Books, fairy tales, memories

Childhood favorites – Updated!!!

Recently I picked up a few books from the library that I first read when I was around ten years old, give or take a year. They are by Edward Eager. Have you ever heard of him? If not, you should have. I was infatuated with his books as a child. They are very like E. Nesbit’s books, whom he takes as a model.

My conscience fully approves and sanctions this endeavor to reread books I have read in my childhood, for C. S. Lewis has sanctioned it, and on the matter of Good Books he is practically always right. “When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly.” Except I am only sixteen, not fifty. All the same, it holds, and he also says somewhere that a child’s book that you can’t enjoy as an adult is not a good child’s book. Not that I am an adult, either, but my literary tastes have certainly matured, to some extent. I would not have enjoyed George Eliot as a ten-year-old, and I would not now enjoy the Phantom Stallion books – at least, I hope not.

At any rate, the books I have been reading recently are:
Magic or Not? – Edward Eager
The Well-Wishers – Edward Eager (the sequel to the above)
The Time Garden (sequel to ‘Knight’s Castle’) – Edward Eager
Seven-Day Magic – Edward Eager
The Magic City – E. Nesbit
The Railway Children – E. Nesbit
And begun, but not yet finished – The Midnight Folk – John Masefield, and reading to my sister – The Story of the Treasure-Seekers – E. Nesbit
And checked out from the library (I overstuffed yesterday and checked out over twenty things, I think):
Half-Magic – Edward Eager
Magic by the Lake – Edward Eager
Knight’s Castle – Edward Eager (alas, he wrote only seven magical books for children)
The Enchanted Castle – E. Nesbit
Wet Magic – E. Nesbit
The Phoenix and the Carpet (sequel to ‘Five Children and It’, which I believe we own but haven’t found yet, and which is a very delightful book) – E. Nesbit
The Story of the Amulet – E. Nesbit. Note: this sequel to ‘The Phoenix and the Carpet’ involves the children calling on dark powers using an Egyptian amulet, so probably Michael O’Brien and like-minded would not like it; however, C. S. Lewis particularly loved this story, recommended it to a young reader on Page 174 of the third volume of his Letters, and praised it somewhere for giving him his first realization of the quality of ancientness – I do not remember where. I consider Lewis a knowledgeable authority on matters of literature, who has probably read more ancient and medieval literature treating with witches than O’Brien, and who undoubtedly would not knowingly indoctrinate a child into witchcraft; so I went ahead and read it, but if such things make you uncomfortable, go ahead and avoid it.
The House of Arden – E. Nesbit (which I have now begun to read and which has a rather unpleasant passage about a witch in it that would make it appropriate to probably only those who already know that witches are bad)
The other books I got from the library include poetry by Edna St. Vincent Millay, since I read part of her poem ‘Renascence’ for my Great Books class last Tuesday and wanted to finish reading it – a very lovely poem (update: some of her poetry isn’t quite clean, though, exercise discretion); some books on vegetable and herb gardening, to indulge my latest hobby, planning my future garden; a cook-book; a couple of P. G. Wodehouses; ‘The Lady of the Lake’ by Sir Walter Scott; a collection of short stories about the sea; and a couple DVDs.
One of the things I’ve noticed about children’s books is how much shorter they are to read than ‘grown-up’ books. I can easily finish one in a day. It is pleasant to be able to read something quick, delightful, and easy, but it is rather sad to bite it off so quickly. I can see why reading books aloud to children is a superior way; reading aloud takes me much longer than silently, and my mouth gets dry and I want to stop before one chapter is over.
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Books, C. S. Lewis, fairy tales, GKC, philosophy

A Review of Coraline

Recently I read Coraline by Neil Gaiman. I recommend it. I read it all in one night… yes, at night.

I was very pleased with it. First of all, there was a quote from G. K. Chesterton in the front. That’s always a good sign. I think it might actually be slightly misquoted, but I’m not certain about that. Actually, I believe can see the influence of G. K. Chesterton on this book. But I’ll talk about that later.

It is a quick read, a bit shorter than the Narnia books, I think, and is filled with action. One sign of a good writer is that he can say a great deal in a relatively short amount of space, which Neil Gaiman has succeeded in doing. He has a pretty good style, I think; he doesn’t ramble, and he does not rely on the unfortunate technique (which I first heard explained by C. S. Lewis) that constantly uses words such as “frightening”, “dreadful”, “strange”, etc. instead of showing that these things are frightening or dreadful or strange. That is, they tell you something is frightening instead of showing you how frightening something is. In short, his descriptions are good!

