GABBLER RECOMMENDS: The Messy, Beautiful Worldbuilding of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by Matt Mikalatos

‘It seems to me that the confused mythology of Narnia is a feature, not a bug. Lewis is pulling in anything and everything that has meaning to him and patching it all together into some new myth. He and Tolkien were both interested in creating a new mythic story—it’s just that Tolkien was weaving his mythology from whole cloth, and Lewis was putting together a quilt, taking snatches of this or that mythology to make something that resonated with him as both new and true.

So, yes, he cuts out the sex from the fauns and the Bacchanalia, because that’s not the element of their mythology that he finds of interest. He tweaks Father Christmas so that he becomes a figure on par with the minor gods of Narnia. He ignores inconvenient plot points like the fact that food might be pretty hard to get in a country where it has been winter for years and years. He’s doing all this to move us toward the parts of the story that he finds most compelling: there is a broken world full of winter and traitors and evil creatures, but spring is coming…and we can be part of that heroic progression.

The underlying cohesion of Lewis’s world-building isn’t, like many of us might prefer, a watertight world with a central logic to it. That kind of world is for adults. Lewis’s world is a child’s world, where myths mix and overlap, where what is true and what is magical might be the same thing, where there is uncertainty when your sister says, “I found a fantasy world hidden in the furniture.”

In his essay “Myth Made Fact” Lewis explains the underlying rationale for why he would mash together any myth or symbol that rang true to him. He wrote, “… myth is the isthmus which connects the peninsular world of thought with the vast continent we really belong to. It is not, like truth, abstract; nor is it, like direct experience, bound to the particular.” Myth transcends thought, and Lewis believed that what resonated in, as he would say, “Pagan myth” was reality itself. Truth could be found in it, but to read a myth searching for truth would cause you to miss the point because you would lean into abstractions. One must experience the myth as story to have a concrete experience of the reality it represents.’

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GABBLER RECOMMENDS: Neither Allegory Nor Lion: Aslan and the Chronicles of Narnia by Matt Mikalatos

‘Lewis is not particularly interested in us knowing for sure that “Aslan equals Jesus.” He always plays it slant, and never once mentions Jesus by name. Lewis believed that myth prepares us for “true myth.” He loved the story of Balder, for instance, and believed that the love he had for that story, with the god’s death and resurrection, prepared him for the true and (by his estimation) historical myth of Jesus’s death and resurrection when he finally came to accept it. As he told his friend George Sayer, he wasn’t looking to convert people through Narnia so much as prepare them to meet Jesus in the real world. “I am aiming,” he said, “at a sort of pre-baptism of the child’s imagination.”’

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BookTuber Tuesday: Jenny Odell: “How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy

GABBLER RECOMMENDS: ‘What Ever Happened to Steampunk?’ by John Brownlee

‘“The elements of steampunk are all about exposing the inner workings of technology,” explains Jake von Slatt, proprietor of the Steampunk Workshop and perhaps the best known of the steampunk designers. “It’s about using design to make the working of technology scrutable through an object’s aesthetic. So many of the objects in today’s world are black boxes, and what happens inside them is totally invisible. So steampunk was all about revealing those inner workings, and empowering people to understand technology again, even if it was only fictitiously.”

In other words, steampunk is a bit of a power fantasy: not of the technologist, but of the maker, the tinkerer, the engineer. The guys who can rebuild an engine from scratch, but who are as powerless to fix the iPhone that they just dropped in the toilet as the rest of us.

The crunchy emo Victorian aesthetic of steampunk also worked against it, argues Beschizza. “The specificity of its look — it was often kitsch and self-referential — limited steampunk’s appeal to people with less esoteric interests,” he says. “And the younger generations of geeky, imaginative, expressive folk coming online in the 2010s interrogate culture more aggressively than earlier generations ever did. Steampunk had to contend with the historical truth of its own ironies, its fetishistic relationship to an age of imperialism, colonialism, and sexual and racial inequality. Like Lovecraft, it didn’t really come out the other side of that interrogation — we absorbed what was good and moved on to new old things.”

And what was good? Divorced of their gear-cog trappings, the best parts of steampunk live on as a wide-scale design and political movement known as Right to Repair. This movement, which is picking up steam among state legislatures (and vehemently opposed by major tech companies like Apple), is ostensibly about combating forced obsolescence and breaking the modern consumer electronic upgrade cycle, through legislation that forces companies to make their products repairable by the end user. In other words, it’s about empowerment and transparency: the right to understand the technology you depend upon.’

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I agree with Philip Pullman on something…

“I’m sorry that we, as a literary culture, seem to be losing faith in the omniscient narrator. People say, “Oh, I need to know who’s telling the story, otherwise I don’t know what to believe. I don’t know whether to believe it at all.” And another thing we see more and more of is the bloody present tense. I hate books written in the present tense! I refuse to read them. Actually, no, I don’t refuse to read them, because there have been some very fine books written in the present tense, and by design I might have used the present tense. But I think it’s kind of an abdication of narrative responsibility, because we know it’s not happening now, and she’s not coming downstairs now and looking out the window now. It’s already happened! It’s been written about and printed!

This pretense that it’s happening now is a silly thing which I can’t abide, and I use every opportunity to bore people to death by telling them about it.

Oh, I’m perfectly happy to be at the vulgar end. I’m with G. K. Chesterton on this. He said that literature was a luxury but fiction was a necessity. We can’t live without fiction, and I’m very happy to supply the thing that we can’t live without. If that puts me in the company of Dwayne (the Rock) Johnson and Lee Child, I don’t mind a bit.”

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