Monday, March 27, 2006

The Golden Road


Once upon a time we all walked on the golden road.
It was a fair highway, through the Land of Lost Delight;
Shadow and sunshine were blessedly mingled,
And every turn and dip revealed a fresh charm
and a new loveliness to eager hearts and unspoiled eyes. . .

- L. M. Montgomery, The Golden Road

The Golden Road
is one of my favorite L.M. Montgomery books. I have spent more time enjoying and quoting Anne of Green Gables, yet there is a certain charm in The Golden Road and its prequel, The Story Girl. The two books together tell the story of cousins living in the small Prince Edward Island town of Carlisle. The books are the basis for the TV show The Road to Avonlea which, while also endeared to me, is quite different than the books. Of course, it is unnecessary for me to say that the books are better :-).

I love the simplicity of the life portrayed in these two books. In Carlisle, life moves slowly. There is time to stop and smell the roses. The lasting things in life are valued; the things that will be remembered and passed down from generation to generation. The cousins occupy their time with good old-fashioned fun - no video games needed in this little town ;). They pitch in at harvest; they munch on homemade goodies; they write their own newpaper; they collaborate on schoolwork; they listen to Sara tell stories.

Sara, the heroine of the story and the oldest of the cousins, has the natural gift of storytelling, and throughout the books are woven numerous tales that she tells, some short, some long, but all possessing a charm absent in most modern storytelling. Storytelling was once considered a gift and an art, back before the printed word, television, and the internet were widely available on a daily basis. Today oral storytelling is not valued as it once was, and we have dulled our senses with cheaper forms of communication. One of the charms of The Story Girl and The Golden Road is the numerous stories woven throughout, each with an old-fashioned charm that made it special. L.M. Montgomery is a master storyteller, and Sara embodies this quality of the author.

The antics of the cousins are amusing, to say the least. The cousins have quarrels and jealousies and receive due punishments from their parents on occasion, but overall they really do have a rare (at least compared to today's society) sense of right and wrong. My favorite anecdote in this regard relates to the dream journals the cousins keep. For a time the cousins hold a running contest for the most interesting dream. Each of the cousins keeps a journal by his bed to record dreams each night, and the next day they compare dreams. The cousins go to great lengths to dream sensational dreams - the most amusing effort was the consumption of great amounts of indigestible foods just before bedtime - yet never once do any of them consider making up an interesting dream. The lengths to which they go for sensational dreams is ridiculous at times, but they never stoop to falsehood in this instance; it doesn't even occur to any of the children.

I greatly enjoyed the sense of family and heritage that was woven throughout the books. The cousins live on a family farm that has been passed down for generations. The house and farm are full of memories and treasures from the past, and the children genuinely enjoy delving into their heritage. The farm boasts a large orchard that has a tree named for each child and grandchild of the founding couple of the family farm, as well as special family guests down through the years. They eat "Aunt Julia's cherries" and the "Rev. Mr. Scott's plums" as they ramble through the same woods and hills as their relatives long-dead. The extended family lives nearby and attends the same church and school together. Family ties are important in this story, and the saying blood is thicker than water well-encompasses the King family.

While Anne's story is one first of childhood, then maturation, marriage, and children, the story of the Carlisle cousins spans only a few years and therefore does not include a panoramic look at their lives. As the books progress the older cousins do mature to an extent, but even at the end of the second book they are still very much in their youth. This allows one of the lasting impressions of the book to be that of youth, bringing us to the title of the second book.

So what is the golden road that inspired the above quote and the book title? The golden road is childhood or youth, that portion of one's life before adulthood. It is named as such because of the carefree glory of those days of a person's life. Youth allows time to explore, to learn, to play; adulthood follows with heavier responsibilities and more time commitments.

I cherish the memories I have of my childhood. I had a very carefree youth, with little grief or pain. I was blessed to be raised in a strong Christian home and discipled by my parents through home schooling. I had responsibilities (school, chores, etc.), but I also had plenty of time to laugh and play, delighting in being young.

Through the ages, youth is often glorified as the ideal time in a person's life. Everyone, it seems, is searching for a fountain of youth. Women, especially, in our society will go to any lengths to look younger and feel younger: plastic surgery, botox, chic clothing, the works. We long for the days when we had more energy, more physical appeal, more free time, more friends, more fun. Younger is better, right?

