Book Reviews Scholé Reads

On Wonder, Virtue and Moral Imagination

Lately, I’ve been fascinated with how stories and fairy tales work within the framework of Classical education. Most of the big names of literature have written about the riveting role of fairy tales—C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and G. K Chesterton, to name a few.

Fairy tales, then, are not a for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.”

― G.K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles

British educator Charlotte Mason is no exception. Miss Mason writes:

“A child gets moral notions from the fairy-tales he delights in, as do his elders from tale and verse.”

We are currently enrolled with a Charlotte Mason provider. So our book selections for this year include a wide range of “living books” or classic stories including fairy tales, legends and sagas, much to our delight.

Here are a few books that I have picked up and started reading for my own scholé. These books speak of virtue and of moral imagination and though I have yet to finish these volumes, I must say that I do find them very much enjoyable. Perhaps when I have finished perusing each one, I shall offer better informed recommendations.

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

by Vigen Guroian

As the popularity of William Bennetts Book of Virtues attests, parents are turning more and more to childrens literature to help instill values in their kids. Now, in this elegantly written and passionate book, Vigen Guroian provides the perfect complement to books such as Bennetts, offering parents and teachers a much-needed roadmap to some of our finest childrens stories. Guroian illuminates the complex ways in which fairy tales and fantasies educate the moral imagination from earliest childhood. Examining a wide range of stories–from Pinocchio and The Little Mermaid to Charlottes Web, The Velveteen Rabbit, The Wind in the Willows, and the Chronicles of Narnia–he argues that these tales capture the meaning of morality through vivid depictions of the struggle between good and evil, in which characters must make difficult choices between right and wrong, or heroes and villains contest the very fate of imaginary worlds. Character and the virtues are depicted compellingly in these stories; the virtues glimmer as if in a looking glass, and wickedness and deception are unmasked of their pretensions to goodness and truth. We are made to face the unvarnished truth about ourselves, and what kind of people we want to be. Throughout, Guroian highlights the classical moral virtues such as courage, goodness, and honesty, especially as they are understood in traditional Christianity. At the same time, he so persuasively evokes the enduring charm of these familiar works that many readers will be inspired to reread their favorites and explore those they may have missed.

Awakening Wonder: A Classical Guide to Truth, Goodness & Beauty 

by Stephen Turley 

In his masterful work The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis observed how modern education was changing our conception of what it means to be human. By cutting off students from the transcendent values of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, modern schools ceased cultivating virtue in students and instead communicated a mechanistic vision of the world that viewed students as products to be engineered. Lewis believed that in seeking to control nature, modern “conditioners” would also seek to control humans and remake them according to the preference of the conditioners, since any appeal to Truth, Goodness, or Beauty had been rejected. Lewis argued that we must recover these transcendent values in order to prevent the dehumanizing tendency in modern education and renew the cultivation of virtue in our students.

With Awakening Wonder, Steve Turley demonstrates that precisely such a recovery is at the heart of the current classical education renewal. Once again, Truth, Goodness, and Beauty are celebrated as those objective values that are essential for cultivating students as flourishing human beings. In these pages, you will discover the history and development of these transcendent values and how they redeem our senses and sanctify our imaginations. Teachers will also learn how to incorporate these values into their teaching to awaken awe and wonder in both themselves and their students.

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child 

by Anthony Esolen

Play dates, soccer practice, day care, political correctness, drudgery without facts, television, video games, constant supervision, endless distractions: these and other insidious trends in child rearing and education are now the hallmarks of childhood. As author Anthony Esolen demonstrates in this elegantly written, often wickedly funny book, almost everything we are doing to children now constricts their imaginations.

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child takes square aim at these accelerating trends. This practical, insightful book is essential reading for any parent who cares about the paltry thing that childhood has become, and who wants to give a child something beyond the dull drone of today’s culture.


Have you read any of these books? I would love to hear about any book recommendations you have about this topic!

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