Thursday, July 30, 2015

My Favorite Songs Inspired by Narnia

Currently Writing:   Merlin Book 2
Currently Reading:  Dune by Frank Herbert
                                The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien (reread)
                                The Woodcutter by Kate Danley (Kindle)
                                The Slippery Slope by Lemony Snicket (audio)

For the purposes of this post, I'm not considering any instrumental tracks, but I will mention some of my favorites. "Heart of Courage" by Two Steps from Hell was the trailer music for the Walden version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and it still gets me excited for Narnia. There are various tracks from the LWW and PC soundtracks that evoke the longing for Narnia, such as "Narnian Lullaby," and the themes "One Day" and "Reepicheep's Theme." The Narnian Lullaby from the BBC Narnia films is also a favorite of mine. Now, without further ado, here are some of my favorite Narnian songs:

"In Like a Lion (Always Winter)" by Relient K from Let It Snow, Baby … Let It Reindeer

This song was originally written for Music Inspired by The Chronicles of Narnia, but was not released until this Christmas album. It captures a lot of the spirit of LWW and the low times that can be associated with the Christmas season when we never seem to get to Christ.

"Edmund" by Heath McNeese from The Weight of Glory

Part of an album dedicated to Lewis' works, this song is one of the best on the album not only for its direct connection to the source material but also for its great use of artistic license. Some of the lines don't actually fit with the book (like the references to the singer's parents and their reactions to the Witch) but the song as a whole still captures Edmund in the early parts of LWW. I recommend checking out the entire album.

"The Lament of Eustace Scrubb" by The Oh Hellos from Through the Deep Dark Valley

This song is actually part of the reason I love Heath McNeese's "Edmund"; it takes a similar tack in writing a song that's from the perspective of the titular character while allowing itself the freedom to write something that's not concerned with rigidly sticking to what's said in the book. My only complain about this song is that it only has three very short verses, and I'd be happy with two or three times that if they were of this same quality.

"Voyage" by Scott Krippayne

This single was released not long after the Walden film of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and I often tell my Narnia-loving friends that I would have had this song over the Pauline Baynes-illustrated credits – if the movie had actually followed the book and not tried to be "the book C.S. Lewis didn't write."

"The Call" by Regina Spektor from The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian original soundtrack

While the song's opening lyrics are placed awkwardly in the movie (e.g. right after the Susan-Caspian kiss that should never have happened), the lyrics as a whole actually cover a good deal of the remaining books, with references to the children coming back when called and "when it's over." There's even a hint of warning in the lines about others being unable to feel what the children feel, a warning emphasized in the film as the camera remains on Susan as she reenters "normal" life.

"Music from a Garden" and "Silver" by The Gray Havens from Where Eyes Don't Go

If you have not had a chance to look up this band, do so now. They are fantastic sing-songwriter-storytellers. With a name like the Gray Havens (spelled slightly differently from the Grey Havens of Middle-earth), you expect to have some Tolkien and/or Lewis references show up in their music. These two songs, from their EP, are the most Lewis-infused. "Music from a Garden" incorporates the imagery common to both Lewis' and Tolkien's creation stories in The Magician's Nephew and The Silmarillion respectively – that of the universe being sung into being. It also speaks of the Lion as the Creator and of His return. "Silver" borrows from both VDT and The Silver Chair to tell a new story about seafaring adventurers.

From Courage, Dear Heart by Meg Sutherland:

"Real" deals with Lucy not wanting to leave Narnia at the end of VDT and her faith in the realness of Aslan. She reminisces about her journey, recalling the appearance of the albatross on the Dark Island, and prepares to return to her own world. This is one of the best Narnian songs I've come across

"Doug's Song" borrows imagery from MN similarly to "Music from a Garden."

"Don't Be Afraid of the Dark," while not specifically Narnian, fits nicely with "Real" and the use of the Dark Island and serves as a reminder not to be afraid of the hard times we face in life, because they can be used for something better.

You really should check out this entire album. Douglas Gresham helped produce it, and his remarks on Ms. Sutherland's ability to capture the nostalgia and longing for Narnia come as very high praise.

