How Do Stories Increase Your Empathy for Others?

Time has a way of eroding the sharp edges of a story. Details become foggy and the setting becomes indistinct. Fully alive, three-dimensional characters may lose their identity in stereotype, becoming mere placeholders in their own story.

This was the case for Lucy Walter, the heroine in Elizabeth Goudge’s Child from the Sea. Born in 17th century Wales, Lucy met the young prince Charles, heir to the British throne, and young love blossomed. History has cast Lucy in the role of Charles II’s mistress, but Goudge dove into the historical record and reached a different conclusion:

What if the lore that Lucy and Charles had been secretly married is true?

In a context in which the dalliances of royalty were accepted as a matter of course and the marriage of a royal to a commoner was so unthinkable that Lucy would have been without recourse if the young king had been advised to renounce the connection.

Read New Books. Read Old Books.

Published in 1970, The Child from the Sea is part of my 2018 intention to read more fiction and to make time for older books alongside the new. C.S. Lewis offered this advice to readers:  “I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old.” Clayton Kraby of the Reasonable Theology blog has applied that advice to his own personal formula:  “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.”

Without sounding like “an old book” author, Elizabeth Goudge has anchored Lucy’s story in a Christian world view against continually shifting geography and through the introduction of well-developed, often deeply flawed, but heart-warming characters. Vivid description and dialogue, and the use of charming Welch terms transport the reader to the banks of “Brandy Cwm” as characters breakfast on “a bit of bara ceich and a drink of buttermilk.” Superstition and the darkness of theological error plagued clergy and laity alike in this era when religious loyalties shifted according to who was on the throne, and citizens did time in The Tower for landing on the wrong side of the high church/low church see-saw.

Every Life is Shrouded in Mystery

Blogger Jody Lee Collins has written a biographical post on Elizabeth Goudge and shared what I also noticed — that “sacrifice, kindness, faithfulness and selflessness are just a few of the many biblical themes woven through the characters and story in Goudge’s work.” And while exploring the thought-provoking and inspiring elements of story-telling, Elizabeth also included intriguing descriptions that set the story firmly in time and place. For instance, did you know that the winding staircases in castles at that time were built with a “trip step,” a step that was “shallower than the rest so that a man running up the stairs with evil intent would stumble at it and give warning of his approach.” Goudge won the Carnegie Award in 1947 for The Little White Horse, J.K. Rowling’s favorite children’s book, so even though I am arriving late to the party, clearly others have been enjoying Elizabeth Goudge’s considerable writing talent for a long time.

With careful research and considerable grace, Child from the Sea is a masterful tale woven around a life that was shrouded in mystery. The words of Proverbs 14:10 are undoubtedly true:  “The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy.” And yet, through skillfully written stories, we are able to inhabit the heartaches and the joy of an other person to a small degree, and perhaps, through this, we are better equipped to face our own real-life sorrows with greater grace and to celebrate the joys that come with greater gratitude.

Many thanks to Hendrickson Publishers for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to If you should decide to purchase Child from the Sea, simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Thank you, as always, for reading and for your continual encouragement,


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50 thoughts on “How Do Stories Increase Your Empathy for Others?”

  1. Interesting point of view from Clayton Kraby, Michele–to read one old book between every new one. I’ve not thought of it that way, but it makes sense. Also, I love Wales. My hubby and I got to visit there on our 25th anniversary–going to some places where our ancestors lived. Because of that, I discovered this beautiful little seaside city called Tenby. And I can’t wait to take our whole family back there to see it! So I know this book would pull me in at the first page!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Amen to reading old and new and throwing in some fiction! Recently I tried Joyce’s Portrait of a Young Artist… Wow. Writers don’t talk about Hell, guilt and the tangible fear of God like this anymore! I am intent on getting back to Goudge’s gentle sweet writing this year. Her God-centric world-view is refreshing! Glad to see you’ve sampled her too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, yes, I read about Goudge’s books at a fellow blogger’s site some time ago, so when I got the chance to review something from her, I decided to take the risk. I find that reviewing is more difficult for me, probably because I over-think every sentence: “Am I giving something away here that will ruin the plot for someone else?” With non-fiction, I just put on my teacher hat and go for it.
      Now you’re making me think I need to read something by Joyce. . .


      1. A Portrait is said to be the most accessible. It’s not a pretty or easy read, but it says a lot about the human soul and where religion without the Gospel will lead… among other things. I’ll have a couple spoiler posts coming soon 🙃 It’s a piece of literature I have to respond to!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, a nice long and engaging plot is just what winter months need! And I also think of fiction as a real treat! I’ve got a Wallace Stegner book on my shelf that I can hardly wait to begin!


    1. I just had to share that detail! The author shared it within the narrative along with lots of other great historical details. I learned a bit about Wales, too, which is certainly an underrepresented country in any history I’ve read!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I read this book a number of years ago and just loved it. It’s a book that sticks with you. I try to mix up my reading by alternating contemporary, classic and children’s literature. Glad I found you on Senior Salon.


    1. It’s great that you’ve already adopted the practice of mixing up your reading. And I think you are the first person who has commented that has actually read anything by Goudge. So good to know that you also enjoyed it.


  4. “Child From the Sea” sounds like a book that is different from ones you typically review. It does seem like a good read. I have been disappointed with the fiction I have been reading lately. Maybe I will give it a try. I love the quote from Elizabeth Goudge that you use to begin the post. That is a great one!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is different, Laurie, because I usually don’t review fiction. I find it really hard to capture the essence of the book without giving away too much, but I got brave and took this one on. I had been promising myself a little more fiction in 2018, so I’ve also been listening to Hannah Coulter (by Wendell Berry) in the car, and that’s been a wonderful treat!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This does sound like an interesting book. I enjoy a well-written story. They can sometimes help us understand spiritual truths in powerful ways. I, too, like the idea of interspersing older books with new ones, both fiction and non-fiction. There were Christian men and women of the past whose writings deserve our time and attention. I’m always amazed at the study and insights they gained without today’s modern conveniences like the computer.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A good story is a good story, regardless of when it was written. I’ve always appreciated C. S. Lewis’s advice. I don’t read as many of the older books as I could–they’re usually more difficult!–but there are some real treasures among them.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. That is such a good idea to read an old book in between the new ones! I honestly love classics but with so many books coming out every year, I tend to read mostly new ones. Thank you for linking up over at GraceFull Tuesday!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Reading a classic book is becoming quite a difficult talk because of other competing talks Waiting on your desk. But a good classic book is worth reading. I read when l want to refresh my mind.


    2. Oh, me too, and publishers make sure that I have plenty in my pile. This year, though, I’ve tried to have another book, an older book, going on the side that I don’t have to review and so there’s no deadline. It’s been great!


  8. I definitely tend toward non-fiction and more serious topics, but over the last two years I have found such solace in quality fiction. A beautiful told story with layered characters does develop empathy and understanding for the complex lives of those we come in contact with. Thank you for sharing this book recommendation 🙂


  9. Like many high school students, I read various “classics” – many of which (though by no means all) left me cold. Why? I simply had not had enough life experience to empathize with many of the characters and situations. A half a lifetime later, many of these same books had become masterpieces! You might enjoy a current set of tales I am writing to delve into the concept of empathy. The set-up is that the elderly leader of the mythical Veritas tribe seeks a young replacement so she devises a series of trials that mainly test empathy. Here’s a link to the first story. Of course, comments welcome!


    1. I appreciate your insight on the reason why high school students might not appreciate the classics. And I appreciate your heads up regarding that story series. Thanks for the link!


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