29 August 2010

Cupboard love

Thanks, once again, to Watoosa at Conscience pudding for recommending another winner: 100 Cupboards.

The mechanism of the story (twelve year old protagonist* Henry York discovers a wall full of cupboards leading to other space/time loci) links to many other fictions from which Through the looking glass, Changing planes, Ancient shores and Monsters Inc are only a snapshot. Why didn't I didn't include CS Lewis's Narnia Chronicles in the comparison examples above? It is, admittedly, the first that springs to mind (and Watoosa made use of it). But, to my mind, the fresh, new and engrossing story in 100 Cupboards sits more comfortably alongside contemporary (and adult*) equivalents.

There are the classic oppositions of good and evil (reminiscent not only of Narnia but, as Watoosa also says, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings – and, of course, many another tale). Among too many notable facets to mention, the evil to be opposed is not an abstract or a neatly packaged bogey but something always potentially present, requiring resistance day to day. Henry learns this through vivid lessons which hint at our own world's genocides and show the difficulty of always behaving heroically (do you save yourself and one within reach, or make a principled but doomed stand?) But don't make the mistake of thinking it's gloomy: though unafraid of darkness, the book has a bright warm heart.

I started 100 Cupboards on a bus journey, last Wednesday morning, and I finished it on another the same afternoon. In between, though only half way through, I ordered the first sequel (Dandelion fire) which arrived today and which I look forward to starting when it rises to the top of the "waiting to be read" pile ( probably some time next week). I have no doubt that I shall shortly thereafter be ordering the third book, The chestnut king.

(An aside ... Henry's parents are unsympathetic characters. They share some characteristics with me ... but hey, I can laugh at myself :-)

  • N D Wilson, 100 cupboards. 2007, New York: Random House. 9780375838828 (pbk.).
  • Lewis Carroll, Through the looking-glass, and what Alice found there. Illustrations by John Tenniel. 1872, London: Macmillan & Co. [Available from Project Gutenberg or as numerous recent reprints including 2006, London: Macmillan, 9781405055680 (pbk.)]
  • Ursula K Le Guin, Changing planes. 2003, New York: Harcourt. 0151009716.
  • Jack McDevitt, Ancient shores. 1996, New York: Harper. 0061052078.
  • Pete Docter et al, Monsters Inc. 2001, Emeryville CA: Pixar.
  • N D Wilson, Dandelion fire. 2009, New York: Random House. 9780375838842 (pbk).
  • N D Wilson, The Chestnut King. 2010, New York: Random House. 9780375838866 (pbk).

* Preachy and teacher-ish footnote: I've said this before, but it bears repeating. Some people won't read children's literature, making the assumption that it is beneath them. If you are one of those people, then you'll never discover the joys of 100 Cupboards or of many other richly and imaginatively rewarding fictions which leave much adult literature in the shade. You may not agree with me about this book, and that's perfectly OK; but if you don't even try it, just because it is written for an age group which is better equipped with open minded imagination than yours or mine ... then I urge you to think again. Your choice, but I believe that you are impoverishing yourself (or, as TTMF put it a couple of days ago, in a different context, "I reserve the right to think you're daft").

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