by Peter Leithart
Canon Press, 2003
Paperback (also available as a 4-CD audiobook)
What makes Peter Leithart’s 18 fairy tales so entertaining as well as wise is how he plays with the images, characters, and events of classic fairy tales, Biblical accounts, and history that we already know.
The Preface (which you should skip if your listening to the audiobook version with your kids) explains how Leithart seeks to echo those familiar stories to make the wisdom of Proverbs more vivid, as each story’s “moral” is a verse from that Biblical book. For example, the first villain of the story “King Jacob of the Green Garland” is called King Eric the Red (but not for the reason you might think). When this cruel king flees for his life from an invading king, he is reduced to eating grass and drinking muddy water (much like a certain Babylonian king). Eventually, Eric’s younger brother, Jacob (a shepherd who treats the poor kindly and justly, like both David and the Son of David) restores order, and the story proves the verse from Proverbs that explains, with suddenly greater vividness and meaning, how a king is established through faithfulness, and how through love his throne is made secure (Prov. 20:28)
What is enlightening about the stories, besides the obvious references to Proverbs (some of which are a bit of a stretch, but can still stimulate some worthwhile discussion) is how often Leithart’s stories are clearly redemptive-historical, in that they connect the book of Proverbs to the story of Christ’s coming that runs through the whole Bible. For instance, one verse says how it’s better to live in the desert than with a nagging wife. That can make the guys feel pretty smug, but not once Leithart has shown how the worst wife in the world is “Meribah, the Goatherd’s Bride” – a story that should remind us of the frequent ingratitude of Christ’s bride, the Church. No gender excluded in that moral.
This is a great book, and good audiobook too. If you’re looking both for ear candy on those long car trips and food for thought for the New Testament Church, Wise Words has the wit and wisdom you want.
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Related reviews: two others by Peter Leithart
Every Christian should read Jane Austen, as Leithart explains in his Miniatures and Morals
Ditto for Shakespeare: Brightest Heaven of Invention