HS #282 Storytime is for Grown-Ups, Too with Janice Campbell
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Janice Campbell, a lifelong reader and writer, loves to introduce students to great books and beautiful writing. She holds an English degree from Mary Baldwin College, and is the graduated homeschool mom of four sons. You’ll find more about reading, writing, and education from a Charlotte Mason/Classical perspective at her websites, EverydayEducation.com, Excellence-in-Literature.com, and DoingWhatMatters.com.
“The Three Questions” by Leo Tolstoy:
Excellence in Literature by Janice Campbell:
An Experiment in Criticism by C. S. Lewis: https://amzn.to/3v8AZ9v
Connect with Janice:
Hello and welcome back to another installment of the Homeschool Solutions Show. My name is Wendy Speake, and I am one of the many hosts we have here on the podcast. Each week you'll hear from one of us inviting one of our friends to join for a conversation about this busy blessed season as we educate our children at home.
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Hi, I'm Janice Campbell and today I'm going to read you a story. You might be wondering why. You're a grownup after all, and you probably read stories to your children all the time. At least I hope so. I'm a grownup too with a lifetime of story reading for others. However, I was reminded recently that story time is for grownups too.
Stories are more than words on paper. A good story can serve as a window through which we can see truth. Just as a picture is said to be worth a thousand words, a short story can often convey an idea more effectively than an entire self-help book. Aesop told fables deployed his listeners to right ways of behaving. Jesus told parables to show us what the Kingdom of God is really about. And the Prophet Nathan told King David a little story about a poor man and his lamb. It aroused the King's indignation and made him suddenly understand his own guilt.
I'm guessing that we all know those fables and parables, and quite possibly even refer to them in daily life. But do we remember that there are countless other good stories that can inspire and instruct us? I've been reminded of some of my favorite short stories as I've been updating my Excellence in Literature curriculum this year and one story in particular seemed like the perfect thing to share with homeschooling families. I'm going to close by reading it to you. But first, a couple of thoughts on how to read well.
First of all, no matter whether you're reading to your children or reading to yourself, the greatest benefit comes when you let the story speak for itself. CS Lewis, in an experiment in criticism, wrote that the true reader reads wholeheartedly and makes himself as receptive as he can. Alexander Pope reminds us to read in the same spirit that the author writ. If it's something serious, take it seriously. If it's light, take it lightly.
The same suggestions apply to listening to stories too. As Charlotte Mason so often reminds us, we need to let the great authors speak because the teachers talky talky is a distraction and a dilution of great ideas. And that's why, once I read you this story, I'll share my website to close, leaving you with Leo Tolstoy and The Three Questions.
The Three Questions by Leo Tolstoy
It once occurred to a certain King that if he always knew the right time to begin everything, if he knew who were the right people to listen to and whom to avoid, and above all, if he always knew what was the most important thing to do, he would never fail in anything he might undertake. And this thought, having occurred to him, he had it proclaimed throughout his Kingdom, that he would give a great reward to anyone who would teach him what was the right time for every action, who were the most necessary people, and how he might know about the most important thing to do.
And learned men came to the King, but they all answered his questions differently. In reply to the first question, some said that you know the right time for every action, one was drawn up in advance, a table of days, months, and years and must live strictly according to it. Only thus, said they, could everything be done at its proper time. Others declared it was impossible to decide beforehand the right time for every action. But that not letting oneself be absorbed in idle pastimes, one should always attend to all that was going on and then do what was most needful.
Others again said, however attentive the King might be to what was going on, it was impossible for one man to decide correctly the right time for every action, but that he should have a council of wise men who would help him to fix the proper time for everything. But then again, others said there were some things that could not wait to be laid before a council, but about which one had at once to decide whether to undertake them or not. But in order to decide that, one must know beforehand what was going to happen. It is only magicians who know that, and therefore, in order to know the right time for every action, one must consult magicians.
Equally various were the answers to the second question. Some said the people the king most needed were his counselors, others, the priests, others the doctors, while some said the warriors were the most necessary. To the third question, as to what was the most important occupation, some replied that the most important thing in the world was science. Others said it was skill in warfare and others again that it was religious worship.
All the answers being different, the King agreed with none of them and gave the reward to none. But still wishing to find the right answers to his questions, he decided to consult a hermit widely renowned for his wisdom. The hermit lived in a wood which he never quitted, and he received none but common folk. So, the King put on simple clothes, and before reaching the hermit's cell, dismounted from his horse and, leaving his bodyguard behind, went on alone.
