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…