I found it on our bookshelves, and couldn't remember if I'd read it, so picked it up and realised that I had, but had forgotten most of the plot, so iI found it on our bookshelves, and couldn't remember if I'd read it, so picked it up and realised that I had, but had forgotten most of the plot, so it was like reading it afresh. The blurb and the beginning show more promise than the book actually delivers, and it ends in a rather humdrum "shoot-em-up" manner. ...more
When I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in 1965, at the age of 24, I wished I'd had it to read when I was younger. Even though I was preparinWhen I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in 1965, at the age of 24, I wished I'd had it to read when I was younger. Even though I was preparing for final exams at university, I bought as many of the other Narnia books as I could find, and shared and discussed them with friends, and bought them as Christmas presents for children that I knew.
One day a group of us were discussing the genre of children\s fantasy, in a wood that reminded us of the Lantern Waste, and we tried to recall such books we had read as children. One friend mentioned The Princess and the Goblin, and I was sad that I had not read any of the ones the others mentioned. The only such book I had read as a child had "rainbow" in the title, and it featured children looking for their parents, and being helped by St George and hindered by the dragon, At one point there were two forests, one bright and good, and the other dark and evil, where the dragon tried to distract the children from their quest. But I could not remember the title or the plot, so I wanted to re-read it. I knew only that one of the children was called Rosamund.
The following year I was in London, and knowing that the British Museum was a copyright library, supposed to receive a copy of every book published in the UK I spent a couple of days there searching for books with "rainbow" in the title, without success.
Eventually I found a copy on a secondhand bookstall in Woolwich Market. I grabbed a copy, and read it. It was a huge disappointment. It was nothing more than imperialist propaganda. It featured a lion cub called Cubby, who always got sick when he wasn't dosed with a patent medicine called "Colonial Mixture". St George was no saint, but was a mascot of the British Empire.
All those passed me by as a child, at least consciously, thought it may have brainwashed me into being a closet colonialist. But in 1967 is stuck out like a sore thumb.
So why did I read it a third time?
I was taking part in NaNoWriMo (National Novel-Writing Month) and the novel I was writing featured St George, so I re-read it to remind myself how St George was handled in fiction.
I suppose, when I read it as a child, I would probably have given it three or four stars. But now, it's somewhere between one and two. And I still wish I had had The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to read as a child....more
I'd finished all my library books and was looking at the bookshelves for some bedtime reading and my eye lit on Veil of Darkness, just as the protagonI'd finished all my library books and was looking at the bookshelves for some bedtime reading and my eye lit on Veil of Darkness, just as the protagonist's eye in the story had lit on a book on a shelf, a book called Magdalene. Veil of Darkness had sat on our shelves for 16 years, and I had never read it. We bought it at a sale for R20.00, shelved it and forgot it.
Kirsty Hoskins, fleeing from an abusive husband, gets a summer job as a chambermaid in a Devon hotel. On her way down there on the train she meets two other women who are hoping to forget males who have hassled them, Avril, whose ne'er-do-well brother is about to be released from prison, and Bernadette Kavanagh, trying to get over being jilted by a posh boyfriend, whose parents thought she wasn't good enough for him. They all end up sharing a room in the staff quarters of the hotel.
The thing that frist got me about this book so far was that it could so nearly have been an alternative story of my life. When I arrived in England in 1966 as a penniless student without a work permit in 1966, someone said that foreigners could easily get jobs in the catering industry, and I had one lined up as a kitchen boy in a Devon hotel at £7 a week all found, and the man was pressing a rail voucher on me, and just in time I got offered one driving buses for London Transport. It was so close.
So as I read I kept thinking, so this is what it would have been like.
From the beginning it seems to be chicklit, or women's fiction, a genre in the GoodReads "Compare Books" function that always comes up blank for me. Three women trying to escape from obnoxious males -- that surely fits, doesn't it?
But then Kirsty discovers The Book...
The Book seems to be a classic Gothic horror novel, featuring a nun who plots revenge. And that is about as much as we are ever told about it. After Kirsty reads it she and her roommates start having thoughts of revenge and standing up to their persecutors. So perhaps it's not chicklit, but a Gothic horror novel, and that's not a genre I usually avoid.
Having finished it, I shift its genre again. It is "a book about books or reading". The book featured in the story, Magdalene is a Gothic horror novel, certainly, but Veil of Darkness isn't. Or is it a Ruth Rendell-type whydunit psychological crime novel?
