Series: River of Time #2
Summary: Gabi and her sister Lia return to fourteenth century Italy, where Gabi feels she has left her heart. But she must find a way to convince both Lia and their mother that staying in the past would be the right decision for them all.
Review: Cascade is a fun read following very much in the footsteps of Waterfall in both plot and style. Readers who enjoyed the fast-paced, somewhat episodic nature of Waterfall, in which Gabi repeatedly finds herself in danger and in need of rescuing by her attractive Italian suitor, will find a plethora of similar scenes here. On the bright side, Gabi is starting to show a little more sense and occasionally follows Marcello’s advice, thus keeping herself out of what would clearly be even more trouble.
Zita wrote the review for Waterfall and did not mention what I find to be very unrealistic “teen” dialogue. Gabi uses numerous idioms such as “the whole enchilada” in the first book, and continues to do so here, albeit to a slightly lesser degree. I have decided to find this amusing, and so will continue to read the series ready to chuckle at what are apparently Gabi’s attempts to sound cool. Interestingly, her thoughts are in this “teen lingo,” while her actual dialogue is pseudo-medieval, and she rarely gives a sign of what must certainly be a struggle to translate her modern thoughts to medieval words. She may have to change “breakfast” to “break my fast,” but she never lets slip any of the slang that frequents her head.
In terms of Christianity, the themes are also as light in Cascade as they are in Waterfall. Gabi prays a little more, but I think she still have a little way to go until her words become entirely sincere. She often gives the impression that she is talking to God because, hey, it’s the Middle Ages and everyone is doing it. Or she is just always facing the constant threat of death, so she might as well give asking an almighty God for help a try. It will be interesting to see how her faith progresses.
Overall, I think this series is enjoyable. It has lots of action, two attractive guys, and a great setting. A fun summer read.
Summary: Reflections on moral and religious themes in J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy The Hobbit.
Review: I only made it to page 24 before I put this book down, so in many ways writing a review of it is unfair. However, others considering reading the book may find my reasons for abandoning it so quickly helpful, so I will outline them here.
The foreward, written by Kurt Bruner (Ware’s coauthor of Finding God in The Lord of the Rings), does not bring the book to an auspicious start. His writing is sloppy and his word choice questionable, causing him to come across as more ignorant than he probably is. He is only beginning his second paragraph when he writes that The Hobbit “introduced the world to Middle-earth, magic rings, and nasty orcs” (ix). The part about Middle-earth is true. The part about orcs is technically true, but I have some quibbles about it and I believe many avid Tolkien fans will agree with me that Bruner has thoughtlessly glossed over some distinctions.* But there is very clearly a long line of magic rings in literature—particularly rings of invisibility—that precede the publication of The Hobbit. (In The History of the Hobbit: Mr. Baggins, John D. Rateliff cites magic rings in The Prose Edda, Platos’s Republic, and the story of Aladdin as some examples.) Perhaps Bruner is aware of this and never meant to claim Tolkien invented the concept of the magic ring, but unfortunately that is what his sentence says.
Bruner hurts his claim to authority further when in the very next paragraph he carelessly says, “Tolkien added words like Baggins and Balrog to our vocabulary.” Adding someone’s name to one’s vocabulary is just awkwardly phrased. Then, there are no balrogs in The Hobbit. One could accept the fact that Bruner has stopped talking about The Hobbit to reflect on Tolkien in general at this point, but he and Ware make so great a habit of referring to The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, “On Fairy Stories,” Tolkien’s letters, and a number of authors besides Tolkien that it becomes doubtful whether they did in fact find God in The Hobbit—or just everywhere else.
