Sun 27 Jul, 2003 12:19 am
One of the most wonderful aspects of literature can be the creation of totally convincing and wonderful other worlds.
I can remember my first introduction to some of these - the horror (to me) of Alice's Wonderland, the shining joy of discovering C.S. Lewis' Narnia - (I can recall exactly where I was when I first read "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" - I was very small indeed, and ill, and lying on the sofa in the livng room - I know that I was very small, because the sofa was very big to me, and it was just a weeny two-seater!) - the ecstasy of finding Kipling's "The Jungle Books" - (I was seven, because I can remember being entranced because one of the first words was seven - "It was seven o' clock..") - the delight of reading the first of E. Nesbitt's books about the five children who discover the Psammead ("Five Children and It"), and then, in subsequent books, the Phoenix and the magic carpet and the Amulet...
When I think about it, some of the common themes of these, and other worlds to be adored and discovered later, were the presence of solid, sensible, human children - bound by the actual conditions of being children (adults who did not understand, difficult to explain and get yourself out of situations), lots and lots of information about actual things, like mythology, animals, Edwardian London etc - magical or anthropomorphized creatures with minds and wills of their own (often grumpy) - and solid, realistic lives.
This is one of the reasons "The Wind in the Willows" never really cut it for me - the animals seemed to be neither fully humanized, nor fully animals - no mates, no kids, no real, inner, life.
What have been your favourite "other worlds"? Why? What do you love about them? What doesn't work? What effect have they had on your life?
For instance - the Narnia books began to lose their charm as the christian allegory stuff became more and more evident - they became more mechanical, less magical, as they were used to work out Lewis' conscious themes.
While all this is fore-shadowed in "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe", it does not dominate, and the magic and wonder is left to take itself where it will, more or less - the emphasis on Sons of Adam and daughters of Eve becomes a little wearisome, at times.
I like the worlds steven king made in the tower series. I try to live in them as much as possible.
"Remember the face of your father"
never read 'em. What is it about them you love? What are they about?
Actually, 'tis interesting. Nesbitt, who was a Fabian Socialist, becomes wearisome when she preaches in her books - as she does in The Amulet, when the children visit a Socialist Utopia of the future. It was incredibly interesting to me as a little kid, though.
Hmm, what's not to love? it has the turtle of enormous girth ... upholds the earth...
It is a detailed and quite interesting parallel universe based on a few words "childe roland to the dark tower came".
The characters are from that world and from ours, and from different times in our world.
It has the requisite intelligent grounded kid and an interesting cross universe, cross time, interacial relationship between a black schizophrenic weelchair-bound lazy and Roland, who is to his world what a knight was to ours.
One day I did this scetch after a saw a lil'illustration in the paperback of the lady's wheelchair (she had to leave it behind and roland started carrying her).
I was always more of a fan of those kinds of books, too -- "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" and "Alice in Wonderland" were a couple of my faves, as well as "Peter Pan" and a book called "The Silver Crown." That was much darker, and I remember it kind of shocking me because of that, but I've never forgotten about it (might have to re-read it).
In it, a girl wakes up with a silver crown on her pillow, loses her family, and has to fight off evil, trek through the wilderness and find her own food and fight predators. There is a really evil version of "Mary had a Little Lamb" in it that I still remember to this day. I think one reason I liked it was because it was dark and so much different from any darkness presented in books like "Peter Pan" or "Alice in Wonderland" -- like, some of the things that she had to go through were more realistic than in the other stories. Maybe it had something to do with the main character being a girl who could be tough and take care of herself, and there weren't many books (that I was exposed to, anyway) that had that.
Sounds interesting, Craven - you still like to be there?
A tough little girl, Liberty D, I like it!
The Tarzan books of Edgar Rice Burroughs did it for me. As a kid I devoured them. The noble savage idea couched in exotic settings like Pellucidar, Opar et al captivated me. He had to have had a lot of fun pointing out ideas as two tribes livid with each other because one believed their God either had a tail or didn't have a tail causing ceaseless war with each other.
Sounds like the Big-Endian heresy in Lilliput/Blefescu! (Or consubstantiation/transubstantiation not so very far from here.)
