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“The dream is ended: this is the morning.” #Narniathon #TheLastBattle

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Well, I can hardly believe it, but I’ve stuck to the schedule for Chris’s Narniathon and have made it to the final book in the series – “The Last Battle”, first published in 1956. Alas, as I’ve mentioned before, this is not my original copy from my childhood as that’s currently AWOL (though hopefully somewhere in the house); I have substituted with this cheap and temporary copy with a modern cover and I can’t say I like it much – anyway, onward and inward as they say! ;D

As the book opens, Narnia is in decline; Aslan appears to have deserted his land, and the last King, Tirian, is full of excitement when a rumour reaches them that the lion has returned. However, he soon discovers how wrong things are going when he hears that trees are being felled and sold to Calomen as well as talking beasts enslaved – all apparently on the orders of Aslan. It soon becomes clear that this is no true Aslan, simply an imposter which needs to be dealt with quickly. However the Narnians appear to be outnumbered by the Calormenes, faith in Narnia and its king has fallen by the wayside, and Tirian has no option except to call for help from the children who came from our world in the country’s past. Amazingly, Eustace and Jill appear from nowhere; and the battle is on to save their beloved Narnia from betrayal and colonisation. The Last Battle will indeed be a mighty one…

I must admit to approaching this book with a little trepidation… Although I recall not being over-fond of “The Horse and His Boy“, I also remember finding “The Last Battle” hard to take because it’s so sad at the beginning. Seeing Narnia in decline, the horrors of occupation and the dominance of those with vested interests is very painful (and actually still very resonant nowadays). Although things take a turn for the better when the true Aslan appears, the loss of the world we’ve become used to is very moving (and having Digory there at start and finish a lovely touch). Lewis’s writing is still stellar, though; in the same way as he painted some marvellous word pictures with the creation of Narnia in “The Magician’s Nephew”, he deals with its end equally brilliantly, leaving you quite stunned and emotional. Having almost all the human characters together is wonderful, though I’m sure I’m not alone in regretting Lewis’s dismissal of Susan; presumably she’s being used to reject the idea that religion is something childish you should grow out of, but it does come across as a bit of a betrayal of her, and a tad misogynistic.

Re-reading these books now, I certainly found this one to be the most overtly religious of the series. It’s quite obvious what Aslan’s Country is meant to represent, and here Lewis does conjure a beautiful land containing all the countries you might ever want to see. It’s clever to portray this as the *real* version of all worlds too; but I’m not well-versed enough in theology to know if his shadowlands and real world concepts are original. There are a number of explorations of what I would call faith or lack of it, too; the dwarfs are a case in point, declaring “the Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs” and stubbornly refusing to recognise the reality around them. Then there’s the fearsome god Tash; an evil figure, it’s made clear that only bad actions can be done in his name, and any good actions supposedly taken on behalf of Tash are actually in Aslan’s name.

Getting to the end of any immersive series of books, ones where you’ve lived rather than read them, is always an emotional experience, leaving you feeling a little bereft. I certainly always felt so with these books when I was young – and also with the “Lord of the Rings” series. In both cases, I’ve gone through phases of finishing them and going right back to the start to relive the experience; and having now got to the end of the #Narniathon I can still feel that pull to do so… It’s been quite wonderful revisiting this series of books, which were so important to me in my younger years and still are! Thanks to Chris for setting up the #Narniathon – I most likely wouldn’t have gone back to these right now without it, and it really has been a heck of an experience!

The creation myth… #Narniathon #MagiciansNephew

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Well, we’re up to book 6 of the Narniathon, and I’m quite pleased with myself for sticking to this particular event. Of course, it does help that the books are quite short, but it’s been such an enjoyable experience! Anyway, this month’s episode in C.S. Lewis‘s Narnian adventures, “The Magician’s Nephew” contains what you might call the creation myth of that land, and it was always one of my favourite stories; so I was keen to see how I found it nowadays!

Of course, as we are reading in publication order, some might protest that we should have read this book first. However, the opening paragraph convinces me again (if I needed it) that reading in publication order is the way.

This is a story about something that happened long ago when your grandfather was a child. It is a very important story because it shows all the comings and going between our own world and the land of Narnia first began.

Now for me, that opening presupposes a knowledge of Narnia and all that had gone before in the previous books. If I’d read this first, I would have been most puzzled indeed. I expect there are plenty of opposing arguments which could be flung at me, but I shall stick to my guns and am happy to have re-read in what I think is the correct order!

Anyway, to return to “Magician’s…” Lewis goes on to set his scene quite wonderfully, stating:

In those days Mr Sherlock Holmes was still living in Baker Street and the Bastables were looking for treasure in the Lewisham Road. In those days, if you were a boy you had to wear a stiff Eton collar every day, and schools were usually nastier than now. But meals were nice; and as for sweets, I won’t tell you how cheap and good they were, because it would only make your mouth water in vain. And in those days there lived in London a girl called Polly Plummer.

