The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis (1950)

None of the children knew who Aslan was. At [his name] each one of the children felt something jump in its inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realise that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer.

lionwitchOne of my commitments this year is to read the complete Narnia series. I started with The Magician’s Nephew (some would argue that is actually the 6th book). But this one gets into the heart of the matter—the struggle between good and evil in the Land of Narnia and the ethics of choosing sides. I love the layers with which you can understand this book; how you can see a Christian allegory or “just” a magical adventure. Like many fantasies Narnia is a land where animals talk, Witches are cruel, quests are taken and bravery against evil is the key to survival.

Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy Pevensies are siblings who have been sent out of London for the duration of the war to the country home of an old professor. During one rainy day Lucy discovers that the back of the big wardrobe in a mostly empty room is actually a gateway to a magical land called Narnia. After her first adventure she returns home to tell her brothers and sister, but they do not believe her, especially after investigating the wardrobe themselves and finding nothing but old coats.

Lucy is distraught that her sanity has been called into question, even after Edmund finds his way into the Land. Finally, in one last effort to quell Lucy’s insistence her siblings try again and successfully find themselves in the cold snowy winter of Narnia. They soon realize they are caught in a battle for rulership of Narnia between the wicked White Witch who wants to subjugate the population and Aslan the Lion who wants all beings to be free. The children learn they are part of the prophecy of Narnia, which they hear from the first friends they meet, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver:

…down at Cair Paravel there are four thrones and it’s a saying in Narnia time out of mind that when two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve sit in those four thrones, then it will be the end not only of the White Witch’s reign but of her life, and that is why we had to be so cautious as we came along, for if she knew about you four, your lives wouldn’t be worth a shake of my whiskers.

The children readily give themselves up to the cause and the tasks Aslan asks them to complete. The ultimate cruelty for the Witch in order to gain Narnia for herself is to kill Aslan, who willingly sacrifices himself for the greater good. His resurrection, though, is not part of her plan.

As an adult, I found some of the writing simplistic compared to the writing in The Magician’s Nephew, which was written years later. Especially at the beginning I felt like my hand was being held throughout the action. Once all of the children get into Narnia, however, the book reads like any adventure story with complex characterizations and the challenge of making moral choices. When Aslan makes his moral choice Lewis is at his writerly best when after the shock of Aslan’s murder by the Witch and her minions, he explains to the children why he cannot really die:

…that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.

Aslan and the children and the rest of the animals in Aslan’s service go to the Witch’s castle in the last battle for Narnia. Her courtyard is full of statues, her enemies she turned to stone and as Aslan breathes on each one animating them back to life they join his cause. She is killed and Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy sit on their thrones, taking their rightful place as the Kings and Queens of Narnia.

But they are not meant to stay and in the course of trying to capture the White Stag, come upon the lamppost that got them to and from Narnia. Leaving their friends, they scramble back through the wardrobe, where they decide they need to tell the Professor everything. A wise man who had an adventure himself, he assures the children they will return to Narnia but not by the wardrobe. How will they know when it’s time? “Keep your eyes open.”

I am not sure what to expect next if Narnia has been saved and Aslan triumphs. Mr. Beaver tells the children about Aslan, “He’ll be coming and going….One day you’ll see him and another you won’t. He doesn’t like being tied down—and of course he has other countries to attend to. He’ll often drop in. Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.” Will I see these “other countries” and Aslan again? Will these children return to Narnia or go elsewhere? Will other children take their place in the stories to come?

I guess I’ll find out! And no spoilers, please 🙂

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My Edition
Title: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Author: C. S. Lewis
Publisher: HarperCollins
Device: Paperback
Year: 1950
Pages: 206

Challenges: Personal 2019 Challenge, Roof Beam Reader’s TBR

The Grey King, Susan Cooper (1975): Wales Readathon 2019

“It is because you are not properly human, but one of the Old Ones of the Light put here to hold back the terrible power of the Dark. You are the last of that circle to be born on earth. And I have been waiting for you.”

 

greykingOne of the bonuses of joining the book blogging community is participating in special months or readalongs that expose me to new authors. In this case, I can honestly say I would probably not have read Susan Cooper’s, The Grey King had the Wales reading event, The Dewithon 2019, not come along.

Though this book is number four in a series I have not read, this did not seem to affect my reading experience: I read it in two sittings wholly drawn in by the storytelling. And though I may have missed some elements by not having read the previous books, especially regarding the eleven year-old protagonist Will Stanton and how he realized he was an Old One on his first full quest to overcome the rising Dark, the book worked fine as a stand alone title for me. For a full summary of the book, I recommend the Kirkus Review.

