The Chronicles of Narnia # 3: The Horse and His Boy

The Horse and His BoyThe Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis
The Chronicles of Narnia # 3
Publisher: Scholastic
Number of pages: 224
My copy: paperback, bought from Scholastic Book Fair

When Shasta discovers he is not Arsheesh’s son and therefore does not belong in the cruel land of Calormen, he joins forces with Bree the talking horse and flees north towards Narnia, where freedom reigns.

And so begins their hazardous journey, fraught with mystery and danger. Calormen’s capital city of Tashbaan must be crossed, a harsh desert endured, the high mountains of Archenland climbed, their enemies overcome. For the young Shasta it is an adventure beyond his wildest dreams and one destined to change his life forever.

* * *

There was a brief mention of The Horse and His Boy in The Silver Chair, and it was known as a tale told to kids during High King Peter’s time. The recommended order of reading the Narnia series sometimes switches this book with The Silver Chair, so as I was reading this I wondered if there would be a difference if I read this first before the other one, even if they were almost completely unrelated. I did miss the Pevensie siblings in the last book, so it was nice to be back in time for a bit to read about them as minor characters in the story.

Shasta is a fisherman’s son, and he’s often treated cruelly by his father, Arsheesh. One night, he heard his father discussing with a visitor about selling Shasta. Resigned to accept his fate, he was surprised when the visitor’s horse started talking to him. It turns out that the horse, who Shasta named Bree, was a Narnian horse, and everyone knows that all animals in Narnia speak. Bree invites Shasta to escape and head to Narnia up North, and the boy agrees, even if he knew nothing of riding a horse (much less own his own pair of riding boots) or how they would get to Narnia. All he knows is that he doesn’t have anything left at Calormen, and he’s always been attracted by the North. So begins Bree and Shasta’s adventures, where they meet another escapee, get chased by lions, cross an enemy kingdom and treacherous deserts, and somewhere along the way, Shasta finds out something about himself that changes his life forever.

Of all the Narnia books I have read so far, I had a hard time writing a review for this one. I’m not sure why, except that I can’t decide if I like the book or not. As with all the other Narnia books, The Horse and His Boy is classic fantasy: a character with an unknown heritage, talking creatures, a quest and villainous plan to get a queen and destroy a kingdom. It’s a good tale and it feels like this book could really be read even with little knowledge of what Narnia was about.

I enjoyed reading this, except maybe I was looking for something similar to The Silver Chair. You know, that sense of adventure, of going on a quest for Aslan, and the fact that everyone who’s been to Narnia knows who Aslan was, so the excitement of him saving the day was anticipated. Being foreigners from Narnia, the characters in this book know Aslan as a legend, or as a spirit that comes in the form of a fearsome lion. Another thing is that I was so used to reading about Narnia ruled by Caspian the Tenth and not by the Pevensie siblings, so actually reading about Susan and Edmund being King and Queen and doing royalty stuff was a novelty.

I guess what I want to say is The Horse and His Boy was a different kind of Narnia book. Don’t get me wrong — it’s good, but I guess I needed a little time to really get it and like it. I liked how everything turned out in the end. I also liked how C.S. Lewis stressed how there was a purpose with everything that happened to the characters, that Shasta’s adoption wasn’t a mistake and that even being chased by a lion in the desert had a reason behind it and it was all for their good. This book reminds me to keep on believing that despite the bad things that happen in our lives. There is a purpose, and we might not see it now, but it will eventually be revealed in the end.

If The Silver Chair was a book that seemed to gear towards people who have been believers for a while and who need a reminder of the “instructions” from Aslan, I think The Horse and His Boy is written for those who are new in the faith, for them to find someone to relate to in the form of Shasta and his companions in discovering who Aslan is. The theology wasn’t as “blatant” (well that’s what other people call it) as the ones in the others book, which makes it perfect to share with people who are curious about Christianity and for people to re-read.

