Becoming Mrs. Lewis, by Patti Callahan

C.S. Lewis is the author of the popular Narnia series and other works. My children enjoyed listening to the series as books which I read aloud, as well as audio books during trips.

Additionally, I have read Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, his autobiography Surprised By Joy, and my recent favourite, his Till We Have Faces; A Myth Retold, a reimagining of the Cupid and Psyche story.

Having been initiated into the world of Lewis, I wondered about this previous Oxford Don and long-time bachelor. The novel, Becoming Mrs. Lewisis a worthwhile read on several accounts: first, it has a great bibliography at the end elevating the novel to more of a scholarly investigation; and second, it shows a side of Lewis which is not usually explored by his adoring fans.

The bibliography provides many fun rabbit-trails for the curious to explore, such as books by Davidman’s son, other books by and about Lewis, and books by and about Davidman and Tolkien, Lewis’s friend. As for the enlightening bits, Callahan draws upon letters exchanged between Davidman and Lewis, love sonnets penned by Davidman, as well as other writings and lectures of Lewis. For instance, some suspect that he had an intimate relationship with Mrs. Moore before his conversion; this books tries to paint a realistic picture of the situation and Lewis’s opinion of Mrs. Moore which is not altogether benevolent.

The novel’s dialogue seems stilted at times, but I assume it is because the author did her best to piece together snippets from letters and other discourse. Of interest to me is also how Lewis lived out his Romantic beliefs (sehnsucht) of which he instills in his children’s literature (the music of Elfland– filled with longing for something more), while focused on moral character. The book includes mentions of his literary influences of nordic mythology and George MacDonald and others, as well as his wonderings about faith. I enjoyed the tidbit of how he preferred to attend an early service without the loud music (of the organ) and sit behind a pillar at chapel so the cleric could not see his face in case he disagreed with something in the sermon. The book, much to the publisher’s credit, does not gloss over questioning of faith, his quirks, nor the passion involved in this love story.

The book is a quick and enjoyable read.

Recommended for ages 14+

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Happy Reading!

DB

Tolkien the Artist

In a previous post on J.R.R. Tolkien, I wondered what more could be said about the great storyteller. Well, as it turns out, there is more to learn.

I recently listened to a Tolkien at Oxford podcast entitled, The Hobbit at the Bodleian: World Book Day. It was interesting to hear about how Tolkien intended The Hobbit to be an illustrated novel, but the cost to include his watercolours was prohibitive after the war. The podcast features Judith Priestman, curator of the Bodleian library on World Book Day, 2010, on which day the original artwork was displayed.

Apparently, his watercolour paintings which he produced on plain (inexpensive) paper with his children’s low-quality paints cannot bear to be viewed normally in light at the Bodleian, and so they are stored in the dark.

Good news! There is a stunning volume available, published in 2018, with paintings, maps, and other author creations. This bookseller has several inside page views where you can see his artwork. It is surprising that Tolkien was dismissive of his artistic talent, as his work is quite vivid and enjoyable to view: Tolkien Maker of Middle-Earth.

tolkien maker of middle-earth

 

Enjoy!

DB

Jamberry

As a parent who has read stories over and over again, I appreciate children’s stories which are fun, lyrical, and worthy of being read hundreds of times. Jamberry is one of those books.

This book was written and illustrated by Bruce Degen. Most children’s picture books do not have the same person as author and illustrator, but this one has equally strong verse and picture-storytelling.

The best picture books offer additional story through the artwork. As an example, the text begins: “One berry, two berry, pick me a blueberry…” Immediately, the illustration shows an anthropomorphized bear, interacting with a young child, sharing berries.  From this first window into the magical world of the story, the reader knows to expect a fabulous world, similar to a fairy-land. Another clue is the marshmallows on tall grass, which adds to the nonsensical world.

Another aspect I like about this rhyming story is that the rhyme shifts from one type, to another, and then another. It has the affect of shifting gears when driving through a varied landscape.

In my own poetic picture book, Summer North Coming – Winter North Coming, I chose to carefully follow a rhyming scheme throughout the story. It is a safe bet to do so, and it seemed natural; but I commend Degen for breaking that tendency and going out on a limb to create something unique.

First published in 1983, it is a new classic which I buy again and again as part of a new baby gift-bundle.

Enjoy!

Jamberry

The Hobbit

by John Ronald Reuel Tolkien

I did say that I am not a huge fan of fantasy. That is true. This is another one of the very few fantasies I like. It is a classic. What more could possibly be said about this volume which hasn’t already been said? It is written by a master of the genre, it holds to all the high fantasy conventions, and it’s a fun read.

I was given this book to read by a ruggedly handsome young man. He liked dark ales, the mountains, unusual (alternative) music with haunting flutes and (other instruments) which seemed to pair mighty well with this story. I don’t know how it was possible, but at that time, I was almost entirely unacquainted with elves, fairies, hobbits, dwarfs, and other such people, before reading this book.

When I was very young, I read many folktales and fairy tales, from the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, and others. I was well acquainted with wicked witches and trolls under bridges, but those were things I had left behind when I latched onto realistic fiction as an older child. I was certainly far more protective of my young children than my parents had been of me. I shielded mine from the horrors and violence of fairy tales until they were older children. Perhaps my parents were not as careful because the stories seemed tame compared to the real-life horrors of living through their harsher times; or, there were kids to spare in my family. At any rate, I had many vivid dreams populated with monsters and bad people who I had to outrun and outwit. Perhaps giving younger children these hurdles sooner rather than later, through literature, serves them well? As parents, are we shielding our children from literature which could give them clues as to how to persevere through thick and thin?

 

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As I came to reread this book, I am a little embarrassed to say that I approached the book with a yawn, yet I was pleasantly surprised to find it offered me something new. Apparently Tolkien was not a fan of allegories in literature as were his pal, C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald (whose literature he admittedly looked to), and he denied tucking any into this tale. However, I could not help but formulate parallels to other stories while reading it (there is an Elfland and Middle Earth mentioned in Childe Rowland), nor could I keep from my mind impressions, allegorical meanings, which translate into universal truths. This is what good fiction does. Whether or not Tolkien intended this, I believe many readers enjoy his finely woven prose because of his extensive world-building (which took years) and his knowledge of language creation (from his profession as a philologist), creating richness.

As I write this, the ruggedly handsome guy who gave me The Hobbit is now a bit older and cutting the lush green grass at our own Bag End (Yes, I married him). Like Bilbo Baggins, I have come to appreciate the simple life. I do not need much to find contentment, beyond all the good gifts my life already holds; and I have gone through my own perilous journey to get here. Something which I notice now while reading the story is that Bilbo is not really the centre of the story. He is one player in the larger story which began long before he came along, and continued long after he disappeared. Aren’t we all like him in that way? We are all part of a larger narrative. Perhaps that is a truth for us all. We hardly have an idea of what our little part might mean in the greater narrative of our history in (Middle?) Earth. If you read The Hobbit again, you may get something completely different from it.

I had the fun of visiting the Hobbiton movie set several years ago during a trip to New Zealand. Here is an extremely condensed film showing some of it: Hobbiton

Here is the Film Air New Zealand plays as passengers get comfortable for the twelve-hour flight: Air New Zealand Safety Video

This book is suitable as a read-aloud for the whole family. Young children should know that it is okay to kill giant spiders, dragons, and goblins, provided they are bad.

When did you first read The Hobbit?