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  • Jeff Somers 10:00 pm on 2016/12/30 Permalink
    Tags: c.s. lewis, , , ,   

    9 Things You Never Knew about The Chronicles of Narnia 

    If you’ve been alive and more or less aware over the last 60-odd years, you are no doubt familiar with C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. The seven-book series ranks collectively among the most-beloved novels of all time (they’re certainly among the bestselling). In fact, the Narnia books are so embedded in pop culture, you may think you know everything there is to know about them—but even after all these years, and all the film and TV adaptations, these nine facts about the series may still surprise you.

    Lewis came up with the idea when he was 16
    Lewis published The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in 1950, when he was 52 year old, but the original inspiration for the story came when he was just 16: an image of a faun carrying parcels through the snow. He said that after carrying that vision with him for more than 20 years, he sat down one day to try write a story around it—a story it took him him 10 more years to finish.

    Lewis burned an early version
    Lewis began work on the first book in 1939, and produced a draft in which the children were named Ann, Martin, Rose, and Peter. When he showed the story to his friends and colleagues, however, the reaction was consistently negative, so he burned the manuscript and started over. He later stated that the missing ingredient was Aslan: as soon as he added the heroic and not-at-all tame lion to the story, everything fell into place.

    Turkish Delight is…an acquired taste
    ]In the first book, when the White Witch Jadis is tempting Edmund, he asks for—and receives, to his greedy delight—a bowl of Turkish Delight. Which means that every year, a fresh crop of children start scheming to get their hands on this obvious delicacy. The truth is, real Turkish Delight is a traditional treat with the consistency of a marshmallow and the taste…well, a taste that is tough to describe. But unless you’re eating one of the watered-down versions drowned in milk chocolate, there is a really good chance you won’t enjoy it.

    People still argue about the correct order
    Lewis was honest about not having planned out the series; he expected to write one book, then wrote a sequel and thought that would be the end of it, and so on. As a result, he stated explicitly that he had no preference for a reading order. The publisher started claiming that Lewis had a “preferred order” that began with The Magician’s Nephew, the sixth book to be published. People still get into internet fights over the subject.

    Susan is the most controversial character in the series
    Susan Pevensie, the Gentle Queen, only appears in the first two books. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, she’s said to be in America with the Pevensie parents, on a trip. By the time of The Last Battle, when Narnia is destroyed and the Pevensies (and just about everyone else ever connected with Narnia) are transported from the scene of an accident to live forever with Aslan, Susan is specifically left out, because (basically) she’s grown up and left her childhood fantasies behind. Or, if you believe author Philip Pullman and J.K. Rowling, she’s excluded because she’s discovered the joys of sex, which Lewis disapproved of. Susan, in fact, remains the one character that can get Narnia fans into an all-out brawl—is she the victim of Lewis’ hateful misogyny, a silly girl who lost immortality, or can we imagine she would someday be recalled to Narnia?

    Many of the characters are based on real people
    Lewis borrowed most of Narnia from other works, legends, and his own religious background. He also borrowed people. The Pevensie children were based on actual children who came to live with Lewis during the Blitz in World War II; Puddleglum the Marsh-Wiggle was based on Lewis’ gardener, Fred Paxford; and Lewis himself can be seen as the basis for Professor Digory Kirke.

    They’re still making movies
    Three major films based on the books were released between 2005 and 2010, but production stalled on a fourth due to declining ticket sales. For a while, it was assumed that either no more movies would be made, or the whole series would be rebooted. However, a fourth film, The Silver Chair is planned for a 2018 release, with an all-new production team and cast.

    It isn’t really a Christian allegory
    If you know nothing else about the Narnia books, you know that Lewis wrote them as Christian allegory, and you’re either okay with that, or horrified by it. But the fact is, the books aren’t an allegory at all—they’re a thought experiment. While there are definitely Christian references and themes in there, Lewis simply asked himself: suppose there was a world like Narnia—how would God save it as he saved this one?

    Who ever heard of a witch that really died?
    At the end of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, the White Witch—Queen Jadis—is defeated and killed. We meet her again, of course, in The Magician’s Nephew, where her origins in Narnia are revealed. But a lot of people think we also see her in The Silver Chair, as the Lady of the Green Kirtle, who has enslaved Prince Rilian of Narnia. The descriptions of the two women are very close, and as Nikabrik states in Prince Caspian, “who ever heard of a witch that really died?”

