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Chronicles of Narnia book frustration [Oct. 27th, 2005|09:08 pm]
Lady Korana
[mood |frustratedfrustrated]
[music |Yet another National Geographic documentary]

Warning: Slight mention of my personal dissatisfaction with organized religion is contained in this post. While it's not my intention to offend anyone, those that are particularly zealous Christians ought to skip this.

I know, it's shameful that a 26-year-old self-proclaimed lover of fantasy is just now reading the Chronicles of Narnia for the first time, but there you have it. Like LOTR, Narnia was one of those book series that I always intended to read someday, but got sidetracked by other obsessions (read: Star Trek TNG & DS9, X-Files, SG-1, anime, etc.). As everyone who knows me is aware of, I've become extremely, EXTREMELY obsessed with the LOTR books and movies. I've been desperate and hungry for more fantasy since then, and have sought it in books (Go Harry Potter! and yay for Aravan and the Mithgar series!), video games (Legend of Zelda gives me another pointy-eared blonde wearing green and using a bow and going on quests...perfect!), and loads and loads of LOTR fanfiction. It seemed like a logical step, especially considering the movie coming out this December, that I take the time to read the Narnia series now. I was terribly excited at the prospect of a whole new fantasy world to fall in love with, especially one that I would soon see brought to life by the brilliant Richard Taylor and his WETA Workshop--Praise them with Great Praise!

However, I'm finding it slow going. I've been reading these for weeks and even now, I'm only a little more than halfway through the Narnia series. I've read 'The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe', 'The Magician's Nephew', 'A Horse and his Boy', and I'm 2/3rds of the way done with 'Prince Caspian'. The problem is not the language and description, like it was for me in the hobbity first half of 'Fellowship of the Ring'. Quite the contrary; the Narnia series is far, far more juvenile than I had expected, even knowing that it's a children's book. Even 'The Hobbit' seems young adult in comparison. No, the real problem for me is two-fold. One, I'm pretty sure that post-LOTR, most fantasy is going to seem to lack depth to me, when compared with the enormous amount of world building that Tolkien did before he even penned a single line of the trilogy. There are exceptions, most notably the Harry Potter books, which despite some niggling flaws, definitely don't skimp on building a detailed wizarding world and a very compelling driving story. Another exception is the aforementioned Mithgar series, though that in itself draws heavily from Tolkien, and so the world building there is a little less original-seeming than HP, at least in my limited fantasy-reading experience. Not that I'm complaining...I quite enjoy stuff similar to Middle-earth. *G* But compared to these, the world of Narnia seems to fall flat somehow. Yes, there are tons of mythological animals, many of them cute and/or quirky, but I found myself more rooting against evil than for anything or anyone in particular.

Narnia though...I'm really not finding myself captivated by any characters in particular. Every time I start to like a character (for the longest time, I was really, really relating to Susan), something happens and then I dislike them or am disappointed in them, so that Narnia really has no character arc that grabs me, save that of Shasta and Aravis in 'The Horse and his Boy'. That book was the closest so far that Narnia has had me on the edge of my seat, or that I even felt like the characters were in real danger and time was pressing. Also, call me silly, but Archenland kinda feels like the 'Rohan' to Narnia's magical version of Gondor, and what happens to them seems more real and compelling somehow. Anyway, I'm not liking the random appointments of various kings and Queens, and I truly hate the fact that they go back to the normal world and it's like nothing ever happened. What a letdown, even if they do go back later. Apparently they weren't important enough Kings and Queens to keep ruling the world, or bother to establish any form of succession to the throne or anything. Even if it's fantasy, these things bother me.

The other thing that's irritatating me, the thing that makes me keep putting the book down in frustration and having to pick it up later when I'm ready again, is the blatant Christian allegory. I'm speaking as someone who was raised Catholic. I went through all the routine Sacraments, was dragged to church every Sunday, and was forced to go to Religious Education every Tuesday night for years, where I did what I did at any school, memorized all the right answers and spit them back upon command so I did well on the tests and all the teachers liked me. Though at the time, I don't think I really questioned what they were telling me. Later on, as I was exposed to other viewpoints and more facts about the world, and history, and other cultures and beliefs, I have decided that traditional organized religion is not for me. I can't take the bigotry, the exclusionary nature, the self-righteousness, the atrocities that are so often committed in the name of one god or another, with each party so completely convinced that their way is the only right way. I realize that not every believer fits this description, nor even every religion, but I much prefer to live life by my own morality, and not that which is forced upon me by large groups with a financial interest in converting me, brainwashing me, or 'saving my soul'. I figure that if evangelical Christians are right, and I go to hell, at least I'll be in good company with many of the greatest minds thoroughout history.