Rating:

Other reviews:
Bookie Woogie
Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Reviews of Other Narnia Books:
#2: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
#4: Prince Caspian
#5: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
#6: The Silver Chair


The Chronicles of Narnia # 6: The Silver Chair

The Silver Chair by C.S. LewisThe Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis
The Chronicles of Narnia # 6
Publisher: Scholastic
Number of pages: 243
My copy: paperback, from Scholastic Book Fair

Jill and Eustace must rescue the Prince from the evil Witch.

NARNIA…where owls are wise, where some of the giants like to snack on humans, where a prince is put under an evil spell…and where the adventure begins.

Eustace and Jill escape from the bullies at school through a strange door in the wall, which, for once, is unlocked. It leads to the open moor…or does it? Once again Aslan has a task for the children, and Narnia needs them. Through dangers untold and caverns deep and dark, they pursue the quest that brings them face and face with the evil Watch. She must be defeated if Prince Rillian is to be saved.

* * *

I remember talking to my friend who’s the biggest C.S. Lewis fan, asking him if there will be a next Narnia movie. I caught The Voyage of the Dawn Treader on the plane on my way to Europe last August, and as usual, I shed some tears with Repicheep’s scene and whenever Aslan comes out. To my dismay, he told me it might take a while years before the next movie will be made because the license expired. And that just made me sad.

But that doesn’t really excuse me from continuing my Narnia adventures, so when I was already feeling too full of contemporary stuff while writing my NaNoWriMo novel, I decided to pick up some simple and familiar middle grade fantasy and what better book to read than a Narnia one, right?

The Silver Chair introduces different characters from what I have been used to, save for Aslan and Caspian and Eustace, who I first got to know in the previous book. In this book, I was introduced to Jill Pole, Eustace’s school mate and a bully target. One day, while she was hiding from the bullies in their school, Eustace finds her and tells her about the magical place he had been in with his cousins that changed him. The bullies arrived, and Eustace and Jill scramble away, going to a door on a wall that led them to Narnia. Or what looked like Narnia. Jill was surprised and scared, so much that she ends up pushing Eustace off a tall cliff. But Aslan comes to the rescue and saves him, and then gave Jill a mission with specific signs. Aslan warned Jill that she must remember these instructions and repeat them and put them in her heart, especially since it was different there in the mountain where they landed and in Narnia where they have to fulfill their mission. Aslan sends her away and she finds herself in the Narnia that Eustace also knows, and off they go to follow Aslan’s instructions, not knowing the adventures and troubles that would await them.

The Silver Chair had that same vibe that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe had, in the sense that it was also an adventure book where our heroes and heroines have a mission to fulfill. While it didn’t feel as magical as the first book in the series, there was still that sense of the unknown and the various charming and fearsome creatures that mean them good and bad. I liked how it feels like it’s a different Narnia from what I know from the first three books I’ve read.

Eustace is loads better in this book, even if I can’t stop imagining him the same way as how the actor who played him spoke and acted. He still had that annoying know-it-all tendencies, but it was not as annoying as it was before. On the other side, there is Jill. Oh Jill. How much you reminded me of myself! I always thought I would be an Edmund (and in a lot of ways, I still am), but Jill. I saw so much of myself in Jill Pole that it felt uncomfortable. At the start of the story, I kind of wanted to strangle Jill for being so stubborn — as a reader I could see where she would go wrong from a mile away, and I knew that it’s all going to bite her back. But then as I think about it…don’t I do the same thing, too? Aren’t I just as stupid and as shortsighted as Jill was, trading quick, temporary comforts for the things that really matter?

But I kind of have a feeling Aslan knew that Jill would mess up, hence the warning (also one of my favorite quotes in the book):

But, first, remember, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs. And secondly, I give you a warning. Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly: I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters. (p.27)

There was more of Aslan in this book, but one of my favorite scenes in the book was actually one without Aslan. I liked how the kids and Puddleglum got through the encounter with an enemy without Aslan’s direct interference, but just plain belief in him. I wasn’t expecting to like The Silver Chair that much, really, but I’m glad to say it’s one of the books that surprised me. I think The Silver Chair is that book for people who’s already found the faith and is in need to strengthen that faith they found. I think it’s a book that teaches how it is to follow, how it is to live and keep the faith even in the face of adversity, and how Aslan is victorious even with the slightest, smallest concerns that we have.

