Jim Weiss Responds to Important Questions from Parents

Jim Responds: “Resources for King Arthur”

Jim Responds: Resources on King Arthur King Arthur and His Knights is one of Jim’s bestselling recordings. It focuses on the honor and dedicated values of the Knights of the Round Table. The Knights took their positions seriously when it came to upholding integrity in the realm that they sought to protect. It’s a particularly beautiful recording for children and adults to listen to with the pupose of reflection on the importance of building character and living a life of defined values and goodness.King Arthur and His Knights is one of Jim’s bestselling recordings. It focuses on the honor and dedicated values of the Knights of the Round Table. The Knights took their positions seriously when it came to upholding integrity in the realm that they sought to protect. It’s a particularly beautiful recording for children and adults to listen to with the pupose of reflection on the importance of building character and living a life of defined values and goodness.

Dear Jim,

We love your “King Arthur and His Knights recording.” It’s one of our all-time favorites. Can you please recommend other excellent source regarding the world of King Arthur?

I’m delighted to hear from you, and so glad to know that you and your son have come to share my love for the stories of Arthur and his companions.

There are so many books about King Arthur and His Knights. Many place them in the Medieval Era. Others set them closer to the time we think that Arthur really lived which was just after the Romans withdrew from Britain.

I’ve read many of these books, and before I made my recording, I formed my own ideas of which tales to tell, the nature of the characters, and so on. I decided to stop the recording before the part that Hollywood always emphasizes, the triangle of Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot, or the great tale of Sir Tristan. I don’t think that those are what the story is really about which to me is the noble dream of Arthur. And sure enough, those stories were added five or six centuries after the original tales were told, during the Middle Ages, and reflect the whole chivalric notion of romance. (Lancelot was added during that era, too, by French storytellers, which explains the fact that he is French: “Lancelot du Lac” translated to “Lancelot of the Lake”.)

I’ll mention that Well-Trained Mind Press has an unabridged book of my King Arthur recording, with some added activities, at this link:

Below you will find some other recommendations. Please remind your son that there are going to be differences among all of these, and between them and my version. That is what happens when you look at myths and legends: every storyteller or author shapes the tales to her or his own way of seeing things.

The Story of King Arthur and His Knights by the great Howard Pyle, is a classic for young readers, and deserves to be. (There is also a sequel by Pyle with more tales about the knights.) Pyle was not only a best-selling author, shaping our views of Robin Hood and of pirates, among other topics, as well as King Arthur; but he was also the fountainhead of the Golden Age of Illustrators. His students and friends included Maxfield Parrish and N.C. Wyeth.

The Legend of King Arthur, retold by Robin Lister, published by Doubleday Press, Boston, is a good, straightforward version a young reader can definitely handle.

Mary Stewart’s Merlin Trilogy is a superb take on the legends, setting them in the earlier time period. The titles, in sequence, are The Crystal Cave; The Hollow Hills, and The Last Enchantment. These stories are not written for kids. Save them for a few years, but then share them with your son. They are presented as the story of Merlin, being told by Merlin himself. Arthur doesn’t appear until the second book, but by then, Stewart has set up the traditional background in an absolutely terrific way. All three books have been published in both hard cover and paperback editions, each was a N.Y. Times bestseller, and each is a book I have read multiple times.

Stewart later added a fourth title, The Wicked Day, in which she reshapes the story of Mordred, who is the villain in most versions of the Arthurian stories.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s renowned collection of poems, The Idylls of the King, tell the stories of Arthur and all the rest in magnificent poem form. Again, these are written for adult levels of comprehension, but they have remained among the most loved and influential versions. Every time I read them, which I do every few years, I think, “I shouldn’t be enjoying so much a Victorian era poet’s work, but I am.” Tennyson at his best (think “The Charge of the Light Brigade”) is nearly irresistible, and here he is at his best.

Bulfinch’s Mythology is best known for its long sections on Greek and Norse myths, but Thomas Bulfinch also included a long segment of Arthurian stories.

The University of Rochester, in New York, offers a comprehensive Arthurian website called The Camelot Project, just one of many related web sites.
You will undoubtedly find many sources here, though once again I caution that most are written for adults. You could comb through, though, and find lots of resources.

Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series of five books is wildly popular. I have to admit that I have not read them.

So are Rosemary Sutcliff’s Arthurian books, and ditto.

Finally, even John Steinbeck wrote a book telling the story: The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights. Steinbeck follows a traditional telling of the tale, but in modern language.

