book review

55 Classics Review # 11 – Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming


Like Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a book I was most interested in because of my enjoyment of the film adaptation and one I found absolutely and entirely different from the film adaptation. Unlike Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is as superb a read as it is a film.

I loved the book and the film. That said, I am honestly at a loss for the bizarre variance of the film adaptation. The book was published the same year that Ian Fleming died. The film was produced only four years later by Albert Broccoli, the same man who contiually brought Fleming’s James Bond to the screen with such success. The prodigious Roald Dahl was one of the screenwriters who adapted wrote the film, which accounts for the spectacular and unique story. The only obvious similarities between these two film adaptations is that Dick Van Dyke stars in each and that those shifty geniuses the Sherman brothers wrote all the music for both films. “Me Ol’ Bamboo” stands firmly as my favorite choreographed number of all time. While there can’t be a correlation through their involvement, one does wonder at the willingness of such a creative duo to sign on with projects that trample on the writing of other great artists.

The book is short, and the story feels a little short. Perhaps this sensation is heightened by the contrast of the multiple plots in the Roald Dahl screenplay. The book, set about 50 years after the film adaptation, follows the Potts’ family (living mother included) as they pour effort and love into refurbishing an ancient and decaying car, which turns out to be magical. A day at the beach becomes a spirited and dangerous adventure at sea, which in turn leads to the discovery of a burglars’ hideout. Heroics ensue.

The story is a tidy tale of a stout-hearted little family, fearless adventurers and ingenuous everyone. The writing style is the extremely comforting narration style found in many of the best classic children’s chapter books. Oddly enough, Fleming’s voice in this book is reminiscent of much in Roald Dahl’s popular titles. Overall, the story is extremely original, full of likeable protagonists, and full of all sorts of danger in turns, with just a hint of the spooky here and there. Anyone looking for an original read aimed at kids will be pleased.

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Further Reading

“In The Night Kitchen” by Maurice Sendak

Norton Juster Says Creating Is Hard

C.S. Lewis On Writing For Children

 

55 Classics Review #10 – Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers


Up to this point, I’ve been delighted by the books I’ve read for the 55 List. I mostly chose books for the list which I already hoped to love. This will be the first to break that streak of satisfaction. There are few books I expected to enjoy more than Mary Poppins, and not many have so greatly disappointed me.

I was disappointed on multiple levels by Mary Poppins. I grew up delighting in the Disney film and, like the multitudes, saw the recently released film Saving Mr. Banks which proposes a version of the history surrounding the author’s tumultuous relationship with Walt Disney. I found the Disney version of the history suspect from the start, but I was all the more eager to read the original text for myself. Reading with all this in mind further complicated the experience.

Mary Poppins is written as a series of short adventures in the world of Mary Poppins, the conceited, magical, aloof nursemaid who shows up and continually mesmerizes and criticizes the Banks’ children. Each chapter stands alone and some were really very wonderful. I especially loved a certain chapter concerning the language baby’s speak before they get their teeth. Travers alludes to a few mythological themes and lullaby-type fancies that were very original and which I really enjoyed.

Overall, if I had no previous knowledge of the concept, I would have thought the book was decent. If there was no movie and you asked for a quick thought, I would tell you that everything about the book was enjoyable except Mary Poppins herself. She is the wet blanket in every magical theme. She is aloof and self-obsessive at best and rude and condescending at worst. She steals from the children, does what she wants regardless of their petitions, and constantly tries to leave them out.

All of this wouldn’t be felt so harshly if Disney hadn’t made a film which constantly emphasizes whimsy that Mary Poppins is constantly attempting to stay stern against. In the film, she begrudgingly participates in the whimsy which constantly springs up at her magical heels. She is the exact hope a child might have for a magical adult who doesn’t prefer non-sense but accepts and appreciates joyful magical experiences. The movie sells a version of the unhappy and disconnected Banks’ family, relatively wealthy but without emotional ties until Mary Poppins tricks them and unites them. In the book, the Banks’ home is the poorest on their middle-class street and their father is a cheerful, optimistic sort who seems to take hardship in stride. I haven’t read the other books in the series yet, but the idea of Mr. Banks being saved by Mary Poppins seems to come completely from the Disney rewrite, which makes the entire theme of Saving Mr. Banks, even its very name, a complete fabrication of the Disney brand.

