Thoughts on C. S. Lewis

:This year’s Verge conference at Trinity Western University is all about C. S. Lewis. Trinity Western is in Langley, BC, and it’s home to the Inklings Institute of Canada, co-directed by Monika Hilder and Stephen dunning. The keynote speaker for this year’s conference is Michael Ward, author of Planet Narnia: the Seven heavens in the Imagination of c. s. Lewis.
Michael Ward is something of a rock star when it comes to Lewis scholarship. His book, Planet Narnia, has helped change the way many people read the Narnia books. Ward lines up the seven books of the series with the seven planets of medieval cosmology. It sounds a little daunting, especially if you don’t know much about the medieval understanding of the universe; however, Ward is amazingly lucid when it comes to his approach. The BBC has even made a film about Ward and his ideas, the Narnia code.
Michael Ward and The Narnia Code

I came to the Verge conference specifically to hear Michael Ward speak. His public lecture on Wednesday evening was packed with scholars and Lewis fans. Ward is a fine speaker: he brings you along for the ride, and he makes sure you never get lost. And he’s funny, too.
Commenting on his approach to the Narnia books, and the fact that no one has made such a connection before now, Ward said to the audience on Wednesday, “If you’re sceptical, you should be.”
Inviting the audience’s scepticism in this way was disarming, but Ward didn’t have to worry someone wasn’t on his side—the audience’s enthusiastic response made that clear. His approach just simply works. He further claims Lewis actually planned the Narnia books to line up with the planets in this way. Here, I have more trouble, but that’s a discussion for another time.
The medieval world view placed the Earth at the centre of the universe, with seven planets in the sky. The Moon and the sun were two of these seven planets, or bodies visible to medieval observers. Ward aligns each of the books in the Narnia series with one of these heavenly bodies. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, for example, is the sun book. This is easier to understand at the outset, as King Caspian’s voyage is to the east, journeying into the sun and the end of the world.
If you take time to explore Ward’s book, you won’t be disappointed. It adds a level of complexity and richness to the Narnia chronicles that will keep people exploring them in new ways for years to come.

Celebrating fifty Years of Star Trek

September 8, 1966, saw the first episode of Star Trek, the Original Series air on NBC. If you’re a fan, there’s lots to see and do. If you’ve never understood why people love the Star Trek universe, check out a few episodes. All the series are available on Netflicks, and the Internet is full of sites devoted to Roddenberry’s creation.
Celebrate Fifty Years of Star Trek with Us!

Five personal favourites, in no particular order:
1. “Balance of Terror,” Original Series
2. “Violations,” Next Generation
3. “The Outcast,” Next Generation
4. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, motion picture
5. “Hard Time,” Deep Space Nine

That Time of Year–Fall Reading

If you are a Tolkien geek, you will know that September 22 is Bilbo Baggins’ birthday. The first chapter of Lord of the Rings, “A Long Expected Party,” is Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday, and the same day, seventeen years later, Frodo celebrates his last night in Bag End before departing Hobbiton with the ring.
The fall term is off to a running start, but what’s fall without new books to read. It’s the time of year I start rereading favourites, and it’s the time of year to look for something new—newly published or new to me. I recently checked on some authors I like to follow, and sure enough, they have new books this fall.
The fourth book in Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood and Co. series is out. The Creeping Shadow will not disappoint. As a rule, I don’t like scary books. I read my share of Stephen King in my teens and twenties, and I remember having to nerve myself up to read H. P. Lovecraft. Dracula scared the bejesus out of me. It’s as though I have little by way of defences against such books, and they get inside my head in a weird way.
Lockwood and Co. is a different matter—and not because it’s a young adult series. These books rise to heights of scary that will have you jumping at shadows. But I love Jonathan Stroud. The Bartimaeus books are fabulous, and Lockwood and Co. is an impressive follow-up to the earlier series.
Lucy Carlyle is the narrator of these books—smart, tough, often sarcastic, and one of Stroud’s more engaging characters. Lucy, Lockwood, and George –Lockwood and Co.—are teenage ghost hunters who dedicate themselves to dealing with “The Problem,” which is the fifty year outbreak of hauntings occurring all over Britain. I love these books, and I’m once again impressed by Stroud’s pacing in the latest of Lucy’s adventures. Young adult novels often move at a manic pace I find overdone and off-putting. Not Stroud. His writing has a control I would love to have in my own writing. Check them out.
Two other authors I follow have new books out this fall: Brandon Mull and Rick Riordan. Death Weavers is the fourth book in Brandon Mull’s Five Kingdom series. I don’t like these books as much as I did his Fablehaven series, but I’ll still read the new book.
Rick Riordan’s Hammer of Thor comes out in October. This is the second in Riordan’s Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series. I have a soft spot for the Percy Jackson books, but The Heroes of Olympus series nearly turned me off wanting to read anything new by Riordan. He has much convincing to do if he wants people to think Magnus is the new Percy. I’ll set my expectations aside and read the new book anyway.
My marking life begins anew this week, so these are some of the books that will keep me going for the next while—these and those books I always turn to as the days get short and time gets shorter. Happy reading, and enjoy the fall. Get out there and kick some leaves. A music professor I once knew said that kicking leaves in the fall buoys the spirit—and he’s right.

September: A New Year, A New Look

September, for me, as it is for many, has always been the beginning of the year. Resolutions that come with September have more weight than those made in January. And they make more sense, too. Better to change your life in the fall, rather than in January when it’s thirty below.
I took a break from blogging over the summer. I needed the time to read, to write, and to be with family. I visited my daughter in Scotland, went to Lethbridge for a family funeral, visited family on Vancouver Island, and spent time with my eldest daughter who was home for a month from Australia. But the school year has begun, and my days are much more constrained: teaching, preparing classes, and marking will be the major features on my landscape for the next eight months.
I’ll eventually share some of what I encountered over the summer, but in the meantime, enjoy the new website, OfOtherWorlds.ca. It will be a work in progress for a while. I needed the break from blogging over the summer, but building the new site kept me busy—among other things. Such projects have, for me, a steep learning curve, and I swore often and vociferously as I figured it out.
But summer is always the best time for trying and learning new things. Apart from learning something about website design, I learned some painful lessons about writing and submitting short fiction; I sat on Hadrian’s Wall; I tried haggis in Edinburgh and deep-fried pickles at Taste of Edmonton.
I read and read, not as much as I wanted, and not as much as you’d think. One of my favourite summer reads was The Long Earth series by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. I’m sure this series isn’t for everyone, but I was hooked before finishing the first book.
I hope you’ve had a summer that goes on feeding you as the days shorten into winter. For now, enjoy the fall. If you live in Edmonton, remember to get a look at the river valley, preferably from high up. The wash of muted colour with the river at its heart will remind you that that autumn, as brief as it can be in Edmonton, is a beautiful time of year.