Monday, September 24, 2012

Why Read the Classics?

“Classics have a multiplicity of both content and technique that makes them inexhaustible. By comparison, ordinary works seem a little thin, not matter how much we may like them.” Leland Ryken, Professor of English at Wheaton College

If classic literature intimidates you, especially in the high school years, I recommend Leland Ryken’s excellent book, Realms of Gold.  I had this book on my shelf for a long time and finally picked it up and read it this summer. The introduction alone is worth the price of the book.

In fact, we like this book so much we’ve added it our high school curriculum. Dr Ryken explains why the classics are important to us today and counters common fallacies and misconceptions about them such as:

We should read something true rather than something fictional.
Everything in a work of literature is offered for our approval.
We should read only literature with whose viewpoint we agree.
A literary work written by a non-Christian cannot tell the truth.
Old literature is irrelevant to us today

Be sure to read the classics for their ideas.
Assume without question that the classics tell the truth.
Regard the classics as beyond criticism.
Assume that moral considerations are irrelevant to the classics.
Be sure that you do not see anything in the classics that the author and original audience did not see in it.
Assume that all that matters is what a work says to you.
View the classics as relics in the museum of the past.

The author also points out the merits and dangers of myth and fantasy genres.

Dr. Ryken then proceeds to walk the reader through some of the more important classic works and reveals their worth and many-layered themes. Some of the works discussed include:

Homer’s Odyssey
Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales
Shakespeare’s Macbeth
Milton’s Paradise Lost
Dickens’ Great Expectations

Notable quotes for the Commonplace Book:
"If the classics are elitist, they are elitist in the same way that the pursuit of excellence always is.

The classics provide a balance to the clatter of contemporary events.

The classics are worthy of our admiration and should make us feel humble, but we should not venerate them as something sacred.

The classics generally espouse a system of virtues and vices with which a Christian can agree. But when we turn from virtues and vices to the values espoused by the classics, we suddenly have to scale down the claims that we make for their compatibility with Christianity."
We REALLY like this book and give it an A.


  1. Great topic! I think I might look into that book you recommended. Thanks 4 sharing

  2. Mr. Ryken has been showing up here a lot lately! I do need to check this one out, too! Thanks - I enjoy your succinct book reviews.


  3. Anonymous21.1.13

    What year did you add it to? I didn't see it in the lists I printed from the high school years.

    1. I haven't added it to the schedules because it covers some books that we don't read until year 12. I'm having my girls read this during their last year of school. (yr 11 or 12 is ideal)


    2. Anonymous22.1.13

      Thank you

      I would love to order my school books through your amazon store to help you as you have helped me. Not all books are listed. I didn't know you wanted to fix them or not to maximize benefit or not. I don't plan on doing major ordering until early March anyway. Just FYI

    3. Thanks for your thoughtfulness, Christy. I only add original choices not listed at HEO to the upper year booklists in the bookstore, so you won't find all of the high school books there. I do need to update it when I get a chance but don't let that keep you from ordering.

  4. Anonymous22.1.13

    Well, I'll be able to quite a bit for year 6 though. No worries. :0)