The best example (in the pages that I read) of Ware’s constant references to any book besides The Hobbit is the third chapter, “Doom of the Dunderheads.” Ware opens the chapter, just as he did the previous two, with his revision of what happened in The Hobbit (more on this later. Accept for now that he summarizes the plot.) He reminds readers of the scene with the trolls. He makes a general observation about “counterproductive stupidity” often being a trait of wicked characters. Then, to prove that “evil is both foolish and self-destructive,” he quotes Scripture, Tolstoy, and Martin Luther. He mentions the Grimm story of the Brave Little Tailor and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was involved with a plot to assassinate Hitler. The chapter ends with a spiritual reflection: “We need not fear a power bent on self-destruction.” Because each chapter is organized in a similar fashion, with only plot summaries and the quotes that are supposed to have inspired each reflection, it is difficult to believe that this book is really about The Hobbit. My suspicions are that Ware may simply have wanted to cash in on the popularity of books on Tolkien.
Because Ware coauthored Finding God in The Lord of the Rings and he gives a nice account in his introduction to this book of how much Tolkien means to him, I want to believe he is a true fan and has a deep respect for Tolkien’s work. Bruner raised my doubts as to the extent of his knowledge of Tolkien, and Ware is somewhat to blame for allowing doubtful content at the front of his book but cannot be held completely responsible for the things someone else says. Unfortunately, Ware’s treatment of Tolkien’s material is not reassuring. At the start of each chapter, Ware basically takes parts of The Hobbit and rewrites them. He adds in lots of thoughts he thinks Bilbo had about his adventures, but he also simply takes scenes and rewrites them. He puts quotes straight into the mouths of the trolls that are similar to what they say in The Hobbit—but just not the same. For example:
‘Boil ‘em then,’ spat Tom, the third member of the troop. ‘Boilin’s quicker. Easier, too, for a couple o’ ninnyhammers like you!’
’Ninnyhammers, is it?’ shouted William, clenching his fists.
This sounds as if might have come from The Hobbit. But it doesn’t. If Ware wants to remind readers of the plot, he would do well with a summary. Rewriting the book is, if not implied disrespect for the original text, very bizarre. I really have no explanation for this. I know only that I found it highly annoying.
Basically, this book looks as if it so were hastily thrown together that there is no real content . Ware warns in his introduction that he might go off on a tangent, and he takes many opportunities to do so. If you want a book about The Hobbit, this is not for you. If you want a book about Tolkien’s religion, this is not for you. Even if you just want a book with some good spiritual reflections, this is probably not for you. Ware simply talks about so many things that he ends up talking about nothing at all. So spend your money elsewhere.
*Orcs are in fact mentioned in The Hobbit. There are a few scattered phrases mentioning their existence and describing them basically as larger and scarier goblins. But the orc as we know it from The Lord of the Rings is not actually seen, and Bruner’s assertion that The Hobbit introduced the world to the race is essentially wrong. The Hobbit introduced the word but not the concept. The hasty references we do see have caused me to wonder whether they were even present in the first published edition of The Hobbit, or whether they were part of the minor changes Tolkien made to the book after the publication of The Lord of the Rings to make the works more consistent. Note, however, that Tolkien did have the word “orc” at his disposal while writing The Hobbit (see The History of the Hobbit: Mr. Baggins by John D. Rateliff).
A Few Books You Might Prefer:
The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings by Peter Kreeft
J. R. R. Tolkien: Myth, Morality, & Religion by Richard Purtill
The History of the Hobbit by John D. Rateliff
Summary: Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie return to Narnia only to find that hundreds of years have passed and all their old friends are dead. Foreigners have invaded, driving away the Talking Beasts and silencing the spirits of the trees and water. Prince Caspian, the true heir to the throne, desires to set things right, but his uncle Miraz has usurped the crown and now wages war against Caspian and his allies. The children hope to help the Narnians reclaim their land, but their doubt in Aslan threatens to undo them.
(Note that the review serves more as an analysis/reflection and thus contains spoilers.)
Review: I used to wonder a lot about Prince Caspian because it didn’t seem quite to fit with the other Narnia books. I recognized the clear Biblical connections of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; The Magician’s Nephew; and The Last Battle, and I could pick out references and moral messages in all the other books—except Prince Caspian. To me, it was a story about a duel. Now I think Caspian’s fear that one day men will become beasts inside and no one will know the difference sums up the entire work.
