Eragon 3: This is a Joke, Right?

It is truly shocking how little I care about the goings-on in Carvahall, Eragon’s village. Since I’ve read Eragon already and know what’s going to happen, there’s no tension in this chapter anymore. I wonder if this is one of the reasons I never read this book twice, despite how much I enjoyed it the first time around. So far it’s the longest chapter in the book, and it’s nothing but exposition.

Before I get into that, though, I want to pick apart the text.

“He helped himself to a piece of chicken, which he devoured hungrily.”

Does anyone else see what’s wrong with that sentence?

I’ve taken enough creative writing classes to know that you should (a) avoid adverbs and (b) use verbs for description.

I love how Stephen King put it in his memoir, On Writing:

“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day…fifty the day after that…and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it’s–GASP!!–too late.”

One or two adverbs here or there are okay. Too many, though, and they become annoying and repetitive, and make your writing look lazy and weak.

And this ties into into (b) use verbs for description.

Don’t get me wrong, adjectives are great. But verbs are better.

Compare:

“I don’t like it,” she said in a soft voice.

To:

“I don’t like it,” she whispered.

They both mean the same thing, but the second sentence should feel stronger and put a more immediate picture in your mind than the first. If it didn’t, I’ve clearly done something wrong here. Like adverbs, adjectives can get ungainly when they’re overused. Don’t use two words when one will suffice.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, my problem with the above sentence is two-fold. Obviously, I don’t like “hungrily”. But it’s also redundant. If Eragon is “devouring”, he’s clearly hungry; there’s no need to say he devoured something “hungrily”.

“Eragon devoured the chicken.”
“Eragon hungrily ate the chicken.”

Either of these would have been better than what we got.

I just spent way too much time picking apart one sentence that’s probably gone unnoticed by most readers.

As for the rest of this chapter, it’s mostly just exposition. A good portion of it is just the villagers talking about how much they hate the Empire. I think it would be better if it was done using more dialogue and didn’t rely on the narration so much, but it also seems to repeat itself a lot.

The most important part of this chapter comes at the end, when Brom tells the story of the Dragon Riders. They were a group of Mary Sues humans and elves who rode dragons and kept peace throughout the land. So, you know, Jedi, but with dragons. As you might imagine, some tragedy befell them, and now the Dragon Riders are no more. Or, as Brom tells it:

“‘Some saw his abrupt rise as dangerous and warned the others, but the Riders had grown arrogant in their power and ignored caution. Alas, sorrow as conceived that day.'”

Hahaha! This is another case of flowery words backfiring. “Conceived”? Really?

“Brom, how did the Riders fall?”

“Well, Eragon, when a Dragon Rider loves arrogance very much, they conceive sorrow!”

The story is about a Rider named Galbatorix…

…yes, that’s his real name. Not a name that he took after going crazy and becoming evil. Sigh.

Galbatorix’s dragon was killed, he went crazy, and the Riders refused to give him a new one. Now, Brom talks a lot about how cunning Galbatorix is, and how skilled he was with magic and a sword. Basically, a real bad-ass. When he goes to overthrow the Riders, though, he can only do it with the help of an accomplice, Morzan.

“‘Galbatorix convinced Morzan to leave a gate unbolted in the citadel Ilirea, which is now called Urû’baen.'”

Two things here: First, all of those names are so cringe-worthy. The dragon Galbatorix steals is even named “Shruikan”. You know, “shuriken” spelled wrong.

Second, Brom spent so much time telling us how dangerous Galbatorix was on his own, I’m kind of finding it hard to believe that all he needed was a gate left open instead of melting the lock with magic, or blasting it open, or disguising himself as another Rider. Once Shruikan is all grown-up, Galbatorix and thirteen other defectors kill the other Dragon Riders. Vrael, leader of the Dragon Riders, fights Galbatorix, but…well, this is the part where I nearly threw the book down with rage.

“‘As they fought, Galbatorix kicked Vrael in the fork of his legs. With that underhanded blow he gained dominance over Vrael and removed his head with a blazing sword. [. . .] And from that day, he has ruled us.”

A crotch shot?

A CROTCH SHOT?!

THE WORLD WAS CHANGED BECAUSE OF A CROTCH SHOT?!