So Mary Poppins is originally a less agreeable figure and Mr. Banks seems like a pretty ideal father figure. Then Disney turns the entire story on its head and douses it in heavy quantities of whimsy.

The most frustrating aspect of the entire debacle is that I can’t help but prefer the film version to the book. I actually think that Disney’s rewrite made the story more engaging and agreeable. I liked the book, but I love the movie. I’m sure that some of that is due to sentimentality, but I so strongly identify with a parenting and mentoring style that emphasizes respect of the minds and emotions of children that I found everything about Mary Poppins off-putting. She represents a harshness and stupidity toward children that you wouldn’t expect from someone who knows the stars as personal friends and receives birthday parties from zoos full of talking animals.

The book ends with Mary Poppins disappearing and every adult in the house complaining about her vanity and egotism and how much damage control they have to do. The children ignore these complains, more eagerly wondering if she will ever come back to grace them with her wonderful presence again. I couldn’t help closing the book agreeing with the adults, feeling that the fun times didn’t quite pay for the constant snubbing and threats.

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Further Reading

Norton Juster On The Perils of Writing

The Railway Children by E. Nesbit

C.S. Lewis On Writing For Children

55 Classics Review #9 – Heavy Weather by P.G. Wodehouse


It took me a long time to finish this relatively short book, but don’t let that soil your impression of its merit. The past 6 weeks have included, among other things, the much-anticipated and long-belated birth of my son. I haven’t felt entirely comfortable going off to read while my wife attempts to fend off the violent affections of two young ladies set on wrestling out their love for mother and new baby brother. I also blame Middlemarch; reading any book in tandem with Middlemarch makes for demotivation by osmosis.

I have been excited to dig into Wodehouse for some time. Having heard many mirthful mentionings of his work, I watched some of the BBC adaptation Jeeves & Wooster, starring the wonderful duo of Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. While Heavy Weather follows an entirely different cast of characters, the eases and difficulties of adapting his work for the screen are evident. Both pros and cons draw from his ability to approach all content with such an even and natural comic sensibility.

Heavy Weather follows a large cast of characters as they attempt to gain control of a manuscript of reminiscences which would prove to be very lucrative and excessively embarrassing to almost all existing British nobility if published. Miscommunication and dumb-luck continue to keep everyone fumbling for control of said manuscript throughout most of the book, with many awkward interactions and side stories. Move by move, each pawn finds something at stake on one side or the other and occasionally on both. It is like reading a season of Downton Abbey written like Arsenic And Old Lace or Harvey. This type of story does not urge one to find out what happens next. It reads like a walk in the country, taken in for the paced experience rather than the end result. There are plenty of unexpected moments, but the plot is convoluted rather than climactic.

As a writer of many plays and comic musicals, Wodehouse makes the actions and reactions at hand in this novel flow as if written for players on a stage. The book is full of fast-paced comic miscommunication, failing strategizing, and diplomatic family blundering. He writes visually and his evocative scenes, comic dialogue, and eccentric characters make ideal performance material.

It is this singular whimsical writing style which is so central to his work that also remains in many ways untranslatable. He describes thoughts, appearances, and concepts as well as he does visual experiences and often time these are the best bits. This means that at least half of what makes this work so remarkably enjoyable remains staunchly text-based. He also uses huge amounts of period-specific British slang, which may make trouble or hinder enjoyment for some readers.

Wodehouse was a consumate writer. He wrote almost as compulsion, continuing his career into his 90’s. He has a remarkable unique voice as a humorist that does not seem contrived or even niche. Reading his work quickly feels like listening to a hilarious old pal recount familiar stories. This is, in fact, a characteristic tendency for some member’s of his cast. These mannerisms, in the author and in his characters, helps make his writing universal yet unique.

Overall, I would suspect that most who enjoy period fiction and indulgent language-building will be able to appreciate this book. It may leave those hungry for significant plot a little empty-stomached, but one cannot help loving and loathing the characters and their antics, even if the last page makes you feel like you’ve been chasing your tail all this time.

Wodehouse is a light read for those who occasionally prefer to take reading lightly.

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Further Reading

“The Railway Children” by E. Nesbit

“On Stories” by C.S. Lewis

“Frankenstien” by Mary Shelley

55 Classics Review #8 – Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut


Slaughterhouse-Five is turmoil turned ’round on itself, ad infinitum. So it goes.

