Posts Tagged With: Fantasy

The Silver Chair – A Newcomer Arrives in Narnia

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The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe may be the most familiar of the seven Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, but it is not necessarily the most thrilling. That honor belongs to The Silver Chair, the sixth book in chronological order, a tale of daring rescue, escape from man-eating giants, and being in over one’s head to fulfill a call.

In this Narnia adventure, the four Pevensies (Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy) have not been drawn by Aslan in His world; instead their unappealing cousin, Eustace Scrubb, enters the magical land with his classmate, Jill Pole. As you may know, Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader made a complete change and has become a new person. This has become evident to his school acquaintance, Jill, and is expressed by Eustace himself in the following humble and humorous fashion: “Then wash out last term if you can,” said Eustace. “I was different then, I was –gosh! What a little tick I was.”

This pair of unlikely heroes is joined by a new creature -one from C.S. Lewis’ fertile imagination, a Marsh-wiggle named Puddleglum from Ettinsmore who is all gangly limbs and pessimistic predictions.

 

silver chair 4The trio’s impossible mission is to locate the missing Prince, heir to the throne of Narnia and son of the aged King Caspian.   But Rilian disappeared without a trace over ten years earlier and their quest is fraught with mystery and both subtle and horrifying dangers.

Jill Pole as a newcomer to Narnia has no experience with Aslan, the Lion who rules this world. He is not a tame lion and she knows this instinctively in her first face to face encounter with Aslan.  His prone and majestic form lies between her and the stream she so desperately needs to drink from:

“If you are thirsty, you may drink.” …and the voice was not like a man’s. It was deeper, wilder and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way.”

“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.

“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.

“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer; “ I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”

“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.

Once she approaches and drinks, Aslan gives her the instructions for the quest: “I lay on you this command, that you seek this lost prince until either you have found him and brought him to his father’s house else died in the attempt, or else gone back to your own world.”

Jill is given the responsibility to remember four signs to guide the rescuers in their quest. Aslan gives Jill a stern command: “Repeat the signs to remember them. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs.”

Silver Chair 2

As you might imagine, Jill does not have the maturity or faith to fulfill her duty and what happens next is a series of misadventures that ultimately lead them into great peril. Join Puddleglum, Eustace, and Jill as they encounter giants from the House of Harfang, the sinister Lady of the Green Kirtle, a mysterious knight in black armor, and gnomes from the Land of Bism.

I recommend the trade paperback edition (256 pages) published in 2000 by Harper Collins with its beautiful full color illustrations by Pauline Baynes.

The Narnia Chronicles in chronological order: The Magician’s Nephew, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Horse and His Boy, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, and The Last Battle.

The Silver Chair was originally published in 1953 and is 4th in publication order. The website http://www.narnia.com features an interview of C.S. Lewis’ step-son Douglas Gresham who gives an update about the movie version of The Silver Chair.

 

 

Categories: British novels, Children's Books, Christian Fiction, Classics, Fantasy, Humorous, Inspiration, Read Aloud, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Watership Down by Richard Adams

I loved this novel when I read it as a teenager in the late 1970’s and I hope I have passed on my affection for this story to my family.  First published in 1972, Watership Down, by British author Richard Adams, is a book about rabbits… 476 pages of rabbits to be exact.  According to Mr. Adams, the manuscript was rejected a total of seven times, all on the same grounds that older children would think the rabbits babyish and younger children would find its adult style unlikeable.

I am so glad that Richard Adams did not change a word!  His judgment was vindicated when the novel won the prestigious Carnegie Medal in 1972 and the Guardian Award for Children’s Literature in 1973.  Over forty years later, Watership Down is a beloved classic for young and old.

My local library’s edition of Watership Down published by Scribner in 2005 boasts a fascinating introduction by the author.  He recounts that he created the story for his young daughters, Juliet and Rosamond, entirely out of his imagination on a long-distance car journey.  His daughters insisted that he finish it and then later write it for publication.  “Naturally, I am glad that the book has been enjoyed by so large a public, and that it plainly has a wide appeal (although the reason for this was never clear to me).” p. xvi.

