Henry Sienkiewicz’s “Quo Vadis”

BLOG #5, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #26
HENRYK SIENKIEWICZ’S QUO VADIS
January 29, 2014

Some time ago, our daughter Michelle suggested we pose one question to our Book Club members each month. By responding (on Facebook), they could thereby get book discussions in motion that we have lacked up to now. With this in mind, here is Question #1: Generally speaking, or specifically, of what value are our book selections so far? In other words, how do they enrich your life? Change it?

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One of the requests from those who love books that came in during the last month was this one: Feature more of those classic books you edited for Focus on the Family and Tyndale House. Altogether, there were twelve. Four have already been Book Club selections: Charles Dickens’ The Christmas Carol (Nov. 23, 2011); Abbie Farwell Brown’s The Christmas Angel (Nov. 23, 2011); Grace Richmond’s The Twenty-Fourth of June (May 23, 2012); and Gene Stratton Porter’s Freckles (July 17, 2013). Some of you may wish to go back in time and retrieve those four if you haven’t done so already. The other eight are: Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and Little Men; Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe; Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield; Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables; Lew Wallace’s Ben-Hur; and this month’s selection: Quo Vadis.

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Wheeler edition (2000) 663 pages

Scan_Pic0069Pocket Book movie abridged version (1952) 181 oages

I would welcome your e-mailing or writing me with your suggestions: which of these would you like me to feature in this year’s Book of the Month selections?

For each of the twelve books, I wrote an introduction to the book, a modest biography of the author (averaging about 40 – 60 pages); and discussion questions for teachers, parents, homeschoolers, individuals of all ages, at the back. And I did my best to feature the earliest illustrations used for that book, a list of that author’s writings, and movie history. Needless to say, all this was extremely time-consuming (some books taking a year to complete). Also each book was unabridged. It might surprise you to learn that a good share of the classic books sold today are abridged, but don’t so indicate! I consider that a betrayal!

So, with that preamble, let’s move on to 2014’s first Book of the Month.

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Street and Smith  paperback. (1900) 246 pages – abridged

Scan_Pic0072Hippocrene trade paper (1992) – 494 pages, Stanley F. Conrad translation

My own introduction begins with these words:

Most books that we read barely register in our memory bank–they are there, but only dimly. Rarely does a book dig in its heels and demand that it be taken seriously and that it not be forgotten after you finish it and put it down. Quo Vadis is that kind of book.

I first read it many years ago when I was young, and loved it for its excitement and panoramic windows into that long-ago world of the Praetorian Guard; the pomp and opulence of the Roman imperial court; the ludicrous yet malevolent Nero; the fascinating arbiter of elegance, Petronius; the opportunistic and amoral Chilo; the vindictive Tigellilnus; the slave girl with a secret love, Eunice; the forgiving physician, Glaucus; the Christian mother-mentor, Pomponia; the evil virago of an empress, Poppaea; the faithful courtesan, Acte; the apostle of love, Paul; the quo vadis apostle, Peter; the disillusioned old general, Aulus; the faithful Hercules, Ursus; the ruthless young tribune, Vinitius, and the great love of his life, the beautiful princess, Lygia–this incredibly real cast of characters comes to life as you read, and it never leaves you. In addition there is the kaleidoscopic imagery of racing chariots; decadent imperial banquets; the burning of Rome; torchlight processions into old graveyards; candlelit glimpses into foul, plague-ridden prison cells; Christians burning as living torches in Caesar’s gardens, crucified on crosses like their Master, beheaded like Paul, speared by gladiators, pulled apart by horses, gored by bulls and bisons, or savagely attacked by wild dogs, lions, panthers, tigers, and bears. It’s almost mind-boggling that Sienkiewicz managed to cram all this between two covers!

It is not a book for small children, for it is powerful fare filled with violence. But for the rest of us, it serves as a reality check. Our society has so sanitized events like the bloody lashing of Christ. His falling to the ground under the weight of the cross, His humiliating stripping and public nakedness; the agony resulting from having a crown of thorns driven into His scalp, the nailing of His hands and feet to the cross, the ripping of His muscles as the cross is dropped into the hole, the public taunting, the terrible thirst, the brokenhearted death–yes, we have so sanitized all this that we completely miss the agonizing reality of Christ’s sacrifice for mankind.

