Thursday, May 16, 2013

Book Logs: Children's Fantasy

I finished two children's fantasy classic-y things recently, and thought I'd write about them together, although it probably won't turn out to be dreadfully matchy.

The Magician's Nephew by C. S. Lewis

Sir Laughs-a-lot and I have been working our way through the Narnia books together, although the order has got a little muddled (we did at least start with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). His childhood, unlike mine, was not filled with rereading the Narnia books over and over and over (they're short - I could get through a couple in an afternoon) which meant we came at it from quite different perspectives. He wanted to know what would happen next and was surprised by the surprising bits. I was bundled up in a sort of anticipation that's almost worse than suspense. Which is not to say that I didn't enjoy it - but I think reading aloud and reading together made it more obvious how much my mind was other places in the story than what we were actually reading. It takes a bit more effort to relax into the moment than otherwise, perhaps. Having said that, if I haven't read a book, I spend a fair bit of brainpower on second guessing what'll happen next, so maybe that's just me.

I think I have read the book too many times to write a brief impression post without being either dreadfully specific or taking more time away from my mathematics than is quite wise. I think it may be my favourite of the Narnia books, though we'll see as we read further!

Redwall by Brian Jacques

This is also a book that I first read as a kid, but I can't say I'm nearly as nostalgic about it. I read it because I needed a light read and it was on my Kindle app from months ago when Amazon had been offering it free. I enjoyed reading it and was drawn into the story, but I remain a little bemused as to why people get so very emotional over the series.

The setting - an abbey of mice sheltering various woodlan creatures, attacked by a horde of evil rats - is admittedly quite awesome. In "On Fairy Tales" (I think!) Tolkien draws a distinction between fantasies involving talking animals and "beast tales", which are essentially stories about everyday life, acted out by animals. (He points out that this allows for rather harsher points against some animals than wemight be comfortable with against actual people.) Redwall certainly has elements of that. But it has ancient prophecies and legendary sword and visions in dreams too, which seem to make it fantasy anyway. The combination works well. I will freely admit to spending chunks of time reading Redwall cookbooks and otherwise revelling in the setting.

I think what bothers me about the book is what I'm tempted to call Heaviside character development. In maths, a Heaviside function is zero up to a certain point, and one everywhere after that. It's not continuous. A lot of character development in Redwall feels to me - I think, maybe - like a series of Heaviside functions. Matthias is a bumbling Redwall novice. Oh no, Cluny the Scourge is coming! Level him up to inexperienced warrior, quick! It's not implausible that the change would happen - the change is a big part of a good story, for me - but I'd have liked to see a bit more of the internal turmoil and growth and not just a Heaviside archetype function. The plot felt a little like that too - different elements didn't always seem like consequences of what had gone before. They just kinda happened.

That said, I definitely enjoyed reading the book. I would certainly be less nitpicky if I didn't know other people adored the series. I liked the book (and the rest of the series), but I think it gets a bit too Heaviside-ish (and perhaps formulaic) for my liking.

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