The Telmarines immediately recommend themselves to us as examples as men turned into beasts. They are the ones, after all, who cut down the trees and drove the Old Narnians into hiding; their silencing of the wood spirits and the animals reflects their silencing of the voice of reason within themselves. As a result, they have become cruel, cunning, and greedy (note that Lewis will later associate these same qualities with the Calormenes, the perpetual enemies of Free Narnia). They are willing to kill a boy if he stands between them and their desires. However, the majority of Lewis’s readers probably know what qualities indicate a man who is no longer a man; Lewis, after all, does not give us ambiguous qualities, but things like willingness to murder or willingness to betray a friend. This suggests that Lewis does not wish us to focus so much on the attributes of a man gone wrong, but on the route he took to get there. Read the rest of this entry
Summary: By stepping through a wardrobe, four children enter the magical world of Narnia where for years the White Witch has ruled as queen, making it always winter but never Christmas. An old prophecy, however, promises that spring will return when two kings and two queens from the world of men sit on the thrones at Cair Paravel. The great lion Aslan, son of the Emperor-over-the Sea, arrives to help the Narnians reclaim their country, but they have a traitor in their midst.
Review: I first discovered the magic of Narnia in third grade when my teacher read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to my class. I did not know then that the world considered the book a classic, that generations of readers had fallen in love with it, that later I would marvel that no one else had told me of the existence of this wonderful, wonderful book. I went on to read all the Chronicles of Narnia and reread them many times over in the coming years. I was convinced then that Narnia existed and that if I pressed against my closet wall enough, I’d eventually get there, The Last Battle notwithstanding.
As I grew older, I began to think at one point that the stories were much simpler than I had remembered. They seemed so short; I had had the impression that much more had happened in the plot. Maybe, I considered, I had filled in the gaps with my own imagination. Maybe Lewis had expected children to do so, and thus had left much unsaid. Sadly, I began to think that I might finally have outgrown Narnia.
Rereading the series now, I think the idea of outgrowing Narnia a bit silly. I find the simplicity of the books their most striking—and perhaps deceptive—feature. Lewis is a highly visual writer and the books seem at times to be composed of a series of images, almost like a movie reel unrolling before the eyes of the reader. I realize that I have carried these images with me ever since third grade and have unconsciously assumed every person who has ever read Narnia does the same. To me, these images of words are iconic: Lucy meeting Mr. Tumnus at the lamppost, Edmund and the White Witch on her sleigh, the meeting with Father Christmas, Aslan at the Stone Table, and more. They formed the backdrop of my childhood and helped to form me. I began to understand God through Aslan. Even today when I think about spirituality I think in terms of Narnia.
Because I have come to appreciate the simplicity of Narnia, many of the changes made in the recent movies strike me as out of keeping with the spirit of the works. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, it seems imperative to me that the Stone Table should be just that—a table. The decision to stage the climatic scene in a picturesque, ruined temple destroyed the austerity of the moment. The simple table allows the audience to direct their undivided attention to Aslan, while also reflecting the humble death of Christ on a cross. It furthermore emphasizes one of Lewis’s great themes: the ability of the ordinary to become extraordinary. The magic of Narnia is the chance that anyone can open a door and find themselves in a place unexpected.
Narnia continues to appeal to readers, I suspect, largely because it is a celebration of life. It makes no apologies for finding joy all around and has no shame in its constant assertion that good will always triumph. It delights in everyday objects like food, a warm bed, and good friends. Readers want to go to Narnia not only because it has Talking Animals and magic and Aslan, but also because it’s just such a happy place. Interestingly enough, however, when the four Pevensie children return to their own world, they don’t seem to miss Narnia as much as we might expect them to. To me, their unhesitating acceptance of their return to what we might consider a mundane existence promises that life here is also worth living. That we can find joy here as well as in Narnia. It is that promise which keeps readers returning to Lewis. It helps us keep perspective in a mad world.