How to (not) write the best story.

The latest book I’ve been listening to if I can’t sleep is The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit. I read it once before to my children long ago, and didn’t remember any details. I love it very much, this story of the adventures of three kind and resourceful children whose father was mysteriously called away, they don’t know why or how long. Because of this the family has suddenly become much poorer, and they have had to move to the country. Their new house is near the railroad, and their days become centered around trains, and the people they meet at the station or in the neighborhood..

Last night I was struck by a passage that portrays a poignant moment in which a parent passes on her faith in a very honest and personal way.

It is close to the end of the book, when the reader knows that the father must be going to return any day, because there aren’t many pages left. 10-year-old Peter interrupts his mother while she is writing and speaks wistfully about how hard it is being the only man in the house:

“I say,” said Peter musingly, “wouldn’t it be jolly if we all were in a book and you were writing it; then you could make all sorts of jolly things happen, and make Jim’s legs get well at once and be all right tomorrow, and Father would come home soon and….”

“Do you miss your father very much?” Mother asked….

“Awfully,” said Peter briefly… “You see,” Peter went on slowly, “you see, it’s not only him being Father, but now he’s away there’s no other man in the house but me…. Wouldn’t you like to be writing that book with us all in it, Mother, and make Daddy come home soon?”

Peter’s mother put her arm around him suddenly and hugged him in silence for a minute. Then she said, “Don’t you think it’s rather nice to think that we’re in a book that God’s writing? If I were writing the book I might make mistakes, but God knows how to make the story end just right, in the way that’s best for us.”

“Do you really believe that, Mother?” Peter asked quietly.

“Yes,” she said, “I do believe it, almost always — except when I’m so sad that I can’t believe anything. But even when I can’t believe it, I know it’s true, and I try to believe. You don’t know how I try, Peter. Now, take the letters to the post, and don’t let’s be sad anymore. Courage! Courage! That’s the finest of all the virtues…”

15 thoughts on “How to (not) write the best story.

    1. Sadly, I don’t have any print copy of the book myself; I had to search for pictures online. When I heard that part in the audio recording I knew there was no quick way to get a book to copy from, so I listened at a slow speed over and over till I could get the passage transcribed. 🙂

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  1. ** “Don’t you think it’s rather nice to think that we’re in a book that God’s writing? If I were writing the book I might make mistakes, but God knows how to make the story end just right, in the way that’s best for us.” **

    Oh my, that really touched my heart. Thank you for sharing dear Gretchen.

    Love, hugs and prayers ~ FlowerLady

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  2. Courage is certainly the finest virtue when needed, as are all the others in their time as well. What a sweet book, at least the parts related here; leaves me with a feeling “all will be well”.

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    1. She agrees with C.S. Lewis on this idea of courage: He said in The Screwtape Letters, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.”

      But St. Augustine thought humility the essential thing: “Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues. Hence, in the soul in which this virtue does not exist there cannot be any other virtue except in mere appearance.”

      This sounds like enough thought-provoking material for a blog post of its own!

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  3. Different phrases appealed to us it seems. The one that hit me was “But even when I can’t believe it, I know it’s true, and I try to believe.” In difficult moments that says it all. I don’t remember if I read that book at any time but it sounds like a good one.

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  4. Thank-you for sharing! One of my favorite children’s books. Lovely reading the perceptive thoughts and faith of this mother as she ministers to her son. I read your post to the family during breakfast, just now!

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  5. I have never read this one before, either as a child or to my children. Right now I am reading The Boxcar Children to the youngest – this sounds like a good one to follow!

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  6. I shook my head in amazement the other day when I first read this post! Because just the day before I had pulled The Railway Children from a bookshelf and put it in my bedroom to read when I finish my current book. With a thought to determining if my almost 8 year old granddaughter would like it anytime soon but also because I read it to her daddy when he was a child and wanted to revisit the memories of that. I have a 1957 London reprint of it in excellent condition. Your quotes from it might have been the real reason God nudged me to get it out to read. It is so very easy these days to forget that God is writing the story of this time we’re in. Like the mother in the book, even when I can’t believe it I know it’s true. Courage!

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