I choose this book for two reasons: one, the Wales setting, of course; and two, I wanted something fantasy-related as I thought I needed a little “light” reading at the moment. Ha! Let’s just say quests to overcome the Dark are far from light and I should have known!

Will Stanton comes to his relatives in Wales to convalesce after a bout with hepatitis. During his illness he was plagued by a delirium that filled his head with words and images he didn’t understand and now that he is well, can’t let go of them or a feeling of foreboding and something he is supposed to do about it. Once in Wales he awakens to the meaning of these signs and realizes he is on a mission, the details of which are not always obvious until he is in danger.

What makes the novel compelling is how gradually it is revealed to Will that many of those in the family he is staying with and their friends also have a part to play against this rising Dark. Yet, they as well do not know the extent of their role until called upon. So, the reader is carried along with the story, not knowing who is who until the final pages.

The book is based on Welsh legends that the people of the village have grown up with and talked about all of their lives. From the hills and mountains to the lakes, rock outcroppings, to magical beasts and fabled people the story is steeped in the mythology of this distinct place. And as Will goes about gaining strength it is obvious that his presence with these particular relatives is no coincidence; that he had to be here, in this place, at this time.

Will’s memory is gradually activated to specific tasks, to words of ancient spells in the Old Language and to the people around him and to what they mean for the quest. He senses the power of the Grey King, the rising Dark and how to fight it, the identity of the three-robed Old Ones, to the evil neighbor Caradog Prichard, the kindness of John Rowland and his deep knowledge of all the legends and tales of the land and to the final revelation of his friend and ally, Bran, and his true identity.

And as far as this final revelation of the whole quest and success of it, I have only three words: What. An. Ending….

A spoiler, of course, so I won’t say. But as I sat reading the last pages surprised and shocked, I thought, “Of COURSE, King Arthur would have a place in this story…of course!

A final note on Susan Cooper’s writing—which at times is wonderfully poetic and lyrical—the narrative is so beautifully constructed due to her superb knowledge of the old legends and stories that make even the setting itself feel alive with its magic.

I am not sure if I will read the other books in this series, because I can’t imagine I would enjoy them as much as this one. But who knows, I may have to find out….

____________

My Edition
Title: The Grey King
Author: Susan Cooper
Publisher: Atheneum
Device: Hardcover
Year: 1977
Pages: 208

Challenges: Library Love, Dewithon19

The Magician’s Nephew (The Chronicles of Narnia), C.S. Lewis (1955)

“Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.” Aslan

And the longer and more beautiful the Lion sang, the harder Uncle Andrew tried to make himself believe that he could hear nothing but roaring….And when the Lion spoke and said, “Narnia awake,” he didn’t hear any words: he heard only a snarl. And when the Beasts spoke in answer, he heard only barkings, growlings, bayings, and howlings.

magiciansnephewI read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (LWW) a few years ago. I liked it and knew I would read the other books in the series. I didn’t know there is, what we would call a prequel, until I struck up a conversation with a woman in a bookstore who is an avid Narnia fan. Apparently, after Lewis published the LWW a friend asked him about the lamppost that appeared out of nowhere and in order to clear that up he wrote The Magician’s Nephew (MN). So does this mean the MN is really the first book? When I looked this up, I found Lewis scholars from the 1950s with various opinions that plague newer scholars and fans alike to this day. Chronological order (Lewis’s preference) puts the MN first. Published order puts it 6th or before the Last Battle the last released title. Being that the MN shows not only the origin of the lamppost, but the creation of Narnia by Aslan and how evil enters the Kingdom of Narnia, I believe chronological order is best. But I am only two books in; not the best authority.

I have to admit though, half way through I was very disappointed in the story. I found it dull, the magic not particularly, well, magical. Digory and Polly, neighbor children who are thrust into the void by the power of the magic rings invented by Digory’s Uncle Andrew land in a world made up of innumerable ponds and woods. Even the world that unleashes the Witch and the evil brought to Narnia did not hold my interest. Only the desire that I read all the titles forced me to continue. And then suddenly, Aslan appears and the book takes a most promising turn.

This world has a hopefulness the other worlds did not. It is a new world without flora or fauna, but that changes as a magnificent and glorious sound pierces the air and the children realize Creation is being sung into being before their very eyes!

