Wednesday, September 22, 2010

CS Lewis taught me all I know

I love talking about kids' books and what we read when we were kids. What's fascinating too is how what you read comes back to you and how it creeps into your own work as a sort of cross-pollination.

I was reminded of this when I was writing an erotic romance for another publisher (oh, okay, if you insist: Tell Me More, Harlequin Spice, Aug. 2011. In small letters so as not to offend HarperCollins). I had a scene where a character was exploring a mysterious house and I immediately remembered a scene in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where Lucy Pevensey has to explore such a house to find a magic spell. I haven't read this in years but I immediately remembered how Lucy caught a sight of her reflection in a mirror that was framed with a beard and thought a stranger was peering out at her... creepy!

And then soon after that, my heroine had to hide in a closet. With coats hanging in it. And another couple came into the closet, and ... well, it became rather un-CS Lewis-like after that point. But what sparked all of this off was yet another book I'd just read, The Magicians by Lev Grossman, an amazing, astonishing, scary read that starts off, very deceptively, like a Harry Potter for adults, progresses to a grown-up sort of Narnia, and then turns into something much more dark and menacing.

I enjoyed CS Lewis's books a lot when I was a kid and occasionally re-read them as an adult. The Christianity in them never bothered me, although I found the hammer-it-home platonic theory of The Last Battle (not to mention all the dead people) a bit hard to handle and I've never read that one again. The rest, I love.

But, like so many other books I once loved, I now find myself reading CS Lewis with a critical eye. Even as a kid I wondered how, in a land where it is forever winter, there was any food at all, let alone tea, buttered toast, and sardines (yum! It's an English thing--that's Mr. Tumnus's high tea in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and here's a gratuitous pic of James MacEvoy whom I find alarmingly attractive even when he's a pale, freckly goatboy). I also found the "boys taking charge" thing a bit much, now and then.

I admire the way CS Lewis tied some of his loose ends up when he wrote The Magician's Nephew: he explains the origin of the wardrobe and why there's a lamp post in the middle of the Narnian woods, and where that danged White Witch came from anyway. (Okay, this is a safe place. Raise your hand if you, too, have a massive girl crush on Tilda.) That's something I love to see happen in my own writing, when something pops into my brain and onto the page and although I may not know it at the time, there's a reason and a story behind it.

In a burst of self promotion, I must remind you that there are only a few days left to enter the Goodreads contest for a free copy of Jane and the Damned (released 9/28/10), and there is yet another contest, for a $25 gift certificate if you "like" my newly-launched Facebook author page. I also have a book trailer, and here it is. Enjoy!

Did you read CS Lewis? Or any another author of children's books who sparked your imagination?


Claire Dawn said...

As a kid, I was all over Gary Paulsen and Roald Dahl. And embarrasingly, BabySitters' Club.

Helen Lowe said...

I loved CS Lewis, too, as a kid, as well as other UK writers like Diana Wynne Jones (I think it was The Power of Three that hooked me in, but she's written a huge number), Alan Garner, (Elidor, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen), Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series and Margaret Mahy's 'The Changeover'. Madeleine L'Engle's 'A Wrinkle in Time' was another favorite. And that's only the Fantasy writers! :-)

Sara said...

To give my mom a break from 3 busy daughters my dad used to read to us. CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien (both the Hobbit and the LOTR trilogy), George MAcDonald (The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie) and Frances Browne (Granny's Wonderful Chair) were my bedtime stories. The books still resonate with me today and now I'm rereading them for myself and for my own children.

Janet Mullany said...

@Claire, I discovered Roald Dahl by reading him to my daughter--what a weird and wonderful writer (and she glommed onto the Babysitters' Club too).

@Helen, Alan Garner! Yes! Great writing.

@Sara, my parents read to me, too, tho I can't remember which books. And I read to my daughter a lot. It's a wonderful tradition to have.

Sharon S. said...