A motley and untried band of eleven young rabbits flee an established warren after hearing the doomsday prophecy of Fiver, who is the young brother of the novel’s main character, Hazel.  Rabbits are not meant to leave their routines and community.  These intrepid yearlings move through harrowing circumstances in their search for a safe haven in which to set up a new homestead. The plot is varied and exciting with great rising and fall action and many surprises – And that is all I am going to tell you about the plot, because you have to READ it!

Richard Adams uses the anthropomorphic style of Rudyard Kipling (The Jungle Book) to develop rabbit characters that think and talk, but can not do anything physically that real rabbits can not do.  Each rabbit has a finely drawn, individual personality.  “I took characteristics and features from real people I had met over the years.  To Hazel, I gave the qualities of an officer under whom I had served (in WW II).  He had the natural power of leadership.  He was not only brave but modest and retiring, yet with excellent judgment.” (p.xii Introduction, Watership Down, Scribner, 2005)  Bigwig, the staunch fighter of the group, is based on a Norwegian resistance fighter, Mr. Adams knew in the war.   Fiver, Hazel, Bigwig, Blackberry, Dandelion, Hawkbit, Pipkin, Buckthorn, Speedwell, Acorn, Silver: all are needed and yet each are unique.

This novel delves deeply into themes of leadership, belonging, bonding, and the importance of  the uniqueness and gifts in the individuals of a group.  To me, this is an echo of a biblical truth that shows up in the gospels: Jesus chooses twelve extremely diverse men as disciples,  and in Paul’s writing that admonishes Christians to accept and value one another: “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”  Romans 12: 3-5 (italics added).  I suppose this is my favorite theme of the book.

Richard Adams, goodreads.com author page

Richard Adams, goodreads.com author page

Mr. Adams, born in 1920, is still going strong.  His grandson assisted him several months ago to answer online fan questions.  Mr. Adams expressed fascinating insights about his novel and gratitude for the many enthusiastic compliments from readers. “I’m still making up stories, reading and writing. I read anything I can find, spending at least 3 hours a day reading. I find this very stimulating for the imagination.” http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1n3quw/i_am_richard_adams_author_of_watership_down/

All editions in print have a lapine glossary (a list of rabbit language) developed by the author and a map of the North Hampshire region of England in which the novel is set.  As Mr. Adams commented in his recent online interview: “Lapine just occurred really. The point was that as the story was told, certain things that hadn’t got a word for them came up, so a word had to be invented to cover them, to mean what they meant. Owsla is a good example.”
In 2008, Italian painter Aldo Galli created over forty paintings in 2008 inspired by the novel and the artist’s hikes over the downs.  Mr. Adams chose Galli to illustrate Watership Down as the first-ever illustrated edition of the classic novel which was published in October 2012 by Scribner Classics Series to mark its fortieth anniversary.

Illustration by Aldo Galli

Mr. Adams, a lifelong student of natural history, describes in detail the flora and fauna of the downs of England with which he was so familiar.  It would a great pleasure to me to see a future edition published with an illustrated glossary of trees, birds, and wildflowers.

It is wonderful that Richard Adams is still with us.  My goal this year is to read his autobiography, The Day Gone By, write him a fan letter and read Shardik, a much darker story.

If you missed Watership Down, put it on your list of top ten novels to read in 2014 and then write me after you’ve read it to tell me what you think.

Categories: British novels, Children's Books, Classics, Fantasy, Inspiration, Read Aloud, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Being on the Receiving End: The Goose Girl

If you are new to this blog or are a returning reader, my purpose should be clear – to recommend good books that will enrich your life. But I want to demonstrate to you that I am also a receiver of recommendations, and inspire you to continue your quest to hear from others.

