I really wish Goodreads allowed half-star ratings, because I just don't think four stars are adequate to indicate how much I truly enjoyed this book.I really wish Goodreads allowed half-star ratings, because I just don't think four stars are adequate to indicate how much I truly enjoyed this book. The King in the Window is a wonderful, imaginative work of children's literature, and I honestly can't believe it doesn't seem to be more popular. I had never even heard of it, myself; I only discovered it by accident while going through the books my aunt had set aside for charity. The title caught my eye first, of course, so I read the first page to see if it sounded like the sort of thing I'd be interested in and I thought, hey, this seems like it could be fun, I should read it before we give it away. And I'm so glad I did, too, because it turned out to be even better than I expected.
The story is about Oliver, an American boy stuck in Paris, who has few friends: Neige, the older girl with whom he is in love, but who is currently not speaking to him; Charlie, who is separated from him by an ocean; and the mysterious Zindaine, who is mentioned but never seen. Oliver attends a rigorous French école, where he does poorly because he doesn't understand his demanding coursework. He is ridiculed by his classmates and treated badly by his strict teachers. And he even feels isolated at home. He is infantilized by his mother, who spends so much time running away from her problems at home that she can't see Oliver is growing up. His father, on the other hand, seems to be standing still; a journalist who has become obsessed with the exclusive that could be the break he needs, he has withdrawn from his family and become a shadow haunting his office and staring into the computer for hours.
This is the lonely and depressing existence Oliver leads. Until the night of Epiphany, that is, when he suddenly becomes the King of Windows and Water through a series of accidents. Or so he thinks, at first. That's one of the things I enjoyed most about this book: the quality of Gopnik's foundation-building and the subtlety of his foreshadowing. Unlike most authors of children's novels, who tend to lay everything out in front of you and give you all the information you need as quickly as possible, holding only one or two things back, Gopnik instead plays his cards close to the vest, and every time you think you're starting to figure things out, he throws something else on the table and shakes things up again. Details that were mentioned earlier in the book, but that you didn't pay much attention to at the time, turn up again later on and end up being more important than ever. It's a method that makes for an ever-evolving and unpredictable story that keeps you guessing right up to the very end, and it is awesome. I love it when I can't put a book down because I can't wait to find out what happens next.
But this book is more than just a lot of fun; it's also educational. While kids are reading about Oliver saving the world from the Master of Mirrors, they can also learn a little about French culture, a little French history, a little of the language, and even a little bit about quantum theory. Along the way on his journey, Oliver visits the Louvre, Versailles, Sainte-Chapelle, and the Eiffel Tower. He meets Molière, Racine, and the Duc de Richelieu. He learns about quanta, about multiverse theory, and also about important distinctions in language: the difference between irony and sarcasm, simile and metaphor, and rhetoric. Important stuff for a kid to learn about, considering there are so many adults who don't even understand things like irony. (Hint: it's not like rain on your wedding day.)
I think the best thing about this book, however, is the message, which I think can be summed up by these two paragraphs:
...Seeing Charlie's face, newly lit with courage, Oliver knew at last what the golden lie was that Mrs. Pearson had promised to tell him about when he was ready. The golden lie was the greatest lie of all--it was the lie you told others about your own courage, in order to make them courageous. And what made it golden, Oliver saw, was that it was shiny, reflective. Your pretending to be brave when you weren't made other people braver than they really were--and their bravery bounced back on you, as Charlie's was doing now, and made you brave. The golden lie was the lie of courage when you didn't have it, which meant that you did, which made you brave.
He found his crown on the floor and, tattered and creased as the paper was by now, he put it on. He understood that to be a king at all it is necessary to act like a king even if you do not feel like a king, and that to be a good king you must first accept your crown, and wear it proudly, come what may. Courage is measured in what you do, not how you feel. Everyone is always afraid. The brave, he knew now, just lie about it better than the rest of us.
