Thursday, August 4, 2022

From Spare Oom to War Drobe by Katherine Langrish

Title: From Spare Oom to War Drobe: Travels in Narnia with my Nine-Year-Old Self
Author: Katherine Langrish
Publication: Darton, Longman and Todd, hardcover, 2021
Genre: Literary Criticism
Description: Langrish is a British fantasy writer who loved the Narnia books as a child. Definitely more obsessed than the average fan. She drew pictures of Aslan. She wrote poems and crafted maps. The endpapers of this book display her own Narnia fan fic. This book is an homage to Narnia and is an interesting mixture of the child who read and reread the books (like many of us) and the well-read adult who has researched and is much more aware of the influences Lewis brought to the books – what she calls his “thick forest of allusions not only to Christianity, but to Plato, fairy tales, myths, legends, medieval romances, renaissance poetry and indeed to other children’s books” (p. 16) – and the fact that these sometimes result in a hodge-podge that doesn’t make perfect literary sense. She argues that it doesn’t need to and that Lewis himself warned against searching for hidden meaning all the time.  

My Impression: This is the final installment of #Narniathon21, hosted by Chris at Calmgrove, which consisted of a group read of the Narnia books, plus this homage. I missed The Last Battle while I was busy studying in June (I don’t like it, so perhaps just as well) but I was curious about this book which I don’t think has been published in the US yet. Chris provided several questions:

1. Katherine was already writing her fan fiction during her pre-teen years in response to the Narniad. Have you ever been tempted to write your own fanfic to this or any other title that made an impression on you? Or indeed prompted any creative response?

I was about to say, No, of course not, but then I realized, somewhat to my bemusement, that the stories I wrote in my teens probably were fanfic to some extent, heavily influenced by Maud Hart Lovelace, Noel Streatfield, and Enid Blyton. However, my heroine was an amazing athlete and looked like a N.M. Bodecker drawing (I greatly admired the insouciance and high ponytails of the girls he drew).
from Cousins by Evan Commager,
illustrated by N.M. Bodecker
One story that my sister Clare and I wrote together was called Schoolgirl Sorcerers and was set in a boarding school (of course) and the characters magically traveled to their favorite books. Clare must have liked The Silver Chair particularly because I do now recall that our heroines visited Jill and Eustace and Puddleglum. I guess it depends on the actual definition of fan fiction.

2. The author has studied myths, legends and folklore for many years and had her own fiction published, and so is able to show how Lewis drank deep from the Cauldron of Story. Have her many examples and parallels of Lewis’s literary borrowings detracted from or enriched your admiration of his achievement?

I would say it has enriched my appreciation, although I was perfectly happy enjoying them as they were. Her examples of these borrowings were quite interesting, as some I had read and others not (have I read Plato?). I read a lot of E. Nesbit so probably appreciated her influence but I likely read the Narnia books before I read The Story of the Amulet, which my library did not own. And most of Lewis’s influences were way beyond a child’s reading. I did use his book, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (Excluding Drama) for my undergraduate thesis and felt we had a special Petrarchan bond, if he only knew.

3. “C. S. Lewis changed my life,” she acknowledges in the Afterword. Has involvement in this readathon – and reading Spare Oom of course – changed your life in any way, however small?

Yes, Lewis has probably changed my life to some extent, as any books do that are reread so frequently they are falling apart – and as Tennyson says, “I am a part of all that I have read” (just kidding). The readathon, including this book, was great fun (what’s next??). I looked forward to Chris’s posts each month, although tried not to read them until I had reread the book myself, and often read others’ reviews as well. It also made me reflect that there is so much fantasy being written now, children’s, YA, and adult, but it rarely speaks to me the way these books did or other favorites from my childhood. When I visited Green Knowe in June, Diana Boston said she had been told that modern children don’t want to read about a child younger than they are (Tolly). I don’t remember if that influenced me then but as I recall most of the protagonists I read about were roughly my age or older.
Who is Langrish’s book for? I am guessing Narnia fans will mostly agree with her appreciation and takes on each book (they may wish for less in the way of recap and more in the way of analysis) and non-fans would not be interested.  Although the author takes herself a little too seriously, I enjoyed the book.

By the way, I am a little surprised that Tolkien did not attend CSL's funeral!  Was it because Catholic priests disapproved of their parishioners going to Church of England services?  

Source: Library


Lory said...

Tolkien's friendship with CSL had cooled by his death I believe ... I don't think he approved of Joy either. But that's just my vague memory, would need to check in a biography.

Enjoyed the book, I could definitely have done with less plot summary and more other content. I think the book was based on blog posts, where there is always a question of how much plot to cover for readers who may not have read the book you are talking about.

Chris Lovegrove said...

I'm envious of anyone who's visited a site with a literary connection that I hope to, and that includes of course yours to 'Green Knowe'! I'm not sure when we're next due to visit relatives in Suffolk but it slightly bugs me that the last couple of times we've been our route unknowingly took us past Mrs Oldknow's house...

Thank you for joining in so willingly with the Narniathon and for all your responses including this one. I agree with your comments on the Langrish book though I was grateful for her synopses as a reminder of sequences within titles.

Are you bereft enough now to join in with the Susan Cooper readalong? Was that ever as favourite a series as the Narnia books for you?

Katherine Langrish said...

Thanks for your kind comments about 'Spare Oom' - lovely to 'meet you. Re your question on why Tolkien didn't attend Lewis's funeral, I suspect it would have been that as a practising Catholic back in the 1960s, he was not allowed to enter a C. of E. church. My own mother in law felt unable to attend the wedding of her best friend for the same reason, although by the time I married her son, ecumenism had relaxed the rules to the point where she was fine (if a *little* doubtful) about coming to our C. 0f E. wedding. (I was very fond of her!)