A rebel angel

‘Futurity.’ © C A Lovegrove. Image created using Wombo.Art app

The Question Mark
by Muriel Jaeger.
Introduction by Jo Moulton.
British Library Science Fiction Classics, 2019 (1926).

“You are the natural rebel, the Satanist—one of those unfortunates born with inverted instincts. Your necessity is to attack and to suffer. You may not know it, but, whatever your circumstances, you would seek out suffering. […] In no place nor time would you be at home. You are he who goes up and down upon the earth and to and fro on it.” — John Wayland to Guy Martin.

Chapter X, v.

Guy Martin is in a dead-end job in London in the 1920s, disappointed in love and feeling a great ennui for the world he lives in. In a moment of desperation he goes to his room, lies down and wills himself to enter a trance, a kind of akinetic catatonia or coma, which allows his consciousness to withdraw from the world. And then…

And then, after what seems to be an out-of-body experience, he finds himself apparently waking in the 22nd century in a kind of Utopia – literally ‘Nowhere’ – where energy is free, technology is beyond all 20th-century imagining, and labour is not only minimal but optional for many. Introduced to his new way of living by the Wayland family, he believes all is perfect, a socialist dream where all have access to whatever they need or want.

But all is not perfect in this future England, and Guy finds that neither human nature nor society adapt well to an idealised system, and especially a oerson such as himself who has existed in and experienced the Depression of the twenties. What will his reaction be to this growing realisation?

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#Narniathon21: Farewell?

Durham Cathedral sanctuary knocker

The Chronicles of Narnia come to a conclusion with The Last Battle, a title which raises strong feelings in readers, not all of them good. And theoretically we come to an end with our #Narniathon21 – though as I’ve already indicated there is a chance to extend it, for those for whom the sudden dissipation of magic is too painful!

As with the previous titles in the septad I shall pose three questions for you to consider, though as usual you are free to ignore them in any comments you may wish to add below; either way, your reactions and opinions will be of huge interest – especially for this, often regarded as the most problematic of the Narniad.

There is no rush for you to join the discussion, particularly if you have yet to finish (or indeed to start) The Last Battle; but do, if you want, add links to your own reviews or discussions, or add pointers to related literature you’ve come across that may add to our appreciation and enjoyment!

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Jack and Daisy: #Narniathon21

Ruins of the Palace of the Emperor Diocletian at Split, 1764

[Amabel] went straight to the Big Wardrobe and turned its glass handle. ‘I expect it’s only shelves and people’s best hats,’ she said. Of course it wasn’t hats. It was, most amazingly, a crystal cave, very oddly shaped like a railway station. It seemed to be lighted by stars…

E Nesbit, ‘The Aunt and Amabel’

Having previously reviewed The Magician’s Nephew (1955) – but in advance of a scheduled review of E Nesbit’s The Story of the Amulet (1906) – I now want to discuss C S Lewis’s indebtedness, both generally and specifically, to his predecessor for not only details but also his general approach to the Chronicles of Narnia.

Not the least of his indebtedness is to Nesbit’s story ‘The Aunt and Amabel’ in The Magic World, in which a well-meaning little girl goes through a wardrobe to a place called Whereyouwantogoto and meets The People Who Understand – does this not sound a teensy bit familiar? I also want to enlarge a bit on aspects of the themes which Lewis introduces to The Magician’s Nephew that weren’t borrowed from Nesbit but yet which mattered enough for him to include in the novel. (When I say “a bit” it appears I mean “quite a lot”. Sorry about that.)

And here, as an aside, I shall just mention in passing other titles that play on aspects of Nesbit’s The Story of the Amulet, namely Diana Wynne Jones’s The Homeward Bounders (1981) which heads in a very different direction from that which Lewis took, and Edward Eager’s Half Magic (1954) which while very much sharing Nesbit’s sympathy for the child also involves some North American children discovering a mysterious talisman not unlike the amulet.

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When books beckon

10 Books of Summer 746books.com

1st June. As summer beckons Cathy (of https://746books.com/) encourages – nay, entices – us to select 10, 15, or 20 books to complete over three months.