Love the illustrations for your trailer and the line "damned, fanged and dangerous!" .
I didn't read much as a child, to busy playing sports. When I did start reading around 12-ish it was Stephen King.
I am reading "The Magicians" right now. I am about half-way through. Very curious about the ending now...

Victoria Janssen said...

Books I read over and over as a kid were the Chronicles of Narnia, The Swiss Family Robinson, Huckleberry Finn (even the scary parts!), and Kipling's KIM.

Jen Chandler said...

Funny, but I've been talking a lot about CS Lewis lately. I didn't read the Chronicles of Narnia until I was an adult (an unfortunate run-in with the BBC adaptation of them ruined them for me...). I thank JRR Tolkien for introducing me to Lewis :)

My favorite book growing up was A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. I still read it at least once a year (if not more). I find myself thinking about her Time Quintet a lot while I write.

(And since this is a safe place, I'll raise both hands for crushing on McAvoy and Tilda ;D)


Janet Mullany said...

@Sharon, the ending is surprising. I loved it but I know a lot of people didn't, but then it's a book full of tricks. What else would you expect?

@Victoria hi! I love Kipling's Just So Stories but never got into Kim that much. I know he's a racist, sexist dead white male, but by golly he could write.

@Jen, I remember that BBC adaptation. It was pretty lame. Did you know, btw, that Dawn Treader is in production??? I also need to know if you find McAvoy particularly attractive as a goat, since you're in confessional mood.

Sullivan McPig said...

For me it's a Dutch writer Thea Beckman. She wrote awesome historical novels. Only one of them has been translated in English 'Crusade in Jeans'

Cylver said...

I loved The Chronicles of Narnia when I was a kid! It was because of those books that I learned to love reading, and not just consider it a schoolwork chore. I reread them in high school and was amazed by them all over again!
Other books I loved? Harriet the Spy, anything by Roald Dahl, a great book called The Silver Crown, The Wind in the Willows (so lovely!) and a book I loved, even though it creeped me out, called A Candle in Her Room.

Patricia Lynne said...

We had the Chronicles of Narnia when i was little and I read them all. I loved the Horse and His Boy (partly because I was a horse fanatic then and partly because it was damn good story) Other books I remember reading was Rudyard Kiplings Jungle Book and the one w/ the mongoose I think. Oh and Black Beauty, had a little book that had pics every other page with descriptions of the scene. Read that one a million times.

nymfaux said...

Great post!!! I actually didn't read Narnia until I was in college--I was a HUGE Harry Potter fan (still am), and had come across something comparing J.K. Rowling with C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, so I decided to pick up the books and read them myself. I really enjoyed them--but similar to what you were saying, although I knew the Christian themes were there, I barely noticed them--Although once I saw the first movie and I could really SEE it, whereas I somehow overlooked it while I was reading....Except for the last book. I still feel totally scarred by that book--none of the others prepared me for it--They talk about Harry Potter being to grown up for kids--I can't imagine how that last book can be intended for children...I don't know, maybe it had more of an impact because I was an adult? Maybe I wouldn't have given it a second thought as a kid? Either way, I still feel traumatized.

And other weird side-effects of reading Narnia, is that even though I didn't necessarily notice the Christian themes throughout Narnia, when I went back to Harry Potter and found Christian undertones popping out all over the place.

Oh, and I'm pretty sure that LOST is basically a Narnia reboot, especially the ending.

Janet Mullany said...

nymphaux, Harry Potter is full of medieval symbolism, so you're absolutely right about the Christianity subtext. For instance, Harry's mother's name is Lily, the flower of the Virgin Mary, and most of the critters are medieval in origin. I have a friend who writes academic papers on the subject!

nymfaux said...

@Janet I totally agree!!!!! When I was in college, half of us were reading Harry Potter while we were reading Chaucer, Dante, Shakespeare and we had connections from myths and legends popping out all over the place!!!!!

That's so cool that your friend writes papers on the subject--there's definitely a lot to write about!!!