Isn’t it true that each one of us, no matter our age or experience, possesses limited understanding of good reading material and finite resources for discovering it? I believe everyone can benefit from the process of “cross-pollination” in our reading choices. (cross-pollination: “the transfer of pollen from one flower to the stigma of another.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Sometimes others are simply ahead of us, having heard about a wonderful book from another person or media outlet. Their “ear to the ground” hears of it first, or we may never have access to the information they do. Brat Farrar, by Josephine Tey, was a British mystery recommended to me by Margaret Turner, an 80-year-old woman I helped as a Red Cross volunteer when she became legally blind. She gave me her tattered copy when I moved away.

Other times, the different tastes of our friends or relatives bring us into contact with new experiences. My father, an avid reader, was a fan of western novels. I finally got over my “reader’s block” recently and tried a Louis L’Amour novel, Sackett, and enjoyed it immensely.

I especially cherish the way my children, and other younger readers, pollinate my reading. Luke, my 19-year old son, raised the bar of my reading by his affinity for C. S. Lewis’ essays and non-fiction (his favorites: Mere Christianity and The World’s Last Night). I need to be stretched past my beloved Narnia Chronicles to read “headier stuff”.

My daughter, Rachel (age 15), read The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale this summer. I bought a copy of it several years ago for my girls on the advice of a friend whose teen daughter listed it as one of her top five novels. (Thanks, Sarah Reyes).

Rachel took off with this book and then blazed through the rest of the novels in Shannon Hale’s Books of Bayern series. (The titles in order of publication: The Goose Girl, Enna Burning, River Secrets, and Forest Born.)

“Hey Mom! You HAVE to read this!” I genuinely attempt to prioritize my kids’ book recommendations; although my “to read” queue is fairly long. When Rachel saw that I had The Goose Girl in my hands at bedtime with a telltale bookmark peaking from the pages, her voice rose several octaves: “What?! You started reading it and didn’t TELL me!” Her accusation whipped across my bedroom and figuratively shook me by the shoulders. I recollected how much I love to hear feedback from a friend who is reading the book I recommended and realized I had broken the cardinal rule of book sharing!

Here is Rachel’s recommendation for The Goose Girl in her own words: “All teenage girls should read this book. Its plot is intriguing, and mystery is unraveled in every page. The main character is Ani, the sixteen-year-old crown princess. She starts off as a quiet girl who is being trained to become Queen, however she hates everything involving her role as future head of the kingdom. Only when she is out of doors and conversing with, yes I know it sounds crazy, birds does Ani ever feel herself. Through the story, surprising events and incredible plot twists make this book my top read. This queen-to-be goes through life-threatening situations and starts to find out who she really is.

Ani is a princess who doesn’t wait to step into her destiny by being rescued by a ‘knight in shining armor’, but she doesn’t have the ‘I don’t need anybody’s help, I have to do this by myself!’ attitude either, which seems popular in modern stories. Like the Beatles recommend, she’s going to ‘get by with a little help from her friends’. Oh, and a little romance doesn’t take away from the story either…”

The Goose Girl just celebrated its 10-year anniversary. Author Shannon Hale posted on her blog: http://oinks.squeetus.com/2013/05/ten-years-man.html

So dear reader, let us share books so that reading is not a solitary happening, but a satisfying conduit for building common experiences. Our ideal “book clubs” can consist of the people in our inner relational circle – children, spouses, parents, librarians, and friends. We can gain connectedness and bridge generational barriers, which is such a boon in our culture that touts same age and same generation interaction as the be-all and end-all.

Please keep sending me your wonderful ideas. Mrs. Mike was one such recommendation – a spin-off from a blog post on our most memorable books from childhood.

My questions to you: What have others recommended to you that enriched your inner world? If you are 25 years old or younger, what would you tell us older folks to read?

Note to self: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan has been sitting on my “to read” bedside stack too long. Get to it, or Hannah (age 14) will be coming after me.

