#Narniathon21: the World’s End, and beyond

The picture in the bedroom, by Pauline Baynes

It’s time for the next stage in our exploration of C S Lewis’s Narnia, but now we are no longer in the company of Peter and Susan. Instead, it’s just Edmund and Lucy returning, with the addition on this trip of Eustace Clarence Scrubbs (whose middle and last names, note, have the initials of the author’s own forenames).

No horn-call this time however, nor even a wardrobe: it’s a picture in a bedroom that provides the portal in this Narniathon, now that we’ve reached the third of C S Lewis’s chronicles. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader first appeared in 1952 following on from Prince Caspian the year before. As is the established pattern I am posing three general questions which you can answer or evade, depending on whatever you may be bursting to say.

And as ever, feel free to to share here and elsewhere on social media your thoughts or your reviews, your favourite quotes or your photos, remembering to include the hashtag #Narniathon21 to let like-minded readers in on it all.

Continue reading “#Narniathon21: the World’s End, and beyond”

March in books

© C A Lovegrove

For the last few years March has found my reading dominated by particular themes. This year will be no different, and I shall aim to have book-related posts put up on particular dates.

Reading Wales #Dewithon22 Bookjotter.com

First up: 1st March is dedicated to St David, the patron saint of Wales, and Paula of Bookjotter.com is again running the Dewithon, aka Reading Wales Month, for which I aim to post a couple of reviews by Welsh authors.

The much missed Terry Pratchett (who died on 12th March 2015) will be celebrated with March Magics hosted by Kristen of webereading.com, and the theme for 2022 will be Friends Old and New. I’d like to think I will manage at least one title, or even two, by him over the thirty-one days

Terry Pratchett

Ireland’s St Patrick also has a feast day this month (on 17th March) and Cathy of 746books.com is again marking the occasion with Reading Ireland Month, affectionately known as Begorrathon. Again I have a couple of promising books to read and review during the four weeks.

Also missed this month is Diana Wynne Jones who left us on 26th March 2011, and she too is included under the #MarchMagics banner (formerly just known as DWJ March). I suspect one of my reads at least will be a reread since I think I’ve already read and reviewed about 95% of her published work.

Finally, I shall be reading the next published instalment in our Narniathon21 readalong, C S Lewis’s The Silver Chair. This was the fourth of the Narniad titles to appear, meaning we’ll have reached the midway point in the whole sequence. A discussion post will appear on the last Friday of the month, the 25th March, and my review a few days later.

WordPress Free Photo Library

So that’s my March mostly planned out — we’ll see how it proceeds! Are you planning to join in with any of these events?

© C A Lovegrove

Jane and Charlotte

The doorway at High Sunderland Hall, Halifax in 1913, known to the Brontës (image public domain)

Juliet Gardiner’s illustrated biography The World Within: the Brontës at Haworth (Collins & Brown 1992) is a kind of companion to Penelope Hughes-Hallett’s ‘My Dear Cassandra’: Illustrated Letters of Jane Austen (1990) issued by the same publishers a year or two before.

The two titles to me recall Charlotte’s reported antipathy to Austen. It’s clear that Charlotte may have overreacted to gauche comments on the passion in her novels, but it’s nevertheless possible to identify in some of Charlotte’s more considered (if still lukewarm) assessments a sneaking admiration for her older contemporary, who died when Charlotte was only one year old.

Continue reading “Jane and Charlotte”

Hasten slowly

© C A Lovegrove

Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore
by Robin Sloane.
Atlantic Books, 2014 (2012).

For any nerdy bookworm this must surely prove a delightful read, whether it’s digital, on audio or, indeed, through the medium of print. It’s also entertainingly meta on several levels, and at times with details so convincing I had to do a bit of research to establish what was factual and what was made up.

It’s about books — naturally — but also about not judging a book by its cover; it has a gauche but engaging narrator who likes fantasy, though this novel isn’t a conventional fantasy; there is a villain of sorts who, oddly, doesn’t command an evil empire; and there is an assortment of characters, all highly individual, quirky even, who demonstrate that it takes all sorts to make life interesting without any one of them being treated as a social pariah.

