While waiting for a train, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy are sucked back into a much-changed Narnia to help the rightful Prince Caspian regain his throne. I’ve realized that for me the most lukewarm sections of the Narnia books are the battles, which Lewis relates either through dialogue, summary, or another distancing mechanism. With World War II a recent memory in 1951, these battles are clearly important to Lewis, but fail to capture the modern imagination. A shame, since the rest of this is quite immersive, with the Christian symbolism once again revealed in a more controlled manner.
A boy raised in the Calormen desert south of Narnia meets a talking horse and flees a life of slavery on a journey north. Lewis’s Christian symbolism grows even more painfully obvious here, espousing an outdated fable of a heathen from the backward Pagan lands (Calormen) embracing Jesus (Aslan) as he works to get to heaven (Narnia). This feels more egregious when you consider Lewis’s treatment of Calormen with a Middle Eastern theme, though his protagonist’s skin is “fair and white” like the “beautiful barbarians of the north.” Combine this with an unimaginative plot and the result is….not worthwhile.
After finishing The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe I decided to give the rest of the series a try—plus I found a cheap set of the other Narnia books at Salvation Army. The Magician’s Nephew is Lewis’s prequel, with a Genesis-type story that tells how Narnia came to be, with more than a few Biblical allusions. Though the first half is genuinely solid children’s lit (magic rings, a lost world, childhood observations, etc.), the creation scenes go on for far too long. Still, it’s worth reading for the London sections and the introduction of the White Witch.
An aging butler in 1950s Britain goes on a road trip and reflects on the glory days of the British aristocracy that turn out to be not so glorious. This novel works so incredibly because of its narrator, who speaks in a voice that’s both dignified and easy to read, reeking of unreliability and dry humor as he encounters the common folk. Greater stakes, however, lie in its backstory of what democracy really means and how an entire working class could trade their independence for service to the upper classes—who are prone to more than a few shortcomings.
Anne Sterling’s memoir/biography of her father, Twilight Zone host, creator, and writer Rod Sterling, does twofold duty: on the one hand, Anne shows her father the writer, social activist, and continual innovator, while on the other she shows his decidedly human, funny, fatherly side through anecdotes and the many jokes they shared. While I found myself most interested in Sterling’s early struggles to earn money for his writing and wrest creative control from the TV censors (and wish there was more to this section), Anne’s difficulties after her father’s untimely death also form a solid, more personal story arc.
Do children’s classics still hold up when read by adults? I never read the Narnia books when I was younger, but I did read The Screwtape Letters a few years ago and liked its sinister plot and epistolary storytelling. Similarly, this book’s heavy Christian undertones fall just short of eye-rolling at times, though the themes of temptation, redemption, and righteousness enhance the plot so effectively that without them the book would have been forgotten as just another kid’s adventure. A final plus is that the fantasy world feels real enough to immerse readers but not enough to overwhelm them.
DePietro’s collection covers forty years of interviews with British novelist and man of letters Kingsley Amis, who has a lot to say on the writing process, British politics, and the working-class hero in post-WWII fiction as he moves from card-carrying Communist party member to hardcore Thatcher supporter over the course of forty years. The collection also serves as a useful, expedited autobiography of Amis’s life (with his philandering only alluded to), but can be repetitive since Amis retells the same anecdotes over and over—how many times can we hear him deny being one of the Angry Young Men?
Where I Got It
Bought online a few weeks ago as part of research for the new novel.
1975 Interview with Amis for the Paris Review
Or, check out Amis’s first and most famous novel Lucky Jim instead
I like books where writers talk insightfully about writing, and I also like books about young people finding their way—Sylvia Plath’s journals have both. She worries about the same things writers today do: getting published, getting rejected, making money as a writer, never recapturing her earlier success, and whether teaching is killing her creative drive, though she also worries a lot about dating and relationships (including whether 1950s gender roles will smother her creativity). The only problem is that finding these insights requires sifting through 500+ pages of journals and a lengthy Appendix. I recommend judicial skimming.
Where I Got It
Found in my office in grad school, left by previous inhabitant.
Sylvia Plath on Wikipedia
List of Quotes (for the skimmers)
Interview with Karen V. Kukil