Jim Responds:How to Explain to Children About Political Name-Calling”

Dear Jim,
I am looking for some resources that will help me explain to my boys (who are now high school age) the different names we hear being thrown around in politics, (such as) the right, the left, liberal, conservative, socialist, fascist, libertarian, etc. I know it is not possible to find a reference that is completely unbiased. There is so much confusion, misinformation, and hate being thrown around. I really want to understand where people are coming from and why they believe and think the way they do. Do you know of any books or websites we can go to? Thanks, -JH

I couldn’t find a single source book among my own collection, so I looked up “political ideology,” “political spectrum,” “liberal moderate conservative” and so forth online. A number of web sites got it partly right, but then they started to give examples of “what liberals believe” about environment or “what conservatives believe” about abortion, and as soon as they did that, the authors’ own opinions sneaked in. Also, and I think vitally, the articles didn’t address the fact that an individual might be, for example, both a fiscal conservative and an environmental liberal.

So, the best I can suggest is that you look at several of these sites yourself until you find some that have good general definitions of the terms. Then explain to your sons that these titles generally are shorthand representing different points of view, but that humans are not always so simple that one or another definition might fit an individual on every issue.

Explain that one of the reasons we’re in trouble currently is that many people are confused, and frightened to not have clear definitions. Feeling insecure, they grab hold of one or another term/movement in desperation and hold tightly to it: “I’m a .” (Fill in the blank.) The great danger with that comes when people surrender their own decision-making to whatever the leader of that movement promises them, “We know the way! Just follow us! You, too, can be a .” It doesn’t matter much what those so-called leaders do or do not support; what attracts this sort of follower is just the spokesperson’s seeming sense of self-assurance. It’s this certainty such followers are really after, not specific policies or beliefs. They’ll follow anyone who helps them feel more secure.

But it’s a demonstrated fact that it helps our society to have people with varied opinions, so that we can understand all our options and make wise, informed decisions.

It also helps to have people who can work together on some things and disagree on others, based on the shared belief that they might disagree honorably. Examples of such opponents working together: Thomas Jefferson invited his ally James Madison, and their foe Alexander Hamilton, to dinner one night, and the result was agreeing where the new U.S. capitol would be (today’s Washington, D.C.) while seeing to it that Hamilton’s financial policy would pass Congress. Remembering this later, during the disputed presidential election of 1800, Hamilton threw his support behind Jefferson in order to keep the new, unsteady U.S. government from toppling. Hamilton strongly disagreed with Jefferson politically but believed him an honest, sincere patriot; but Hamilton thought Aaron Burr was in the race for his own personal power, which Hamilton recognized was the genuine threat.

Other examples: the close friendship between Senators Ted Kennedy (ultraliberal) and Orrin Hatch (ultraconservative) that allowed them to oppose one another politically most of the time, but create bills together in areas where they agreed (Hatch was even the best man at Kennedy’s wedding); Democratic President Lyndon Johnson passing the Civil Rights Bill with the strong support of Republican Senate leader Everett Dirksen because they both knew it was the right thing to do; etc.

Sadly, in Autumn of 2020, such examples seem quaint and old-fashioned. But for our democratic republic to function, at least there must be conversations going on behind the scenes.

Personally, I have had friends across the political spectrum all my life. What they all shared was a desire to learn more, and an ability to understand that other people’s viewpoints were not the devil’s work.

This is the hardest time to hold onto that ideal in my 71 years. I have made it through wars in Vietnam and the Middle East, and the Civil Rights era (which is not over, of course.) But when people shout and do not listen, and define themselves and those around them by easy labels, those are the hardest times. The trick is to explore the definition of these labels but to resist looking at oneself as just this or that, because doing so limits his/her intelligent choices, which serves neither the individual nor our nation.

Jim Responds:Resources About Sallie/Sally Tompkins”

Dear Jim,
We love your CDs! We own most of them, and have met you in person several times. Thank you for what you do. You have inspired MANY conversations in our home over the years. This year, we are studying American History, and purchased your recording, “Women in Blue or Gray.”. My 10-year-old daughter loves it! She has been especially taken with Sallie Tompkins.

We have not, however, been able to find many books about this heroic woman; and wondered if you might have some additional sources that you would be willing to share with us. We have joined Classical Conversations this year, and she wants to be Sallie Tompkins for Faces of History.

We would appreciate any additional sources you would be willing to share with us. Our Library search has come back with exactly “0” finds – the librarians are even stumped!

May the good Lord continue to bless you and your family. We appreciate you and your many tales! – R and L

Dear R and L,
Thanks so much for writing and it warms our hearts that your daughter loves our recordings. Here are a few articles that I found regarding Sallie/Sally Tompkins.

First, here are three biographical articles about Ms. Tompkins’s life: http://www.angelpig.org/sallytompkins.html

and, of course, the ubiquitous Wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sally_Louisa_Tompkins

This last, brief resource focuses on the hospital Ms. Tompkins founded in Richmond, VA:

I hope these will give you what you need. And thank you for continuing to let us be a part of your lives.