Categories: Fantasy, Girl Fiction, Uncategorized, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Beyond the Summerland – Worthwhile Fantasy

I love book series. Getting attached to the characters and the world depicted in a set of novels is one of life’s signature pleasures. Although finding a good author to follow is wonderful, discovering a great series is even more of a treasure. The Binding of the Blade consists of five books and delivers a complex story set in a vivid fantasy world. Not only that, but all five novels have already been published, so they can all be read with hardly a breath or potty break. This obsessive reading is certainly not required (or recommended), but to have the option is bliss. I read all the novels of the series one after the other: Beyond the Summerland, Bringer of Storms, Shadow in the Deep, Father of Dragons, and All My Holy Mountain.

A lively imagination is a gift and I have it in abundance. When I am reading, I am “in” the story, picturing details of each character’s hair, face, clothing. The landscape unrolls before my mind like a technicolor carpet. Movies captivate me too, but I don’t need them to do my imagining, and even find them distracting sometimes once I have already mentally created the story.

This fantasy series resides in my library’s youth adult fiction section, but as an adult, I enjoyed it thoroughly with its well-crafted world and characters. Undeniably, J.R.R. Tolkien set the bar so high that no one touch him, but that doesn’t mean authors shouldn’t try. The result is a wealth of wonderful fantasy stories that bring us variety. And to be honest, I can’t get enough of dragons, swords, evil overlords, and frightening forests. I don’t mind similar themes because the battle between good and evil underlies everything, so why not vicariously join another fight in a unique world? I will leave the plot of this particular series a mystery and allow readers to discover it for themselves. I will say that I enjoyed a series that has a benevolent and personal source of spiritual power.

Delighted, I discovered L.B. Graham avidly pursues his storytelling. The Darker Road, book 1 in the Wandering series will be released in July 2013. I first “found” Graham through my Wheaton College alumni magazine article. The fact that he is a fellow alum may have biased me a bit in the author’s favor, but that’s acceptable, isn’t it? We often have reasons for pre-judging authors. More information can be found on the author’s website, lbgraham.com. His website bio informs us that he “was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1971 and loved school so much that he never left, transitioning seamlessly between life as a student and life as a teacher. He and his family now live in St. Louis. They would like one day to have a house by the sea, which he wants to call “The Grey Havens.” He and his wife have two children. Both love books, which pleases him immensely.”
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Categories: Fantasy, Inspiration | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis


The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis, the third book in The Chronicles of Narnia, published in 1954, tells the tale of Shasta, a Narnian boy raised in the country of Calormen by an illiterate fisherman who uses him like a slave and keeps his true identity from him. Shasta and Bree the Talking Horse, also a captive of the Calormenes, escape north to freedom in Narnia.

This particular “chronicle” seems to be less known, due in part to the fact that no modern movie has promoted it, unlike “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, “Prince Caspian”, and “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”. The powerful themes of escape, providence, and identity make it my favorite. Aslan, the great lion, appears throughout the story, but in many different guises; all with the same purpose, however, of directing and protecting the main characters. Sometimes he physically guards them, other times he protects them from their own folly.

Chronologically, this story takes place while the four Pevensie children are ruling: “Peter was High King in Narnia and his brother and two sisters were Kings and Queens under him”(p.3). They have grown up enough that Queen Susan is being courted by the ruthless Calormen prince, Rabadash, but they are still young and carefree in their roles as monarchs: “Instead of being grave and mysterious like most Calormenes, they walked with a swing and let their arms and shoulders go free, and chatted and laughed.” (p. 58) The Narnian monarchs visit the Caloremene capital so that Queen Susan can meet her suitor in his own land and find themselves embroiled in political intrigue.

In my edition of the book, a colorful map, illustrated by Pauline Baynes, reminds us that the world of Narnia has surrounding countries, as well as the Great Eastern Ocean with its numerous islands. The Horse and His Boy is set in the land south of Narnia, across a great desert. The Tisroc, a cruel tyrant rules here and desires to gobble up Narnia through treachery if he can, and by force if his attempt at trickery fails.

