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Reading the good old classics

Ellen Campbell
Central City, Neb.

Not long ago I decided to watch Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on the Turner Classic Movies channel. Of course it’s a horrible story, and the movie was filmed in the 1930s, but when I noticed it was going to be on, I was intrigued. I can’t say I enjoyed it, but it started me on a whole train of reminiscence about old stories.

It’s hard to believe the macabre jekyll and Hyde tale was written by Robert Louis Stephenson, the same man who wrote A Child’s Garden of Verses, the gentle little book of poetry cherished by my mother in her childhood and very bedraggled from much handling. She wrote in the inside cover that she had memorized many of the verses, and so did I. One of them was, “Oh how I like to go up in the swing, Up in the air so blue, Oh I do think it the pleasantest thing, Ever a child can do.”

Other classics children’s books I read over and over included Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and her additional books, Little Men, Jo’s Boys, and Under the Lilacs. Additional favorites were The Secret Garden, Bambi, Black Beauty, Heidi, Robin Hood, Treasure Island, and Beautiful Jo (a dog story.) And of course there were Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. I suppose by now the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew books are considered classics. I read all of those I could find, as well as the Tarzan books and the stories of the X-Bar-X Boys. At Grandma Jacobsen’s house I found the rags-to-riches boys’ stories by Horatio Alger and the disgusting sob stories of Elsie Dinsmore. When I stayed at Aunt Freeda’s house I was introduced to The Wizard of Oz, Winnie the Pooh and Wind in the Willows. And I mustn’t forget to mention the many lovely Bible stories that always played a prominent place in my literary choices.

It wasn’t until adulthood that I read the likes of Charlotte’s Web and others that are now high on the list of children’s classics.

There were many familiar adult classics I first read in “Classic Comics.” That’s where I originally came across Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, along with The Three Musketeers, The Last of the Mohicans, A Tale of Two Cities, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and lots of others. I don’t know whether or not Classic Comics exist anymore, but I think they were a good thing.

Some of my all-time favorites are books we studied in class, in the upper elementary grades (The Great Stoneface, Evangeline, Song of Hiawatha, Snowbound, The Man Without a Country) and in high school (Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and Julius Ceasar, A Tale of Two Cities [this time in book form] and others). There were also some I considered deadly dull, notably Ethan Frome. (My apologies to the author.)

All my life I have loved to read, and during most of that time I felt that once I started a book I had to finish it, no matter how boring or stupid it was, but I no longer do that. If, after a few chapters, it doesn’t do anything for me, I dump it. There are too many really good books to waste time on the objectionable ones.

There are many popular authors I enjoy, but it’s refreshing to occasionally go back to the good old classics. We sometimes do that in our Lone Tree Reader book discussion group that meets monthly at the Central City library.


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