178. TMTF Reviews: Hyrule Historia

As an avid gamer, I love the Legend of Zelda series. Its charming blend of adventure, exploration, combat, quirky humor and killer chickens is truly amazing. When Hyrule Historia—a book released to celebrate twenty-five years of Zelda—hit Western shores, I was quick to snag a copy.

Is Hyrule Historia a worthy celebration of one of the greatest legends in the gaming industry, or is it merely a mediocre mess of video game trivia?

Hyrule Historia

As I expected, Hyrule Historia is a must-have book for anyone interested in Zelda: beautifully designed and packed with fun stuff for fans of the series.

I was surprised at the size of the book. For the price (about twenty dollars) I had expected something fairly small. Hyrule Historia is a whopping great hardback, about the size of my high school yearbooks and a bit thicker. The cover design is glossy and elegant. I’d totally put the book on my coffee table if, you know, I had a coffee table.

Hyrule Historia has two great assets. First is its vast wealth of concept art, reproduced in vibrant color. Second is its complete history of Hyrule, the world in which Legend of Zelda games take place. The official timeline of the games in the series—a subject of endless debate among fans and a mystery for more than two decades—is finally unveiled, along with detailed and precise (if slightly inconsistent) synopses for the games and explanations of what happens between them.

I found this pseudo-history almost as fascinating as the actual history of the series, chronicled in artwork and notes spanning twenty-five years. From the moment a strange old man handed Link a sword to Link’s latest adventure in the skies, it’s all there.

These pages are taken from the Japanese version of the book; I couldn't find images of the English version.

These pages are taken from the Japanese version of the book; I couldn’t find images of the English version.

A brief manga (Japanese comic) concludes Hyrule Historia: an exciting end to a thoroughly interesting book.

The writing in Hyrule Historia is rather weak, but that hardly matters since the book’s value is in its beautiful artwork and fascinating trivia. The thing that really puzzles me is the diffidence of the writers. They seem strangely uncertain. In describing the history of Hyrule and the development of the Legend of Zelda series, they often use phrases such as perhapsit seems and it is thought that. I expected the official guide to the Zelda series to seem a little more… official.

Strangers to Zelda won’t find much to interest them in Hyrule Historia. For fans of the series, however, the book is an absolute treasure. And you don’t even have to conquer a dungeon or defeat a boss to get it!

173. TMTF Reviews: Don Quixote

An angry airline passenger once wrote a humorous letter complaining about the meal he had been served. (I highly recommend reading the entire letter; it’s absolutely hilarious.) The letter gives what may be the best description I’ve ever read of crushing disappointment.

I’ll try and explain how this felt. Imagine being a twelve year old boy Richard. Now imagine it’s Christmas morning and you’re sat their with your final present to open. It’s a big one, and you know what it is. It’s that Goodmans stereo you picked out the catalogue and wrote to Santa about.

Only you open the present and it’s not in there. It’s your hamster Richard. It’s your hamster in the box and it’s not breathing. That’s how I felt.

I can give no better description of how I felt upon nearing the end of my copy of Don Quixote and realizing it was an abridged version. Who knows how many wonderful, hilarious adventures I missed?

Don Quixote

When beginning a literary classic, I always check the covers and title page for those dreaded words: Abridged Version. If I’m going to read a book, I want to read the whole darn thing. My copy of Don Quixote had no such warning. I only discovered it was an abridged version by comparing it to an online synopsis of the novel.

When I made this discovery, I felt betrayed. Don Quixote is one of the funniest novels I’ve ever read. How dare its editor remove parts of it without warning me!

Don Quixote is a hilarious book. (This surprised me, since most literary classics are either dull or depressing.) The novel’s humor comes from the solemnity with which its author describes the ridiculous misadventures of Don Quixote and Quixote’s even more ridiculous excuses for them. With the seriousness of a historian, the narrator describes absurdity after absurdity.

