“God is a circle whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere.” ― Voltaire

The power of words

The Chronicles of Narnia ― C. S. Lewis

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Firstly let me say how irritated I just was when I typed ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ into Google image search, and was overcome with stills from the films. I had to add ‘book’ before I got anything of use.

I’m going to make this a short review, as this is a review of seven books in one I feel it necessary to keep it to the minimum or I could go on for an age.

I would recommend these books very highly to anyone who hasn’t read them, and would not want to spoil any part of them. Go out, buy the books, read them, read them to your children, buy them as gifts. I feel I would have loved these books even more had I read them as a child. I would recommend the Chronicles of Narnia for children far above the Harry Potter books, Philip Pullman’s dark materials or Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events. Not that the other series’ do not have their merits, but I would go so far as to say I would not let any of my children grow up without giving them the opportunity to experience these stories.

C S Lewis writes the stories in a way that everyone can understand, communicating at times with children on their level. I have read it written that C. S. Lewis had an incredibly strong respect for children, and felt the need to speak with them as if they were his equals and not beneath him. This is evident throughout the books, with C S Lewis coming up with little analogies to explain things which only a child will fully appreciate.

I know many people will know the basics of the Chronicles of Narnia, but I still don’t wish to ruin anything for those of you who are in the dark. Put very simply, the books follow the adventures of the Digory Kirke, Polly Plummer and the Pevensie family in the mysterious land of Narnia, and their encounters with the king of Narnia -Aslan.

I am sure there are people out there who will not enjoy the Chronicles of Narnia, partly due to their obvious theological content. It is well known that the books draw heavily in the bible, from the Creation Story through to the Book of Revelations. I have never been what I would call religious, I have yet to decide exactly what I believe in, no doubt one day I will decide but it will be my choice alone. However I believe that these books teach fantastic morals, and can be enjoyed on several levels.

The books are a great read as stories alone. The adventures are incredibly enticing, and kept me enthralled for hours at a time, to the point where I did not want to put the books down, reading one after another in quick succession. C S Lewis’ presents religion in such as way as to appeal to those who are not open to the ideas of Christianity, by giving them something which is meant first and foremost to be entertaining, presenting religious stories as works of fiction.

I feel as though the stories are meant to inspire children to love Aslan in the way that Christ should be loved. Not to force children into believing, but to help them understand how others feel. I felt myself falling completely in love with Aslan, for reasons I can not fully explain. Something in the way he is described -beautiful and yet terrible at the same time, the voice he is given and the words that he speaks very much appealed to me, as I’m sure they have to many people. There is one quote I will share with you from The Last Battle, when Aslan is explaining the difference between himself and the terrifying god Tash, which for me perfectly encapsulates the idea of religion, and when de-constructed is a fantastic moral to teach children:

“The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child?”

Ultimately Aslan is not speaking of serving one god or another, but of a way of living. It is a guideline, a moral, to be good and kind and feel the benefit of your actions, or to suffer as a result cruel choices.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed these books for what they were – stories. It was interesting for me to look at the theological aspect as well, but ultimately it was the stories that I enjoyed, and it is the stories that I recommend. Having finished the books I plan to lend them on to my younger siblings, who are of the perfect age to fully appreciate the stories.

“Even bad books are books and therefore sacred” – Günter Grass

My journey into the really obscure

The Man Who Was Thursday ― G K Chesterton

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One of the best reviews I have read of this book was very short:

‘Boy, this was really good until it wasn’t at all anymore’

That almost sums it up for me I’m afraid. Needless to say I was horribly disappointed by this book. I did not begin reading with any sort of expectations, I had never heard of G K Chesterton before, and was just taken in by the unusual title more than anything. I found this little book on the shelf of a charity shop and decided to give it a go.

I really enjoyed the book at first. I like the style in which it is written, it remind me almost a bit of P.G Wodehouse. It’s a pleasure to read, and full of wonderful, intricate little descriptions. One is simultaneously drawn into the depth of the story, and laughing out loud at the ridiculousness of it.

I feel it necessary to give you a brief overview.

