Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Monday, August 31, 2020

Dumbed Down Literature 

I am all for making literature relevant. That's part of a teacher's job. But if you change the literature so much that it bears little resemblance to the original, you haven't really made it relevant, you have made it meaningless.

I hate standing in church and singing dumbed down hymns. I guess they don't think we'll get the poetry, so they make it easier. Here's an example:

Original version:
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
hither by thy help I'm come;

Dumbed down version:
Here I find my greatest treasure;
hither by thy help I've come;

So how do I know that the second one is a dumbed down version? Because of this verse from the book of 1st Samuel:
Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the LORD helped us. (1st Samuel 7:12)
The Hebrew word Ebenezer means "stone of help." So the phrase is rich with meaning. It should be explained or studied until it is understood. But no, that would be too much work. So just make it easy.

But what about Bible translations? Should we make everybody use the King James? First of all, that's a different issue, because the King James is not original literature, it is a translation. No translation has any more claim to originality than any other. Translations are translations. But that being the case, I still think there is a value in learning something about great works of literature, including the King James.

What about children's versions of literature? Mom and Dad gave Mel and I our own Bibles on my eighth and her seventh birthday. I got a blue one and she got a pink one. It was a King James Bible. I thought I should read through it. I tried several times, but I always choked on Leviticus. I didn't realize that Leviticus is a law book. It's not filled with interesting stories like Genesis and Exodus. If I had managed to suffer through Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, I might have sailed through the historical books. But I didn't know that.

So what to do? In our house, we had a book called "Egermeier's Bible Story Book." It was a big book with lots of pictures and short Bible stories covering the main stories in the Bible from beginning to end. I grabbed that thing and read through it, and that really helped me to sort of get my arms around what the Bible was about. But I never, never intended that to replace the Bible. Once I got through it, I put it aside and never looked at it again. It had served its purpose. So if simplified versions can help you to relate to great works of literature, that's fine. But if they replace great works of literature, that's very unfortunate.

So how do we make literature relevant? First, let's all just be honest and admit that reading great works of literature can be a real chore. But if we take the time to break it down and talk about plot, characterization, and theme, it can be an enriching experience. We should also remember these words of wisdom from Solomon:

And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. (Ecclesiastes 12:12)
So we should be judiciuus. A big part of becoming literate is the realization that we will never be able to read everything. We won't even be able to read more than a tiny percentage of the best books that have been written. So we need to specialize. Focus. Constantly work the balance between the importance of general knowledge, and the value of being really good at something that not everyone can do. Intersperse difficult works of literature with easier to read stuff. If it's really tough, read a few pages a day. A couple years ago I decided to rectify a deficiency in my study of the American Civil War: I had never read Gone With the Wind. So a couple summers ago, I put everything else aside and started plowing through it. I did what I often do with books like that--I worked my way through the first half as soon as possible and then kicked back and took my time getting through the rest of it. I finished it some time ago, but I just finished entering my notes for it in my database a few weeks ago. It was work. But now that it's done, the benefit of that learning stays with me and enhances my perspective on a very important event in history.



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