Rating:

2011 Challenge Status:
TwentyEleven Challenge (Show it Who is Boss!)

Other reviews:
Bookie Woogie

Reviews of Other Narnia Books:
#2: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
#4: Prince Caspian
#5: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader


Little Lord Fauntleroy / The Secret Garden

Well, what do you know. I actually made it to my classics challenge this year! I know that I wouldn’t be able to read another Austen before 2011 ends, nor even try to read another long classic (Little Women, I’m looking at you) with all the other books I want to read, so I settled for an author that I have known and trusted since I was a kid: Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Little Lord Fauntleroy Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Publisher: Public Domain
Number of pages: 164
My copy: ebook, free from Amazon Kindle Store

Young Cedric Errol lives in poverty in New York with his mother. On the death of his English father — disinherited for marrying an American — Cedric is summoned to the family castle by his grandfather. There the crotchety Earl plans to transform the boy into a docile, traditional lordling.

But Little Lord Fauntleroy does the converting. Through his goodness and innocence, he wins the hearts of his English relatives, who welcome his mother warmly.

* * *

Would you believe that I have never heard of Little Lord Fauntleroy until this year? When I was a kid, I only knew of little Cedric “Ceddie” Errol through this morning cartoon that I watch during summer vacation, same as where I first found out who Sara Crewe was. Ceddie is a little boy who lives with his mom and dad in New York. His dad passed away, and shortly after, they found out that Ceddie was actually the next in line as the Earl of Dorincourt in England, and so he and his mom goes to England. Despite this good fortune, Ceddie’s grandfather, the current Earl, is angry at the Ceddie’s mother because he thought of her as a commoner and he forbade her to see Ceddie, hoping the little boy will forget his mom. The Earl had a bad reputation because of his attitude, but Ceddie wins him over and eventually makes him accept his mother as a part of the family.

Ceddie and his grandfather

The cartoon I remember was pretty accurate to the book, except maybe that the Earl was more obstinate and harder to like in the cartoon. I also thought the cartoon Ceddie looked a little bit too feminine, and there was that entire flute playing thing that was definitely not in the book. However, as I was reading the book, I realized that the Ceddie in the book was more adorable than the one in the cartoon. Perhaps it’s because it’s been so long since I last watched it, but I thought the Little Lord Fauntleroy in the book was more charming than the one I remember. The little boy is the kind that I think everyone dreams of meeting — you know, that perfect little kid who has a heart of gold, one who can melt even the hardest of hearts.

Reading Little Lord Fauntleroy was a treat because of the main character. In a way, it reminded me a lot of A Little Princess because of the the similarities between the two of them, even if I still think Sara had it harder than Ceddie. Even if it seems almost entirely impossible to know someone who could be as nice and as good-hearted as Ceddie was, somehow, this book made me wish that there are still good hearts like that out there, someone whose kindness knows no bound and is determined to see the good in everything and everyone.

The Secret GardenThe Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Publisher: Public Domain
Number of pages: 330
My copy: ebook, free from Amazon Kindle Store

What secrets lie behind the doors at Misselthwaite Manor? Recently arrived at her uncle’s estate, orphaned Mary Lennox is spoiled, sickly, and certain she won’t enjoy living there. Then she discovers the arched doorway into an overgrown garden, shut up since the death of her aunt ten years earlier. Mary soon begins transforming it into a thing of beauty–unaware that she is changing too.

But Misselthwaite hides another secret, as Mary discovers one night. High in a dark room, away from the rest of the house, lies her young cousin, Colin, who believes he is an incurable invalid, destined to die young. His tantrums are so frightful, no one can reason with him. If only, Mary hopes, she can get Colin to love the secret garden as much as she does, its magic will work wonders on him.

