Friday, January 06, 2006

Children's Bio of Athanasius

Against the World: The Odyssey of Athanasius, Henry Coray.
(Inheritance Publications, 1994), 111 pages

The idea of a children’s book on Athanasius, especially one designed to relate the heroism of the man and his stand for orthodoxy, is definitely appealing. However, this book was a disappointment to me. The book is designed for children, but it seems the author did not consider enough how to write for such an audience. There is much excitement and adventure in the story he seeks to relate but it does not come out in the writing. The style is laborious, wordy and unnecessarily complicated. Here is a sample:
As is sometimes the case when ecclesiastics assemble to transact church problems, no sooner had Hosius called the council to order and prayed than confusion reigned. In religion, as in politics, preconception and prejudice too frequently displace calm, deliberate reflection.

Why use the word ‘ecclesiastics’? Why use the wording, ‘to transact church problems’? Is transact the most natural verb here? The structure of the first sentence is not particularly inviting. In spite of the alliteration in the second sentence, ‘preconception’ is not a particularly helpful word. Perhaps the author intended to write for an older audience, but I think it could have been written more clearly even if being written for adults.

Now, I am not one to balk at the use of good vocabulary and complex issues. I have read the Chronicles of Narnia, Brian Jacques’ Redwall stories and many other books (which claimed to be written for older age levels) to my boys, and they have enjoyed them. Sophisticated writing is not complex, wordy writing. Profound truths can be communicated with simplicity and power. In my opinion, this book most often lacked both. What I found myself doing most often was adapting as I read or pausing after a section a retelling it with a bit more verve and in words more readily understandable. In the end I did not read the whole book to my boys.


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