Polly will be one of the main protagonists of this story, along with her next door neighbour, Digory Kirke; the latter is staying with his aunt and uncle, the brother and sister Andrew and Letty Ketterly, and things are not going well. Digory’s mother is also staying and she’s very poorly. If that wasn’t bad enough, Uncle Andrew is a strange and unpleasant man, and frankly Digory is having an awful time. Polly proves to be a good friend, and the children decide to explore the attic of their houses; as they live in a row of terraces, these are all joined and so the children in theory can walk from one end of the terrace to the other. However, they miscalculate and leave the attic into Uncle Andrew’s study.

Here, the real adventures begin, as this most peculiar man has been meddling with magic he really doesn’t understand and has made some magic rings. Having tested them on disappearing guinea pigs, he now wants a more communicative subject to try them out and tricks Polly into putting one on and vanishing. Digory is forced to go after her to try to rescue her, and they find themselves in The Wood Between the Worlds, a tranquil place full of ponds. Using the magic rings, the children can jump into those ponds and be transported away to new worlds. From here they explore other lands, encounter a sinister witch and then witness a world being born. However, evil and temptation are threatening them and the new land of Narnia; will the children have the strength to do the right thing, can they get back to their own world, and will Digory’s mother survive?

As I thought back over the plot of this book, I realised just how much Lewis had incorporated into his story, how engrossing it was and how the pace never flags for a moment!! The sheer richness of the book is mightly impressive, and there are so many wonderful elements – the rampages of the witch, Jadis, round Victorian London; the treatment of Uncle Andrew by the talking animals of Narnia; the darkness and bleakness of Charn; and all of these are enhanced by Pauline Baynes’ marvellous illustrations. The book succeeds in mingling elements of classic Victorian children’s fiction with its adventures, and the magical world of Narnia, and it’s a marvellous read from start to finish.

I found the religious elements quite noticeable in this story, but again this wasn’t a problem; the ‘Adam and Eve’ figures of the new world, the temptation of the apple, the opposing evil figure are all familiar from biblical stories. Yet Narnia has an identity of its own, and some of the writing is so beautiful; the sequence where Aslan literally sings the world into being is stunning and moving. The story ends with happy resolution and what is perhaps a warning from Lewis about the way our world is developing into a dead land like Charn:

… you are growing more like it. It is not certain that some wicked one of your race will not find out a secret as evil as the Deplorable Word and use it to destroy all living things. And soon, very soon, before you are an old man and an old woman, great nations in your world will be ruled by tyrants who care no more for joy and justice and mercy than the Empress Jadis. Let your world beware.

“The Magician’s Nephew” is a wonderful, powerful piece of storytelling, and as you can probably tell I absolutely loved revisiting it after all these years. I don’t know about Aslan, but Lewis’s world-building skills are just marvellous – Charn, The Wood Between the Worlds, London in the past and Narnia itself are brilliantly realised and it was a wrench to leave this story. The last few pages link the story back to “Lion…” in a way that would only make sense if you’d already read the book; and I suspect I may end up after the next instalment wanting to go back to the beginning of the Narnia stories and read them all over again, just like I always feel with the “Lord of the Rings” books. The Narniathon really is a most wonderful experience!

#1954Club – what a bumper year it was! But where next??? 😊

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Well, that was a bit of a wonderful week, wasn’t it? I suspected from the start that 1954 would be a great year, and it really was! So many marvellous books have been read and discussed, and I imagine that all of your tbrs are now bulging – I’ve certainly added quite a few titles to the wishlist.

Anyway, below are the books I read for 1954 (the Maigret isn’t pictured because it was an e-book) and they turned out to be a marvellous selection. Classic crime is always likely to make an appearance, and both the Simenon and the Mitchell were wonderful reads. “The Horse and His Boy” was a much more enjoyable experience than I anticipated; and the double-header of two parts of the “Lord of the Rings” was just perfect.

However, the week was not without its glitches! I stumbled across a couple of issues with dates; somehow, I got it into my head that Mervyn Peake’s “The Craft of the Lead Pencil” was published in 1954 when in face it came out in 1946! As I had read this before I realised, I’ll post some thoughts about it at a later date! Then I had included Mishima’s “Sound of the Waves” as a possible read but my copy said 1956 in the front. I discarded it as an option and then realised that it came out in Japanese in 1954 but the translation was 1956 – doh!!! I was going to say that I need to always check the actual book rather than an online list, but that’s obvs not the case. I guess for the next club I shall just have to look more closely.