The same is true of the terrible period of Christian persecution unleashed by Nero, which we quaintly reduce to “the Christians and the lions.” Only as we read a realistic book like Quo Vadis can we genuinely conceptualize what it was like to be a Christian during those days when death was the probable price you would pay for your convictions. It is a sobering book. It is also about as historically accurate as Sienkiewicz could make it (exceptions noted in the Discussion Questions).

So powerful was this 1896 book that in 1900, Sienkiewicz was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Today, he is considered to be Poland’s greatest author.

Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846-1916) was born near Lukow in what was then Russian-occupied Poland. Few nations have had a more tragic history than Poland, plagued by having no natural borders. After studying philosophy at Warsaw University, he began his illustrious literary career. He dedicated his life to the celebration of the history of the Polish people. Greatest of these fictional novels was his trilogy: With Fire and Sword (1890, 1892, 1895), The Deluge (1891), and Pan Michael (1893). As for Quo Vadis? it has been translated into over 40 languages, and, according to Stanley F. Conrad, is “the greatest best-selling novel in the history of literature.”

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “The message of Quo Vadis? is universal. Contrasting as it does the early Christian message of love and reconciliation with the debauchery of a corrupt Roman empire that caused its own demise, it speaks to the present as it once did to the tumultuous years that opened the 20th century.”

The title comes from a famous moment in the Apostle Peter’s life, when, as he was fleeing Rome and the wrath of Nero, God stopped him (at a still-pointed-out location in the then outskirts of Rome) with this question, “Quo Vadis?” [“Where are you going?”] After communing with his Lord, Peter returned to Rome, knowing that by so doing, he would die there a martyr to his faith.

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Book Readers Weigh In – Part 2

BLOG #4, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
BOOK READERS WEIGH IN
Part Two
January 22, 2014

Last week, I shared with you some of the responses that have come in on the subject of Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Club. This week I’ll share a few more; then on the 29th we’ll begin a new year of book of the month reading suggestions.

Some readers relay or share the book blogs with others, such as this one:

Please add ________ to your author book blog. I have been forwarding some of your book reviews to her. Like me, she is over 69 and enjoys great literature. I find your reviews stimulating and educational.
–Laura T.

Others admit to being extremely selective/picky about which ones they read, such as this very short response:

My favorites: The Calling of Dan Matthews and Penrod. I always glance over your weekly blog, probably read half.
–Jane A.

Some readers, such as this one, search for bargains:

Just discovered that Kindle offers several of the book club choices for free. I’m looking forward to reading each one! Thank you for encouraging me to read great stories by authors whom I had never met before. I’m thinking specifically of Zane Grey.
–Kay P.

A number of responders are members of our Zane Grey’s West Society, such as this one:

The only one I read from your list, was the Walden Book. I then read the Victor Friesen book about Thoreau which I had bought at the Gold Beach convention. Of course, I have read all the Zane Grey books, Purple Sage twice. I read a lot and am now reading the Ellen Meloy books.
–Kathleen K

Others, such as this one, read mainly the ones that are readily accessible to them:

I read all the blogs you send out with interest but since I don’t have all the books you recommend, I am not able to read all of the books.
–Marilyn N.

I shall close with a very special response, special in that she makes additional suggestions re books that are meaningful to her:

I just wanted to let you know that I do read your posts faithfully and have sought out a few of the books you’ve mentioned. I’m happy to report that I’ve already read many of them! Is there any joy so great as the joy of reading????
I typically read 4-6 books a week, depending on the book and the week. I’m currently reading World Without End (1000+ pages, set in Kingsbridge, England in the 1300s) by Ken Follett. It is a sequel to Pillars of the Earth.
Also on my night stand, Border Wars of the Upper Ohio Valley, William Hintzen’s story of Wetzel and the Zanes and the other familiar characters of that time. I’m especially anxious to read it, now that I’ve finished the Betty Zane—Youth Edition and am continuing to work on editing the other two volumes in the Frontier Trilogy for young readers.
If you haven’t already read it, I would strongly recommend The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal and the Real Count of Monte Cristo. It is the biography of General Alexander Dumas, father to the author. A FABULOUS BOOK that definitely deserves its Pulitzer Prize status. It is meticulously researched and presents a vivid picture of a person who was in all ways LARGER THAN LIFE. A mulatto son of a ne-er-do-well French nobleman and a black slave mother, born in St. Domingue (now Haiti), Dumas was sold into slavery by his father–along with his mother and three younger brothers–when he was about 10, so his father could buy ship’s passage back to France. Dumas was later bought back by his father (his siblings and mother were not…) and given a gentleman’s education and privileged life in Paris in the years before the Revolution.
I was struck throughout by the fact that Dumas’ incredible life and insane heroism as a soldier for the Revolution and later for Napoleon, would be too fantastic to be believed if it were merely a novel–which, in a way, it did become through his son’s writing. I was particularly impressed by the way Tom Reiss, author of The Black Count, brought to life that time in history in the telling of the Count’s story. If you haven’t read the book, it is DEFINITELY worth doing.
How I wish we could get children to lay down their electronic gizmos and pick up a book, which can take them where no noisy piece of equipment with a blinking screen ever can….
–Rosanne V.

