The Book Meme Challenge: A book that makes you happy
The most important feature of a story, which took me years to comprehend, is the existence of problems. Without problems of some sort, be they big or small or very strange, it’s very difficult to have the plot take the characters anywhere or change them in any way. This is why my first attempts at writing stories (circa age 8 in third grade) were ill-fated. I was writing a big heap of narrative sentences featuring flying carpets, jewels, waterfalls, pizza parties, my cousin Carole, and the two fellows who had caught our fancy. On occasion there was some description of these wonders, but there most emphatically was no problem to solve. There was not really any reason to ride the carpets, or any occasion celebrated with pizza parties, or any escapade involving the jewels. At that point, I perceived that jewels were pretty, waterfalls fun to explore, flying carpets magical, and friends diverting; I failed to understand that the quest for pretty and fun things, or the threat of losing them, made a story, and simple enjoyment of them rarely did.
All that said, today’s book makes me happy because it includes those elements whose loveliness I perceived, and an excellent plot besides: C.S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew.
What makes me happiest? I quite enjoy the meeting of Polly and Digory (having had only brothers as playmates growing up, not anyone my age), and the passage between the houses; my own room has a small door, but it only leads to the family storage space under the eaves (though, that said, I’ve never checked it all the way to be sure. There have always been boxes in my way). I’m so pleased by the Wood Between the Worlds (even though I can never stop wondering why it makes one so sleepy and forgetful), and how “the pretty kettle of fish” ends up in the gate-pool to Narnia. Aslan’s song of creation delights me, as do the characters of each Talking Beast and the explanation given for Uncle Andrew’s failure to comprehend their speech. Then there’s the unforgettable flight on Fledge’s back, over “All Narnia, many-coloured with lawns and rocks and heather and different sorts of trees, lay spread out below them, the river winding through it like a ribbon of quicksilver. “ And the next day,
It was even better than yesterday, partly because every one was feeling so fresh, and partly because the newly risen sun was at their backs and, of course, everything looks nicer when the light is behind you. It was a wonderful ride. The big snowy mountains rose above them in every direction. The valleys, far beneath them, were so green, and all the streams which tumbled down from the glaciers into the main river were so blue, that it was like flying over gigantic pieces of jewellery. They would have liked this part of the adventure to go on longer than it did. But quite soon they were all sniffing the air and saying “What is it?” and “Did you smell something?” and “Where’s it coming from?” For a heavenly smell, warm and golden, as if from all the most delicious fruits and flowers of the world, was coming up to them from somewhere ahead.
“It’s coming from that valley with the lake in it,” said Fledge.
“So it is,” said Digory. “And look! There’s a green hill at the far end of the lake. And look how blue the water is.”
“It must be the Place,” said all three.
All this is lovely, but what I like best is how Digory, though sorely tempted by the Witch, obeys Aslan and brings the fruit back – and thus finds his heart’s desire and not despair. The problem which had brought Digory to London has been solved, in the most splendid way.
Why should our hearts not dance?