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  • Jeff Somers 3:30 pm on 2015/07/09 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , the fellowship, the hobbit, the inklings,   

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

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    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.

    Shop more biography >
  • Joel Cunningham 5:00 pm on 2014/08/22 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , the hobbit, , the magician king, , the magician's trilogy,   

    The Magicians Trilogy Will Redefine Your Relationship with Fantasy 

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    The Magicians

    Like a lot of kids, there were times in my childhood where I was convinced some grand mistake had been made, and I had been plopped down with the wrong parents, in the wrong world, and that someday, someone far more important and interesting would come along and claim me, so my real adventures could begin. It’s a longing that fuels so much of children’s literature, from Narnia to Oz: that something more exciting is happening just over the rainbow, and you, the chosen child, will be the one to discover it. There’s even a name for it: portal fantasy, the dream that another world exists just beyond the confines of our own, and that great discoveries await us there.

    Lev Grossman was definitely that child. The fiction book critic for Time, he has devoted his life to exploring invented worlds, and fantasy has been his passion since his childhood, which was filled with the works of Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Ursula K. LeGuin. But the older he got, the more he couldn’t help but notice that he never did discover that promised door into another world. The back of his wardrobe (a closet, really) remained unfailingly solid and impenetrable. And so he channeled that disappointment into a most unusual fantasy trilogy, a series of books  (including The Magicians, The Magician King, and the newly released The Magician’s Land) in which the characters do get to visit a world of wonder and magic, only to discover they can never quite shake off the weight of the mundane lives they’ve left behind.

    The first book’s initial buzz was built on the back of its apparent existence as a reaction to the allure of the Harry Potter franchise. Grossman’s proxy is Quentin Coldwater, a spoiled, somewhat insufferable rich kid living in New York City. Like Harry, Quentin has spent his whole life dreaming of being whisked away from his unsatisfying life into a world of fantastical magic, preferably to the land of Fillory, a quasi-Narnian realm full of legendary weapons, questing beasts, and talking bunnies that he grew up reading about in a series of popular (though sadly for us, fictional) books. His real life has fallen so short of the one he feels he deserves, in fact, that he hardly seems surprised when, on the eve of his high school graduation, he is recruited (via the mysterious delivery of a hitherto unknown sixth Fillory book) to take the rigorous entrance exam to attend Brakebills, the Upstate New York version of Hogwarts. Finally, he thinks, I will get what I deserve.

    Real life does have a way of falling short of fantasy, however. Quentin quickly discovers that attending a school for magicians is filled with as much tedium as the days he spent in prep school with stuck-up rich kids. Contrary to popular belief, magic isn’t all waving wands and shouting funny words; it’s difficult, and tricky, and intricate, and kind of dull. You’ve probably dreamed of soaring across the Quidditch pitch on a Nimbus 2000, but no one will ever dream of playing Welters, the Brakebills version of a magical sport, which is basically a very slow-paced game of 3-D chess, except not as action-packed. The quirky house competitions of the Potter series are replaced by hormone-fueled backbiting between social cliques; it’s Hogwarts meets The Secret History.

    Later on (and here there be spoilers, though I won’t give too much away), Quentin and a few of his Brakebills graduates even figure out a way to travel to Fillory itself. And though Fillory is admittedly pretty great (there’s a gleaming castle that rotates on dwarven gears! A grove of clock trees! All the talking animals you could ever want!), it’s also a far grimmer spot than described in the books, and the Fillorian analogues for the Pevensie children of Narnia didn’t get away clean, either (life makes monsters of us all).

    This could all be viewed as deeply cynical. Quentin gets what every kid dreams of, finds out that even casting spells gets pretty boring after a while, and proceeds to Holden Caulfield himself through an experience many would kill for. But like any good fantasy, this trilogy is also about the journey, and Quentin does a lot of growing up over the course of three books. The series only gets better as it goes, as Grossman gets a better handle on his characters and figures out how to fit the Important Points he is making into a highly addictive plot. The Magician King is more ambitious than book one by half, bringing in a new point-of-view character, Julia, one of Quentin’s prep school classmates who didn’t make the cut at Brakebills and had to discover magic the hard (often brutal) way. Julia both embodies and subverts genre tropes, and her deeply troubling, risky storyline reveals Grossman’s commitment to follow his thesis—that we are, ultimately, the sum of the choices we make—to its logical conclusion. By the end of The Magician’s Land, Quentin and his fellow Kings and Queens of Fillory have changed the world, but not without being profoundly changed (and damaged) themselves, and that maturation is something we all must face eventually, even if it usually doesn’t involve a ride on a hippogriff or a standoff with a giant talking turtle.

    In the end, any accusations of cynicism seem unfounded. Grossman’s intent goes far beyond letting the air out of our collective modern myths. This isn’t a story about how life is terrible here, there and back again, but how sometimes the answer isn’t finding an escape from your problems, but growing up and figuring out how to deal. And while it takes Quentin most of three books to do that, it took me a lot longer than three books to figure myself out. In fact, I’m pretty sure George R.R. Martin will finish his story before I’ve got a handle on mine.

