Illusory questing beast

durer
Albrecht Durer

Codex
by Lev Grossman.
Arrow 2005 (2004).

‘Codex’ is the name applied to a medieval book, one which was composed of sheets stitched together, in contradistinction to ancient scrolls or wax tablets on which texts were written in the classical period.

The novel Codex is about just such a tome, one which appears to be both unique and therefore much sought after.

Around this book Grossman weaves a modern thriller which, given that the times move on apace, may not be as modern as Grossman might have hoped it to be.

Continue reading “Illusory questing beast”

The House Beautiful

Sebastiano Serlio, Set design for a comic scene

“Behold there was a very stately palace before him, the name of which was Beautiful; and it stood just by the highway side.”
— John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress

Reading Susanna Clarke‘s novel Piranesi awoke all kinds of echoes for me. The repetition, especially, of the narrator’s paean of praise to the place in which he resided — The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite — reminded me of texts such as John Bunyan‘s Pilgrim’s Progress and the refuge to which Christian sought entry, the Palace Beautiful, the way to it guarded by a pair of chained lions (not unrelated to Aslan, I suspect).

But there were other literary reverberations which were set up in my mind, stretching from classical Greece and Rome to this century; in the event that you may find of interest I’ve put together the following illustrated essay.

Be warned, though: in discussing the ideas behind various works of fiction I shall be giving away the odd secret or spoiler so, if you haven’t read them, you may want to skim over or even skip the text and just enjoy the illustrations.

Continue reading “The House Beautiful”

Neither here nor there

Renaissance set 1
Set design for a tragic scene by Sebastiano Serlio (1475 – 1554)

Lev Grossman The Magician King:
A Novel
William Heinemann 2011

A sequel to a successful novel is always a difficult task for a writer. A major dilemma is whether to stick to a successful formula or whether to plough new furrows in an attempt to avoid a sense of déjà-vu; either way risks alienating stern literary critics on the one hand or diehard fans on the other. One strategy is to combine both approaches, and Grossman’s second offering in a trilogy does exactly that: we’re dished up a lot of the same but also a fair seasoning of new elements which fortunately manage to refresh the taste buds.

The Magicians focused its gaze on Quentin Coldwater as he entered Brakebills College, a centre for learning the discipline of magic. We saw how, through an obsession with a fantasy series written by one Christopher Plover, Quentin and a group of fellow Brakebills graduates eventually managed to visit the land of Fillory. However, something is rotten in the state of Fillory, and in combating the Beast (in whom Quentin had inadvertently awoken an unwelcome awareness of Brakebills) great sacrifices have to be made — not only severe injury but also a fate as bad as death. The first novel ends with Quentin, his Brakebills contemporaries Eliot and Janet, plus the frankly rather strange Julia, finding a way back to Fillory, life on Earth having proved rather, well, mundane.

The Magician King opens with Continue reading “Neither here nor there”

A book of Fillory tales

Fillory map
Map of Fillory (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Christopher-Plover-The-Fillory-Series/101804169642)

Lev Grossman The Magicians Arrow Books 2009

Martin Chatwin was not an ordinary boy, but he thought that he was. In fact he was unusually clever and brave and kind for his age, he just didn’t know it. Martin thought that he was just an ordinary boy…
Christopher Plover The World in the Walls

You will of course have heard of the Fillory series by the late Christopher Plover (pronounced ‘Pluvver’, like the wading bird). In order the five titles are The World in the Walls, The Girl Who Told Time, The Flying Forest, The Secret Sea and The Wandering Dune. You will know all about the Chatwin children — Martin, Rupert, Fiona, Helen and Jane — and how they manage to escape to the magical land of Fillory, where they have adventures before they are called back to their own world. And you will remember that Martin was the only sibling to remain in Fillory because after The Wandering Dune the series just stopped, not long before Plover died in 1939.

You don’t remember? Surely you must — there’s even a Facebook page, Christopher Plover: The Fillory Series, to remind us.  Continue reading “A book of Fillory tales”