Saturday, 22 January 2011

Narnia revisited

I have just reread The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Believe me or not, it has nothing to do with the movie. I didn't even know about the movie, and I am not going to see it. There is a reason why I needed to reread it, but it doesn't matter.

I haven't reread The Voyage as often and as carefully as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which I have taught and written about extensively, or The Magician's Nephew which is my favourite. But I remember the sense of awe when I read it for the first time, many years ago, but when I was grownup, because it wasn't available when I was a child. It was disturbing in the best sense of the word. The idea of a flat world - round as a table, not as a ball - and the risk of falling over the edge; salt water turning sweet, and someone just walking away into the unknown. My battered copy of The Voyage (bought for a small fortune in a second-hand bookstore in Moscow) says that this book is "more adventurous and less mysterious" than the other volumes, and I think it is precisely the other way round. It is a slow book - somebody has told me that in the movie they have added an action plot, and I am not surprised. Nothing much happens, and they just sail and sail and sail. Except for Eustace's metamorphosis of course, and that's what everyone remembers from the book. They also eat a lot, as in all Narnia books.

What I had forgotten is how much more intrusive the narrative voice is, even compared with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which is bad enough. This omniscient "I" that nevertheless pretends that he doesn't know everything, "because he is not a magician". Who refers to Lucy as his source, but can also tell us what happens to King Caspian. And who says "This is what I learned in my school".

It started me thinking. This narrator is as intrusive as in Middlemarch (which is another reread right now), but I am not half as irritated reading Middlemarch. Am I oversensitive because it is a chidlren's book? Or am I just hopelessly stuck in prejudice?


CaroleMcDonnell said...

I love intrusive narrators -- after all, all stories are told through and by people who have their own histories and their own why not let the narrator be clear about it? But I do like my intrusive narrators playing by the rules. Or playing "with" the rules. I also like them to have a real personality. . . instead of merely telling the story in a superficial way. One of my favorite intrusive narrators was Patrick Hamilton's narrator in Mr Stimpson and Mr Gorse. He had nothing to do with the narration but his opinion was all over the book...and he had a wicked sense of humor.

Maria Nikolajeva said...

That's a playful narrator, and they can be wondeful.