Thursday Dances: World-Weaving

So there was this time when Melpomene plotted out some memes, and I looked them over and thought “Hmmm, that is a fair helping of romance-themed sorts of whatnot. I hope I don’t talk about the same book over again. …whaaat. Best Setting? Mneeeeeeeeeeep!”

Not, you understand, because I hate settings (that would be nonsense), but because whenever the setting forces me to think about it, it has, in some wise or other, failed at its job. Like a cosmetologist whose work is not subtle enough to pass for natural beauty. Like the mood music in a coffee shop that’s so loud, you can’t hear your compatriots and your mood sours. Like some other similes piled in a row like an unending line of train cars.

Anyway. That was a lengthy excuse as to why I don’t normally ponder settings. I declaimed to Thalia about How Difficult It All Was, and then kept rambling: “Settings are not a thing I generally give much thought to; I loathe it when a storyline is so dependent on Where They’re Going and What Is In the Way that I need to get out a physical map to understand the plot (yes, Tolkien, I’m looking at you in all your splendid, meticulous, cumbersome plans). Perhaps the best setting would achieve that goal set by Lewis in Of Other Worlds: to catch the feeling of a place, like an exotic bird in an invisible net, like sand which melts through our fingers when we try to grasp it.”

Narnia, for example, said I; why, Dr. Ward did a marvelous job of laying out his claim (and the supporting evidence as well) that each book is built up around a particular sphere of the heavens: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe around the festal pomp of Jupiter; Prince Caspian around the militant aspect of Mars; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader around the golden fortune of the Sun; The Horse and His Boy around the bright alacrity of Mercury; The Silver Chair around the watery mutability of the Moon; The Magician’s Nephew around the beauty and vitality of Venus; The Last Battle around the ponderous, sorrowful weight of Saturn.

The qualities ascribed to each sphere, the metals associated with them, the colors and sounds – these details are woven into the very fabric of Lewis’s narrative. So each book has a distinct flavor, down to the exclamations the characters use and the verbs describing their action. It is marvelous how those aspects of the story, not typically used for setting the story in a world, do so in Lewis’s hands.

Whereupon Thalia very reasonably pointed out that perhaps the Narniad had won that particular prize where my head was concerned. So there you have it.

For I wanted not the momentary suspense but that whole world to which it belonged – the snow and the snow-shoes, beavers and canoes, war-paths and wigwams, and Hiawatha names…

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8 thoughts on “Thursday Dances: World-Weaving

  1. I am usually watching the background more than the foreground and listening to the rhythms more than considering the plot. :)

  2. Interesting… perhaps I think about/pay attention to setting too much to be able to appreciate the subtlety you speak of. I can’t quite get my head around it. I agree that Narnia’s world is masterful, but I cannot imagine it fading into the background.

    • Well, it’s like this: I could spend a coon’s age rereading the Narniad and talking about the obvious but not-obnoxious instances of setting: Cair Paravel, the golden sea, the tombs in the desert, Lantern Waste, etc. etc. ad infinitum or at least ad nauseum.

      But a) most everyone I know has read it for themselves and doesn’t need 8 pages of quotation (because if we’ve learned one thing about me picking favorites, it’s that it never quite happens), and 2) on Thursday, there was not sufficient leisure to meditate on the seven books and draw forth those instances.

      So I went with the thing that did come to mind, the thing that not everyone notices.

      It might be interesting later on to use another definition of “best setting.” There’s probably some book which has drawn me into it so deeply that I honestly left Earth for a bit; there are probably other books which describe a world where I’d want to live. But the donegality-catcher, that’s what I went with today. Of course, I wrote precious little about it; read Ward’s Planet Narnia for something like exposition.

      • I think I get what you are saying, and if I read the series again soon I will look closely. All in all, it’s good for me to have such ideas introduced, as it stretches me. :)

  3. I am more eager than ever to read Dr. Ward’s book (and that’s saying something!). While Narnia could never top Arda in this contest for me (I am just slightly less fascinated by every nook and cranny of the Narnian maps than I am of Tolkien’s, perhaps because they feel less filled, less lively), I do think it’s a little silly to have to choose between such different settings that were built for such different purposes. In searching the Internet for a definition of “donegality” (wonderful word!), I found this article that not only explained it, but gave a nice, succinct argument for why Narnia resonates so immediately with children — it’s the abundance of striking, fascinating images: the faun with the umbrella, the lanternpost among the trees, the lion on the table, etcetera. If you see any of the major scenes from the Narnia series depicted in art, you will likely immediately be able to identify them as Narnian. It’s difficult to say that about any other book or series.

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  6. Ward’s book has been on my TBR list for a very long time. I am intrigued by the idea that the world-building of each of the books can be very different, inspired by a different planet, but that this eventually makes a unified whole.

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