When the King approached the hermit was digging the ground in front of his hut. Seeing the king, he greeted him and went on digging. The hermit was frail and weak, and each time he stuck his spade into the ground and turned a little earth, he breathed heavily. He came right up to him and said, I have come to you, wise hermit, to ask you three questions. How can I learn to do the right thing at the right time? Who are the people I most need, and to whom should I, therefore, pay more attention than to the rest? And what affairs are the most important and need my first attention?
The hermit listened to the king but answered nothing. He just spat on his hands and recommenced digging. You are tired, said the king. Let me take a spade and work for a while for you. Thanks, said the hermit, and giving the spade to the king, he sat down on the ground.
When he had dug two beds, the king stopped and repeated his questions. The hermit again gave no answer, but rose, stretched out his hand for the spade and said now rest a while and let me work a bit.
But the King did not give him the spade and continued to dig. One hour passed and another.
The sun began to sink behind the trees and the king, at last, stuck the spade into the ground and said, I came to you, wise man for an answer to my questions. If you can give me none, tell me so and I will return home. Here comes someone running, said the hermit. Let us see who it is.
The king turned round and saw a bearded man come running out of the wood. The man held his hands pressed against his stomach, and blood was flowing from under them. When he reached the cane, he fell fainting on the ground, moaning feebly. The king and the hermit unfastened the man's clothing. There was a large wound in his stomach. The king watched it as best he could and bandaged it with his handkerchief and with a towel the hermit had, but the blood would not stop flowing, and the king again and again removed the bandage soaked with warm blood and washed and rebandaged the wound.
When at last the blood ceased flowing, the man revived and asked for something to drink.
The king brought fresh water and gave it to him. Meanwhile, the sun had sat, and it had become cool. So, the king with the hermit's help carried the wounded man into the hut and laid him on the bed. Lying in the bed, the man closed his eyes and was quiet, but the king was so tired with his walk and with the work that he had done he crouched down on the threshold and also fell asleep so soundly he slept all through the short summer night.
When he awoke in the morning, it was long before he could remember where he was or who was the strange, bearded man lying on the bed and gazing intently at him with shining eyes.
Forgive me, said the bearded man in a weak voice when he saw that the king was awake and looking at him. I do not know you and had nothing to forgive you for, said the king. You do not know me, but I know you. I am that enemy of yours who swore to revenge himself on you because you executed his brother and seized his property. I knew you had gone alone to see the hermit, and I resolved to kill you on your way back. But the day passed, and you did not return, so I came out from my ambush to find you, and I came upon your bodyguard, and they recognized me and wounded me. I escaped from them but should have bled to death had you not dressed my wound. I wished to kill you and you have saved my life. Now if I live, and if you wish it, I will serve you as your most faithful slave, and will bid my sons to do the same. Forgive me.
The king was very glad to have made peace with his enemy so easily and to have gained him for a friend. And he not only forgave him but said he would send his servants in his own physician to attend him and promised to restore his property. Having taken leave of the wounded man, the king went out onto the porch and looked around for the hermit. Before going away, he wished once more to beg an answer to the questions he had put.
The hermit was outside on his knees, sowing seeds in the bed that had been dug the day before.
The king approached him and said, for the last time I pray you to answer my questions wise man. You have already been answered, said the hermit, still crouching on his thin legs and looking up at the king who stood before him. How answered, what do you mean asked the king.
Do you not see, replied the hermit. If you had not pitied my weakness yesterday, and had not done these beds for me, but had got in your way that man would have attacked you and you would have repented of not having stayed with me. So, the most important time was when you were digging the beds and I was the most important man. And to do me good was your most important business. Afterwards when that man ran up to us, the most important time was when you were attending to him, for if you had not bound up his wounds, he would have died without having made peace with you. So, he was the most important man and what you did for him was your most important business.
Remember then there is only one time that is important. Now. It is the most important time because it's the only time when we have any power. The most necessary man is he with whom you are for no man knows whether he will ever have dealings with anyone else. And the most important affair is to do him good because for that purpose alone was man sent into this life.
You can connect with me, Janice Campbell, and see the lovely, new and improved editions of my Excellence in Literature curriculum for grades eight through twelve at everydayeducation.com and at the Great Homeschool Conventions this year. I'll be there talking about literature and homeschool life, and I hope to see you there.
If you'd like to read more about reading, writing, and homeschooling, in an eclectic blend of the Charlotte Mason and classical traditions, my blog, doingwhatmatters.com has quite a few years’ worth posts. And finally, the excellence-in-literature.com. That's excellence-in-literature.com with hyphens between the words, is filled with articles and resources for people who are learning and loving great literature, because reading well can change your life.
Thank you for listening and goodbye for now.
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