This week, the Redeemed Reader team discusses what it looks like to take the right path and our favorite friendships in literature.
Pilgrim’s Progress is one book with a clear “path” in the story. What are other stories you can think of with both a “right path” and a wrong?
Megan: Well, I’ll start with a couple of picture books. The classic example is Little Red Riding Hood, who strays into the forest and (depending on which version you read) jeopardizes her own life and her grandmother’s. We also love the book Hog Eye by Susan Meddaugh which is similar because in spite of the young pig’s parents warning her not to go into the forest, she takes the wrong bus to get to school and is captured by a hungry wolf. In a clever plan to escape, she “reads” the recipe and instructions for making soup and outwits him so she can escape. Hilarious story, and of course if she had obeyed her parents and stayed on the right path, there wouldn’t be a story at all. In both of these examples, the protagonist’s willpower to obey fails completely.
Alysha: I also think of Narnia, specifically The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Edmund chooses to follow the White Witch without knowing anything about her or the consequences of his actions. His choice reveals the selfishness in his heart, and when he realizes he chose the “wrong” path, he cannot fix things by himself. He needs the sacrifice of Aslan to purify his heart.
Betsy: Alysha, I was thinking that many of the Narnia books can fit this question. Prince Caspian’s followers must make the choice between supporting him at great risk or supporting his murderous uncle. Even at the end, Nickabrick reveals that he has tried to straddle the line between a right path with high potential for sacrifice and an expedient path with high potential for wrong-doing/wrong allegiances. It does not go well for him and his shifty companions.
Alysha: Another example would be the first book of the Fablehaven series. Kendra, and her brother Seth are visiting their grandfather. They discover that he is the caretaker of a magical reserve for mythical creatures. Their grandfather gives them a clear set of rules to follow, and both children think they know better, or know how to skirt the rules. Their decision to go down the “wrong path” produces havoc on the reserve, and put them and their family in mortal danger.
Janie: You’re so right about Fablehaven, Alysha! Seth drove me crazy—I could have yelled at him every time he deliberately went against instructions! (of course, if he had obeyed there wouldn’t have been much of a story)
Hayley: You’re right, it wouldn’t be much of a story, but it was SO annoying!!! Fairytales and the proverbial leaving of the path is one thing, but Seth continually breaks the rules, with no good reason or even justification beyond willful stupidity!
Betsy: Another story that shows kids choosing right/wrong paths is Goodbye, Stranger. A girl must choose between helping her friend do something she knows is wrong (taking an improper picture of herself and sending it to her boyfriend) or risk losing her friend. They do not make a wise choice, but the end of the book shows them coming back together, both having learned much about their friendship and when it’s better to make the hard, right choice instead of just hoping someone will continue to like you.
In Wise Up it mentions people choosing the right path for the wrong reason. What are times you see this in literature? And what are the consequences?
Alysha: In Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Percy chooses to train at Camp Half-Blood, but only after he realizes he might have a chance to save his mother. He is given a quest, but he takes it with the hope of finding his mother. This in and of itself is not “wrong” but the way he goes about it, in secret, puts his team in danger.
To stay on the real path, the true path, we need more than our own willpower. How does a good story capture this without being preachy? Can you think of an example?
Alysha: A good story can capture this idea by helping the protagonist realize that isolation is not the answer. A hero rarely succeeds on his or her merit alone. It is usually through the help of another, be it a mentor, a friend, or some wisdom passed on to the hero. One example I can think of where this was shown in a good way, although a little preachy, is in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. Meg Murray is tasked with saving her young brother from IT (a dark power that threatens to cover their world). Meg is not a warrior, and cannot save Charles Wallace from the force without some help. Her three guardians give her gifts, one of them being love, and through those gifts and her own love for her brother, she is able to free him from IT’s power.
Janie: Good point, Alysha. The gifts motif is also featured in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, where Peter, Susan, and Lucy receive gifts that will help them defeat the forces of the White Witch. They will have to be faithful and proactive in using these gifts, but it’s clear that their own strength and will are not enough.
