Review: Coriolanus

On Sunday, my roommates and I headed down to the Michigan Theater to see the National Theatre Live broadcast of Coriolanus.

I was a muddle of expectations: on one hand, I expected good things because it had Tom Hiddleston and Mark Gatiss at the very least.  On the other hand, the bits of the play I’d read (or read about) suggested that it involved a lot of politics (bleah) and Coriolanus being a jerk (which…could be interesting, but might just be annoying).  On the other other hand, I’d heard good things from Em about it.

So I went, braced for a bit of gore, some speeches I couldn’t hear very well, the possibility of boredom.

And?

I was blown away.

Why?  The reasons include, but are not limited to, the following:

Set.  We watched it on-screen, of course, but it still had the without-a-net feeling live theater gives – no editing, nothing between you and the players.  The set was spare: a red wall with graffiti projected on it, a ladder, some chairs.  Some explanation was given beforehand about the effects they sought to achieve with the red wall and graffiti; it’s a way of lampshading both ancient Rome and modern political discontent.  The space was dedicated to the players, to movement, dynamic and compelling.  The set changes were strangely electric.  The costumes were a great mix of old and new – modern shirts and trousers, accented with leather cuffs and breastplates and carefully chosen jewelry.

Suspense.  Despite knowing more or less how the play would end, I was on the edge of my seat.  Virgilia’s anxiety over her husband somehow renders the possibility of grave injury to him as more probable and pressing.  The discussions amongst Menenius, Brutus, Sicinius, and Cominius keep the question of consulship open, not a foregone conclusion.  It even seemed possible that Coriolanus might kill Aufidius early on, or be killed in Aufidius’s household.

Clearly the servant is ready to stab him at a word from Aufidius.

Clearly the servant is ready to stab him at a word from Aufidius.

Sympathy.  Throughout the whole play, each character made understandable choices and acted in consistent ways.  Though it turned out badly, it’s hard to castigate Cominius and Volumnia for encouraging Coriolanus to become consul.  It’s impossible to assign all the culpability to Coriolanus either.  One could blame the tribunes Brutus and Sicinius, but at least some portion of their double-tongued talk rings true.

Tom Hiddleston as Caius Marcius Coriolanus.  As noted, this is hardly a sympathetic role.  Caius is a successful general who takes over a city, thereby winning the name Coriolanus, but he’s rather less successful at public office.  His campaign for consul – encouraged by his commander Cominius and his glory-hungry mother Volumnia – ends in a lot of yelling, since Coriolanus doesn’t think much of the citizens and doesn’t ever try to hide it.  People lambaste him for his pride, for rudeness, for harsh speech, etc., and yet it’s easy to see why Coriolanus is proud of his military service, guarded with his scars, impatient with the easily led rabble, and angry when accused of treason.  He goes from hollering in the streets to covering himself in blood in battle to clean-cut mama’s boy to smirking voice-stealer, and that’s just in the first couple acts.

Coriolanus hips

Mark Gatiss as Menenius.  For the bulk of the play, he alternates between encouraging everyone to behave reasonably (you can almost hear “Sherlock Holmes, put your trousers on,” except it’s more a “Coriolanus, take your shirt off so everyone can see your battle scars”) and being a master of sass:

Men.  Our very priests must become mockers if they shall encounter such ridiculous subjects as you are. When you speak best unto the purpose it is not worth the wagging of your beards; and your beards deserve not so honourable a grave as to stuff a botcher’s cushion, or to be entombed in an ass’s pack-saddle. Yet you must be saying Marcius is proud; who, in a cheap estimation, is worth all your predecessors since Deucalion, though peradventure some of the best of ’em were hereditary hangmen. Good den to your worships: more of your conversation would infect my brain, being the herdsmen of the beastly plebeians: I will be bold to take my leave of you.

So that was quite entertaining enough on its own.  But then I watched him bid Coriolanus farewell in Act IV, and approach his camp to beg Coriolanus to spare his erstwhile home from destruction in Act V.  Terribly moving, even more in my estimation than the tears of Virgilia or the clamorous exhortation of Volumnia.

All in all, I went away flooded with thoughts and reeling with emotion.  Somehow I didn’t expect that.  It’s been a while since a Shakespearian play has been such a surprise for me.  This, I kept thinking, this is why Shakespeare is still a big deal.

This is what theater should be.