The novel tells the tragicomic story of a middle-aged Spanish man who, after spending days and nights poring over books of chivalry and adventure, loses his mind and decides to becoming a wandering knight-errant. He chooses the name Don Quixote, puts on some rusty armor and selects a local peasant girl to be the elegant lady in whose name he performs amazing feats. Thus prepared, he sallies forth on his quest for fame and glory. Don Quixote later recruits Sancho Panza, a gullible peasant who often swallows his master’s fantastical explanations for mundane (and often painful) misadventures.

The narrative is episodic. No complicated plots here: just a stupid old man and his stupid companion getting into scrape after scrape. (The most famous of these is Quixote’s famous assault upon unsuspecting windmills, which he insists are giants enchanted by a sorcerer to seem like windmills.) Don Quixote’s misadventures become gradually more complex as the novel progresses, but the story never becomes hard to follow.

As much as I enjoyed Don Quixote’s silly escapades, I found his commentaries upon them funnier still. He never failed to find a fairy-tale explanation for an ordinary event.

Don Quixote is a fascinating meditation on the dichotomy between stories and real life. Stories are often exciting, romantic and neat. By comparison, real life is usually dull, prosaic and messy. Don Quixote is the story of a man who tries to exchange a humdrum existence for a glorious tale of adventure.

In the end, what he gets is a hilarious comedy of mistakes and misadventures, and I think that is the great strength of Don Quixote. Apart from its value as a literary classic, it’s simply a funny book.

The only potential obstacle for readers is the novel’s literary style. It’s an old novel. Centuries old. Some of its language may be hard for modern readers to understand. This difficulty can be solved by finding a translation of the novel in contemporary English. A legendary classic like Don Quixote has almost certainly been adapted for casual readers.

In the meantime, I suppose I will have to find an unabridged version of the novel. I want to find out what I’ve missed!

153. TMTF Reviews: Around the World in Eighty Days & Journey to the Center of the Earth

Having enjoyed 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which I reviewed a few months ago, I decided to check out two more novels by Jules Verne: Journey to the Center of the Earth and Around the World in Eighty Days. It was my intention to review one or the other for this blog.

In one of these novels, explorers venture inside the Earth; in the other, travelers go round it. Since they have so much in common, I’ve decided to review them both. Today, ladies and gentlemen, TMTF makes history with its first ever double book review!

The TMTF Review Has Been Doubled!

Journey to the Center of the Earth—or A Journey to the Interior of the Earth, as my translation was titled—is the tale of Otto Lidenbrock, a professor who discovers a mysterious cipher in an old manuscript. This secret message sends Lidenbrock, his hapless nephew Axel and their stoic guide Hans into the crater of an Icelandic volcano, from which they travel into the heart of the Earth.

Around the World in Eighty Days tells the story of Phileas Fogg, a British gentleman whose predictable life is interrupted by the sudden decision to travel round the world on a bet. His servant Passepartout accompanies him, perplexed by Fogg’s wager and determined to help him win it.

In the three books I’ve read by Jules Verne—20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Center of the Earth and Around the World in Eighty Days—he seems to create characters by mixing and matching personality traits. Conseil, Hans and Passepartout serve their masters with single-minded devotion. Ned Land, Lidenbrock and Passepartout are impulsive and short-tempered. Conseil, Hans and Fogg are impassive, calm and logical.

These characters were engaging enough at first, but they eventually began to feel a bit stale. The farther I progressed into each story, the stronger the sense of déjà vu.

I was disappointed by Journey to the Center of the Earth. Like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, it has only a few significant characters. However, unlike that novel, its characters aren’t really memorable.

In 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Captain Nemo gives fascinating hints of his motives and identity. Ned Land begins to crack under the pressure of his underwater captivity. These characters are compelling. In Journey to the Center of the Earth, Lidenbrock is mildly interesting and the others are forgettable.

Journey to the Center of the Earth isn’t bad, but it’s hardly more than a sightseeing tour. There is hardly any character development. The plot is simplistic. The novel has no depth. (Pardon the pun.) It’s merely the record of a journey, and—compared to the adventures in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea—not a particularly impressive one.

I liked Around the World in Eighty Days much better.

