Reading the Classics: “Long and Difficult Works”? – L.Ryken

GuidetoClassics-LRykenOne of the recent books I received from Crossway publishers for review is A Christian Guide to the Classics by noted Wheaton College English professor Leland Ryken (2015).

In his first chapter Ryken answers several objections to and misconceptions about reading classics. One of those misconceptions we covered in our previous post on this new book.

Today we look at “Misconception #5: Classics are by definition long and difficult works.” About this Ryken has the following to say:

     …Several things are wrong with this automatic assumption that classics are necessarily long masterworks.

First, every genre has its classics, including short works and simple ones [Here Ryken refers to such things as nursery rhymes, folk stories, and even hymns.].

…Second, short lyric poems can be classics. Hundreds of them are.

…Furthermore, we are all entitled to have our own private list of classics. …The Narnia books by C.S. Lewis and the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder have been classics to generations of families. …In both cases they are simple stories and not epics on a par with Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Finally, the Bible is the supreme classic. Is it a masterwork? Yes, but that is not how Christians through the centuries have experienced it. They have experienced it as an everyday companion in their lives. The Bible has been the most accessible of all books for believing families and individuals. If the Bible is a classic, all Christians have at least one great classic in their repertoire. If they have one, they can have many.

And with those points made, Ryken concludes with this:

     To value the classics does not require us to have an advanced literary education. This is not to disparage the classic masterworks. For people of sophisticated literary taste, they are the best of the best. What is most important, however, is to value classics in whatever form they enter our lives. Of course, to aspire to the highest is always a virtue. Additionally, all education is ultimately self-education. The way to acquire a taste for the classics is to read them. The tragedy would be to settle for our current level of attainment and not aim higher than that (pp.13-15).

Good thoughts, don’t you think? What was the last “classic” you read? Are you (and am I) prepared to aim higher?

Published in: on October 20, 2015 at 10:17 PM  Leave a Comment  
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