More seriously, I encountered a DNF! I had actually bought a book specifically to read for 1954, and it was one I’d been keen on tracking down for a while – “Pictures from an Institution” by Randall Jarrell. I picked up a lovely old orange Penguin copy and started it enthustically; however, I soon faltered and found that what I’d seen described as a humorous novel was not only leaving me cold but actually starting to irritate. It may just be that the timing was wrong for this book, but I really struggled – not only to find it funny, but also to regard it as a coherent work! I love a satirical book when done well, but with this I felt that a sequence of aphorisms, one-liners and metaphors does not make a novel and it quickly became tiresome. I haven’t ruled out giving it another try, and it may be that in a different frame of mind I might enjoy. But for this week I didn’t…

At the end of the day, though, that doesn’t matter because I did love what I read, and would happily keep on reading more from 1954 – here are just a few of the options which got away and which I’d like to keep on my radar:

Yes – I won’t give up on the Jarrell just yet!

But the #1954Club was a wonderful week of reading for me where I reconnected with authors and books I love, and which were a part of making me the person and reader I am. I hope you had a good week too, and please keep leaving details of your posts if I’ve missed them – I will catch up with linking as soon as possible.

As for our next Club week, Simon and I have put our heads together and come up with the year for October – which will be (drum roll….) – the #1929Club which will run from 24th-30th October 2022!!! Simon suggested it and it looks to have the potential to be as good as 1954. So you have had plenty of warning and we look forward to joining you all for our next club in six months’ time! Thanks so much to Simon for creating this event and co-hosting – it’s been a blast!

#1954 – a boy, a girl and two talking horses! #narniathon21

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If you’re a regular visitor to the Ramblings, you’ll know that I’m taking part in a monthly readalong of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books, under the title of #Narniathon21, organised by Chris at Calmgrove. And very fortunately the book for April is “The Horse and His Boy” which just happens to have been published in 1954 – wonderful timing there! I’ve greatly enjoyed my revisits to Narnia so far, as I adored the books as a child, but haven’t re-read them for decades; however, I approached “Horse…” with a little trepidation, as it’s the one I feel I know least well, and I have memories of not being particularly fond of it…

“The Horse and His Boy” was the fifth book to be published in the Narnia chronicles, and it takes a step away from what might be considered the usual formula. The first four books run in sequence, with each shedding a few of the characters from the previous book(s) and introducing new ones; although there are gaps in time between events (which are longer in Narnia than in our world), the books do follow on. However, the events of “Horse…” (which were actually mentioned in passing within the previous book) are ‘historical’, in that they take place during the reign of the four Pevensie children from “Lion…” If one were to read the books in the modern suggested chronological order, this would actually be the third – and frankly, I’m even more convinced that would be rubbish after doing my reread in the published order!! But I digress…

“Horse…” opens ‘far south in Calormen’ where a young boy called Shasta lives near the sea with his father, a fisherman. His is not a happy life, however; his father is often cruel, Shasta spends all of his time working, and when he has a chance to dream, his heart is drawn to the landscape of the north. However, when a rich Calormene noble appears and wants to buy the boy, Shasta discovers that he’s not actually the fisherman’s son; and when he also discovers that the nobleman’s horse is a talking one from Narnia called Bree, the pair agree to run away and head for Narnia and the north. Fortunately, Bree has a lot of horse sense, as Shasta is brash and naive; but the pair manage to avoid some perils and at one point while encountering fierce lions, they run into Aravis, a Calormene princess who is running away from an arranged marriage. She also has a Narnian horse, Hwinn, and the quartet join forces to try to escape the barbarian country; however, encounters with visting Narnians will reveal even more secrets, and tensions between the two countries will lead to dramatic battle.

Well – I actually enjoyed “Horse…” a whole lot more than I expected to, and it’s obvious I hadn’t read it as much as the other Narnia books because I had forgotten how much involvement there was from the Narnian people themselves! The book is a marvellous adventure, with the party getting split up and reunited, flights across the desert dividing Calormen on the south from Narnia and Archenland in the North, and of course various characters (including Bree!) learning some lessons from Aslan. The latter dips in and out of the story, and his punishment for a transgression of Aravis’s is quite harsh! But the book was a wonderfully satisfying read, and I’m sorry I neglected it in the past. I suspect that the spacing out of the books to monthly reads does help – that gap allows the previous book to settle and the mind to prepare for the next adventure.

Reading “Horse…” nowadays, however, is not without its problems. The portrayal of the Calormene people has led to accusations of racism, and it’s true that they certainly conform to the kind of stereotypes you would expect from a man of Lewis’s background, writing when he was writing. This is unfortunate, and I was aware of it in the background as I was reading; although Lewis does portray Aravis positively, and the Narnian royalty visiting Calormen treat their hosts with respect. It’s a knotty issue, one which often comes up reading older books; and my personal response is to acknowledge that a work was written in a time when this kind of attitude prevailed, and hope that we have moved on from it. Alas, in our modern, conflicted world I don’t know that’s always the case.

