Friday, 12 September 2014

Some influential books in my life – Part 1

The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis (I’m using the umbrella title to grab them all!)

I’ve loved the Narnia books ever since I read “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, but that is in fact not my favourite. It is very difficult to tell which is the best, as all have wonderful characters, and are spellbinding, but I think “The Silver Chair”, which has Eustace and Jill, and their friend, the Marshwiggle Puddleglum, has to be my personal favourite. Puddleglum was apparently based on the character of C.S. Lewis’s gardener, and is a wonderful character – comic, pessimistic and yet brave when he needs to be.

The BBC TV version was good, but weak on effects, which meant you needed considerable suspension of belief. The more pagan Box of Delights managed better. The Movie versions of Narnia began well, but have gradually drifted further from the books, which is a shame. The complete story in the BBC Radio version, adapted by Brian Sibley, is the version I like most.

Brian also wrote a play “The Northern Ireland Man in C.S. Lewis”, which looked at Lewis’ early life as a child, and how the landscapes and imaginative adventures shaped his later work. It was very enjoyable.

The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien

I first read the Hobbit at Primary School, then read Lord of the Rings in my later teens. I took it to University with me, and would read and re-read it. It is such a wonderful quest story, and I was not disappointed with the movies, which were remarkably faithful. Don't go for the animated version though - it is terrible, and finishes half way through book two.

Later, I came to the radio version, adapted by Brian Sibley (yes, him again!), which was as good as the movies, because it painted word pictures in the mind. Radio is like the printed word, it calls upon the imagination so well. The radio version of the Hobbit, which I think had another adapter, and certainly a more shrill Gandalf, is not as good. Brian also did a one off adaptation of the sequence when the Hobbits meet Tom Bombadil, missing from the audio and the film.

The Open Society and Its Enemies by Karl Popper

I came across this at University, and I still think it is one of the ground breaking books of philosophy. Against Plato and Marx, Popper sets out his own ideas of what an Open Society, a problem solving society would look like. It was a major influence on my political thinking. Most politicians don't look at political philosophy, and I think politics is the poorer for that. Popper's "Poverty of Historicism" is also very good, but not quite as readable.

I also enjoyed Popper’s “Conjectures and Refutations”. Popper’s reputation has faded a bit, but perhaps that is because much of his philosophy of science has actually become largely mainstream.

The Father Brown Omnibus by G.K. Chesterton

I came to Chesterton at University, largely at the recommendation of C.S. Lewis in his writings, and was taken with Chesterton’s style, use of paradox and wit.

If I was greedy, I’d have even more Chesterton. I love his essays, The Ballad of the White Horse, the Flying Inn, the Poet and the Lunatics, Tales of the Long Bow, and of course The Man Who was Thursday. But Father Brown is a wonderful character, and the crimes he solves, while unlikely to every exist in real life, are masterpieces of deception, as well as fabulous in visual depictions.

The radio series starring Andrew Sachs was very good, and the new series on the BBC with Mark Williams is growing on me, despite the almost complete absence of connection to the original stories. But the version I really liked was the Kenneth Moore version. Moore was the right age for the part, and could appear both apparently bumbling and sharp, and the adaptations were remarkably faithful to the originals. Mention should also be made of two films. "Father Brown" with Alex Guinness, which is excellent, if a little long, and "The Girl in the Park" (a made for TV film not to be confused with the movie) which is set in America, and is slightly different with an Irish Father Brown (which is strange!), but has quite a good plot. The TV series Father Dowling Mysteries, of course, is very much in the Father Brown mould.

There’s also an American Chesterton Society which produced “The Apostle of Common Sense”, a series of half-hour shows, looking at Chesterton’s religious and social beliefs, with an actor portraying Chesterton rather well. [Although Chesterton was taller, and didn’t have straight hair, but curly hair – geeks like me notice these small details!] Chesterton's politics was interesting, and a lot of Catholic Social Teaching is very close to that, neither firmly left or right, but taking important views on freedom and social justice.

I’d just mention that some of the detective books of John Dickson Carr, fiendish locked room mysteries which I rather enjoy, feature an amateur sleuth called Dr Gideon Fell, who was modelled on Chesterton – large, and with a very Chestertonian delivery of words!

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