THE ENTIRE WORLD COULD HAVE BEEN SAVED IF VRAEL WORE A CODPIECE.

WHAT IS THIS SHIT.

Eragon 1-2: SO INTENSE.

When I began this blog, I knew right away that I wanted to re-read Eragon for it, mostly to see if the book I loved as a teenager was as bad as everyone said it was. I did have one pretty big hang-up about getting it started: the length. Almost 500 pages long, reading a book this size was no mean feat for a fourteen-year-old, and might prove to be even more of a challenge for an adult with a full-time job who spends most of her weekends either traveling or working. Sometimes both. And this book gets pretty heavy as a carry-on. Plus, the table of contents alone is 3 pages long. That’s a lot of chapters to review.

Flipping through the book, I realized that the chapters don’t have even lengths. The first chapter is about 2.5 pages long, as is the second. They’re fairly quick reads, and though I expect some big, fat chapters later on in the book, right now it doesn’t seem like such an intimidating project. But I do have a good backlog of posts, so…let’s give it a shot.

Chapter one introduces us to the titular protagonist, Eragon. We learn that he’s just a teenager (because of course he is), who’s a skilled hunter and tracker. The prose isn’t bad, but there’s just something about it that feels lacking. It seems like Paolini was reaching for flowery language, but prose that is still easy to understand.

What doesn’t feel lacking is just over-the-top. Three paragraphs in, and I’m already scoffing over Eragon’s description:

“Eragon was fifteen, less than a year from manhood. Dark eyebrows rested above his intense brown eyes.”

It’s the “intense brown eyes” that gets me. That’s the kind of phrase I would have used in fanfiction when describing a character. It’s a description that just doesn’t make sense to me. When someone has “intense” eyes, I can only picture a person whose eyes are unearthly–in that they’re glowing, or can hypnotize you with a stare. For me, it’s just too vague to actually mean anything.

However, his ridiculous eyes do lead him to a blue stone, the same one that the elf was carrying in the prologue. I think that there’s supposed to be suspense here, but anyone who read the inside flap of the book can tell you right away it’s got something to do with the blue dragon on the cover. However, it does lead us to the first sentence that made me laugh out loud in this book.

“The stone was cool and frictionless under his fingers, like hardened silk.”

It’s another case of trying to using flowery language, except it backfired hilariously. I know that he’s trying to say that the stone is really smooth, but “frictionless”?

If it were truly frictionless, Eragon wouldn’t be able to hold it. It would be sliding out of his hands, slipping through the forest, and no one would ever be able to catch it. The mental image of that–a huge blue stone, forever moving across the world–is funnier than it should be to me. Maybe because right now I’m wishing that’s what would really happen.

…maybe that’d be a better way of keeping the stone safe, rather than teleporting it somewhere where it might never get found, or worse, fall into the wrong hands?

And that about does it for the first chapter. Like I said, it was pretty short. Moving on to the next…

The first two pages of this chapter are nothing but description. It’s not bad, and it wasn’t even that boring. We’re also introduced to Sloan, the butcher. I never liked Sloan; as a kid it was because he’s a dick. Now, it’s because he’s a dick to just the main character. He hates Eragon, and the reason that’s given is because Eragon isn’t afraid to venture into the mountain range where Sloan’s wife was killed.

I read the first two books completely, and almost finished the third one in this series. Some major shit happens to Sloan, and I think it’s meant to be his comeuppance for being an asshole to Eragon. It’s a pretty disproportionate punishment for just being a jerk. Even Eragon, who’s supposed to be our hero, punishes Sloan right after saving him.

I guess I should just be focusing on this book, and this chapter, but Sloan’s treatment gets taken too far.

We also see the farm that Eragon lives on, with his uncle and cousin.

Okay, I’ll accept dragons and magic and elves. I cannot accept that a farm has only three people living and working on it. If they can’t afford farmhands, shouldn’t Uncle Garrow have, like, eight kids? A farm is freaking hard to run, especially when you only have three people working on it, and one of them seems to be hunting in the woods more often than not, if Sloan’s dialogue is any indication.

Also, this is our first description of Garrow:

“His worn clothes hung on him like rags on a stick frame. A lean, hungry face with intense eyes gazed out from under graying hair.”

SO INTENSE. What does that even mean?