Putting that aside, though, I really enjoyed spending time with Bree and Shasta, Hwinn and Aravis, and I do think “Horse…” is a worthy part of the Narnia series. It gives a wider look at Narnia and its environs, allows us to see some of the Pevensies in Narnia while they were ruling, and of course deepens our relationship with Aslan. 1954 was quite a year for fantasy books for adults and children, coming from the pens of a pair of professors; “Horse…” was a marvellous read, and it will be interesting to see what Lewis’s friend Tolkien was up to at the same time… 😉

Three Things #7… documentaries, REM, and #1954Club!!

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Back in the Land of Pre-Pandemic, I posted several times using a lovely meme thought up by Paula at BookJotter. She called it “Three Things…” and in it we looked at what we’d been reading, looking at/listening to and thinking. It’s ages since I did one of these posts but I thought it might be nice to revisit it, just to catch up with where I am at the moment!

Reading

With the #1954Club coming up this month I have, of course, been exploring and reading books from that year! I am hoping to do some re-reading for this club, including a pair of very emotive books from my youth…

I am, of course, currently taking part in the #Narniathon, and this month’s book is “The Horse and his Boy”, which coincidentally was published in 1954! It’s been a real trip back to the past for me, re-reading these books, as I was quite obsessed with them when I was young. And as I’ve mentioned before, once I’d finished reading these, a family friend gave me a copy of “The Hobbit” which both my dad and I devoured, and we then went on to read “The Lord of the Rings” in lovely hardback editions from the library.

I’ve shared a picture of the set I eventually found to reflect that reading experience, and as “The Fellowship of the Ring” was published in 1954 I’m hoping this will kickstart the re-read of the trilogy – looking forward to what could be an emotional experience!!

Looking at/Listening to

‘Looking at’ could be interpreted a couple of ways: for example, what I’ve been watching either in the form of films, TV or online viewing material. TBH, I’m not much of a modern TV or film fancier, though I do love a classic or a good documentary!

1917 – not good…. / Mythologies – brilliant!

I’ve written about all manner of these in the past, from one which covered the 1917 Russian Revolution (a disappointment), through a thought-provoking look at Britain’s nuclear past (interesting, but scary at the moment) to Professor Richard Clay‘s programmes on Utopias, memes, the French Revolution and Roland Barthes (Clay is always a fascinating and thought-provoking commentator.) I also went back to an old favourite series from 2006, Peter Ackroyd’s The Romantics which sent me off down a rabbit hole exploring my collection of Romantic books! Sadly, BBC4 (my usual source for documentary watching) seems to have ground to a halt with very little new being commissioned nowadays – such a shame.

Ahem. Some of my Romantic books…

However, I have managed the odd interesting prog; current favourite is Grayson Perry’s Art Club, which I love; he and wife Philippa are a joy! Apart from that, I’m reduced to the guilty pleasure of watching Susan Calman being silly at various points round the country… Will no TV channel rescue me from this dreadful dearth of documentaries?????

I also continue to look at and love all kinds of art, and I desperately miss visiting galleries in real life; there has not been much travel in the last couple of years… A current favourite visual artist is Tom Gauld, who cartoons are marvellous; he regularly appears in The Guardian and other publications, and often shares his work on Twitter and Instagram – do give him a look! I’m also very keen on Lachlan Goudie’s work – he has a wonderful website here.

As for listening, a recent repeat on the Beeb reminded me of how much I loved, and still do love, the music of REM – so they’ve been on repeat play lately! The combined vocals of Michael Stipe and Mike Mills are just marvellous – love them!

Thinking

Thinking has in many ways been difficult and painful over the last couple of years; we have had to deal with Brexit, the pandemic and now an awful conflict over in the east. I mostly stick to books on the Ramblings, trying to keep it cheery, because dwelling on the horrible side of life isn’t good for anyone’s mental health. But it’s really difficult to do this in the face of the relentless news broadcasts, the lies and appalling behaviour of those supposedly running the country, the ghastliness of the warmongers and the hysterical headlines in the mass media. I sometimes wonder if it appears that I have my head in the sand here on the Ramblings; I don’t, and my heart breaks for all of these awful situations we’re facing though I do feel powerless to have any effect on world events. So I will keep on sharing my love of books (and anything else which takes my fancy) as that at least I think is a positive thing. Books and reading have always been a consolation, and continue to be so – as long as I can read, I can cope!

So that’s my Three Things… marking where I am in April 2022. What about you? What have you been reading, watching/listening and thinking lately – and how are you coping with reality??