    The post 9 Things You Never Knew about The Chronicles of Narnia appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 8:30 pm on 2016/08/09 Permalink
    Tags: c.s. lewis, , , ,   

    The Sad, Strange Histories of Some of the Most Famous Kids in Literature 

    One thing that seems to unite all of us is an instinctual urge to protect children. Aside from our emotional reaction to the helpless, the small, and the innocent, children are also quite literally the future, so it makes sense whether or not you ascribe a moral quotient to the phenomenon. Which makes it interesting to note just how often tragedy involving children inspires delightful, happy-go-lucky literature. The following six examples include some of the most famous children characters in literature, yet they all have some very dark origin stories.

    Christopher Robin from Winnie-the-Pooh, by A.A. Milne
    Christopher Robin Milne is among the most literal inspirations for a character ever noted: the title character’s name, the premise, and indeed all of the characters in A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh stories were inspired by his son and his collection of stuffed animals. The real Christopher Robin was initially happy to pitch in, offering up suggestions for new adventures, but relentless bullying at school soured the kid on the whole enterprise (although, if you check out a photo of the young Christopher, his haircut almost certainly had something to do with the teasing). He even took up boxing in order to shut down some of his worst tormentors. Unsurprisingly, for decades the real Christopher Robin despised the fictional one and only came to embrace the character he inspired much later in life.

    John and Michael Darling from Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie
    Barrie’s Peter Pan is one of the most famous characters of all time—and in the original novel is famously savage, as Barrie’s whole point was that children are innocent, which means they’re innocent of everything, including a sense of right and wrong. Barrie’s creative process was almost certainly inspired by the death of his older brother David at age 14; Barrie’s mother never got over the shock and it profoundly (and negatively) affected his home life. John and Michael Darling (and the Lost Boys) were likely inspired by the five Llewelyn Davies brothers, the oldest of whom Barrie befriended when he met them in Kensington Gardens when they were boys. Their mother, upon learning that an adult man was regularly meeting with her children in secret, was, surprisingly, delighted, and became fast friends with Barrie as well. Both George and Michael are often cited as inspirations for Peter Pan himself, which makes their deaths at age 21, six years apart, all the more creepy,since he is, after all, a boy who never grows up.

    Alice from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
    Everyone knows Alice was inspired by a real-life Alice Liddell. Carroll met the Liddells when Alice was just three years old, and initially befriended her brothers before turning his attention to Alice and her sister, eventually being inspired to spin the story of Alice in Wonderland in order to entertain the girls. What makes this potentially dark and twisty is the way the Liddell’s suddenly and mysteriously cut Carroll out in 1863, when Alice was 11 years old; Carroll’s diary has missing pages from that period, and he stopped visiting the Liddells for six months. While they did resume a relationship, it was never the same. There are plenty of dark theories as to exactly what caused this rift, but no one directly involved ever spoke of it, and it remains a mystery.

    Ron Weasley from Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling
    Perhaps not the darkest inspiration ever known, but J.K. Rowling has admitted that Ron Weasley is based on a real-life friend named Sean Harris who helped her through some low times. First, Harris was a beacon of hope and freedom during Rowling’s teenage years, because he owned a Ford Anglia (which fans will recognize as the Weasley’s car) and spirited her away from her stultifying home life. Later, Harris loaned her money for a better apartment during Rowling’s a time when she was in therapy, on public assistance, and struggling to write the first Potter book. No wonder she dedicated the second book to “Sean P.F. Harris, getaway driver and foulweather friend.”

    Dorothy Gale from The Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum
    Dorothy, the girl caught up in a tornado with her dog Toto and whisked off the magical land of Oz, also has a surprisingly tragic origin story. She’s very likely based on Baum’s own niece, Dorothy Louise Gage, who died when she was just five months old. Baum and his wife were very upset by her passing, and Baum may have chosen the name Dorothy for his character as a memorial of sorts, and as a way to comfort his wife by making the young Dorothy immortal in a sense. This also adds an element of spookiness to the way Dorothy is literally taken from her family in the book; from their point of view, there was a storm and Dorothy was nowhere to be found, leaving the obvious conclusion that she died—and making her adventures a comforting fiction for the grieving family.