Into this political intrigue enters Shasta who has grown up with beatings and hard labor and doesn’t realize he is of northern blood. He forms an alliance with Bree, a Talking Horse who was sold into slavery as a foal. During their daring escape attempt, the pair joins forces with another Narnian horse, the humble mare Hwin, and a privileged Calormene tarkeena named Aravis who is fleeing a forced marriage with a man “at least sixty years old with a hump on his back and a face like an ape”. (p.37).

The Narnian horses yearn fiercely for their free homeland : “The happy land of Narnia — Narnia of the heathery mountains and the thymy downs, Narnia of the many rives, the plashing glens, the mossy caverns and the deep forests ringing with the hammers of the Dwarfs. Oh the sweet air of Narnia! An hour’s life there is better than a thousand years in Calormen.” (p. 11). Even though Shasta has no memory of his birth in Narnia, his heart is drawn to it : “‘Oh hurrah!’ said Shasta, “Then we’ll go north. I’ve been longing to go to the North all my life.’” (p. 14)

In a humorous and ironic case of mistaken identity, Shasta falls in with the Narnian monarchs in the capital city of Tashbaan and unwittingly meets his twin. This story resonates for me as much now as it did in my youth when my babysitter, Sandi Beth Sandford, read it to us aloud. How that is possible is the genius of C.S. Lewis’ storytelling and his depth of insight into seeking where we belong and who we really are.

The sixth Chronicle of Narnia, The Silver Chair, also takes place in the land of Narnia, but in a northern country ruled by giants during the time when Caspian is king and Eustace Scrubb returns to Narnia to rescue Caspian’s son and heir.
The chronological order of the Narnia books: The Magician’s Nephew, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Horse and His Boy, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, and The Last Battle.  Thanks to my friend, Lynn – who insisted that her first reading of the Chronicles must be in the order the author wrote them, here is a “publication list”:  Lion, Prince, Voyage, Silver, Horse, Magician’s, Last.

Categories: Children's Books, Classics, Fantasy, Inspiration, Read Aloud, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Watership Down: Not Just a Bunny Book

Watership Down: Not Just a Bunny Book

I loved this novel when I read it as a teenager in the late 1970’s and I loved it again this year when I read it aloud to my thirteen-year-old daughter, Hannah.  First published in 1972, Watership Down, by British author Richard Adams, is a book about rabbits… 476 pages of rabbits to be exact.  According to Mr. Adams, the manuscript was rejected a total of seven times, all on the same grounds that older children would think the rabbits babyish and younger children would find its adult style unlikeable.  I am so glad that Richard Adams did not change a word!  His judgment was vindicated when the novel won the prestigious Carnegie Medal in 1972 and the Guardian Award for Children’s Literature in 1973.  Over forty years later, Watership Down is a beloved classic for young and old

My library’s edition published by Scribner in 2005 boasts a fascinating introduction by Mr. Adams.  He recounts that he created the story for his young daughters, Juliet and Rosamond, entirely out of his imagination on a long-distance car journey.  His daughters insisted that he finish it and then later write it for publication.  “Naturally, I am glad that the book has been enjoyed by so large a public, and that it plainly has a wide appeal (although the reason for this was never clear to me).” p. xvi.

A motley and untried band of eleven young rabbits flee an established warren after hearing the doomsday prophecy of Fiver, who is the young brother of the novel’s main character, Hazel.  Rabbits are not meant to leave their routines and community.  These intrepid yearlings move through harrowing circumstances in their search for a safe haven in which to set up a new homestead. The plot is varied and exciting with great rising and fall action and many surprises – And that is all I am going to tell you about the plot, because you have to READ it!

