I recently read two books that deal with the subject of love. The first, Beauty by Robin McKinley, obviously deals with love as it is a retelling of the story of Beauty and the Beast. The second, Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, is also about love, but in a less obvious way. Both books depict a deep love for others and after reading them, I started to think about the question, "What is Love?"

I guess there are all types of love:
Courtly love: a late medieval conventionally code prescribing certain conduct and emotions for ladies and their lovers
Cupboard love: a false or exaggerated affection shown in return for some kind of material gain
Erotic love: sexual attraction or desire toward a person
Free love: sexual relations according to choice and unrestricted by marriage
Platonic love: a close relationship pin which sexual desire is non-existent or has been suppressed
Puppy love: romantic affection that is not "mature" or "true"
Unrequited love: affection and desire not reciprocated or returned
Love at first sight: love that occurs at the instant that one person comes into contact with another

According to the dictionary, love is a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person; a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection. I think many people would agree with this definition of love. It's a feeling for someone. It's affection. It's how you feel about the people you really like or have an affinity towards. While this may describe some love, it doesn't do justice to the love stories depicted in the books I just read.

Beauty differs in the details from the traditional story of Beauty and the Beast, but the general plot is the same. In this version, a girl named Beauty is forced to live in the castle of the Beast to save the life of her father. The father had trespassed on the Beast's land and picked a rose from his garden. He was given two options: 1) He could return to the Beast in a month with one of his daughters or 2) The Beast would kill him. The Beast promised no harm would come to his daughter. Beauty volunteered to return with her father. She loved him so much that she was willing to sacrifice herself for him. While Beauty is initially appalled by the Beast, she grows to enjoy his company. She isn't attracted to him or drawn to him, but she comes to love him. The book has a storybook ending, of course. The Beast turns into a hot guy, the spell is broken, and they all live happily ever after.

Uncle Tom's Cabin is primarily a book about slavery. It was written in 1851 and was the best selling novel of that century and the second best selling book, behind the Bible. The book played an important role in exposing the injustices of slavery to those living in the North and spurred abolitionist movements, adding fuel to the sentiments that eventually caused the Civil War. In the book, Harriet Beecher Stowe tells the stories of several slaves. The main character is Uncle Tom. While Tom is living in the South, he has a kind owner with a young daughter named Eva. The little girl loves her slaves unconditionally. She cares about their health and their lives and their comfort. All the adults around her can't understand how she could possibly love a slave, but the sentiments of her friends and even her family do not change her behavior and her acceptance of the slaves. My summary doesn't do justice to the way Harriet Beecher Stowe develops the character of Eva, but there were sections that brought tears to my eyes as I read them.

The love that is written of in these books isn't just love in the culturally popular view. It isn't guy sees girl, guy and girl are attracted to each other, guy and girl have sex, guy and girl are in love. It's love that is sacrificial, it's active, volitional, thoughtful, unconditional. It's loving another person despite how you feel. It's persistent and never failing. It's what Christians refer to as Agape Love. This is the type of love that is meaningful and deep and moving. It's what affects us (and me) when I read books and stories about love. It's the love that's described in 1 Corinthians 13,

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."

I don't know about you, but I do a pretty crappy job of loving even my family and close friends like that. Let alone my co-workers, the people on the subway, the homeless guy on the corner, the annoying cashier, the landlord, the Chinese delivery guy, etc.

I highly recommend both books. They both score 8.5 on Lindsay's very harsh book scale of 1-10.