Book Readers Weigh In

BLOG #3, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
BOOK READERS WEIGH IN
Part One
January 15, 2014

Ever since readers were asked to respond with their views of Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Club, responses have been rolling in. Most of the responders clearly want to see the series continue, beginning with this first responder:

I have been following your “Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Club.” I really enjoy it, and have read books that I didn’t know existed. I will have to admit that I am still in the process of reading Les Miserables. Since I haven’t seen either the musical or the movie, it is all new. I am sure that I would never have gotten into any of Zane Grey’s books without your suggestions on the blog. They are completely different from my preconceived notion.

I have read, or already own and have read, most of the books. I especially enjoyed the books by Grace Richmond–looked others up on line–The Master’s Violin, City of Bells, and My Friend the Chauffeur–also a couple of other books by the same authors.

What I think I appreciate most is having some guidance on what is worth spending time reading. I have always enjoyed reading, but in a bookstore or online it is pretty daunting to select something of value. I will have to admit to enjoying a bit of romance in the stories.
–Rosalind H.

A second responder wished more of the club members bothered to comment electronically so that there could be more give and take:

I love your book club, please, please, please don’t stop. I look forward to your selections every month. The three I did not read were Wanderer of the Wasteland (one Zane Grey was enough for me), Penrod (I tried, I really did, but I just could not get into it) and Les Miserables (I’d just seen the movie and felt that was enough. Maybe I will read it at a later time). I have read all the rest. I try to get all my books from the library so sometimes I lapse behind. I just got Lassie Come Home from the library. They purchased it for me so it took longer to get. I missed your December 4th posting for The Other Wise Man. I ordered it from the library this morning and they have it on the shelf! Hooray! Hmm, where was I on December 4th? If the library can’t locate a copy for me I then buy the book on-line.

You have introduced me to so many wonderful writings, just a few of my favorites are Anne of Green Gables (okay I’ve read that before and adored it), The Christmas Angel, Little Lord Fauntleroy and Home for Christmas. Grace S. Richmond is a new author for me and I have so enjoyed her books. My Friend the Chauffeur, how charming. In His Steps I so enjoyed. I’ve created a folder on my Goodreads account just for your recommendations.

A couple of times I’ve commented on your blog about the books, but so few folks comment, I guess I just didn’t make it a priority. I apologize for that because I do want you to know how much I appreciate your efforts. And, I don’t want you to stop….

I would love you to recommend some of the books for which you have written the Introduction and the Afterward; they are full of such interesting information as is the information you give in your blog about the author when you recommend a book for the month.

Thank you for your contribution to those of us who love to read and want to read quality, not quantity or fluff. I love to be stretched and find an author I would not have tried otherwise or have never encountered before.
–Kathryn H.

This third responder is typical of those who, while extremely busy, still find time to keep up.

I love the book club blog and faithfully have read most of the books. There are two that I have purchased, but not read yet. I am in school and work full time so these books have become my “fun vacation reading” time.

You have introduced me to several authors that I knew about for years, but had never actually read a full length book by any of them. The following are my favorite authors from the book list so far:

Zane Grey, Harold Bell Wright, Gene Stratton Porter, Myrtle Reed, Grace Richmond, Charles Sheldon.

I have read several books by Zane Grey and Harold Bell Wright beyond what was recommended in the book list. I enjoy your commentaries that include information about the authors as I am then able to search for other books by the same author. My copy of Freckles is the edition you did for Focus on the Family and I especially enjoyed your introduction in that book.

I like the format of the blog and look forward to your emails on Wednesday. I recommend books to my family based on your list. My boys have now read every book by Zane Grey in our library.

