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Thursday, January 11, 2018

Beauty, Truth, and a Gothic Trio


My 10th grade daughter entered into Gothic reads this year with Jeckyl and Hyde and Frankenstein, followed by The Deadliest Monster which I have on order as I write this. I decided to read the the first two, the former because it is so talked about - Tim Keller references it in his book Reason For God - and the latter out of morbid curiosity. I mentioned my readings to a friend and she highly recommended Dracula so I am now reading that.

As creepy as these stories sound - and truly are - I also found great beauty contrasted out of the darkness in the storyline. Most of you have heard the story of Dracula, if not from the story itself, from The Count "ah, ah, ah, ah!" on Sesame Street or somewhere else. Van Helsing is the Dutch professor who is called on to help with a particular young, beautiful patient, Lucy, who dies and becomes a vampire, the "un-dead." As they drive the final stake in her heart to once and for all kill the thing she had become and release her soul, we read:
There, in the coffin lay no longer the foul Thing that we had so dreaded and grown to hate ... but Lucy as we had seen her in her life, with her face of unequalled sweetness and purity. True that there were there, as we had seen them in life, the traces of care and pain and waste; but these were all dear to us, for they marked her truth to what we knew. One and all we felt that the holy calm that lay like sunshine over the wasted face and form was only an earthly token and symbol of the calm that was to reign for ever. 
Contrast that to an earlier description of her in her un-dead state:
She seemed like a nightmare of Lucy as she lay there; the pointed teeth, the bloodstained voluptuous mouth - which it made one shudder to see - the whole carnal and unspiritual appearance, seeming like a devilish mockery of Lucy's sweet purity.
There is so much here that this brought to mind for me. It made me think about the truth of beauty by contrasting dark voluptuousness and purity. Much of the first half of the book is about these men's fight for Lucy's life, a pure and sweet girl who is gradually losing her self and succumbing to the vampire and the dark. She seemingly becomes more "beautiful" in death than she was in life. Her lips are a deep red. She has a seemingly irresistible attractiveness about her. But we come to find it is a selfish, uncaring and dark beauty by how she treats a child and tries to attract her husband only to save herself.

What really is beauty? I think Van Helsing's thoughts as he sees the transformation in Lucy in the first quote above describes it so well - her beautiful character, her "real-ness," her truth. It brought back to mind a podcast I listened to a while back called "The Propoganda of Pretty" that had a great discussion on true beauty. It's a good one to listen to with your older girls.

It also made me think of our conversion. It parallels a person's transition out of sin into the peace of a soul claimed by the Holy Spirit; how the soul rests as we are redeemed and reconciled to God by the blood of Christ.

When I told my daughter that I thought this part in the book, where Lucy's husband releases her soul by driving a stake through her, was a beautiful depiction of our salvation, she said, "But isn't releasing a soul God's doing, not man's?" And I thought that was a pretty great question.

Jeckyl and Hyde and Frankenstein are both on AmblesideOnline's Year 10 curriculum (what we use) while Dracula is not. I continue to love the AO curriculum and the thoughts and ideas it brings up and the perspective it brings in through books like these, paralleled with books like Deadliest Monster. It guides them to discernment and makes for interesting and enjoyable conversation in the family as we make our way through the curriculum and life. 

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
~Proverbs 31:30