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10:15 am: Third Repost: The Goals of the Superversive

Here is the third of our reposts, gearing up to October 1st, the first anniversary of the Superversive Literary Movement.

Subversive Literary Movement

Any new venture needs a mission statement. So, what are the goals of the Superversive Literary Movement?

Well…let me tell you a brief story.

As a child, I distained Cliffsnotes. I insisted on actually reading the book. I would like to instill the same virtue in my children. But recently, I made my first exception.

My daughter had to read Steinbeck’s The Pearl for class. We read it together. She read part. I read part. The writing was just gorgeous. The life of the people involved drawn so lovingly. The dreams the young man had for his baby son were so poignant, so touching.

Worried about what kind of book this  might be, I read the end first. It looked okay. So, we read the book together.

Turns out, I had missed something—the part where the baby got shot.

Not a happy story.

Next, she brought home Of Mice and Men. We started it together. What a gorgeous and beautifully writing—the descriptions of nature, the interaction between the two characters. A man named George, who could be off doing well on his own, is taking care of a big and simple man named Lennie, who accidentally kills the mice he loves because of his awkward big strength. In George, despite his gruff manner and his bad language, we see a glimpse of what is best in the human spirit, a glimpse of light in a benighted world.

The scene of the two camping out and discussing their hopes of someday owning their own little farm, where Lennie could tend rabbits, was so touching and hopeful, so filled with pathos and sorrow, and so beautifully written. Steinbeck is clearly one of the great masters of word use.

But I remembered The Pearl.  I glanced ahead, but this time, I looked more carefully.

On the next to last page, while discussing how their hoped-for little farm with rabbits is almost within their grasp, George presses a pistol against the back of Lennie’s head and shoots.

Now, in the story, he does it with a terribly heavy heart. He does it for “a good reason”—Lennie accidentally killed someone, but…

That doesn’t make it better.

I sat there holding the remains of my heart, which Steinbeck had just ripped out and stamped on. The devotion of this good man George had led to nothing. All their golden hopes turned to dross, sand.

And it wasn’t just the end. The book was full of examples of “the ends justify the means” type of thinking – such as a man killing four of nine puppies, so that the other five will have a chance.

Very realistic? Check. Very down to earth? Check. Very “the way of the world”? Check.

Why give a book like this to children to read? What are we trying to teach them? That life is difficult and meaningless? That sometimes its okay to kill something we love for a “good reason”? That life is pointless? That dreams and hopes are a sham? That no matter how you try, you cannot improve upon your circumstance, so it’s better not to even hope? (That was what The Pearl was about.)

What possible good is such a message doing our children?

Maybe if a child grew up in posh circumstances and had never seen hardship—maybe then, there would be a good reason for letting them know that “out there” it can get hard.

But this was my daughter—whose youth resembles that of Hansel and Gretel, and not the fun parts about candy houses and witches. There are many things she needs in life—but pathos-filled reminders of how harsh life can be is not one of them.

The book was also full of cursing. I’m not sure I would have noticed, but my daughter kept complaining.

I closed the book and refused to read any more of it. I told her we’d find the answers online. She ended up getting help with it from her brother (who had been forced to read the book at school the previous year) and from a friend.

I’ve seen some of the other books on the school curriculum. Many of them are like this. In the name of “realism,” these works preach hopelessness and darkness.

They are lies!

So, you might ask, why does it matter if our children are being fed lies? They’re just stories, right?

What do stories matter?

Stores teach us about how the world is. They teach us despair, or they teach us hope. In particular, they teach us about the nature of hope and when it is appropriate to have it.

So why is hope—that fragile, little flutter at the bottom of Pandora’s jar—so important?

Because hope needs to be hoped before miracles can be requested.

In life, some things will go badly. True. Some things will go well. But what about everything in between? What about those moments when hope, trust, dare I say, faith, is required to make the difference between a dark ending and a happy one?

If we have been taught that hope and dreams are a pointless fantasy, a waste of time, we might never take the step of faith necessary to turn a dark ending into a joyful one.

Think I am being unrealistic, and my head’s in the clouds? Let me give a few examples.

Example One:

I heard a story on the radio the other day. A woman named Trisha is dying of cancer. She has an eight year old son named Wesley and no one else. No close friends. No relatives. No hope for her son.

Trisha met another Trisha…the angel who ministered to her in the hospital in the form of her nurse. When the news came that her illness was terminal, Trisha worked up the courage to do something astonishing. She asked her nurse: “When I die, will you take my son?”

The nurse went home and spoke to her husband and her four children. They said yes. They not only agreed to take Wesley, they took both Wesley and Trisha into their home, caring for them both as Trisha’s illness grows worse.

What if Trisha, laying in her bed in pain, had not had the faith, the hope, to ask her nurse this question? What would have become of her little boy?

If Trish believed the “realism” preached by Steinbeck and other “realists”, she would never have had the courage to ask her nurse for help.

Example Two:

Don Ritchie is an Australian who lives across from a famous suicide spot, a cliff known as The Gap. At least once a week, someone comes to commit suicide there.