* * *

Here’s another book that I also watched as a cartoon when I was younger, although I think I read this one first before I watched it. However, for the life of me, I cannot remember the details of this book anymore. I just know there was Mary, and there was Dickon the outdoor boy, and Colin, the invalid cousin. I cannot remember the tiny details even if I know I have watched the movie several times (the image of Mary’s hand extending out of the ivy curtain from the door of the secret garden beckoning someone to come in is still clear in my mind). If in A Little Princess and in Little Lord Fauntleroy, the author’s main characters were easy to love characters, The Secret Garden takes a different turn by introducing Mary Lennox also known as “Mistress Mary quite contrary”. Mary is a spoiled and neglected kid from India who grew up with her mom’s servants answering every beck and call. A cholera outbreak left the little girl orphaned, and she was adopted by an equally distant uncle to live in Misselthwaite Manor, instructed to keep out of locked rooms and not be a bother. But when Mary discovers a secret garden locked for the past decade within the manor grounds and decided to take care of it, she finds herself changing from the spoiled kid to someone more likeable. As Mary was going through the changes, she discovers her sickly cousin Colin who believes that he will die soon of some kind of disease. Mary shares her secret with Colin — but will the garden’s magic have an effect on someone who’s so convinced that he will no longer see tomorrow?

The Secret Garden was refreshing from all the Frances Hodgson Burnett books I’ve read because Mary Lennox wasn’t an easy character to like. She was spoiled, stubborn and was used to having her own way. I remember the cartoon showing Mary was a pretty nice girl but the people in the Manor — particularly Mrs. Medlock — were too strict, but reading the book told me otherwise. There really wasn’t anything likeable about her, up until she changes because of the garden and even then, she still had those little quirks that could be annoying.

Mary Lennox from the cartoons

But the interesting thing here was when Mary found herself meeting a boy who was even more spoiled than she was, and one who suffers a very bleak mindset. It was interesting to see how Mary challenges the way Colin thinks by just being her spoiled, stubborn self. The scene where Mary dealt with Colin’s tantrums was one of my favorites, because Mary stayed true to her character up until the end — I find myself thinking like one of the servants in the Manor thinking “How brave of her to do something like that!” Colin was really a piece of work, and I found myself taking even a longer time to warm up to him even if I knew he gets to be a better person in the end. On the other side of the spectrum is Dickon, the boy from the moor and the animal charmer. I remember his playful character in the cartoon, but I think the book version was less mischievous but equally charming, especially with all the animals he brings around. Dickon provides a good balance between Mary and Colin, and I had to admit I was very excited for his first appearance in the book as I was reading it!

Mary, Colin and Dickon

While the two other Frances Hodgson Burnett novels I’ve read dealt with how a kind heart can weather any storm or soften any heart, The Secret Garden was kind of the reverse. This book showed how beauty and nature can revive a tired and hopeless spirit, how the “Magic” in everyday things can change even the sourest and saddest people into living. It’s easy to see why this book became so timeless: at some point, we’ve all hoped to find an old key that leads to a secret garden where we can find solace, to watch beauty unfurl and to be a part of magic of nature.

Of all her novels I’ve read, I find The Secret Garden as the most realistic but also the most whimsical. While my favorite is still A Little Princess, I think The Secret Garden is the type of book that would be a good companion for anyone who’s recovering from any kind of heartache or sadness. After all, we can all use a little bit of Magic in our lives. :)

Much more surprising things can happen to anyone who, when a disagreeable or discouraged thought comes into his mind, just has the sense to remember in time and push it out by putting in an agreeable determinedly courageous one. Two things cannot be in one place.

