Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Just so you know

I do routinely go in and update the listing of Card-Recommended Titles. I scan his "Uncle Orson Reviews Everything" columns so religiously that if it's mentioned, I update it immediately :)
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Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Last Battle

Lewis, C.S. 1956. The Last Battle.

In the last days of Narnia, far up to the west beyond Lantern Waste and close beside the great waterfall, there lived an Ape. He was so old that no one could remember when he had first come to live in those parts, and he was the cleverest, ugliest, most wrinkled Ape you can imagine. He had a little house, built of wood and thatched with leaves, up in the fork of a great tree, and his name was Shift. There were very few Talking Beasts or Men or Dwarfs, or people of any sort, in that part of the wood, but Shift had one friend and neighbour who was a donkey called Puzzle. At least they both said they were friends, but from the way things went on you might have thought Puzzle was more like Shift's servant than his friend.

The beginning of the end starts with one donkey, one ape, and one lion skin that floats downstream. From that skin an evil plot is born, and from that plot much blood is shed and much harm is done for every living thing (man, animal, tree, etc.) in Narnia. Shift's plot? To have Puzzle wear the lion skin and "be" Aslan for curious persons to gaze upon from a distance. Shift's real plot? To use the name of Aslan to get exactly what he wants.

It has been many generations since King Rilian ruled. Now his descendant, a king named Tirian, reigns. Though his luck seems to change overnight. One day a king, the next a prisoner. And all because "Aslan" has arrived back in Narnia.

Using the famed line "He's not a tame lion" people reason away all the signs that this is NOT Aslan. He commands the destruction of trees with spirits? Not a tame lion. He demands talking beasts to become his slaves? Not a tame lion. Demands servitude and exile from dwarfs? Not a tame lion. It's easy to say from our perspective that these animals, these individuals are a bit too gullible. But when you stop and think about it, the reader knows more, has experienced more. There haven't been any Aslan spottings in hundreds perhaps a thousand years. What the average Narnian knows is just stories passed down generation by generation by generation. Is it really so hard to see that perhaps their faith has more doubt than certainty? The truth is the average Narnian has not had any "use" for Aslan and his stories in their practical lives. So their faith isn't as "active" as it could be, should be perhaps.

King Tirian won't be fooled for long. He starts off highly suspicious and remains so for the most part. Once he's been captured, imprisoned, Tirian starts to think, to really think about Narnia, about Narnian history, about what he knows to be true, to be right. He realizes that humans from another world have always always been a part of the action. That the arrival of humans almost always accompanies these Aslan sightings. There is always a link. So he delivers a heartfelt prayer that these human saviors will come once again and fight for Narnia, to fight for freedom, to fight for right.

His prayer is answered in a way, but not in the way he hoped. I hope this isn't too much of a spoiler for readers. But it is called The Last Battle for a reason. Narnia is coming to an end. The world, the country, is dying. Tirian and the humans who arrive--Jill, Eustace, Lucy, Edmund, Peter, Digory, and Polly--are there to witness the end of Narnia and the beginning of their after lives.

As a child, I enjoyed this one. I would have put it above many of the other books in the series--including Horse and His Boy and Silver Chair--but as an adult I have a new perspective altogether. While some of the aspects of this one work for me, there were quite a few significant problems.

I'm not sure if other readers will share my quibbles or not. They may have different issues than I do. Among one of the reasons why people may find the last one disappointing is that...


all the humans die. Jill. Eustace. Peter. Edmund. Lucy. Digory. Polly. Most of them (I think most of them) die as a result of a train accident. (The Pevensie parents die as well but we still don't see them in the book.) I'm not sure if killing off all your characters will leave readers satisfied. Yes, the characters themselves are happy. But the deaths of so many seem tragic to me. Not that death itself is tragic. (Death can be a good thing. It can be a blessing.)

Second. Susan is missing. She's no longer a "friend" of Narnia. This is 'tragic' for several reasons. One is that technically speaking she will have lost her mother, father, two brothers, and a sister. She'll be all alone in the world. Two is the not-so-subtle theme that you can lose your salvation. If being a friend of Narnia translates directly into being a Christian, then Lewis' message seems to be that Susan represents Christians that have fallen from grace and lost their salvation, lost their way. Of course there are some believers who do in fact believe that this is the case. That Christians can un-Christian themselves, un-save themselves, re-damn themselves. I for one am not one of them. Of course, there is the potential that this fictional Susan could regain her friend status later on in life. That she could have another opportunity to believe. But Susan as allegory just doesn't work for me.

For those readers who are not approaching these seven novels as a Christian believer, for those that are reading them because they are fantasy--pure and simple and fun fantasy--then The Last Battle is a fitting conclusion.