Eragon Prologue: A Scent that Would Change The World

Hoo, boy.

When I started this blog, I knew right away that one of the books I wanted to read for it was Eragon. I loved this book when I was fourteen, but I’m aware of all the terrible reviews it’s gotten. The main character has been called a sociopath, the overall story is said to be Star Wars with dragons, the writing’s been called proof that Paolini has access to a thesaurus. Now, it’s time for me to go back and see if any of that is true.

But before we go any further, let’s get the Star Wars thing out of the way right now. The first Star Wars movie (A New Hope)  follows a classic monomyth structure. This is where a lot of familiar storytelling devices come from: the call to adventure, the wise old man, the first failure. The protagonist succeeds and fails, and finally wins the day and learns a lesson.

Eragon, inasmuch as I remember, follows the same monomyth structure. It’s not necessarily that it’s a rip-off of Star Wars, but that it follows the same story structure that has existed…probably for as long as stories have. Can you really blame a fifteen-year-old novelist, in his first book, for using a tried and true formula?

Well, yes, I suppose you could.

Enough of that, let’s jump right in!

“Wind howled through the night, carrying a scent that would change the world.”

Oh my God.

That’s the first line of this series.

That’s the first line.

If I spotted this in a bookstore today, picked it up, and read the first sentence, I would have slammed it shut so fast. I have a terrible feeling that the awful, corny sentence I just read is going to set the tone for the rest of this book.

But I loved this book as a kid. And it was really popular! There’s gotta be a reason why so many people enjoyed it! It can’t be all bad, right?

…Right?

The prologue follows a “raven-haired” (groan) woman who is clearly on a mission, but we don’t know what that mission is. The first time I read this book, I was totally confused, and had no idea what was happening. Because I was an idiot, I took that as a good thing.

My reasoning was this:

1. The Similarillion is a great book.
2. I had no goddamn clue was was going on in The Silmarillion.
3. Therefore, if I didn’t understand what was happening in the long fantasy novel, and it had a lot of made-up words, it was good.

Now I know the opposite to be true. Confusing your audience is a good way to lose them pretty quickly. Case in point: I never actually read past the first chapter of The Silmaraillion.

Paolini tells us about a “Shade” and “Urgals” chasing our dark-haired beauty, without really explaining what they are. We can figure out that Urgals are just another flavor of orc, and a Shade is some kind of magician, presumably an evil one. I guess I can see why you’d want to use different terms than the norm when writing a book like this, but a rose by any other name still smells.

Anyway, the beautiful woman gets captured, but teleports a blue stone far away from her location. Anyway, the hero will eventually save her and–

They were right. They were right all along. This is just Star Wars.

No…I have to hold out hope. I have to believe that this isn’t just a a rip-off of a better, more beloved franchise. It’s just the monomyth structure! It’s just the monomyth structure!

Maybe if I say it enough, I’ll convince myself that it’s true.

It’s just the monomyth structure, it’s just the monomyth structure, it’s just the monomyth structure…

Angelic Layer Chap. 5: The Art of Losing


Remember when I said we’re going to talk about Hatoko? It’s time to talk about Hatoko.

Misaki can’t land a hit on Hatoko’s angel, Suzuka. She keeps dodging Hikaru’s attacks, and Misaki can’t figure out how.

This is only Misaki’s second battle, and it shows. She’s making what is probably a rookie mistake. When she wants Hikaru to move right or left, she’s also moving her own body right and left. As soon as she figures this out, Misaki stops moving. She doesn’t give Hatoko any more hints about what she’s planning to do, and starts turning the fight around.

When we first met Hatoko, she’s just called an “Angelic Layer nut”, but it’s supposed to be a surprise when we find out that a six-year-old is the reigning champion of the game. I don’t remember if I was surprised when I first read this, but I have a feeling that I probably wasn’t.

There are two things I don’t like about Hatoko’s character. The first is that she’s a six-year-old, and doesn’t act like one at all. Hatoko is intelligent, calm and collected, and sure of herself. That’s not to say that young children can’t be smart and calm (though I’ve yet to see a kindergartner as un-excitable as Hatoko), but it seems highly unlikely to me that she would be so disciplined, and so well-spoken.

No one talks like this.