What this means for Narnia is that the Christian references literally make me cringe. Time and time again, I feel like I'm being lectured by a Sunday School teacher, not reading a fantasy. I read fantasy to escape from today's world, not be reminded that the Christian Right is ever seeking the power to force me to live my life by their morals and rules. C.S. Lewis has the right to put whatever overtones he wants into his stories, but it's driving me to distraction how often he needs to remind us of the moral of his story. Even little kids aren't so unperceptive as to keep having THE MESSAGE beaten into their heads again and again and again, as though with an anvil. Yes, Aslan is like Jesus and he'll protect us and we should believe in him and not doubt him no matter what...I GET IT! I got it the first time, not the 27,000th!! ARRRGHH!!!!

I realize that much of my frustration is colored by my personal experiences, so I'm definitely going to do my best to remain objective and enjoy the movie when it comes out. I trust that WETA will produce some awesome armor and weapons and that I will again be wowed by the beauty of New Zealand, so here's hoping I will once again be swept away by an epic! This is one area where I wouldn't mind eating my words later. *G*

[User Picture]From: tarotgal
2005-10-28 03:53 pm (UTC)
I'm proud of you for giving the books a read :-) I think my love for the series is MOSTLY because I was a child when I first read the books (3rd grade? Definitely during/by 4th grade). I immediately identified with Lucy (I can't lie either, LOL) and was sucked into the world which felt- to me- incredibly vivid and real. I loved the concept of being able to get into another world and I liked to think of the time-passage thing as a very interesting concept, rather like daydreams/my imagination. I could imagine all sorts of stuff but when I needed to stop, I was still me, sitting in my room, etc.
At times, Narnia & its surrounding lands seem more vivid to me than Middle Earth, and sometimes less. I LOVE the mythology behind it, though, and I always get pulled in by all the little details like all the different creatues and peoples and lands. More on that in next post. But, yes, I can see how compared to ME it might seem much flatter at times and less creative/fantastic.

I TOTALLY realize (having convinced friends to read the books/watch the movies) that it's a much different feeling to read the books now as an adult than as a child. And the allagory parts WOULD drive me insane as well if not for the fact that whenever I read the books, I try to pretend I have NO knowledge of the Christian mythology at all and I take the stories and world at face value. Only then am I able to appreciate the way the world was set up and the twists and turns that come along with it. Yes, every time I read/see Aslan on the stone table, Jesus pops into my head but I try to push that thought away and remind myself that it's a world that was created through deep magic and magic is just that: magic. To me, Narnia is a HELL of a lot easier to understand and believe than most anything written in the Bible. LOL But I agree with your statements entirely regarding religion(I have decided that traditional organized religion is not for me. I can't take the bigotry, the exclusionary nature, the self-righteousness, the atrocities that are so often committed in the name of one god or another, with each party so completely convinced that their way is the only right way.) My ex-boyfriend was groaning during parts of LWW when we watched it together. I, too, wish C.S.L. didn't feel the need to constantly remind us of the religious connections. So I try to separate the real world from Narnia in my mind whenever I read the books. Sorry Lewis (I'm sure he's rolling over in his grave at that) but that's just what I do. So to me, it's just a magical world that has a lot of similarities :-)

More in next post... I'm running long here...

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[User Picture]From: ladykorana
2005-10-28 11:06 pm (UTC)
I often wonder how I might have turned out, had I read both Narnia and LOTR when I was much younger. I read all the time as a child, but even then I tended to run in obsessive streaks, like my 'Sweet Valley High' period, my 'Clan of the Cave Bear' period, and my huge run of pre-white-people Native American novels, and it was easy for stuff to slip through the cracks that wasn't in my fandom of choice at the moment. Of course, I deliberately avoided reading LOTR after being freaked out by the spiders and orcs, and put off by Gollum in the cartoon 'The Hobbit', which amuses me to no end now. *G* But yeah, much of the Christian allegory probably goes right over the heads of young children unless their parents point it out deliberately. I regret not reading Narnia when I was younger, but I wouldn't readily trade away my experience of being completely and utterly blown away by FOTR in the theater, swept away by the story and not having a clue what to expect. I'm sad that I'll never have a mental image of 'book Legolas' untouched by movie images though...would have been interesting to see what I came up with. *G*

At this point, my favorite of the children is Peter. He's responsible, kind, noble, no nonsense, and rarely annoying or whiny like the other children can become.

I definitely do enjoy Narnia the most when I'm able to forget 'the message' and just enjoy the adventure. Most of the time, I'm able to do this, but every now and then it just becomes too much and I either end up skimming without reading closely, or just putting the book down and coming back to it when I'm in a better mood. And I agree, everything in Narnia makes way more sense (and is much less self-contradictory) than the Bible.