Thank you for the time and effort you put into the book club. You are appreciated.
–Michelle S.

This fourth responder is typical of those who list the books they like best but don’t say much about any of them:

I do not know exactly when I began to watch for your Wednesday blog, but have been a fan of yours ever since I bought my first “Christmas in My Heart” book. I have purchased Myrtle Reed’s “The Master’s Violin,” and also a copy of your book on Abraham Lincoln and enjoyed them both. Below is a list of the books I have read at one time or at the behest of your recommendation:

The Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens (every year at Christmas time)
Walden, by Henry David Thoreau
Little Lord Fauntleroy, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
In His Steps, by Charles Sheldon
Foursquare, by Grace Richmond
The Man Without a Country, by Edward Everett Hale
The Master’s Violin, by Myrtle Reed
Riders of the Purple Sage, by Zane Grey
The Other Wise Man, by Henry Van Dyke (every Christmas)
* Books read per your suggestions.

Please keep up the good work. I enjoy the book club as well as your other blogs about your travels, etc. May the Christmas season be the time of blessing for you and your family.
–Lillian K.

The fifth is a sample of the many heartwarming encouragers who take the time to write me about the joy this club is bringing them.

First of all, I must apologize for never responding about the book club or to voice my deep appreciation. You have brought me untold joy in the discovery of so many new (to me) authors. I have found that your and my tastes are just about the same. I love anything that you recommend and run immediately to the internet to download the book via my Kindle or find a hard copy on Amazon. So please, Dr. Joe, keep it up! I will read your recommendation and then I usually find other books by the same author and devour those as well. Elizabeth Goudge is by far my favorite. I have purchased nearly all of her works and continue to enjoy every one. I love the spirit of her books as they tell a wonderful story but are uplifting at the same time.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for continuing to bless us with your amazing knowledge and wisdom. I feel privileged to be the recipient and I promise to be better about responding to each recommendation so you know that there is someone out there.
–Julie S.

The sixth tells me that grandparents (those who pass on the traditions in their families), continue to see the value of books worth reading.

Thank you for being so faithful in selecting each book. Thank you for providing a synopsis of each book and its relevance within the world in which it was written. Thank you for giving perspective as to why it is relevant to us in today’s world.

I am a book club wanna be. I have managed to read two and have several more on my smartphone for future reading. I am curious what kind of feedback you get from other readers. I am guessing not a lot or you wouldn’t need to ask for feedback now. Is there a separate forum for the dialog on each selection? If so, I would like to be added. If not, may I suggest maybe a separate blog or Facebook page for the discussion? I would like to subscribe to it.

Your efforts have a lot of meaning to me even though I haven’t taken full advantage of the book club. I enjoy your weekly blogs and look forward to them every Wednesday morning. They have a way of lifting my spirit to a different place and time. They remind me of views and values I am trying to impart to my grandchildren. I enjoy your travel blogs. Some remind me of places I have been and some are places I am adding to my To-Go list. Smile!
–Linda F.

This seventh responder is delightfully candid about which selections and authors are favorites and which are not.

Pursued Zane Grey on your suggestion (and, sorry, wasn’t particularly impressed). Collected a bunch of Grace Richmond on my ibooks and love her stuff. Same for Myrtle Reed and Charles Sheldon; the Guttenberg Project is wonderful for allowing me to find and read many of those old books.

I already collect Harold Bell Wright, Gene Stratton Porter, and Grace Livingston Hill. I like Lloyd C. Douglas but couldn’t find the title you wrote about.

I already knew and love Lassie Come Home and The Other Wise Man, of course. And already know and cannot tolerate Les Miserables (yes, I’m sure that makes me a bad person).

So, a short answer would be, yes, I read the book club posts and follow-up when and as I can! And please continue!
–Elsi D.

I will share a second batch of responses with you next week. Then, the following blog will launch the first of our 2014 book selections.

Keep reading!

Reflections on “Saving Mr. Banks”

BLOG #2, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
REFLECTIONS ON SAVING MR. BANKS
January 8, 2014

Rarely does a modern film affect me like this one does. A film that refuses to go away: continuing to churn and churn and churn in the conscious and subconscious strata of my mind. It has affected my wife Connie and son Greg in the same way, but for individualized reasons.