She’s a just a little kid, playing with her favorite toy, and being really good at. From the child prodigies I’ve seen in various anime and manga, they all seem to be set in one mode: calm and smart. I think a prodigy character would be much more interesting if she acted…well, acted their age. A child, smarter than most adults, given tasks required of adults and lauded for their intelligence…that’s a cool idea. But what if they just wanted to go to the playground instead of doing rocket science? Or their parents want to make them go to bed, but they really want to finish finding the cure for cancer tonight? I like that idea much more than one that treats child prodigies as just a smaller version of adults.

The other thing about Hatoko that I sort of disagree with is her concept. She’s already discovered something that she’s the best at, she’s already a champion. And she’s six. So…what the hell is she going to do with the rest of her life? And even though winning is a lot of fun, and everyone likes to win, if you go into every contest knowing you’re going to win, wouldn’t things get a little boring?

Pretty soon, Hatoko will just be like a tiny Forrest Gump.

“And then I played Angelic Layer, again…and then I became world champion, again…”

Or maybe she’ll just crash and burn horribly like other child stars. I hope not.

But back to Misaki and her second fight. It’s not a huge leap to guess that she’ll win the tournament, which she does. She’s the heroine of an upbeat manga, after all. But what I hadn’t been expecting, as a thirteen-year-old, was that she would lose this fight. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone that she loses to Hatoko; even Misaki accepts it.

Icchan says that the thing Misaki needed to learn to succeed in Angelic Layer was how much losing hurts.

I was a little conflicted about how I felt about this. Of course, I’m part of the “self-esteem” generation. That is, me, and people my age, all got told that we were special and unique snowflakes, that we should all believe in ourselves and have confidence. I do believe that it’s important to have self-confidence, so I’m okay with some of this.

However, I’m not okay with overly-sheltering children. Yes, kids need to be protected, but you can’t shield them from everything. You can’t stop them from failing, or save them from disappointment. The hope is that when children fail, they learn something, and strive to improve themselves. Kids need to learn how to lose, because life is full of losing and failing. Hearts get broken; dreams don’t always come true, no matter how much you want it or believe in it.

You have to learn how to fail, so you can pick up the pieces, and and strive to make yourself better.

And that’s exactly what Misaki does.

And, that’s it. We’ve reached the end of the book. It was nice to revisit these characters again, and remember the joy and excitement I felt watching Misaki’s journey through the first time. But the nostalgia isn’t enough to make me keep this book. Misaki grows up in her story, and so have I.

Final Verdict: For Sale

Next I’ll be starting up a rather long project–and I almost can’t believe I’m saying this–Eragon by Christopher Paolini. Stay tuned!

Angelic Layer Chap. 4: Sportball

As I mentioned before, CLAMP is known for their beautiful artwork, but this series really doesn’t show it off. When Misaki interacts with characters as rambunctious as Tamayo and Icchan, a lot of the art looks like this:

I used to call it “squid art” for some reason. Maybe because the limbs look like tentacles? There’s a lot of this throughout the series, and I think it gets used way too often. I know that creating a comic is a ton of work, and not every panel will be — or even needs to be — a masterpiece. But to use a such a simplified method of drawing the characters so often just feels, well, lazy. Especially when I know that CLAMP has produced some amazing work.

Maybe I should cut them some slack. Everyone needs a breather, right?

Long anime series tend to usually have a few “filler” episodes, where the characters go to the beach and nothing important happens. You won’t see this as frequently in manga, and definitely not in Angelic Layer. The whole series is only five volumes long, so the story is quite compact. At the beginning of the book Misaki’s just learning what Angelic Layer is; by the end of this chapter, she’s in her first fight in a huge tournament. Moreover, her opponent is six-year-old Hatoko, but I’ll come back to that in chapter five.

On the subject of the tournament, there are a couple things that confuse me. First of all, the announcer tells the crowd the basic rules of angelic layer: the first angel to lose all its health, or to be pushed out of the arena (the “layer”) loses. Okay, I’m down with that, but have you ever actually heard a sports caster explain the rules of the game as it’s being played? Everyone in the audience is already a fan; they know how this works. I’ve never sat down to watch the Super Bowl and heard the announcers explain the basic rules of the game while it’s going on. It might be nice if they did, because what even is football? But it just feels a little out-of-place here. It would make more sense if Icchan explained all this when he was helping Misaki learn the basics of Angelic Layer.

