Favorite C.S. Lewis Book and Giveaway!!

Today, November 22nd, is the 50th anniversary of C.S. Lewis’ death. I thought it an appropriate time to discuss our favorite works of Lewis and perhaps share what influence, if any, he has had on us. Plus, that all adds up to a perfect chance for another giveaway too!

The winner will receive a copy of On Stories, The Screwtape Letters, and Till We Have Faces. So, there’s a lot to be gained by entering the giveaway! To do so, leave a comment here telling us about your favorite work by C.S. Lewis and/or telling us what influence, if any, he has had on your life. The giveaway will run through November 29th.

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The Silver Chair as ‘Fairytale’- part 2

“Sometimes fairy stories may say best what’s to be said”
-C.S Lewis ‘Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories’

“There is indeed no better medium for a moral teaching than the good fairy story”
-J.R.R. Tolkien ‘The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays’

Last week Kris Swank explored the ways in which Silver Chair pulls from traditional English fairy poems like “Tam Lin” and “La Belle Dame Sans Merci.” But the dark and enchanting Faerie world that we glimpse in C.S. Lewis’ novel also echoes the “Perilous Realm” of medieval tales like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Sir Lanval, and Sir Orfeo, where mortals are not only confronted by a fay, but also actively seek out the land Faerie. Like Prince Rilian they are tricked, seduced, and enchanted by the land of Faerie and its inhabitants. Continue reading

The Silver Chair as ‘Fairytale’—part 1

Our November celebration of C.S. Lewis continues to look at the literary traditions behind the Narnia books. This time, Kelly Orazi and I are going to share one of our favorites, The Silver Chair, Lewis’ best example of a traditional fairytale. I’ll look at some ways in which Lewis tapped into traditional English fairy poetry, while Kelly will compare the novel to the Arthurian tradition (look for Kelly’s post in a few days).Faerie is a perilous land

In “On Fairy-stories,” J.R.R. Tolkien wrote that good “fairy-stories” are not concerned primarily with the fairies themselves, but with “the adventures of men in the Perilous Realm or upon its shadowy marches” (113). That’s precisely what Lewis’ Silver Chair is about: the adventures of humans, Eustace and Jill, in the “fairy realm” of Narnia, but it’s also a classic fairy-story of a lost  prince and his encounter with “beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril” (Tolkien 109). While it’s a decidedly modern fairytale, Lewis firmly rooted The Silver Chair in tradition.

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Voyage of the Dawn Treader as ‘Medieval Romance Quest’

In looking at the literary traditions of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books, we last explored the beast fable that is Prince Caspian. While the beast community of Narnia is at the heart of the novel, one of the things Prince Caspian also does is set up Caspian as a young hero and king. The next book in line, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, explores what happens after Caspian establishes himself as king and secures peace in Narnia. The spiritual, romantic, and religious quests of King Caspian and his company in Dawn Treader recall elements of the medieval romance quest found in the Arthurian stories of the middle ages as well as later stories such as Spenser’s Faerie Queen.

In A Characterization of the English Medieval Romance Dorothy Everett defines Medieval romances as “stories of adventure in which the chief parts are played by knights, famous kings, or distressed ladies, acting most often under the impulse of love, religious faith, or, in many, mere desire for adventure. The stories were first told in verse, but when, later, prose versions were made, they were also called romances.”
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Prince Caspian as ‘Beast Fable’

We continue our celebration of C.S. Lewis, who died 50 years ago this month, by looking at the literary traditions behind the Narnia books. Kelly Orazi (who we hope is having a happy birthday today!) started things off by examining how The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe fits into Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.


“Trufflehunter” illustration
©Jef Murray 2012, all rights reserved.

