Walker Percy—the novelist, philosopher, and Christian convert—once expressed his bemusement at those who read Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy merely for its “poetic structure.” Percy knew, of course, that the poet carefully constructed his three-part epic (Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso) around complex allegories. He also knew that readers can learn a great deal about the medieval mind by reading it. Yet Percy was mystified that anyone would follow Dante’s arduous journey without getting the real point: Dante wants to save our souls no less than his own.
Rod Dreher gets it. The popular blogger’s new book, How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History’s Greatest Poem (Regan Arts), does more than retrace Dreher’s own Dante-driven recovery of life and faith. Just as the poet Virgil leads Dante into the pit of hell so that he might climb to the edge of paradise, Dreher hopes to lead readers out of their own “dark wood” toward heavenly delight.
Yet Dreher doesn’t turn Dante into a preacher. On the contrary, he attends to the Comedy’s poetic nuances, its rich characters and events, its stunning metaphors, and its piercing insights. Even so, this book is more about Dreher than Dante, and I don’t say this to damn with faint praise. By filtering his own personal struggle through the greatest of all Christian poems, Dreher strikes depths not otherwise possible.
Return to Roots
How Dante Can Save Your Life is, in effect, a sequel to Dreher’s 2013 best-selling memoir, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming. In that book, he narrated the marvelous life and crushing death, from cancer, of his schoolteacher sister. Unlike ...1
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