Also, those appear to be the only rules of the game. But when Hatoko’s angel, Suzuka, lands her first blows on Hikaru, Mr. Exposition the sportscaster announces that Hatoko’s got the first set of points in this match. That is the first and the last time “points” are ever mentioned.

You don’t need points to win, so I have to assume that one of the following things happened here:

(a) points refer to the angel’s health, or “hit points”

(b) translation error

(c) CLAMP changed their minds about how the match winner would be determined and forgot to go back and change it

(d) There’s a gritty underground ring of people betting on Angelic Layer matches, and gamblers have created a “points” system in case of close matches or to determine payout.

The first option makes the most sense, but I like the last one the best.

Angelic Layer, Chap. 3: Do Angels Dream of Electric Sheep?

I always liked this chapter, because a small gag in it became a big joke between my friends and me. It also explains a lot about how the game Angelic Layer actually works.

Under the guidance of her mentor, Misaki learns how to control Hikaru’s movements. I wouldn’t admit it when I was reading this in junior high, but I really hoped that Hikaru would become a real character who would bond with Misaki. But Hikaru doesn’t magically come to life when Misaki is practicing, she never speaks, and Misaki is totally in control of Hikaru. Misaki loves Hikaru, but in the end, Hikaru’s just a doll, and the love Misaki has for her only goes in one direction.

That’s a little sad.

Icchan, Misaki’s mentor, teaches her the basics of how Angelic Layer works. The angel has a special cord, and the angel’s owner, or “deus”,  wears a special headset. These allow the deus to send her thoughts to her angel and tell it how to move.

Wait.

Did I just read that right?

In this world, there is a machine that can read minds. And you’re wasting it on toys?! Of course it would be amazing if you had a toy that moved just by thinking it. But why is that the only way this technology ever gets used? 

Why is this series about a tournament? If I had a machine that could read minds, I sure as hell wouldn’t waste it on a game.

Okay, I actually might. But I’ll be damned if technology like that exists and it’s not used by the government or military. Man, this series would be so much cooler if it were about Misaki using her toys to become an international super-spy, or something.

There were so many good storytelling possibilities here, and they all ended up wasted so we could watch a twelve-year-old become a champion in a game that doesn’t exist in real life.

Remember when I said that Angelic Layer wasn’t the type of manga I’d pick up today? Yeah.

After a couple hours of practice, Icchan decides that Misaki’s ready for some real Angelic Layer. She joins a walk-on competition and makes a fool of herself at first. With a burst of inspiration from her new-found friends, though, Misaki wins her first fight; a promising start to her career as a deus.

I like Misaki because she’s sweet, because she’s a small girl who finds her courage and self-confidence doing what she loves.

So, exactly the opposite of who I was in junior high.

Angelic Layer, Chap. 2: Making Friends

Time for another action-packed episode of Angelic Layer!

Except not at all.

The first chapter was all about explaining just exactly what Angelic Layer was. In the second chapter, we learn a little bit more about the sport, and Misaki makes some friends. That last part is probably the most important for me. People read fiction for all kinds of reasons, entertainment being the most obvious. But I think wish fulfillment is also a big part of it. It’s one of my theories as to why Twilight was such a success. Bella is so bland and dull that it’s easy for readers to put themselves in her shoes.

Fortunately, Misaki is likable and has a personality (unlike Bella), but I think there’s still some wish-fulfillment for the thirteen-year-old version of me reading this. This is because junior high is pretty much the worst time of anyone’s life. It was a time when I was bullied and miserable, bushy-haired and awkward.

Maybe kids are nicer in Japan, because Misaki makes two friends with ease on her way to school. They start talking about Angelic Layer, and that’s that. I wish making friends was that easy in real life, and that the kids I went to school with were really that friendly. And even though I had more friends during middle school than I’d ever had up to that point, friendship still comes with drama, jealousies, and petty squabbles. Misaki and her friends don’t have any of that. They support each other and cheer Misaki on. It’s simple and uncomplicated. I could call it unrealistic, because relationships aren’t that straightforward. Maybe it’s the leftover strain of reading Snow Drop talking, or maybe it’s because it would be nice for things to be that easy, I’ll forgive it.