This is what art ought to do.

Catch an encore performance if you possibly can, and prepare thy brow to crease in laughter, to frown, to furrow in sadness.

Review: August, Osage County

Wednesday was $5 day at my local theater, so after watching Frozen, I set out to give myself emotional whiplash by heading straight into August: Osage County.

Okay, that’s a lie.  I set out to watch Benedict Cumberbatch in one of his five movie projects released in 2013, and perhaps to see what Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan MacGregor, et al. brought to it.  The emotional whiplash was just a side effect.

August is the time of year, Osage county in northern Oklahoma the place.  Plot summary: author Beverly Weston disappears from his home (and, incidentally, puzzles me, because who names their son Beverly?  I bet he had a brother named Sue Not-Appearing-In-This-Film).  His family – 3 daughters, a sister-in-law, and their respective spouses/children – come home to empathize with his wife Violet while waiting for him to turn up, and are thus ideally placed for the funeral when he turns up drowned.  And then, the players having congregated on the board, family dynamics drive each person hither and yon again.

At first, I thought “This is one of the realest stories I have seen in a while.” The rural Oklahoma setting, for one, reminds me of my familial home down in southern Illinois in so many ways. It has the flat land, the oil wells, the unforgiving heat and the shimmer of the air, the small town nearby, even the left turn from the highway onto the dirt road heading home. The cars they drive, the style and decoration of the house, the casserole dishes: it all felt familiar, more familiar than I’ve seen in a film before.

You may be focusing on the knock-down brawl going on, but I am looking at those wooden pillars at the sides of the room. My grandparents’ house has pillars just like that!

Then there’s Meryl Streep as Violet Weston.  She’s phenomenal.  She stumbles in as Beverly interviews a young woman, Johnna, to be housekeeper.  “You an injun?” Violet asks, with the casual racism of the woman too old to care about political correctness (or too apathetic until she can attack someone else for alluding to childhood games of “cowboys and Indians”).  The way her voice alternately sweetens and sharpens as she asks Johnna about herself, addresses her husband, and gives some details about herself and her mouth cancer – I have seen that before, mostly in my grandmother as her own dementia began to progress.

Bev disappears.  The girls come home from Colorado and Miami, everyone bemoans the heat, the sheriff arrives with news and a body that needs to be identified, the funeral is followed by the most painful funeral lunch you ever saw.  Violet’s speech, her swift changes of mood, her not-always-appropriate anecdotes, her occasional lapses into bitterness over her children and what she sacrificed for them – these all prompt the other characters to react accordingly, also true-to-life.

Then it all goes a bit…screwy.  No, more than a bit.  The Weston family is far more dysfunctional than mine: there’s more divorce, the lone teenager is angstier (shame she doesn’t have siblings or cousins), there’s such distance between everyone…not to mention suicide, a touch of drug use (prescription and otherwise), and a soupçon of accidental incest.  Possibly more than a soupcon, actually.  There’s also far less religious observance – you can tell by the awkwardness of the mealtime prayer – which helps explain why no one ever seems to have heard of forgiving, forgetting, or wishing for another’s good more than one’s own.  Toss that all in a room together, and it becomes one big powder keg.

Here’s where the post-Frozen whiplash gets bad: whereas Anna trusts her sister Elsa unstintingly despite years of isolation (and that one time with the ice spikes), and Elsa protects Anna the best she can after conquering her fears, the Weston ladies are, as Ivy puts it, “Just people accidentally connected by genetics.”  You can’t pick your family, it says, though Charles Aiken (Bev and Violet’s brother-in-law) reminds everyone in word and deed that you can choose how to regard your family.

That’s more or less the upshot of it.  Violet and her oldest daughter, Barbara, might provide grim amusement with their increasingly vicious, obscene, and histrionic hollering, but I reckon they’re more important as an all-too-realistic cautionary tale.  I’ve read that Tracy Letts, the playwright and screenplay writer, is preoccupied with the question of “whether it’s ever possible to overcome the dysfunction passed down through generations.”  Of course, yes, it’s possible – but not alone. You need grace for that.  And grace, like Sue, is not appearing in this film.

