Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Sat 21 Feb 09 14:02
also a fan of the original order.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Sat 21 Feb 09 14:02
Laura, what do you think of the movies?
Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Sat 21 Feb 09 15:03
I remember having a similar betrayal reaction in high school to a poem about an astronaut assigned in English class. I was a big fan of the space program, and when someone said that the astronaut was a metaphor for something considerably less interesting to me (like alienation or something like that) I was rather upset by it. It's like, for once here's a poem about something I'm interested in, and now you're telling me it's not actually about that at all. It would have helped to know that it's not either-or, and it's possible to write about multiple things at the same time, and certainly that can be said of Narnia. If you're not reading for the Christian metaphor then parts of the story will seem weaker when they can only be understood as metaphor. Similarly for neo-platonism: it's been a long time since I read these books, but I vaguely remember being fairly mystified by the "further up and further in" thing. Perhaps C.S. Lewis was doing his best work when he was most successful at hiding what he was doing?
Hugh Watkins (hughw1936uk) Sat 21 Feb 09 15:52
Metaphor is in the old tradition of inventing a hidden meaning for a text -also think of parables as a teaching tool
Laura Miller (lauram) Sat 21 Feb 09 17:20
Lewis and Tolkien subscribed to an idea first formulated by Owen Barfield about poetic metaphor being the remnant of an early and different way of understanding the stories and motifs that they called "myths." The powerful response we have to them, they felt, was like having the memory of that understanding (but only the memory of it, a shadow of the actual thing) briefly returned. Sharon (I remember you from back when I was a Well frequenter!), I am not a fan of the movies. The first one was the better of the two, but both felt entirely alien to my impression of Narnia, which was so fundamentally shaped by Pauline Baynes' illustrations. This was different from the effect of the Peter Jackson LOTR films, partly because I didn't have such a well-developed visual image of Middle-earth. Now, when I think of the various images in that story, I see stuff from the Jackson films, which is fine by me. I loved those movies. There were some other problems with the films. The first one showed the finger prints of contemporary "family values" ideology in the form of a lot of inserted remarks about how important family is to the various characters. People tend to fixate on the fact that the Pevensie siblings have been sent out of London because of the bombings and treat this separation from their mother and father as a trauma, but really it was just a narrative pretext by which Lewis got them away from their parents. The children never mention their parents or seem to miss them at all in the books. In fact, when given the opportunity to stay in Narnia as kings and queens, they basically desert their parents for what must be over a decade. I can just imagine the scriptwriters trying to make sense of that! The second film was more of a departure. It's mostly a lot of battle scenes, and Caspian is made into at 19-year-old Spaniard who smooches Susan at the end! If Lewis weren't already dead, that alone would probably have killed him. The two Narnia films so far have been visual extremely derivative of the Jackson films -- a really bad idea, since Narnia is not a vast, raw, majestic landscape like Middle-earth, but a more intimate and fanciful place. The next film, which was off for a little while, but apparently now back on again, is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which is set during a sea journey. This book is, in general, the favorite of most readers, and my personal favorite. If somebody a little more original designs it, it might be OK -- I can't see how it could be made to look like the LOTR films -- but my hopes are not high. Some of the actors are good, especially the girl who plays Lucy. All the Pevensies are well played, actually, with the exception of Susan.
Julie Sherman (julieswn) Sat 21 Feb 09 20:43
I come late to this discussion. I am on a short vacation in Florida and have not had time to be on the WELL till now. When I was a student teacher in a fourth grade, my master teacher read LWW as the first read-aloud book of the year. I would have been content to leave it at that, and have the kids find the rest of the series on their own. Instead she wanted me to continue reading aloud PC, which I did. It makes for a much duller read aloud. That long slog through the forest when nothing much happens, etc. It was surprisingly excrutiating. I am also believer in the original order. I also have a soft spot in my heart for Silver Chair. I didnt realize till reading your book, Laura, that I had somehow assumed that the White Witch and the Lady of the Green Kirtle were one and the same person. When you mention the two characters, as distinctly two people, I was jarred. Funny, I hadn't realized it till then.
