Tag Archives: literature

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?




The Scariest Harry Potter Book is… Prisoner of Azkaban

Prisonercover[1]There’s no doubt in my mind that the title of this post is true. Sure, the Harry Potter books get more angst-ridden as the kids get older, and sure, the stakes get higher when Voldemort is trying to take over the world and generally deploy his Evil Schemes. But you can keep your graveyard incantations and Departments of Mysteries, your snakes and corpses and lakes full of zombies. Harry Potter is never as scary before Prisoner of Azkaban, and it never gets quite that scary again.

Because the scare quotient (if I can use that phrase) of Prisoner of Azkaban doesn’t depend on gross images or Gothic idioms, it doesn’t depend on dark magic or evil ideologies. The story does more than just startle or alarm us. It unsettles. It gnaws away at us with a, creeping, oozing fear that pricks under your fingernails and round your eye sockets. And it’s the only book with scary not just as decoration or set design; the fear is embedded in the story itself.

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Around the Common Room: September 13, 2012

Excitement for fall and winter movie releases is building, and a lot of this week’s news seems to be movie-based. First, David from The Warden’s Walk is hosting a read-through of The Hobbit, beginning in late September and ending just before the movie comes out. Whether you’re a fan of the book or have never read it, and whether or not you plan to see the movie, this sounds like a great event to check out.

The young Potter actors have made headlines for a lot of reasons, but now Emma Watson’s got a scandalous one through no fault of her own: she’s apparently this year’s most dangerous celebrity to search for online. Cyber criminals use her name to attract potential victims; according to USA Today (link above), searching for her name gives you a one-in-eight chance of landing on a malicious site. It’s a strangely unfitting fate for someone so hardworking and serious as she appears to be. Her new film, Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, releases September 21.

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Were You Formed By A Fictional Character?

According to a new study (now unavailable to view) from researchers at Ohio State University, “

when you ‘lose yourself’ inside the world of a fictional character while reading a story, you may actually end up changing your own behaviour and thoughts to match that of the character”.

As an article in The Guardian reporting on this says,

Good lord above! If this is really true then I dread to think what havoc is wreaked by people who’ve just finished reading A Clockwork Orange; what unrealistic expectations of romance are held by fans of Jane Austen; what heights of passion are reached by Wuthering Heights aficionados on a daily basis.

It goes on to say,

But I’m not sure this is hugely earth-shattering news to anyone who loves reading. I’ve known I tend towards “experience-taking” when I read for ages; when I was younger I even tried to adopt the speech patterns of characters I admired – embarrassingly enough, when it was epic fantasy.

Have you ever found yourself emulating a literary character? How did you do it and how did others react to it?

Serious Matters: The Literary Elite vs. The Literary Potterphile

Over in Scotland, with our own Mr. Pond in the organizer’s chair, a group of over sixty Potter scholars is currently discussing Rowling’s work at the University of St. Andrews. Titled A Brand of Fictional Magic: Reading Harry Potter as Literature, the gathering purports to be “the UK’s first academic conference on the subject and the first in the world to discuss Harry Potter strictly as a literary text.” (From St. Andrews’ news. Note that the conference is not, as the Telegraph claims, “the first event in the world to look at the series as a literary text”–only the first to do so exclusively.)

The media has featured various reports on the conference, including this piece from the BBC. Since the first notice from the press, however, a handful of reporters have turned to the con angle, one every serious Potter student is familiar with: academic dismissal. Both the Telegraph and The Guardian have run stories in which they’ve found some reasonably credentialed speaker to claim that:

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Around the Common Room 13 January 2012

Happy Friday the 13th!! Hope you’re not superstitious. I know I plan to have black cats crossing my path all day long as I have 5 of them. 🙂

Here’s a blast of various stories and links with a few probably not so pithy comments by me. Enjoy!

First up, Daniel Radcliffe will be hosting Saturday Night Live for the first time this weekend. From the story I read apparently he can be funny. So, if you like that sort of thing, be sure to check him out.

In other Potter news, the President of China has declared a culture war against Harry Potter, along with people and things like Lady Gaga and The Transformers films, as being destructive to Chinese culture and unity. Now, while I agree that Lady Gaga and The Transformers would eat away at the cultural foundations of any nation, I wouldn’t say the same for Harry Potter.  Hu Jintao, the President, has called for the Communist Party to respond with some culture of its own, forgetting, as the article aptly points out, that government cannot really produce “culture” on demand. Check out the full article for all the details. (H/T to Carrie-Ann Biondi for the previous two links.)

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