“Where, you tend a rose, my lad,
A thistle cannot grow.” (p. 289)

Rating:
Little Lord Fauntleroy –
The Secret Garden –

Other reviews:
taking a break – The Secret Garden

Ten Miles Past Normal

Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O'Roark DowellTen Miles Past Normal by Frances O’Roark Dowell
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Number of pages:  256
My copy: ebook from Galley Grab

Janie Gorman wants to be normal. The problem with that: she’s not. She’s smart and creative and a little bit funky. She’s also an unwilling player in her parents’ modern-hippy, let’s-live-on-a-goat-farm experiment (regretfully, instigated by a younger, much more enthusiastic Janie). This, to put it simply, is not helping Janie reach that “normal target.” She has to milk goats every day…and endure her mother’s pseudo celebrity in the homemade-life, crunchy mom blogosphere. Goodbye the days of frozen lasagna and suburban living, hello crazy long bus ride to high school and total isolation–and hovering embarrassments of all kinds. The fresh baked bread is good…the threat of homemade jeans, not so much.

It would be nice to go back to that old suburban life…or some grown up, high school version of it, complete with nice, normal boyfriends who wear crew neck sweaters and like social studies. So, what’s wrong with normal? Well, kind of everything. She knows that, of course, why else would she learn bass and join Jam Band, how else would she know to idolize infamous wild-child and high school senior Emma (her best friend Sarah’s older sister), why else would she get arrested while doing a school project on a local freedom school (jail was not part of the assignment). And, why else would she kind of be falling in “like” with a boy named Monster—yes, that is his real name. Janie was going for normal, but she missed her mark by about ten miles…and we mean that as a compliment.

* * *

I am a city girl, and I am sort of proud of it. Sort of, because I know sometimes I imagine myself living somewhere remote, away from the rush and hustle and pollution of the city. However, I don’t think I can stay in the province too long — I kind of like the rush, and most of my friends live in the city, too, so staying away from them is kind of torture.

I think Janie Gorman from Ten Miles Past Normal would be able to relate to my sentiments pretty well. Fourteen-year-old Janie experiences a withdrawal from the city soon after she steps into high school, five years after she convinced her family to move to their own farm. Nine year old Janie was so excited to live in a farm after one field trip, and to her surprise, her parents agreed and they moved, making Janie the coolest kid in middle school. High school was a different story, though and she knew it the moment she went to school with hay stuck in her hair.

Janie just wants to be normal, but it’s hard when everything in her life pushes her to the “different” zone. As if her Farmville-like life wasn’t enough, her celebrity blogger mom tries to attempts to bond with her, she joins the Jam Band even if she knows little about singing, and she has to make a project about an influential woman — something that her best friend knows more than she does. And as if that wasn’t enough, her mom has to go and plan a hootenanny. Hoote-what? Exactly. Who’s normal? Janie isn’t.

The blurb gives away most of the plot, but don’t worry, it isn’t really spoilery. What makes Ten Miles Past Normal such a fun read is Janie. She’s a fun, creative and often cynical girl who just really wants to be normal and be noticed, but not in the way she often is. Janie’s far from being an outcast though — she’s just very different, and that difference is what makes other people wary about her. Her voice was absolutely delightful. I love her quips and her observations, and I find myself cheering for her as she discovers more of herself. The book goes from a flashback to the present time every now and then, but the author wrote it so well that you wouldn’t get mixed up in it. The other characters were hilarious, too, especially Janie’s mom (I kind of wished there was more shown to her blogger side), her new-found Sharpie-tattooed library friend Verbana, ultimate crush Jeremy Fitch and of course, Monster Monroe! Together, they all make a wacky cast of characters that I could picture very well — I think they’d all work very well on TV, too. :)

The lesson shared by Ten Miles Past Normal isn’t really new, but it’s nice to be reminded of it every now and then. Sometimes, you find yourself looking for other things you think you can’t find at home. But once you go back, you realize that they were just there, and you just couldn’t appreciate it in the first place. Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O’Roark Dowell is a fun, coming-of-age story that is really suited for early teens but will entertain adults my age too.

