What I read in March 2017

I decided to reread some books from my bookshelf. Most people are familiar with CS Lewis’ imaginary land of Narnia since The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was made into a film. Lewis’ science fiction trilogy is less well-known.

Science fiction trilogy

Science fiction trilogy

I decided to read it having read The Shadow Doctor in which the hero, Ransom is mentioned. Ransom is a philologist, a student of words and languages. This is necessary for the plot (unless a device such as Douglas Adams’ babel fish is used).

Although I have long been a fan of Lewis’ writing, I felt that one of the reasons his science fiction books did not gain the same popularity as, for example, the works of his friend JRR Tolkien was the language used. There were words, which I should have looked up in a dictionary.

The books are imaginative and the struggle between good and evil is a constant theme in these stories. The evil at times begins in subtle ways and draws people in to a point where it is extremely hard to escape.

I have read this series before, but the details of the stories had not remained with me. Out of the Silent Planet begins in an ordinary way and suddenly has echoes of HG Wells. Perelandra is a satisfactory sequel and has some of the best descriptive passages. That Hideous Strength is in some ways a grown-up parallel to The Last Battle in the Narnia series.

My copies were printed before the revolution in the printing industry. I had forgotten the typos. I am sure a professor of English would not have used metal for mettle – perhaps he dictated to a secretary and the editor missed it. There were a couple of other errors, where spaces in the wrong place left real words, but no sense. The number of errors was about usual for books of that time (and better than many newer books I have read recently).

It would be interesting to learn what was going on in Lewis’ life as he wrote this series. The human interest increased in the final book. Perhaps he had met the lady he married late in life by this time.

Another book I read in March was by an author, who also wrote children’s books. Tove Jansson was well-known for The Moomins. I found a copy of a novel she wrote in a second-hand book sale. It is called “fair play” and was translated from Swedish in a delightful style by Thomas Teal and published by Sort of Books. Although it was published in Swedish in 1989, it was not until 2007 that it appeared in English.

It is a gentle novel about two unconventional women, who are a writer and an artist. Their conversations are totally convincing. A book to enjoy.

I recently read Holloway by Robert Macfarlane and others. It may need a post to itself as it is part of an interesting story about how blogging and social media are enriching my life.


Call me Ishmael

Call Me Ishmael

(The first sentence from Moby Dick)

Take the first sentence from your favourite book and make it the first sentence of your post.

This is today’s prompt from 365 Days of writing prompts.

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.

This is the opening line from the Voyage of the Dawn Treader by CS Lewis.

There are three directions I could take this post.

  1. I could summarise the book, but I’d prefer you to read it in its entirety without any input from me clouding your view of it.
  2. I could discuss names or I could pursue the idea of deserving something.  “What did I do to deserve that?” being a favourite reaction to difficult circumstances, a sharp retort or anything that we do not like.
  3. I am going to take a look at names.

Originally names had meanings.  Many names in the Bible were chosen because of their meanings.  I happen to have two little books about names, Discovering Christian Names and Discovering Surnames both published by Shire Publications.

Eustace comes from the Greek and means fruitful.  It is the name of the patron saint of huntsmen.

Clarence is an English name.

From the dukedom of Clarence created in 1362 for Lionel, third son of Edward III, who married the heiress of Clare in Suffolk.

So as these are both boys’ names, it might have been their sound, which the author took a dislike too.  Or perhaps he had met some unpleasant characters with these names.

There is a song about someone who had to be tough because he grew up with a girls’ name.  A Boy named Sue.  Now that song stuck in my mind for obvious reasons.  I did once meet a boy whose name was pronounced Sue.  I cannot remember which country he was from.  He almost apologised before he told me his name.  “It’s a girls’ name here…”

Chinese people living in the West often adopt a new name, which is easier for westerners to pronounce and remember.  A Chinese teenager of my acquaintance told me that she has to remember to answer to her English name.  She does not quite recognise it as being hers.

Scrubb is a name which sounds like vigorous cleaning or bushy wasteland.  It is also similar to the second half of a name of a prison.  I suspect this is the reason CS Lewis chose it.  He may have invented it – it does not appear in the book I mentioned earlier.  I could not find it in our local telephone directory.  As I was writing this (in advance) during a power cut due to stormy weather I was unable to research it on the internet immediately.  A website showing the distribution of surnames in Great Britain gave no results (fewer than 100 incidences of the name Scrubb).  My guess is that the name was invented for the character, which saves embarrassment all round.  It rhymes with Chubb – a real surname.  (The prison’s name is Wormwood Scrubs.)

Another book by CS Lewis is The Screwtape Letters.  I do not have a copy to hand, but I seem to remember that one of the characters was named Wormwood.  The association is with wormwood and gall.  Lamentations 3:15


Visiting a new planet

A new planet is beyond my imaginative powers.  Instead I’d like to take you to a planet described by a very famous writer.

The Chronicles of Narnia (seven books for children or adults who enjoy a good story) are well known.  Their author, CS Lewis was a university professor and wrote many other books.  Many modern readers may not be aware of his science fiction trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength.

I read much of his writing in my teens and my favourite of the trilogy was Perelandra, which is the name of an imaginary planet.

So while I’m not ready for space travel…  (The nearest I’ll get was perhaps this afternoon when I saw Buzz Lightyear in a remote control car going for a walk with his new owner!)

…I am recommending three books.

Written in response to the daily prompt: I was here!

You are the first astronaut to arrive on a new, uncharted planet. Write the note that you leave to those who come after you.

Photographers, artists, poets: show us CARTE BLANCHE.