I usually shilly-shally over this, not because I don’t think I’ll get through any of these amounts – on past form that’s never a problem – but because I am a notoriously fickle reader, relying on the whim of the moment to decide which title I fancy at any given time.

But it’s good to commit to a wishlist, is it not, whether or not I actually get round to read them all, or indeed any of them! Herewith then that list of ten, which may expand to fifteen or even twenty before summer’s end.

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#Narniathon21: the apple orchard

Louis Tiffany window design

It’s #Narniathon21 discussion time again, and we’re now considering the sixth Narniad title, The Magician’s Nephew (1955) even though this is now placed first in the chronological order publishers advertise.

You’ll know the drill now. I pose three general questions about the book. You either answer them or ignore them, should you choose to comment. You may also, whenever it suits, post a link to a review or discussion you’ve posted.  I’ll endeavour to respond to every one.

Then you have a month to read and consider The Last Battle, the last title to be published and the conclusion of the saga. If you’re having withdrawal symptoms there’s a further option to consider Katherine Langrish’s From Spare Oom to War Drobe, her adult response to her childhood obsession with the Narniad, including a detailed look at each of the titles.

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A quicksilver tale: #Narniathon21

As I promised in a previous post I shall be examining the taint of alleged racism that C S Lewis’s The Horse and His Boy has acquired, and ascertaining if it’s justified. I also promised to look at the planetary aspect by which this novel is ruled, according to Michael Ward’s Planet Narnia, namely Mercury, which seems to go towards determining Lewis’s overall schema for the Narniad.

But I shall start by also briefly (?) mentioning novels that reveal a glancing relationship with some of this novel’s characteristics.

Note that there’ll be spoilers. Also that most links here will take you to one of my reviews or threads. And now, farther up and farther in!

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Rich in themes: #Narniathon21

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Lewis mines material from his own huge learning, drawing on theology, Renaissance geography, myth, folktales, medieval writings, and even earlier children’s books…

Diana Wynne Jones (2012:48)

Where fans of Narnia are concerned The Horse and His Boy (1954) doesn’t rate as highly among their favourites as others in the series (though usually, it must be admitted, higher than The Last Battle). For many this instalment has issues surrounding racial and/or cultural stereotypes, intermixed with disappointment for some that the expected protagonists take a back seat in the narrative and the action.

However, in common with the previously published titles The Horse and His Boy is rich in themes and motifs which C S Lewis borrowed freely from literature, mythology and folklore.

In this, perhaps overlong, post I want to consider some of these influences, leaving discussion of the issues and of Lewis’s overarching schema to another time. Is it needful to say then that there will be plenty of spoilers ahead?

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May (of course) be with you

Today is May Day – Beltane in Ireland and Scotland and Calan Haf (“the first day of summer”) in Wales – and a joyful celebration of new life and hope for the future. Consequently Brona of BronasBooks.com is running a reading and blogging event called Understanding Ukraine: I Stand for Peace focused on Ukraine, an excellent way in which we can to a small degree show solidarity with that poor country.

Needless to say I shall be joining in, and hope you may consider it too. I’m currently doing a slow read of a brief collection of Nikolai Gogol’s short stories: he was a famous son of what was then called Little Russia and which now is once again officially Ukraine.

Then I shall look out for other titles with a Ukrainian connection: as luck would have it I already have a collection of children’s stories (based on a character called Dunno) by Ukrainian-born Nikolai Nosov which my father gave me in the early 60s, so I may well go for those next, and then see what follows.


#Narniathon21 image after Pauline Baynes

Narniathon21 continues to wend its way with a discussion of the sixth chronicle, The Magician’s Nephew, scheduled for Friday 27th May. Though I’ve already reviewed this relatively recently, with some related discussion posts, I’m looking forward to a third read in the context of its position in the Narniad publishing order as well as posting discussion of The Horse and His Boy.

