First of all, as dad to two of the contestants, let all three of my readers know that if you want to find a group of 10-13 year olds who know dog breeds, diseases, showmanship, and so on better than any other group of 4-H members of the same age in Minnesota, you can find them in my town. But I'm not bragging....yeah, right, who am I kidding? They worked hard and did well, which was a lot of fun.
While accompanying them to the competition, I also found that a classic work of literature is indeed an unlikely Gospel tract, specifically Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. Prior to reading it, I knew it was a classic, I knew of Wilde's reputation for immorality, and I'd been told that the basic theme is that the picture gets older, but Dorian does not.
Those who know the real story--or for that matter have seen the 1945 film version (which takes some serious liberties)-- are of course aware that the greatest change in the picture is due to not his age, but rather his sin. The book is peppered with Biblical references, including a wonderful passage where Gray notes that had he been forced to confront his sins, he might have repented in time before becoming nothing less than a moral monster.
All in all, it's a reasonable Gospel tract for those who will understand it--and alas, the papers at the time it was released did not contemplate this, but rather (per the Victorian spirit maybe?) concentrated on the debauchery common to almost all characters--the protagonist is not the only one who needs a work of art to show the results of ongoing sin, not by a long shot.
For that matter, I half wonder if the work is mildly autobiographical, as it begins with chapters that strongly reflect his homosexual acts of the time he wrote the book, countered by scathing descriptions of the lives of London "gentlemen" of the time. Is Gray actually Wilde, and is Lord Henry actually Robert Ross--or vice versa? Is the book really Wilde's plea to be released from his own passions--ironically just as he was to start indulging them most deeply--and was that plea repeated in his play Salome? Do the objections of the critics result from real convictions, or were they because they recognized their sins skewered by Wilde?
Wilde alone knows, of course, but as for me, I came away from the book contemplating how good it might be if Christian filmmakers were to produce a new film version, this time more faithful to the original book.
Ten books... - When I was just beginning in the pastorate, I kept my eye on Christian Century's monthly lists of the "Top Ten" books for this or that famous prof or pas...
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