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(April 19, 2002)

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The very idea of the (definitive) translation is misguided, Borges tells us; there are only drafts, approximations.

Andrew Hurley


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Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

Writing a world

As I've been reading His Dark Materials over the last few months, I've been trying to figure out how to tie it together with The Chronicles of Narnia. And now that I'm reading The Lord of the Rings, well... I can see some pretty distinct similarities to the other two series here as well. This post is for thinking about what parallels exist between the three series, and how they are different.

I think in each case, the author is working on three projects simultaneously. Primarily there is the story to be told -- in the case of LOTR and HDM the story is of a few central characters engaged in a quest; in Narnia it is much looser and less directed. But this is what's in front: you get to know and sympathize with some characters, take an interest in what's happening to them. The author's second task is the construction of a world (or in the case of HDM, a number of parallel worlds) to serve as the setting for the story. All three authors take this quite seriously, and all do it well -- though I am tempted to say Lewis' world-building is not on as high a level as Pullman's or Tolkien's, getting involved in the fictional universe is a core part of the experience of reading any of these series. One key difference is that Lewis and Tolkien rely on folklore and myth to build their worlds, where Pullman is trying to express the world (primarily) of Christian myth without relying on superstition. Pullman's is a hugely more ambitions project here, and this bit of it is not always successful. (The portion of HDM that in retrospect I found the most affecting, the descent into the world of the dead, was also the portion where the least attention was paid to science and the most use made of mythology.)

Undergirding all this is an ideological project, what I'm thinking of as an ontological narrative. Lewis is interested in retelling the story of Christian theology -- I have not studied the books closely enough to be more specific than that, there is a lot of writing on the subject out there though. Pullman (whose work can be seen as an answer to Lewis) is interested in creating a world without God, reframing the story of Christian theology into a grasping for power by forces of ignorance. (He does a magnificent job of it, though I was mainly taken with the primary story in HDM, the story of Lyra and Will's quest.) I haven't read enough of Tolkien yet to understand what his ontological narrative is; and it may be that in LOTR the main thing is really the world-building project.

posted evening of March 31st, 2009: Respond
➳ More posts about The Lord of the Rings

Sunday, May 25th, 2008

Another Narnia movie

Sylvia and I saw Prince Caspian tonight -- we enjoyed it and I would recommend it to people who are fans of the books. I don't think I'd recommend it as a movie to somebody who is not predisposed to like it; I guess my reaction to it was a little bit like Ebert's reaction to the latest Indiana Jones movie.

Good things: the talking animals, great; Trumpkin, great; the beautiful scenery and handsome actors were candy for my eyes. The camera work in the opening sequence was really startlingly good. Not so good: There wasn't really anything to distinguish this movie as a different film from the previous one -- where the two books are quite distinct from one another. A lot of the battle footage in particular, which made up a huge proporiton of the film, seemed like it could easily just have been lifted out of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Sylvia had a good time identifying the differences between the movie and the book, which I guess means the movie was faithful enough to the book, for them to stand out.

posted evening of May 25th, 2008: 2 responses
➳ More posts about The Movies

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

Home safe

Ellen and Sylvia are back home from their D.C. vacation -- they had a good trip and took plenty of pictures.

Sylvia was play-acting this afternoon and I found this snippet pretty amusing:

I'm an eagle!... I'm soaring... across the ground...

While she was away, Sylvia finished Further Adventures of the Great Brain, and got about halfway through Prince Caspian. (Odd combination, a little -- she has been really wrapped up in the Great Brain books lately, and she wanted to reread Caspian before the film comes out.) I'm so proud!

posted evening of April 24th, 2008: Respond
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Wednesday, January 11th, 2006

At the beginning of Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the narrator introduces Lucy and says that she had already gotten to visit her magical country twice (referring to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian). Sylvia thinks about this for a while and points out that it was actually three times, referring to the three separate visits in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

posted evening of January 11th, 2006: Respond

Tuesday, December 27th, 2005

Abridgement

We have read seven chapters of Prince Caspian; chapters 4 through 7 are a story-within-a-story, in which the dwarf Trumpkin tells the children how Caspian came to leave Miraz' castle and to be recognized as king by the old Narnians. Last night as we sat down to read chapter 7, I had almost forgotten that this was a digression, and was thinking of Trumpkin's story as the main story in the book.

