Time for some more book reviews. These are some new books by old favorite authors. Some winners, but more losers.
I read the first several books in this series (LeGuin’s Earthsea books) quite a while ago. They’re among the better fantasy that is available for young readers. The Other Wind is a lovely journey back to the world of the wizard Ged, the wise Tenar, and their daughter Tehanu (who is also a dragon). This is a mature LeGuin at her very best. I love how her characters have aged along with her. Their enriched wisdom and perspective are completely believable, and add a beautiful dimension to an already enchanted world. The religious themes raised in the book are fascinating too. As someone who has done her own translation of the Tao Te Ching, LeGuin is well equipped to contrast the Eastern view of immortality with the Western one. This is a beautifully written novel with deep spiritual roots.
I’ve been a fan of Madeleine L’Engle since childhood, and read many of her books, both for children and adults. I’ve never really read one I didn’t like. Until this one. Maybe my tastes have just changed and I need to go back and reread her other books, but An Acceptable Time really didn’t do it for me. The plot was contrived, the way Polly interacted with the “natives” read like some kind of really old, non-PC cowboys and indians book, and I just never got involved in the story at all. Also, Zachary Gray, the dark, brooding love interest from several of her other books, reappeared in this one, and got turned from a disturbed but loveable young man into a whiny accomplice to attempted murder. This series could have done without a fifth book.
I’ve read a good deal of C.S. Lewis, both the Chronicles of Narnia and quite a bit of his popular theology. I enjoy his style and his sometimes uncannily piercing religious vision. In this book, he explored a whole new dimension of his craft. I was pleasantly surprised to encounter the originality of his descriptions of life on an alien planet. He’s better than a lot of authors who exclusively write sci-fi. I can see why this is one of his least popular books, though. It’s probably a lot more enjoyable to scholars of the Middle Ages. It also read as a very dated work. I couldn’t relate to Ransom in the way that I relate to the characters in Narnia (perhaps he’s right, and a philologist is not the best protagonist for a book that is intended to be widely read). Still, this is worth a read just for the novelty of seeing C.S. Lewis in outer space.
Perelandra by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Book two in Lewis’ Space Trilogy, and I’m afraid things have gone a bit downhill. The imaginative description of the planet Venus is diverting, but I just didn’t find the plot extremely interesting. It read, again, like a Medieval doctrinal treatise on the Fall. And the extended epiphany at the end I just found boring. There was far too much attempted description of things that the author lamented could not be described.
By this time I am pretty much getting tired of this trilogy. I gave this book two stars (rather than the one star I felt it deserved), because I have not finished it, and don’t know whether I will or not, and it is possible that Lewis will redeem himself during the second half of the book if and when I do ever decide to finish it. That said, the chauvinism that I tried to ignore in Perelandra (as stemming from Lewis’ squarely traditional view of the Fall of Adam and Eve) is amplified in this book to the point of nausea. Lewis and I obviously differ in our views toward marriage. If you enjoy dystopian fiction shot through with plenty of Christian allegory, you might like That Hideous Strength. However, even in that case, I’d recommend Chesterton’s very similar The Man Who Was Thursday over this book.