    The Pevensie Kids from The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis
    There’s was certainly something in the water between the mid-1800s and the mid-1900s that caused a lot of classic literature to be inspired by the misery of children. Lewis’ classic children’s books are often remembered for Aslan the untame lion, the talking animals, and the land of Narnia, where it is always Winter but never Christmas. What some forget is that the Pevensie children originally stumble onto Narnia because they have been evacuated from London to the country due to the air raids Germany was raining down on the city at the beginning of World War II—something that actually happened to three young girls named Margaret, Mary, and Katherine, sent to live in Lewis’ home, The Kilns. Lewis gained an appreciation for children he’d lacked before, and their presence inspired him to return to an old idea he’d been carrying around since his own childhood, which resulted in everyone’s favorite fantasy series. Just keep in mind the series was initially inspired by frightened children who were evacuated from a war zone into a stranger’s house. You’d go hide in a wardrobe, too.

  • Jeff Somers 7:10 pm on 2016/05/26 Permalink
    Tags: anne mccaffrey, , c.s. lewis, g.k. chesterton, ,   

    6 Writers Who Based Fictional Characters on Other Authors 

    Writers live and die on the strength of their imaginations, but it isn’t too surprising to discover they often crib a few details—or, occasionally, entire people—from real life. It’s actually kind of easy to come up with a list of books in which the author inserted themselves into a story, and even easier to come up with a list of books where famous writers are characters, playing themselves. A little more difficult to track down are moments where a writer bases a totally-fictional character on another writer, because it’s usually a bit more subtle. But it does happen, more often than you might think, as in these six novels.

    J.R.R. Tolkien in Out of the Silent Planet, by C.S. Lewis
    Lewis and Tolkien are perhaps the most famous literary superfriends in history, so it’s not surprising they influenced each other’s writing. The founders of The Inklings had a deep admiration for each other, and deeply influenced one another’s work. In Lewis’ sci-fi novel, the character of Dr. Elwin Ransom, professor of philology at the University of Cambridge, is clearly modeled on Tolkien himself, which is only fair, since the novel sprouted from a conversation between the two concerning their dim opinion of modern literary fiction, and their conclusion that Lewis would write a space story, and Tolkien, a time-travel story. Tolkien never finished his (a little book called The Lord of the Rings took up much of his time), but Lewis’ offering is this gem of early sci-fi, with his good friend embedded in the plot as an inside joke.

    Truman Capote in To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
    You can argue whether Lee saw herself in Scout or in Boo Radley (or both), but one thing is clear: the inspiration for Dill Harris—and his friendship with Scout—was none other than Lee’s great friend Truman Capote. Lee and Capote were childhood pals just like Dill and Scout; both spent their days making up games and stories when Capote lived next door to Lee, just as Dill lives next to Scout. Considering how interesting Capote turned out to be as an adult, you can’t help but look back at the sub-standard kids you grew up with and heave a sigh of retroactive disappointment.

    Travis Taylor in the Into the Looking Glass, by John Ringo
    Dr. William Weaver, the “High-Tech Redneck,” is a key character in Ringo’s Looking Glass sci-fi series, and was based on the very real high-tech redneck Dr. Travis Taylor, a celebrated aerospace engineer and sci-fi author—and also Ringo’s co-author on the sequels in the series. (Ringo apparently decided to cut out the middle man and simply let Taylor write the books with him instead of merely consulting.) The combination of Ringo’s military cred and talent for thrilling, tense storytelling and Taylor’s hard science and sci-fi background has been incredibly successful in both this series and others, although it’s got to be strange writing about a character based on yourself when you didn’t invent that character in the first place.

    G.K. Chesterton in The Gideon Fell Mysteries, by John Dickson Carr
    Gideon Fell is one of the greatest literary detectives of all time—many people hold the 1935 novel The Hollow Man (published in the U.S. as The Three Coffins) as one of the greatest “locked-room” mysteries ever composed, and Fell’s monologue on locked rooms in that book is still referred to and quoted today. Fell himself, a fat man resembling Santa Claus who walks with effort using two canes, was based on G.K. Chesterton, a prolific author and philosopher and creator of the Father Brown mysteries. Considering that Fell continuously frustrates the police who call him in for assistance by refusing to offer any help until he’s certain of a solution, it’s not necessarily the most flattering portrayal ever set to paper.

