Monday, February 18, 2008

The Best Narnia Book

I just watched the movie The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe, which has a longer title, I know, but I'm not going to put all of that up here. And it was pretty good, too; they captured the spirit of the book pretty well and the kids were good actors and the characters and animals looked more or less like I pictured them looking (which I think is a phenomenal thing for a director and actors to do. When I saw the Lord of the Rings movies, they looked exactly like I'd pictured. But J.R.R. Tolkien used a lot of description; C.S. Lewis is more sparse with his, so getting it right, right being the way I think it should be, is pretty good.)

The Boy, by the way, did not like Lion, and is not a fan of Narnia, which I find disappointing. However, his introduction to Narnia was less than desirable. About a year or two ago, The Boy got himself into some minor trouble and was looking to avoid grounding. I told him he could get out of being grounded if he read a book and did a book report on it, and said he had to do one of the Narnia books. He chose the shortest one, The Magician's Nephew, and reported on that.

His report was that it was boring. I took that with a grain of salt because first of all, this is a kid who is so against reading that he reported that the Harry Potter books were boring, too, and never made it past the fourth one. So clearly he's insane. The Harry Potter books were so good that I pre-ordered the seventh one and set aside an entire night to finish it, staying up until 3 in the morning... so clearly I am not insane.

I also took it with a grain of salt because The Magician's Nephew was not the best of the Narnia books. It was kind of boring. I had suggested that he either read Lion, or, if he was going to go out of order, that he pick The Best Narnia Book, which is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

I bet I read Dawn Treader fifty times in my life. When I was a kid, I used to go to the library weekly (I remember my card number: it was 4208) and take out stacks of books; new ones and ones I'd re-read over and over. Sometimes the little card in the book had my number 7, 8 times in a row. That's how much I read when I was a kid.

That level of reading explains why I am almost completely unfamiliar with pop culture from the late 70s and early 80s. People scoff when I tell them I never watched "The Dukes of Hazzard," but I didn't.

I would like to say that the level of reading also explains my almost complete lack of a social life until I was 20 or so, but that's not true. Reading was not the cause of the lack of a social life -- being overweight and having glasses and an eyepatch had a lot more to do with it. Reading was the beneficiary of my lack of a social life.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was my favorite of the Narnia books because it was so focused and because the adventure was just so different and so spectacular.

Spoiler alert!

And I'm even more diligent about putting in those spoiler alerts since everyone in the world seems bound and determined to wreck Lost for me. I'm still only 1/2-way through the second season and I know that puts me way behind, but do we have to slip Lost references into everything? They led off The Soup with "Lost" jokes one night. And this past week, Entertainment Weekly had an article called "There Will Be Blood... On Ben," and in the first sentence that explained that headline, they also revealed that a character on Lost is, in fact, an Other -- something that I had not yet found out in the show. So if I agree that I am pathetically behind on Lost, could we not spoil it for everyone for no reason? I expect it all over now; I think we're a step away from people having t-shirts with Lost spoilers on them at my health club. I'll be jogging and someone will pass me and it'll say Jack dies in the 3rd season.

Anyway, here's some spoilers for Dawn Treader: I loved the character Reepicheep, a large rat with a rapier. I liked the fight with the sea serpent slowly crushing the ship. I loved that Eustace became a dragon for a while, and I liked the part with the invisible dwarves that had one foot. But more than that, I liked the magical atmosphere of the book. As the Dawn Treader the boat got further and further away from land, Dawn Treader the book got more and more fantastic and ethereal; while the crew sailed away from the known world, so did the reader and so did the writing. So at the end, when they set off in a coracle to go over the edge of the world, it was something completely different.

And I liked the way it was written. Dawn Treader was my first experience with a sad kind of happiness. I was young then and didn't fully understand how happiness and sadness could be linked together and each make the other both more full and more tolerable. How sadness leavened happiness like salt on popcorn, making you appreciate it because you were aware of the lingering pain nearby. And how happiness could carry sadness with it and make you appreciate the sadness.

It's that sadness/happiness joinder that stands out now, years later. The voyage was to the end of the world, literally: the Pevensies were not coming back to Narnia, and Prince Caspian was not coming back to Narnia, but it was all right, somehow, because things had to be that way and because they, and we, were all better off for it. That lesson carried over into life, where frequently happiness and sadness intermingle. When we get an unexpected bonus that helps pay bills, we are happy for the bonus and sad about the bills, and our life is fuller for that experience. When someone dies after a long illness, we can be happy they are free from pain and remember them fondly, while missing them terribly. When a baby is born, there are sometimes hours of pain and trauma and suspense before you look at your little son or daughter and smile.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader taught me to understand that: to understand that transitions between one world and another, between youth and adulthood, between happiness and sadness, are not to be avoided or shunned; they are to be embraced because without the one, the other is less.

Plus, it's a terribly exciting book. Let's not lose sight of that.

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C. Morrison said...

your love of all things Narnia has inspried me to link you on my blog


Petri Dish said...

Don't forget the sweet water at the end of the earth, the scary island where all your dreams come true, the pool of water that turned everything into solid gold, the mermaids and Reepicheep leaving!

Briane P said...

Petri Dish:

I HAD forgotten those things -- except for Reepicheep leaving, which is still one of the most bittersweet moments I can remember ever reading.