In addition, for a novel that was published a decade ago — since when so much has advanced, technologically speaking — it seems to me, despite being a natural technophobe, that a lot of what’s described in it as possible in terms of computing power feels just about feasible nowadays, remembering that all the action is taking place during an alternative timeline.

Continue reading “Hasten slowly”

The untamed heart

WordPress Free Photo Library

The House Without Windows
by Barbara Newhall Follett,
introduced and illustrated by Jackie Morris.
Penguin 2019 (1927)

This is one of the strangest books I ever remember having read: written a century ago by a precocious child of twelve, it doesn’t slip easily into any neat category. Neither fable or fairytale, morality tale or narrative of magical realism, it instead speaks of a yearning that supercedes any adherence to a life of accepted norms, a selfishishness that cuts itself free from social contact and familial ties.

And what is this windowless house? Why, it’s the great outdoors, Nature’s boundless domain; and this tale tells of a delight in the variety contained in the wild and — as the original subtitle announced — Eepersip’s Life There. Eepersip is a child of Nature, forsaking family and friends to dance and sing, and watch and listen, and merge with vegetation and living things and landscape in this house without boundaries, its ceiling the ever-changing sky.

In reality that yearning to be at one with wild creatures and natural elements was in part a reflection of the author’s own desires: after The House Without Windows was published, she even briefly tried the life of a cabin boy, using her experience in an adventure story (published as The Voyage of the Norma D.) on her return in 1928, when she was still just 14. The story of her own life reads as equally fantastical, but her first novel gives as good an impression of the vividness of her inner life.

Continue reading “The untamed heart”

The virtues of vice

Nemesis (1502) by Albrecht Dürer, here conflated with Fortuna

Many of us are familiar with the Seven Deadly Sins. No, I’ll rephrase that: Many of us are familiar with the concept of the seven deadly sins but, I trust, we hope we manage to steer clear of them! But in case you’ve forgotten what they are, this is them: pride, greed, wrath, envy, luxury or lust, gluttony and sloth. They sound even more impressive in Latin:

  • Superbia (pride)
  • Avaritia (greed, avarice)
  • Ira (anger, wrath)
  • Invidia (envy)
  • Luxuria (extravagance, lust)
  • Gula (gluttony)
  • Acedia (sloth)

There are virtues, some corresponding to these vices, others not, but I’ll discuss these a bit later because now I just want to focus on one particular deadly sin — avaritia — which many commentators have identified as one of the prime motivations ruling our age. Avarice or greed has also struck me as a key element in narratives by some authors which I’ve been reading. Especially, but not exclusively, writers like C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien.

Continue reading “The virtues of vice”

A kaleidoscopic jumble

Stencil in Barcelona of Roberto Bolaño (Farisori, CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Spirit of Science Fiction
(El espíritu de la ciencia-ficción)
by Roberto Bolaño,
translated by Natasha Wimmer (2018).
Picador 2019.

It’s sometime in the last quarter of the 20th century. Two poets reside in a couple of rooms on the top of an apartment block in Mexico City. One, Jan Schrella, is in his late teens and effectively a recluse, penning letters to North American writers of SF; the other, Remo Morán, is 21 and supports the pair with occasional journalism.

The Spirit of Science Fiction consists of a series of episodes, mostly recounted by Remo, interspersed with the text of letters sent to the likes of Alice Sheldon, James Tiptree Jr, Robert Silverberg, Philip José Farmer and Ursula K Le Guin. The novella ends with what feels like an incomplete and inconsequential coda set in Mexico City’s bathhouses which testifies to this being an early unfinished work published posthumously.

As a whole it comes across as a kaleidoscope of autobiographical elements, magical realism, hedonism and streams of consciousness, defying the reader to make sense of it all yet conveying very vividly the kind of Bohemian life that Bolaño knew well when he travelled from his native Chile to Mexico and elsewhere.