David Albert (aslan) Sat 21 Feb 09 20:59
I thought of the White Witch and the Lady of the Green Kirtle as cousins. What about the BBC/Wonderworks teleplays of the Narnia books? Anyone else see those? I thought they were remarkably faithful to the original books, but it has been about 15 years since I last saw them so I could be misremembering.
Daniel (dfowlkes) Sun 22 Feb 09 10:42
<scribbled by dfowlkes Tue 3 Jul 12 10:14>
Laura Miller (lauram) Sun 22 Feb 09 19:17
At the end of The Silver Chair, a dwarf says that the Green Witch was "one of the same kind" as the White one. That doesn't actually jibe with Jadis' back story in Magician's Nephew, but the Chronicles have LOTS of continuity problems of that kind. Lewis kept saying he'd go back and clean them up for a definitive edition but, predictably, never around to it. So your impression that they're related is not unfounded, Julie.
David Albert (aslan) Mon 23 Feb 09 07:03
Although "one of the same kind" can mean a lot of different things. I don't see it as inconsistent. Nobody else saw the Wonderworks Narnia series? They should re-release it. It was low on special effects but long on charm.
Gail Williams (gail) Mon 23 Feb 09 11:22
Never heard of it, say more! (By the way, I also loved Arthur Ransome's "Swallows and Amazons" with the parent-free world. A lot of English kids books feature children with sweeping freedom from parents and teachers, now that I think about it. "Five Children and It" was another favorite that I seem to remember as being all about the kids and their odd mythical pal. That's part of what makes such books so compelling.
David Albert (aslan) Mon 23 Feb 09 15:54
Yes, and is one of the things Laura mentions explicitly in the book. Laura, late in the book you make a distinction that I'd never heard before between novels and romances, with a romance defined, if I understood it, as more of a "quest" or "journey" while a novel is -- something else. Furthermore you indicate that magic always goes along with romances, not with novels. Does that dichotomy always hold up? Just thinking of Five Children and It, here, as one example: how is that a romance rather than a novel? Or is it something else entirely? It certainly has magic in it!
Gail Williams (gail) Mon 23 Feb 09 23:12
(a quick aside -- after posting and then getting back to the book, I discovered for the second time that a comment I thought of was mentioned by Laura a few pages later. This is uncanny. Mentioning "Five Children and It" here from my memory, not having thought of that book in years, then seeing that Laura mentioned it a few pages later from where I'd read was the most startling. I am going to shut up and finish the book next.)
David Albert (aslan) Tue 24 Feb 09 04:58
Yes, that was definitely the most uncanny part of reading this book. I would normally think that a book could have many different possible logical orderings or progressions of thought, but maybe in this case there is one that is more clearly the "correct" progression (for those of us who read the same books and share the same memories of reading) and thus each thought leads us logically to the next one.
Laura Miller (lauram) Tue 24 Feb 09 08:11
David, I structured the book according to the flow of my own associations, and it may be that other people's minds run in similar channels. I know it may seem meandering (some have said as much!), but to me the order by which subjects are introduced seems only natural. I guess I was more right than I realized! Gail, Nesbit was a major influence on the Narnia books, so it's not actually that startling that you'd be reminded of her and I'd bring it up. My website features a few passages that were cut from the final manuscript, including one on Nesbit that you might find interesting.
