Beautiful Biblical Writing

I recently read 2 Kings 8, where a sick king sends a servant (who is secretly plotting to kill the king) to the prophet Elisha to see if he’ll recover, and Elisha tells the jealous servant that illness isn’t the enemy the king really needs to worry about. In verse 11, Elisha stares down the servant with classically stoic Old Testament severity, and the scheming servant breaks down under his guilty conscience, but then Elisha likewise breaks down, weeping over the corruption of humanity.

This sweeping drama reaches its climax in that single, short, simple verse: “And he settled his countenance steadfastly, until he was ashamed: and the man of God wept.”

I’m impressed by all that goes on there–first, the three major emotional peaks: the prophet’s cold scolding, the servant’s shame, and the prophet’s apparent 180 of attitude from scolding to open sadness about the violent weakness of human nature.

But I was also floored by the sparseness of the prose. It echoes with an empty disregard for decoration, sending out its story with the plain directness of folk art. It’s the kind of style that is actually so often affected in modern times by writers trying to look wise or macho. This tiny sentence perfectly illustrates the way that, for example, Hemingway would punch out prose with a lack of clarity for who’s speaking.

I underlined 2 Kings 8:11, not because it’s profoundly doctrinal or because it provides direction for discipleship or because it’s a useful proof text or for any other such reason. I just underlined it because it’s beautiful.


Illustrating Hemingway

I just found this great video that narrates and illustrates Ernest Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” Joyce said of it: “He [Hemingway] has reduced the veil between literature and life, which is what every writer strives to do. Have you read ‘A Clean Well-Lighted Place’?…It is masterly. Indeed, it is one of the best short stories ever written…” I agree.

James Joyce: “Spring forth, burly protector, and save me!”

I read this article recently: When James Joyce Got Into a Bar Fight, He’d Yell, “Deal With Him, Hemingway!”


Which immediately reminded me of the 6th season Simpsons episode “Lemon of Troy,” where Martin Prince bites off more than he can chew while confronting punks in Shelbyville.  He says, “Nobody manhandles the bosom chum of Nelson Muntz. Spring forth, burly protector, and save me!”  Which he does, reluctantly.


That might be a good comparison to use in future classes: Ernest Hemingway = Nelson Muntz while Martin Prince = James Joyce.  Pretty much sums it up.

Serendipitous Relevance and American Lit

I like to show how the books we study in school have left a lasting legacy to contemporary society.  If nothing else, when students complain how boring and outdated the books are, I can either try to elicit some open mindedness by showing them that P. Diddy consciously imitates The Great Gatsby, or I can at least argue that their recalcitrance is in opposition to the popular culture with which they’re enthralled. 

This year has been an especially good one for that.  I started the year off with The Scarlet Letter, just as a teen comedy loosely based on it, Easy A, hit theaters.  When we read Moby Dick, I was able to show them the recent Blackberry ad about the novel (many students told me that the ad made much more sense afterwards!).  We finished Huckleberry Finn last month and now, as we review the semester, there’s a national controversy brewing about a new, censored version of the text. 

Near the end of this year, when I try to wrestle some Faulkner into my students, I’ll be able to tell them that Hollywood hunk James Franco is directing a new film of Faulkner’s novel, As I Lay Dying

Now if only I could find a more recent reference for Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea than a second season episode of The Simpsons

Parodies By Literary Giants

As the year winds down, I like to have my classes review the things we’ve read–and the elements of style employed by great authors–by having them write parodies of things as if they were done by literary giants.  We start by reading these examples, done up by yours truly.  Enjoy!


The Empire Strikes Back, as written by William Shakespeare

VADER: Fair young apprentice, it is I who am the father of thy fleshly tabernacle!

LUKE: Oh, forswear it, vile wretch!

      Never shall the days come when I shall agree

      To partake of the black compact thou hast proposed.

      The very seraphs of heav’n shall blow their mighty trumps

      Ere I rule the galaxy with thee!


Napoleon Dynamite, as written by Emily Dickinson

Alas and woe is me,

For bereft of the sweet tots am I.

My lily-white palm reaches–

Out–to cast away the button of

The flippin idiot who–

Votes for Summer in place of Pedro–

My heart drops and yearns for…

Ninja skills!


Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, as written by Ernest Hemingway

      Harry chased the snitch. It flew away. He didn’t give up. Draco came up from behind and bashed him. Hard. Harry was used to sabotage. 

      Harry lurched forward and grabbed the snitch with his hands. Darkness settled and Harry awoke to victory. Draco stood still, and alone.


Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, as written by Ray Bradbury

      The old hag cackled a high screeching blare of ugly maniac laughter. 

      Snow White bit into the rosy orb apple, expecting the sweet juices of intoxicating simple life. Her brain screamed foul as she recognized the betrayal of memory and couldn’t stop the coming end, like an alien doomsday weapon had fired upon all her youth.

      Dwarves, seven, flew through the wood, hoping but late.