Continue reading “A kaleidoscopic jumble”

The last flight

Waterstone’s bookshop, Edinburgh (photo: C A Lovegrove)

I’ve just got thirteen titles left on my original Classics Club list of fifty classics I opted to read in, um, the Cretaceous period and which I subsequently revised to exclude books I never would read. About half of these would be rereads (RR) of works I read before this century, with at least one example — Kipling’s Kim — first completed way more than a half-century ago!

Here are those 13 laggards, in author alphabetical order.

  1. Petronius Arbiter: The Satyricon RR
  2. Frances Hodgson Burnett: A Little Princess
  3. Charles Dickens: Oliver Twist RR
  4. George Eliot: Middlemarch
  5. Hermann Hesse: The Glass Bead Game RR
  6. Charles Kingsley: Hypatia
  7. Rudyard Kipling: Kim RR
  8. D H Lawrence: The Princess and other stories
  9. Niccolò Machiavelli: The Prince
  10. L M Montgomery: Anne of Green Gables
  11. Mervyn Peake: Gormenghast
  12. Mark Twain: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer RR
  13. Horace Walpole: The Castle of Otranto RR

A fair old mish-mash this, with children’s classics, short stories, a couple of Gothick romances, a statesman’s handbook, tales set in the Roman Empire, and a couple or so written when Britain still had its own ill-gotten empire. Where to start on that final flight of literary stairs?

Continue reading “The last flight”

A right royal progress

Coronation mug 1953

Princess Elizabeth was proclaimed queen after her father, George VI, died early on 6th February 1952. I was only three at the time, living in the then Crown Colony of Hong Kong, so the occasion will have passed me by or, if communicated to me, instantly forgotten. I continued listening to child star Ann Stephens singing They’re Changing Guard at Buckingham Palace on my wind-up gramophone, oblivious to what it was all about.

A year later we were back in Blighty for my parents to buy a house in the West Country, and in early June we joined the crowds on The Mall in London to mark Coronation Day. “Where is she going?” I asked my mother after the young queen’s golden coach rapidly passed us en route from Buckingham Palace towards Admiralty Arch and Westminster Abbey. “Around the roundabout and back again,” was the reply, leading me to expect the sovereign’s speedy return.

What I wasn’t told was that the “roundabout” would in fact be the Abbey, that the coronation service, beginning at 11.15am, would last almost three hours, and that then her return journey was routed around central London, taking from 2.50 to 4.30pm. It was a long wait — around six hours — for a four year old, even one who was nearly five, and thoroughly confusing: why was the coach taking so long to get round the roundabout? Nobody told me.

Continue reading “A right royal progress”

A Finnish microcosm

WordPress Free Photo Library

Moominsummer Madness.
Farlig midsommar 
written and illustrated by Tove Jansson (1954), 
translated by Thomas Warburton (1955).
Puffin Books 1971.

‘A theatre is the most important sort of house in the world, because that’s where people are shown what they could be if they wanted, and what they’d like to be if they dared to, and what they really are.”
— Emma, in Chapter 8

It is almost midsummer in Moomin Valley when flakes of ashy soot start falling about the Moomin house. A nearby volcano is erupting, accompanied by cracks in the ground, and soon creates a tsunami, with the sea invading their home. When a strange new house comes floating by their dwelling the Moomin family — Moominmamma, Moominpapa, Moomintroll — along with the Snork Maiden, the Mymble’s daughter and her sister Little My, plus castaways Misabel and Whomper all decamp to the apparent houseboat. This will eventually float into Spruce Creek, during which time the mystified passengers will explore what they’ve embarked on.

It soon becomes evident to the reader, if not the Moomin Valley residents, that this is part of a theatre, where both stage and backstage have become separated from the rest of the building. With help from what they at first took to be a ghost they decide to put on a tragic play, but when certain individuals become separated and find themselves in various pickles, it will take a series of lucky coincidences to bring everything to a successful conclusion on Midsummer Day.

But will the Moomins ever get back to their valley?

Continue reading “A Finnish microcosm”