Laura Miller (lauram) Tue 24 Feb 09 08:25
As for the romance/novel distinction, it is a reasonably flexible one. The romance is an earlier genre, dating back to the Middle Ages. It comes in several variations. Sometimes it is a story of courtship (hence its connection to the contemporary genre fiction), often it is also a tale of adventure. The stories associated with King Arthur are probably the best-known romances. Romances were often, but not always, written in verse. Nowadays, we tend to think of any long narrative as a "novel," and this isn't technically untrue. However, the novel in its quintessential form tends to be realistic, written in prose. A classic novel: Pride and Prejudice: also about courtship, but written as a realistic depiction of early 19C life and manners. The novel has a somewhat complicated relationship toward realism, however. You could also say that Austen's novels *aren't* that realistic in their happy endings, etc. Some novelists, like Woolf and Joyce, aimed for an even more realistic depiction of consciousness. Others -- Garcia Marquez, for example -- incorporated magical events into an otherwise novelistic narrative. The more classical approach to the novel, as articulated by the critic James Wood, say, is that it should strive toward realism or the impression of realism. Literary genres evolve over time, with a lot of hybrids scattering throughout. When Tolkien wrote LOTR, he was consciously trying to write a "prose romance" (after the now-obscure works of WIlliam Morris) and vehemently denied that the books were novels at all. I think he and Lewis perceived that readers/audiences have a need for some of the things that romance offers, even if literary people viewed the genre as obsolete. A lot of what science fiction, fantasy and comic books do is essentially romance: marvelous adventures, magical objects, quasi-allegorical motifs, quests. Romance adapts more easily than the novel because it's not as dependent on a specific form, I would say, but I think that could be debated.
Laura Miller (lauram) Tue 24 Feb 09 08:42
Anyway, this point, while it might seem very "Inside Baseball: Lit Crit Division," is really helpful in pointing out how a book like LOTR fits into a culture. LOTR is not a good novel, to judge by the conventions of the novel. The dialog is stilted, the characters don't have much psychological shading or depth, the social world depicted is preposterous. To people for whom the novel is the only and ultimate standard of literary worth, it's bad. Sometimes Tolkien buffs try to argue that LOTR does, in fact, offer those qualities, but they in turn often have a pretty weak grasp of the characteristics of the novel and they don't convince anyone but themselves. On the other hand, if you approach LOTR as a romance rather than a novel, those objections fall away. No one complains that, say, the characters in The Faerie Queene are insufficiently three-dimensional, for example. No one complains about the mythological elements in The Odyssey being silly. It's a different kind of story. The weakness lies in a reader unable to adapt to or accommodate different kinds of stories. And, incidentally, a Tolkien buff who can't appreciate, say, Alice Munro, is just as lacking. I don't like to get into those turf battles where the genre readers sneer at the literary books and vice versa. I like both kinds of books.
Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Tue 24 Feb 09 09:09
Re Order: It took me forever to find a set in the "right" order to give to my kid. I think I had to order an older edition from a used bookseller. To me the stories make no dramatic sense if read in outside-world order. The Magician's Nephew is all about filling in backstory.
. (wickett) Wed 25 Feb 09 02:17
Both Nesbit and Lewis wrote as if adults did not exist, except as convenient hook on which to hang the story, and, therefore, the children were free to adventure and improve. Blotting out adults is a wonderful device for building both autonomy and imagination.
David Albert (aslan) Wed 25 Feb 09 03:53
And it is from them, primarily, that I built my ideal of childhood life. Would that would could still give our kids a hamper of food at 8:00 AM and send them off adventuring until bedtime, secure in the knowledge that the worst that could happen to them is that they might accept a stupid wish from a psammead or spend 30 years as kings and queens in an alternate universe.
. (wickett) Wed 25 Feb 09 04:44
That *was* my childhood! I spent much of it curled up in the embrace of an oak tree, reading.
Gail Williams (gail) Wed 25 Feb 09 14:53
Me too. In the coastal live oak forest of a seemingly kinder California.
. (wickett) Wed 25 Feb 09 15:50
Much kinder and more civilized, Gail. I was in Santa Cruz Mountains.
Daniel (dfowlkes) Thu 26 Feb 09 03:51
<scribbled by dfowlkes Tue 3 Jul 12 10:14>
Laura Miller (lauram) Thu 26 Feb 09 05:44
I'd be leery of that interpretation, Dan, as you could find few more enthusiastic meat-eaters than Lewis and his cronies.
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