After this April past, when I seem to have already read a lot of fantasy – principally Tolkien and C S Lewis – for me the merry month of May also looks to be focused on this genre with the fifth annual Wyrd & Wonder read hosted by a cohort of avid readers.


Wyrd & Wonder 22: tree wolf image by chic2view on 123RF.com

As well as the usual Narnia business I have a few other works in mind for this annual event – though what I actually read and comment on will be as much a surprise to me as to you! But it will include some ruminations on Volume 3 of The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, and whatever fantasy titles fall off the shelves at me. I suspect there’ll mostly be children’s fantasy – some classic, others more contemporary – landing in my lap…

Thanks to Imyril and others listed on Twitter under the handle WyrdandWonder for hosting this event, even if I shall be following my own nose for what I read instead of consciously taking part in their prompts.

© C A Lovegrove

But … please, people, don’t set up any more tempting memes / events / challenges – I’ve got enough already on my plate!

746books.com
My own meme for short story collections to be read

#Narniathon21: equine friends

Gulliver Taking His Final Leave of the Land of the Houyhnhnms
Gulliver Taking His Final Leave of the Land of the Houyhnhnms (Sawrey Gilpin, 1769)

We’re really galloping through the Chronicles of Narnia in our Narniathon readalong, and have now arrived at the fifth published volume, The Horse and His Boy.

Below are the usual trio of prompt questions to get you started on a discussion … should you need them! Feel free to go off at a tangent if there are different points to raise or issues you want to discuss.

As ever I look forward to a lively response to this instalment, frequently cited as readers’ least favourite – but of course you may disagree and want to put up a spirited defence!

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Talking beasts: #Narniathon21

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The Horse and His Boy
by C S Lewis,
illustrated by Pauline Baynes.
HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2009 (1954).

With its quizzical title – how exactly does an equine creature somehow own a boy? – the fifth book in the Narnia sequence proves itself a bit of a puzzle but, luckily, also offers unsought delights, unspotted during a first read. How unspotted? Probably because mild prejudice blinded me as to this instalment’s merits.

And that prejudice? Twofold, I think: as a first-time adult Narniad reader I could only see painful proselytising and xenophobic slights; now I have a more nuanced view of the text, one where I switch back and forth between young and old eyes, revealing a novel which is more deserving of my admiration than derision.

The puzzle of course comes with an opening where, unexpectedly, we don’t start with youngsters from 1940s England but are thrown straight into a story seemingly straight out of the Arabian Nights. Reader, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Narnia anymore.

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The wild lands: #Narniathon21

Hay-on-Wye castle gate © C A Lovegrove

In a companion post (following a review) I discussed the basic plot structure as well as some literary and mythological influences on C S Lewis’s Narnian tale The Silver Chair. I then promised I’d talk a bit about the emotions and ideals I’d detected behind this instalment of the saga.

I’ll focus on a few of the characters who are likely to elicit – or even repel – our sympathies, and consider the messages Lewis may have been overtly, as well as covertly, trying to get across. Along the way I’d also like to consider the influence of the Moon in The Silver Chair, bearing in mind that it’s been plausibly theorised that Lewis quietly set each of the chronicles under the sign of one of the seven traditional ‘planets’ in medieval cosmology, with the moon assigned to this instalment.

So let us, like Eustace and Jill, open the door in the high stone wall at the top of the shrubbery in the youngsters’ school grounds and emerge from out of our whole world into That Place.

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Northernness: #Narniathon21

Illustration by Stephen Lavis for the Diamond Books edition of The Silver Chair

For at the top of the shrubbery was a high stone wall and in that wall a door in which you can get out in to open moor. […] But when the door actually opened, they both stood stock still. For what they saw was quite different from what they had expected.

Chapter One

Now, after reviewing C S Lewis’s portal fantasy The Silver Chair (1953), I want to dedicate a couple of posts to discussing two related aspects: the emotions and philosophies which a reading reveals, and — for this post — the kinds of influences that may have been absorbed by the novel.

