“I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not. Across the color line I move arm in arm with Balzac and Dumas….I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously, with no scorn nor condescension.”
- W.E.B. Du Bois
Above, there is a brief quote by a prominent black scholar on why the great works of literature, no matter who wrote them, appeal to universal themes, across cultural lines, across gender lines, across color lines. The fact that most great authors are dead white males is irrelevant. Because the works they write transcend these barriers, so significant to much of humanity, they ought to be studied by everyone, and they have some pearl of wisdom for every situation.
So today, I have compiled for you a list of fiction works which I believe most strongly emphasize those universal themes which pertain to Catholicism. For even if it is so that great works all emphasize universal themes, some focus on certain themes above others, and for that reason can be of greater benefit to the Catholic mind.
So, without further ado, here are my list of six works of fiction every Catholic should read:
1. The Lord of the Rings, By J.R.R. Tolkien
An obvious one to put at the top. Written by a fervent Catholic, who was indeed raised by a priest, this work is full of Catholic themes. The main plot? An ordinary, weak hobbit, accompanied by an absolutely devoted friend, must cross through a land controlled by essentially a demon, to rid himself of a terrible burden that could give the dark lord power, and threatens his morality, character, and sanity. One of the only things which gives him strength on this terrible journey is special white bread, which looks quite ordinary but which refreshes the Spirit, stiffens the body, and prepares one for a terrible struggle. Surely, there is a lesson in that for us all.
2. The Father Brown mysteries, by G.K. Chesterton.
Although written before his conversion to Catholicism, this work by the jolly genius of the 20th century will constantly invigorate the Catholic mind, as it sees even those aspects of it which look commonplace or dull revealed for the truly transcendental salvation which they hold.
3. Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo
I am quite certain that not everyone will agree with me on this one. Victor Hugo had a noted anti-cleric streak, the book is very long, and often rambles about unrelated matters. Nevertheless, I feel it an important work to read. It is the story of ignorance falling into sin, of sin and harshness corrupting a good man, of his path down the road of evil being halted by the charitable act of a selfless priest. It is the story of a man who has sinned attempting to expiate his evil by a life of penance and selflessness. And it paints for us as a warning sign every vice which could tempt humanity, always in disapproving, yet such human terms. It is not an easy read, but it is well worth the trouble.
4. The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis
Another classic of the Christian genre. More a commentary on the spiritual life than an actual work of fiction, it nevertheless has its own plot twists and cliffhangers, as we watch the soul of a young man hang in the balance.
5. The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis
Little introduction is needed to such a popular work. Here, the themes of redemption, hope and wonder which characterize Christianity, and especially Catholicism, stand out so sharply that they would prick even the dullest mind and heart into an invigorating quest for the truth.
6. The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis
At this point the reader may be outraged at seeing C.S. Lewis three times and Chesterton and Tolkien only once. I admit, it is a terrible injustice. And it shall be rectified in part two. But C.S. Lewis has a clearness about his writing that makes him a good intro to the other two. This particular trilogy is a masterpiece, and is explicitly Christian in a way few books are.
In future posts on this topic, look for historical fiction, some more modern books and some books a trifle more in depth . Until then, work on the books I’ve listed. If you have any suggestions for part two, tell me in the comments!
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