    Anne McCaffrey in A Wizard Abroad, by Diane Duane
    Diane Duane’s wonderful Young Wizards series focuses on the titular youthful wizards Nita and Kit, who struggle against the Lone power that seeks to destroy the universe as a whole, as well as other magical adventures, like settling land disputes between groves of trees. In this fourth novel, Nita’s parents aren’t huge fans of her escapades, so they send her to Ireland, where they hope she’ll be separated from magic and away from the influence of wizards. This doesn’t work out too well, but it does allow the reader to meet Aunt Annie Callahan, a wizard running a stables in Ireland, who is basically Anne McCaffrey in literary form—so much so that if you’ve ever wondered what McCaffrey might be like in real life, you can simply read this book.

    Chester Anderson, Michael Kurland, and T.A. Waters in The Greenwich Village Trilogy, by Chester Anderson, Michael Kurland, and T.A. Waters
    In one of the stranger cases of authors modeling characters on other authors, we have The Greenwich Village trilogy, beginning with Anderson’s weird and wonderfully dated The Butterfly Kid, which may be the most late-1960s sci-fi novel ever written (it was nominated for a Hugo Award). It features Anderson himself as a character, as well as his then-roommate Michael Kurland—who wrote the sequel a year later, called The Unicorn Girl, featuring a character named T.A. Waters. T.A. Waters subsequently wrote the third novel in the series, The Probability Pad. Taken together, the trilogy can be described as “hippie SF,” featuring drugs that allow you to actually alter reality.


  • Jenny Shank 6:30 pm on 2015/08/04 Permalink
    Tags: c.s. lewis, have books will travel, kate dicamillo, , , , , the wonderful wizard of oz   

    5 Books to Read While You’re Traveling With Kids 

    What’s better than vacation? Reading while on vacation. But if you’re traveling with a carload of kids, you might not get much time to sink into an adult novel of your own, what with all the Cheetos flying from the back, little feet incessantly kicking your seat, and sibling squabbles that unfold in spite of the ice cooler you’ve lodged between them. Tame the kids and amuse yourself by reading one of these great children’s books about journeys while traveling.

    Sisters, by Raina Telgemeier
    After my nine-year-old daughter, Maya, read Raina Telgemeier’s debut graphic novel, Smile, based on the time the author knocked out her two front teeth in sixth grade, she immediately devoured the rest of the books in the series. Sisters, the second book, is perfect for a road trip, telling the tale of the family trip Telgemeier took from San Francisco to Colorado Springs when she was 14, an eventful journey that included plenty of bickering among the sisters and the escape of Raina’s pet snake, Mango, in the car. Maya said she loved this one because “it’s very realistic—the children are always fighting.”

    On the Shores of Silver Lake, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
    A number of the Little House books are perfect for a road trip, including Little House on the Prairie, in which the Ingalls family travels by covered wagon from Wisconsin to Kansas, and On the Banks of Plum Creek, in which the family moves from Kansas back to Wisconsin and then on to Minnesota. But the book I like best for a road trip is On the Shores of Silver Lake, which starts with the devastating news that Laura’s older sister Mary has been blinded by scarlet fever. Before the Ingalls travel west on a train, Pa instructs Laura to be Mary’s eyes, and this is how the future author mastered the art of careful description. She tells Mary, “Outside the big windows, on both sides, the country is going by. The stubble fields are yellow, and haystacks are by the barns, and little trees are yellow and red in clumps around the houses.” If the kids get really bored as you drive, ask them to describe what they see out the car window to you as if you were Mary.

    The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate DiCamillo
    In The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Kate DiCamillo writes, “If you have no intention of loving or being loved, then the whole journey is pointless.” Edward Tulane is a china rabbit given to a 10-year-old girl in the 1930s. When she goes on a voyage on the Queen Mary, the rabbit is lost in the ocean. Eventually he’s found, and travels far and wide as he’s passed from person to person, touching many lives along the way. Says Maya, “My favorite thing about it was that all his new owners loved him, and all of them lost him.”

     The Horse and His Boy, by C.S. Lewis
    Summer vacation is the perfect time to dive into a classic series, and perhaps the best Narnia book for a road trip is The Horse and His Boy. C.S. Lewis tells the story of a boy named Shasta, raised as a slave by an old man in Calormen, a territory south of Narnia. When Shasta learns he’s to be sold to a cruel master, a talking horse from Narnia, Bree, convinces him to flee with him north to the country where they belong. Along the way they meet up with Aravis, a Calormene girl fleeing an arranged marriage, and her talking Narnian horse, Hwin. The four have plenty of adventures, and even run into everybody’s favorite lion, Aslan, as they make their desperate journey to Narnia and freedom. Maya said, “I like how Shasta meets Aslan, and learns he can become different things.”

