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review SPOILER ALERT! 2015-01-09 06:24
Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

"The last drops of the thundershower had hardly ceased falling when the Pedestrian stuffed his map into his pocket, settled his pack more comfortably on his tired shoulders, and stepped out from the shelter of a large chestnut tree into the middle of the road."

 

During a hike in the English hills, Elwin Ransom stumbles across a boyhood acquaintance, Devine, and his friend Weston, a scientist.  Secretly these two men drug Ransom and take him in a spaceship to the planet, Malacandra, known in earth language as Mars.  When he revives, Ransom overhears that he is to be offered as a human sacrifice for an alien race called the Sorns, and he plans his escape.  Finding himself alone on this strange planet, he eventually encounters creatures called the Hrossa.  Initially very simple and traditional in their ways, Ransom begins to realize that they have an intelligence that may surpass earthly intelligence.  Quickly he learns their language and begins to value their ways, yet all too soon he is sent on a mission to the Oyarsa, the ruling being of Malacandra.  His adventures not only throw him once again into conflict with Devine and Weston, where blind scientific ardour and unconscionable greed clash with humanity's better nature, but Ransom is finally able to discover why Earth is considered the "silent planet".

 

Malacandra is presented as a rather simple society, with the Hross being like shepherds and poets, and the Sorns the intellectuals, imparting wisdom to the community.  Yet, in spite of the obvious higher intellect of the inhabitants, Devine and Weston perceive them as being primitive and unintelligent because they do not have the scientific advances of Earth.  Weston, in particular, grasps onto his pre-conceptions like a drowning man, refusing to believe that such primitive appearance could ever understand or grapple with his vision of a new type of man.  His ingrained perceptions, that have been formed by science, make him blind to the beauty and intricacies of Malacandrian culture, and even worse, his grandiose plans for the needs of man, allows him to view the Malacandrians as sub-human and therefore, expendable.

 

source Wikipedia

 

 

Lewis wrote Out of the Silent Planet as a deliberate critique of Evolutionism, in particular in response to two written works, one by Olaf Stapledon, Last and First Men, and an essay by J.B. Haldane, published in a volume titled Possible Worlds.  Both saw men evolving into a divinity that could jump from planet to planet, a being stripped down to pure intelligence.  Lewis felt that each, while on one hand portrayed man as a fascinating and beautiful creature, nevertheless showed man's littleness.  To him these views held a potential danger, opening the door to options of experiments on humans and animals. (Interestingly, Lewis was a firm anti-vivisectionist and he would never set traps for the mice who inhabited his rooms at Oxford.)  He stated that the trilogy was less a tribute to earlier science fiction than a kind of exorcism of some of its ideas.  At its heart, the trilogy is anti-Wellsian and to its conception, Lewis credited a one-of-a-kind novel, David Lindsay's Voyage to Arcturus.  To his friend, Ruth Pitter, he wrote:  "From Lindsay I learned what other planets in fiction are really good for: for spiritual adventures.  Only they can satisfy the craving which sends our imaginations off the earth.  Or putting it in another way, in him I first saw the terrific results produced by the union of two kinds of fiction hitherto kept apart: the Novalis, G. MacDonald, James Stephens sort and the H.G. Wells, Jules Verne sort.  My debt to him is very great."  Lewis was trying something new!

 

A wonderful start to The Space Trilogy.  When I first read the trilogy, this book was my favourite, probably because it was the least complex.  Even so, Lewis weaves in views of how medievals saw the universe and angels, as well as sprinkling elements of classicism throughout.  The next book is Perelandra. Hang on to your seats because "you ain't seen nothing yet"!

 

"The weakest of my people does not fear death.  It is the Bent One, the lord of your world, who wastes your lives and befouls them with flying from what you know will overtake you in the end.  If you were subjects of Maledil you would have peace"

 

 

 

© Cleo and Classical Carousel, Years 2014 - 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cleo and Classical Carousel with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2015-01-07 01:52
Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope

"Before the reader is introduced to the modest country medical practitioner who is to be the chief personage of the following tale, it will be well that he should be made acquainted with some particulars as to the locality in which, and the neighbours among whom, our doctor followed his profession."