There were no words. There was hardly even a tune….It was so beautiful he [Digory] could hardly bear it…Then two wonders happened at the same moment. One was that the voice was suddenly joined by other voices; more voices than you could possibly count….The second wonder was that the blackness overhead all at once, was blazing with stars….a thousand points of light leaped out—single stars, constellations, and planets, brighter and bigger than any in our world….If you had seen and heard it, you would have felt quite certain that it was the stars themselves which were singing, and that it was the First Voice, the deep one, which had made them appear and made them sing….The Voice rose and rose till all the air was shaking with it; the sun rose. You could imagine that it laughed for joy as it came up….the earth was of many colors; they were fresh, hot and vivid. They made you feel excited until you saw the Singer himself, and then you forgot everything else. It was a Lion and stood facing the risen sun. Its mouth was wide open in song….

These passages and the ones that speak about the creation of the animals and other two-legged beings, are the kinds of magic that moves me. Creation being formed out of Song and love and beauty by a Lion who is at once Creator and Sacrifice (LWW). Because, yes, one cannot but help to see that connection. Aslan is birthing the world through the sound of his Voice, bringing forth the first plants, the new starry heavens, the sun and wind and all the animals, birds and beings that will populate this new world.

Out of the trees wild people stepped forth, gods and goddesses of the wood; with them came Fauns and Satyrs and Dwarfs. Out of the river rose the river god with his Naiad daughters. And all these and all the beasts and birds in their different voices, low or high or thick or clear, replied. “Hail, Aslan. We hear and obey. We are awake. We love. We think. We speak. We know.

Aslan tells the animals and other sacred beings to guard and protect the land because evil has been let loose. The Witch followed Digory and Polly into Narnia, but for now she is headed for lands far away and won’t trouble Narnia for hundreds of years. In the meantime Narnia must be made strong. Aslan sends the children on a journey to find the fruit of a special apple tree that once planted in Narnia will reign over it against all evil. When they return Aslan tells Digory to throw the apple a certain distance and it settles into the soft mud. In the morning the tree is big and filled with fruit. Digory is certain an apple from this tree will help his mother’s cancer and Aslan gives him one to take home.

When Digory and Polly return to London, Digory’s mother eats the apple and is cured. Digory plants the core and a tree grows again overnight. As the years pass and the children grow up so does the tree which has a symbiotic relationship with the one of its origin: it wiggles a bit on days when it is windy in Narnia, even when there is no wind in London. But its shaking has weakened its roots, and one wind-filled day in London the tree topples over. Now middle aged and with unfaded memories of Aslan and Narnia and all he saw there, Digory cannot just chop up the tree for fire wood. So he takes part of the tree and builds a wardrobe which he puts in his house in the country….

The passages of Narnia’s creation, vocalizing it into Being, the animals talking to one another and back and forth with the children tick many of my fantasy-girl and spirituality boxes. I am so glad I stuck with this book. And I further learned I wasn’t so far off the mark when I wanted to set the book aside, because the arguments of Lewis scholars who say the books should be read as released, instead of chronologically with MN to be read first, stems partly from the fact that this IS a dull book up until Aslan’s entrance and children (and adults?) might be turned off by the dull first half and not want to read any further.

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My Edition
Title: The Magician’s Nephew
Author: C.S. Lewis
Publisher: Harper Trophy
Device: Paperback
Year: 1955
Pages: 221
Summary

The ‘Emily’ Novels, L. M. Montgomery

Emily.jpeg
The Flash

It had always seemed to Emily, ever since she could remember, that she was very, very near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside—but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it and then it was as if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond—only a glimpse—and heard a note of unearthly music.

The moment came rarely—went swiftly, leaving her breathless with the inexpressible delight of it. She could never recall it—never summon it—never pretend it, but the wonder of it stayed with her for days….

 

I discovered Anne of Green Gables as an adult, somehow missing this whole wonderful world as a young girl. A friend who knows me well bet me I would like the Emily of New Moon series better. I thought, sacrilege!, but she is right. I have become completely enamored with what Montgomery does with fantasy and Nature. And while it blooms in Anne, it is a starburst in Emily.

Anne Shirley personifies trees, forests, flowers and springs. Emily Byrd Starr does the same, but in addition, she also has The Wind Woman and the flash. These latter two are supernatural and fairy-like reminding me of the innocent childhood inventiveness that we are supposed to grow out of, but that many of us Will Not Ever.

Though I live in an urban area, coyotes roam the streets and nap on the greens, all kinds coyote1of raptors fly through the air, I watch water birds gracefully hunt their breakfast at the river and jump when raccoons and possums dart through the bushes. They remind me to whom this land really belongs. I love to imagine all sorts of things about them. I love my crepe myrtle tree in the front yard and consider it my protector and I call an incredibly large, gnarled old tree down the street, Grandfather. I don’t know if any of this is weird, normal or if I need therapy, but I think this is why I am so drawn to the spiritual fey of  L. M. Montgomery.