Continue reading

Review Part 2: Disney’s Frozen

Now that it’s nearly two months since it came out, I went to see Frozen.  Twice.  It is still the season for it, after all, and it hasn’t left the theaters quite yet.  So it was my turn to be delighted by the magic of animation and music and storytelling.  Here are some thoughts about it, a few of them in response to Melpomene’s earlier post.  In no particular order:

- The music is beautiful.  I particularly enjoyed “Frozen Heart,” the song of the ice harvesters at the start of the movie, as well as “Heimr Arnadalr,” the choral coronation piece which translates approximately as follows:

Worthy Queen of greatness
The heart of Gold shines
We crown thee with hope, love and faith.
Beautiful, stony land, home Arendelle
Follow the Queen of light/ the Queen’s light

Of course, it’s hard to sing a choral piece (or antiphonal yoiking) alone, so I’ve also had “Let it Go” and “Love is an Open Door” running through my head on repeat.  It’s lovely having a song of defiance against the Polar Vortex weather.

- Hullo, unexpected poignancy.  “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” sounds so lighthearted, and then it struck me with feelings.  Even worse is the thought that Elsa and Anna didn’t need to spend so long isolated from each other; Anna trusted her sister all along, and the utter lack of communication didn’t protect either of them.

Pardon me while I go do some gross sobbing in the corner.

Pardon me while I go do some gross sobbing in the corner.

- Nothing separates a guy from his reindeer.  Kristoff and Sven are precious, like a friendlier version of Flynn and Maximus from Tangled.  There were lots of moments that made me giggle, and those two probably accounted for most of them.

- Someone finally said it.

Marry Prudently yallThank GOD.

- Additional background would be groovy.  We don’t really need to know where Elsa’s power comes from, for the sake of the story, but I would love to know more about her as well as the erstwhile king and queen.  Is Elsa like a Muggle-born cryokinetic witch, or is Anna like a Squib who missed out on the elemental control?  Also, if I were a nerdier person, I would love to calculate how much energy is getting thrown around when, say, the entire fjord is frozen.  See a bit more commentary on that here.

- Darlin’, I don’t know why you go to extremes.  My brother and I wondered if, perhaps, the well-intentioned Love Experts actually gave the worst advice: concealing the source of the problem and counseling Elsa to beware of fear in no way encouraged her toward the positive virtue of being more loving.  “Conceal, don’t feel” was never a viable option, and when Elsa does finally let it go, she swings to the other extreme so hard that editorials on the dangers of repression write themselves.  Thankfully things reach a sort of equilibrium; it’s fortunate (and kind of weird) that she is able to undo her enchanted winter quicker than Aslan brings spring to Narnia.

- True love sacrifices.  Love is not summed up in kisses, but consists of all manner of heart-thawing actions.  Love forgives the pains one has suffered.  Love runs to the aid of the beloved, love throws itself between the beloved and the sword, and love binds people together whether they’re parents and children, siblings, romantic couples, or friends.

All in all, Frozen is a beautiful movie, and its depiction of sororal love the most beautiful thing about it.huggiiiiingNow, if only I could thaw the frozen wasteland outside with my own sororal love…

Seasonal Selections

Nipping air, murky skies, dark puddles, and crisp edges in each sense: Fall is here!

I have been slowly reawakening from my summer stupor, and enjoying every moment of actual seasonal change. Despite the outwards appearance of death that seems to characterize Autumn, it is when the 5 senses seem to sharpen: colors are brighter, smells are cleaner, tastes are warmer, touching is cooler, and sounds are richer.

To celebrate, I give you 10 of my favorite things in Autumn. Choose one for each of your senses, and indulge!

10 Autumnal Artworks

10: The Pride and Prejudice Soundtrack (2005)

While Knightly is a terrible Lizzy and I cannot  in good conscience recommend the movie, the soundtrack is fantastic! Dario Marianelli is excellent in all that he does, but here his work sparkles with the clean, sharp images that go perfectly with the season.

9: Apple Cider

Hot or cold, spiced or au natural, (I prefer mine with a generous splash of peaty scotch,) apple cider is an absolutely  work of art. Think of the time, work, and tradition that go into making cider! While it may not have the individuality or require the skill of a poem or painting, still, cider makes the senses tingle with life. It fills the partaker with an incredible sense of time, place, and peace. It epitomizes the taste and smell of all good things in Harvest time.

