It was June 1999, and Prosser was about to leave Hawaii. He came to give Jim a gift, one that would change Jim’s life. He handed Jim a hardback copy of Gates of Fire, the historical novel by Steven Pressfield about the three hundred Spartans and their legendary stand against the Persians at Thermopylae. Jim returned exhausted from his training, and later that night opened the book. In it, he found this inscription: Jim, We didn’t start off well. . . . I thought you were a young punk platoon leader. Things change—you’re older now. . . . Of all the officers in 2-5 Infantry, I will miss you the most. Your energy, personality and drive are refreshing to be around. No one can say that Jim Gant’s heart is not in the right place. Belief in yourself and your duties are more than half the battle. . . . and along with persistence and drive make all the difference. You have all these qualities and more. It has been my honor and privilege to serve with you. Prosser went on: “This is a book about warriors . . . about men of old. Although fictional, I found it fascinating and full of lessons on character and life. . . . Remember, circumstances do not make a man, they reveal him.” Jim began reading the novel, which is narrated by the lone survivor of the battle, a squire of the Spartan warrior Dienekes. He was astonished by what he found. Every page of Pressfield’s intimate account of the making of Spartan warriors and their heroics at Thermopylae seemed to sharpen and illuminate Jim’s own emerging beliefs about combat. “It spoke to me like the Bible,” he said. It was an intellectual and spiritual affirmation of truths that had come to him in the trenches and drill fields, about leading men in war. “I immediately knew those people [the Spartans]. I knew that time. I was meant to be a Spartan, perhaps I was. Every single part of that touched me. It was as though I had a very focused black-and-white picture, and Gates of Fire gave it color.” Jim identified powerfully with the Spartan culture, and with the practice of young boys leaving their birth families to become part of a brotherhood of men-at-arms.
Historical fiction? What is it? What does it mean? Can one learn from novels, poems and plays?
The number three hundred holds deep meaning for me. More than can be written about here. So, for today I am going to share some of the best of the best of my personal library from places that did not exist – but did, for me.
If you have not read “Gates of Fire” give a gift to yourself this Christmas.
Strength, honor and love.
TOGETHER WE TRANSFORM