After reading The Book Kirsty gets the idea of doing a rewrite job on it, and publishing it under her own name. Avril, the typist at the hotel's reception office, agrees to type it up, and when Kirsty realises, almost too late, that she can't publish it under her own name because then her husband might find her, Bernadette agrees to take the public and publicity role.
And that is where it becomes unconvincing, and drops from three stars to two. The idea that Kirsty, who has only ever read Mills & Boon, could do a rewrite job on an old out of print book and turn it into a literary masterpiece is way too far-fetched.
What happens next would be too much of a spoiler, but I found it had more plot holes than The da Vinci Code. It falls a long way short of Ruth Rendell's psychological crime novels, where every event seems to lead inexorably and inevitably to the next, sliding down into the commission of a crime. This seems more like a series of random events with only the vaguest hint of causation.
It had enough interest to keep me reading to the end just to see what happened (and not just, like The da Vinci Code and Interview with the Vampire, so that I could say I had actually read them to people who might say "But you can't criticise a book you haven't read"). This one wasn't that bad, but it wasn't all that good either.
And I'm still not sure what genre it belongs in. ...more
The other day I came across an article about St Nicholas of Japan's approach to Buddhism, and I blogged about it here Christianity and Buddhism | KhanThe other day I came across an article about St Nicholas of Japan's approach to Buddhism, and I blogged about it here Christianity and Buddhism | Khanya. St Nicholas acquired his knowledge of Buddhism at first hand, from Buddhist sources. He lived among Buddhists, talked to them and read and translated their scriptures.
My knowledge was much more remote. We learned something about it in history classes at school, and then, in our English classes, we were given Kim to read.
Kim is fiction. It's about a 13-year-old boy in Lahore in what is now Pakistan who attaches himself to a Tibetan lama who is searching for a river of healing. Kim is a street kid. He is worldly wise, an expert beggar, and he is impressed that the lama, unlike most holy men of his acquaintance, is not in it for the money. As he sets off with the lama in search of the river, however, he is given a message and a packet by an Afghan horse trader of his acquaintance to deliver to a British colonel. At that time the British ruled India, and the message was an intelligence report. So Kim becomes a teenage spy.
After reading St Nicholas's account of Buddhism, I looked at Kim again, intending to glance quickly at it to see where some of my earliest knowledge of Buddhism had come from. But I read it all the way through, for the fifth time, though the previous time was nearly 30 years ago.
Why read a book five times? I've read only a few books through five times, and it is because I found something new in them each time I read them, and this time was no exception.
One thing that struck me this time was that the last time I had read it, in 1988, the Cold War, which we had thought would last for ever, was about to end. And this time the Cold War is starting up again, and so a lot of things that passed me by in previous readings suddenly stand out.
One of the themes of Kim is the clash between British and Russian imperialism. So in a sense it is very up-to-date. The Russophobia in the book reflects the Russophobia we see in the news and in social media every day. One merely has to mention the name of a Western politician as having a less than hostile attitude to Russia for that politician to be discredited, at least in the minds of some people. There is not need to say what the politician has done wrong, or what the Russians have done wrong. He talks to Russians, he's a bad guy. It's as simple as that. And so in the book, the bad guys are all those who make friendly overtures to the Russians, and the aim of the British spy network is to detect and neutralise them.
As the story goes on Kim himself is more deeply drawn into the spy network, and is educated and trained for the task, though his education is paid for by the old lama. During the school holidays, however, Kim goes back to the lama and joins him in his wanderings, much to the disapproval of the school authorities, who regard the lama as a street beggar.
On my first few readings the parts I liked best were Kim's wanderings with the lama, and the accounts of the different religions, castes and cultures of India, the human variety, and the vivid descriptions of the different characters.
But always the lama stood out. from the rest as a centre of tranquility. It looks as though, in writing it, Kipling was himself torn between the worldly concerns, including the concerns of British imperialism, and the thought of the lama, that all this was illusion, and a hindrance to enlightenment. ...more
This is the third book of Robert Goddard's spy trilogy. I've just finished reading the second and third books one after the other, so will comment onThis is the third book of Robert Goddard's spy trilogy. I've just finished reading the second and third books one after the other, so will comment on the series as a whole rather than on each volume separately.