8: The Nine Tailors, by Dorothy Sayers

Even ancient cultures recognized something dark and eery and tangibly mysterious about the Autumn.  (Samhain?) Therefore, a good mystery is must for those days when you have an hour to spare, and warm blanket, and a hot mug of your preferred beverage. Sayers is a favorite of the Egotists, but this mystery is particularly suited to the season; it is filled with graves, bells, ominous skies, and the blandly blundering Lord Peter.

7: This view of Yellowstone, by American painter Thomas Moran

6: Sauteing onions with the doors (or possibly windows) open

This art does require a certain amount of participation on your part.  It’s very modern that way.

When the wind is blowing from the east and the eves are dripping steady rainfall, open all the doors (or windows) and bend low over the heat of the stove. Slice an onion and throw it into a pan already bubbling with melted butter. With a wooden spoon shove both onions and butter about at will. When an aroma begins to arise, step back from the stove.

Feel the mingling of chill breeze from the open door and steamy heat on your skin. Inhale the sweet, tangy, wild scent of onions and rain. Know that life is astoudning.

5: Rocking chairs

Rocking chairs are one of the greatest advances of civilization. Even the Ancient Philosophers, in their wisdom, would have lavished praise on the rocking chair, that divinely inspired combination of sitting apparatus and cradle. It is a functional meditation on the complex nature of humanity: wise and child-like, hard-working and leisure-loving, practically minded and beauty oriented.  The combined parts living as a whole and complete rocking chair both inspires deep thoughts about our contradictory selves and gives us a place in which to think them.

4: Bonfires

Leaping light, low crackling, living heat, and woodsmoke scents. Autumn bonfires have been extolled for centuries, in part, (I think,) because they appeal to almost every sense so pleasantly. Contrasting colder weather and darker days with wildly controlled flames only makes resilient mortals more at ease in our domain between worlds.

3: Four Season: Autumn 3rd mvt, Vivaldi

This is high on the list for obvious reasons. The stately dance of grey clouds to the wild tumble of leaves are all present to your ears!

2: A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle

“Wild nights are my glory”, declares a very wonderful Mrs. Whatsit one stormy Autumn night. Aside from being one of the best books of childhood, this story is filled with a presence of Autumn; from the actual earthly setting to the plot arcs of sacrifice and renewal.

1: The Poetry of Robert Frost

After Apple Picking

My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.         5
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass         10
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,         15
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.         20
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound         25
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,         30
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap         35
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his         40
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

An Experiment in Art Criticism

A couple weeks ago (gosh, is it already that far past?), Thalia and the Brilliant Scrupulously Exact Physicist came to visit.  Having but limited time together, and the Scrupulously Exact Physicist having nixed the suggestion that we go busking with a plaid hat and a repertoire of hymns, we took ourselves down to the museum in town.

You know the one.  The one with a weird bit of iron out in front, and a weird bit of carved wood out back, and oddness in between.

We determined that it would be diverting to level our most withering wit at the works within, provided we were suitably fortified; Thalia had the further brainwave that we might tell the truth slant – in fact, not merely slant, but actually perpendicular to our normal mode of discourse.  All of which is to say that we gathered up our pens, notebooks, and a flask of bourbon, and rhapsodized in the blankest verse we could muster.

(Dear sweet teetotalers: surely even you understand the importance of fortification against the utter lack of metanarrative in postpostmodern art?  Have you not read your Walker Percy? Do you not know that “post-painterly abstraction” is an honest term used by an art critic to distinguish from earlier abstract expressionism?  Read this whole page  and tell me you don’t want a drink by the end of it.)

(N.B. that we were, at least, covert in our potation.  The Scrupulously Exact Physicist whose pockets guarded the flask ended up quaffing the lion’s share, which is to say, maybe an ounce or two more than the rest of us.)

So without further ado, here are the fruits of our labors.

First, the piece the Scrupulously Exact Physicist wrote on:  Smoke Rings, by Donald Sultan

Smoke Rings

“Thunderstorm in Purple No. 6”*

Spirit,
inspiration drawn,
flames of unity,
darkness spills through it.

A phoenix is promised to ignite from the ashes
its crimson mane flowing,
as the firefox turns
and peace is dislodged

How many times?
will an elder rise or fall?
a leaf
falling Adonis
Cut from the top
in a swirl of cloud.

