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Book Review: Easter Stories: Classic Tales for the Holy Season

April 10th, 2018 | 3 min read

By Tessa Carman

The tales collected in Easter Stories: Classic Tales for the Holy Season don’t always mention Jesus, nor even the usual tropes like sunlight and springtime. But each reveal a particular melody of the Easter story. The lovingly crafted volume, edited by Miriam LeBlanc and published by Plough, features original woodcuts by Lisa Toth for each tale.

Themes of resurrection, new life, and transformation play out in fairy tales by Oscar Wilde and the brothers Grimm, selections from Alan Paton’s Ah, But Your Land Is Beautiful and Lew Wallace’s Ben-Hur, legends of Saints Veronica and Christophorus, biblical retellings from The Cotton Patch Gospel,  and the homespun fables Pastor André Trocmé told his congregation during the Nazi occupation of France. Some are tales for children, others selections from the likes of Tolstoy, Gorky, and Chekhov. The familiar—such as “The Death of the Lizard” from C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce—jostle with the unfamiliar, such as “The Case of Rachoff,” the story of a holy fool who wanders Russia. The tales take the readers (and listeners) into a range of cultures, times, and perspectives. All are meant to be read aloud, to be shared with others, and to be told again and again.

The request, “Tell me a story,” has a different weight than, “Read me a book.” Stories aren’t tied to the page; they can be lifted and handled, passed on in manifold tongues, and molded in their retelling. The stories we tell reveal how we interpret the world, and spur our actions within it. I think of my dad’s family, who come from generations of farmers, and how their stories—farm life anecdotes, inside jokes, sibling theatricals—reveal who they are and what they value. The stories change color and texture with the teller and the time, but remain themselves and alive. Just as the only way to learn to farm is to be in the fields with the old hands, watching and working alongside them for long hours and years, so traditions are handed down from one body to the next: from mouths and ears to hands and hearts.

A few stories in the Plough collection are straightforwardly heartwarming, like Ivy Bolton’s “The Golden Egg,” yet even the most uplifting has a way of unsettling our spirits into recognizing the radical nature of Christ’s rising again and what His lordship means for our mundane lives. How does the resurrection transform the homeless and poor, the rich and powerful, the young and old?

I have a friend whose family Easter celebration is so demanding that her children stay home from school the next day to recover. Once she was planting rose bushes—one of the day’s many activities—when one of her daughters approached and slumped beside her, exhausted from the all-day feasting, singing, and reveling.

That is a scene I would like to pass on to my children: forty days after winter’s waning, in the midst of the Paschal feast, to water new roses on the day of the resurrection. How better to begin the season of Easter than with this small icon of a recovered Eden, this foreshadowing of good work in the new earth? Beginning a garden is one way to live the gospel story, to enflesh the eucatastrophe of Christ’s trampling down of death by death.

The final tale (the collection ends with an excerpt from John Masefield’s poem The Everlasting Mercy) also gives us a garden. Oscar Wilde’s “The Selfish Giant” tells of a giant who bars children from his garden. But when spring comes, the garden remains frozen in winter. One day the children sneak inside to play, and the giant hears birdsong and sees the trees blossoming again. His own frozen heart thaws, and he comes to love the children. But there is one Child he loves above all the others. (You will have to read it yourself to find out what happens.)

Death comes at last for the giant, but we know that this winter too will thaw. We know that he will awaken in the springtime of the Christ Child’s garden.

I had read “The Selfish Giant” before, and had even seen a musical stage adaptation. But I was unprepared to experience again its gentle, devastating beauty. Its final image especially lingers: the giant lying dead, the ground covered with white blossoms.

Reading these Easter tales invites our own stories to be shaped, too, by the Story, for our own hearts to thaw and for our imaginations to be steeped in the waters of resurrection.

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Tessa Carman

Tessa Carman writes from Mount Rainier, Maryland.