• Author unknown: five lessons
    • Cost: $12.50

    Beowulf (which means "bear") stands all alone in an era of literary darkness. To really understand the mind and heart of the early German warrior, we need to look at this poem, where we find all the elements that Tacitus stated in his Germania. There is blood and slaughter, loyalty to one's lord, and honored women. This poem is the oldest in the English language, and it is set in the sixth century. King Hygalac is a historical figure who was killed in 521. However, the history is merely a backdrop, and the primary emphasis is centered on the legend. It is a story of blood and battle, clashing warriors and conquered monsters. It is a strange story that is silent about plowed fields or about harvests. The land is wild, marshy, and misty. But not only is the land wild, the sea is in a constant commotion, testing the nerve and strength of the men who sailed the ships to other lands. The lessons to be learned from the poem are much more than presenting swallow morals, but rather are about life at its basic foundation.

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    • William Shakespeare: five lessons
    • Cost: $12.50

    Oftentimes, the mark of a great work of literature is how well the piece is able to receive criticism. Hamlet seems to elicit criticism even to this day. While attitudes towards the play have changed over the many years, critics continue to study the play in order to determine the reasons behind Hamlet's delay for revenge and whether Hamlet was truly insane or not. The central themes of the play concentrate on the nature of man and his eventual death. The reader will be challenged to question how easily people are able to transfer their affections between objects and persons. Hamlet's famous soliloquy focuses upon the gravity of suicide. Also, the reader should study carefully Hamlet's rudeness toward Ophelia and his apparent lack of concern for the fact that he was cheated out of the kingship by his uncle. All of these questions make Hamlet timeless as a study in mystery.

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    • Alfred, Lord Tennyson: fourteen lessons
    • Cost: $17.00

    Idylls of the King is Tennyson’s effort to retell the legends about King Arthur, but in a way that espouses his belief in the historical cycle with its recurring appearance of the "Great Man." Tennyson adapted the Arthurian material to suit his purpose in order to reflect his own attitudes toward the needs of his age. From Malory, Tennyson borrows two major themes, including the decay of Camelot due to sin and the vain search for the Holy Grail. With these themes, Tennyson employs a fairytale quality that gives both a romantic tone and a pleasing quality. To Tennyson, the moral decay and corruption, though abated somewhat by Queen Victoria’s Christian example, and the abject materialism that replaced faith in God could not be ignored by Great Britain without a disastrous effect upon British society. Therefore, Idylls of the King is arguably an allegory, where Camelot represents not just Great Britain, but any nation that experiences a new order with youthful hopes, but that ends in utter confusion and death after it abandons its moral ideals.

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    • Sir Walter Scott: twenty-three lessons
    • Cost: $21.50

    The setting is in England, shortly after the Third Crusade. Prince John is trying to usurp the throne from his brother, Richard the Lion Heart. Soon after returning to England from the crusades, Ivanhoe is a young Saxon knight who is beholden to Rebecca, a Jewess with knowledge of healing arts. But Ivanhoe's heart belongs to Rowena, a Saxon princess. The conflicts are numerous in this work: Saxon against Norman; Jew against Gentile;  religion against love; even brother against brother as Richard and John contend for the throne of England. Ivanhoe is the classic historical novel about shame and chivalry; love and hate; villains and heroes. Wonderful characters abound in the story. Robert of Locksley is the greatest archer of all times. And Wamba is perhaps the wisest fool that you will ever encounter anywhere in literature. Certainly, Ivanhoe is one of the best of the best.

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    • Dante: five lessons
    • Cost: $12.50

    La Vita Nuova is one of Dante’s earliest works. As a young poet, Dante was influenced by the Provençal poets from France and experimented with the Italian vernacular poetry. This book reflects Dante’s style that emphasizes feeling, which is genuine, not contrived, and substantial ideas, not pure emotion. Beatrice, which means "giver of blessings," had become the ideal woman to Dante, and this work is an autobiography of his journey towards spirituality, often reading like an allegory. This work is much more than a mere story centered on the medieval theme of the worship of women, a tradition from the code of chivalry. La Vita Nuova is a philosophical and moral work as well.

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    • William Shakespeare: five lessons
    • Cost: $12.50

    Macbeth is one of the many masterpieces produced by William Shakespeare. This tragedy is a shorter work that most of Shakespeare's plays. The drama centers on ambition, murder, guilt, and revenge. Behind the scenes are three witches who plant the seed of power into the mind of Macbeth, a Scottish thane, who is encouraged by his wife to gain illegitimate power. Indeed, Lady Macbeth is one of the most cruel of women found in literature. The lessons to be learned from this drama are timeless. The guilty conscience becomes capable of all sorts of wickedness and treachery, and the result will be ruination and damnation in this present world.

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    • "The Pearl Poet": five lessons
    • Cost: $12.50

    Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is part of the legend about King Arthur. This tale survived in a single manuscript that was included with three religious poems: "Pearl," "Patience," and "Purity." The author is unknown, but has been called "the Pearl Poet," because of his poem by that name. After being forgotten for over 400 years, the manuscript was discovered in the British Library, belonging to a collection of the Elizabethan bibliophile, Sir Robert Cotton. Due to similarity in language, scholars seem to think that the Pearl Poet was a contemporary of Chaucer. However, the poetic style is quite different, indeed, even more complex than the Canterbury Tales. In addition to its complexity in meter and structure, the poem successfully combines into one plot three different stories that were popular among storytellers in the 1300s. These tales include the beheading game, the exchange of winnings, and the seduction by a hostess.

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  • Robert Louis Stevenson: sixteen lessons

    Cost: $18.00

    The Black Arrow is a historical novel about the War of the Roses. Robert Louis Stevenson is not too careful with some of the facts in the story, so you should not rely upon this novel to give accurate information about this war in England. However, Stevenson does capture for the most part the tensions, dangers, and tumult of the times. Indeed, tension is maintained with discovering a murderer most foul and with the ever lurking order of the Black Arrow, which marks its victims for death with a black arrow. The tragedy of the War of the Roses is the bloodshed was not in defense of any great principle, but was a gang war between two rival factions. This war only reinforces the fact that all politics is warfare. Some political decisions are made without killing; however, the history of mankind without God reveals a constant struggle between those who seek power for power’s sake, and most political issues are unfortunately settled with bloodshed.

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    • Horace Walpole: five lessons
    • Cost: $12.50

    This is the very first gothic novel. The setting is during the medieval ages. Manfred's son is killed by a giant helmet that seemingly fell from the sky. This tale is complete with brave men, beautiful ladies, romance, mystery, a castle under an ancient curse, hidden passageways, and ghosts. The main character, Manfred, is the type of fellow that a reader loves to hate. There is a mystery about the castle. The secret is finally revealed upon the arrival of the Knight of the Gigantic Saber. Walpole claims that he found this story in an ancient manuscript and that he is merely the translator of the document.

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    • Author unknown: five lessons
    • Cost: $12.50

    The Song of Roland is the best example of the French epic poetry called the "song of deeds." Certainly The Song of Roland can be seen as glorifying the death of Roland and his troops, and therefore could have been a tool to recruit for the crusade against the Moslems. However, another possible motive of the poet is one of discouraging warfare, rather than inciting it. The scenes of battle are described in very graphic language, because warfare is shown as brutal and meaningless. Jealousy, betrayal, and loyalty to king and country mark this poem, where courage and honor seem mocked by inevitable death.

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