God Sees The Truth, But Waits by Leo Tolstoy, 1872
The magic trick:
Mixing gripping narrative with heavy thoughts
Brace yourself for some deep thoughts and heavy topics. It’s Leo Tolstoy Week on the SSMT website, and that means a lot of existential crisis. I enjoy this kind of thing. First of all, it’s fascinating. Second of all, we’re talking about one of the most brilliant writers in the history of the world, so that helps a bit. And thirdly, it’s all kind of reassuring, right? We get so caught up in the stress of the moment. It’s good to know someone far smarter than us has stepped back and assessed the meaning of all of it in such a way that doesn’t automatically produce depressing conclusions. I’m not saying that this week’s stories will be filled with optimism. But the mere process of critically considering human existence and our relation to God is productive and calming. I think. Perhaps?
So we start with The Shawshank Redemption. Kind of. It’s a wrongful imprisonment scenario. The similarities with Stephen King fall away pretty quickly from there. But anyway, an innocent man condemned functions very easily as a Christlike character, and certainly we get a lot of typically Tolstoyian themes along those lines.
It’s not that simplistic though. This is a rich narrative, and Aksionov is a complete character. The reader cares about what happens to him, and the decisions he makes remain in doubt. Even a Christ character might act selfishly or cynically. We don’t know. There is suspense throughout. And that really is my main point here: this is a great yarn. Yes, the messages are heavy. Yes, the themes are fundamental. But when you really break it down, you find a great narrative that keeps you on the edge of your seat. And that’s quite a trick on Tolstoy’s part.
One summer Aksionov was going to the Nizhny Fair, and as he bade good-bye to his family, his wife said to him, “Ivan Dmitrich, do not start today; I have had a bad dream about you.”
Aksionov laughed, and said, “You are afraid that when I get to the fair I shall go on a spree.”
His wife replied: “I do not know what I am afraid of; all I know is that I had a bad dream. I dreamt you returned from the town, and when you took off your cap I saw that your hair was quite grey.”
Aksionov laughed. “That’s a lucky sign,” said he. “See if I don’t sell out all my goods, and bring you some presents from the fair.”
So he said good-bye to his family, and drove away.
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