Archive | January 2013

Book Review: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Book Five of “The Chronicles of Narnia” is entitled “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” Like book four this book features the young King Caspian, but also two of the four original children from “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” namely, Edmund and Lucy. It also features a new child, Eustace, the Pevensey’s cousin, who, in the beginning of the book, is a bit of an ill-mannered youngster always belittling his cousins and everything they talk about. He thinks Narnia is some fanciful yarn the other children tell, and not a real place… until he finds himself in it, as well.

The story begins with the children in our world. They are fascinated by a painting of a Narnian-style ship. There is a bit of a tussle between Edmund and Lucy on one side, and Eustace on the other—Eustace excels at making things difficult. They see the painting changing before their very eyes. The waves it depicts begin to move, as does the ship; the painting grows in size, and before you know it, the young children find themselves deposited in the sea. They are, of course, pulled aboard by the crew of the ship. There they find King Caspian, only a couple years older from when they left him in “Prince Caspian,” and they learn that the name of the ship is “The Dawn Treader.” And, I have to admit, that’s a pretty cool name for a ship in a magical land.

The children learn that King Caspian is on a quest to find the seven lords who King Miraz sent away during his reign because they might have supported Caspian during the troubles in “Prince Caspian.” Likewise, their old friend, the mouse, Reepicheep, is on a quest to sail into the uttermost East in search of the land of Aslan beyond the edge of the world. Edmund and Lucy happily join in the quest; Eustace is more interested in making trouble and complaining, and badmouthing everyone and everything.

So, they head out and have several interesting adventures along the way. They encounter slavers, an island that changes Eustace into a dragon—which in the long run, is actually good, because it teaches him what a pest he has been, although he still must grow a lot to overcome his own shortcomings—an island with a wizard who has one-legged dwarves for servants, a sea serpent, an island where dreams (particularly nightmares) are made real, and an island where two “retired” stars live. There is more, of course, but I will let you find it out for yourself when you read it.

One shortcoming of the book was the nautical terminology. Maybe (okay, probably) it was my fault and I was lazy and I didn’t look anything up in the dictionary, but there were a number of nautical terms regarding a ship that I did not know off the top of my head. I’m sure most of them would be confusing for a young child reading them for the first time. I could keep port and starboard straight, but that was about it. Other than that, the book suffers the same weaknesses as the other Narnia books… it isn’t detailed enough for an adult reader. It’s fine for kids, of course, but I find the Narnia books somewhat tiresome, although, this one was less so than the others. I managed to read this one in just a few days.

Overall, I’ll give the book four stars out of five for a child audience, and three stars out of five for an adult.

This review was originally posted on Shelfari.com on 12/30/12.

Movie Review: Les Miserables

“Les Miserables” or “Les Mis” is a musical based on the French historical novel, “Les Miserables,” by Victor Hugo. It’s not like Hollywood to do a musical, but hey, they did, and I went to see it. It’s not really fantasy, or even sci-fi, for that matter, but as I’ve said before, it’s my blog, I’ll review what I want to. It’s set in the early nineteenth century in France. The primary focus of the story is the life of Jean Valjean (played by Hugh Jackman), a man imprisoned for 19 years for stealing bread to feed his starving family. The story begins with his release from prison.

 

A number of other characters appear throughout the film, but all of them relate back to Jean Valjean in some way. There is a very strict, devoted French Inspector (played by Russell Crowe) who haunts Jean’s steps throughout his life, always seeking to throw him back in prison. There is a destitute woman in Jean’s employ in his new life who gets fired, turns to prostitution, then dies (played by Anne Hathaway). Jean goes on to raise her child for her, who grows up and falls in love with a man involved with the burgeoning rebellion.

The above is basically a summary of a summary. The story is too complex to really do it justice in just a paragraph. Overall, I found it quite moving. Jean started out in the pit of misery, but through the strength of his spirit, built a life for himself from nothing (well, actually, from a gift of valuables from a priest) and set himself on the path to redemption. Throughout the film he is constantly proving his worth as a caring, compassionate man, despite the trials and tribulations that beset him. It was actually quite inspiring.

 

I don’t know if there were any major flaws in the movie, and it probably deserves five stars. It’s definitely a far richer fare than what Hollywood usually serves up. Still, it’s a musical. And I don’t really care for musicals that much… well, that view may be changing because of this movie.

 

So, anyway, I’ll give this film four and a half stars out of five. But I don’t see that many musicals, so it’s hard for me to judge accurately. Perhaps it really is worthy of five.

Book Review: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

The fourth book of “The Chronicles of Narnia” is entitled “Prince Caspian.” In this book, C. S. Lewis builds on the story of the four youngsters who played such an important role in “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe,” namely: Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. The four children are pulled out of our world and sent to Narnia by the power of a magical horn that a certain Prince Caspian blows in desperation to summon aid.

The children arrive on the scene in Narnia literally thousands of years after they originally reigned in “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.” The castle that was the seat of their power is now a ruin. The landscape has altered: rivers are not where they are expected to be. The magical powers of the land are weakened: forests lie dormant, and many of the animals of that world no longer speak. It is, indeed, a dark time.

With the help of a dwarf guide they set out to render assistance to Prince Caspian. Prince Caspian, the rightful ruler of Narnia, has been usurped by his uncle Miraz, the ruthless Telmarine King who seeks Caspian’s death. Caspian, once in Miraz’s care, has fled the Telmarine castle and taken up with those few of the old Narnians—the talking animals, the wood spirits, and what-have-you—who are willing to fight for their old land and for this new promising king who is not afraid of them and will cherish their magical ways. As a result, the armies of King Miraz and the armies of King Caspian are destined to clash at Aslan’s How, the location where the great Lion, Aslan, came back from the dead in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.”

