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Three Simple Men: And Other Holy Folktales Paperback – July 1, 2015
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This month I came across a fascinating book: “Three simple men and other holy folktales” by Leo Tolstoy, retold with notes and an introduction by Jon M. Sweeney. This small but ornate book — it even smells ornate — explores three of Tolstoy’s preserved Russian folktales: “Three simple men,” “A godson learns to fight evil” and “One neglected spark may burn down a house,” each one packed with the treasure of truth uniquely delivered through literature. We all know of Leo Tolstoy and his “War and Peace,” “Anna Karenina” and “The Brothers Karamazov.”
Sweeney’s small book gives us a chance to sample Tolstoy at his finest without investing the better part of a year to do it. Sweeney is quick to point out that while storytelling is not, in and of itself, sacramental, it most often acts as the vessel by which faith is transmitted. The Bible is a whole library of literary works inspired by God.
Each of these stories is packed with Christian teaching in a way only great writers can do, a way we rarely read about in today’s culture where almost all values are denigrated.
This is one of those books that you should buy repeatedly, for Christmas, for birthdays, for Easter, and for the heck of it. An immensely great read.—Mr. Robert Curtis, The Catholic Sun
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The stories that Sweeney retells are some favorites. The title story retells the story of the three hermits, who are visited by priests who judge them simple and shallow in their prayer life and try to instruct them. The priests somce to see that these simple monks are deep in communion with God when they see them walking towards their boat on the waves. Next Sweeney retells the Godson (rechristened The Godson Learns to Fight Evil) and A Spark Neglected Burns the House ( new title: One Neglected Spark May Burn Down a House).
Sweeney's retellings have some creative license. Tolstoy's Three Hermits have no individual characteristics (they are simply, three hermits). Sweeney describes them individually as basket maker, a forager for food, and the thinker (3-4). Conversely The Godson learns to Fight Evil simplifies Tolstoy's account, removing some of its preachiness and its magical elements (57).In One Negelected Spark, Sweeney adds a Tolstoy-esque element, the aging, ailing father streched out on the stove recovering from athsma (59). Despite some poetic license Sweeney is faithful to the plot of Tolstoy's tales.
I don't prefer these adaptations to the originals, but I enjoyed them. Moreover, the prose is simple enough that my eight-year-old daughter read them happily. I liked Sweeney's introduction and his brief notes on each story where we reflects on what Tolstoy was trying to do as a storyteller. I i give this book four stars
Note: I received this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review.