It’s Halloween. No snow is in the forecast, and that’s a win for where I live.
Here’s something from the blog archive to get you in the mood for the day. And here are three young adult series with enough ghosts and monsters to satisfy any pallet. Enjoy! By the way, my favourite would have to be Jonathan Stroud.
1. Lockwood and Co., by Jonathan Stroud
2. Fablehaven, by Brandon Mull
3. The Last Apprentice, by Joseph Delaney.
October 16 saw the sixty-eighth anniversary of the publication of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Lewis published the Narnia books once a year, until The Last Battle appeared in September of 1956. Lewis was also writing his spiritual biography at the time, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life—not to mention whatever else he was writing, as well as performing all the duties and responsibilities of an Oxford tutor.
But why a children’s story? Lewis was a scholar. He wrote about books, he wrote Christian apologetics, and he wrote fiction, but all this was for adults. Lewis had nothing to do with children. So again, why a children’s story?
There are enough books about Lewis around to keep you busily reading for years. Writers of every kind have opinions about Lewis and his life—about Lewis as a child, about his time in the war, about his more than thirty-year relationship with Mrs. Moore, which, interestingly, some writers are unwilling to explore.
Lewis is something of a puzzle. He was gregarious and fond of argument, a man who valued openness and friendship; he also flatly refused to talk about his relationship with Janie Moore with anyone, including his brother, Warnie Lewis.
Why Lewis wrote the Narnia books is perhaps less of a puzzle. He valued myth and story, and he wrote about both. Lewis claimed that he was writing a fairy tale because that was the best expression for what he had to say about Narnia and about Aslan. I’m sure it’s true—for the most part.
Lewis carried with him the memories of living at Little Lee, the house his father had built on the outskirts of Belfast. Lewis’ mother, Flora Hamilton, died in that house when he was nine-years-old. Two weeks after her death, a young Jack was shipped off to a boarding school in Hertfordshire, England.
Such events as the death of a parent have a profound effect on the mind of a child. Lewis had the company of his brother for the first year at boarding school, which he calls Belsen in Surprised by Joy. But his school-life was shadowed by the death of his mother, and the relationship with his father deteriorated until Albert Lewis’ death in 1929.
Something was speaking across the years to Lewis as he created Narnia. It’s no surprise Lewis was writing about his own boyhood as he wrote the Narnia books. There is more of the child-like in Narnia than there is childishness. And in Lewis’ own words: “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty” (Lewis, “On Stories”).
Author’s note: this story is a retelling of the Grimms’ tale, “The Fox and the Geese.” It first appeared in OfOtherWorlds in 2015, and was subsequently published in Fractured and Other Fairy Tales, 2015.
Mr. Fox liked to walk along the edge of the old city. One spring evening, he was strolling along, and he happened upon a field where a flock of geese were gathered, gabbling away and walking through the stubble.
“What do we have here?” he said, eyeing the fat geese, as he leaned on his walking cane. “Looks like dinner.”
The geese were terrified, and they honked and cried for mercy.
“Mercy,” laughed Mr. Fox. “You will find no mercy here. I’m interested in some dinner. Now you just line yourselves up in a row, and I will wring your pretty necks one by one, and then I’ll take your carcasses back to my house in the city.”
But there was one old goose who was at least as cunning as Mr. Fox. She was a grandam of the flock, and she peered up at Mr. Fox.
“Mr. Fox,” she said, bobbing her head, “since you are going to eat us anyway, I don’t suppose you would mind if I told my children and grandchildren one more story?”
Now, if Mr. Fox had a weakness, besides a greedy desire for fresh goose, it was for a good story. “Oh, very well,” he said, petulantly. “Tell your story. But when you are done, I expect you to line up like good little geese so I can pick out the fattest for my table.”
The old goose began her story. She gabbled and honked, telling of faraway places, of all the things she had seen on her travels, of the lives of people and animals, of strange and secret things only seen by moonlight and starlight. And before she was finished, she was joined by one of her children, and together, they gabbled and grumbled and honked of the places they had seen together. They were joined by the others, one by one, until soon the whole flock was gabbling the story of their travels, from the hot countries of the south to the wide spaces of the north.
The sun slowly set, and Mr. Fox listened, forgetting about everything else as he was swept away to places he had never known.
Did Mr. Fox ever get his dinner? Who can say?—for the geese are still telling their story to this day. And if you stop to listen, in the spring and the fall, you can hear it too—the gabbling of travelers’ tales upon the air.