Oh, and one more thing about me and the city: I just realized that where I live is already considered a rural area in reference to Metro Manila. Goes to show that maybe I’m already where I’m supposed to be. :D

Rating:

Other Reviews:
Novel Novice
The Book Scout
Paparazzi Hags
Girl About Books

The Chronicles of Narnia # 5: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis
The Chronicles of Narnia # 5
Publisher: Scholastic
Number of pages: 320
My copy: paperback, bought from Scholastic Book Fair

The Dawn Treader is the first ship Narnia has seen in centuries. King Caspian has built it for his first voyage to find the seven lords, good men whom his evil uncle Miraz banished when he usurped the throne. The journey takes Edmund, Lucy, their cousin Eustace, and Caspian to the Eastern Islands, beyond the Silver Sea, toward Aslan’s country at the End of the World.

* * *

There are a lot of firsts in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the 5th book in the chronology of The Chronicles of Narnia (hm sounds redundant) and the 3rd book I have read in the series. This is the first time Peter and Susan are not a part of the story, the first time Caspian and his crew have set out to sea to look for the seven lords that his uncle Miraz sent away when he stole the throne,  the first time they ventured out to the far east and the first time we meet the bully Eustace Scrubb. Finally, this is also the first time I read a Narnia book without watching the movie first. I had planned to watch the movie version of this last year but I didn’t catch it in time before the cinemas were filled with our local film festival, and then the movie never came back. Nevertheless, I figured it’s time to read a Narnia book first before I go see the movie and see what difference it would make this time around.

I mentioned in a comment in a previous review that I feel like I appreciate The Chronicles of Narnia more now that I’m reading them as an adult compared to reading them as a child. I think if I read these books as a child, I would probably have skimmed some parts that I couldn’t understand. Now that I am reading them as an adult (or a young adult, if you may), I guess I understand the books better because I have better comprehension, and I have more experiences that could connect to the spiritual themes of the books.

This observation still rang true as I read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. If I were younger, I would have disliked Eustace so much more but at my age, I just felt kind of sorry for him because he didn’t know the magic of Narnia until he really got to experience it himself. As always, I liked how many times Aslan showed up (which felt more than the times he did in Prince Caspian), and for this book Lewis showed the Aslan who always takes care of his people. Not that he doesn’t show that in the previous books, but here we see Aslan save them in different instances.

I also really liked what Aslan told Edmund and Lucy in the end. Slight spoiler warning starts here. To know him by his other name in their world reminds me of how one grows spiritually. I got most of my spiritual nourishment from my Catholic community, but at some point, I felt the need to leave because I needed to know God in the world outside of it. It was easy to believe if you’re always immersed in that world, but I believe it takes a lot of maturity to believe in the midst of the humdrum of life, and I think that’s what Aslan wanted Lucy and Edmund to learn. End spoiler warning.

However, I think that compared to the first two books I’ve read in this series, I would have enjoyed The Voyage of the Dawn Treader more if I read it as a kid. It’s not one continuous story. There is a goal, yes, but the book is written in chunks — one adventure after the next, all leading to their final goal in the end, but not necessarily required to get to that goal. This is the type of book that I can put down after reading one adventure and go back to it without feeling too lost upon resuming. A friend and hardcore Lewis fan told me that this seemed to be the book were Lewis had most fun with Narnia, almost like he wrote it in parts just to explain the unexplored regions in the Eastern Islands, and then decided to put it all in one book since all of they were all in the Dawn Treader. I guess it’s just the writer in me that wishes for this book to have a more structured plot. I liked the explorations and little adventures in the book, but I think this one didn’t really have a real climax. Case in point: I found myself a scratching my head a bit at the part of the Dragon Island and then wishing that part happened somewhere in the end, to build things up a bit.

But that’s just me. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is just a bit more exciting than Prince Caspian, but not really as magical or charming as The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Nevertheless, it is still an enjoyable book, and a good installment to The Chronicles of Narnia. Up next, The Silver Chair! :)

Rating:

2011 Challenge Status:
3 of 20 in TwentyEleven Challenge (Show it Who is Boss!)

Cover: Goodreads
Blurb: Back of book

Other reviews:
Bookie Woogie

Reviews of Other Narnia Books:
#2: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
#4: Prince Caspian