It begins with two poets arguing in a park in London as to whether poetry is more akin to law or anarchy. One Poet, Gregory, claim to be an anarchist, the other, Syme, does not believe Gregory can possibly be so. Later that night Gregory takes Syme to his secret anarchist meeting place, after swearing him to secrecy.

The anarchist lair exists underground, below a public house, and has wall lines with firearms. Gregory confides in Syme that the anarchist council is run by seven men, each taking their name from a day of the week. Gregory feels he is about to take the place of the recently deceased Thursday. At this point, right before the Gregory’s fellow anarchists enter the room, Syme drops a bombshell and tell Gregory that he is in fact an undercover policeman. That was it, Chesterton had my complete attention.

When the other anarchists enter the room, they hold a vote, and as predicted Gregory is selected as the candidate to replace Thursday, and asked to say a few words. Gregory, worried by Syme’s presence, changes his tune and tries to trick Syme into believing that anarchists are not dangerous at all. Upon which time Syme adopts the disguise of a true anarchist, and finds himself -quite hilariously- elected the new Thursday.

What follows is a terrifying journey for Syme, who soon finds himself surrounded by the other six leaders of the anarchist council. Including the terrifying Sunday:

‘They might have called Sunday the super-man. If any such creature be conceivable, he looked, indeed, somewhat like it, with his earth-shaking abstraction, as of a stone statue walking’

Without going into too great detail, in the proceeding chapters Syme discovers little by little that the other leaders -all except Sunday- are all in fact members of the same secret police service as himself. Having all been recruited by the same mysterious man in a dark room. Despite all being terrified of Sunday, the group decide to confront him, and find out exactly who he is, and what his plans are.

The meeting takes place on a balcony, and when confronted Sunday merely says: ‘There’s one thing I’ll tell you though about who I am. I am the man in the dark room, who made you all policemen’ before leaping from the balcony and escaping into London. The ensuing chase is absolutely fantastic, with Sunday absconding first via handsome cab, then on a stolen elephant and finally in a hot air balloon.

The six friends continue their pursuit in vain, exhausted, bedraggled and covered in their own blood, and begin discussing their views on Sunday. It now comes to light that each man’s thoughts, though almost completely different to the next, have one thing in common, they all view Sunday as the universe.

At this point in the story I realised it wasn’t going to be the ridiculous ending I had hoped for – although I’m not entirely sure what exactly I was hoping for.

The group are eventually picked up by an employee of Sunday’s, who packs them each into their own private carriages and takes them off to Sunday’s house (it gets stranger). Once at the house they are each given a bed chamber, and a change of clothes for the fancy dress party (but of course!). Each man has a costume that corresponds to their day of the week  in the creation story, with Thursday suitably decorated in the sun, the moon and the stars. There were seven thrones present at the fancy dress party -which was further attended by an assortment of forest type creatures, all dancing round a giant bonfire- each would-be anarchist has his own throne, with Sunday sitting in the middle throne, dressed as if made out of light itself.

I’m everyone can work out where this is going. Sunday, is God. Of course! Of course Sunday is God! Why on earth wouldn’t Sunday be God? It completely ruins what was otherwise quite an interesting, quirky little book, that’s why. It also turns out that Gregory (remember him?), represents evil. To top everything off, the book ends with the fancy dress party fading out of sight, and Syme finding himself walking along a country lane with Gregory at his side.

I find it quite difficult to describe to you my disappointment, in everything, and especially in the ‘he woke up and it was all a dream’ esque final paragraph.

Upon doing a bit of research of Chesteron after finishing this it turns out he liked to write about Christian theology, in ALL his novels. So needless to say I won’t be picking up one of his books if I pass it in a charity shop again. I don’t think I can claim to have fully understood exactly what Chesterton was getting at when he wrote this, that God is a terrifying joker perhaps?

As I said at the beginning, I think this book is best summed up by ‘Boy, this was really good until it wasn’t at all anymore’. I won’t say I didn’t enjoy it at all, but any enjoyment I felt was completely ruined by the ending.

Overall I think the book would have been a hell of a lot better is Chesterton wasn’t obviously so terribly keen on being Christian.