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Universal Literature by Air and Sea

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Mar 17, 2005

I took my 15-year-old son to Borders Books (Bailey's Crossroads, VA) on Tuesday evening so he could attend a book signing by his favorite author, Orson Scott Card. Card is by any standard an outstanding writer with deep insights into human nature. His main genre is science fiction, which will not be to everyone's taste, and CatholicCulture readers should be advised that he is not a Catholic author, but a Mormon. Nonetheless, his understanding of human nature and its attendant moral dilemmas is remarkably universal. He is clearly a man of wisdom.

One point he made about his writing at the book signing was that he generally begins with children but forces them to mature rapidly by putting them in adult situations. He noted that most contemporary writing tends to be about adolescents, that is, about people who reinvent themselves by running away from their responsibilities, such as a husband about to leave his wife. In contrast, Card finds heroism in the people who stay with their families and see their responsibilities through.

For better or worse, there were a couple of hundred people waiting for Card to sign their books, so I had several hours to browse through Borders while the line slowly dwindled to a manageable size. To my delight, I discovered an edition of a book I had thought to be out of print—Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's Wind, Sand and Stars, which I commented on in my Highlights Column Understanding the Universal some months ago.

Saint-Exupéry was a French mail and war flyer in the early days of flight. While best-known for The Little Prince, his real genius for both adventure and a sense of the universal is to be found in his novels about flight. The volume I found, Airman's Odyssey, contains three of his books, the other two being Night Flight and Flight to Arras. Available from $4.00 to $15.00 on Amazon, it was $12.00 at Borders.

But my top current literary love, along with half the world I suppose, is Patrick O'Brian's sea novels about Captain Jack Aubrey and his friend, physician and intelligence agent, Stephen Maturin. If you liked the movie Master and Commander you will love this series of novels. Unlike most serials, these too are true literature, exploring universal themes while telling a rollicking good story, all in a masterful prose style.

I confess a weakness for sea literature at present, having recently acquired a used Precision 165 (a very small sailboat) which I hope to put in the water for the first time later this Spring. Others will doubtless have different interests. But literature is a true friend, entertaining us while deepening our experience of life. Sometimes Catholics in the trenches feel this is a luxury they can't afford.

For me, just the opposite is true.

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