The novel gives colorful glimpses of exotic locations around the world. From India to Japan to the American West, I had strong impressions of the places Fogg and Passepartout visit in their travels. The variety is delightful, and every locale seems authentic. If Verne is guilty of inaccuracies, I didn’t notice.

Journey to the Center of the Earth is not an especially exciting book. Its protagonists face dangers, but there is never the slightest doubt they will survive. In Around the World in Eighty Days, however, the protagonists race against the clock and the calendar. They must not merely survive their journey—they must complete it within a time limit. As I followed their travels, I rejoiced with every shortcut and cringed with every setback. The reader is kept in suspense until nearly the very end.

If you read only one of these two novels, I recommend Around the World in Eighty Days. I found it much more gripping. However, Journey to the Center of the Earth isn’t bad, particularly as a complement to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. These tales of exploration, subterranean and submarine, are worth reading. It’s just a pity the characters in the former aren’t as interesting as those in the latter.

140. TMTF Reviews: Brave New World

I like dystopian fiction. From young-adult novels like The Giver and House of Stairs to literary classics like Nineteen Eighty-Four and Fahrenheit 451, there’s something morbidly fascinating about governments and societies gone wrong.

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is considered one of the greatest dystopian novels ever written. Is this grim tale of bad society a good book?

Brave New World

The purpose of most dystopian fiction isn’t merely to tell a story, but to convey an idea. Dystopian stories aren’t just stories, but fables. Brave New World is no exception. It does a fantastic job of depicting a dysfunctional society, and a less fantastic—but still competent—job of creating an engaging plot and well-developed characters.

Nineteen Eighty-Four shows a society controlled by fear. Fahrenheit 451 depicts a society controlled by censorship. Brave New World is different. Its society is controlled by pleasure. People aren’t forced to obey. They’re conditioned to obey. The government doesn’t need to burn books or monitor its citizens. It promotes promiscuous sexuality, hands out recreational drugs and makes sure everyone has such a good time that no one ever bothers to ask questions.

Brave New World introduces its horrifying society in a brilliantly calm, matter-of-fact way. (The novel is full of exposition, which is conveyed pretty smoothly through dialogue.) Children are conceived artificially in factories and preconditioned to their future careers. Infants are taught through painful operant conditioning (involving shrill sirens and electric shocks) to despise books and flowers. The early chapters of the novel describe the brave new world of Aldous Huxley in an incongruously cheerful—and chillingly effective—manner.

Having established its dystopian background, the novel introduces an outsider: the ironically-named Savage, who ultimately takes a stand against the unrestrained hedonism and vapid amorality of his world. Does he succeed? I won’t spoil the ending, but you can probably guess what happens.

As an illustration of a dystopian society, Brave New World devotes many pages to exposition. It’s a novel about ideas. Elements like plot and characterization are secondary. Not much happens in the novel—its plot could be summed up in a paragraph—and most of its characters aren’t terribly well-developed.

In the end, these shortcomings aren’t all that important. As a work of literature, Brave New World may have some faults, but it fulfills its purpose: depicting a dysfunctional society and evoking a reaction (whether disgust, dislike or horrified fascination) from the reader.

It’s not a cheerful read, but I recommend Brave New World—particularly as a complement to Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. These novels give radically different takes on how society can go wrong: government by fear and government by pleasure.

132. TMTF Reviews: Boy

Although he’s most famous for writing books about chocolate factories, giant peaches and Oompa-Loompas, Roald Dahl also published a couple of memoirs.

While visiting my family in Uruguay a few months ago, I read Going Solo, Dahl’s account of his experiences as a fighter pilot in World War II. I enjoyed the book, and thus it was with excitement that I snatched up its prequel, Boy: Tales of Childhood, at a local yard sale.

Are these tales of childhood worth hearing, or is Dahl a dull read?

Roald Dahl puts off Boy to a hopeful start: “An autobiography is a book a person writes about his own life and it is usually full of all sorts of boring details. This is not an autobiography.” The book is, in fact, a collection of anecdotes from Dahl’s childhood. Important details are included to establish context. The reader is taken from before Dahl’s birth all the way to his graduation from school.