Before I started reading Slaughterhouse I knew that I liked Vonnegut. I listened to Welcome To The Monkey House on audio book a few years ago and I found his speculative fiction fascinating and his writing style thoroughly comforting. Vonnegut is equally enjoyable read as he was read aloud.

Slaughterhouse-Five is a book of war. It tells you from the beginning that it has always been, even years before Vonnegut knew how to write it, a story of the Dresden fire-bombing of WWII. This bombing was the single most horrifying assault of the Second World War, targetting civilian populations and killing about twice as many as the atom bomb did in Hiroshima. The entire city of Dresden was razed to the ground and even after his widely acclaimed book it is little remembered. Vonnegut was a POW in Dresden at the time and one of a very small number of survivors. Like many war veterans, Vonnegut didn’t know how to deal with what he has experienced, but as a writer he couldn’t let something so definitive to his worldview be left untouched. Thus, Slaughterhouse-Five.

The book feels like a mad rambling. It begins and ends with a lot of Vonnegut personally talkings about how and why he is writing this book so many years later, and it doesn’t always make complete sense. When he finally gets along to the story he means to tell, it is also disjointed. It makes sense that it is disjointed, because his world is ultimately disjointed.

Even though I was familiar with some of his science fiction, I was completely caught off guard to find it here. The book follows Billy Pilgrim, Dresden POW, alien zoo experiment, and man disloged from time. Feeling like a series of end-of-life flashbacks, we are actually supposed to be traveling through time over and over, re-experiencing aspects of Pilgrim’s life at all its various stages. As a man who no longer thinks about his history linearly, Pilgrim has found infinite peace in being able to detatch himself from being effected by the horrors around him.

Vonnegut’s goal is not simply to tell horror stories of war. He excercises great restraint in sharing the details of Dresden. A considerably small percentage of the text actually covers the war. Much of it is spent in subsequent life and on an alien planet. It would be easy to interpret Pilgrim’s later alien adventures and time-traveling as Vonnegut’s attempt to point out how the insanity of war drives men to a truer insanity, but I think we lose something in explaining the book under strictly realistic experiences. We are meant to believe in Pilgrim’s aliens and travels. They mean something if they are real which they do not if they are hallucinations.

You can easily see that Vonnegut associated organized religion very closely with politicking and war-making. He uses the aliens and time traveling as an opportunity to predicts a philosophical loophole. Religions of the world can be damned, but there is probably something else out there, some better way to live and view our existing that puts all of human history in a catagory of foolishness beyond comprehension. Vonnegut is sold on the idea that this ideal exists, but he doesn’t write hoping of it. Pilgrim proclaims it but humanity is incapable of joining in his new bliss.

I think that the juxtaposition of Vonnegut’s style against his attitudes adds a huge element of what draws people to his work. He writes straightforward and comical persons and scenes. When he describes a man, we invision a dopy, cartoon character that feels foolishly and warmly human. Then this character commits historically-accurate crimes against humanity. Or he stands by and becomes numb to his hurts, is mocked as a fool for being totally shaken, and lives on to inflict lesser hurts on his home in its future peace. Vonnegut warms us up and then gently affirms that existence is a train of horrors at the hands of humanity.

I think that Slaughterhouse-Five is valuable, important even. It displays just how enjoyable a book can been even in describing utter evil, which is a confusing and concerning reality. It points to every man as an open book with a broken spine. There is no good or bad man, there is only mankind, and it is gross and predicatable.

The books thesis, repeated over and over when referring flippantly to death and distruction, is, simply, “So It Goes.”

55 Classics Review #7 – The Giver by Lois Lowry


I expected to enjoy The Giver more than I did. Then I enjoy it more than I suspected I had.

Almost everyone else read this book in like 5th grade. I missed it. My impression has long been that most people hold a relatively positive memory of the book, so I have been looking forward to it for some time. All I really knew is that it was set in some type of dystopia; I always get excited to start a classic title whose plot is relatively unknown to me.