Warning: the following contains spoilers-I recommend reading it only after you’ve finished Coraline


Two themes in this book intrigued me. The first was the theme of finding joy in everyday things. This is clearly Chestertonian. I don’t know whether this was intended or not, but it seemed pretty clear to me. When the book begins, Coraline is bored stiff, but by the end she’s happy just to be in the real world again with her parents and her neighbors. I suggest reading the introduction to The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton for a more lucid explanation of what I mean than I can give.

The second theme I will sum up in one quote:

“The other mother could not create. She could only transform, and twist, and change.”

This is remarkable. I have a feeling that he drew it from Tolkien, actually (his childhood and teenage reading, according to Wikipedia, included Chesterton, Lewis, and Tolkien as well as many other authors) but Tolkien got it from a higher source, which some think is Boethius (whose feast day was yesterday! Boethius is a saint under the name of Saint Severinus Boethius!). Well, yes, but I don’t think Boethius made up the concept.
In fact, as far as I know, St. Augustine was the first to state this. The idea is that God created all things, and all God created was good; therefore evil is not a thing in itself, but a twisting of a good thing, and the devil cannot create anything but only deform it. (Think C. S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet-the language that is spoken on Malacandra has no word for “evil” and Ransom has to use their word for “bent” instead). It’s possible that this had a root in philosophy before Augustine, which I am not learned enough to know, but this is the earliest place I know of.

Well, that’s all the profound stuff I can remember. The children’s separation from their souls may seem to be an issue to Christians, but if you’ve read fairy tales, then you probably know that the device of having a detachable “soul”, “heart” etc isn’t very uncommon. I consider this a pure fairy tale trick and don’t have a problem with it. Now, I’m fairly strict about what I’ll read and not read. I don’t read Harry Potter or Twilight or anything else like that, so I would like to think that if Coraline were problematic I would have noticed it.

I enjoyed the parts where Coraline refused to eat “recipes”. It sounded familiar… younger siblings, anyone? She seemed like a very real little girl, except that surely she would have been more frightened than she was in parts of the book? Well, I suppose that if she had been too petrified that the story wouldn’t have worked out. Possibly I’m just transposing my own cowardice to others.

I thought that the gradual revelation of the other mother was very well done. The first time Coraline sees her, she looks like her real mother, except “her skin was as white as paper”, her fingernails were too long, and, of course, the buttons. Later, it mentions that her teeth were a tiny bit too long. Near the end, it says her teeth were as sharp as knives. This struck me as being good storytelling.

Final thoughts: I think that if I can get my sister Elvenmaiden to read this book, I might try scratching at the window and see what she does.

END SPOILERS

In all, I can recommend Coraline, with the caveat that this is NOT for young readers. This is one of the creepiest fairy tales I have ever read. (It certainly is a fairy tale.) This is a book for middle schoolers at the youngest. What a fascinating book, though. Just one thing… you might not want to read it at night. I did, and it didn’t bother me too much, but you’ll just have to decide on your own. This is a VERY creepy book, but a very good one.

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Blog, Books, C. S. Lewis, fairy tales, random

New theme!

🙂 I designed the banner myself.

Today I curled my hair. I might have to upload pictures or something… it looks really cool, if I do say so myself. I’ve never curled my hair successfully that I can remember until now.

So, I’m rereading C. S. Lewis’ book Till We Have Faces. I first read it almost 18 months ago-it feels like a very long time. If any of you would like to read it, I would recommend waiting till you’re at least 15, but it’s pretty amazing. It’s totally different from his other books.

I love C. S. Lewis and have read nearly all his books, including most of his works of literary criticism. I actually own copies of English Literature in the Sixteenth Century and The Discarded Image (both of which are excellent, by the way, if you’re interested in literature-especially poetry). I think his only published works I haven’t read are some of his Collected Letters, An Experiment in Criticism, and some of his essays. I like the “theologian Lewis”, the “fantasy Lewis”, the “Narnian Lewis”, the “literary Lewis”, and the Surprised by Joy Lewis, but this is an entirely different book. I don’t know that if I picked it up and read it that I would have guessed it was by Lewis. However, it’s a very deep, fascinating book.

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