I wrote on something by Richard Diebenkorn.  It might not have looked exactly like this, but it was…similar:

ocean-park-no-131

Re: un tarde de Julio…

an envelope not yet trimmed or folded
into
usefulness.
rain has worn down the lines
of division,
jagged door opening
revealing naught but beige beyond.
Three figures sit at the bottom of it,
soon to be cropped out
by demands of time,
the folds pulling upward and away.
That bleeding paper
(such it might be)
bled not from any meaningful word,
any knife of truth.
All is quiet

All is empty.
~~~~~
something wrong:
assayed beauty via truth
as assured by Keats of unity
and believing truth
simple to see
simple to sign

a veil drawn over drawn truths
or a wash over half-depicted figures

not sad empty hopeless being,
nor vacant past plains:
a slightly yellowed page
awaiting drawing of the future.

Lastly, Thalia peered up at Helen Frankenthaler’s Sunset Corner, wrote a while, then carefully removed a number of connecting words and threw a brick at her punctuation.  Seems apt. Sunset Corner

Venetian Earthquake by Candlelight*

Lofty Depth.
Sundered plain
(Cower, blood – Dry)
murk, jagged; lurk, snagged -
Possess, weigh, measure, despair
——-
Ache,  bile, blotch
Central – corrosive
Control, Knot, Vomit.
——-
Void,
Promising.
A template ?
Abrupt, the hope
(Absurd)
Hence therefore; hell.

*Credit must be given to our friend, the Doctrix M. Harrison, for pointing out that such poetic assays must be titled appropriately, and for her endeavor to find something appropriate.

Things of Awe

There is not enough giddy joy and absurdity in the world.

Well, there probably is, but it takes special eyes to see it. Thalia and I started this Club with the idea of training ourselves to look for that angle of wonder and adventure, but somewhere along the way it seems to have gotten slightly lost.

So, as a round-about way of getting back, I present . . . . AWESOMENESS!

Here are a few of the awesome things that I have seen or observed, online or in real life, in the past few weeks.

 

  • Last week I set my requirements for a personal library. I forgot to mention a slide.

Can you slide AND read a book?

 

  • Storm clouds are exhilarating. There is nothing like racing a thunders storm across the desert towards mountains.

 

StormyRoadCollage

 

  • Clouds are really strange and fascinating.

 

CloudsCollage

 

  • So are windmills.

WindmillCollage

 

  •  Armadillos.

IMG_20130706_115427

  • Grocery store cashiers can be pretty darling. They might be the new bar tenders psychologists, in a really short-and-sweet way. Have you ever found yourself moaning about something in brief to the cashier, and he or she moans with you and then encourages with a simple “You’ll be all right, sweetie!” as they hand you your bags and send you out the door? Oddly, I never see that same cashier again . . .

 

  • Carnivals. The kind that set up in grassy, abandoned lots, and that moms never let us go to when we are little. The kind that sways a bit in the breeze. They are amazing. I kicked my feet like a three-year old and was intensely glad that none of my students could see me.

CarnivalCollage

 

  • “Instagram”. I just discovered it, and the level of pretension inherent amuses me to no end.

 

 

  • Alcoholic juicy-juice! Well, alcohol in a little box with a straw like juicy-juice. This is apparently common in Korea, and it is called “boxed sujo”. Why have I never been to this magical country?

 

  • Star Wars, as it might have been written by Shakespeare. This is brought to us by the same people who did “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”, so I reserve judgement. But the theory is the personification of awesomeness. As much as a theory can be a personification. Be quiet and go read the excerpt!

 

 

May the Fourth Be With You

In the interests of all things classic, punny, and awesome, happy Star Wars Day!

Today is a day to celebrate rogue smugglers and nice guys. Sometimes they are the same person.

Today is a day to find your old, (or new,) collapsible lightsaber, and have an epic battle on the front lawn. Even if you are by yourself, go kick invisible Sith butt!

Today is the day to read, or reread, one of the Timothy Zahn Star Wars novels. (All other Star Wars books are pointless.)

Seriously, before Disney ruins the post Ep VI Star Wars ‘Verse, read Timothy Zahn. Go enjoy Mara Jade.

Today is the day to weigh in on this discussion.

Today is the day to wrap your wrist in wires, and pretend you have a bionic hand.

Today is the day to wear a brown cloak, and walk around like you could mind trick everyone.

Today you stride up to the mall, hold out two fingers and use the force to push that door open.

Today, rock out to the Cello Wars.

Well, you can rock out to Cello Wars any day of the year. But today, it is a requirement.

Review: Out of the Silent Planet

Note: This review was written as part of the Pages Unbound C. S. Lewis Read-Along for the month of February 2013.  Go check out their master list for more Lewisian topics!
~~~
Perhaps it is a peculiar practice to review a book one has read at least two or three times already.  But perhaps it is the only honest way to do it.  I’ve let Out of the Silent Planet, first book of Lewis’s Cosmic Trilogy, rest on my shelf for a few years already; though I recalled where the story ended up, I didn’t always recall how it got there.  “Narrative lust,” that is, wanting to know How It Ends, wasn’t necessary to carry me through; the story retains an element of freshness and would not, I think, be worn thin by further rereadings.