Music Inspired by The Chronicles of Narnia by Various

There are a couple of songs on here that are especially Narnian in my opinion. A couple, like "Turkish Delight" and "New World," aren't exactly Narnian in style but still evoke the book in a fun way. I wouldn't ask the artists to change their musical styles just for this album, and the fact that they somehow capture Narnia in such non-Narnian music makes me love the songs even more. I think "Remembering You" and "Lion" are possibly the most Narnian songs on this album. The first looks back at Aslan from the end of LWW from the viewpoint of several characters and does a handy job of encapsulating the emotion of the book. "Lion," on the other hand, focuses on Aslan in the midst of the story; I'd actually argue that this song fits Lucy in the middle of Prince Caspian better than it does LWW, but I think that's primarily due to the "Now you are a lioness" line from the book. This album is available on Spotify.

"Further Up/Further In" by My Epic from Yet

This band seems to have a mild Lewisian influence, and this song has only the barest of Narnian references despite the title – it talks about all times being "soon" to God. That said, it's worth a listen because they make that line the linchpin of the song. Their song "Rich" also carries some of the longing from The Last Battle and mixes it with imagery from VDT.

"The Witch and the Lion" by Narnia from Desert Land

One of the band's few songs actually featuring Narnia-related lyrics, it's worth checking out if you enjoy heavy metal. The band's music is pretty good in general and rife with references to God and His saving grace, but surprisingly lacking in Narnia references.

"When the Stars are Falling" by Narnia from The Course of a Generation

This song, while not explicitly Narnian, seems to have some overtones from The Last Battle.

The Roar of Love by 2nd Chapter of Acts

This album is a bit odd because it's one of the better-known and -loved Narnia-related musical projects but its style is not something I care for overall. That being said, there are a few songs that I would consider going back to apart from the album (which carries the listener through the entire story of LWW).

"Tell the Truth" and "Turkish Delight" both deal with Edmund's first visit to Narnia and its aftermath. I don't find this "Turkish Delight" as memorable (or fun) as David Crowder's, but it's a livelier song than most on this album, and it fits very well with the plaintive tone of "Tell the Truth."

"Christmas Where Are You?" takes its inspiration from the same line as Relient K's "In like a Lion" but isn't quite as memorable.

"I've Heard the Stars Sing Before" actually hearkens back to MN; I think it's meant to be the Professor's song, meditating on his mysterious (if you've read LWW and not MN) connection to Narnia, but it follows Aslan's resurrection so that may not be the case.

"He's Broken Thru" celebrates Aslan's resurrection and the freeing of the statues in the Witch's house. It also reveals the Witch's knowledge of Aslan's victory over her magic.

"Something is Happening in Me" and "White Stag" close out the album by examining Edmund's change of heart and the return of the children from Narnia. Though not necessarily high on my list of Narnian songs, this album is one Narnia fans should listen to just to have the experience. The entire album is available on Spotify.

Awake! by The Pilgrim's Regress

This is a concept album based on The Magician's Nephew. It's only five songs long, but it has some fun instrumentals. The best vocal song is "The Bell and the Hammer."

"Eastward" by Nick Milos

This song is meant to be from Reepicheep's perspective during VDT. It reminds me of "Bright Eyes" from the film of Watership Down.

Are there albums or songs that I've missed? Despite my intentions for this to be a "favorites" post, it seems to have grown into more of a list of what's out there (though it doesn't include songs from the musical productions that have popped up around the globe). I'm always interested in finding new songs based on Narnia. Let me know in the comments!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Top Ten Books to Reread

Currently Writing:  Merlin Book 2
Currently Reading: Dune by Frank Herbert
                                The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien (reread)
                                The Woodcutter by Kate Danley (Kindle)

I've been wanting to do another Top 10 post since the first one. I can't do a Top 10 Books general post because there are just too many I love, so I decided that Top 10 rereads was the best way to go. So here, in no particular order, are my Top 10 Books to Reread:

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

I'm counting this whole series as one book, not only because I have an omnibus edition, but because I love to read all of them again and again. All told, I've probably read the whole series five or six times, and individual books anywhere from that number to ten or so. I never come out of reading these books without something new occurring to me. I never get tired of reading Aslan's words to the various protagonists and living through their adventures in between those special meetings with the Great Lion.

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

This book is similar to Narnia for me, in that I can always get more out of it when I reread. I've only read it through a handful of times, but I always want to dive in again. I'm rereading The Silmarillion now for the first time, and it's whetting my appetite for Tolkien's mythology.