Wrong. Younger is not better. Younger may be more carefree, younger may bring back glorious memories, younger may be a good start, but younger is not ideal! As a matter of fact, Ecclesiastes tells us that youth is meaningless, and Proverbs tells us that grey hair is a crown of splendor. Our culture has idolized youth and forgotten the great benefits that come with age. We are content with the simple, when we should be seeking for something greater.

Like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea, we are far too easily pleased.
- C.S. Lewis

Isn't that true? We are far too easily pleased with the carefree leisure, the lack of responsibilities, and the simplicity that youth offers. We need to heed Solomon's advice and not utter, "Why were the old days better than these?" Don't wish for youth again! Read the Bible. You will find that youth is not the ideal state; instead old age is valued. More so, the wisdom that should come with old age is to be especially sought.

Job 12:12 Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?

Youth is a start, but we don't want to remain in perpetual youth forever. I recently heard a pastor say that he would not trade anything to go back to being the man he was at 20. He said he wouldn't trade the world for the things he has learned in the decades since. That pastor recognized the value of wisdom and understanding. Was he still as good-looking and youthful as he was when he was 20? No. Was he as free from responsibility? No. But he was closer to Christ's image, as the Lord has been working all things together for his good, that he might become slowly and surely more like Christ.

In Tolkien's literature, the elves grow wiser and more beautiful with age. Isn't that the way it should be, if we look at beauty in a Biblical sense? Contrary to our popular culture, the Bible speaks of beauty in an absolute sense, not merely as a subjective attribute that is prevalent among the young. Outward beauty will fade away, no matter how good-looking a person is in his youth, but inner beauty is something that should grow and mature with wisdom as the years pass, and that is the kind of beauty that we should seek.

Childhood is a starting place, but it is not an ending. The simplicities of childhood are delightful, and I am thankful for the memories I treasure. I wouldn't trade the world to become 10 years old again, though. To do so would be to cast away the wisdom and understanding that the Lord has slowly been feeding my stubborn, sinful self. I wouldn't take such a giant leap backwards in my sanctification for anything!

I read The Story Girl and The Golden Road and love to relive childhood with the King cousins. I revel in the simplicities they experience, and laugh at their antics. In the end, though, I am glad that the golden road of youth is not permanent. I am thankful for my childhood, but I am even more thankful that I am not stuck there in my ignorance forever. I am thankful that God is slowly and surely leading me along a higher path, as he enables me to leave behind my lesser understanding for a greater knowledge of Him. May I always seek to be changing, and never be content in remaining just as I am.

I Corinthians 13:9-12
For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

5 comments:

Jessica said...

Good post...though that's so funny that you should mention "The Golden Road" right now because I'm right in the middle of re-re-re(etc.)-reading it! They ARE great books (though their theology is a little messed-up!) and are a refreshing read, to say the least!

Susan said...

Jessica,

I've read them many times also :). I just love L.M. Montgomery's writings, though they do have rather messed up theology at times, as you said! Her occasional references to ghosts, e.g., are sort of odd, but overall I really like her works. She really knows how to weave beautiful stories, though, doesn't she?

Jessica said...

I too love most of L.M. Montgomery's writings...but I thought the "Emily" books were a little weird! Yes, the ghost and witch references I don't like, along with the messed-up theology (though, when you think about it...much of the population was deceived in that way during that time period [not that that justifies it]), but other than that...I completely agree, "she knows how to weave beautiful stories"! Her writings are winsome, delightful, poetic, whimsical...a very refreshing change from most modern fiction! Have you read "Kilmeny of the Orchard" or "The Blue Castle"? Those are both very good! Anyway...I could go on and on about books...but I'll spare you and stop!

Susan said...

Yes, the Emily books definitely had some odd parts, though I still enjoyed them quite a bit. Books like that are so sad, though! Have you read the Pat books? Those are also sad, but very good. I'm a homebody, so I really empathized with Pat, and Jingle was a dear.

Actually, I didn't much care for Kilmeny of the Orchard or The Blue Castle. Kilmeny needed more time for a deeper plot to develop, imo, and Valancy sort of irritated me for some reason; maybe I should give them a second try :). Everyone I've heard who has read those two seems to either really like them or really not. Funny.

Jessica said...

Yes...I have read the Pat books, but not recently...but I'm pretty sure that I did like them! That's funny that you didn't really like Kilmeny or Valancy...but to each it's own!