I have a lesson I teach at workshops that captivates me. I love to teach it because it excites me, and I love watching people’s faces when the simplicity of this lesson dawns on them. Oddly, I don’t remember where the concept came from. Perhaps it was presented whole to me in some mostly forgotten class in college or even high school. Perhaps I pieced it together from lectures and textbooks over the years. Maybe I made the whole thing up. I’m good at making things up.
I connected with this concept when a student asked, “What makes a piece of literature a classic?”
I knew the answer! I’m sharing it with you in the hope that it will impact your enjoyment of what you are reading.
Why do we read some books over and over? Why do some books end up in curriculum, each generation savoring the story of an author long dead?
Three things make a book a classic:
1. The work must identify the condition of man.
2. The work must shed light on a universal truth.
3. The work must inspire the reader to seek a higher plane.
This applies to the greatest story ever told.
The Gospel identifies humankind as sinners separated from God.
Universally, people struggle with the emptiness that living without God generates.
Believing in Christ and the resurrection after the punishment for an individual’s sin motivates people to accept salvation, read the Bible, and follow God’s Word.
You can bet I wrapped that little sentence in fine cloth and treasured it in my heart. I revisit it when I feel like I’m not of much use.
The theme of DragonSpell is moving from a state of slavery to a servant attitude. Assessing the story through the lens of a classic might look something like this.
Condition of man: Kale has been given gifts that she doesn’t recognize.
Universal truth: To develop and utilize one’s gifts takes effort, courage, and guidance.
The higher plane: To use one’s gifts for the benefit of others without regard to fame or fortune.
Sometimes the higher plane can be identified as a moral warning.
In “Little Boy Blue,” the boy neglects his duty and loses his sheep. So the higher plane is choosing to honor commitments.
In “Goldilocks,” the little girl learns to use some discretion when entering into unknown territory and pillaging things belonging to others. The higher plane is to aim to be a wise explorer and therefore safe from bears. And the bears learn to lock their doors.
But classics are enjoyable whether you’ve identified them as such or not. So, please don’t start reading all your fiction as if there’s a test at the end. Enjoy the story. But also be aware that a classic might change your attitude. In fact, some books have changed the attitude of a multitude of readers. Uncle Tom’s Cabin and To Kill a Mockingbird are two that come to mind.
I confess that I generally liked the classics I was forced to read in school. Many of the messages stayed with me. Some of them I even read again when I didn’t have to. They read so much better when you don’t have to write a report afterwards.
But another thought rears a venomous snake-like head: Story impacts our minds and hearts. Wonderful, when the tale brings truth to a searching individual. Devastating, when the words lead a fragile personality down a path of deception, destruction, and distance from our loving Father.
Be careful what you read.
Be careful what you write.
God of the Fairy Tale by Jim Ware
Finding God in The Lord of the Rings by Kurt Bruner and Jim Ware
Donita Paul is the author of the popular DragonKeeper Chronicles and The Chiril Chronicles. In addition she has authored the children’s books The Dragon and the Turtle and The Dragon & the Turtle Go on Safari.
Donita lives in Colorado where she mentors writers of all ages, teaching teenagers and weekly adult writing workshops.