I loved his Professor Challenger "Lost World" books - you know, with the dinosaurs and stuff? - went on to read his spiritualist stuff, too, as a weelowan. Never got way into Tarzan, somehow, for some reason.
Was Tarzan a static hero through the books, or did he develop as a character?
A new collection of works by Alan Bennett (author of "The Madness of King George III) contains a section called "Prefaces to Plays". One of these, beginning on p 215, is on
"The Wind in the Willows". It discusses why and how he wrote the play, and what he felt about the characters in the book, etc. I think dlowan might find it interesting.
LibertyD, yes, the Silver Crown! I remember that book.
Ursula Le Guin is the master of creating other worlds. Earthsea, especially.
Tarzan was his best selling and most remembered character. He was not in all his books. There was a series on John Carter of Mars. Tarzan was not in At the Earth's core but was in Tarzan at the Earth's Core. He also wrote a book called War Chief and (flinching at giving the end of a book) turned out to be Geronimo.
Creation of other worlds
dlowan - If you can pick up a copy of Alan Bennett's book "Writing Home" which is a collection of short pieces he has written over the years, you will find a very interesting description of how and why he dramatized "The Wind in the Willows", and his feelings about the characters both in the book and in the dramatization. (BTW, Bennett is the author of "The Madness of King George").
As I've said on other book threads, I was completely entranced by Ursela K LeGuin's Earthsea trilogy (before it was a 'cycle' of 5 or 6 books). I must have been late high school age. I recently bought the whole series and plowed straight through them. The books are set in a world of islands. There are dragons and wizards (sorcerers and witches). But, most of all, there is an enormous sense of moralness. It's about doing the right thing for the world as a whole.
And, speaking of building worlds, Larry Niven's Ringworld is a contructed world. Built by a bygone race of humanoids, a gigantic (to say the least) ring rotates around a sun. The rotation provides gravity (as seen in various scifi space vehicles), the world was seeded with flora and fauna, panels in orbit closer to the sun provide night in the perpetual day.
A good part of the enchanted glamour of imaginary universes comes from the child's sense of discovery. Most children lead comfortably humdrum lives, limited geographically by a lack of transportation.
Even if you could ride your bike for 20 miles in the morning for an adventure in the afternoon, adventures would be thin on the ground--unless you arrived at a well-stocked book shelf.
Most imaginary worlds dispense with parents and other authority figures. The author may intrude with an agenda of socialism or Christianity, but most children are shameless about skimming the diadactic bits and getting on with the story. In the story, children, not adults, are movers and shakers of the world.
Every Christmas and birthday for years and years I was given at least one Oz book. My sister collected Andrew Lang's rainbow collections of fairy tales.
By the by, does anyone else treasure Andrew Lang's My Own Fairy Book (so titled because he wanted to make it clear he had not written the hundreds of stories in his collections, but he had written the adventures of Prince Prigio. Prince Prigio was cursed by a disgruntled fairy who had not been invited to his christening. She hissed, "My prince, you will be too clever.
Peter Pan despite the arch adult comments. E. Nesbit. Alice, of course. My mind, smothered by delight, has just gone blank.
The Wind in the Willows is flawed by archness, but when I'm sorting out stacks of objects, I find myself muttering, "Here's a sword for Ratty and here's a sword for Mole...."
Many bright children find this universe to be a rather uncomfortable place, geared to the "average" student and intolerant of the exceptional brain. For such outcasts, fantasy universes are blessed refuges, beloved havens.
Peter Pan got me when I was young. Also the Secret Garden pulled me in.
Ringworld, yah... but I think I'd rather live in the Luna of Moon is a Harsh Mistress (Heinlein) and/or Steel Beach (Varley).
Craven brought back some memories for me of one of my favorite poems:
"CHILDE ROLAND TO THE DARK TOWER CAME
by Robert Browning
(See Edgar's song in "LEAR")
My first thought was, he lied in every word,
That hoary cripple, with malicious eye
Askance to watch the workings of his lie
On mine, and mouth scarce able to afford
Suppression of the glee, that pursed and scored
Its edge, at one more victim gained thereby.
What else should he be set for, with his staff?