One trope that CLAMP is really fond of is a young genius character. In Chobits, it’s Minoru. Here, it’s Hatoko. I’m generally okay with it, depending on the kid. The thing withe child prodigies is that writers will sometimes forget the “child” part, and just focus on the “prodigy”. Minoru is a cool, intelligent twelve-year-old, who also dresses his persocoms (humanoid robots, for those who haven’t read it) in sexy, revealing outfits. Minoru’s calm demeanor and wisdom don’t really make him seem like a pre-teen, but I could totally see a twelve-year-old boy dressing up his robots in sexy clothes, whether he’s a genius or not.

Hatoko is six years old, and doesn’t act like it at all. She’s cheerful, but is too well-spoken and mature for her age. At six, most kids can’t sit still for more than a couple minutes. Even if she runs off from her older brother, Hatoko’s really not like that. It’s Misaki’s other friend, Tamayo, who’s bursting at the scenes with energy. I found Tamayo pretty obnoxious as a kid, and still annoying as an adult. This might be because I was similar to Tamayo when I was in eighth grade, and had a lot of self-loathing going on. Many years out of junior high later, it’s embarrassing to think that I used to act like that.

Or perhaps Tamayo is objectively annoying. Can any other Angelic Layer fans confirm or deny this?

One last thing before I go: Hikaru’s armor. The clothing angels wear is made out of special fabric and designed by their owners. Okay, I can buy Misaki sewing Hikaru’s clothes in a few hours. Hikaru’s small, and Misaki is clearly a beginner, but puts a lot of effort into the outfit. The head-scratcher here is the details of Hikaru’s outfit. Those screws and cuffs at the top of her gloves can’t be fabric. Even as a kid this bugged me.

The Magician’s Nephew, Chap. 15: Why We Read

Oh, Narnia. It’s here that we go our separate ways…for now. Books transport you into a whole new world, and the best part is, they can do it over and over again. Of course, you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t know that already. As I’ve mentioned earlier, I never actually read any of the books after Prince Caspian. Re-reading The Magician’s Nephew now makes me want to go back and read through the entire Narnia series. I think I’d like to go back and read the rest of the books and see what I missed. Aware, of course, of all the religious symbolism, racism, and sexism that I missed the first time around.

The final chapter is perhaps the most insightful; at the very least, it gave me the most to think about as a child. Aslan takes Polly, Digory, and the sleeping Uncle Andrew back to the Woods Between the Worlds and shows them a hollow in the grass.

‘When you were last here,’ said Aslan, ‘that hollow was a pool, and when you jumped into it you came to the world where a dying sun shone over the ruins of Charn. There is no pool now. That would is ended, as if it had never been. Let the race of Adam and Eve take warning.’

‘Yes, Aslan,’ said both the children. But Polly added, ‘But we’re not quite as bad as that world, are we, Aslan?’

‘Not yet, Daughter of Eve,’ he said. ‘Not yet. But you are growing more like it. It is not certain that some wicked one of your race will not find out a secret as evil as the Deplorable Word and use it to destroy all living things. And very soon, before you are an old man and an old woman, great nations in your world will be ruled by tyrants who care no more for joy and justice and mercy than the Emperor Jadis.’

This book was published in 1955, though it takes place before World War I. I can’t help but think that Aslan’s warning to the children about the Deplorable Word was a thinly veiled reference to the atomic bomb. I couldn’t have known that when I read this more than a decade ago, nor could I understand just how bad the world could really be.

Now I see that our world is a scary place, and I’ve been very fortunate to have a comfortable life. Perhaps the question I’ve asked myself the most over the past two years, the one that I can’t answer, is, “Is the world getting worse, or am I just paying more attention?”

Unfortunately, I’m usually an optimist.  I want to believe that there is more good than bad, that love will conquer hate. More and more, it seems like the opposite of that is true.

But there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.

And that fight is terribly, terribly frustrating. Because everyday I want to change the world, but I’m just one person.

And that’s why we need books. Because Digory and Polly protect Narnia from the evil they brought into it; because Digory saves his mother with a magical apple. Because they give us simple solutions to our complex problems. Because the world is terrible, the characters we love go through endless trials and tribulations, and things turn out okay.

Because real life needs more happy endings.