Edited: I did edit out a theological rant simply because I feel that this may not be the best forum for such a theological can of worms :)

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Host by Stephenie Meyer

I have other books that I really need to review, but I wanted to give this book the justice it deserved, so I am reviewing it now. It is by far one of the best books I read this year, so I am glad I went to the store the other day to pick up a copy. Marg and Stephanie have both had wonderful things to say about it, so I suppose they are happy that I didn't end up hating it!

Melanie Stryder refuses to fade away. The earth has been invaded by a
species that take over the minds of their human hosts while leaving their bodies
intact, and most of humanity has succumbed.

Wanderer, the invading "soul" who has been given Melanie's body, knew about
the challenges of living inside a human: the overwhelming emotions, the too
vivid memories. But there was one difficulty Wanderer didn't expect: the former
tenant of her body refusing to relinquish possession of her mind.

Melanie fills Wanderer's thoughts with visions of the man Melanie
loves-Jared, a human who still lives in hiding. Unable to separate herself from
her body's desires, Wanderer yearns for a man she's never met. As outside forces
make Wanderer and Melanie unwilling allies, they set off to search for the man
they both love.

Featuring what may be the first love triangle involving only two bodies,
THE HOST is a riveting and unforgettable novel that will bring a vast new
readership to one of the most compelling writers of our time.

I was a little worried about this book. I have the worst problem with not agreeing with other people's opinions on books, so I was a little worried that I was not going to like it as much as other people did. Marg and Stephanie usually have good taste, though, so I really shouldn't have been worried at all. The other thing I was worried about was the love triangle thing... I am just not a romance reader. The interesting thing is that when I finished the book and saw people calling it a romance, it sort of surprised me. I am perfectly aware of the romance aspect of the book, but there are other things that caught my attention.

Anyways, carrying on. This book was a perfect science fiction novel to enjoy. I read more fantasy than science fiction, so I really cannot remember the last time I sat down with one that I enjoyed so much. I was hooked from the first page. I was mad that I, as usual, never seemed to have time to read it, but at the same time, I was sad when it was over. It only took me a couple days to read it, in any case, and if anyone is paying attention to my slacking reading numbers this year you would know that is pretty fast for me. It's a pretty big book and I flew through it. Apparently I should not read at work, though, someone told me yesterday that they walked by and I was totally oblivious. Different book, but I still should've been paying more attention...

So, as the description says above an alien species has taken over the people of earth's bodies and minds. The human has been lost, in most cases, while the alien continues to survive. This is not the first planet that they have taken over in this manner, but it is the first planet with such an advanced species. Humans have a lot more going on in their minds that the aliens have to adjust to. Melanie Stryder is taken over by an alien that is named Wanderer by the doctors on Earth. She has never found a planet that she wanted to call home, so she has been moving from place to place. As the novel progresses, her name is shortened to Wanda. Unlike the norm, her human is still aware and still talking to her, something that is not supposed to happen. It makes it all that more difficult for her to adjust.

Instead of being enemies, Melanie's memories of the man that she loves bring them together. They set out on a quest to see if they can locate this man, a man that Wanderer has never met but feels very strongly for. Wanderer and Melanie have conversations that make you laugh out loud at times, especially when Wanderer does things that Melanie does not approve of. Wanderer's race is a very peaceful race at their core, while humans are known to be a bit violent, so it is an interesting contrast. This book goes in some interesting directions. I cannot say it ever really surprised me, but it did make for an interesting chain of events. I have to say that I was not very fond of Jared, Melanie's love, but I did enjoy Ian. He is a very interesting character. I have seen that a couple other places.

In conclusion, I disagree on the love triangle idea. I think it was a bit more complicated than that, especially as the story progressed. All I know for sure, though, is that I really enjoyed this book. I strongly recommend it to everyone, even if science fiction is not your thing.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Magician's Nephew

Lewis, C.S. 1955. The Magician's Nephew.

As long as folks don't erroneously place this one first in the series, I have no problems with this one at all. It's an interesting story of a young boy, Digory, and a young girl, Polly, and their adventures and misadventures in and out of this world, this reality.

"This is a story about something that happened long ago when your grandfather was a child. It is a very important story because it shows how all the comings and goings between our own world and the land of Narnia first began."

It assumes--presumes--a familiarity of sorts with Narnia, with Aslan, with the White Witch, with the Lamp Post, with the Wardrobe, with the Professor. (And it's just a bit silly to think this one should come first.)

Digory, the young boy, grows up to be the Professor from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. And this story is one of creation. How the world of Narnia came to be. How it was created. How evil was introduced into it. And how a promise of a savior was introduced as well. Hope. Promise. This one is rich in meaning.