Some of the anecdotes are interesting, but I was mostly disappointed. While Going Solo gives readers Dahl’s vivid recollections of African jungles and vicious battles, Boy consists mostly of plain stories that might have happened to anyone. It’s not a bad memoir, but it’s not a particularly gripping one either.

Nevertheless, the book was not without its surprises. As he tells stories about his childhood, Dahl occasionally pauses to address deeper issues. After writing about his headmaster’s skill for corporal punishment or his own experiences as a businessman, he sidetracks suddenly into simple, powerful accounts of his disillusionment with religion or the difficulties of writing creatively. These unexpected reflections give weight and depth to an otherwise unexceptional book.

I would probably have found the book more interesting had Dahl made more effort to explain how his experiences shaped his writing. He makes only a few connections between his life and his books, and so I was left with hardly anything to tie the eponymous Boy of Dahl’s memoir to the author whose books I enjoyed as a child.

I recommend Boy: Tales of Childhood to anyone who enjoys memoirs or the books of Roald Dahl, but not to the average reader. Going Solo is a more engaging read. Africa and World War II are much more interesting than boarding schools and candy shops. Better yet, read one of Dahl’s books for children. He’s remembered for those books, after all—not for his memoirs!

95. TMTF Reviews: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Long ago, when Victor Hugo was writing masterpieces like Les Misérables, another French author was writing novels about submarines, prehistoric creatures and hot-air balloons: Jules Verne, called the Father of Science Fiction.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is widely considered to be Verne’s greatest work.

Is it?

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is a superb novel, blending adventure, fascinating themes and the intriguing characterization of the man who calls himself Nemo—Latin for Nobody.

The novel begins in the year 1866 with the appearance of an enormous seagoing creature. Larger than any whale, it glows with a strange light and eventually tears a hole in the hull of a ship. Professor Aronnax, the narrator of the novel, sets out on a ship with his faithful valet Counseil and a crew devoted to finding and destroying the menace of the sea. When Aronnax, Counseil and a harpooner named Ned Land end up stranded on the back of the creature, they discover it’s actually a submarine. Its captain, the enigmatic Captain Nemo, welcomes them aboard, and so begins an incredible journey under the sea.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is a gripping read for at least three reasons.

First, Verne paints a fantastic picture of the underwater world, a world teeming with wondrous creatures and marvelous landscapes—a world as strange as another planet, yet just beneath the surface of the ocean.

Second, the Nautilus, Nemo’s submarine, is fascinating. The reader is privileged along with Aronnax and his companions to discover the secrets of the submarine little by little, with Nemo patiently explaining each of its major components. How could such a machine be built in secret? How did Nemo assemble a crew, and who are his mysterious crewmembers? Why did Nemo build the Nautilus in the first place?

This brings us to the third element of suspense in the novel: Who in blazes is Captain Nemo?

Nemo’s characterization is amazing. The polite, brilliant, sardonic engineer to whom the reader is introduced early in the book is gradually revealed to be—well, I won’t say anymore here. As his motivations become clearer, he himself changes before the reader’s eyes. More than the wonders of the sea and the submarine, Nemo kept me interested in the novel.

Sadly, apart from Captain Nemo, there aren’t many engaging characters in the novel. In fact, there aren’t many characters at all.

Nemo, Aronnax, Counseil and Ned Land are pretty much the only people in the novel. One or two other characters are introduced in the early chapters before Aronnax and his companions board the Nautilus, but they’re forgettable. Nemo’s crew is faceless and voiceless; the only member who makes any lasting impression is Nemo’s second-in-command, a short, incomprehensible man who makes few appearances.

Aronnax is mildly interesting. Ned Land is more engaging, with a down-to-earth personality (as his surname implies) and a quick temper; he’s an excellent foil to the bookish Aronnax and idealistic Nemo. Counseil is disappointing: an impassive, unchanging, self-effacing manservant whose entire personality seems to consist of a compulsive tendency to classify biological specimens.