It's quite an enjoyable read, even though it has more plot holes than a colander and more loose ends than a bowl of spaghetti. It's not up to Goddard's usual standard, where the books are more carefully and believably plotted. Most of his best books are written to a formula in which a mystery in the past influences events in the present. There are echoes of that here, but in this book the "present" is itself in the past, as the main action of the story takes place immediately after the First World War, during and following the peace conference at Versailles, though it is influenced by events that had taken place nearly 30 years before.
But in most of Goddard's other books the protagonist is usually an ordinary person who gets involved either accidentally, or in an unsuspecting way. Here, however, the protagonist is James "Max" Maxted, wartime flying ace and and James Bond-type swashbuckling hero. The second volume starts off reading like a sequel to The Thirty-nine Steps, which was set before the war, and this one is set after it. One of the characters even mentions The Thirty-Nane Steps. Perhaps the mention of the book is a hint that Robert Goddard is self-consciously writing a pastiche and a parody of the spy story genre, with hints of John Buchan, Ian Fleming and Robert Ludlum. Perhaps the real challenge to the reader is to work out which bit is imitating whom. And perhaps in some parts he's even parodying himself. ...more
I found this book gripping and enthralling reading, but perhaps that's just me. It's about the relationship between a Special Branch spy and the subjeI found this book gripping and enthralling reading, but perhaps that's just me. It's about the relationship between a Special Branch spy and the subject of his surveillance, a teenager, Julian Christopher. Perhaps I found it so enthralling because I have seen (and have photocopies of) the reports the Special Branch wrote about me between 1964 and 1984, so it has a personal interest.
Julian Christopher is a fairly average teenager with rich parents whose left-wing political interests attracted the attention of the Special Branch. He began to question his parents' secularist-atheist values when his best friend was involved in an accident. Julian became interested in Christianity, and joined the Radical Christian Fellowship, which his Special Branch minder then infiltrated.
The Special Branch man gets copies of Julian's diary, and tries to win his trust and friendship, but part of him dislikes what he is doing.
I did not have the same close relations with members of the SB that are described in the book, though when I was studying overseas I did send Christmas cards to Warrant Officer van Rensburg of the Pietermaritzburg SB. Unlike the spy in the book, we knew who Van Resnburg was, and he made no recret of his presence at meetings -- the SB let their presence be known because they wanted to intimidate people. Part of my motivation for sending Christmas cards to Warrant Officer van Rensburg was a "love your enemies" thing, but I have to admit that part of it was also to let him know that I knew his home address -- two could play at the spying game, and though I had no intention of tossing a petrol bomb into his car (as the SB had done to a friend's car), perhaps the thought that his clients knew where he lived could act as a slight deterrent.
But the SB did employ undercover spies, and this, of course, engendered an atmosphere of suspicion. As in the book, there were small Christian study groups where it was important to develop an atmosphere of trust, but that was difficult when you were never sure whether the person next to you might not be an SB spy.
One particular example of this, which I did not experience myselfr, was a Christian Institute Bible Study group that a friend of mine attended, and one of the other members of the group was a psychologist who was also a mental patient at the Fort Napier Hospital in Pietermaritzburg who had been induced by the SB to spy on my friend. This could only have exacerbated his mental condition in a way that harmed both the spy and the spied-upon. And it is that kind of psychological tension that is brought out most dramatically in this book.
For some readers it might seem a bit similar to a kind of futuristic fantasy like 1984, but for me the striking thing was its authenticity, in being so close to real life. It was about the British S[pecial Branch, not the South African one, but the groups they infiltrated were rather true to life as well. I knew of the Christian wing of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and joined the Christian Committee of 100, which was similar to the Radical Christian Fellowship in the book, though rather less organised and effective. If the British SB noticed its activities, they do not seem to have informed their opposite numbers in South Africa, or if they did, the latter did not see fit to include that in their reports to the Minister of Justice.
So yes, this is a very good read, and very true to life. ...more
This is one of John Grisham's better novels, dealing with an investigation into allegations that a judge is corrupt, which uncovers a major crime syndThis is one of John Grisham's better novels, dealing with an investigation into allegations that a judge is corrupt, which uncovers a major crime syndicate.