Journeying to the underworld… #narniathon #thesilverchair

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March’s books for the #Narniathon readalong of C.S. Lewis‘s Narnia stories is “The Silver Chair”, the fourth book in the series; you can read my thoughts on the first three here, here and here! Like those volumes, I felt I remembered “Silver…” reasonably well and was keen to see how I’d find it. Well, I loved it as much as my revisits to the first three books, although some elements stood out to me more this time round!

As the book opens, we find ourselves in a boarding school of the 1950s; this is no Blyton-style happy Malory Towers, though, as “Experiment House” is a progressive outfit where the older, bullying children appear to be in charge. Eustace Scubb (from “Voyage…”) attends the place and encounters a fellow student, Jill Pole, crying behind the gym as the bullies have been at her. Eustace has obviously changed since his adventures in Narnia, and as he comforts Jill they hear the nasties approaching. As they run off to escape, a portal suddenly transports them to Narnia. Having escaped their horrible surroundings in our world, will they find Narnia any better?

Well, yes and no. An encounter with Aslan does not go as planned, the children get separated and when they do meet up again they are off on a quest to rescue a lost prince, Rilian son of Caspian, in company with a very interesting character! This is Puddleglum, a Marsh-wiggle, who seems rather like a cross between a human and a frog, and he’s a wonderfully lugubrious addition to the story. The three protagonists have to journey north, through Ettinsmoor to Harfang and the ruined city of the giants, with only a series of four signs given to Jill by Aslan for guidance. However, there will by many perils on the way, not least encounters with a beautiful woman and a strange knight, and some rather alarming giants. And our three travellers will have to face their fears and journey deep into the underworld to bring their quest to fruition…

And out of that cave they passed into another, and then into another and another, and so on till Jill lost count, but always they were going downhill and each cave was lower than the last, till the very thought of the weight and depth of the earth above you was suffocating.

Interestingly, my memories of the book were mainly centred around the underground section of the story, and this may be because I’m a bit claustrophobic. However, the sections leading up to this soon came back to me as I was reading, and I was yet again seduced by Lewis’s storytelling skills – this is exactly the sort of book I loved to read as a child. His setting and landscapes are so wonderfully conjured (and there’s a lovely map at the start from Pauline Baynes). The different types the travellers encounter, from giants to the Earthmen who live down in the darkness, are all vividly painted and Lewis’s imagination was just stupendous!

Of course, this time round I could pick up more of the mythology involved, particularly with adventures like crossing an underground sea in a boat which was most evocative. The giants and their behaviour brought back fairy tales and nursery rhymes, and of course a prince being held captive by a sorceress is not a new idea! All of these elements were wonderfully mixed into Lewis’s story, though, and it was a treat to read.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I did find some elements more noticeable reading this book as an adult. The religious element is pretty obvious, with Aslan setting the children a task which goes wrong from the start in effect because the children were displaying negative elements (Jill was ‘showing off’). So the quest was a form of redemption it seems, and incorporated what as an atheist I see is an unnecessary complication of religion. Why create an imperfect race and leave them to make a mess of things, rather than create a nice world with nice people in it? Yes, there needs to be a quest to keep us interested in the story (and I *was* interested); but this is the first of the books where the Christian subtext seemed to me slightly too overt.

However, despite that, I did love my revisit to this Narnian tale. Jill and Eustace are a good pair of questers, Puddleglum is a perfect delight, with his constant looking on the negative side of things, and the writing is as good as ever. I’ve lost myself in each of these books, feeling as if I was living the story alongside the characters; part of this is, I expect, the fact that I’ve had a strong connection with them since childhood. But it’s also a tribute to C.S. Lewis’s ability to spin an absorbing and transporting story which works for me as an adult as well as for me as a child!

So once again I had a wonderful experience revisiting Narnia and its lovely cast of characters; the quest is engrossing, the setting unforgettable and the ending wonderfully satisfying. I must thank Chris for setting up the Narniathon as I’m sure I never would have revisited these books at the moment without that prompt, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. However, next month’s book is going to be extra intruguing (and is actually trailed in “Silver…” even though it hadn’t been published yet), as I remember little or nothing about it – watch this space to see how I get on…!