Although I wasn’t too discouraged, I was immediately put off by the writing style Lowry employs. I tend to have trouble reading dystopian stories because of their sterility and Lowry’s style felt more sterile than her fiction environments. It was easy and interesting reading though, so I had little trouble continuing. She really does a good job of keeping you guessing on a lot of the details of the future world she creates and of making you begin to wonder whether the characters will ever even grow discontent with the world they have been given. I caught myself nervously wondering if perhaps she was actually promoting this world when I reached the halfway point in the text and still no one was revolted by the strictly-governed world at hand. Then, in the blink of an eye, the book became a roller coaster of emotions, rebellion, and deep, impactful character decisions.

Eventually, I realized that Lowry had tricked me with her disturbingly sterile writing style. I expected her characters to revolt immediately. She made me understand them in their original state for so long that I was afraid I would be asked to approve of their world. She also forced me to approach the very old questions of death, war, beauty, art, and human relationships from an altogether new direction. I think about these issues constantly, yet I found myself looking at them from a different vantage point. I asked myself “If art and war require one another, would it be better to forgo both or accept both?”

Without giving away the plot, I will say that the end of the book is both jarringly abrupt and quite open to interpretation. I turned the page expecting the text to continue and read THE END. Then I flipped back again. Then I wet my fingers and tried to separate the pages. No, that’s just the way it ends. And it’s actually a great and important way to end the book.

I thought I would enjoy The Giver as a thoughtful and youthful read, but it turned out to be a bit trickier. As I read on, frustrated at every turn, I looked back and realized that all the things I didn’t enjoy made immense sense in retrospect.

Although it’s hard to find another category for it, I would argue that The Giver is not a dystopian story in the classic sense. Most dystopias are strife-filled quasi-allegories meant to highlight the extreme errors available to humanity if there is not a healthy political and technological balance. The Giver makes its new, relation-less world look, well, okay. Once we can begrudgingly agree to this, it asks us if okay is something we can settle for.

Then we wrestle.

55 Classics Review #6 – On Stories And Other Essays On Literature by C.S. Lewis


When it comes to popular spiritual epigrams, C. S. Lewis has G.K. Chesterton, Martin Luther King, Ghandi, and maybe Jesus himself beat in terms of popular quotability. It seems impossible to browse any social media outlet without coming across a line from Narnia or The Screwtape Letters. That is what intrigues me the most about Lewis. A huge quanitity of the most enlightening statements he ever made came from the mouths of characters in fiction, rather than from any articles of non-fiction.

On Stories is therefore one of the greatest resources for getting behind this veil. In it we discover bits of the frame of mind capable of creating such original and timeless stories that seamlessly imply his deepest ideas about being human.

The book is a simple collection of essays, author dedications, op-ed pieces, and even a transcript of a conversation between Lewis, Kingsley Amis, and Brian Aldiss about the nature and value of science fiction as a genre. Many of the articles were never published, some merely scraps, unedited and unfinished.

On Stories cover a lot of ground, seeing Lewis address concepts and wrestle with idea which many of his popular quoters might find questionable or reproachable. He expresses interest in seeing good science fiction proposing a third gender, proposed that children’s literature shouldn’t shy away from being frightening, and emphatically endorses a lot of literature which some people might prefer to be banned. Overall, you are getting a much more rounded picture of the author’s ideas than you ever can from any piece or body of fiction.

The themes that come through most clearly are his strong opinions about fantasy and science fiction being absolutely valuable endeavors for both children and adults and his general rebuttals against the overwhelming academic ideas on literature from his day. He proves himself extremely well-read in everything from the classics (no surprise here as he was a world-class medievalist) to the science fiction paperbacks which were just gaining a huge foothold. He holds firmly that each has its own place of legitimate value to the reader.

One of my personal favorites was A Reply To Professor Haldane. A posthumously discovered response to the multiple, brutal assaults on his intellect by a professor of theoretical biology, this essay is at once precisely factual and sterile of any character assassinations. A discovered rough draft like this only highlights the immensity of logical preparation he puts into his ideas. He explains himself theoretically and through example while completely tearing down his opponent’s ideas without ridiculing the man. Indeed, it is easy to feel that Lewis has no emotional response to those who continually abused his character. Like Chesterton, one cannot help but admire his ability to let accusations roll off his back while taking the ideas involved quite seriously.