Final Verdict: Keep

For now, anyway. This will likely make it to the collection of children’s books my mom has on the unlikely chance that I’ll ever give her a grandchild.

I’ll be taking next week off, but starting on May 30, I’ll be back with Angelic Layer by CLAMP, which just happens to be the first manga I ever read. Stay tuned!

The Magician’s Nephew, Chap. 14: All Allegories Aside, Though…

I thought the last two chapters of this book would be rather short, but it turns out they’re more substantial than I remember. Well, maybe not the first part of this chapter, which is all about Uncle Andrew. The animals have now put him in a home-made cage and have tried to feed him their favorite foods, which resulted in squirrels pelting him with nuts and a bear throwing a honey comb at him, for example. It’s kind of funny, but like the toffee dinner, just takes up too much time. I guess it’s his comeuppance for being disagreeable ant the beginning of the book, but now it just feels undeserved. Ever since Jadis arrived, he’s no longer scary or threatening. He’s already learned his lesson; cut the guy some slack. And now that I can’t unsee all the religious parallels, it’s obvious that Uncle Andrew represents atheism, as he simply refuses to hear the animals–and Aslan–talking.

I do like that the animals want to keep Uncle Andrew as a pet, though.

There was more time spent on Uncle Andrew’s treatment than there was on the coronation of the new king and queen of Narnia, wherein C.S. Lewis shows us how little he knows about blacksmithing. The dwarves make crowns for them right then and there, with apparently very little effort. I actually do know a bit about smithing (because college was a weird time), and I think it’s preeeetty doubtful that the animals were able to make a fire that would get hot enough in just a few minutes to make gold and silver crowns on. Whatever, I’ll give it a shrug and chalk it up to magic. I’m fairly certain that this is a point no one else cares about except me.

And while I’m sure that the coronation is terribly important for the history of Narnia, it may be the least interesting part of this chapter. It’s not Digory plants the tree that I really care about what’s going on. Aslan confirms what the Witch told him–that taking an apple from the tree would make him live forever, and heal his mother. However, Aslan also tells him

‘Understand, then, that it would have healed her; but not to your joy or hers. The day would have come when both you and she would have looked back and said it would have been better to die in that illness.’

…chilling.

And reveals yet another difference between myself now and the elementary school student who read this long ago. Back then, I couldn’t comprehend regret like that, nor could I understand why anyone would think they’re better off dead. I could only think of it as a curse, and use the irrational explanation of magic to comprehend something that wasn’t rational to me.

Now, unfortunately, I understand regret perfectly well, and can see why someone would rather be dead than alive.

Like I said, growing up is harsh.

To end on a lighter note, I’m glad that Digory is rewarded for his honesty, and loyalty to Aslan, by being allowed to take an apple for his sick mother. That’s probably the best message this book has for kids, whether or not it’s read as a religious allegory.

I really love the idea that the magical fruit itself is neither good nor evil, and it’s all about the person who takes the fruit. The tree would protect Narnia, whether or not its fruit was stolen, but the land it protected would change. Because Digory took the apple at Aslan’s bidding, Narnia will become a kind and gentle world. Had he stolen it, Narnia would have become cold and cruel. I really like the idea that the fruit will do its job, no matter what, but the intent of the one who takes it truly determines what happens. I wish my good intentions had that much power in real life.

The Magician’s Nephew, Chap. 13: Does This Remind You of Anything?

There’s apparently a lot I’ve forgotten about this book, but some parts I remember vividly. Chapter 13 has one of those scenes. Recalling the disappointment of re-reading the previous chapter, though, I approached this one with caution.

Polly, Digory, and Fledge all find what’s simply called “The Place”, where the magical tree is growing. It has high walls and golden gates, warning against climbing the walls or stealing the fruit from one of the trees. Digory goes into the garden alone, and there’s a few paragraphs dedicated to that decision.

Near the end of a lot of fantasy stories, the main character finds often her or himself facing off against their main antagonist alone. I’m never sure how I feel about this trope, because if their allies are readily available, then they should also join in the fight. There should be a reason given as to why the protagonist has to go it alone. If the supporting cast is busy fighting a dragon, and the main character is the only one that can kill the sorcerer, fine. If you go it alone for drama, or tradition’s sake…that’s sort of dumb. The movie Labyrinth probably has the weakest excuse, with Sarah facing off against Jareth (and his mighty crotch) by herself because, “that’s the way it’s done”. I understand that it’s an important moment for the character to stand up to something to face their fears, but sometimes doing it alone out of choice is impractical.