Betsy: Narnia again: In The Horse and His Boy, Shasta finds out that nearly every step of his crazy journey was shepherded by Aslan—sometimes through painful circumstances as when a “lion” chased them across a desert, wounding them in the process. It’s a tremendous scene as the reader realizes right along with Shasta just how much he has been protected throughout the book. In the Queen’s Thief books, Gen comes to similar realizations in interactions with his “god.” He could not have pursued the end he did without the behind-the-scenes aid, even though that “aid” certainly didn’t look helpful at times!
What are some of your favorite literary friendships?
Janie: One of the classic literary friendships is, of course, Huck and Jim in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I deliberately modeled My Friend the Enemy on the idea of a cross-racial friendship during a troubled time. Then there’s Jane Eyre’s friendship with Helen Burns—a very one-sided relationship that ends too soon due to Helen’s death, but the her strength of character lives on in Jane. A more recent example is between Jesse and Leslie in Bridge to Terebithia—a promising friendship that also ends too soon, and tragically.
Betsy: Janie, that’s one of the things I enjoyed most about My Friend the Enemy. Cross-racial friendships are hard to portray in literature, but they’re tremendously valuable in helping kids see the potential and to nudge them to seek out friendships with people who may or may not look just like they do. You mentioned Ghost in answer to another question, but it fits here, too, as Ghost is forging team-related friendships with people who have different cultural backgrounds from his own. Save Me a Seat is another good title about two kids, one fresh-off-the-boat from India and one white American, who form a solid friendship during the course of the book. And, of course, we see this same dynamic at work in the Wilderking books as Dobro and Aidan work to understand one another and maintain their friendship despite the misgivings of those around them. This friendship ends up being one of the reasons Aidan continues to stay on their right path until the very end.
Alysha: I enjoyed seeing the friendship of Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee develop over the course of the Lord of the Rings. What started out as an employer/employee relationship turned into a strong friendship. One of the reasons I loved the first Percy Jackson series was Rick Riordan’s portrayal of friendship. He put characters together who should not have gotten along but helped them find common ground. Strong friendships were forged in the first book of the series and continued to grow throughout the next four books.
How about literary marriages? I was thinking of Caddie Woodlawn, and the loving marriage you see as well how it influences their decision to stay in Wisconsin.
Betsy: Oooh…. the BEST literary marriage of all time has to be Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane from Dorothy Sayers’ mystery novels. Delightful. I’ll concede that Lizzie and Darcy should be right up there at the top, as well. And a particular union in the Queen’s Thief books, but to mention that one will spoil the second book for those who haven’t read it yet. One of the reasons these marriages are swoon-worthy (in their own ways) is precisely because the lovebirds were first antagonists, then became friends who respected one another, and then realized they were in love with one another (as opposed to the “love at first sight” motif). Incidentally, the Queen’s Thief books show some strong friendships, too: Attolia and Eddis, while not “besties,” are still allies and have a mighty respect for one another as sovereigns and women. Gen’s relationship with the Mage of Sounis is similar in that they respect one another deeply, and that allows them to have a better relationship than they might otherwise. There are several pairs of friends throughout the series.
Hayley: And now we’ve talked about Lord Peter and Harriet, this discussion is complete! I hadn’t thought about the antagonist first angle to those successful marriages. Maybe that’s why we love them so much —they’re relatable for us as fallen humans! I love how you brought in the-marriage-that-must-not-be-named in The Queen’s Thief —I was thinking of that too, but didn’t want to spoil anything! In this day and age, it’s growing harder to find contemporary books that capture platonic friendship, too. I’m currently reading the latest book in the Queen’s Thief series, and I was just thinking about what an excellent job Turner does at capturing friendship.
And on that note, dear readers, we shall turn the discussion over to you! What literary friendship or marriage didn’t we mention? (We didn’t touch on one red-headed heroine who also has an antagonist turned romantic relationship!)