Seaborne explorations… #Narniathon #VoyageOfTheDawnTreader

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It’s time for episode three of the tales of Narnian adventures, and I’m happy to say that so far I’ve managed to stick to the monthly schedule. After last month’s ‘bridging’ book, “Prince Caspian“, we move on to “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”, a title I remember as being one of my favourites of the Narnia stories – so I was keen to see what I made of it nowadays…

At the end of “Caspian…” the four Pevensies are returned to ‘our’ world and Aslan breaks the news to Peter and Susan that they won’t be able to return to Narnia. And as “Voyage…” opens the family has been split up, with Susan and her parents touring America, Peter cramming for exams and the two youngest staying with their aunt, uncle and beastly cousin Eustace Clarence Scrubb. The family Scrubb are described in very unflattering terms as being “vegetarians, nonsmokers, teetotallers, pacifists, (who) wore a special kind of underclothes ” and it’s clear that Edmund and Lucy won’t fit in, particularly as Eustace takes every opportunity to bully his guests. However, the two siblings have each other for solace, as well as a wonderful painting of a ship which looks remarkably Narnian and reminds them of their other country. And one day, when Eustace is being particularly nasty, it’s this painting that suddenly comes to life and drags the trio back into Narnia.

Fortunately, the ship is that of their old friend Caspian, and the three children are rescued. Eustace is, of course, miserable and a total pain, whereas the Pevensies are delighted to be reunited with Caspian and also the talking mouse, Reepicheep. Caspian has set forth on a quest to sail to the East in search of the Seven Lost Lords of Narnia – although Reepicheep’s aim is more dramatic…

So the party sail over the seas encountering many dramatic situations; from slavers to dragons, a mysterious Magician to fallen stars, the adventures of the travellers are wonderfully and vividly painted. Eventually, however, the ship starts to reach the farthest Eastern point to which it can journey, and it is here decisions have to be made…

Most of us know what we should expect to find in a dragon’s lair, but, as I said before, Eustace had read only the wrong books. They had a lot to say about exports and imports and governments and drains, but they were weak on dragons.

Well – I was expecting to enjoy “Voyage…” a lot, because I always remember it as one of my favourites, and I was mightily impressed with it all over again. It’s a brilliantly constructed, inventive and involving story from start to finish, and I can see why I loved it so much as a child. I suppose you could regard this as the quintessential quest story; a group setting out from its home, making all sorts of discoveries on routes with dark adventures and soul seeking, and then finally reaching their destination where everything will be changed for some of them. And the adventures really are quite marvellously done – from the comedy of the mysterious invisible people on the Magician’s island to the sheer terror of the Dark island which does rather lurk in the brain…

(Lucy) spent a good deal of time sitting on the little bench in the stern playing chess with Reepicheep. It was amusing to see him lifting the pieces, which were far too big for him, with both paws and standing on tiptoes if he made a move near the centre of the board. He was a good player and when he remembered what he was doing he usually won. But every now and then Lucy won because the Mouse did something quite ridiculous like sending a knight into the danger of a queen and castle combined. This happened because he had momentarily forgotten it was a game of chess and was thinking of a real battle and making the knight do what he would certainly have done in its place. For his mind was full of forlorn hopes, death or glory charges, and last stands.

As for the characters, well in some ways Eustace’s behaviour is a little bit reministent of how Edmund was in the first book, and the changes he has to go through to become a better person are not easy for him. There are, of course, morals dotted about the book – Eustace’s fate being one, and the Dark Island’s description of the place where dreams come true being another. Lucy is put to the test at one point in the adventures as well, and it’s left to Edmund to be the mature and sensible one, and to support Eustace too. Reepicheep is a joy – one of my favourites in the whole Narnia series – and his determination to see his destiny through is admirable and poignant.

Once again, I really do have to note what a marvellous storyteller Lewis was. This book drew me in right from the start, and the end sections in particular, where the ship begins to reach the far East, are so wonderfully evocative. Lewis brilliantly captures the strangeness of the seascape through which the ship is travelling, the weirdness and the effect it has on the travellers, in a way that transported me there with them. Just fabulous, and what an inventive mind Lewis had.

As for Aslan, his appearances are mostly fleeting in this book, with him being more of a background prescence, at least until the end. There *is* a point where a more explicit message is given about what he might represent, particularly in our world, but again I didn’t have any problem with Lewis’s agenda here; from my point of view, this is just a marvellously written, wonderfully readable book.

My reading of “Voyage…” is not, of course, an objective one, as I’m beginning to realise with the whole sequence, as I read and loved these books so many times in my childhood that I now understand they’re pretty much engraved into my psyche! Nevertheless, revisiting this one as an adult I was totally enthralled with the adventure all over again; Lewis’s amazing storytelling is evocative enough on its own, but again Pauline Baynes’ drawings are the perfect enhancement and the reading experience was a wonderful one. Only three books in, but this one is definitely a favourite and has a special place in my heart – and I’m very much looking forward to continuing with these next month!

#Narniathon – that difficult second album…

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So we return to the #Narniathon today for the second book in the sequence, which we’re reading in publication order, and my heading to this post is perhaps a little facetious… However, I haven’t read “Prince Caspian” for many, many years so confess to feeling I was on less safe ground than with “Lion….”. Onward and upward – these books are a quick read for a grown-up like me so how did I find my encounter with book 2?