Aslan, of course, does make an appearance in the book. First, he is seen by Lucy, but not the others; however, shortly, beginning with Edmund, the others start to see him. I won’t dwell anymore on the plot elements of the book; if you are further interested, you should read it. Like the other Narnia books, it is an excellent fantasy novel that espouses much of the Christian ethics that has so influenced so much of the world. But, like the others, I must emphasize it is a children’s book. Although it was not as tiresome as some of the others, I still had to struggle to finish it—but that’s because I’m an adult, I think. I do believe young children would enjoy it immensely.

Overall, I would give this book four stars out of five for a young children audience, but only two and half or so for an adult audience. The writing style is just too simplistic and quick. I just never felt like I could quite immerse myself in the world created or anything like that.

This review was originally posted on Shelfari on 12/30/12.

Fantasy Literature: The Aging Vampire

In “Dracula,” Bram Stoker’s grand masterpiece, Count Dracula is roughly four hundred years old, if I recall correctly. In my own novel, “Drasmyr,” Lucian val Drasmyr is about one thousand years old, give or take. I have seen films and stories where the vampire is as old as 10,000 years old. Clearly, vampires “live” longer than humans, but what is the significance of their extended lifetimes?

At some level it may just be a yearning on our part for something timeless and immortal. Such makes what the vampire offers (virtual immortality) that much more enticing. He can take away our death and suffering, end our pain. But how does the vampire see his own immortality?

Part of that can be understood by looking at how a vampire ages. The process, of course, differs somewhat with every story. In “Dracula” our illustrious Count aged like a mortal man (or something like that) when he did not get his fill of blood. Count Dracula is a very old man when Jonathan Harker first encounters him in his castle—although he is strong and spry for such an “old man.” Later, in London after he has sated much of his appetite, his iron-gray hair has turned black, and he looks like a man in his prime. This raises a number of interesting questions, but I want to remain focused on just his aging. Clearly, Bram Stoker’s vampire does age, he just has a handy mechanism to reverse it.

Another common theme in vampire lore is that vampires grow stronger with time. So, the older the vampire, the more powerful he is, and the more difficult he is to destroy. This theme was implied in “Dracula,” but I don’t think it was ever explicitly stated. In fact, at one point Van Helsing said the Count had the brain of a child, but a very clever one, or something to that effect. Still, Dracula was the master of three other vampires in his castle. There are two possible reasons for this; either he made the other vampires, or he was simply the eldest. Both seem plausible and neither seems mutually exclusive.

Today’s vampires have taken old age to grand new heights. In “Vampire Hunter D,” an anime film from the late 80’s, early 90’s, Count Magnus Lee is 10,000 years old. As such, he is virtually indestructible. He rules his clan of vampires with an iron fist. At his age, he’s actually gained telekinetic powers, among other things. But at a certain point does not adding a few more thousand years onto the age of your vampire seem tiresome? I mean, really, we get the point. The thing won’t die.

Still, I find the aging vampire and the powers such bestows upon it an interesting facet of the vampire’s multi-faceted persona. It provides a rich and malleable measure to differentiate vampires from one another and keep them unique at the same time.

Book Review: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Horse and His Boy

Of all the books that make up C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia” this one, “The Horse and His Boy” is perhaps the most unusual. In every other book, the main characters start in Earth and come to Narnia through some magical portal to learn some important lesson. In this one, although the main characters do not live in the land of Narnia, they start in the same world. They come from a land south of Narnia on the Narnia map in the land of Calormen.

 

From the descriptions of the people, the actions they take, and the language they use, Calormen seems to me to be a metaphor for the Arab nations of Earth and their views of the great Tisroc might be construed as a metaphor for Islam. I’m not sure about that completely as I am not fully conversant in Islam or C.S. Lewis’ scholarly background. But it seems likely. As such, there is a developed contrast between Narnia (Christianity) and Calormen (Islam/Arabia) and as C.S. Lewis is a Christian, Christianity comes out clearly as the winner in this book. Personally, I do think Christianity has an edge over Islam (but again, I’m not fully conversant in Islam), but my views are not relevant to this review or the work as a whole.

 

Anyway, the four main characters of this novel are: the young boy, Shasta, the young girl, Aravis, and the two Talking Horses, Hwin and Bree. The book starts with Shasta living a desperate life of servitude in Calormen and the story, as a whole, generally revolves around him. In the beginning, he’s pretty much a slave-boy to his “father,” Arsheesh, a poor fisherman. Then one day, a nobleman comes to his father’s hut, and, seeing the boy, wants to buy him as a slave. His “father” and the nobleman begin to barter. That night, now in even more desperate straits, Shasta escapes on the nobleman’s horse who just happens to be Bree, a Talking Horse from Narnia who is pretending to be a dumb animal wishing he could return to Narnia.

 

Shasta and Bree take flight north towards Narnia. Along the way, they encounter Aravis and her Talking Horse, Hwin. They team up and begin their journey.

 

Another unusual aspect of this book is that this story takes place before the end of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” It happens sometime during the reign of the two kings and two queens of Narnia from that book. Shasta and his company encounter King Edmund and Queen Lucy several times during the book. Or is it Queen Susan? I’ve forgotten already. Anyway, I won’t reveal the ending.

 

It’s a decent book for kids, morally speaking. It embraces the Christian ethos while providing an intriguing, fun adventure story.

 

I was having some issues while reading the latter half of this book, so I don’t feel comfortable giving it a precise ranking, so I will give it a range. I think it is about three and a half to four stars out of five, inasmuch as it’s a children’s book. Adults probably wouldn’t enjoy it as much (I know I didn’t: these Narnia books are becoming something of a challenge to finish).

This review was originally published on Shelfari.com on 12/30/12.

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