Friday, June 16, 2006

Children's Biography of Erasmus

The Man Who Laid the Egg. Louise A. Vernon (Herald Press, 1977), pb. 118 pp.

We are currently in a series of Vernon biographies as you can see. In the basics this one delivers as the others. The reader (and listeners!) is introduced to some of the basics in the life and work of Erasmus. As literature one ought not expect too much.

The story is told from the perspective of Gerhard Koestler, a (fictional) young man coming of age in Germany in the early 1500’s. Gerhard, born to a noble family but orphaned, runs away when his uncle decides to force him into a monastery. Gerhard wants to go to the University to learn and especially to learn the sort of things which Erasmus encourages. Eventually he ends up in the household of Erasmus having opportunity to learn from and observe the great man.

This volume, I think, is more disjointed and harder to follow than the others. There is less natural flow and it is more difficult (for me and then more so for my younger listeners) to keep up with the various characters who appear rapidly and often. In some defense, it must be difficult to construct a biography like this with perhaps little information for constructing a narrative while trying to connect with a younger audience.

The picture of Erasmus which emerges is interesting. In general it is the picture given by J. I. Packer and others- a brilliant man who did much good but in the end was hampered by a certain constitutional weakness and timidity. The author seems to desire to provide a basically positive picture while also dealing with Erasmus’ evasiveness. We are currently reading Mrs. Vernon’s bio of Luther and it is my hunch that her sympathies (like mine) lie more with Luther than Erasmus. It was a bit confusing to my boys at times to figure out whether Erasmus was good or bad. Of course this arises from having only two clearly defined categories- a good starting point, which then has to be developed to handle the nuances of real life. In the end I think they were able to see the parts of Erasmus that we would admire and the parts that we would not. It is important for a parent to know, though, that this sort of clarification and evaluation is not given in the book. So you will need to be prepared to do this yourself.

Lastly, as I mentioned before it would be nice to have a brief note on who is historical and who is not. I was not sure if the printer, Froben, was historical or not though he was mentioned enough that I thought he probably was. Then one night during the time we were reading this book I found on ebay a 16th century copy of a book by Erasmus which stated that it was printed by Froben! That was a fun discovery.


At 4:26 PM, Blogger Shep Shepherd said...

I have read Mrs. Vernon's books. I thought they were all pretty good. Our family read them out loud a few years ago.

Albert Shepherd
The Aspiring Theologian

At 11:08 PM, Blogger Ray Van Neste said...

Hey Albert!
Good to hear from you here and to hear that these books were helpful. Being introduced to these people in some way will be helpful to all I think. I have found myself disappointed though in the writing- not trying to be a literature snob looking for 'refinement' but simply looking for clarity and precision.

At 5:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for all your helpful reviews!

We read a number of Vernon's books this year for our homeschool history course. I remember that while reading this book, my daughter stopped me a number of times and stated that she just couldn't follow what was happening in the story or she was confused by the dialog. I finally gave up about two thirds of the way through the book, because I was feeling the same way! I thought some of Vernon's other bios were easier to follow.

My sister in law, who is doing the same history course, recommended reading aloud with different character voices -- she felt that helped them get through the Erasmus book.

A question for you -- do your children ask about the historicity of events in these books? My daughters are very curious as to what is true and what is fiction. It almost gets to a point where their curiosity is a distraction, because they are constantly asking me "Did that really happen?" I agree that some type of summary of this would provide clarity for the readers!

Thanks again! I enjoy your posts!

At 11:34 AM, Blogger Ray Van Neste said...

Dear Blurker,

Yes my children often ask as well. It can be distracting, but I want them to know the difference. That, as you suggested, is why some clarification can be so helpful.
The Thomson bio of Wycliffe is a good example of a book that did contian a helpful author's note on what was actual fact and what was made up to fill in the gaps-

At 2:22 PM, Blogger Adam said...

Ha, that sounds interesting! I'll have look at that one some time!


Post a Comment

<< Home