The story for this one? Digory has a sick mother. Him and his mother are living with the Ketterleys. Mr. Ketterley is the boy's uncle. And he is mad, crazy, out-of-touch with reality, obsessed. He feels as the last person (in his reckoning at least) who had a godmother with a touch of real fairy blood in her that he is destined for great things, great discoveries. His dreams are of being a powerful and great magician. He loves power; he uses it as a front to his own weakness both physical and mental. He's really an overgrown baby. Very fearful. Very immature. He tricks Polly so he can use her in an experiment, and then using Polly as incentive, he has Digory as a human guinea pig as well.

Polly and Digory travel to another reality--several different realities--in fact. The book is full of their adventures and misadventures as they keep trying to set things right.

Aslan plays a big role in this one. And I love those scenes. I do.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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Horse and His Boy

Lewis, C.S. 1954. The Horse and His Boy.

"This is the story of an adventure that happened in Narnia and Calormen and the lands between, in the Golden Age when Peter was High King in Narnia and his brother and his two sisters were King and Queens under him."

Our hero is a young boy named Shasta. He meets two talking horses, Bree and Hwin, and a young girl, Aravis. Together--all for various reasons--are traveling secretly to the North, to Narnia. Shasta, for example, is running away because his 'father' wants to sell him into slavery. Bree, one of the horses, is a talking horse that has been "owned" too long for his liking by a foreign soldier. He dreams of Narnia and of freedom. Aravis is running away from an arranged marriage. And Hwin, like Bree, is a horse Narnia-bound. Their journey isn't as easy and as smooth as they'd like. There are a few bumps along the way. Unexpected detours and delays. A few scares. A few close calls. Great danger that they always seem to be one step ahead of. But they soon discover that there is a purpose--strange as it seems to them--behind everything.

One of my favorite things about The Horse and His Boy is that it illustrates Romans 8. Aslan the lion is behind everything. Though silent and unrecognized, unacknowledged, he is traveling with these four on their way. And he has a plan and a purpose.

"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 round you as if the leaves rustled with it.
Shasta was no longer afraid that the Voice belonged to something that would eat him, nor that it was the voice of a ghost. But a new and different sort of trembling came over him. Yet he felt glad too. (281)

So perhaps if this one has a spiritual message it is one of God's providence and sovereignty.

As a child reader, I didn't get this one at all. I didn't get the theme. It wasn't an obvious one to me then. Not even as a teen. It was only in this past reading that I saw some inkling of a spiritual message within the pages. I thought, growing up, that it was a rather dinky story about horses. And I'm not really a horse-loving person. But this time I seem to see just a bit more.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Host Book Discussion Group

The Host by Stephenie Meyer is the selection for the month of July at Becky’s Online Reading Group.

The Host
by Stephenie Meyer
July’s Book-of-the-Month at Becky’s Online Reading Group

Day 0: July 2nd; Share thoughts on cover, flap, blurbs, prologue, first paragraph of chapter one. In other word–first impressions. Also might want to visit Stephenie Meyer’s website or the book website.
As “homework” between 7/2 and 7/7 read The Host 1-58 (Prologue through chapter 6)

Day 1: July 7th. Discuss chapters 1-6 (pp. 1-58   )
As “homework” to read between 7/7 and 7/9 read pp. 59 - 117 (Chapters 7 - 12)

Day 2: July 9th. Discuss chapters 7-12 (pp. 59-117)
As “homework” to read between 7/9 and 7/11 read 118-180 (Chapters 13-18  )

Day 3: July 11th. Discuss chapters 13-18 (pp. 118-180)
As “homework” to read between 7/11 and 7/14 read 181 - 243 (Chapters 19-24)

Day 4: July 14th. Discuss chapters 19-24 (pp. 181-243)
As “homework” to read between 7/14 and 7/16 read 244- 312 (Chapter 25-30)

Day 5: July 16th. Discuss chapters 25-30 (pp. 244-312)
As “homework” to read between 7/16 and 7/18 read 313-357 (Chapters 31-34)

Day 6: July 18th. Discuss chapters 31-34 (pp. 313-357)
As “homework” to read between 7/16 and 7/21 read 358 - 407 (Chapters 35-39)

Day 7: July 21rst. Discuss chapters 35-39 (pp. 358-407)
As “homework” to read between 7/21 and 7/23 read 408 - 456 (Chapters 40-44)

Day 8: July 23rd. Discuss chapters 40-44 (pp. 408-456)
As “homework” to read between 7/23 and 7/25 read 457 - 505 (Chapters 45 - 49)

Day 9: July 25th. Discuss chapters 45-49 (pp. 457-505)
As “homework” to read between 7/25 and 7/28 read 506 - 558 (Chapters 50 - 54)

Day 10: July 28th. Discuss Chapters 50-54 (pp. 506-558   )
As “homework” to read between 7/28 and 7/30 read 559 - 619 (Chapters 55 - epilogue)

Day 11: July 30th. Discuss chapters 55 - the epilogue (pp. 559-619)
Share closing thoughts and final impressions.

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