It isn't really a detective novel, since the investigators are not detectives, and their breakthroughs in the case mainly come from informers or lucky accidents, with activities and suspects being caught on videotape, or careless slips by the criminals. ...more
This time, however, I read "Math son of Mathonwy" from The Mabinogion first, and that helped to make a little more sense of the plot. The story of Math, and his nephew Gwydyon, and grandnephew Lleu is frequently referred to in The Owl Service, but in a fragmentary and disjointed way. So reading the story of Math helps to put it in context. But I still didn't like it as much as Garner's earlier books. ...more
In the last couple of years I seem to have read a number of romance novels set in the period 1795-1820. First it was Jane Austen, who wrote about theIn the last couple of years I seem to have read a number of romance novels set in the period 1795-1820. First it was Jane Austen, who wrote about the landed gentry. Then it was George Eliot, who wrote about the yeoman class. And now it is Georgette Heyer, who writes about the aristocracy. Austen was contemporary, Eliot wrote 50 years after the time in which her novel Adam Bede was set, and Heyer wrote more than 130 years afterwards.
Allan Anderson, a former colleague in the missiology department at Unisa, recently visited South Africa, and gave me a copy of his latest book. GratitAllan Anderson, a former colleague in the missiology department at Unisa, recently visited South Africa, and gave me a copy of his latest book. Gratitude. ...more
In 2013 we sent R2952.83 on books, including this one at R167. In 2012 we spent R3940.40 on books, and in 2011 R2019.95. But when Val retired in 2014,In 2013 we sent R2952.83 on books, including this one at R167. In 2012 we spent R3940.40 on books, and in 2011 R2019.95. But when Val retired in 2014, we could not afford to go browsing in bookshops and just buying whatever took our fancy, so we rejoined the public library.
In 2014 our spending on books dropped to R1653.50, and in 2015 to R50.01. But browsing in a library is not the same as browsing in a bookshop. In a bookshop, the popular books will be stocking the shelves. In a library, the popular books will probably have been taken out by others. That is where books like this come in. OK, it's someone else's choice, and their taste may not coincide with yours, but you at least know that some book lovers think it is worth reading. And, to back it up, at the back of the book are some lists of winners of some of the major literary prizes. And if you don't find the book in question, another one by the same author might be worth a read.
The authors' list has descriptions of each book and why they think it is worth reading, so from those I've compiled a list, which I take to the library, at least when I remember to.
It's set in the fictional English county of Loamshire at the end of the 18th century, which is some kind of rustic paradise until thIt's a love story.
It's set in the fictional English county of Loamshire at the end of the 18th century, which is some kind of rustic paradise until things start going wrong about halfway through the book. Unlike Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, whose romance novels are peopled with the landed gentry and their urban equivalents, this one is set among the yeoman class.
The book has been on our shelves forever, and I've been meaning to read it some day but kept putting it off, partly because of things I'd read about George Eliot, and partly because of plot summaries I'd read. Reading plot summaries can be a bad idea. It made it sound to simple, and a 600 page novel with such a simple plot must be boring, mustn't it, with all that padding?
But Eliot's descriptions of country life, though perhaps too idyllic, are part of the interest of the book, and she makes the characters sound interesting. I don't know how accurate her description of early Methodists is, but she probably knew several of them personally and perhaps some of her description is based on their recollections.
It's when the action starts that the plot holes appear. The reader is kept ignorant of somethings, which is a common device in fiction, but when the characters themselves appear to be ignorant, the suspension of disbelief gets a little strained. At one point there is a rather improbable Deus ex Machina, but it's still a good read. ...more
A book set in an imaginary world where the geography is different from our world, but the climate and vegetation are similar. The sun and the moon behA book set in an imaginary world where the geography is different from our world, but the climate and vegetation are similar. The sun and the moon behave similarly, winter and summar are more extreme. The setting is thus in one sense familiar, though the countries and their borders are strange. Like many other books of its type, the technology is vaguely pre-nineteenth century.
What is different are the peoples and their cultures, and this at times makes it difficult to read, as some of the features of the cultures and society in the book are introduced without being explained.
Most of the action takes place in the land of the Khaiem, a land of city states each ruled by a Khai, with vague memories of a fallen empire, some elements of whose culture have been inherited. There is a somewhat shadowy group called the utkhaiem, whose role is not explained until about two-thirds of the way through the book. At first their appear to be some kind of police force, but it later turns out that they are the upper class in the cities of the Khaiem.
The story takes place in two parts, the first in Saraykeht, one of the summer cities of the south, which thrives on the cotton trade, and the second in Machi, one of the winter cities of the north, where the main economic activity is mining. The plot revolves around one of the customs of the Khaiem -- when the Khai dies, his sons fight to the death to determine his successor -- and follows the fortunes of Otah Machi, the sixth son of the Khai of Machi, who abandons his heritage and identity, and seeks to make a new life for himself far from home.
