The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis

I have argued with myself long and hard before giving this a “favored authors” category, because actually I don’t like C.S. Lewis as a person. I do not favor him at all. I think he was a bit of a sexist jerk, and the reason I don’t read the Chronicles of Narnia more often is that I think C.S. Lewis is a jerk and I’m always saying to myself, Well why would I want to read the books of such a jerk? And then, of course, since I’ve been reading the Narnia books since I was three (I mean, I was read to at that point), I do fairly inevitably pick them up again, and then I’m reminded of how much I completely love those books.

I reread Dawn Treader on the way to Atlanta, mainly because I was trying to decide what bits would have to be cut for the film (the slave trade bits, I decided – it’s a good part of the book but you don’t absolutely need it, and it would take up lots of time), and I just loved it. It’s not my favorite (I like The Horse and His Boy), but it is a mighty good book. I have always felt a little sad about Eustace being really a metaphor for St. Paul (I cheer myself up by assuring myself that, redemption being a common theme in literature, Eustace is not so much a retelling of St. Paul so much as an archetype), but still, the book is wonderful. I love best the Dufflepuds and Reepicheep wanting to take on a dragon singlehanded and playing chess as if he were the chess pieces doing bold and valiant things, and the dark island is very cool and haunting.

I suppose if I wanted to be critical, I might say that the episodic nature of the book makes things a little jerky, and it does to some extent, but I don’t think it’s a big deal, and mostly everything works out beautifully. It’s episodic, but the episodes are excellent.

I also have to say here that I reread Matilda at my grandmother’s house, and you know, Matilda says that she loves C.S. Lewis “but he has one failing. There are no funny bits in his books”, which Miss Honey agrees with. I mean – well, I can only conclude that Roald Dahl hadn’t read all of the Chronicles of Narnia, because he could never have said that if he had. Honestly, I don’t see how any living person could fail to think Lazaraleen, for instance, was funny (I can still hear my mother’s voice in my head reading Lazaraleen), and there’s just no way that the Dufflepuds aren’t funny. I was reading this book on the way back from my grandfather’s funeral, and I was so tired I was hardly functional and I kept forgetting words like “impressed”, and still the Dufflepuds made me laugh so hard I cried. Particularly this bit, which contains (I’ve helpfully bolded it) what may be my favorite line in all of literature:

“And we’re extremely regrettable,” said the Chief Monopod, “that we can’t give you the pleasure of seeing us as we were before we were uglified, for you wouldn’t believe the difference, and that’s the truth, for there’s no denying we’re mortal ugly now, so we won’t deceive you.”

“Eh, that we are, Chief, that we are,” echoed the others, bouncing like so many toy balloons. “You’ve said it, you’ve said it.”

“But I don’t think you are at all,” said Lucy, shouting to make herself heard. “I think you look very nice.”

“Hear her, hear her,” said the Monopods. “True for you, Missie. Very nice we look. Couldn’t find a handsomer lot.” They said this without any surprise and did not seem to notice that they had changed their minds.

“She’s a-saying,” remarked the Chief Monopod, “as how we looked very nice before we were uglified.”

“True for you, Chief, true for you,” chanted the others. “That’s what she says. We heard her ourselves.”

“I did not,” bawled Lucy. “I said you’re very nice now.”

“So she did, so she did,” said the Chief Monopod, “said we was very nice then.”

“Hear ’em both, hear ’em both,” said the Monopods. “There’s a pair for you. Always right. They couldn’t have put it better.”

“But we’re saying just the opposite,” said Lucy, stamping her foot with impatience.

“So you are, to be sure, so you are,” said the Monopods. “Nothing like an opposite. Keep it up, both of you.”

“You’re enough to drive anyone mad,” said Lucy, and gave it up.

Hahahahaha. That is comic genius. Matilda is absurd, and so is Miss Honey, even though she has my same name and actually I love her and Matilda both, so I’m going to go ahead and blame this on Roald Dahl instead.

C.S. Lewis and his lovely clear prose. I am appreciating it more and more as I get older and read people like Judith Butler (for God’s sake). Clear prose. That’s what we all need. Nice, clear prose. What are they teaching in these schools anyway?

The Charioteer, Mary Renault

Ah, yes, The Charioteer. By the matchless Mary Renault, my love for whom cannot be expressed in strong enough terms, the author of Fire from Heaven and The Persian Boy, which I read as a kid and have never stopped loving. The Charioteer is one of her earlier novels, set more in modern times (World War II), at an army hospital as it happens.

Basically the main character, Laurie (called Spud because his last name’s Odell, bless him) is wounded at Dunkirk and falls madly in love with a conscientious objector who is an orderly at his army hospital. And their chaste romance continues apace, because Laurie nobly fears that he will ruin everything for innocent Andrew if he tells him about homosexuality. I am not a big fan of Andrew’s, to be honest, because he gets all noble and offended about everything, which makes me tired, and plus it crushes me when Laurie’s all tense and snappy due to unrequited love. So meanwhile he is reunited with this guy he admired when they were in school together, before the guy got expelled for being a big gay, and they get along gorgeously and Ralph is rather sweetly gallant. P.S. I like Ralph better than Andrew, and if I were Laurie, I’d be like, Huh, now with Ralph I have a future that contains good conversations, good sex, and no hiding shit, whereas with Andrew it’s just the good conversations and endless mental torture, and the decision would be easy, but Laurie spends a lot of time agonizing over it.

I can’t explain what makes this book so appealing to me. One thing is that they really do have good conversations. Mary Renault writes these beautiful dialogue sequences that are just impossibly eloquent with the things they’re saying and the things they’re not saying. I go green with envy reading it because I will never, ever be able to pack that much meaning and intensity into a line of dialogue, ever. And overall, it’s just such an understated and melancholy book, and I really do like Ralph an awful lot. He’s such a dear and he loves Laurie so much.

I will add this caveat: There’s a fair bit of unpleasantness with the more effeminate gay characters. They all have idiotic names like Bim and Toto and Bunny, and they are all gossipy bitchy people trying to screw up everyone else’s lives by telling lies and reading diaries and making half-assed manipulative suicide attempts. Not very nice in Mary Renault and not incredibly defensible even though she was writing about people that actually existed in a certain environment to which she had been recently, and to her detriment, exposed.