Overall, I highly suggest this title to any Lewis fan or general fan of science fiction and fantasy. If you’ve ever felt frustrated at those who don’t get why fairy tales or space travel stories are legitimate, you will find a friend in Lewis. I would also highly recommend this book if you’re interested in reading the more obscure works that have influenced modern fantasy, adventure, and sci-fi writing. Lewis is constantly referring to what he considered the classics of these genres.

Though you may not always agree with his conclusions on the issues he tackles, it is hard to fault the man for lack of thorough contemplation or sincerity in wrestling with all forms of literature.

_____________

I’ll leave you with this delightful transcribed dialogue between Lewis and Kingsley Amis, and Brian Aldiss.

 

“Lewis: Would you describe Abbott’s Flatland as science-fiction? There’s so little effort to bring it into any sensuous–well, you couldn’t do it, and it remains an intellectual theorem. Are you looking for an ashtray? Use the carpet.

Amis: I was looking for the Scotch, actually.

Lewis: Oh, yes, do, I beg your pardon. . .But probably the great work in science-fiction is still to come. Futile books about the next world came before Dante, Fanny Burney came before Jane Austen, Marlowe came before Shakespeare.

Amis: We’re getting the prolegomena.

Lewis: If only the modern highbrow critics could be induced to take it seriously. . .

Amis: Do you think they ever can?

Lewis: No, the whole present dynasty has got to die and rot before anything can be done at all.

Aldiss: Splendid!

Amis: What’s holding them up, do you think?

Lewis: Matthew Arnold made the horrible prophecy that literature would increasingly replace religion. It has, and it’s taken on all the features of bitter persecution, great intolerance, and traffic in relics.”

 

Related Reading

————

C.S. Lewis and Common Core Logic

C.S. Lewis On How Words Die

C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien On Our Connection To The Land

55 Classics Review #5 – Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley


As I was finishing Frankenstein I happened upon the cover of a children’s science magazine that said, “Should we bring extinct species back to life?” It is troubling to me that the imaginary science of Frankenstein is so dangerously close to what we find modern science capable of today and the moral obligations are still as foreign to those who practice now as they were to Frankenstein himself.

There was so much I loved and some I hated in these pages, but before I get into what I have to say I must state that there is probably no work of fiction more greatly abused by film adaptations than Frankenstein.

There is no groaning ghoul, there are no pitchfork-welding villagers, there is no accidental murder, and no animalistic fear of fire. The film adaptations of this story are literally their own works of fiction entirely. Mel Brooks’ film Young Frankenstein is about as close to the text as any other film I’ve yet happened upon.

This actually made Frankenstein a delightful read. The sheer foreignness of the story kept me on the edge of my seat. The original text is surprisingly readable even though it was published in 1818 and it reminded me a lot of the writing style Bram Stoker put into Dracula nearly a century later. Shelley employs a series of letters and story-within-story retelling to add depth and believability to her tale. While the characters can become a little wordy in their impassioned monologues, I was ultimately very pleased with the writing style.

The great thing that I never knew about Frankenstein is the complexity of implied and directly addressed questions of the brokenness and disconnections of humanity. Both Frankenstein and his creation are constantly reflecting on their own powers for good, enjoyment of natural beauty, and horrifying capabilities toward evils.

The story is told through the interactions of a fearless young explorer who encounters Frankenstein, and it would be easy to take the story as a treatise against morally questionable science practices if the main characters weren’t constantly oscillating between cursing Frankenstein’s blind science power trip and priding themselves in their own capabilities as fearless leaders. Frankenstein, his monster, and the narrator quickly fall back and forth between horror at the careless evil he committed and confidence in the powers of men to overcome the world.

Here we come to the part I didn’t like about the story. From a purely narrative perspective, I have always been easily annoyed by characters who see miscommunication happening and do nothing to rectify it. Perhaps I’m a bit of an over communicator, but I hate stories where nothing is done to clear up simple and tragic misunderstands. Frankenstein himself spends the majority of his life after the creation of the monster watching in silent horror as the repercussions of his creation play out, doing nothing or far too little too late. He refuses to confess his action to all those closest to him, despite the increasing toll it takes. The only time he decides to take any really decisive action is when he desires to kill the monster. The monster is similar, originally eager to see beauty, family, and community. When he can’t get these, he rages and eagerly pursues the greatest opposing horrors.