The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper

Okay, it's another series. This time, I don't own an omnibus edition, but I dare you to read one of these books and not keep going. Once you meet Great Uncle Merry, you're going to keep reading just for him. Cooper blends together the modern (well, for its day) intrigue with the Celtic myths so well in these slim books. I come back to them because, hey, who doesn't like a little Arthuriana before bedtime?

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

I haven't actually read this one in a while, but I reread it consistently for three or four years when I was younger, and I have continued with the series off and on since then, even rereading one of the sequels, The Scarecrow of Oz, multiple times. I actually think Scarecrow might be more of a reread favorite than Wizard, but Wizard is a classic and the more recognized title, so I listed it.

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

This is another one that I reread several years in a row when I was younger. If you've never read any of Roald Dahl's books, then this one is a good place to start. It demonstrates his talent for mixing the magical and the mundane into a superb, fun children's story that entertains and educates.

The Attolia/Queen's Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner

You should have expected another series, really. This quartet (which fans hope will eventually become a quintet and then a sextet) is centered on a sort of alternative historical version of Greece and the surrounding countries and on a man named Eugenides, who find himself tangled up in the political machinations of the rulers of no less than four countries as the series progresses. The first three books are better than the fourth, but they are all worth at least one read; I'd say the first few are worth the rereading.

The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

This series is another that gets better with every reading because, despite its flaws, you can't help but appreciate J.K. Rowling's talent for lacing elements into the early books that seem unimportant but wind up being the basis of major arcs in the end. She also has a talent for dealing with important social issues like prejudice without making the stories seem preachy. Add in some fun magic and lovable characters, and you've got a recipe for rereadable books.

'Salem's Lot by Stephen King

Other than Dracula, this is the only vampire book I've read multiple times. I prefer King's book only for its ability to make me do a double take halfway through the book. Maybe it's just the wear of the ages, but you can't go into Dracula and not get vampire vibes from the first few chapters. 'Salem's Lot, by contrast, opens like a haunted house story. Even when I reread this book, the first long section doesn't even begin to whisper, "Vampire"; instead, it seems to shout, "I'm the precursor to Rose Red!" King definitely takes his cues from Shirley Jackson in this book, and that's a good thing.

The Giver/Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry

I'm not listing the whole series here for two reasons: 1) the first two books stand up better under rereading; 2) Messenger and Son, for all Lowry's attempts to continue the story and bring the first two books together, just aren't as good even on initial reading. If you've not read The Giver (or at least seen the recent film, which was a very good adaptation), then you're likely in for a treat. That is, if you keep in mind that the plethora of dystopian fiction in the young adult section largely follows The Giver, which itself has its roots in older literature like 1984. That being said, The Giver is still a solid book that explores an awful lot of emotion and philosophy in a very brief span of time. Gathering Blue, likewise, covers a lot of ground in its thought processes, but Lowry takes a very different tack in this book. The disparity between the two settings may be part of the source of the failure of the later books, but I think that can be better chalked up to Messenger's rushed ending and Son's useless middle section.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

Every few years, I have to pick this mystery off the shelf and go through the fun of seeing the madcap cast of characters unravel the riddles old Sam Westing has laid out for them. It's not like the story changes between readings, but these characters -- good, bad, and oh so colorful -- are like old friends or distant relatives that you need a dose of every once in a while. Then, you've had your fix and you're good until the next coincidental meeting or family reunion. If you haven't read it, don't read any spoilers. The first time especially, it's fun to try solving the mystery yourself.

Are there any books you just can't stop rereading? Are there some you haven't read more than once but would like to read again? Let me know in the comments!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Awesome Friends

My friend Mirriam has started a series of giveaways on her blog for the regular commentators: she's giving away a sketch to a randomly selected commentator once a week.

Yours truly was selected as the first recipient and, with her permission, I am sharing a picture of my prize with all of you.

This is Mirriam's take on the Mad Hatter from her Wonderland retelling that I was blessed enough to be a beta reader for during June.

Mirriam is just one of the awesome friends God has blessed me with over the years, and she's one of the most creative I've known. Reading her Wonderland retelling and another of her works in progress this summer gave me some renewed inspiration and motivation to forge ahead with my second Merlin book, which, as I've said a few times lately, is giving me grief. She's not afraid of dealing with deep issues and talking about the things that really matter, but she's just as happy making snarky comments and fangirling over Marvel (and Korean television).

