Friday, July 11, 2008

Say Goodnight, Peter Pan

I just finished reading The Brothers Karamazov, and I was reminded once again as to why I love this book so much. It takes me a long time to read it; the version I have is about 776 pages long. Of course being that long, there's room for a little bit of everything: love stories, mysteries, and lots and lots of sub-plots.

Here's the thing that seemed to strike me more this time than before, it's the idea of a hero. In the "From the Author" section at the beginning of the book, Dostoevsky says that Aloysha Karamazov is the hero of his story. I mean, this is every English major's dream: the author telling you, very clearly, who the hero of the story is. Funny thing, though, is that when I read it, I don't see it. In fact, the first time I read the book, I almost completely forgot that Aloysha was suppose to be the hero. It's not that he's a minor character by any means. It's just that he doesn't fit my pre-conceived notions of what the hero of a book should be like, act like, etc. This time, I read through it trying to make the case for Aloysha as the hero, and even in that it just seemed so odd to me that I would have to work to prove that a character was the hero. I mean, come on, Dostoevsky, why not make it a little more obvious?

But, then it struck me that maybe, just maybe, the genius of it all, the reality of it, lies in the fact that Aloysha isn't the obvious choice for hero. In fact, there isn't really an obvious choice in the entire 776 pages. I think about that in the Christian life too. So often it isn't the obvious people who are heroically living out the Christian life. It's the woman with terminal cancer who's praising the God who ordained she should be dying. It's the man whose covenant son was arrested the night before and still gets up to read his Bible the next morning. It's the person who can't tell you where in the Bible it says it but knows really well how to "rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep." Even the ultimate hero of the ultimate story was a carpenter who rode a donkey.

I guess Dostoevsky was right after all. Aloysha is the hero of the story. Maybe to understand that you just have to give up the fairy tales. The book's gotten longer and more involved. Talking mice, pumpkins, and white horses just seem too simple for grown-ups.

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