Sunday, April 13, 2008

"Read me the part again where..."

Not very long ago -- well, actually it was, but it seems like only yesterday -- when I regularly read stories to the kids at bedtime, they would sometimes ask for particular favorites. I think there is something universal about stories, how there are some stories we just like hearing over and over again.

What is it that appeals about these stories? I think the particulars vary from one person to another (otherwise we'd all have the same ones) but I also think there's something about an obstacle overcome, or an exciting surprise, that appeals.

One of my favorites is a passage from Clancy's Red Storm Rising, around page 448. The Soviets have taken over a NATO air base in Iceland, and now it's payback time. NATO B-52s approached Iceland from the west in a cloud of jamming, and Soviet MiGs charged out into empty sky. Suddenly there was jamming from the south, and then from the east... and then the soviet fighters found themselves facing a line of twelve Tomcats strung out on a line at 30,000 feet -- directly up-sun. A dozen Sparrow radar-guided missiles flew at them out of the sun and ruined their morning, then the remainder chased the Americans eastward. Twenty thousand feet below them, another dozen Tomcats rocketed toward them on afterburner, hidden from ground-based radar by a pair of mountains. Their radars were shut down, and they fired Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles, hitting another eight Soviet aircraft. The north Atlantic was never the same after that battle.

Another one is the passage from Matthew 14, where Jesus feeds the five thousand. They were going on a retreat, or so they thought, except the multitudes followed them out to this remote place. After a while, the disciples wanted Jesus to send the crowds away, but he tells them to feed the crowd. You know the rest -- five rolls, two small fish (trout? smelt?), maybe 7000-12000 people fed? Then Jesus sends the disciples ahead of him to the other side, while dismisses the crowd and goes off to pray. He then walks upon the sea, terrifying the disciples. Peter says, "If it's you, Lord, command me to come to you on the water."

Jesus commands him to come, and Peter starts walking on the water. But then he starts to sink and Jesus pulls him out of the water. "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" he asks. I love it that the other eleven are just sitting there, like "maybe Peter had little faith, but I had zero, zip, nothing." I love how Jesus didn't rebuke the others -- how gracious he is!

Another favorite is MacDonald's The Golden Key -- though I must confess I don't understand all of it, I love the passage where Tangle and Mossy meet each other and Mossy is immediately infatuated with Tangle. After (it seems) a few moments, Tangle is OK going off into the wide world with him, too. It is so charming and sweet. And when they find each other at the end (this is no spoiler -- you knew they would, didn't you?) and go on to the place from which the shadows fall... well, that's a happy ending too.

There are great moments in Perry's crime fiction, Card's Enchantment as well as his Ender and Hegemon series, Gaiman's Stardust...

What is it about all these things that fascinate me? I think it's the overcoming of obstacles, an element of surprise, the good guys getting their turn.

Then there is Haruf's Plainsong, where two bachelor farmers take in a pregnant teenager, who doesn't always make wise decisions. There's beauty and tragedy, and I also love the part where they take her in again. There's mercy and grace and gruff generosity, and a sense that what's truly most important is being recognized as such.

And I guess of the favorite stories, I hope the story of my life is one where I pursue what's really important.

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