Also, in case you missed it, this woman can DRAW!

As I said, Mirriam is just one among a motley crew of people God has sent into my life, and I'm grateful for all the mutual friends whose connections have allowed us to become friends. There's a special kind of joy for discovering that the friends of your friends can also be your friends and meeting people whose creative sides are different from your own. I think we become better subcreators that way -- by seeing the differences in our creative personalities and incorporating elements of each other -- much the same way we become better people.

So here's to you, Mirriam. Thanks for being you, and following God's direction when He said, "Subcreate!"

I'd tip my hat to you, but Hatter's taken care of that. ;-)

Monday, July 20, 2015

What Is It About Second Books?

Currently Writing:   Merlin quartet book 2
Currently Reading:  Dune by Frank Herbert
                                The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien (Reread)
                                The Hostile Hospital by Lemony Snicket (audio)
                                Daughter of Light by Morgan Busse (Kindle)
                                NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind Vol. 5 by Hayao Miyazaki

Tad Williams once wrote about the difficulties of writing second books (and sometimes third books, in his case) because they are essentially the middle of the story of a trilogy (or quartet). As such, these middle books must begin and end in the middle of the story, resolving some but not all of the conflict, if they resolve any at all.

I'm beginning to appreciate the difficulty of writing second books for different reasons – well, one specific reason. Writing a second book with the same characters, who are somehow different from their first-book selves and yet the same, is just as mind-boggling as writing the first book was. It's like Gene Wolfe said to Neil Gaiman: "You never learn how to write a novel. You just learn how to write the novel that you're writing." So I'm re-learning how to write a novel and how to write my characters. Merlin, as usual, is the easiest to write because he's the closest to me personally. Bryn and Mortimer are giving me pains mostly because I've switched up the order of POV chapters slightly in this book, and getting their bits of the story into the right rhythm is a bit tricky.

But these troubles have got me thinking about what I tend to refer to as "second book syndrome" – that is, the tendency of a second book to seem inferior to its predecessor, regardless of its actual quality. I think this occurs, primarily, because second books are so difficult to write and present the largest learning curve of an author. This is when you really figure out if you can keep doing this thing we call writing; or if you can keep this story going for more than one book, if you've already completed others.

Some second books that suffer from second book syndrome (hereafter SBS) come easily to mind – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Prince Caspian, Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters, and (from all I've heard about it, all controversy aside) Go Set a Watchman. Oddly, Chamber and Caspian are two books that I liked less when I was younger but have grown to love as I've reread them. In Chamber's case, I believe the onset of SBS stems from the similarity of the plot's beats to the first book's and the extreme dislike for Gilderoy Lockhart (second only to Umbridge for characters other than Voldemort that we love to hate). However, the book gains a great deal of importance once the rest of the series is read, because there's so much of the latter half of the series that's set up in that book.

Conversely, Prince Caspian suffers from SBS because of its drastic (intentional) differences from the structure of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I think it also ends up getting short shrift because it's one of Lewis' earlier attempts at children's literature and isn't as much a classic as LWW, despite being better written. In general, the Narnia books improve as the series progresses, and that means PC ends up least loved. But, as with all the Narnia books, PC contains many signature scenes and lines beloved by Narnia fans no matter which books they prefer.

While these examples seem to indicate that SBS is most often an inaccurate assessment of a second book's worth, there are times when a second book really is a weak point in a series. Sea of Monsters is, to my mind, the weakest of the Percy Jackson books despite its honorable attempt to do something different with the books by having Grover absent for much of the book among other plot elements that Riordan uses to avoid falling into a formula. Most often, a book that deserves to suffer from SBS is a book that forces itself into the middle of the story, so that it follows what might have worked well as a standalone book and serves mostly to set up the final installment, forming a two-book trilogy.

SBS isn't widespread enough to apply to every second book. In fact, some second books are much better than their firsts (like Perelandra or The Queen of Attolia) or simply work as a companion book rather than a true sequel (like The Dark is Rising or Gathering Blue) that they don't even risk SBS.

What books have you read that suffer from SBS, whether justly or unjustly? Have you written a sequel and had trouble continuing the story, even if you knew where it was going?