That brings us to my other objection to the novel: too many lists! Admittedly, part of the science fiction genre is to list facts and technical details; as Stephen Baxter observes in an introduction to my edition of the novel, “This veneer of plausible detail [is] a technique well-known in fantastic fiction.” However, Verne’s novel takes it to an extreme.

The first time I encountered one of Aronnax’s exhaustive lists of marine fauna, I found it interesting and even applauded Verne’s use of real-life detail to enhance his work. Halfway through the novel—about half a dozen lists later—I was becoming jaded. I didn’t want to read about every single species of fish in the Mediterranean—I wanted to read about Captain Nemo and the Nautilus!

Although it would have benefited from a larger cast of characters (and fewer lists), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is an excellent book and a must-read for aficionados of science fiction, steampunk stories or adventure novels.

88. TMTF Reviews: Watership Down

Watership Down is an epic adventure. It’s also a story about bunnies.

Admittedly, before reading Watership Down, I didn’t think it could be an epic adventure and a story about bunnies. It could be one or the other, but not both. Bunnies and epic adventures are mutually exclusive.

At least that’s what I thought.

When I actually read the novel, which has been considered a classic for decades, I was amazed at how gripping a novel about bunnies could be.

The story follows a band of rabbits, led by the sensible Hazel, who abandon their warren and strike out into the vast, dangerous wilderness in search of a new home. For these rabbits, the world is a frightening place. Streams are impassable obstacles. Cats are bloodthirsty enemies. Men are an enigmatic menace, setting traps, carrying guns and trapping rabbits for their own sinister purposes. Even other rabbits can’t be trusted. Hazel and his band must depend on their luck, their wits and a few remarkable tricks to survive.

The most remarkable thing about Watership Down is the way it takes a perfectly ordinary scenario—rabbits establishing a warren in a peaceful English countryside—and transforms it into a quest to rival the best myths and fantasies.

G.K. Chesterton, the great British writer, had a knack for taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary. As he explained it, it’s surprising to see the word mooreeffoc in a shop window until one realizes one is looking at the words coffee room from the wrong side of the glass. In his writing, Chesterton tried to show everyday scenarios from perspectives that made them amazing.

Watership Down, though not written by Chesterton, is thoroughly Chestertonian. Much like The Borrowers and its recent film adaptation from Studio Ghibli, The Secret World of Arietty (which is superb, by the way), Watership Down makes commonplace things wondrous by showing them “from the wrong side of the glass.”

To the rabbits, men are inscrutable, godlike beings whose guns flash fire and inflict wounds from far away. Trains are terrifying apparitions, appearing out of the night with a flash and vanishing into the darkness with a roar. Everything human beings take for granted is shown through the eyes of the rabbits, and made marvelous through those eyes.

The characters in Watership Down, while not as developed as they could have been, are a likable bunch. Descriptions of the countryside are beautiful, and the novel is written in a vivid, matter-of-fact style.

Perhaps my favorite thing about Watership Down are the stories told by the rabbits themselves, legends of rabbit heroes, which are fascinating and add a greater depth to the story.

It’s a long novel, but Watership Down is over all too quickly. I recommend it to anyone, and particularly to those who enjoy stories about animals—from The Wind in the Willows to The Call of the Wild—or to readers who like myths and contemporary fantasies.

For a book about bunnies, Watership Down is quite the heroic epic.

72. TMTF Reviews: The Hollow

It’s been a while since TMTF reviewed anything, mostly because I keep forgetting.

“Hold on a second,” I told my typewriter monkeys. “Since when do we do book reviews?” They replied by pointing at the Literature part of the blog’s tagline—Faith, Writing, Video Games, Literature, Life, the Universe and Everything—to which I responded by throwing a copy of Animal Farm at them and telling them to get back to work.

Yes, the time has come for another exciting TMTF book review. Today we take a look at The Hollow, a mystery novel featuring Hercule Poirot.

Hercule Poirot, the brilliant Belgian with the inimitable mustache, is a legend of detective fiction. I love detective fiction: Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown, Edogawa Conan, Adrian Monk, Lord Peter Wimsey and other investigators amaze, amuse and delight me. I had previously read only one Hercule Poirot novel, and I decided to find out whether he deserves his reputation.