Just last night I was reading a favorite passage from Emily Climbs. It has all the elements of imagination, connection to nature and creative thought Montgomery does so well. Though Emily is walking home alone in the middle of the night, she is really being escorted along the way by an incredible cast of non-human characters.

As she walked along she dramatized the night. There was about it a wild, lawless charm that appealed to a certain wild, lawless strain hidden deep in Emily’s nature—a strain that wished to walk where it would with no guidance but its own—the strain of the gypsy and the poet, the genius and the fool.

The big fir trees, released from their burden of snow, were tossing their arms freely and wildly and gladly across the moonlit fields. Was ever anything so beautiful as the shadows of those grey, clean-limbed maples on the road at her feet?

And it was easy to think, too, that other things were abroad—things that were not mortal or human. She always lived on the edge of fairyland and now she stepped right over it. The Wind Woman was really whistling eerily in the reeds of the swamp—she was sure she heard the dear, diabolical chuckles of owls in the spruce copses—something frisked across her path—it might be a rabbit or it might be a Little Grey Person: the trees put on half pleasing, half terrifying shapes they never wore by day. The dead thistles of last year were goblin groups along the fences: that shaggy old yellow birch was some satyr of the woodland: the footsteps of the old gods echoed around her: those gnarled stumps on the hill field were surely Pan piping through moonlight and shadow with his troop of laughing fauns. It was delightful to believe they were.

Emily is a young writer and crosses the line between fantasy and reality on an almost daily basis, by which she is jeered at and criticized by her reality-based family. It never daunts her, though, no matter how hot the teasing. She is secure in how she sees the world, which is my lesson. She is my role model.

 

Trail walking with Jess

Trail walking with Jess in a magical gum grove.

 

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Montgomery, L. M. Emily Climbs. New York: Bantam, 1993. First published in 1925 by Frederick A. Stokes Co.

 Montgomery, L.M. Emily of New Moon. New York: Harper and Row, 1993. First published in 1923 by Frederick A. Stokes Co.

 

#WitchWeekECBR-Two Books: Ray Bradbury, Kelly Barnhill

I am a little late in talking about these books that I read for Witch Week hosted by Lory at Emerald City Book Review, but I wanted to make some quick notes. The first is the classic, Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury and the second is a new title by Kelly Barnhill, The Girl Who Drank the Moon.

 

My Edition:somethingwicked
Title: Something Wicked This Way Comes
Author: Ray Bradbury
Publisher: William Morrow
Device: Hard cover
Year: 1962
Pages: 293
For a plot summary

 

In this classic by Bradbury two best friends, the almost 14-year olds Will and Jim, spend a horror-filled weekend together trying to get away from a hellish carnival. Told in a lyrical, almost poetic style that I really wanted to appreciate, I have to admit I was confused by it. I had to constantly reread and frankly, if I had not committed to this book  for Witch Week, I think I would have ditched it soon after starting!

But I persevered and discovered my confusion worked. My confusion was the boys’ confusion. Is Mr. Cooger really dead in the electric chair? And that little girl under the tree was Miss Foley their teacher who by nasty magic regressed in age? And whoever thought a hot air balloon could be so sinister as to hold a witch who was looking for fresh meat? And the Illustrated Man, I mean Mr. Dark, what was he and was he really going to take the boys into the carnival for ever and ever like some marionette doll?

One thing this style of writing did for me was to cast a spell over my imagination and force me to see a world of dimness and blurred vision. All the action happened at the edge of darkness, in fact, I don’t think the sun ever came out and coupled with a storm approaching and plenty of the action happening at night, I just felt weighted down.

The brightest spot for me was Mr. Halloway, Will’s father and the town’s night librarian, who has spent decades among historians and philosophers in his private realm of books. He is really the hero of the story, not just as the boys’ physical savior, but also as a voice for speaking your heart and emotion in the way he opened up to them about life. “Who are you?” both father and son asked and answered to the best of their ability. This ordeal surely strengthened their bond.

And finally, I really appreciated that the resolution to the horror carnival was to share love and joy. That because the carnival fed on the sorrows and disappointments of people, the cure was to be happy. Charles Halloway discovered this when he fought off the witch. What a comical scene: the evil old witch wiggling her hand in the air to slow his heart to a stop, while he is feeling it as tickles on his chest and cannot contain his laughter which in turn blows her out the door!

And I suppose that is about as good a resolution as they come because the alternative, to meet violence with violence, is always temporary.

 

******************

 

My Edition:drankmoon
Title: The Girl Who Drank the Moon
Author: Kelly Barnhill
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Device: Hard cover
Year: 2016
Pages: 388
For a plot summary

 

 

This is a beautifully told story of magic and witches, love and community…and a very big misunderstanding.

