Normally, the birthday of CS Lewis would not be on my radar. Thanks to a fellow blogger who has created a Lewis reading event that I can’t wait to participate in, I have a reason to simultaneously acknowledge his date of birth, mention the reading event and share a poem of his I love.
Chris of Calmgrove has generously agreed to host a reading of CS Lewis’s, The Chronicles of Narnia, one book a month beginning this December. On the last Friday of the month (for December it will be the last Thursday) he will put up a post on his blog with some questions to prompt a discussion in the comment section. For the reading schedule and more information you can go here. I hope you’ll consider participating, even if you only want to join in once or twice. I am so looking forward to hearing all the different approaches to these books!
Interestingly, and it may just be me, but I don’t think of CS Lewis as a poet though I have not researched this. As a night-sky lover his poem, The Meteorite, popped up one day and became a favorite. It’s not the best poem ever written and I think it is a bit crudely shaped, but the imagery is vivid and the words a literary mix of science and nature, which I very much like. So happy birthday Mr. Lewis, I hope you know that all your various works are still being read and loved by a multitude across generations and continents.
The Meteorite, by CS Lewis
Among the hills a meteorite Lies huge; and moss has overgrown, And wind and rain with touches light Made soft, the contours of the stone.
Thus easily can Earth digest A cinder of sidereal fire, And make her translunary guest The native of an English shire.
Nor is it strange these wanderers Find in her lap their fitting place, For every particle that’s hers Came at the first from outer space.
All that is Earth has once been sky; Down from the sun of old she came, Or from some star that travelled by Too close to his entangling flame.
Hence, if belated drops yet fall From heaven, on these her plastic power Still works as once it worked on all The glad rush of the golden shower.
For the next week, October 31st through November 5th, writers will be posting and discussing this year’s theme: Villains! This year is hosted on Chris’s blog and is where all the action will take place.
I am honored to be part of this wonderful event with a post up today on the White Witch of Narnia, the MOST high Villain 🙂
Here is the rundown of events for the week. So head on over WitchWeek2019 central.
Day 1: 31st October
Laurie Welch of Relevant Obscurity will look at a particular antagonist in the first published instalment of C S Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Day 2: 1st November
Villains in graphic novels are examined forensically by Lizzie Ross. Day 3: 2nd November
Joan Aiken’s villains in The Wolves of Willoughby Chase sequence are discussed by yours truly. Day 4: 3rd November
Shakespeare has a full gallery of veritable baddies, some of whom are on the distaff side, as Sari Nichols of The View from Sari’s World will demonstrate. Day 5: 4th November
Diana Wynne Jones’ Aunt Maria, from her novel Black Maria, is put under the spotlight by fantasy author and blogger Jean Lee. Day 6: 5th November
Discussion of DWJ’s epic fantasy Cart & Cwidder. Day 7: 6th November
Wrap-up post and the unveiling of the theme for Witch Week 2020, which will be hosted by Lizzie Ross.
I haven’t done many monthly wrap-ups, but I decided to do one for July because it finally feels like I got my reading and writing mojo back. I don’t know where that mojo went, but a major life stage was recently thrust upon me and that affected the mojo in all parts of my life. I am now in a better place, albeit a little wobbly.
After being laid off from a job I loved and at an age where it’s been humiliating and impossible to find full-time work, I decided in March I am old enough to retire. No fanfare or plans as I assumed retirement would be; just a decision. Now I am trying to operate like a retired person by jumping right in. I imagine it’s like being let out of prison for good behavior far earlier than you thought, walking right into freedom. It’s been a little daunting as well as exciting.
At any rate, I am very pleased with how well my reading went in July, especially concerning my 2019 Author Reads. I also read two nonfiction, the first book of Susan Cooper’s, The Dark is Rising Sequence and a Joan Aiken novel.
And I have high hopes for August as I get out my old copy of Moby Dick for the Brona’s Books readalong and Murther and Walking Spirits, my chosen book for Lory’s Robertson Davies event.
Books Read in July
The Silver Chair (Chronicles of Narnia), CS Lewis|
We are introduced to Jill Pole and meet Eustace Scrubb again as these two bullied children enter Narnia, once again besieged. The heir to the throne of Narnia, Prince Rilian, is missing and Jill and Eustace are charged by Aslan to find him.
The Last Battle (Chronicles of Narnia), CS Lewis
The series concludes with the last threat to Narnia overcome and a new Narnia revealed. I was thoroughly happy to see all the children from the series together in this last sequence. Susan, however, had teenage girl things to do, so she refused to come. I wish Lewis could have refrained from this stereotype. Still, the realization of what happened to Digory, Polly, Peter, Edmund, Lucy, Jill and Eustace that brought them together in Narnia came as a surprise.
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Joan Aiken My first Aiken was a fun and insightful read. Children against evil adults are at first powerless to change their circumstance, but young Bonnie does not give up. She braves the wolves lapping at her heels, a “school” that was more workhouse than place of learning, all while her parents are away. With the help of Simon and Sylvia, the greater good wins the day!
Over Sea, Under Stone (Book One, The Dark is Rising Sequence), Susan Cooper
I have read two books in the series, not in order, of course and I really have to stop doing that. This book was a thoroughly enjoyable adventure for Simon, Jane and Barney on holiday in Cornwall. After finding a map and old book in the attic and being pursued by those who want them, with the help of their eccentric Uncle Merry they save the world from the rising Darkness. However, this is just the calm before it all breaks loose. One of the hallmarks of this series is Cooper’s use of the land and its native mythology to help tell the story. The stories are literally grounded in each area where the action takes place.
