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Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Legacy of Literature

Today I am going to move from things I wrote in high school to something I wrote my freshman year of college.  This essay was written for my freshman comp class during my first semester at junior college.  We were told to find an aphorism (which, according to the dictionary is a pithy observation that contains a general truth) and write an essay about why we thought the aphorism we chose was true using personal examples.  Enjoy.

                                                                            The Legacy of Literature
                                              “A room without books is like a body without a soul”
                                                                                        - Cicero

Just as the soul of a human being brings life and animation to the body, so do books bring those same qualities to a room. When the soul departs, the body is left a lifeless shell - a shadow of what was. Likewise, a room without books is dull, lifeless and dead. A person’s soul is immortal, living on after the body is dead; so to, are books. Long after an author has died, the books written by them have the potential to live on to inspire and teach those who come after. 
I have experienced such teaching and inspiration in my own life. Many of my favorite books, the ones that impacted me the most, were written by people who died many years before I was born. A perfect example
are the works of C.S. Lewis. Lewis died in 1963, on the same day that Kennedy was shot, but his writings have profoundly impacted my life. Of  the many works by Lewis that I have read, the most powerful for me were, and still are, the Chronicles of Narnia. These seven books chronicle the history of the fantastical world of Narnia, from it’s birth to it’s death, and how over the years 8 different children from our world came into Narnia and were used to help shape it’s future. Written for children, these beautiful stories are priceless jewels at any age. As a child, I loved them merely as good stories. But as I have gotten older, and my knowledge of the world has increased, I appreciate them so much more. The stories are beautiful just as stories, of course. But underneath the fantasy, there is a thread weaving the story together, painting a picture inspired by Lewis’s strong Christian faith, a picture that points to the message of the Gospel of Jesus and the God of the Bible. As I got older I began to see and understand the deep symbolism and meaning behind these stories and have grown to appreciate them that much more. 
A different book that deeply impacted me and was written by an author long dead, is In His Steps by Charles Sheldon. Published in 1896, it is the story of a pastor who challenged himself and his congregation to spend a year only ever doing what Jesus would do. He challenged them to stop before making a single decision, big or small, important or trivial, and ask themselves and the Lord what Jesus would do. Not everyone took the challenge, but for those who did, their lives were never the same. Virginia Page, a wealthy young heiress, instead of living the comfortable life of a beautiful socialite, put half of her money into a Christian newspaper, and then used the rest to minister to the people of the slums and tenements. Rachel Winslow, a promising young singer, gave up the opportunity to become a rich and world-renowned singer and instead dedicated her life and voice to helping Virginia minister in the slums. Rachel ended up marrying Rollin, Virginia’s brother. Rollin Page was a spoiled rich young man who spent his days in idle dissipation, but was converted at a meeting where Rachel sang and devoted his life to witnessing to the men he used to meet at the club. 
I read this book my sophomore year of high school, and it really rocked my world. It challenged me, made me question the decisions I make in my day to day life. It made me ask myself, do I always do what Jesus would do? Not all the time. This book was a good challenge, a burst of cold water that really woke me up and made me think about how I live out my faith. 
Another deceased author whose works impact me is Jane Austen. Most famous for her novel Pride and Prejudice, Austen skillfully crafted novels that wove together insightful observations of her society, timeless morals and wisdom and vivacious wit in a way that is a pleasure to read. Of her seven novels, I have read four. Of those four, I can never decide which is my favorite; Pride and Prejudice; Sense and Sensibility; Northanger Abbey; Mansfield Park. All are beautiful, all have that decided Austen appeal. When I read a Jane Austen novel, I am drawn into the lives of the characters. There are some with whom I strongly identify, such as Marianne Dashwood, with her impulsive, passionate and outspoken nature and voracious appetite for books and poetry. There are others whom I greatly admire and wish I were more like, such as Elizabeth Bennett, for her sparkling wit, or Fanny Price for her willingness to serve, or Elinor Dashwood, for her sense of propriety and decorum. The way I think and write has been effected by my reading of Austen’s novels. My letter writing has a decided Austen flavor. Most of my letters sound as if the wording was pulled straight out of Pride and Prejudice, or Mansfield Park. I love the manners and the courtesy from that time. Although some of the manners and habits may be slightly outdated, courtesy never is, and these novels inspire me to do my best to behave as a true lady should. 
Books are beautiful things. The messages, thoughts and ideals expressed within them are immortal. Timeless. Classic. Through the words written on a page, the author of the book lives on long after his death, speaking to us, his readers, and sharing with us hopes and dreams that never die. 

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