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[User Picture]From: tarotgal
2005-10-28 04:14 pm (UTC)
I like reading the books in publication order, not chronological order, because my favorites are LWW, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and The Silver Chair. I love the quests in those and Eustace is such a fascinating character to me (so long as I adopt that denial attitude where Christianity is concerned and, again, look at it with the religious tones as a normal person not wanting to believe in fantasy but being forced to admit it's real). I know you haven't read those two yet, but I adore then because the lands seem SO detailed and rich to me, and the adventures are interesting/important. I've definitely got a thing for quests. And I was quite attracted to lovely Caspian in VotDT (And Peter, for what it's worth) ;-) And Reep is one of my favorite characters as well. Gotta love noble, loyal warrior-types. I love Shasta and Aravis, too, though :-)

Prince Caspian, on the other hand, is possibly my least favorite. I could fall asleep reading all about the line of succession and all that. The history is interesting to know but once I know it I always skip those parts. I never feel like skipping around in LotR.

And in the defense of the High Kings and Queens... they didn't exactly know when they were going to hunt the stag that they'd fall out of Narnia. If they hadn't left as they did without naming a successor maybe the world would have carried on fine without them? Maybe they wouldn't have been needed in the future and they never would have returned to Narnia. As it is, they were called back because they were needed to fix a situation that they'd technically caused. That's kind of how things work in RL. Even when we screw up (even when we might not know it for a long time) we many times have chances to put things right. The question is, if we/they will take that opportunity or squander it.

Anyway, I'm glad you're giving the books a shot. I totally agree with you about the young feel to them and the overwhelming Christian overtones. But I hope you'll be able to find enough to like about them. And I hope that the world will start feeling real and wonderful to you eventually. I more than understand it might not- I always look at the series through child-like eyes.
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[User Picture]From: ladykorana
2005-10-28 11:44 pm (UTC)
I probably should have read them in publication order too, since creators often have no idea how much the impact is lessened/changed by partaking of the adventures in a different order (read: George Lucas. I would *Never* use The Phantom Menace as the introduction into the SW universe!). I did make it a point to read 'The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe' first though.

Up until Aslan came back, I was enjoying 'Prince Caspian' immensely, actually. Particulary the stuff about Caspian before he ran away...I love castles and nobility and intrigue about the line of succession, and I'm biased toward stories with princes after Legolas. *G* I also really enjoyed the idea of the mythological creatures being real, but no one can talk freely about them anymore. Their world is lost, but maybe not gone forever...reminds me of the Elves leaving ME, and hobbits still possibly around in some form but now a mere shadow of a legend. Shoot, again with the LOTR comparisons! Damn, I need to stop comparing the two and take Narnia at face value, as it deserves...

I'm looking forward to 'Voyage of the Dawn Treader' very much...it has a great title and I keep hearing good things about it. And I'm all for more richness of lands. That was one of the main weaknesses in LWW for me, besides the fact that the Quest felt all too easily accomplished for my tastes. The journeying was really only a couple days, they fought a single wolf, and the major battle was mostly glossed over, and only recounted later to others (a fault of Tolkien's as well). The Witch's power over the land was broken all too easily to really impress me, as well. I'm really counting on the power of cinema to spice this story up for me.

As for the Kings and Queens, personally, if I'd started seeing the coats and remembering my old life, I'd have turned right smack around and gone back to Narnia. Screw modern normal daily existance! Plus, I'm against the hunting and killing of great and noble creatures for sport anyway. (I read an awesome young Legolas fic where Thranduil took him on his first hunt, and was proud of Legolas when he was unwilling to shoot at the venerable old stag because they didn't need the meat badly enough.) *smacks self for more LOTR comparisons, and fanfic at that...guess that's what I get for typing this while ROTK is on tv*. And yes, I'm still surprised they had no plans for succession, especially given all the political meetings and the courting of the two Queens by other lands, but it is a children's book so I guess I'll overlook that point.

I also spent my childhood reading Greek myths and stories. While I love that I can recognize so many characters, I think that my love of Greek mythology works against me in this instance because I find it slightly disconcerting to see all of them mixed together in one story, especially one that includes Santa no less, for seemingly no reason, with their individual contexts partially lost. Sometimes it's magical ( I loved the part with Bacchus and the trees), but often it just feels jumbled and odd and maybe that's the point, but the mere presence of these creatures is not enough to sweep me away. Maybe that's the adult in me talking, or maybe I'm just not expressing myself well, but that's how I feel.

I'm definitely going to finish them, if for no other reason than that I feel like I need to read more of the classics. The Chronicles of Narnia will never come close to occupying the place in my heart that LOTR does though, and that's sad, because I so wanted them to.

Anyway, thanks for such an insightful and thoughtful response!

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