The culture has two peculiar features. One is that though they can talk, they have an elaborate system of non-verbal communication, by taking poses with lots of subtle nuances. It makes it a bit difficult to picture people walking down the conversing, and stopping frequently to adopt appropriate poses.
The other feature of the culture is the andat, a kind of materialised god/ghost created and controlled by poets, who are usually drawn from the ranks of the younger sons of Khaiem. The andat have powers that underly the prosperity of the cities of the Khaiem. In the mining areas, for example, the andat has the power of making stone soft, which facilitates the tasks of miners. In the areas of the cotton trade, the andat removes seeds from cotton. In this sense that andat are a kind of substitute for technology, so there is no need for any kind of industrial revolution.
In this setting the plot of the story is played out, with the usual human features of love, hatred, rivalry, jealousy, ambition and all the rest. When I try to think of other books in the same genre, the one that springs first to mind is Shardik by Richard Adams. ...more
A no brainstrain whodunit for bedtime reading. For the first two-thirds of the book I thought it was going to be one of Tess Gerritsen's better novelsA no brainstrain whodunit for bedtime reading. For the first two-thirds of the book I thought it was going to be one of Tess Gerritsen's better novels, but then she ratcheted up the melodrama, but just missed jumping the shark....more
The centenary of the First World War seems to be inspiring quite a number of novels about that conflict and the effects it had on people. In this caseThe centenary of the First World War seems to be inspiring quite a number of novels about that conflict and the effects it had on people. In this case it is three upper-middle class families living in Eltham, near London, whose children were quite close friends in childhood.
Since no one now living and writing really has much memory of that period, most of the recent crop must be classed as historical novels, and the authors are imagining what it must have been like. When I was at school, about 60 years ago, I read a similar novel, I think the title was The flowers of the forest -- I can't remember the author's name. The abiding impression it made on me was the number of young women whose boyfriends and husbands were killed, though many of them succumbed to the influenza epidemic that followed the war.
This book has the same theme, and shows how families coped with such losses, or failed to do so. What I liked about this one was the characters and their interactions, sometimes witty, sometimes cruel. They are all different, and respond in different ways to what happens to them.
The edition I read was a proof edition, and so it still had some rough edges, and they may have been corrected in the final published version. There were anachronisms of language -- people being "devastated" and "bonkers" about their losses, for example. Perhaps a proofreader caught those. And the RFC pilot who as a child ran around roaring like an aeroplane in 1902, when the first powered flight was only in the following year. There were also some inconsistencies in the ages of the characters, which, again, I hope were picked up by the proofreaders.
Some things were very true to the period -- the way many people visited spiritualist mediums, for example. The one in the book is a minor character, but nevertheless an interesting one.
A good read ... I wasn't sure whether to give it 3 or 4 stars, but in the end gave it three. .
I didn't like this book. I really didn't like this book. But I couldn't stop reading it.
I read the first chapter, and thought "this is not my cup ofI didn't like this book. I really didn't like this book. But I couldn't stop reading it.
I read the first chapter, and thought "this is not my cup of tea". I read another chapter, and thought I can dtop reading it at any time. I don't have to plough my way through it. But I read another chapter anyway.
I don't like this book. I don't like the characters, or the clothes they wear. They are the wrong generation, my parents generation. But still I read. Why? It's 1960, the election campaign in which Kennedy was elected, the first American election I can really remember. I remember wishing that Kennedy would win, because Kennedy was a Roman Catholic and back then I was a High Church Anglican, and High Church Anglicans were second-class Catholics. Kennedy would bring morality and Christian values to American politics, world politics, or so I thought. The Cuban missile crisis put me right on that score. American hypocrisy, and the thought that Krushchev had saved the world from a nuclear holocaust.
1960 was also the year I first heard the name of Jack Kerouac, the year I read The Dharma bums. Jack Kerouac is the same generation as these people, but what a world of difference.
But still I read it, until I eventually reached the end. I think it is well written, but it recalled to me people of my parents' generation, with their business suits and ties and hats and women with hats and gloves and lipstick and high-heeled shoes and well-stocked drinks cabinets. When people visited you had, at the very least, to offer them a choice of brandy, whisky, beer and gin. People of that class did not offer skokiaan and Barberton.
