Friday, July 30, 2010

A Vicarage Family by Noel Streatfeild

Fans of children’s literature may be familiar with Noel Streatfeild’s “shoe” books. I first heard about them in the movie, You've Got Mail when Meg Ryan spells Streatfeild’s name while sitting in the children’s department of Fox Books. As a result of the film, I obtained and enjoyed Ballet Shoes. Since then I’ve been on the lookout for more of her books, especially the one about growing up as the daughter of an English vicar.

Through interlibrary loan, I was finally able to obtain A Vicarage Family. Though written in the same form as her other children’s novels, the book is clearly autobiographical. In the introduction Streatfeild informs the reader that she is Vicky in the story. The book honestly tells of her struggles to fit into a family where the other siblings are more studious and compliant. She is even frank about the friction between herself and her mother. Although her father is loving, he, too, has a way of making her feel that she’ll never measure up. The adults in the book clearly look forward to the day when she will finally grow up.

The ending of the book has her doing just that, which is probably the book’s only down side. Something very sad happens in her life to bring her to maturity and although it probably really happened, I wished for more of a storybook ending.

I will continue to keep my eyes open for Streatfeild’s books.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Evelyn Waugh on the Classics

From Scott-King's Modern Europe (a story of the declining career of a classics teacher):

"You know," the headmaster said, "we are starting this year with fifteen fewer classical specialists than we had last term?"
"I thought that would be about the number."
"As you know I'm an old Greats man myself. I deplore it as much as you do. But what are we to do? Parents are not interested in producing the 'complete man' any more. They want to qualify their boys for jobs in the modern world. You can hardly blame them, can you?"
"Oh yes," said Scott-King. "I can and I do."
"I always say you are much more important man here than I am. One couldn't conceive of Granchester without Scott-King. But has it ever occurred to you that a time may come when there will be no more classical boys at all?"
"Oh yes. Often"
"What I was going to suggest was - I wonder if you will consider taking some other subject as well as the classics? History, for example, preferably economic history?"
"No, headmaster."
"But, you know, there may be something of a crisis ahead."
"Yes, headmaster."
"Then what to you intend to do?"
"If you approve, headmaster, I will stay as I am here as long as any boy wants to read the classics. I think it would be very wicked indeed to do anything to fit a boy for the modern world."
"It's a very short-sighted view, Scott-King."
"There, headmaster, with all respect, I differ from you profoundly. I think it the most long-sighted view it is possible to take."

Friday, July 16, 2010

Magic by the Lake by Edward Eager

If you are a fan of fine children’s literature, Edward Eager is an author you should add to your list. Eager was a British playwright who began to write his own children’s stories when he couldn’t find anything suitable to read to his son. Just as author C. S. Lewis credits George McDonald for influencing every one of his stories, Eager gives author Edith Nesbit the credit for igniting his own story-telling imagination. His books are a lovely combination of realistic children and magical adventures.

I enjoyed reading Half Magic a few years ago, but its sequel, Magic by the Lake, is easily twice as funny. Jane, Mark, Katherine and Martha are siblings who are staying in a lakeside cottage for the summer. They meet a magic turtle, discover that the lake is enchanted, and have a wonderful summer of adventures.

The excellent writing, wry humor and constant nod to other children’s books make this story a booklover’s delight.

Water babies gamboled in the shallows. A sea serpent rose from the depths. Some rather insipid-looking fairies flew over. A rat and a mole and toad paddled along near the willowy shore, simply messing about in a boat. On the other side of the same island, a solitary man stared at a footprint in the sand. A hand appeared in the middle of the lake holding a sword. Davy Jones came out of his locker.
The two younger children shut their eyes.
“Make it stop,” said Martha.
“Now I know what too much of a good thing means,” said Katharine.
“Maybe it could be sort of simplified,” said Mark. And he turned to appeal to the turtle.
They all looked at the lake again. A walrus and a carpenter danced with some oysters on a nearby shore.
“It’s too much,” said Katharine. “I think it needs alterations.” (p. 18)

Altering the magic gets them into all sorts of trouble and makes this an excellent read-aloud for younger children (or plain guilty pleasure for Mom or Dad).

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis

I’m working my way through The Chronicles of Narnia. Although I’m familiar with several of the books in the series, the storyline of The Horse and His Boy was completely unknown to me. Of the four books I’ve read so far this story has had the least appeal. Ironically, it has been one of my favorite books in terms of hard-hitting truths.

Shasta is a poor fisherman’s son from the southern kingdom of Calormen. In order to avoid being sold to a cruel master, he flees “to the North and to Narnia”. He is aided in his escape by Bree, a talking horse, and Aravis, a princess escaping an arranged marriage. Their adventures (including several encounters with Aslan) make up the bulk of the story.

I like a book where the characters are flawed yet willing to learn and grow. This is certainly the case with both Shasta and his companions. I loved the scene where the great warhorse, Bree, realizes that he hadn’t been as brave in danger as the young boy who had been riding him. He lies down in despair, declaring he has lost everything. “My good horse,” said the hermit, “you’ve lost nothing but your self-conceit….If you are really so humbled as you sounded a minute ago, you must learn to listen to sense. You’re not quite the great horse you had come to think… But as long as you know you’re nobody very special, you’ll be a very decent sort of Horse, on the whole.” (p. 146)

The theme of theodicy is introduced in chapter 11. Shasta, tired and lost, complains out loud that he’s “the most unfortunate boy that ever lived in the whole world.” Suddenly a voice behind him asks him to share his troubles. “ And then he told the story of his escape and how they were chased by lions and forced to swim for their lives; and of all their dangers in Tashbaan and about his night among the Tombs and how the beasts howled at him out of the desert. And he told about the heat and thirst of their desert journey and how they were almost at their goal when another lion chased them and wounded Aravis.”

“I do not call you unfortunate,” said the Large Voice.
“Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?”said Shasta.
“There was only one lion,” said the Voice.
“What on earth do you mean?”I’ve just told you there were at least two the first night, and –“
“There was only one: but he was swift of foot.”
“How do you know?”

“I was the lion.” And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”
“Then it was you who wounded Aravis?”
“It was I.”
“But what for?”
“Child,”said the Voice, “I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no-one any story but his own.”
“Who are you?” asked Shasta.
“Myself,” said the Voice, very deep and low so that the earth shook: and again “Myself,” loud and clear and gay: and then the third time “Myself,” whispered so softly you could hardly hear it, and yet it seemed to come from all around you as if the leaves rustled with it. (p. 157-159)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Things that Fascinate Me

Inspired by Carol's literary fascination list and Brenda's bliss list I've written up a quick list of my own:
Textures, patterns, and shadows in black and white movies
People who serve others selflessly and never know they are heroes
British authors
That the Bible never gets “old” no matter how often I read it
The taste of dark chocolate
Outstanding children’s books
That God can take a horrible thing and use it for good
Music that is so beautiful that it is actually painful
My obsession with Jane Eyre (I don’t even understand it myself)
That God could love me NO MATTER what I do
People who love me no matter what I do
The Brazil nut
My children becoming adults