This aspect of the story does not ruin the story by any means, but it does provide a defeatist tone. It is full of terror, but maybe the greatest tragedy is how little any character is actually willing to pursue the good, beauty, and truth which they so eagerly live for, but each is more than happy to act on every violent impulse which provokes them.

As I read the story I began to feel strongly that Frankenstein is a grandfather text to both surrealist and science fiction genres. The story is classic science fiction and the character’s monologues feel like a precursory stepping stone to what Kafka would write a century later.

The book does a wonderful job of exploring the philosophical questions surrounding moral obligations in science, what it is to be human, the beauty and evils of mankind, and the terror of total ostracism from relationship. The violent and self-destructive tone does not destroy the power of the story, but it does leave us without a real protagonist, with ultimately confused and powerfully nihilistic characters.

Free Wandlung Children’s E-book Avaiable Now!


I have officially made the free e-version of my book Wandlung available through Noisetrade Books!

I’ve loved and followed Noisetrade for years now, so when they rolled out their book service shortly after I self-published Wanglung, I was ready to jump on board! Please do me the honor of giving it a read and even sharing it with others via social media. If you love it, rate and review it on Goodreads and anywhere else on the web. If you hate it, please do the same!

55 Classics Review #4 – “The Railway Children” by Edith Nesbit


I am especially eager that anyone who wanders into this review should become eager to read The Railway Children, so I will endeavor to give nothing away and also to refrain from over-selling it. But I found it quite rivals any other children’s book I have loved.

I’ve been meaning to start reading E. Nesbit for a couple of years now. I’m also really glad to have started among them with The Railway Children. Most of her popular works are fantasy stories of children discovering mythical creatures and magical objects. While I’m quite a proponent of these forms, this book somehow manages to propose nothing supernatural any still impress the reader with a fairie euphoria.

Put broadly, The Railway Children is a serial tale following three young siblings who suddenly find their father taken away from their family and their easy, middle-class city life mysteriously replaced by a poor country existence. The children bounce back and the story is a serialization if the extraordinary events of their new life near the railroad.

I don’t want to tell you too much more but I’m bursting with praises for this book. It is the story of brave, intimate parenting and young children who have been inspired to do good anywhere they go. Regardless of their own hardships, the children are constantly aware of and actively intervening in the midst of the sorrows or dangers present to their mother and literally every other person they meet. The unnamed narrator speaks with a smooth, whimsical style reminiscent of A.A. Milne and C.S. Lewis, as a rare adult who is completely understanding and taking seriously the thoughts and opinions of children. If you have a desire to influence children to act out of brave love toward others, this book will probably bring you close to crying many times over. (Warning – I had to fight back tears multiple times in public reading spaces. You might want to read this one at home.)

The book is not without its debatable flaws. One necessary and even relieving flaw is that the children still manage to fight amongst themselves often, although they usually end up forgiving one another well. I call this necessary because they wouldn’t be conceivable otherwise and it gives me hope for myself and my own kids to become more loving.

Another feasible flaw in the book is the extraordinary number of unique circumstances they find themselves in. Some of these are initiated by the children’s mischief and are easily plausible, but many are just events in which they are in the right place at the right time to save the day. The book was apparently originally written as a magazine serial, which makes more sense of its chapter-by-chapter, mini-adventure episodes. I personally don’t fault the book for the questionable number of unique scenarios, as their volume is really the only unnatural aspect of the entire book.

Ultimately, the book is tour de force train ride to see how much “loving-kindness” (as one character describes their activities) mischief a group of kids can pull off when their life is tragically upturned and they are left to explore a new countryside. An absolute must read for every parent, aspiring parent, and child. It truly inspires charity and excessive good-will.

55 Classics Review #3 – “Brothers And Friends: An Intimate Portrait Of C.S. Lewis” by Major Warren Hamilton Lewis


Upon reflection it seems a very gracious decision for The Classics Club to allow me to include my 55 list among the ranks. This book in particular is, beyond any stretch of the imagination, definitely not a classic. There is simply no way to spin it as such. It is the diary of a mostly obscure man who was the brother of a famous author. It is really a very great read, but it is more a specialty reading for certain enthusiasts.

Warren Lewis and his brother “Jack” (C.S. Lewis lifelong nickname) were inseparably close. They purchased a house together when they were in their 30’s and spent the rest of their lives under the same roof. While Jack was undoubtedly a devoted brother, it seems that Warren was far more attached to Jack as the only person he really felt he had maintained a deep connection with throughout his life.