And Faulks describes it all, in excuciating detail -- the clink of ice in glasses, the martinis, the clothes, and all the rest.
No, it is not my kind of book, and these are not my kind of people.
Faulks is even self-mocking, having characters rather disparagingly referring to novels about suburban adultery, like Peyton Place, in the middle of his own novel about suburban adultery.
What can you say about a book about an undertaker who moonlights as a guitarist in a bar? That it's a surprisingly enjoyable read, that's what.
We picWhat can you say about a book about an undertaker who moonlights as a guitarist in a bar? That it's a surprisingly enjoyable read, that's what.
We picked it up secondhand in Hermanus, when we were beginning to run out of the books we had taken on holiday and then left at most of the places we stayed, releading them into the wild on BookCrossin. The copy we bought was even autographed by the author, and was itself a BooCrossing book of sorts, as it had a list in the back of people who had read it, and what they thought of it -- three gave it 1, and could not get into it, not liking reading about coffins. Two found it an enjoyable read, and said it wasn't all about coffins. They gave it a 3+
It is set in Kalk Bay on the Cape Peninsula, and we had passed through there a couple of times in the week before we bought it, so the setting was fresh in our minds.
But it is also well written, and the characters stand out, even though seen almost entirely through the eyes of the protagonist. It's also got a little bit of everything, sadness and happiness, joy and sorrow, romance, intrigue, humour. It is difficult to think of other books to compare it with, the onl;y one that comes to mind is [nook:Harold and Maud].
There are a couple of jarring notes, little details that don't ring true, like referring to the Beatles as coming from Manchester, but generally the plot is believable.
I don't know how easy it would be to get a copy now -- this is the only one I've ever seen for sale -- but if you do see one, buy it. It's worth reading. ...more
I've read several books by Martin Cruz Smith, all whodunits featuring detective Arkady Renko, mostly set in Moscow in the late 20th or early 21st centI've read several books by Martin Cruz Smith, all whodunits featuring detective Arkady Renko, mostly set in Moscow in the late 20th or early 21st century. This one is different, as it is set in 19th-century England, in Lancashire, in the mining town of Wigan, to be precise.
Some of the Renko books felt a bit surreal to me, but no more so than Bulgakov's The master and Margarita, but this one felt a bit more jarring. I've been to Moscow, and I've never been to Wigan, but somehow the Wigan setting seemed less authentic than the Moscow ones, not so much the place itself, as the people in it. The story was interesting enough, and made me want to read on to see what happened, but it somehow felt inauthentic, as if it was set in some alternative universe, like Philip Pullman's His dark materials.
The descriptions of coal mining were authentic, but it was the events and conversations on the surface that seemed out of place. A coal miner in Lancashire in 1872 likening something to a volcano? How many of them would have seen a volcano, or even a picture of one?
A zealous Evangelical clergyman speaking of Low Mass, or any kind of "Mass" at all? Such a thing would have been anathema to any Church of England Evangelical in that period. It's a bit like Pullman's use of terms like "Magisterium", which clearly means something different in an alternative universe.
One is left wondering whether the surrealism is intended or not. The protagonist too is a bit surreal, an Indiana Jones-like character, but some of the other things in the book give the impression that it is intended to be a historical novel, authentic in time and place. It feels like 20th-century characters transported into a 19th-centry setting.
This book was billed as a Sophie's world of spirituality, when we bought it so long ago that I could not rememvber. That's probably why we bought it,This book was billed as a Sophie's world of spirituality, when we bought it so long ago that I could not rememvber. That's probably why we bought it, because we had enjoyed reading [booK:Sophie's world] and thought we might enjoy this one, but I never got round to reading it.
Then with a cleanout and rearrangement of our bookshelves it came to light again, and I thought perhaps I'd better have another go at reading it.
The first chapter reminded me of why I had never got any further on the first attempt. Theo is a child. How old? About 6 or 7, I think. Later it turns out that he is 14. Describing a teenager as if he were a much younger child makes the character of the protagonist seem a bit shaky for a start. But this time I gritted my teeth and ploughed on. Theo does mature somewhat as the story progresses, but the first impression is off-putting.
Theo has a mysterious illness and though no one knows what it is, the prognosis is not good, so his rich (very rich) aunt decides to take him on a world tour, as a last fling before he dies, or a special treat in case he lives. But it's not your average world tour, it's a tour of different religions.
