“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.” - C. S. Lewis
Fittingly, as the year draws to a close, I shall write an entry for “Book Tuesday”. I can certainly describe myself as a bibliophagic omnivore. I often may read several strange things, which can only be described as trash – if nothing else but to have an opinion of them. Andre Maurois says: “In literature as in love, we are astonished at what is chosen by others.” And best sellers often fit into this category of “astonishing choices” in the worst possible way! But, it is very easy also to dismiss “best sellers” wholesale as trash - one must remember that the classics of today were at some stage “best seller trash” too.
If I am reading something that is obviously badly written or formulaic in its approach, or gimmicky, I feel no compunction whatever in stopping reading it and throwing it out. Sometimes I am repulsed by a book that literary critics wax lyrical over. “The English Patient” by Michael Ondaatje is one such book that I cannot stomach at all. I have tried to read it on numerous occasions but it is a grossly repellent book for me. The film was one I walked out of, also. Maybe in my old age I shall come back to it and appreciate its (now hidden) glories…
What is a classic? It is a book that has stood the test of time and appears forever relevant and fresh and appealing in a diachronic fashion. It is a book you can return to with pleasure. “When you reread a classic, you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than there was before.” Says Cliff Fadiman. There are books that I read again for pleasure’s sake. “A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted. You should live several lives while reading it.” Styron remarks and it is such books that we return to because of their wealth of experience they offer us. This of course goes well with Samuel Paterson’s opinion: “Books, like friends, should be few and well chosen.” My only trouble with this is that if one is forever re-reading a few, well-chosen classics, one is bereft of new experiences, undiscovered treasures, new worlds of discovery. I would rather risk reading many mediocre books in order to find a new gem, than to read only gems that others recommended to me. The thrill of discovery is even more acute if one treads the new paths oneself.
The Harry Potter books is an example of “best sellers” and they have become so because they follow a successful formula. They also capitalise on the “New Age” craze and they have behind them an enormous modern marketing machine. They are easily consumed, digested and promptly forgotten. Fashionable books rarely become classics. Compare to these Harry Potter books the Narnia books by C. S. Lewis. These were a favourite of mine during my childhood, but they were a pleasure to re-read as an adult. I classify them as classics of the genre and underlying their “fantasy” is a deeper philosophical underpinning, which is latent when they are read in childhood, but becomes so much more obvious when an adult reads them.
Now that I have mentioned them, I guess this book Tuesday I shall dedicate to these Narnia books. C(live) S(taple) Lewis, was born November 29, 1898, Belfast, Northern Ireland and died November 22, 1963, Oxford, England. He was a scholar, novelist, and author of about 40 books, most of them on Christian apologetics, the most widely known being “The Screwtape Letters”. He also achieved fame with a trilogy of science-fiction novels and with the Chronicles of Narnia, a series of seven children's books that have become classics of fantasy literature. He fought in WWI and when he returned home he achieved an outstanding record as a classical scholar. From 1925 to 1954 he was a fellow and tutor of Magdalen College, Oxford, and from 1954 to 1963 he was professor of medieval and Renaissance English at the University of Cambridge.
The Chronicles of Narnia are extremely English books, in that they conform with that English characteristic, the reluctance to say goodbye to childhood… However, it is this character of the books makes them universally loved by people the world over who still have the child in their heart. The Narnia books are not only exciting, often humorous, highly inventive, but also many-a-time deeply moving. Lewis has utilised several archetypal images and characters but has woven them with threads of his own devising, making for a highly satisfying read.
The Chronicles of Narnia is a series of seven fantasy novels written by Lewis between 1949 and 1954, illustrated by Pauline Baynes and originally published in London between October 1950 and March 1956. The Chronicles of Narnia sold over 100 million copies in 47 languages and have been adapted several times, complete or in part, for radio, television, the stage, and film.
The series of books are set in the fictional realm of Narnia, a fantasy world of magic, mythical beasts, and talking animals. Various ordinary children from Earth are transported into Narnia one way or another and as they have adventures, they play central roles in the unfolding history of that world. The children are magically transported to Narnia, where they are called upon by the lion Aslan to protect Narnia from evil and restore the throne to its rightful line. The books span the entire history of Narnia, from its creation in “The Magician's Nephew” to its eventual destruction in “The Last Battle”.
Inspiration for the series is taken from multiple sources; in addition to adapting numerous traditional Christian themes, the books freely borrow characters and ideas from Greek and Roman mythology as well as from traditional British and Irish fairy tales. The books have profoundly influenced adult and children’s fantasy literature since World War II. Lewis’s exploration of themes not usually present in children’s literature, such as religion, as well as the books’ perceived treatment of issues including race and gender, has caused some controversy.
Despite the criticism about the books’ racist, sexist and religious subtexts, for me they still are satisfying reads, especially if one places them in the context in which they were written and the cultural background of the author. We may not burn a book from another age simply because it no longer agrees with our own more “enlightened” times. We read it and glean from it the best it has to offer and we attempt to understand the author’s intentions and the perspective it was written.