Now, some people may object, claiming that this encourages kids to lie. But I disagree, and frankly, I think to say that is to entirely miss the point. What this teaches is not that it's okay to lie, or that some lies are good, or whatever. After all, by the time a kid is old enough to read this book, they're old enough to have already learned that there is a difference between bad lies ("No, Mom, I didn't steal $20 from your purse") and acceptable lies ("No, Mom, that dress doesn't make you look fat"). Rather, what it teaches is this:
Courage isn't something you're born with. It's not something you gain magically, or that comes to you when you learn to stop being afraid. It's not something that some people have and other people don't. Anybody can be brave. Any old kid looking out his (or her!) window can be a king; you don't have to be extraordinary to change the world. All you need is to care about something enough to want to make a difference.
An important message, I think, and one that's far better than the messages kids are picking up from the television every day.
So I suppose it stands to question, if I feel so strongly about this book, why I don't just go ahead and give it five stars. And the thing is, as much as I enjoyed it, I definitely feel there were parts of the story that could have been explained better. There were certain concepts, particularly toward the end of the book, that were not necessarily hard to comprehend so much as they were hard to visualize. Now, I understand that Gopnik was probably trying to control the word count on what is already a rather lengthy children's novel (416 pages, as opposed to the 350 or less that is more common, in my experience). However, if I, as an adult, have trouble following or picturing certain aspects of a story, then imagine how the book's intended audience must feel.
Also, frankly, the very end was pretty sloppy. First of all, by the end of the story, Oliver has been running around Paris for, what, three days without checking in with his parents? His father may have known what he was up to, but since neither of them bothered informing Oliver's mother, why didn't she say anything about it? Am I the only one whose mother would have had several litters of kittens and at least one entire cow had I gone gallivanting around a major city--or any city--at the age of twelve without showing my face at home for three days? Especially after I'd already been caught lying to her about where I'd been and skipping school. My mother would not have given the barest fraction of a shit whether I'd been in the company of some famous, award-winning author, or even the President of the United States himself; if she had found out I'd cut school without her express permission, she would have shot fire out of her nostrils! No joke. And I find it a bit too unbelievable that Oliver's mother didn't have a similar reaction.
Furthermore, speaking of mothers, at the end of the book, Neige's mother is...well, I don't want to have to put a spoiler warning on this, so let's just say she's out of ambit. (Bonus points for Young Wizards reference, y/y?) And since Neige doesn't have a father, that means she's on her own until she can get her mother back, if she can get her mother back, and who knows how long that will take. Does anyone else see the problem with a thirteen-year-old girl being on her own for an indefinite period of time? Does France not have a social services department? Tsk-tsk, Mr. Gopnik, a silly and avoidable oversight.
It's for these reasons that I cannot, in good conscience, give this book a full five stars. However, I do not think that this should at all deter people from reading it.
The King in the Window is inspired and imaginative in a way that reminds me strongly of Neil Gaiman in his ability to create worlds within worlds and to make it believable. Despite being a children's novel, and though it is unequivocally a work of fantasy, The King... is a strikingly credible story about an ordinary boy who does something extraordinary. It's fun, and it's touching, and it's exciting, and it's funny, all in a way that I think should make it enjoyable for readers of all ages....more
I agree with the reviewer who said this was the worst ending ever. Not only does it have the worst ending, but the book itself is the worst ending toI agree with the reviewer who said this was the worst ending ever. Not only does it have the worst ending, but the book itself is the worst ending to any series that I have ever read. Period.
Seriously, Mr. Lewis, what the hell is this though? Aside from the phenomenally craptacular ending--where we're supposed to believe that the very best thing that could possibly happen is for everybody to die--this book was just a whole lot of suck. It seemed to have no point whatsoever, except that Lewis decided he was done writing Narnia stories, and instead of leaving it open for fans to imagine what adventures might've come after, he figured he could cram some more Christian allegory in there and thoroughly traumatize his young audience by killing off every single character they'd come to love. Except Susan, because we shun the nonbeliever, shuuuunnnn.