Why not?  In part, because of its oddest aspect: the mystery of the title.  Here’s a prepositional phrase, appearing nowhere in the story itself, whose meaning is obscure even when we learn which planet it indicates.  Is it the start of a sentence?  The end of one?  Perhaps it means to set up a contrast: out of the silent planet, into the heavens.  For though the planets are the chief concern of this book and the trilogy in general, Lewis doesn’t miss his chance to share his favored cosmology:

A nightmare, long engendered in the modern mind by the mythology that follows in the wake of science, was falling off him.  He had read of “Space’: at the back of his thinking for years had lurked the dismal fancy of the black, cold vacuity, the utter deadness, which was supposed to separate the worlds.  He had not known how much it affected him till now – now that the very name “Space” seemed a blasphemous libel for this empyrean ocean of radiance in which they swam.  He could not call it “dead’; he felt life pouring into him from it every moment.  …No: space was the wrong name. 

Hence my references to the Cosmic Trilogy, rather than the Space Trilogy.  Cosmic better captures the nature of this book, which is a bit of a pastiche genre-wise: it has something of the mythic (particularly where the hrossa and their poetic inclinations are concerned), a good dollop of the supernatural, bound up in a science-fiction narrative which was composed early enough to be called scientifiction.  Even without that slightly archaic term, there are points when it becomes clear that this book is an early effort (though far from the earliest) in the science-fiction genre.  The nature of the spaceship, Ransom’s somewhat foggy understanding of the ship itself, gravity, the occasional confusion where other celestial bodies are concerned, his attempts to figure out how this new planet Malacandra sustains life: these are details absent, or strikingly different and more true-to-life, in books written fewer than 75 years ago.  Some readers get distracted by this, but I suppose it’s never troubled me, since it’s clearly a facet of Lewis’s world-building.

The three main facets of said world-building, so far as I noted them, are as follows: the physical descriptions as Ransom sees and interacts with the country around him; the details and history learned from the hrossa, sorns, and Oyarsa; and over-around-through it all, the use and limits of language.

Out of the Silent PlanetThis last seems especially noteworthy.  Lewis paints the world and its inhabitants in bold, bright colors: clouds of red stone, neon blue rivers hiding a lightning-fast eel, pink scrub, sweeping green mountains, and precarious-looking purple vegetation.  By analogy he gives us to understand more or less what a hross looks like (something like a penguin, otter, and seal, with the flexibility and litheness of a stoat), and a sorn, and even a pfiffltrigg.  There are occasions where discussions of life and philosophy are worked in, despite Ransom’s shaky grip on the Malacandrian tongue.  But there are also times when words fall short, both when the narrator tries to put an experience into words which cannot be so rendered, and when Ransom attempts to translate Earthly arguments into Malacandrian.

This language doesn’t have so many shades of meaning as English, and therefore cannot be used in the subtly misleading fashion that is the travelers’ wont.  It reminded me of nothing so much as Diggory and his Uncle Andrew: Devine and Weston, the other Earthlings, are so quick to couch their goal in the rosiest terms and obscure whom shall be sacrificed on the altar of progress, making it really seem, for a second, that ‘they were saying something rather fine” (indeed, they think they are).  In the end their greed, their halting understanding, and their having set up an unimportant rule as their guiding principle, reveals these two to be ridiculously silly figures.  It is quite as entertaining as Uncle Andrew being planted and watered.

I have some minor quibbles with the story near the end – there’s a spot of trouble the Earthlings manage to avoid though it’s never explained how – but overall, this first book of the Cosmic Trilogy is a fine step in a somewhat different direction for those who loved Narnia.  Further delights await elsewhere in the Field of Arbol!