Well, actually, I enjoyed it very much. The book opens with the four Pevensie children being yanked unexpectedly back into Narnia, but it’s a Narnia which seems much changed. There’s no sign of talking animals or trees, the landscape is different and the children are at a loss. Sheltering in an old, overgrown ruin, they discover by chance hints that the time which has passed between the Pevensies’ visits may be longer than they thought; and when they rescue a dwarf from some soldiers set on drowning him they learn about the current rulers of Narnia and the tasks which they may be up against. Narnia’s heir apparent is the titular Prince, descenced from Telmarines, a people from far beyond the Western mountains; although his Uncle, Miraz, is planning to wrest control from the Prince for his own heir. Will the Pevensie children be able to wake Old Narnia from its slumber and defeat the incomers, and will Aslan return to the land?

Reading “Prince Caspian” now was an enjoyable experience, although perhaps tempered by the fact that I knew what had happened while the Pevensies were away so the element of discovering things alongside them which a first-time reader would get was missing. However, the story is a good and pacy one, which doesn’t mess about and gets on with doing what it needs to do, and it seems to me that much of what Lewis intended here was to expand his fictional world from the basic set up in “Lion…”. So Narnia is no longer a country alone, but one place surrounded by other countries and susceptible to invasion. The magical elements seem native to the place, and the invaders more straightforwardly human (and potentially more stupid), and therefore fearful of the Old Narnians once they begin to re-emerge.

So “Prince…” moves the whole story along, setting up basic concepts which will recur during the series: different timespans for our world and Narnia, often leading to a large gap of time when the humans return to the place which allows for the history of Narnia to develop apace (and presumably gives Lewis more freedom with his storytelling); regular quests to save characters from evil and return Narnia to a happier state; and the introduction of a wider landscape of surrounding peoples to give more scope to the plots. All of this opens up Lewis’s alternative world a bit more, and it’s one of the reasons I enjoy reading the books in publication order – that’s how he created them and that’s how he gradually constructed his world.

The return of Aslan was interestingly done, too, and much emphasis was put on individual courage, doing the right thing when it’s really difficult and making the correct choices. That’s the moral, Christian side coming through, I suppose, though it didn’t seem too heavy handed, and instilling some decent morals into young people is something I can approve of nowadays, being an old bat myself… Certainly, Aslan doesn’t makes things easy for the Pevensies and their team, but all come through with flying colours. There is again a lovely set of characters, including the wonderful Bulgy Bears, Trufflehunter the Badger, Trumpkin the Dwarf, Reepicheep the Mouse (a personal favourite) and Dr. Cornelius, Caspian’s tutor and a vital part of the ‘good’ side. As for the baddies, they’re fairly easy to pick out (I would imagine I thought so even as a child) and although Lewis is dealing with people in fairly black and white terms, there are nuances in places and the acknowledgement that if certain characters had had different breaks in life they would have turned out better.

“Prince Caspian” *is* perhaps that ‘difficult second album’, an idea beloved to music journalists, because Lewis had to take the success of a brilliant concept in “Lion…” and develop it into something more which could be the subject of many stories. The plot seems perhaps a little thinner in places, but there are once again wonderful pieces of writing, Lewis’s masterly storytelling and some memorable creations – the history of the Telmarines, for example, and their method of return to their real homeland is quite brilliantly done and I found myself moved all over again by that part. And the book is of course enhanced by Pauline Baynes’s wonderful illustrations – what a talent she was!

So I did enjoy book two of the Narnia stories very much, and I’m also pleased I’ve stuck to the event so far (and hey! I’m *re-reading* books for pleasure!!!) Next up is “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”, of which I have fairly clear memories and I know that Reepicheep will take a major part – roll on February!

 

A journey back to childhood… #Narniathon21

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When Chris over at Calmgrove canvassed for interest in a readalong of the Narnia books, back in the middle of the year, I was instantly interested; C.S. Lewis‘s books were crucial to me when I was growing up, and I read them over and over again. I still have my fragile old Puffin paperbacks and although I haven’t looked at them in decades, I do feel that I know them backwards. I wondered how I would find them now, as an old bat rather than a young stripling, so I shall try to stick to the schedule and re-read one a month – which shouldn’t be too much of a hardship!

Happily, the reading order is publication order, of which I am very much in favour – after all, that’s how Lewis wrote them and the order in which the story developed, so that just seems right to me. The first book in the series is of course the most famous, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, and even those who haven’t read the whole sequence probably know of this one.