I was disappointed. As I read The Hollow, the greatest mystery was how a novel featuring a legendary detective could be so tedious.

The novel begins with the dull, day-to-day lives of several characters: Lucy Angkatell, a wealthy lady; Henrietta Savernake, a consummate artist; John Christow, a frustrated doctor; Gerda Christow, his longsuffering wife; and a number of others. One of them is unexpectedly shot beside a swimming pool. The rest become suspects. As they try to resume their usual lives in the wake of the murder, Hercule Poirot steps in to investigate.

There are good things to be said about the novel. Unlike much mystery fiction, it doesn’t make the mistake of treating the victim as just a plot device. The suspects’ lives are profoundly affected by the murder, and it’s interesting to watch as their true feelings toward the victim are gradually revealed after his death.

While the novel has its strengths, it also has many glaring weaknesses.

Apart from Poirot himself, there are hardly any likable characters in the novel. Most of them are painfully shallow, aloof, arrogant, pathetic, egotistical or self-pitying. I didn’t exactly rejoice when the victim shuffled off this mortal coil, but it was certainly a relief to have him gone.

Besides the annoying characters, the novel has two serious flaws.

First, the mystery and solution are unbelievably dull. There is no clever trick by the criminal; no clever explanation by the detective. The criminal shoots the victim. Late in the novel, the detective quietly stumbles onto the solution. There’s nothing to set apart the mystery from hundreds of similar mysteries. The mystery is eminently forgettable.

Second, the story apart from the mystery is equally forgettable. The mediocre mystery wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the novel were well-written and fun to read—but it’s not. As I’ve already mentioned, the characters are unlikable. The literary style is unimpressive. The plot feels insipid.

The Hollow is a book I could recommend only to the most devoted fans of detective fiction. For the casual reader of mysteries, I’d suggest a good Sherlock Holmes or Father Brown story. There are probably great Hercule Poirot novels out there somewhere, but The Hollow isn’t one of them.

Has anyone discovered a great Hercule Poirot novel out there somewhere? Let us know in the comments!

55. TMTF Reviews: Joy in the Morning

A friend once told me the following story. Several of the most respected writers in the world were asked to compile a list of the one hundred best books ever written. One of these writers supposedly replied, “Well, P.G. Wodehouse wrote ninety-seven books in his lifetime, so it only remains to us to come up with three more books for the list.”

I’m not sure whether this story is true, but it definitely could be. P.G. Wodehouse is one of the funniest writers in the history of writers who are funny. Every time I read one of his books I feel deep admiration, almost reverence, for his effortless command of the English language. I also feel profound envy. I wish I had Wodehouse’s gift for writing.

Admiration and envy, however, are always my secondary responses to books by Wodehouse—my first reaction is invariably amusement, often manifested in raucous laughter.

I recently happened upon a copy of Joy in the Morning, a novel by P.G. Wodehouse. I decided to read it for two reasons. First, it had been a long time since TMTF reviewed a new book. Second, it was a novel by P.G. Wodehouse—’nuff said.

Joy in the Morning is vintage Wodehouse: a character gets into a sticky social situation that gets progressively stickier and stickier, only to be rescued at the last moment by a clever friend or a lucky turn of events.

The novel is the memoir of Bertram “Bertie” Wooster, a London resident who becomes engaged (entirely by mistake) to an domineering lady named Florence. Her previous fiancée views Bertie as a traitorous sneak and expresses a strong desire to pull out his insides and trample on them. A few other dreadful characters—Bertie’s short-tempered Uncle Percy and horrible cousin Edwin, for example—blunder onto the scene to complicate matters further. The whole crisis is overshadowed by the looming threat of Bertie’s Aunt Agatha, described by Bertie as “my tough aunt, the one who eats broken bottles and conducts human sacrifices by the light of the full moon.”

Bertie is trapped in a dreadful mess, and only one person has any hope of rescuing him: his valet, a dignified, philosophical gentleman known only as Jeeves.

