Listers, the genre of the short story is a particularly extraordinary human invention. In a matter of two hours or less, the short story can illustrate some complexities of life without taxing the mind with deep philosophical terms or concepts. As some of us don’t have the proclivity to have intense philosophical and theological discussions on the various nuances of life and faith, the short story provides us with a brief vision on the robust nature of the Christian existence. Many people would suggest that short stories are just for children. However, I would argue that adults need short stories as well. It is one of the few welcome outlets in which adults can hold up a mirror to themselves and observe what they see, warts and all.
In this spirit, I submit to you all, Listers, a modest list of 5 short stories that testify to the beauty and the blemishes of our humanity. I, by no means, believe that this list is a complete one (hence the “part 1” in the title of the posting). I hope to do more postings on great short stories, so please suggest any if you feel a particular piece is appropriate to this list. Now on to the stories:
J. R. R. Tolkien is one of the more recognized and widely read modern authors in the English language. However, due to the vast and well-deserved popularity of The Lord of the Rings, many of his other works like his short stories are not given the attention that some of them deserve. Originally published in a book called Tree and Leaf in 1964, “Leaf by Niggle” is a short story about an artist named Niggle who procrastinates making plans for a necessary journey. However, when his journey abruptly begins without warning he finds himself ill-prepared and thinks of the people and unfinished projects that he has now left behind. My recommendation for this story is to have tissues or a handkerchief close by, not because it is sad, but, because it elucidates a beautiful reality of humanity’s participation in the Kingdom of God.
It is truly shocking how a lot of people don’t know and haven’t read George MacDonald’s works even though his influence has left an indelible mark on the world of literature. C. S. Lewis honors MacDonald in The Great Divorce by making MacDonald into a character who guides the narrator on a bus ride from hell to heaven. He may not have been a Roman Catholic, but MacDonald’s influence has certainly made a massive impact on Catholic literature. Both J. R. R. Tolkien and G. K. Chesterton admit that MacDonald’s writing made a enormous impact on their lives, their method of writing, and their way of re-imagining the world. “The Light Princess” is, in my humble opinion, the most romantic fairy tale that I have ever read. It is about a princess, obviously, who has had a curse put upon her by an evil witch. I won’t tell you what the curse is because that would rob the story of its whimsy. However, she meets a handsome prince who falls madly in love with her. When the witch takes away something terribly dear to her, a hard decision has to be made. I realize that some of you all might object that I suggest reading a fairy tale, but I assure this is no watered-down Disney production. You’ll find this story not only wildly entertaining, but extremely edifying as MacDonald weaves this tale of true love.
Oscar Wilde might perhaps be one of the more controversial authors in the history of Catholic literature due to certain predilections he had in his personal life. However he lived his life, it is certain the Gospel inspired him in some way as many of works reflect a distinct fascination to certain aspects of Christianity. One great example of his deep attraction to Christianity is in Wilde’s collection of short stories entitled The Happy Prince and Other Tales. This book is filled with wonderful stories, including my personal favorite, “The Selfish Giant.” This story is about a giant who had a beautiful garden, and while he was away on extended trip to visit an Ogre, the town children played in his garden happily. But, when he returns and discovers the children, he banishes them from his garden and builds up a wall to prevent their entry, which in turn causes a dreadful consequence. This whimsical fairy tale of “The Selfish Giant” is a lighthearted story of how God’s grace can soften the hardest of hearts.
It won’t take you too long when exploring the various posts on St. Peter’s List to notice that many of our contributors greatly esteem the “Prophet of Orthodoxy,” G. K. Chesterton. His wit, his ideas, his stories, and his unabashed passion for reason have inspired many Christians, Catholic or not, to delve deeper into what it means to be truly Christian. His decided use of reason perhaps becomes incarnate in the beloved character of Father Brown, a crime fighting Roman Catholic priest whose only weapons are faith and reason. Father Brown first appears in “The Blue Cross” a story first published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1910. In the story, the head of the Parisian police is trying to apprehend the famous and wicked criminal, Flambeau. Amidst his search for the criminal, he encounters a mild-mannered priest, Father Brown, who at first seems like a easy target for theft as he is carrying a jewel encrusted cross. However, Valentin soon discovers that Father Brown is not your average cleric, but a man who has the happy knack of finding clues to the hardest of mysteries using the most unusual methods.
Flannery O’Connor is one of my literary idols, because she shook the American literary scene with her dark and yet realistically sinister characters. “Revelation” is one such story that frightens me to my very core with its gruesome realistic portrayal of a rather stuck-up, white, middle-class, and “Christian” lady from the South named Mrs. Turpin. Throughout the story she constantly is looking down her nose at the people she is sharing a waiting room with. However, with an abrupt and sudden run-in with an angry young girl, Mrs. Turpin’s elite perception of her life is called into question. WARNING! Flannery O’Connor’s stories are not for the faint in heart. These stories are deliciously gritty. She frequently, yet rightly, uses strong and shocking language to capture entirely the reality of the darkness of human failure and the glorious beauty of the sudden emergence of unmerited grace.
Listers, please click the title of the short story to view the work on Amazon. Thank you.