Don and his wife keep an eye out the window. If they see someone at the edge, Don strolls out there. He smiles and talks to them. He offers them a cup of tea.

Sometimes, they come in for tea. Sometimes, they just go home. On a few occasions, he’s had to hold someone, while his wife called the police. Sometimes, the person jumps anyway.

Don and his wife figure they’ve saved around a hundred and sixty lives.

What if Don had believed that hopes and dreams are dross, and he never walked out there? What if he had spent the years standing in his living room, shaking his head and cursing the fact that he bought a house in such an unlucky place?

There are people living lives, perhaps children born who would not have been, merely because Don did not give up on those caught by despair.

Example Three:

Andrea Pauline was a student at the University of Colorado. She traveled to Uganda to study microfinancing for a semester. While she was there, she discovered that some of the local orphan children were being abused.

Andrea refused to leave the country until the government did something. She received death threats. She would not back down.

The government of Uganda took the forty-some children away from their caretakers—and gave them to Andrea. She and her sister now run an orphanage in Uganda called Musana (Sunshine). They have over a hundred children. (Matthew West was inspired by her story to write the song Do Something — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_RjndG0IX8 )

What if Andrea had believed the things preached by Of Mice and Men and The Pearl?

What if she had come home to America and cried into her pillow over the sad plight of those children back in Africa? What if she pent her time putting plaintive posts on Facebook about how the sad state of the world and how blue it made her feel?

Over a hundred children, living a better life, because one teenage girl refused to give up hope.

This is what the Superversive Literary Movement is for—to whisper to the future Trisha’s, Don’s, and Andrea’s that miracles are possible.

That hope is not a cheat.

The goal of the Superversive is to bring hope, where there is no hope; to bring courage, where without courage, hope would never be manifested.

The goal of the Superversive is to be light to a benighted world.

The goal of the Superversive is: 

To tell the truth.

Comments

 

Originally posted to Welcome to Arhyalon. (link)

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Comments

[User Picture]
From:nancylebov
Date:September 30th, 2015 04:36 pm (UTC)
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The books I remember with resentment are Ethan Frome and A Separate Peace-- they were dull *and* sad. I read The Pearl on my own, and remember it without fondness, but at least it wasn't someone else's fault that I read it.

I recommend The Saturdays by Enright. (I haven't read it for a long time, I'm hoping it holds up.) Four children pool their allowances so that each of them can afford an adventure every four weeks.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:September 30th, 2015 04:40 pm (UTC)
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Yeah...I read A Separate Peace, too.

The Saturdays sounds good.
From:mythusmage
Date:October 4th, 2015 07:32 pm (UTC)
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The goal of the superversive reader is to read the story, not skip over it as if it were just cliff notes. In fiction everything matters. As I recall George had a reason for shooting Lennie.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:October 5th, 2015 03:47 am (UTC)
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I wrote an answer to this from my daughter's account, but it seems not to have posted.

Of course, he has a good reason. Steinbeck is a brilliant writer, one of the best...both with descriptions and characters. My objection is not his craft but his choice of subject...that he chose to write this story at all.

We talk about this quite a bit at home because my oldest son keeps asking me how I knew, from the first few pages, that George would kill Lennie (I knew...that's why I looked at the end) and I find it hard to explain...how heavyhanded the emotional manipulation of the story was.
From:JD Cowan
Date:October 25th, 2015 05:36 am (UTC)
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"As I recall George had a reason for shooting Lennie."

A few years ago, I wanted to write and be a writer.

I couldn't do it.

I came up with many fantastical ideas and settings, but nothing would come out when I would write. That, or I would stop myself before I went too far.

Why did I stop?

Because even as an unrepentant agnostic, I couldn't push myself to put out nihilistic lessons disguised as literature. That isn't what I wanted to write, but I had this paranoia that no matter what I wrote I wanted it to inspire someone or give them hope. The world is hard enough without trying to drag other people, never mind kids, into the mud. I couldn't trust myself to write a hopeful story with an ending that meant anything, therefore I made peace with the fact I would never write anything. I felt that strongly about it.

A year later I became a Catholic after a terrifying conversion experience and ended up writing near a quarter of a million words in one year.

All because I finally had found an answer to drive me. I wouldn't have to explain to anyone why it was necessary for George to shoot Lennie because there would always be another choice.

That is what hope and inspiration is for.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:October 25th, 2015 05:52 pm (UTC)
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Exactly!

God bless you! Well said!
From:(Anonymous)
Date:October 9th, 2015 10:49 pm (UTC)

What of "The Grapes of Wrath"?

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Where the old man is nursed by Rose-of-Sharon?
I recall that novel encouraged love and support of one's fellow human.
It was heavy-handed, but imo Steinbeck's ouvre was writing lead-lined gloves.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:October 12th, 2015 04:24 am (UTC)

Re: What of "The Grapes of Wrath"?

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I have not read Grapes of Wrath in years, but I really liked it when I read it in high school.

I thought the end was very painful, though...so I remember in college gritting my teeth through the movie, waiting for the final scene. The movie ends earlier, with a typical old-fashioned Hollywood happy ending. I was so delighted. It was such an unexpected surprise.
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