Tag Archives: 2015 reading

A Year for More Reading: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis

It is quite a glaring omission that I, though a fantasy fan, have not read  The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe until now. I watched the film adaptations – the 1979 animated one as a child of maybe 6 or 7, at the house of an elderly neighbour who babysat us sometimes, and the live action one when it hit cinemas in 2005. So I was familiar with the overall story.

I wasn’t familiar with the writing though, nor how accurate the 2005 movie – or my slightly hazy memories of it – were. On this occasion, I opted for the audiobook, which is available for free on Youtube. I haven’t listened to audiobook since my parents stopped using the Just William series to keep myself and my siblings quiet in the back of the car on our way to our annual holidays. Given that The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is a children’s book, though, this seems appropriate (I shall have to make a point of listening to an audiobook for adults at some point).

One thing I particularly noted about the narrative style is how it wasn’t afraid of breaking the fourth wall. At one point, it refers to a previous action taken by a character as having happened “at the end of the last chapter”. This, coupled with the introduction addressing a particular girl for whom the story was written, and, perhaps, the fact that I listened to rather than read this story, made it feel quite intimate. It wasn’t immersion-breaking as I would have expected, but gave me a sense of sitting on my grandfather’s knee as he read the story to me. It’s comforting.

The simplicity of the language and of the plot is entirely what I’d expect from a children’s story. I knew in advance about the allusions to Christianity in the story and could recognise those easily when they cropped up.

There is often a question, in fantasy, whether stories should be used to preach, and in the course of my life my own beliefs have let me to side with one side of the argument or the other, but having actually listened to it I don’t feel that religion was preached to me through this story, but rather used as inspiration. And there’s nothing wrong with drawing themes and arcs from existing well known stories and myths, whether you believe in them or not. After all, Bridget Jones’s Diary is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, altered to fit a different setting, just as this is a retelling of the end of Jesus’ life in the Bible, but set in a fantasy world. My lack of belief in the source material was not offended by it.

I think that’s the key thing I can take from this as a writer: that even using easily recognisable source material as a major inspiration for a story does not stop that story being unique, interesting and well-told. I have previously considered a writing a fantasy retelling of an event from the Peloponnesian War, the conflict between Corcyra and Corinth that started it all off; I think I need not be worried that this is unoriginal, if I can make it interesting.

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A Mystery Book from my local library

I popped into my local library this morning, and saw they had a Mystery Books shelf – books wrapped up in brown paper, their titles and covers obscured. This is an idea I’ve seen on the internet a few times, and I’m thrilled my local library has latched onto it – though they’ve gone even further than some of the versions I’ve seen, and have given no information at all, where other libraries have given the genre, the title, or one or two key points of what sorts of things to expect. So I picked up one of the books, and I plan on adding it to my A Year for More Reading list.

Before I unwrap it, I’ll describe it: it’s a hardback, maybe about the same size as most of my hardbacks, though not very thick. What I assume is the front (it’s got the sticker with the catalogue number on that side) has the cover jutting out further than the back, so it’s probably been well used. So let’s see what it is then.

I’ve unwrapped it to reveal The Bishop’s Tale by Margaret Frazer. On the cover is a picture of a wooden chalice and a walnut, standing on a surface covered with a green cloth; in the background is a wooden cross on a wall. Quotes on the back cover indicate it’s historical fiction, so it sounds like it might fit in nicely with the Cadfael books I was reading over Christmas and New Year.

Inside, the last dates it was borrowed are May 2013 and May 2012, so it’s not been a popular loan recently, though there are multiple loans for every year from 2006 to 2010, and the stamp suggests it’s mostly been housed in a different library in the county, in a town much smaller than my town. There’s a page listing books by the same author, twelve of them, so this isn’t the first in the series.

The blurb on the inside cover – mentioning death and mystery as investigated by a nun – suggest I might be right about it fitting right into the same vein as Cadfael.

Time to get reading.

Worldbuilding reflections: ancient networks

As part of my 2015 reading challenge, I am currently reading 1177BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric H Cline (and yes, as a Brit, writing “civilisation” with a Z physically hurts me). I’m not far thorugh yet but something that struck me in my reading so far is the reach of the networks between the cultures that existing in the centuries prior to the titular collapse. Rulers whose capital cities were hundreds, even over a thousand miles from one another were sending each other gifts of things like leather shoes. Craftspeople from the Minoan culture on Crete travelled to the major cities of cultures all around the Mediterranean and beyond to create fresco wall paintings because it was fashionable.

"Knossos bull" by ArtStudy version 2.0 (Saskia Ltd, Thomson Wadsworth). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Knossos_bull.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Knossos_bull.jpg
“Knossos bull” by ArtStudy version 2.0 (Saskia Ltd, Thomson Wadsworth). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

This was 3,500 years ago, before advanced shipbuilding techniques existed, before the road infrastructure of the Roman empire – or indeed the city of Rome itself – existed. It’s difficult not to think of them as primitive, because of how long ago this was and how different a world it was to what I am familiar with, but really it is still human culture. The people of this ancient time were no less ambitious, no less curious, no less vain than their descendants in classical Greece, with which I am more familiar, or the Roman Empire, or the Middle Ages or the Age of Exploration or indeed the modern day. They had different circumstances to deal with, sure, but every generation has different circumstances than their parents.

It seems to me that when I am working on stories I often think in very constrained geographies and economies. I think of trade as happening between two neighbouring countries, maybe between two countries separated by one other country in between or by a small sea. I struggle to think of alliances and diplomacy and trade and the movement of skilled craftspeople over long distances between vastly different cultures. I manage to think “oh yes, this country exports this metal” but I don’t ever get to the point of thinking, “this particular region is the only known source of this metal, so it gets exported to everywhere”.

Economy is something I need to work on. I tend to think in terms of what gets exported, what’s high quality, what needs to be imported, but I don’t think about the human level when I’m looking at economies. I don’t think about skilled craftspeople moving to where they think there are opportunities. I don’t think about rulers interacting with one another through the sending of gifts and envoys, or restricting the export of materials they don’t want their enemies getting their hands on. I don’t think of the different merchants through whose inventories individual items will pass on their way from one culture to another, and what those merchants have or haven’t seen of the cultures where these items originated or are destined for.

It’s a whole new layer of complexity I have missed until now. A whole new area of human interactions that could provide me with stories to tell.