Tending the Heart of Virtue: How Classic Stories Awaken a Child's Moral Imagination

Vigen Guroian, Author Oxford University Press, USA $40 (208p) ISBN 978-0-19-511787-5
Guroian is an Eastern Orthodox theologian whose intention is to help busy parents make the right choices of ""what books and stories to read with children."" But this hasn't the content of William Bennett's anthology, and it's scarcely a guide in the way that Noel Perrin's recent first-rate volume, A Child's Delight, is. Guroian devotes the bulk of the text to explaining the Christian (ergo ""virtuous"") underpinnings and symbology of a few works by Hans Christian Andersen, C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald. The problem is he never gives a sense of artistic proportion or shows how or why classic stories are more likely to ""[a]waken a Child's Moral Imagination"" than a Spiderman comic. Ironically, he points out that ""[m]ere instruction in morality is not sufficient to nurture the virtues. It might even backfire, especially when the presentation is heavily exhortative and the pupil's will is coerced."" His discussions are often just that, loudly demonstrating nothing so much as his own facility in detecting biblical allusions. He finds that the themes of love and friendship in Carlo Collodi's Pinocchio and Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows owe their sublimity to Christianity rather than their authors' humanity. Having damned critics Roger Sale and Jack Zipes for discerning faults in Andersen's ""The Little Mermaid,"" he says of the story's ending that we must ask ourselves: ""why would we want our children or ourselves to be content with [300 years of mer-life] when [Christian] immortality has been proffered?"" Unfortunately, such arrogance pervades Guroian's tome. The concluding bibliographic essay is dismally short of recommendations. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/25/1998
Release date: 05/01/1998
Genre: Fiction
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