What, save to waylay with his lies, ensnare
All travellers who might find him posted there,
And ask the road? I guessed what skull-like laugh
Would break, what crutch 'gin write my epitaph
For pastime in the dusty thoroughfare.
If at his counsel I should turn aside
Into that ominous tract which, all agree,
Hides the Dark Tower. Yet acquiescingly
I did turn as he pointed, neither pride
Now hope rekindling at the end descried,
So much as gladness that some end might be.
For, what with my whole world-wide wandering,
What with my search drawn out through years, my hope
Dwindled into a ghost not fit to cope
With that obstreperous joy success would bring,
I hardly tried now to rebuke the spring
My heart made, finding failure in its scope.
As when a sick man very near to death
Seems dead indeed, and feels begin and end
The tears and takes the farewell of each friend,
And hears one bit the other go, draw breath
Freelier outside, ('since all is o'er,' he saith
And the blow fallen no grieving can amend;')
When some discuss if near the other graves
be room enough for this, and when a day
Suits best for carrying the corpse away,
With care about the banners, scarves and staves
And still the man hears all, and only craves
He may not shame such tender love and stay.
Thus, I had so long suffered in this quest,
Heard failure prophesied so oft, been writ
So many times among 'The Band' to wit,
The knights who to the Dark Tower's search addressed
Their steps - that just to fail as they, seemed best,
And all the doubt was now - should I be fit?
So, quiet as despair I turned from him,
That hateful cripple, out of his highway
Into the path he pointed. All the day
Had been a dreary one at best, and dim
Was settling to its close, yet shot one grim
Red leer to see the plain catch its estray.
For mark! No sooner was I fairly found
Pledged to the plain, after a pace or two,
Than, pausing to throw backwards a last view
O'er the safe road, 'twas gone; grey plain all round;
Nothing but plain to the horizon's bound.
I might go on, naught else remained to do.
So on I went. I think I never saw
Such starved ignoble nature; nothing throve:
For flowers - as well expect a cedar grove!
But cockle, spurge, according to their law
Might propagate their kind with none to awe,
You'd think; a burr had been a treasure trove.
No! penury, inertness and grimace,
In some strange sort, were the land's portion. 'See
'Or shut your eyes,' said Nature peevishly,
'It nothing skills: I cannot help my case:
''Tis the Last Judgement's fire must cure this place
'Calcine its clods and set my prisoners free.'
If there pushed any ragged thistle-stalk
Above its mates, the head was chopped, the bents
Were jealous else. What made those holes and rents
In the dock's harsh swarth leaves, bruised as to baulk
All hope of greenness? Tis a brute must walk
Pashing their life out, with a brute's intents.
As for the grass, it grew as scant as hair
In leprosy; thin dry blades pricked the mud
Which underneath looked kneaded up with blood.
One stiff blind horse, his every bone a-stare,
Stood stupified, however he came there:
Thrust out past service from the devil's stud!
Alive? he might be dead for aught I knew,
With that red gaunt and colloped neck a-strain.
And shut eyes underneath the rusty mane;
Seldom went such grotesqueness with such woe;
I never saw a brute I hated so;
He must be wicked to deserve such pain.
I shut my eyes and turned them on my heart,
As a man calls for wine before he fights,
I asked one draught of earlier, happier sights,
Ere fitly I could hope to play my part.
Think first, fight afterwards, the soldier's art:
One taste of the old time sets all to rights.
Not it! I fancied Cuthbert's reddening face
Beneath its garniture of curly gold,
Dear fellow, till I almost felt him fold
An arm to mine to fix me to the place,
The way he used. Alas, one night's disgrace!
Out went my heart's new fire and left it cold.
Giles then, the soul of honour - there he stands
Frank as ten years ago when knighted first,
What honest man should dare (he said) he durst.
Good - but the scene shifts - faugh! what hangman hands
Pin to his breast a parchment? His own bands
Read it. Poor traitor, spit upon and curst!
Better this present than a past like that:
Back therefore to my darkening path again!
No sound, no sight as far as eye could strain.
Will the night send a howlet or a bat?
I asked: when something on the dismal flat
Came to arrest my thoughts and change their train.
A sudden little river crossed my path
As unexpected as a serpent comes.