The book is broken into 3 oddly-timed, untitled sections, but I would break it into 4 chapters based on the various lifestyles and tones portrayed in seasons.

Early Adulthood – Warren stayed in the army after WWI as a career soldier. He did not enjoy army life but felt it would be an easy way to retire as an early pensioner, which he did before his 38th birthday. The first section of the book covers his tours of duty in China, weekend visits to the home called the Kilns which he was already jointly purchasing with Jack and the old Mrs. Moore (Minto, as they called her, was the mother of Jack’s dead WWI brother-in-arms, Paddy Moore) in Oxford, and general army life.
Pre-WWII Retirement – From the end of 1932 to the start of World War II probably marked the highlight of W.H. Lewis’ lifetime. He had retired young, moved into the Kilns with Jack, was able to start taking annual “walking tours” with his brother, and was not yet plagued by alcoholic tendencies. He found delightful ways to keep himself busy both at home in Oxford and in frequent and long holidays. He owned a river boat, which he lived on for seasons at a time. At this time all his earlier plans had come together.
Post WWII – Lewis was called back to duty during the Second World War. He did not see combat but was promoted to the rank of Major. He stopped writing in his journal for the majority of the war and there are a number of subtle differences in the way he writes afterward. He frequently makes discouraged remarks about food rationing, destruction, and rebuilding efforts. He begins to really loath the housing situation at the Kilns. While he expresses constant dissatisfaction about his and Jack’s home life with Minto, the group of friends known as the Inklings really flourishes in this era. In these days he begins to have a very serious and sometimes de-habilitating alcohol problem.
Post Minto – The brothers lived with Mrs. Moore for nearly 40 years and while everyone else seemed to universally acknowledge that she was a singularly unfair sapping and discomforting force in Jack’s life, he seems never to have complained or swayed in his devotion. They endured domestic horrors that taught Warren to stay away for months at a time. By the time she passed the brothers were getting to be old men themselves and the post-Minto years are marked by C.S. Lewis’ short and painful marriage to Joy Gresham Lewis and by general decay. This section is defined by the sicknesses and deaths of many friends and eventually Jack himself, whom Warren feared outliving his entire life. He lives beyond his younger brother by nearly a decade, and his loneliness without him is highlighted by his entries about technological modernizations, spiritual shortcomings, and thoughts on his own weakening and coming death.

I would really highly recommend this book to a few certain groups of people.

The title itself is misleading because huge portions of the entries have nothing to do with Jack Lewis. It is much more of an honest insight into the mind of his brother regarding all aspects of his own life. That being said, it is still one of the best texts I have read for intimate thoughts on C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Inklings in general. Any scholar can write a thousand pages on a man’s life and a group’s dynamics, but to have one from among them providing a small collection of situational anicdotes and circumstantial ponderings on the men themselves is far more revealing as to their personalities. Anyone who enjoys their works will probably find this a worthy endeavor.

I would also recommend this book to fiction lovers, war history buffs and Anglophiles. The book is full throughout of W.H. Lewis’ thoughts and mini-reviews of the books he was reading (constantly and voraciously) and descriptions of wonderful places he has been visiting in China, both U.S. coasts, Scotland, England, Ireland, and his own back garden. The man loved books (reading and re-reading everything from Homer and Wordsworth to Dorothy Sayers), walking, and the seaside, and his descriptions of landscapes in both wonderful and rough weather can be quite poetic. As I mentioned before, his general attitudes and thoughts here and there give the reader a very interesting and unique insight into the life of a middle class, British man whose adulthood was forged by WWI and rocked to its core by WWII. These things obviously are peripheral, but they are some of the most consistent material throughout.

Overall, this book does provide a thoroughly unexplored side of C.S. Lewis’ life, but, to a greater extent, it displays the admirably honest reflections of a man growing, sometimes poorly, in a world in total upheaval. It ends in gradual and extensive loneliness and decay, perhaps not easy reading for the faint-of-heart.

I have summarized a couple of the most fascinating entries here:

What the Lewis’ bros. knew about Hitler’s Nazi Germany and when they knew it.

What is most likely the first review of The Lord Of The Rings ever written.