Whatever. It was completely unnecessary, and the "but it's okay because they went to heaven" ending made me roll my eyes so hard they were in danger of falling out, but it didn't piss me off half so much as the convoluted End Times theme. What the fuck? There was absolutely no rhyme or reason to it whatsoever, at least that I could pinpoint. Basically some jerkass old ape (I see what you did there, Mr. Lewis) dresses up this gullible ass in a lion skin and starts ordering the Narnians around as the mouthpiece of Aslan, so instead of punishing Shift for his wickedness, Aslan DESTROYS THE WORLD. Because that's not overreacting or anything. Apparently Lewis ascribed to the angry, vengeful God of the old testament. I mean, wow. Was it because the Narnians were so easily deceived by the false Aslan and their love for him turned to fear and revulsion? Because it seems to me to be largely a result of Aslan's long absence, combined with the apparent inherent stupidity of Narnians, that made them susceptible to the lies of Shift and the Calormenes, which Aslan in his omniscience would've known would happen if he stayed away. So, in other words, he punished THE ENTIRE WORLD for something that he could've prevented and chose not to. Nice. But maybe I just don't get it, wicked atheist that I am.
Anyway. Unless you're a hardcore fan of the Narnia series, or OCD like me, I recommend skipping this one. It's not worth your time....more
Green Eggs and Ham is one of the best children's books ever. Possibly I am biased, because it was my favorite for a lot of years and I made my motherGreen Eggs and Ham is one of the best children's books ever. Possibly I am biased, because it was my favorite for a lot of years and I made my mother read it to me over and over and over and over and over, ad nauseam, for which she has probably never forgiven me, considering I could read on my own by the time I was 3. But, at any rate, I still maintain that anyone between the ages of zygote and dead should be able to enjoy this wonderful classic work of children's literature, and if they can't, then that person is clearly not a person but has in fact been replaced by an alien doppleganger incapable of joy and wonder.
Finally, a proper novel! Thank you, Mr. Lewis. Sixth time's the charm, eh?
The Silver Chair is my favorite out of all the Narnia books. Not only does iFinally, a proper novel! Thank you, Mr. Lewis. Sixth time's the charm, eh?
The Silver Chair is my favorite out of all the Narnia books. Not only does it have all the usual elements of this wonderful, rich fantasy world Lewis created, but the characters are better, at least in my opinion, the story feels less contrived, and it has the added benefit of being a proper novel. That is to say, it has: a) an actual plot; b) an identifiable climactic point; and c) a clear, concise denouement. For once, I wasn't left scratching my head at the end and going, "What the hell was the point of that?"
In this book, we're reunited with Eustace, the Pevensies' cousin, who has turned into an all right guy since we first met him in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Pity how he's kind of bland now that he's not an insufferable git anymore. Fortunately, it wasn't Eustace, but his schoolmate Jill who really made the book for me. Jill is a modern sort of girl; she has new age hippie parents who send her to a new age hippie school, and though Mr. Lewis obviously didn't seem to think much of it, I rather think it did her some good. Unlike the Pevensie girls, who had a tendency to be ninnies and were very much girls of their time, Jill is a pretty level-headed kid, and neither expects nor receives any particularly special treatment on account of being a girl. She's a real, honest-to-god herione, who takes a--if not the--central role in the proceedings, rather than just sort of standing around observing while the boys do all the important stuff. Girl protagonists, for the win! I love it.
Also, I feel it's worth mentioning that Jill using the sort of behaviors, if a bit exaggerated, that annoyed me about Lucy and Susan to trick the giants of Harfang, and with no small amount of disgust, amused me greatly. Maybe Lewis finally got the memo that post-war girls were a different breed.
But even though I rather adored Jill, I think my favorite character--not just from this book, but out of the whole series--has to be Puddleglum the Marsh-wiggle. God, what a character! In my opinion, he has the most personality of any of Lewis's other characters. I love his upbeat sort of persistent doom and gloom, though that would seem to be an oxymoron, and his bravery and resolve despite his bleak, pessimistic outlook on life. I also loved that he was the only one who kept his head and saved the day through a heroic and selfless act when the witch was trying to enchant them. And I really hope we get to see him again in The Last Battle.
The other thing I really enjoyed about The Silver Chair is that it's a Quest story. I mean, who doesn't like a good Quest story? If there's a story where so-and-so goes on a long, harrowing journey to complete a difficult and dangerous task, I am all about it. The only thing I didn't particularly like was that the journey itself didn't last long enough for my tastes, and the final conflict and resolution were a little too easy, but since it's a children's book, I'm willing to handwave those points.
Definitely worth a read if you're into fantasy. And overall, if you were going to read just one of the Narnia books, I would recommend this one....more
Hey, did you get enough Christian allegory in the first four books? Are you sure? Are you really sure? Well, here, have some more anyway.