Richard Adams uses the anthropomorphic style of Rudyard Kipling (The Jungle Book) to develop rabbit characters that think and talk, but can not do anything physically that real rabbits can not do.  Each rabbit has a finely drawn, individual personality.  “I took characteristics and features from real people I had met over the years.  To Hazel, I gave the qualities of an officer under whom I had served (in WW II).  He had the natural power of leadership.  He was not only brave but modest and retiring, yet with excellent judgment.” (p.xii Introduction, Watership Down, Scribner, 2005)  Bigwig, the staunch fighter of the group, is based on a Norwegian resistance fighter, Mr. Adams knew in the war.   Fiver, Hazel, Bigwig, Blackberry, Dandelion, Hawkbit, Pipkin, Buckthorn, Speedwell, Acorn, Silver: all are needed and yet each are unique.

This novel delves deeply into themes of leadership, belonging, bonding, and the importance of  the uniqueness and gifts in the individuals of a group.  To me, this is an echo of a biblical truth that shows up in the gospels: Jesus chooses twelve extremely diverse men as disciples,  and in Paul’s writing that admonishes Christians to accept and value one another: “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”  Romans 12: 3-5 (italics added).  I suppose this is my favorite theme of the book.

It is wonderful that Richard Adams, born on May 9, 1920 is still alive and with us at age 92.  My goal is to write him a fan letter this year. If you missed this novel in your teen years, then it is high time to read it! Put Watership Down on your list of top ten novels to read in 2013 and then write me after you’ve read it to tell me that you loved it too.

An aside: All editions in print have a lapine glossary (a list of rabbit language) developed by the author and a map of the North Hampshire region of England in which the novel is set.  Mr. Adams, a lifelong student of natural history, describes in detail the flora and fauna of the downs of England leaving me a little lost.  It would a great pleasure to me to see a future edition published with an illustrated glossary of trees, birds, and wildflowers.

Categories: British novels, Children's Books, Classics, Fantasy, Humorous, Inspiration, Read Aloud, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Hobbit: Fantasy and Real Life

The Hobbit began as a bedtime story for JRR Tolkien’s children.  It has a milder story arc than the Lord of the Rings trilogy and, therefore, is a great read-aloud for families whose younger children can absorb the peril of giant spiders, a wily and powerful dragon, and battle scenes.  Older teens and adults will receive enjoyment and insight from the book as well.  (My husband listened to it on audio just this past summer).

I found that reading The Hobbit aloud to my teen daughters recently offered not only the solidarity of sharing a great story, but also a new understanding of how our inner gifts and life purpose can be drawn out by others. Gandalf does this for Biblo Baggins, who sees himself as a simple hobbit in the Shire, living a safe and complacent life.  All of a sudden, he is thrust into an adventure and needed for skills he didn’t know he possessed.  Throughout the story, Bilbo saves the day.

Wow!  We all need to have others who will see our unique purposes and help us walk them out.  Like the biblical Gideon, sometimes we are “hiding in the wine vat”, just trying to get by and then we hear the voice of the angel: “Greetings, you mighty man (or woman) of God, the Lord is with you!”.

Beware, as Tolkien shows us, the road to fulfilling our destiny is fraught with difficulty.

The first of a two-part film adaptation of the book: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was released on December 14, 2012 by New Line Cinema, Warner Bros, and MGM.  I urge you to read the book first so that you receive the story as the author intended it to unfold – unabridged-  the plot intact with all the detailed descriptions and dialogue that define the characters.  Also, give yourself the fun experience of having certain scenes and  themes of the book jump off the pages right at you.  The movie. By contrast, is the product of  director Peter Jackson’s vision and how the story impacted him.

 Fun Fact: There are editions of his work that JRR Tolkien illustrated himself.  The Art of the Hobbit was published recently which contains his artwork. http://www.amazon.com/The-Art-Hobbit-J-R-R-Tolkien/dp/0547928254

Categories: Children's Books, Classics, Fantasy, Inspiration, Read Aloud | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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