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#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!

 

Welcoming 2022 with some tentative reading plans… 😳😊

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Following on from yesterday’s highlights of 2021, it’s first of all time to wish you all a very Happy New Year! Let’s hope that 2022 is a little less fractious than last year was… I did promise that I would take a look today at possible reading plans and events which might be coming up, although as usual I’m a bit reluctant to commit to too much as I always prefer to following my reading whims!

Of course, I’m already involved in one event which started appropriately enough in December and is carrying on into 2022 – the Narniathon! I really enjoyed my reacquaintance with “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” last month, and January will see me reading “Prince Caspian“. I’m hoping that because the books are slim I should be able to keep up the momentum.

January *is*. however, a month with some challenges, and I shall most definitely be taking part in! The first is the Japanese Literature Challenge, hosted by Meredith and you can find out more about this here.

Some lovely Mishimas and an intriguing collection from Uno Chiyo

As you can see from the image, there are some titles which are immediately shouting at me from the TBR, but it wouldn’t take me long to pick out some more!

Then there’s the first of Annabel’s challenges, NORDIC Finds, which features books from any of the five Nordic countries – Finland, Iceland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden.

Tove Ditlevsen and Edith Sodergran – both intriguing possibilities for January!

Again I do have a few obvious titles shouting at me from the TBR, any one of which would be a lovely read; but I’d also be keen to explore further from any of the countries. I read a *lot* of Scandi-crime and a fair amount of Icelandic crime pre-blog so I’m not sure if I would revisit these. But there’s lot’s more out there and Annabel has more guidance on her blog, plus a list of featured books for each week.

Then there’s the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics group monthly themed read. January is for books featuring nuns, teachers or governesses, and a quick dig in the TBR revealed these possible unread titles:

The two Kate Fansler titles are perhaps stretching things a little, as she’s a university lecturer turned detective, but they *are* Viragos, so we shall see!

Added to all this, there’s the temptation of Twitter readalongs, and two are calling at the moment – Finnegans Wake and Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet. I really would like to commit to these two, but frankly am not sure if I would keep up – I anticipate it being a bit manic when I return to work next week, so we shall have to see…

Apart from these events, if I’m truly honest I would like to make a big dent in Mount TBR; it has grown considerably over the Christmas period, as you might have seen, and some of the older books on it could probably do with a bit of a prune. Meantime, here are some titles which are calling particularly strongly; whether I will have the brain space for them when I go back to work next week is another matter, but I will certainly try!!

Lots of very inviting titles…

So, plenty of choices for me… Are there any there which appeal to you? And do you have reading plans for 2022 or are you just prepared to wing it?? 🤣🤣

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! 😀

A look ahead to December while winter chill bites! #narniathon #readingplans

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It has been a bit horrible in recent days, what with the extreme weather in the UK and the depressing pandemic situation. But I had a pretty good reading month during November, spending time with some fascinating books, and as always printed matter has been the thing to keep me sane. So here is the pile and there were some very intriguing titles!

I’m pleased to say there were no duds, and actually some really stunning books in the pile! Reviews of these will turn up during December as I am still playing catch-up!

As for reading plans during the last month of 2020, I am definitely going to keep things as simple as I can. December is always a busy month, both at work and home, plus we are hoping to have some of the Offspring home over the festive season (fingers crossed…)

Challenge/event-wise, I am considering Calmgrove’s Narniathon which is a monthly read of all seven of C.S. Lewis’s wonderful Narnia books. I read these over and over as a child – they were one of my bookish props – but I haven’t revisited them for decades and confess to being curious as to how I would find them. So I have dug out my set…

However, spot the deliberate mistake!! For some reason, I have two copies of “Prince Caspian” and my “The Last Battle” has gone missing… I’m sure it’s in a box under a bed somewhere, and I have six months to find it. So assuming I get going with the event, I shall have to try to search it out.

Apart from visiting Narnia, I’ll also be trying to take part in a Twitter readalong of “A Lover’s Discourse” by Roland Barthes which I hope will go a little better than my attempt to join with a Saramago one of “The Gospel According to Jesus Christ” (I bailed because I wasn’t for some reason feeling the book – maybe just not its time right now). And I shall be participating in a little event to do with classic crime books – watch this space for more info later in the month!

Those aren’t big bookish commitments, so aside from them I shall continue to keep denting the TBR – and above are some possibilities. Of course, me being me, having posited a pile of possibles I shall probably go on to read something completely different! What are you planning to read for December??

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