In 2013, Thomas Wharton published The Tree of Story, the third book in his Perilous Realm series. This book brought the adventures of Will and Rowen to a close—or just about. In an interesting return to his series, Tom has decided to republish a new version of the trilogy on his website, ThomasWharton.ca.
The Perilous Realm Online begins with the retitled first book, The Endless Road, and Will, still the main character, finding himself alone in a mysterious wood.
Tom has dispensed with the prologue, which I always loved, and some of the back story of Will’s family. The book now launches right into a motorcycle crash and a boy fleeing into a forest. The tone is darker and the pace faster.
Tom will be publishing the series a chapter at a time, so be sure to follow along. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with this new Perilous Realm.
This summer, I had the good fortune to visit some fascinating places. I’m prairie born and bread—used to open spaces, long summer evenings, and cold winters. But I love the ocean and had the chance to visit more than one.
In May, I travelled with a friend to Newfoundland, where we drove from the ferry landing at Port Aux Basque to Cape Spear, the eastern-most point of North America.
I returned to the east coast in June, visiting Prince Edward Island for a conference, where I took the Hippo, an amphibious vehicle that tours historical Charlottetown, then drives straight out into the Charlottetown Harbour.
Finally, in July, I met one of my daughters in New Zealand, where we spend a week touring the North Island before flying to Melbourne. We had the chance one day to drive part of the Great Ocean Road, built by Australian war vets after the first World War. We also visited the Moonlit Sanctuary, where we had the chance to meet some local wildlife. All in all, a summer I will remember.
Girl heroes are a prominent part of children’s and young adult literature—they have been for over a century. Katniss from The Hunger Games, Bella from Twilight, and Elsa from Frozen are only three such girl heroes to find their way into popular culture in the last decade. The popularity of such characters, however, raises questions.
Consider, for a moment. Katniss is thrown into an arena where she has to kill other young people, and she becomes a post-traumatic wreck by the third book in the series. Bella is largely a passive character, who chooses to become a vampire by … which book I can’t remember. As for Elsa, she is a Disney princess who chooses isolation, builds a giant ice castle, and inadvertently creates an endless winter. Such girl heroes get caught up in violence, questionable relationships, or, just … causing endless winters.
I find The Hunger Games compelling, and I love Frozen. I couldn’t bring myself to finish even the second book in the Twilight series—largely because of the turgid prose and ridiculous characters. That’s just me. I always love discovering new girl heroes, but I have my favourites, too. L. M. Montgomery’s Anne is one of those favourites.
Last June, I attended the Lucy Maud Montgomery and Reading conference in Charlottetown, PEI. I love visiting Prince Edward Island—the people there are more open and friendlier than anywhere I’ve visited. But I also enjoy this conference more than most. I shouldn’t be, but I’m always surprised at how much people love Lucy Maud Montgomery—the Anne books, in particular. This conference happens every two years, and it was good to catch up with people I met at earlier conferences and talk about Montgomery. I also tried to have fun—going for an historical ride on the Hippo, an amphibious vehicle that tours downtown Charlottetown before heading into the harbor.
I presented on how Anne’s language comes from the books she’s read, and how her use of that language informs and defines her place in Avonlea. Oddly enough, Anne doesn’t refer directly to that many texts: she’s caught reading Ben-Hur by her teacher, and she and her friends enact the story of Elaine from Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. Anne reads novels, but don’t forget, this is a bad thing in turn-of-the-century Canada—or anywhere else, for that matter.
Anne is a girl hero. She has the beginnings of a love interest by the end of the first book, but she doesn’t fully understand her feelings for Gilbert until the end of the third book in the series—a far cry from characters like Katniss or Bella. At the same time, Anne is more like Hermione from Harry Potter: interested in books and scholastically ambitious.
I’m sure my love of girl heroes comes from having raised two daughters. And perhaps because I’m a father, the girl heroes that most appeal to me are those who face difficult, if not necessarily life-threatening issues, and grapple with difficult, if not problematic relationships. This is probably why I love characters such as Anne, Meg from L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, and Tenar from LeGuin’s Earthsea cycle. Girl heroes of the twenty-first century often fall into a type—the teenage misfit, who suddenly finds herself the object of at least one young man’s attention—and often two. Katniss and Bella are both good examples of such a type. Types aside, I will always enjoy meeting new girl heroes, but I will always have my favourites.