 

Good, dependable Doctor Thorne, our esteemed doctor of Greshambury, lives with his young niece named, Mary.  Yet there is a secret around Mary's birth that few people know; she is the illegitimate daughter of Doctor Thorne's older brother and the sister of Roger Scatcherd, a former poor stonemason and prison inmate, who has amassed a fortune that makes him the rich owner of a large estate.  The ruling family, the Greshams, accept Mary's company and she is friends with some of the daughters, but when it is learned that Frank, the only son, is in love with her, she becomes persona non grata and is ostracized from their company.  A lively plot begins as Frank is determined to marry Mary, Roger Scatcherd is determined to drink himself to death, an inheritance is unclear, and society struggles to maintain its traditional structure.

 

 

As much as I enjoyed this book, there were a few disappointments, as well. Because this novel was serialized, I found the pacing somewhat inconsistent, which took away a little bit of the enjoyment. After building up slowly with the characters and their situations, Trollope suddenly had nearly a year pass by, a declaration, and then another year was gone, all in the space of a few dozen pages. My second disappointment dealt with the plot itself. One aspect that I enjoy about Jane Austen's writing, for example, is her ability to take a traditional situation and explore possibilities just outside of that tradition. Trollope lulls the reader into expecting the same, yet at the end of the tale, tradition wins out: Scatcherd is shown as an example of what can happen to those who try to rise above their station, Mary becomes an heiress, she marries Frank, and everyone is happy only because convention is followed.  Well, I say, "bah!" to convention!  While I realize departing drastically from societal norms wouldn't be believable, one would think that Trollope could have challenged convention in a plausible way that would have made the story more intriguing. But ultimately money remains the commodity that is worshiped, everyone is happily kept in their social positions, with the same perceptions and the same prejudices, and with nothing unusual or radical to stir them out of their complacency.  Bah!

 

Perhaps you are wondering why I have barely mentioned Doctor Thorne, who bears the prestigious title of the novel.  Well, curiously, the tale revolves around many characters other than Doctor Thorne.  But while the action circulates around these characters, his importance in this tale is inescapable. He is the respected thread that holds the neighbours together, the good sense in the quandry, the steadying force in the chaos.  He is like the eye of the hurricane, a calm centre while everything else blows in a whirlwind around him.  His tranquil, composed demeanor and sincere warmth and compassion never falter.  In this I can agree with Trollope; he was certainly the hero for me.

 

The next book up is Framley Parsonage.  So far my favourite is still The Warden but, with three more to go, a new favourite is not out of the question!

 

 

The Barsetshire Series

 

 

 

 

© Cleo and Classical Carousel, Years 2014 - 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cleo and Classical Carousel with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

 

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review 2014-12-18 12:28
The Man Who Was Thursday, A Nightmare by G.K. Chesterton

"The suburb of Saffron Park lay on the sunset side of London, as red and ragged as a cloud of sunset."

 

Why, oh why, does Chesterton confuse me so?  At first this book appeared to start as a mystery.  Two poets meet in Saffron Park, one, Lucian Gregory, a creative anarchist, the other, Gabriel Syme, a conservative poet and undercover police detective.  By his wit and resources, Syme infiltrates the anarchist's group called the Central Anarchist Council, getting himself named one of its seven members, christened "Thursday".  Yet can he stop the assassination attempt the group is planning and expose this dastardly anarchical organization?

 

The book is much more than a mystery, which readily becomes apparent as the reader makes his way through the entertaining yet confusing prose. There was an initial discussion about anarchy and art, yet I soon realized that the two poets were comparing anarchy and law.  As I read my way through, various questions arose.  Why were the council members named after the days of the week?  Does this point towards some sort of creation story?  Why do all the members who appear evil are not as they seem? What are they really fighting against?  Why is the subtitle "A Nightmare"?  And what was the point of Syme's promise to Gregory? It is mentioned numerous times so it should have some importance.

 

Yet the big question that hangs over the characters and the reader alike is: Who is the leader of the group, Sunday?  The Professor, named Friday, reveals:

 

"I confess that I should feel a bit afraid of asking Sunday who he really is." 