Joy in the Morning is predictably Wodehousian. Bertie’s hopeless troubles are solved at the last instant by a clever plan from Jeeves, and happy endings are “distributed in heaping handfuls.” It’s the same old Jeeves-and-Wooster formula with few unexpected surprises—but that’s not a bad thing. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, as the saying goes, and Wodehouse’s traditional pattern certainly ain’t broke.

The novel has only one weakness. It would be misleading to call it a fault or defect; it’s more of a quirk or idiosyncrasy. Joy in the Morning is very, very British. Consider this quote from Bertie on the very first page: “I saw no ray of hope. It looked to me as if the blue bird had thrown in the towel and formally ceased to function. And yet here we are, all boomps-a-daisy. Makes one think a bit, that.” For some readers, British slang is delightfully quaint. For other readers, however, it may simply be confusing.

Though some American readers may be puzzled by its Britishness, Joy in the Morning is a superb comic novel, a classic work from one of the greatest humorists ever to have picked up a pen. Together with Sherlock Holmes, Ebenezer Scrooge and other legends of British literature, Jeeves and Wooster are among the best literary characters Britain has ever produced. I strongly recommend Joy in the Morning.

30. TMTF Reviews: Peter Pan

C.S. Lewis believed a children’s book that is enjoyable only by children is a bad children’s book. Just as a connoisseur of fine food can still enjoy a simple meal of bread and butter, he maintained, so a literary person should still be able to enjoy simple books for children.

I realized some time ago that I’d never read Peter Pan. It’s a classic of children’s literature, so I decided to obtain a copy of the book and mend this serious flaw in my literary education.

Peter Pan tells the story of a girl named Wendy and her brothers John and Michael. Their quiet existence in a London suburb is interrupted by the arrival (through an upstairs window) of an arrogant boy named Peter Pan who has never grown up. Peter offers to take Wendy and her brothers to the Neverland, an island inhabited by pirates and Indians and mermaids, where they can live a jolly life. Oh, did I mention that Peter happened to arrive by flying? Wendy and her brothers follow Peter to the Neverland, only to find the pirates—particularly one Captain Hook—are a good deal nastier than they had expected.

Peter Pan has been tremendously influential since its publication, inspiring a number of films, several prequels and at least one sequel. (I have a suspicion that Ocarina of Time—which features a green-clad boy with a fairy who lives among children who never grow up—was strongly influenced by Peter Pan.) Like Sherlock Holmes, Robinson Crusoe and Count Dracula, Peter Pan has become an archetype.

But never mind all that. Only one question concerns us. Is Peter Pan worth reading?

Peter Pan

I was glad to discover that Peter Pan is actually quite a good book. The narration is serious and matter-of-fact, which makes the ludicrous events of the book that much more charming. The style is dry and humorous (in a serious sort of way) and never condescending. One of the things I enjoyed most about the book is that the narrator never talks down to the reader. Like all great writers of children’s literature, the author of Peter Pan mastered the difficult art of respecting his audience.

A literary critic would find in Peter Pan a lively meditation upon the transience of youth and the “gay and innocent and heartless” nature of childhood. A Freudian psychologist would probably find all sorts of awful insinuations about motherhood and sexuality. Most readers, however, will find nothing more profound or disturbing than a fanciful tale that somehow manages to bring together pirates, Indians, mermaids, fairies and a ticking crocodile.

One of my few complaints about the book is that several of the protagonists are, for lack of a more polite term, jerks. The villains aren’t all that bad in comparison. Yes, Captain Hook is a wanton murderer, but I couldn’t help but pity him in his futile quest to conquer his self-doubt and justify himself. I felt very little sympathy for Peter Pan, though. He’s an arrogant, selfish, insensitive git. Tinker Bell is worse: vain, jealous, ungrateful and murderous. Old Tink does redeem herself partway through the book, but she’s never very likable. As much as I enjoyed Peter Pan, I would probably have liked it more if Peter and Tinker Bell hadn’t been such twits.

On the whole, I think Peter Pan is a fine book, a worthy classic of children’s literature that, like Peter himself, is pretty timeless.