Undine Spragg is the sometimes expat American wrecking lives and wreaking romantic havoc on both sides of the Atlantic, a narcissist and destroyer of tradition for whom enough is never enough. This is Wharton as the great storyteller and her writing is pointed and critical of these types of Americans who traveled through Europe before and after the turn of the 20th century. Undine Spragg may be in the top 10 of most hated characters of all time, but through Wharton’s pen she is fascinating to watch.
Washington Square, Henry James Cather Sloper has fallen in love with a man her father believes to be a charlatan. Catherine is a shy withdrawn young women who is set to inherit a fortune upon her father’s death. But she has fallen in love and is torn between her duty to her father and her love for Morris Townsend. Who will break first and will the marriage take place? An early James, but with the deep internal wrestling in the minds of the characters that mark his style.
Why Religion: A Personal Story, Elaine Pagels Elaine Pagels is a religion writer and professor at Princeton University. As a young scholar she studied and translated the scrolls that made up the Nag Hammadi Library which showed there was more to the the early Christian Church than the canonical teachings of Jesus and the Bible. The teachings reflected in the 52 scrolls were deemed heretical by the early church and suppressed; to protect them they were hidden. The Gnostic Gospels was her first book in which she shared these findings for a general audience. Why religion is also a personal question in which Pagels tries to reconcile her life’s work in religion with the double tragedies of losing first her young son, then her husband a year later.
The Lost Words: A Spell Book, Robert Macfarlene and Jackie Morris One of the most important books I have read this year. In the latest edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary (OJD) over 40 words from the natural world were removed from the previous edition. New words added were those of technology. In response to this decision by the publishers, Oxford University Press (OUP), the writer Robert Macfarlane and illustrator Jackie Morris created The Lost Words: A Spell Book to conjure the words back into existence. It is a large picture book, with verse/rhyme/poetry that encourages the speaking out of the words and getting lost in the pictures.
The Pevensie children are called back to Narnia a year after they come back through the wardrobe. This time they are at a train station on their way to boarding school when suddenly they feel a familiar physical pull and find themselves on a deserted island they soon realize is Cair Paravel where they ruled Narnia as kings and queens. They have been summoned to help Prince Caspian regain his rightful place as King of Narnia.
There is a lot of magic in this one and some beautiful passages that describe the reawakening of the talking animals and trees of Old Narnia who were silenced when Prince Caspian’s ancestors, the Telmars, conquered the land.
Another intriguing aspect of this book is that air and breath take on magical properties. The air makes the children appear to be older, says the narrator, “I think I have explained before how Narnia was altering them. Even Lucy was by now…only one third of a little girl going to boarding school the first time, and two-thirds of Queen Lucy of Narnia.” And Aslan breathes into Edmund before he is sent into enemy territory and “a kind of greatness hung about him.” This reminds me of Genesis when God brought Adam to life through His breath.
While I liked many passages in this book and I liked the book overall compared to The Horse and his Boy, the thought occurred to me after I finished it if all the Narnia books have this same basic theme: a threatened Narnia and someone(s) to the rescue? That sounds tedious.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
But I am pressing on and in the middle of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which happily has a different theme. Prince Caspian sets out on a sea voyage (add to your ‘sea cruise’ series, Lizzie?!!) to discover the fate and where possible, avenge the seven lords that were banished from Narnia by the Prince’s evil uncle with the help of King Edmund and Queen Lucy and their tiresome cousin Eustace. During a sequence of events though, Eustace becomes a dragon and that section right there completely captured my imagination! But what is that about? Is there an explanation further along? I hope so.
So far, I am finding that these books alternate between the childish and the profound; sometimes I feel like I am reading passages my 10 year-old self would have loved and then come upon a section with images so deep I want to pause and reflect.
The Horse and His Boy
Just a note on The Horse and his Boy. I am not sure this book has aged well. I found much of the writing uncomfortably racist in its portrayal of the Calormen, who are easily seen as Middle Eastern, because Lewis has portrayed them through a very stereotyped lens. I am purposely not reading any reviews or criticism of the Narnia books until after I finish the series, so I don’t know if this reaction is an obvious one for others and whether Lewis has been criticized for it.
Having said that, I feel very strongly, in general, about historical context when it comes to criticizing points of view that are no longer acceptable. While the racism (homophobia, sexism, etc.) should be called out that does not mean the author, the book—or whatever medium—should be banned or thrown out only because during the time it was written people held these points of view; unless, of course, the whole premise or tone of the book is destructive, which is another matter.
At this time in human history, we are sensitive to the way our words heal or destroy and that is a good thing. But it makes our relationship with the past a bit tricky.
Reading Chronologically vs. by Publication Date
As an aside, when I reviewed The Magician and his Nephew, I did not like it very much; I don’t think I quite understood it. I should not have read it first, but in my series of books published by HarperCollins all the books are published chronologically and not by original publishing date. I keep thinking about this book and realize I like it more and more. I think it will make more sense in the context of publication, so I am going to reread when it’s ‘turn’ comes up.
BookNotes are short reviews of books that have made an impression, but time constraints do not allow a full record of the titles.