"Why," asked the Secretary, "for fear of bombs?" 

"No," said the Professor, "for fear that he might tell me."

 

In one review, the reviewer claimed that Sunday represents Nature.  Well, perhaps.  He is both benign and frightening, as this description shows:

 

"You would not know [his name] ……  That is his greatness.  Caesar and Napoleon put all their genius into being heard of, and they were heard of.  He puts all his genius into not being heard of, and his is not heard of.  But you cannot be for five minutes in the room with him without feeling that Caesar and Napoleon would have been children in his hands."

 

Sunday's words about himself are even more chilling:

 

"Since the beginning of the world all men have hunted me like a wolf ---- kings and sages, and poets and law-givers, all the churches, and all the philosophers.  But I have never been caught yet, and the skies will fall in the time I turn to bay.  I have given them a good run for their money ……….  There's one thing I'll tell you though about who I am.  I am the man in the dark room, who made you all policemen."

 

After its publication in 1908, The Man Who Was Thursday came under a storm of critical approval.  Frighteningly complex, it has been  hailed as "amazingly clever",  "shamelessly beautiful prose", "a remarkable acrobatic performance" and "a scurrying, door-slamming farce that ends like a chapter in the Apocalypse."  One reader declared himself "dazed" at the end of it, which perfectly described my puzzled demeanor as I closed the last page.

 

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1909)

source Wikipedia

 

 

As you see, reading the book brought about more questions than answers, so instead I will leave you with a taste of what others have said about this novel:

 

"Roughly speaking, it's about anarchists …… And roughly speaking, it's a mystery story.  It can be guaranteed that you will never, never guess the solution until you get to the end ---- it is even feared that you may not guess it then.  You may never guess what The Man Who Was Thursday is about.  But definitely, if you don't, you'll ask. " 

                                                                     ~  Orson Welles  ~

 

 

"…… mystery and allegory take their turn in the scene.  Life, huge, shapeless, cruel and loving, killing and saving, full of antitheses, appearing to each one under a different aspect, measuring each man according to the strength of his soul, turns its strange face upon us.  Life, whose soul is law, nature, whose expression is law, confront the frantic lawlessness of struggling man ---- and behold, those very struggles prove to be based on law again.  And when at the last you sit on the thrones with the Council of Days, you see the mad, miraculous world dance by, moving to a harmony none the less invincible because only half heard."
                                                ~  Hildegarde Hawthorne  ~

 

I highly recommend this book to ……….. well, to anyone!  Read it as a mystery, read it as a commentary, read it as philosophy,  read it as a fantasy, read it as theology ---- it has something for everyone. Perhaps it should be described as a mystery without end, a true symphony of brilliance by Chesterton, in which nothing is ever how it seems!

 

If you've read The Man Who Was Thursday, what do you think the story was about?

 

 

Further Reading:

 

 

 

 

 

© Cleo and Classical Carousel, Years 2014 - 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cleo and Classical Carousel with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

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review 2014-12-16 03:43
Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis

"I was born in the winter of 1898 at Belfast, the son of a solicitor and of a clergyman's daughter."

 

And so begins the autobiography of one of the most prolific writer's of his time, C.S. Lewis.  While Lewis gives an engaging description of his life as a boy, first in Ireland, and then later in England, his main goal is to give the reader little windows into the experience that he called "Joy", which one can equate with the German word, "Sehensucht" translated into English as an "intense longing".  During his childhood, Lewis experienced brief yet keen feelings of this profound yearning.  If one tried to manufacture this emotion or hold onto it, it would simply remain illusive or slip away; it came of its own volition, which indicated to Lewis that this desire pointed to something beyond himself.

 

In the Garden (1885)

William Merritt Chase

source Wikiart

 

 

Lewis' first glimpse of "Joy" was when his brother Warnie showed him a garden that he had built of moss and twigs on top of a biscuit tin. Lewis said, "As long as I live my imagination of Paradise will retain something of my brother's toy garden." Other experiences of joy appeared as he grew and Lewis felt that because our own natural world could not supply what our souls longed for, there must be something supernatural that could fulfill this Sehensucht.  Eventually Joy brought him face-to-face with God.