The book opens simply with the lines “Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy.” They will be our protagonists throughout, and as the story begins they’ve been sent away to the country during WW2 for their own safety. Billeted in a big rambling house with an old professor and his housekeeper, there’s plenty to do outside to occupy the children. However, bad weather sends them off exploring the house and it’s in a room empty of everything but a wardrobe where the adventures begin. Lucy, the youngest, discovers as she hides in the wardrobe that it leads to another land, called Narnia, where it’s always winter but never Christmas. Here she meets a faun, Mr. Tumnus and has tea with him. There are all manner of talking animals and trees, and eventually Mr. Tumnus reveals the land is ruled by a White Witch who has an interest in human children… Lucy makes it back to her own world, but no-one believes she’s been gone; but things do not end there, and all four children will enter Narnia, encounter Aslan the lion king and fight battles they never imagined…

A great crowd of people were standing all round the Stone Table and though the moon was shining many of them carried torches which burned with evil-looking red flames and black smoke. But such people! Ogres with monstrous teeth, and wolves, and bull-headed men; spirits of evil trees and poisonous plants; and other creatures whom I won’t describe because if I did the grown-ups would probably not let you read this book – Cruels and Hags and Incubuses, Wraiths, Horrors, Efreets, Sprites, Orknies, Wooses, and Ettins. In fact here were all those who were on the Witch’s side and whom the Wolf had summoned at her command. And right in the middle, standing by the Table, was the Witch herself.

The story captivates from the start, and reading it as an adult I can see why. Much of this I put down to Lewis’s wonderful writing style; he was obviously a born storyteller. Conversational, descriptive, addressing the reader directly, any child picking this up would be sucked straight into the story – and I certainly was, both as a youngster and now! The story itself is totally absorbing – its creatures marvellous inventions, its setting completely realised, and the concept of a portal into another world through a wardrobe is just inspired. The action is stirring, the good characters lovable and the evil ones quite chilling. It’s a fully convincing world, and I know I would have liked to step into it when I was young.

Obviously reading the book now I see the underlying moral concepts, and these *are* interesting. Lewis’s Christianity is visible though it never takes over the story; rather ideas of good and evil are demonstrated, and certain characters learn lessons about what’s right and wrong. The bad guys are brilliantly portrayed, and really scary – and appear quite strikingly in one of Pauline Baynes’ excellent illustrations.

The latter, in fact, deserve special mention of their own as they must have formed the visual image of Narnia for a multitude of children as well as myself. The drawings are perfect, as far as I’m concerned, and I’ve never wanted to see anyone else’s interpretation. As I re-read “Lion…” I realised quite how important those drawings had been to my perceptions of Narnia, augmenting Lewis’s wonderfully chatty prose – they really are stunning!

So they lived in great joy and if ever they remembered their life in this world it was only as one remembers a dream.

I re-read “Lion…” in pretty much one sitting and found myself completely engrossed, despite knowing the story so well. Even though I remembered what was to come, the tension was still there when characters were in peril, and I found myself immersed emotionally in the telling of the tale. I come back to Lewis’s writing here, because I really can’t praise it enough – I have a love of language and good writing, and maybe some of that stems from my childhood reading of the Narnia books.

Well, I could go on but there’s no point slingling more superlatives about; and I’m sure that Chris will have a really interesting post coming out looking at the underlying symbolism and imagery in the books, and the themes. Me, I’m just happy I had the excuse of reacquainting myself with this wonderful storyteller; and as I remember the rest of the books less well than this one, I’m really looking forward to the rest of the readalong! 😀

#1977club – here we go! :)

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Yes, time for another week of reading, discovering and discussing books from a particular year – and this one is 1977. We reach a more modern decade than we’ve been covering up until now, and one which certainly takes us away from Simon’s comfort zone of the 1920s! :)) However, I was initially unsure of what I would read from the year until I began to dig, and I actually came up with a bit of a pile of books that I already own:

Yes, I really *do* own three copies of “Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams”. No, I don’t know why…

I also own two other books from 1977 that piqued my interest, but alas I cannot at the moment lay hands on them – “The Women’s Room” by Marilyn French is a feminist classic and I have a battered old Virago copy, but it’s currently lurking on a shelf in Middle Child’s flat as I have loaned it out – so I won’t be reading that one… I also own Patrick Leigh Fermor’s “A Time of Gifts” but several trawls through the shelves have failed to find it (although I *did* find some other books I was looking for). So I may well choose from the above – some are re-reads, some unread, and I’d like to go for a mix if I can.

And then there’s this, lurking electronically:

I really want to read Barthes but frankly, I’m a Bit Scared. I’m *not* an academic and I fear I will fail miserably to understand this and then feel stupid. Oh well. Nothing ventured, nothing gained….

So do join Simon at Stuck in a Book and myself in the #1977club – it’s great fun, great reading and always fascinating to see what books people come up with! Here goes…!

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