There are so many layers, so many dimensions, in the film. That surprised me no little given that most of the reviews I’d read didn’t even mention anything but the most obvious aspect–telegraphed by the film title–the intense tug of war between Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) and P. L. Travers (the author of the Mary Poppins books – played by Emma Thompson). For twenty years, Walt Disney had been urging the author to permit him and his studio to make the Poppins story into a movie. All in vain: Travers adamantly refused to let such a thing happen–at any price.

Supposedly, the movie is the story of Travers’ trip to California from Australia, and the fascinating story of how one irresistible force fought another irresistible force.

Yet, the Disney/Travers saga is not really what Director John Lee Hancock and scriptwriters Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith considered most important, but rather the flashbacks from Travers’ childhood in Australia. The movie-goer is never permitted to lose sight of the story behind the story: the Peter Pan-ish father (Travers Goff – powerfully played by Colin Farrell) who is idolized by his daughter, Helen Goff [in the film, Annie Rose Buckley so fills the screen with her mesmerizing face that, stealing scene after scene, she all but runs away with the movie]. Movingly portrayed is her father’s descent into an alcoholic hell that destroys his daughter’s childhood Camelot.  Her mother is suicidal.  In the end, how does the little-girl-grown-up handle the inner torment resulting from an adored father gone bad?

It is this inner torment that brings the movie to its unforgettable conclusion–for not until Travers is brought to a face-to-face confrontation with her father through the magic of film flashbacks is she able to at last cast off the shackles that had heretofore precluded any chance of real happiness in her life. According to reviewer Margy Rochlin, however, though that was true in the movie, it was not so in real life.  And that Travers’ grandchildren maintained that she died not loving anyone and nobody loving her.

I personally believe that time will prove Saving Mr. Banks to be a cinematic masterpiece.

Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions This Year

BLOG #1, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DON’T MAKE NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS THIS YEAR
January 1, 2014

I don’t mean that we should skip that annual ritual (for the obvious reason that we rarely keep them anyway). No more than we can stick to a diet long-term. Just think backward through time: how long has it been since you actually followed through on a list of New Year’s resolutions?

Recently, in a Success magazine, it was postulated that perhaps we ought to focus on a different approach. Zero in on one perceived deficiency in our lives at a time. For instance, we’re all aware that Americans are killing themselves at an unprecedented rate thanks to our sedentary lifestyle. Studies have confirmed that the more we sit, the sooner we die. The longer you stare at a screen without getting up out of your chair or off the couch, the shorter your lifespan. We know this, but most of us fail to act on it.

So, how about, this year, scrapping the resolution list, and concentrating on a small thing? Just one small thing. One thing that you could so concentrate on, and stay with long enough to make it habitual. If you make it habitual, you will have conquered the problem. So you determine not to sit down anywhere for longer than thirty minutes at a stretch (ideally, it ought to be fifteen minutes at a stretch, but it is wise not to settle on anything you’re unlikely to follow through on).

Let’s say the phone rings. Rather than reach for it, you stand up, retrieve it, and walk around until the conversation is over. That would represent one huge way to deal with the issue.

How about determining to take control of electronic intrusions that are gobbling up your creativity, and not coincidentally weakening your job performance? Electronic email and text-messaging beeps have become the new tyrants in our lives. What if you relegated all but the essential ones to a back-up holding pattern, to be dealt with when the day’s main demands and opportunities had been met?

Such single determinations may seem small, but in reality they are anything but! Reason being; There is no small anything in life. Tackling deficiencies in our lives, just one at a time, has the potential to revolutionize our life’s journey, and dramatically increase our creation potential. If you are interested in a fuller expression on this subject, I suggest you pick up a copy of my new book, Christmas in My Heart #22 (Pacific Press, 2013), and study my novelette-length story, “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.” In it, in a fictional format, I deal with the fullest exploration of motivational stories, mantras, poems, quotes, etc., that I have ever discovered. It is extremely unlikely that I will ever take the time to do this again, given that the gestation for the story stretches out over virtually my entire lifetime (one year which was concentrated on the evolution of the story itself: 20,000 words in length). Oh yes, all you romantics, the story is also a Christmas love story.

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So welcome to a new year, all you cherished members of my extended family. I’m honored that so many of you take the time to check out the latest blog each Wednesday of your lives. I do not take this weekly decision on your part lightly, and will continue to do my level best to be worthy of it.

A blessed 2014 to each of you!