In this case, the only reason Digory goes into the grove alone is because Polly and Fledge can see that it’s a “private place”, somewhere you wouldn’t want to walk into unless you’ve been invited. I’m actually okay with this. Maybe it’s the way this scene was written, or maybe it’s because even from the air, all three characters could feel that this place was special. I’m also okay with this because Digory isn’t in any apparent danger, nor has he been since Jadis ran off.

This chapter was probably the most memorable in the book, and holds up very well even now.  Digory is sorely tempted to take one of the apples for his own, and tries to rationalize eating one for himself. Just like we all do, when we want something really badly but know that we shouldn’t. It also shows us the magical quality of the fruit, that he had been planning on returning it to Aslan right away, until he smells it. This passage was as difficult for me to read, because I love fruit, and they all sounded so delicious.

The most important part of the chapter, (and the novel, if you ask me), is Digory finding Jadis in the garden, happily eating one of the apples. It’s made her stronger, but also made her skin and hair completely white, setting her up as the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It’s obvious she hasn’t been invited into the garden and that she’s stolen the apple for herself. She tries to convince Digory to eat one as well and become strong and immortal like her. When he refuses, she aims below the belt.

‘Do you not see, Fool, that one bite of the apple would heal her? You have it in your pocket. We are here by ourselves and the Lion is far away. Use your Magic and go back to your own world. A minute later you can be at your Mother’s bedside, giving her the fruit. Five minutes later you will see the color coming back to her face. She will tell you the pain is gone. Soon she will tell you she feels stronger. Then she will fall asleep–think of that; hours of sweet, natural sleep, without pain, without drugs.  Next day everyone will be saying how wonderfully she has recovered. Soon she will be quite well again. All will be well again. [. . .] And what would your Mother think if she knew that you could have taken her pain away and given her back her life and saved your Father’s heart from being broken, and that you wouldn’t–that you’d rather run messages for a wild animal in a strange world that is no business of yours?’

Holy shit.

This is the reason I’ve remembered this chapter so well. Growing up with a sick aunt and chronic illness as a backdrop in everyday life, I would have given just about anything for an apple like that. I remember holding my breath while this scene was read to me. Of course I wanted Digory to take the apple back to Aslan. That was the right thing to do. I hoped that Aslan would be able to heal Digory’s mother, but what if he couldn’t? The Witch said that it was Digory’s only chance at eternal life–what if it was the only way to heal his mother?

I connected with this passage, this dilemma so well. I was such a shy and straight-laced kid, always doing what I was told. If I were in Digory’s shoes, though, I may have very well stolen an apple for my sick aunt. It’s a test of faith; how loyal Digory feels towards Aslan, or how much he wants to save his mother. He hesitates, though, giving Jadis an opportunity to remind him that she’s evil. The reminder is all Digory needs to refuse, and leave with Polly and Fledge to return to Aslan with the magic fruit.

I chose to read The Magician’s Nephew again for a few reasons. It was the first in the Narnia series I ever read; I thought I remembered the basic story well enough and…

Well, this last one just makes me sound silly.

It took me awhile to come around to the “Aslan is Jesus” allegory. Sure, it made sense–Aslan comes around at Christmas, is killed for Edmund’s sake and  is then reborn (which just about made me cry)…it’s not a difficult connection to make. I never liked it all that much because it sort of demystified this really cool, powerful character. When I was a child, it made Aslan feel less approachable. As an adult, it’s because I’m not terribly religious, and don’t enjoy having religion shoved down my throat, even if it’s in the form of a fuzzy lion. Because, c’mon, you can’t watch the Disney Narnia movies and tell me that you don’t want to cuddle with Aslan.

But back to the point…I chose The Magician’s Nephew because I thought it wouldn’t be overly religious.

Oh, how wrong I was.

The scene that I remembered the best was nothing more than a gender-swapped Garden of Eden story. How the hell did I miss that? If it were any more transparent, this book would be made of glass.

Aslan help me, I’m an idiot.