 

Magdalen College Oxford

source Wikipedia

 

What was especially refreshing about this biography was that Lewis didn't treat his conversion as coming out of the darkness into the light, so much as presenting it as a recovery of the delights of childhood that he felt were pointing him in the direction of Christ.  In many ways, this is an Augustinian-type experience, yet while Augustine was definitely searching for a meaning to life, the "meaning" seemed to be pursuing Lewis, and he describes his conversion in startling terms, "You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet.  That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me.  In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England."  But he then goes on to say, "I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing: the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms …….  The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation."

 

Before I wrap up this review and somewhat off topic, Lewis made a curious reference to automobiles in this biography, which I found very insightful and profound.

"I number it among my blessings that my father had no car, while yet most of my friends had, and sometimes took me for a drive. This meant that all these distant objects could be visited just enough to clothe them with memories and not impossible desires, while yet they remained ordinarily as inaccessible as the Moon.  The deadly power of rushing about wherever I pleased had not been given me.  I measured distances by the standard of man, man walking on his two feet, not by the standard of the internal combustion engine.  I had not been allowed to deflower the very idea of distance; in return I possessed 'infinite riches' in what would have been to motorists 'a little room'.  The truest and most horrible claim made for modern transport is that it 'annihilates space.'  It does.  It annihilates one of the most glorious gifts we have been given.  It is a vile inflation which lowers the value of distance, so that a modern boy travels a hundred miles with less sense of liberation and pilgrimage and adventure than his grandfather got from traveling ten.  Of course if a man hates space and wants it to be annihilated, that is another matter.  Why not creep into his coffin at once?  There is little enough space there."

 

A very biting commentary, but for me it rang with truth and made me wonder how much "Joy" has been robbed by modern conveniences.  Hmmm …….

 

In any case, this was a wonderful, uplifting biography that I fortunately get to read again for my WEM Project at some point in the future!

 

 

 

 

© Cleo and Classical Carousel, Years 2014 - 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cleo and Classical Carousel with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

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review 2014-12-09 05:31
Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope

"In the latter days of July in the year 185--, a most important question was for ten days hourly asked in the cathedral city of Barchester, and answered every hour in various ways ---- Who was to be the new bishop?"

 

War has broken out in the city of Barchester.  The different factions are preparing by arming themselves with disingenuous weapons.  Tongues are being exercised, rapier wit is being sharpened, and soon a victor will be declared.

 

The new chaplain, Mr. Obadiah Slope has arrived in Barchester with the new bishop Proudie and his termagant wife .  Whilst Mr. Slope shows the high opinion he holds of himself, the clergy and certain townspeople take a strong dislike to his oily sycophancy and the fight is on.  Will Archdeacon Grantly be able to run Mr. Slope out of Barchester? Or will Mr. Slope become the new Dean?  Yet his marriage to the widow Eleanor Bold, Mr. Septimus Harding's daughter, is a certainty.  Or is it?  Bertie Stanhope, the indolent son of Dr. Vessey Stanhope, is a contender for her affections but, oops ….. into the picture strides Mr. Arabin, vicar of St. Ewold and Grantly's ally, to further muddy the marital waters.  And, as for the battle over the appointment of the new warden of Hiram's Hospital, will Mr. Harding recover this honoured position, or will Mr. Quiverful triumph over his competitor, effectively providing his wife and children with the support they had heretofore been lacking?

 

 

In a town amongst characters, where black can seem white, and up suddenly down, the romping hilarity of the story firmly keeps the reader engaged and attentive.   Trollope, himself had a personal love for his masterpiece:  "In the writing of Barchester Towers I took great delight.  The bishop and Mrs. Proudie were very real to me, as were also the troubles of the archdeacon and the loves of Mr. Slope."  Sadly his publishers were not initially in accord, claiming the novel to be full of "vulgarity and exaggeration."  How fortunate, in spite of this initial critique, that this novel has captured the imagination and humour of readers worldwide for nearly 160 years, and has given the people of Barchester an immorality that was originally in jeopardy.

 

The Barsetshire Chronicles

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