Basically, asHey, did you get enough Christian allegory in the first four books? Are you sure? Are you really sure? Well, here, have some more anyway.
Basically, as far as I can tell, Dawn Treader is Lewis's vehicle for introducing this kid Eustace, who's kind of a dick. Until he finds Aslan. (And yes, I totally mean that in the "finding Jesus" sense, because duh.) As with most stories of this kind, Eustace starts out unlikable to the point of absurdity and pretty much hates everyone around him, and doesn't find the Way and the Light until he runs into trouble and needs some help. Naturally. Because why bother with religion unless it can do something for you, right? Nice message you guys are sending there. But anyway, after that Eustace realizes what a jerk he's been and magically stops sucking as a person, the moral of the story being that Jesus Makes Everything Better! Or something. I guess. Whatever.
Aside from that, I'm not entirely sure what the hell this book was supposed to be about. Eustace, Lucy and Edmund, and Caspian all embark on this long, drawn-out adventure to find the seven lost Lords, but what exactly is the freaking point? Seriously. I kept expecting them to find out something important, maybe something that the Lords learned during their exile, or for something really interesting to happen once they'd found all seven. But no. The Lords are all basically useless and do little more than serve as waypoints as the Dawn Treader sails farther east toward Aslan's country, WHERE NOTHING CONTINUES TO HAPPEN.
So here's the deal. Lewis was a pretty good storyteller, but not a very good writer, and what he did here was write a story with no clearly delineated plot, no climax, and no proper denouement just to tell one important thing (I'm assuming what Aslan tells Lucy and Edmund in the end is what was supposed to be the point of all this), which he could have done with less story and more plot. So unless you're a hardcore fan of the Narnia series, or you're OCD like me and absolutely have to read every book, then I say skip it.
P.S. If Eustace getting baptized by Aslan after he repented for his prickish ways wasn't anvilicious enough, Aslan showing up as a lamb in the final scene really drives it home. Thank you, Mr. Lewis, we totally would've missed your amazingly subtle point if you hadn't bludgeoned us half to death with it....more
For a book entitled Prince Caspian, I would've liked for more of the story to actually have been about Caspian, rather than the Pevensies. I feel likeFor a book entitled Prince Caspian, I would've liked for more of the story to actually have been about Caspian, rather than the Pevensies. I feel like Lewis could've contrived a better way of bringing the children into the story that didn't involve taking up about a third of the book with their journey from the ruins to Aslan's How. It felt largely unnecessary to me, except as a vehicle for Important Religious Message #2, and I would've much preferred if Lewis had devoted more of the narrative instead to elaborating on the fight between Caspian and Miraz, which was pretty much the entire point of the book in the first place.
Also, I still really hate third person omniscient. Who ever thought this was a good idea? Seriously.
But since this is, after all, a children's book, I can't judge it too harshly. I doubt its target audience is going to be concerned with its literary shortcomings; all kids are going to care about is whether it's fun to read. And it is. Prince Caspian is another fast, fun little adventure in the Narnia series, with a lot of interesting new characters to meet, some suspense, some intrigue, a couple of fight scenes that would probably be exciting to the younger reader, and a few really good messages for kids, even if they are buried beneath a lot of anvilicious religious parallels....more
I liked this book better than its predecessor, largely because it felt like more of a proper story than, "A girl goes through a wardrobe to a magicalI liked this book better than its predecessor, largely because it felt like more of a proper story than, "A girl goes through a wardrobe to a magical land, and here, have some Christian allegory. And how about a bit more Christian allegory, with a side of Christian allegory, topped with Christian allegory?" Aslan is still Jesus, obviously, but he only shows up toward the end of the book, so you don't get overwhelmed by the religious message.
The rest of the book is a fun, fast-paced little adventure with interesting characters to meet and places to see. It sometimes requires a suspension of disbelief, and also suffers throughout from POV issues (I usually loathe third person omniscient, which reads like exactly what it is: a spastic writer with the neurotic compulsion to tell the story from every single character's perspective), but since this is a children's book, rather than something really intended for the more discerning adult, I'm willing to overlook that. Mostly....more