No sluggish tide congenial to the glooms;
This, as it frothed by, might have been a bath
For the fiend's glowing hoof - to see the wrath
Of its black eddy bespate with flakes and spumes.
So petty yet so spiteful! All along,
Low scrubby alders kneeled down over it;
Drenched willows flung them headlong in a fit
Of mute despair, a suicidal throng:
The river which had done them all the wrong,
Whate'er that was, rolled by, deterred no whit.
Which, while I forded - good saints, how I feared
To set my foot upon a dead man's cheek,
Each step, of feel the spear I thrust to seek
For hollows, tangled in his hair or beard!
- It may have been a water-rat I speared,
But, ugh! it sounded like a baby's shriek.
Glad was I when I reached the other bank.
Now for a better country. Vain presage!
Who were the strugglers, what war did they wage,
Whose savage trample thus could pad the dank
soil to a plash? Toads in a poisoned tank
Or wild cats in a red-hot iron cage -
The fight must so have seemed in that fell cirque,
What penned them there, with all the plain to choose?
No footprint leading to that horrid mews,
None out of it. Mad brewage set to work
Their brains, no doubt, like galley-slaves the Turk
Pits for his pastime, Christians against Jews.
And more than that - a furlong on - why, there!
What bad use was that engine for, that wheel,
Or brake, not wheel - that harrow fit to reel
Men's bodies out like silk? With all the air
Of Tophet's tool, on earth left unaware
Or brought to sharpen its rusty teeth of steel.
Then came a bit of stubbed ground, once a wood,
Next a marsh it would seem, and now mere earth
Desperate and done with; (so a fool finds mirth,
Makes a thing and then mars it, till his mood
Changes and off he goes!) within a rood -
Bog, clay and rubble, sand, and stark black dearth.
Now blotches rankling, coloured gay and grim,
Now patches where some leanness of the soil's
Broke into moss, or substances like boils;
Then came some palsied oak, a cleft in him
Like a distorted mouth that splits its rim
Gaping at death, and dies while it recoils.
And just as far as ever from the end!
Naught in the distance but the evening, naught
To point my footstep further! At the thought,
A great black bird, Apollyon's bosom friend,
Sailed past, not best his wide wing dragon-penned
That brushed my cap - perchance the guide I sought.
For, looking up, aware I somehow grew,
'Spite of the dusk, the plain had given place
All round to mountains - with such name to grace
Mere ugly heights and heaps now stolen in view.
How thus they had surprised me - solve it, you!
How to get from them was no clearer case.
Yet half I seemed to recognise some trick
Of mischief happened to me, God knows when -
In a bad dream perhaps. Here ended, then
Progress this way. When, in the very nick
Of giving up, one time more, came a click
As when a trap shuts - you're inside the den.
Burningly it came on me all at once,
This was the place! those two hills on the right,
Crouched like two bulls locked horn in horn in fight;
While to the left a tall scalped mountain ... Dunce,
Dotard, a-dozing at the very nonce,
After a life spent training for the sight!
What in the midst lay but the Tower itself?
The round squat turret, blind as the fool's heart,
Built of brown stone, without a counterpart
In the whole world. The tempest's mocking elf
Points to the shipman thus the unseen shelf
He strikes on, only when the timbers start.
Not see? because of night perhaps? - why day
Came back again for that! before it left
The dying sunset kindled through a cleft:
The hills, like giants at a hunting, lay,
Chin upon hand, to see the game at bay, -
'Now stab and end the creature - to the heft!'
Not hear? When noise was everywhere! it tolled
Increasing like a bell. Names in my ears
Of all the lost adventurers, my peers -
How such a one was strong, and such was bold,
And such was fortunate, yet each of old
Lost, lost! one moment knelled the woe of years.
There they stood, ranged along the hillsides, met
To view the last of me, a living frame
For one more picture! In a sheet of flame
I saw them and I knew them all. And yet
Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set,
And blew. 'Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came.'
Robert Browning, 1855
I think the Harry Potter books do a great job of creating another world as do the Lemony Snicket books - just to mention two contemporary reads.
Having been a city kid, anything that took place in the country was another world to me so I really liked Charlotte's Web, Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows, that sort of thing.
As an adult my favorite other world is Candide's best of all possible worlds.