The Cambridge University chair in Medieval and Renaissance English — a professorship in English literature — was especially created in 1954 for Lewis, a year after this novel appeared. I won’t even attempt to compete with the range and quality of the texts this erudite scholar would have known and loved, instead identifying from my limited reading the literary resonances and form that I believe can be detected in The Silver Chair.

If my discussion seems a bit random or episodic that’s because it is, as suits a There and Back Again tale. Warning: there are spoilers galore coming up.

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A few special years

A selection of classics

1872, 1922, 1954. Three years. What do they have in common? They all feature in this post, for a start!

1872. A century and a half ago George Eliot’s Middlemarch was first published in book form, after being serialised by Blackwood magazine. I began this a year or so ago but got distracted, so I’m determined to get back to it this special year. How can I not read this, a classic that’s so highly regarded, not least by Virginia Woolf?

1922. A hundred years ago two particular writers were born whose work I want to explore this year. One was Kurt Vonnegut whose birthday in November I want to mark with a read of one or other of his titles; the other is Sam Youd — who’s better known as SF author John Christopher but also wrote under other names in other genres — and his centenary occurs this month.

1954. A week this month is being set aside to read a book or two from a more recent year, as part of a reading event called — not unnaturally — the 1954 Club. And the whole month is set aside for Reading the Theatre, so as it happens I have possible titles to pick for both of these events.

But have I bitten off more than I can chew? Interestingly, in March I managed to complete books for Reading Wales, Reading Ireland, March Magics, and Narniathon, so there may be hope!

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Throneless under earth: #Narniathon21

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The Silver Chair by C S Lewis,
illustrated by Pauline Baynes.
Diamond Books 1997 (1953).

‘Though under Earth and throneless now I be,
Yet, while I lived, all Earth was under me.’

Chapter Ten

After escaping bullies two children from a coeducational school in 1940s Britain find themselves in a strange and extraordinarily vivid land — only to then be blown off a high cliff. They are to be sent on a quest to find a lost prince, but it will require inner resources, courage and imagination to achieve the quest, and it all hangs in the balance if they don’t recognise the signs they’ve been given.

The theme of The Quest may be a staple of myth, fairytale and fantasy but it has its strengths and weaknesses as a narrative driver. If the quest isn’t achieved it runs the risk of disappointment for the audience; if it is too easily accomplished it may seem preordained; only if there is a sense of peril and uncertainty can we feel that the task may have been a worthwhile one.

The Silver Chair (it seems to me) aims to fulfill the third of the criteria, but there are inklings of the first two which could potentially ruin one’s enjoyment of the story as a whole. And yet there is much that satisfies in terms of characterisation, drama and mythic resonances which may well overcome potential stumbling blocks to whole-hearted acceptance of this episode in the Chronicles of Narnia.

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Music, magic, maturity

Trees

Cart and Cwidder (1975)
by Diana Wynne Jones,
in The Dalemark Quartet, Vol 1.
Greenwillow / Eos 2005.

There is sometimes an assumption that if a novel’s protagonists are youngsters then the novel can only be for other youngsters to read. This is not always the case, and for me many of Diana Wynne Jones’ ‘young adult’ stories can and ought to be enjoyed by youngsters of all ages.

It is also sometimes assumed that fantasy is a lesser genre than more mainstream novels. I don’t accept that needs to be so, and the author herself has made clear that to dismiss fantasy as escapist is a mistaken attitude. The best fantasy has as much to say about the human condition as more literary examples, and Jones’ fantasy mostly falls into this category. Add to that the fact that Jones attended lectures by Tolkien at Oxford (he mumbled a lot, apparently) as well as C S Lewis and then this series of four related fantasy novels deserves to be given more consideration.

The first three of the Dalemark Quartet were published in the 1970s, with the first two published in North America as Volume 1 nearly thirty years later. As Cart and Cwidder happens more or less contemporaneously with Drowned Ammet it made sense to have the two titles combined in one, as the publishers Greenwillow did back in 2005 (though just the former title is considered here). The action takes place in a land wracked by civil war between north and south, in which Jones’ young heroes and heroines must make their precarious way.

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