    Have you read The Magicians Trilogy?

  • Joel Cunningham 4:00 pm on 2014/07/11 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , In The News, kickstarter, , , , , the hobbit   

    Kickstart This: 8 Crowd-Funding Projects By Fictional Characters 

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    Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy

    This week, it was once again demonstrated that irony is not lost on the internet, when more than 5,000 people donated more than $45,000 to a Kickstarter campaign for potato salad. A single serving of potato salad. (“Risks and Challenges: It might not be that good. It’s my first potato salad.”)

    To this I say, OK, internet. You’ve had your fun. But there are much better ways to allocate your money. Like, say, to one of the 8 completely fictional Kickstarters below, created by your favorite completely fictional characters. Make it happen, people.

    Unbreakable, Unpickable Locks for Your Private Notebook
    Project by: Harriet M. Welsch
    The Pitch: “Do you believe your private thoughts should be kept private? Do you want to ensure no one can read your secret journal, even if you happen to lose it during an unexpectedly boisterous game of tag? Help me develop my new line of unbreakable book locks, and ensure you’re the only one doing the spying.”
    Backer Reward: Backers at the “Secret Agent in Training” level will receive an exclusive, personalized spying report on the subject of their choosing. Airfare not included. (Note: All rewards at this level have been claimed by backer H. Humbert)

    Luxury Business Cards Sourced from Unsustainable Ancient Redwoods
    Project by: Patrick Bateman
    The Pitch: ”You can tell a lot about a man by his business cards. The details speak volumes: elegant off-white coloring, tasteful weight and thickness, the subtle watermark. But nothing will express your total dominance and superiority like my line of luxury business cards, sourced only from the finest old-growth redwoods of California. Because nothing shows your control over the world like your ability to destroy an irreplaceable part of it.”
    Backer Reward: Backers at the “Investment Banker” level will receive a specially curated mix tape of the very best of Huey Lewis and the News.

    The Big Book of Unsolvable Riddles
    Project by: Sméagol
    The Pitch: “We hates it when we have a riddling contest with filthy hobbitses and we can’t remember our riddles, don’t we, my precious? Yes, yes, that is why we must self-publish an ebook of the most tricky riddles we have ever heard, yes. It will be our birthday present to ourselves, yes my precious, with DRM so the hobbits can’t read it on the smartphones in their nasty little pockets.”
    Backer Reward: Backers at the “Filthy Hobbit” level will receive one partially chewed cave fish.

    Aureliano’s All-Natural Ant-Away
    Project by: Aureliano III
    The Pitch: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father told him the secret of an all-natural ant-away that will repel even the largest armies of vicious red ants. That secret was passed down in my family for over one hundred years, and now I want to mass produce it for the world.”
    Backer Rewards: Backers at the “Golden Chamber Pot” level will receive a large block of ice. International shipping add $200.

    Central Park Duck Behavioral Study
    Project by: Holden Caulfield
    The Pitch: “You know those ducks in that lagoon right near Central Park South? That little lake? By any chance, do you happen to know where they go, the ducks, when it gets all frozen over? Do you happen to know, by any chance? I mean does somebody come around in a truck or something and take them away, or do they fly away by themselves, go south or something? I propose an intensive behavioral study to observe what happens to the ducks in winter.”
    Backer Rewards: Backers at the “Bunch of Baloney” level will received a copy of “Little Shirley Beans” on vinyl and a bunch of bologna. Not responsible for items damaged during shipment.

    Hand-Knitted Pistol Locks
    Project by: Madame Defarge
    The Pitch: “Long has my knitting served the righteous purpose of the revolution, but through all our struggles, I have always been mindful of the importance of gun safety. My expertly crafted, hand-knitted pistol locks will ensure that your weapon doesn’t discharge, even during a struggle with a meddling British governess.”
    Backer Rewards: Backers at the “Jacques” level will receive a hand-crafted scarf featuring the name of the traitor to the people of his or her choosing.

    Driving School for Dames
    Project by: Jay Gatsby
    The Pitch: “Driving is, safe to say, a man’s game, old sport, but sometimes, these crazy girls get it into their pretty young heads to get behind the wheel, and more often than not, that’s going to spell trouble for the owners of expensive yellow sports cars. My Driving School for Dames will guarantee any flapper can keep her wits about her, no matter what painful memories she’s just dredged up.”
    Backer rewards: “West Egg”–level donors will receive an all-encompassing yearning for the past and one green lightbulb.

    Whale Blubber Nametag Adhesive
    Project by: Ishmael
    The Pitch: “As a lifelong seaman, I have grown weary of introducing myself anew every time I take on a new commission. Therefore I have developed a prototype for a special adhesive, made only from the rendered fat of the mighty Great White, that sticks to any and all clothing without damaging the garment. Never again shall you have to tell another sailor what to call you, for it will be written upon your breast for all to see. A proper way to avoid ill humor when you unwittingly grasp your co-laborer’s hands after squeezing those gentle globules of whale sperm!”
    Backer Rewards: Backers at the “Ahab” level will receive an unquenchable thirst for revenge at any cost.

    What literary Kickstarter do you want to back?

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