Sylvia however had not forgotten. She said she was bored with this story as I opened the book; I didn't quite get her meaning and asked if she wanted to stop reading about Narnia and find a different book. But that was not it -- after a little back and forth, searching for expressions, she let me know that she was tired of hearing the dwarf's story and wanted to get back to the main frame where the children were. So, we skipped 7 and read 8 last night.

Funny, this was a little like The Princess Bride except in reverse -- Dad did not have it together enough to abridge the uninteresting portions of the book so young Sylvia took the task in hand herself.

posted morning of December 27th, 2005: Respond
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Thursday, December 22nd, 2005

Lies

Sylvia and I have finished The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and moved on to the second Narnia book, Prince Caspian. (We are reading them approximately in order of publication, rather than in chronological order as Lewis recommended -- see this Wikipaedia article for more info.) Sylvia is getting the plot tie-ins between the two books very strongly.

Tonight we read Chapter 4, in which the dwarf begins telling the children the story of how Prince Caspian came to learn of the history of Narnia. Early in the chapter, there is a confrontation between Caspian and his uncle King Miraz, with Miraz telling Caspian that the stories of Old Narnia are old wives' tales and lies. Sylvia was at first a bit perplexed; she knew the stories were accurate as the matched up with the previous book. She quickly figured out that Miraz was lying and each time he told Caspian not to believe in Old Narnia, she was quick to interject that he was wrong. That seemed to me like fun and like a fairly complex level of understanding the books.

posted evening of December 22nd, 2005: Respond

Saturday, December 10th, 2005

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

We just got back from the movie -- it was both unexpectedly delightful, and disappointing. Nice how they adapted it to the screen -- I was really surprised and happy that there was no voice-over. But the dialogue was a bit weak, really -- that it was anachronistic was the least of its problems. A high percentage of lines in the script did not ring true as what that character would say at that moment; and a related problem was that the characters were not very well developed. I'm not sure whether to blame this on the writers or the actors, who were (with the exception of Georgie Henley as Lucy) not great.

This is coming out sounding a little like a pan; but I enjoyed the movie. It had a lot of weaknesses but it communicated well the joy and immediacy that is in Lewis' books. And the problems with the script were mostly in the first half of the film -- in general the second half (starting about when the children get to Aslan's encampment) was much stronger, and the cast really came together and started convincing me.

One niggling problem: I have always thought of the Pevensie children as younger than they were portrayed in this movie. Like I would have thought Lucy was about 4 or 5 and Peter no older than 13 -- the characters here were from 8 or so to 16 or so. And I'm not sure why they tied the movie in to the historical moment so strongly with the first scene, of the Pevensie family in their bomb shelter. It might be a good idea to do so but I think it would have required some development in the rest of the movie to ring true -- otherwise it just seems tacked on. (It knocked Sylvia for a bit of a loop; she thought we were watching a preview for a different movie until the scene about 5 minutes in, where the children come to the Professor's house.)

The visual effects and animations were in general great -- Aslan in particular, breathtaking. The only exception was the bit where the children are on the breaking ice in the stream, which looked pretty cheesy to me. (And note: this is something that was not in the book, appears to have been added in just to show what cool tricks they could do with CGI. That seems to me like a mistake.)

posted evening of December 10th, 2005: Respond

Sylvia and I are off to watch the movie of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe this afternoon.

posted afternoon of December 10th, 2005: Respond

Friday, December 9th, 2005

Echoes

Bedtime stories for the past week or so have been chapters of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Reading Chapter 11 tonight (in which the children and Mr. and Mrs. Beaver begin their journey to the Stone Table and meet Father Christmas), I realized the narrative is reminding me a lot of The Phantom Tollbooth. It struck me while Father Christmas was giving his presents to the children, that that was like Milo getting his presents from the Mathemagician and Azaz -- and thinking about it, I am sure Juster modeled his book in some respects on Narnia.

I read all of the Narnia books when I was quite young, and possibly had some of them read to me; my memory of them is faint but I do remember liking them. I am reading to Sylvia from a very nice edition that we bought when we visited the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, MA. A really great discussion of the Narnia books has been taking place over the last few days in the comments to this post on Unfogged.

posted evening of December 9th, 2005: Respond
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