Prince Caspian is also a hero’s journey, as well as a fairy-tale and a beast-fable. A key thematic element in Caspian is the ability of some animals to talk. The difference between “dumb” and talking beasts is crucial, for one thing, because dumb beasts can be killed and eaten. Matthew Dickerson and David O’Hara note that in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, “Even the beavers eat ham (as well as trout)” (172), and that in The Silver Chair, Puddleglum becomes horrified at the giants’ dinner “only after he discovers that meat he was eating comes from a talking stag” (274). In Prince Caspian, Susan becomes upset over the shooting of a bear. “I was so afraid it might be, you know—one of our kind of bears, a talking bear” (116). Trumpkin assures her, “Not he […] I saw the face and heard the snarl. He only wanted Little Girl for his breakfast” (116). When Nikabrik accuses Caspian of having hunted animals for sport, the prince admits it—

“Well, to tell you the truth, I have,” said Caspian. “But they weren’t Talking Beasts.”

“It’s all the same thing,” said Nikabrik.

“No, no, no,” said Trufflehunter. “You know it isn’t. You know very well that the beasts in Narnia nowadays are different and are no more than the poor dumb witless creatures you’d find in Calormen or Telmar” (76-77).

It’s immoral to eat Talking Beasts because, well, they can talk, and reason, and make moral choices. Talking Beasts in Narnia are less like animals and more like humans. … in fact, they are us.

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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as ‘Hero’s Journey’

“Speaking of the history of stories and especially of fairy-stories we may say that the Pot of Soup, the Cauldron of Story, has always been boiling, and to it have continually been added new bits, dainty and undainty.”

J.R.R. Tolkien On Fairy Stories                                                   

C.S. Lewis was a learned man and a prolific reader and it should come to no surprise that The Chronicles of Narnia could not have been written without first dipping a ladle into what Tolkien describes above as the ‘Cauldron of Story’. As children’s stories, fantasy tales, and religious suppositions all at once, The Chronicles of Narnia are a welcome mix of many different genres and styles[1]. But these books also pull from different literary traditions. Here we have novels that explore the hero’s journey, the medieval romance quest, the orphan tale, the animal fable, and even the traditional fairy story.

Throughout this month we’ll be celebrating C.S. Lewis by taking one Narnia book at a time and looking at its closest literary tradition. To kick things off, let’s look at how The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe fits into Joesph Campell’s Hero’s Journey. (You can get a refresher on the details of the Hero’s Journey and how it applies to other series like Harry Potter and the Hunger Games by visiting one of our earlier posts right here) Continue reading

The Best YA novel

At EW.com, book editor Tina Jordan asks, What’s the best YA novel of all time?

She writes:

As the book editor for EW, I read a lot. I mean, a lot—at least a book a day. (It helps that I have a long commute—at least an hour each way on the train.) And what I’ve been finding of late is that I read more YA than anything else. Not because the books’ plot-propelled arcs make them satisfyingly swift reads (though I find that’s true), or because I don’t have the attention span or chops for “adult” books (please: can we dispense with the belief, once and for all, that YA is meant just for the under-21 set?). No, I’m reading a lot of YUA because I’m finding that some of the best, most innovative work in fiction these days is being done in the genre: gutsy topics, imaginative storylines, utterly fearless writing styoles (like blank verse).

Then Jordan goes on to say how flustered she became when someone asked her what was the best YA novel of all time. I find this question challenging too, because there are books that are great, that are considered great, and those that are no t necessarily “great,” but favorites. Especially because YA has become such a huge category spanning such a long period of time—from L.M. Montgomery to Madeleine L’Engle to Judy Blume to J.K. Rowling to John Green—and now includes the new NA (New Adult) category.

I do think the Harry Potter series is the best because of its many layers, its depth, its characterization and themes, its literary and alchemical scaffolding, its symbolism, and for all the reasons we here love it.

Starting tomorrow, EW is running a bracket game that asks this very question.

You might want to participate, but let’s discuss it here, too. Instead of just the best, let’s have categories.

1)      What do you think are the all time five best YA novels (and include a best, if you wish) and why?

2)      What do you feel are the most influential YA novels and why?

3)      What are your favorites and why?

4)      If you could only have ten YA novels (this includes series) to keep, what would they be?