Book Review: “The Story of the Other Wise Man” by Henry Van Dyke (1895)

“It is better to follow the shadow of the best [star] than to remain content with the worst” (21).

Tragedies such as this story have never been a Christmas tradition of mine, but judging by the very godly lessons of love, sacrifice, and giving within The Story of the Other Wise Man, I think I’ll reconsider it. Henry Van Dyke delivers his classic story of failure and sorrow in a vivid, poetic way, giving generations of families who gather around the table or fireplace for a quiet time of devotional reading a beautiful story to consider and enjoy.

This fourth wise man, like the others we know so slightly, is not a worshiper of the God we know by name, but rather his country’s own version of the Almighty Deity, the God of Heaven. So when he sees the message of God in His heavens, the star, he knows it to be of vital importance. Thus he sets out in what eventually becomes a lifelong search for “the King of the Jews.”

With deep research and colorful language, Van Dyke takes his readers to the very nights of Babylon, to the terrors of Bethlehem, and to the slums of Egypt in search of this King of the Jews. And the lessons he teaches along the way are hard to miss, for this short book is really the parable of one man’s love for the Jesus he has never seen. Such a love is proven through the generous acts of sacrifice he commits toward the hurting, because he cannot do them yet to Christ Himself.

The writer in me was also struck by Van Dyke’s side note for writers in the Introduction to this edition, which I thought I’d pass along: “An idea arrives without effort; a form can only be brought out by patient labor. If your story is worth telling, you ought to love it enough to be willing to work over it until it is true—true not only to the ideal, but true also to the real” (xiv).

I think Henry Van Dyke accomplished that here, and so I recommend this little book, for your holiday or otherwise any-day enjoyment.

©2014 E.T.

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