So it turns out to be a rather didactic book, teaching about different religions, and trying to sugar-coat the pill by wrapping it in a very thin and threadbare plot. Because the story needs to follow the syllabus, the plot line often seems very contrived.
It covers a fair variety of religions, and most of the way through it seems to lead one down the path of syncretism, showing how each religion incorporates elements of other religions, or has points of resemblance to other religions. This led me to expect that it would probably lead up to the most syncretistic religion of all, Baha'i, but somerwhat surprisingly it doesn't. I can't recall that Baha'i is even mentioned once.
It covers most other major religious traditions -- Judaism, Christianity, Islam (and returns in later chapters to deal with different aspects of them). It covers Indian religions, including Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs. It deals with Tibetan and Japanese Buddhism, Shinto, Chinese religion (Taoism, Confuscianism and ancestor veneration), African traditional religion, Brazilian syncretism and even Mormons. But not Baha'i.
I couldn't help feeling that the treatment of some religions was rather distorted, with some trivial things included, and some important stuff left out.
Theo is half-Greek and so has an Orthodox grandmother (well, half-Orthodox, because she is syncretistic too, mixing Orthodoxy with faith in the Olympian gods). And the treatment of Orthodoxy is pretty skimpy, saying it is all about sorrow and suffering. There are detailed descriptions of rituals for some religions, at least three different rituals for the African traditional religions, but there is no comparable description of the rituals of Orthodox Christianity, not even a memorial service. All there is is a lot of guff about sorrow and suffering.
There seem to be similar gaps in the treatment of some of the other religions.
Sophie's world works better as a kind of fictionalised exploration of philosophy, but Theo's odyssey falls a bit flat. It doesn't really work as fiction, and it doesn't even succeed in its didactic purpose. When I was about the age of Theo in the book, I had a book called Faiths of many lands. It was a straightforward presentation, and I learnede more from it than I did from this book.
At the same age I also read a work of fiction that told me far more about some religions than this one -- Kim by Rudyard Kipling. It was aimed at promoting British Imperialism, but it had a better story line, and presented religions more interestingly too.
An early play by Charles Williams, long thought to have been lost, and edited and prepared for publication by Sørina Higgins, who has also written a cAn early play by Charles Williams, long thought to have been lost, and edited and prepared for publication by Sørina Higgins, who has also written a comprehensive introduction. There is also a preface by Grevel Lundop who has written a biography of Charles Williams, Charles Williams:the Third Inkling.
I began reading it two years ago, and began with the introductory material, which I think was a mistake. The book was mislaid in a reorganisation of our bookshelves, and so when I rediscovered it I began again, but this time reading the play itself, and saving the commentary for afterwards. And I'm glad I did, because the play speaks for itself, and it is perhaps better to read it without too many preconceptions.
It is set in an unnamed country, which has recently been evangelised by Christian missionaries, but pagan ideas have not been forgotten. The action of the play takes place at a crossroads, in front of a chapel which has a relic of a thorn from Christ's crown of thorns. Beyond the chapel is a cliff, and below the cliff can be heard the waves breaking.
The crossroads is also symbolic of the four social groups or forces represented in the play. One road leads to a new monastery, whose abbot and prior want the relic for the monastery. Another leads to a seaside village, whose parish church the chapel is. They earn their living by fishing and farming, and find life hard. The villagers are also aware that the chapel is the burial place of their semi-divine folk hero, Druhild. Two roads lead to the capital, the secular city, the seat of secular power. One road is rough and winding and follows the coast, the other is smooth and direct.
The priest of the chapel wants to keep the relic there, but the abbot of the monastery enlists the secular power of the king to help him seize it. The villagers are in two minds, and at one point are inclined to support Joachim, the local priest. The drama plays out between characters representing these four forces..
The play was written about 1912, and only published a century later, I don't know if it has been performed since it was published, but it would be quite easy to perform, or could even be done as a simple play reading.
The explanatory material (which takes up more space than the play itself) is useful. Sørina Higgins compares it with Charles William's other work, and gives informatuion on his personal background, which is useful in helping to understand the play, though I don't always agree with her conclusions.
Because of its setting, in a place where Christian missionaries were still active, and people were between Christianity and paganism, I found it useful as a missiologist, and if I were teaching missiology to live students (most of my previous teaching was by distance education) I might incorporate a reading of it in my course, as it raises many missiological issues, and could provoke useful discussions.