For centuries, each year the people of the Protectorate give up the youngest child among the families to the witch who lives in the forest as an appeasement against her doing anything terrible to the town. The ritual is performed with much solemnity, with only occasional protest from the parents, such is the belief in the efficacy of the sacrifice. On this particular day, however, the mother will not let her little daughter be taken and she is ripped from her arms. The ritual goes on as planned and the baby is left on the stone for the witch to take. After the procession leaves and as she has done every year for 500 years Xan, the witch, snatches up the infant and carries it by broomstick to loving families across the forest to the Free Cities.

Xan has never understood why this village leaves an infant to die, but is happy to deliver it to families who love children. However, this year she has become very attached to her charge and begins to take the longer route in order to spend more time with her, alternately nourishing the baby with goat’s milk and starlight as is normal. But she has become so distracted with thoughts of keeping this one that she doesn’t see that the moon has come out when she raises her hand to the stars and draws down moonlight instead, filling the baby with great magic.

The story progresses with the child Luna growing up under Xan’s tutelage, the magical creatures she plays and learns with and the mission to find her mother. Meanwhile, in the Protectorate, a young man whose child is next to be taken, decides he must end this practice and sets out to kill the witch. The misunderstanding is resolved, but not before tragedy and evil takes its toll.

This is a beautifully written book with characters both magical and human that are unforgettable. Barnhill handles tension and conflict well, and writes an easy flowing prose. Though this is a book for middle schoolers, as an adult I found it a very enjoyable read. The only weaknesses in the book are due to this age difference, I believe, as I would have liked more depth to the characters.

Oh, and I must mention the cover. It is exquisite. Here is a larger view.
drankmoon

Reading Children’s Classics as an Adult

I think an angel walks over the world after the sun sets . . . a great, tall, white angel, with silvery folded wings . . . and sings the flowers and birds to sleep. Children can hear them if they know how to listen. Peter Irving, 10 years old. Anne of Avonlea

During the Spring of 2014, I was running late for the bus and remembered I needed a ‘bus book.’ So I grabbed the first unread book I saw on the shelf: The Hobbit. As I read on the way to work day after day, the intrusion of strangers and smells of the city bus left me and I was securely encased in fantasy land. I had always loved that experience. But why did it end?

And I remembered I stopped reading fantasy and sci/fi when I went to graduate school….

So I spent most of last summer in used bookstores shoring up my bookcases with books by authors I recalled from the past along with new authors. I read The Golden Compass and all of His Dark Materials, I reread some Marion Zimmer Bradley and discovered sci/fi and fantasy author Lisa Goldstein and several others.

I was on a roll when I walked into a favorite San Diego bookstore last summer to continue my quest. With my arms full of fantasy and sci fi books, I headed for the cash register, but something caught my eye. I saw this bright green book cover with a dancing toad in the middle. It was The windwillows.jpegWind in the Willows and I realized I had never read it though I knew it was a well-known children’s classic. As I looked through the titles of the children’s section, I saw so many time-honored books I had never read.

How did I miss The Secret Garden and The Wind in the Willows? How come I never read the Anne of Green Gables series or Stuart Little? As I thought back, 12 was a pivotal reading-year. I somehow moved from the Nancy Drew mysteries and “Little House” books to A Journal of the Plague Year and On the Beach. At that age, who wouldn’t want to read about the terrors of the Black Death and nuclear annihilation?!

secretgarden.jpegSo that day, I bought The Wind in the Willows, The Secret Garden and Anne of Green Gables, even though I wondered if they would have any meaning for me or would they be a waste of time for an adult?

I need not have worried.

Each is so rich in the details of its surroundings and descriptions of characters, with plots and subject matter that are complicated and mature. They are like historical documents in disguise giving me a view of their time period by word choices, societal consciousness and world view.

What drew me to books at a very young age, draws me still: a good story with Anne of Avonlea.jpegcharacters I can see and hear and whose conflicts and resolutions are relatable; and with a little magic and fantasy thrown in like talking animals, personified Nature and extraordinary images and ideas of life.

What stays with me is the beautiful simplicity in the writing, the stunning portrayals of time and place, the universal spirituality found in Nature and the images and impressions that follow me long after I have finished the book.

I am moved, too, because I am reminded these creative and fantastical images are missing in my life. Adults, after all, are supposed to ‘grow out of it.’ There are so many of these children’s classics I have yet to read, yet I still feel tentative in pursuing them.

That is until just this week when I saw this quote by Albert Einstein, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

And if you want to stay intelligent, read fairy tales as an adult!