happens to be one of largest selling children’s books in history, as well creating so much controversy in some Christian circles, and now appears to be the books my future grandchildren will have read to them, then I haven’t done my job as a parent, future grandparent, and as leader of a Christian youth ministry.
So, I’m reading them now.
I’m into the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and I’ll I’m really enjoying them. I now understand why so many kids love these book. I also have to admit, I feel less guilty about allowing our kids to read books about witches and wizards because, though the stories are not perfect and do have the message that my beloved Chronicles of Narnia have, they are fun, wholesome, and show clear lines between good and evil.
So, though it’s a little late for my kids, I’m reading them for my grandkids, so that in some future family conversation about books I’ll be able to answer my grandkids’ question, “yes, I’ve read all the Harry Potter books.”43.928283-85.286682
C.S. Lewis got it right in his assessment of benefits and the necessity of reading old books. Now I just need to do a better job of following his advice.
“There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should be content himself with the modern books….This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology….Now this seems to me to be topsy-turvy. Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old….it is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read on old one to every three new ones….We all…need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books….We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century…lies where we have never suspected it….None of us can fully escape this blindness….The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.”
Quoted by John Piper in God’s Passion for His Glory, from C.S. Lewis’ “On Reading of Old Books” in God in the Dock43.928283-85.286682
I’ve just finished reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings for maybe the 10th time. I’ve read it so many times because it moves me like no other book (besides the Bible). I actually want to be in the story.
And here’s what moves me and draws me back every few years.
First I love the characters. They are noble, humble, live sacrificially and fun-loving. We, however, live in a cynical and jaded world where we’ve come to believe that no one is capable of living for something greater than themselves. Even Peter Jackson’s movie version affirms this view by his portrayal of some of the characters. But Tolkien’s characters provide us hope that it’s possible that the world and Jackson are wrong and we can live above the cynicism that surrounds us.
Speaking of worlds, I also love the world in which the story takes place. I want to live in a world, like the Shire and Middle Earth, where the love of family, friends and the land seem so rooted and intertwined. Instead we live in a transient world where we’re disconnected from each other and creation. To believe a different life’s possible, one as Tolkien created, has a powerful draw.
Finally it has one of the elements I love in any story – a grand adventure. I’m an adventurer at heart and this story has the ultimate adventure – to do the impossible, at any cost, for the sake of others and the world.
So I know I’ll read The Lord of the Rings again someday because I’ll want the old magic to once again rekindle within me the desire for a different world, Tolkien’s, and ours.
In my next post I’ll share some of my favorite quotes from The Lord of the Rings.43.928283-85.286682