    The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum
    If Kerouac’s On The Road is the classic American road trip novel for adults, then The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is its equivalent for kids. Who needs Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty when you’ve got the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and Dorothy? “I like how the Tin Man was just so happy all the time,” Maya said. Perfect, kid, go with that thought on hour 10 of our drive to Yellowstone.

  • Jeff Somers 3:30 pm on 2015/07/09 Permalink
    Tags: , , c.s. lewis, , , , the fellowship, , the inklings,   

    4 Ways The Fellowship Shows Us Middle Earth and Narnia Are Two Sides of the Same Coin 

    For a reader only casually aware of “fantasy” works, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings might be lumped together as “Fantasy.” For those who are familiar with the books, however, they’re often placed on opposite sides of the fantasy spectrum, with Lewis’s books regarded as lightweight, overtly allegorical children’s books, and Tolkien’s epic viewed as ponderous and weighty, what with its constructed languages and deep field mythology.

    But if you read excellent new book The Fellowship, which explores the relationships between Tolkien, Lewis, and other writers as part of their informal group The Inklings, which met near the University of Oxford from the early 1930s until the late 1940s, you’ll understand Tolkien and Lewis had an immense influence on each other—and thus on each other’s creations. Once you understand the relationship between these two writers, it’s easy to see Narnia and Middle Earth are fundamentally linked. Here are five ways The Fellowship shows us Narnia and Middle Earth are cut from the same cloth.

    Both are Christian works
    The latent Christian themes and symbolism in the Narnia books has been discussed many times. Lewis came to his faith with difficulty; raised Protestant in Belfast, he was a troubled atheist when he met the Catholic Tolkien in the mid-1920s. Tolkien himself was instrumental in bringing Lewis back to Christianity, and he also influenced Lewis’ conception of allegory and symbolism. Like the Narnia books, The Lord of the Rings can be viewed as essentially Christian in its philosophy: from the long-awaited return of the King (the second coming) to Saruman’s fall that is essentially Lucifer’s failed rebellion, to Aslan as a Christ figure, both men imbued their most famous works with distinct—if obscured—Christian themes and symbols.

    Both draw on existing mythologies
    Lewis and Tolkien developed a deep friendship over the years, bonding over a shared love of old myths and a refutation of modernity—both preferred to read ancient works and both disdained many of the trappings of the modern world. Both the Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings take many of their elements from the ancient myths our culture is based on—often the same myths, leaving us with two magic horns that summon help, two sets of living trees that march as an army to defeat evil, and even two similar creation stories, as both worlds are sung into existence from a void.

    Both underscore the fragility of evil
    In both works, descriptions of evil are only superficially impressive and frightening. Sauron and the Ringwraiths, the White Witch or the god Tash are all initially creatures to be feared, but are eventually shown to be little more than our own frailties and weaknesses. Sauron’s power depends entirely on man’s vanity and quest for importance. Lewis’ ultimate evil—the evil that brings about the end of the world—is a talking ape dressed in a lion skin. Lewis and Tolkien were each other’s primary audience before they found publication, bouncing first drafts and ideas off of each other (and the other members of the Inklings), and their shared view of human nature is clear.

    The heroes are the small and the weak
    The Inklings was as much a social group of friends as it was a writing group, and they knew each other intimately—and did not always agree. Arguments and bitter disagreements weren’t uncommon, but both Tolkien and Lewis shared a fundamental belief that even the small and “unimportant” could have a positive and possibly transformative effect on the world. In both stories, it’s the weakest who triumph over the powerful: in Narnia, mice and children save the day. In Middle Earth, Hobbits make for the most unlikely heroes.

    The Inklings was one of the most erudite and talented groups of friends to ever gather in a local pub to drink, smoke, and discuss writing, religion, and everything else. We would not have the stories of Middle Earth or Narnia without this group—at least not in their final versions—and The Fellowship offers a deeply researched and detailed account of this most extraordinary gathering. When viewed through the lens of the most famous works produced by its members, we can glimpse the brilliance that gathered in Oxford nearly 80 years ago.

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