Posted on 2008-11-09 by Rachel DeMille
I had a strange experience a few weeks ago. I’ve pondered on it many times since.
A friend of mine, who participates in an adult book discussion group, was having some difficulty with discussing a book. One of the group members found the subject matter to be extremely challenging. I believe she went so far as to characterize the book “bent”*. She supported her position with examples from the book and made her case well. This posed some difficulty for the moderator, and indeed, the other group members, because the book in question had been chosen as an example of a Core Phase classic. No “bent” book should be used as a Core Phase classic, is what I would have said.
The title? Little Britches, by Ralph Moody.
I have been vocal about my difficulties with some popular titles, from Harry Potter to Jane Eyre. It is not my purpose here to dissuade you from reading or liking either of these popular and influential books. I have reasons sufficient to me for disliking them. But Little Britches? Really?
Wow. Just goes to show…
But that’s not a good enough response. What does it go to show? How can you love Twilight and I not? How can I like Seventh Son and you not? What is the meaning of this???
I actually really like what it says about us. After all, TJEd isn’t a religion. There’s no post-mortal promise for the TJEd faithful. And we have nothing to prove to each other in terms of orthodoxy of our understanding or our application of the principles. It’s a free market of ideas, and if you resonate with one provider of TJEd mentoring rather than another, it neither accuses you nor the mentor you passed over of being heretical. I think it’s great!
But back to my ponderings on the one who called Little Britches “bent.” In some quarters, them’s fightin’ words. I previously could not have imagined a more perfectly innocuous story with absolute values for all. But on further consideration, what does that say about my demography-centered-ness?
A recent thread on the TJEdMuse pondered the fairy tales and the emphasis some saw on “white = purity/goodness”. There were concerns raised over what a brown-skinned child might unconsciously infer from such stories. I thought it was a consciousness-raising discussion. I really enjoyed it. In the same way, I enjoyed learning that I am so centered on my demography that I equate the old west values of Ralph Moody’s stories as the absolute gospel of family culture. Obviously, that’s an oversimplification, but so was my unexamined endorsement of the book.
But I actually have a point to make that isn’t quite so self-centered. It is this: we each bring our own experience to the books we read. This is why a classic work is so valuable—when we return to it with an expanded catalog of experiences, it is new to us in a certain way, and we can respond to it and learn from it newly each time. And my concerns over a book (which for me might be rooted in core, absolute values) are actually colored by my experience, and not just the values in their absolute form. So that, theoretically, someone who agrees with me absolutely on my absolute values (but who has a different life experience than me) can disagree with my evaluation of a work.
Classic? Whole? Bent? Broken? Healing? It really does depend. For myself, I can answer absolutely. But this does not mean that someone else’s compass is off if their answer is different from mine. That’s a really powerful lesson for me.
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