Category Archives: children’s literature

September meeting

Update: Today, we are changing stories. Today’s (September 25th) meeting, we will finish reading Kipling’s “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” story, then read the first few pages of “Reading Lolita in Tehran” with Japanese translation.

(Original post:)

Dear Readers,

Thanks very much for participating today. We still haven’t quite finished Kipling’s “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” story (we read up to the 2nd paragraph on page 13; contact me if you want a copy of the text). We’ll finish next time.

Next meeting will be September 11th  25th.

What shall we read next? “Pygmalion” by British author George Bernard Shaw seemed to be a popular choice. It is available online for free from the Gutenberg project here:

Another suggestion (which I made a long time ago) was “Reading Lolita in Tehran” because it’s written by a woman and because it’s about a reading group like ours, but in post-revolutionary Iran, based on the author’s own experiences.

or you can buy the Kindle version at half the price

There is, I discovered today, a Japanese translation available:
It’s a little expensive but there are some cheap second-hand ones available (see the link above).


July meeting

There will be no meeting in June. And I will move the meeting to the FIRST Wednesday of each month instead of the last. The next meeting will therefore be July 3rd. We will contune reading “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi”.

In the May meeting, we finished discussing “How the First Letter was Written” and started reading “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi”. We read up to where the mongoose saves the young boy’s life by killing Krait, a small, deadly snake.

I look forward to seeing you there.

2013 February meeting

March meeting announcement

March’s meeting will be on March 27th, and we will discuss “Jeeves and the Old School Chum” by P.G. Wodehouse. P・G・ウッドハウス. This story, first published in 1930, appeared in the volume titled “Very Good, Jeeves” でかした、ジーヴス (森村たまき訳、国書刊行会より刊行) (2006年7月)

February meeting report


A smaller group than usual today, and less discussion than usual, but that was mostly because of the kind of text we were reading: “The Elephant’s Child” by Rudyard Kipling.

I mentioned the sad story of Kipling’s only son, Jack, who died in World War I.  There is an excellent movie about this, starring Daniel Radcliffe as Rudyard’s “My Boy, Jack“. Daniel Radcliffe gives an excellent performance as Kipling’s son. David Craig (Kipling) looks so much like the real Kipling, it’s spooky. I heartily recommend the film マイボイジャック


Some famous quotes from Kipling:

  1. the white man’s burden” 「白人の責務」which is the title of a poem Kipling wrote in 1899 (a Japanese translation of it is here – thanks to T.O. for the link). The poem has often been taken as a justification for colonization, and arouses strong emotions in people, both for and against. Wikipedia says“At face value it appears to be a rhetorical command to white men to colonise and rule other nations for the benefit of those people (both the people and the duty may be seen as representing the “burden” of the title). Because of its theme and title, it has become emblematic both of Eurocentric racism and of Western aspirations to dominate the developing world.[8][9][10] A century after its publication, the poem still rouses strong emotions, and can be analyzed from a variety of perspectives.”
  2. “If” (a poem written for his son, John or “Jack”, then 12 years old. In 2009, it was voted Britain’s favourite poem. Here is the text of the poem with Japanese translation (I haven’t checked it). What do you think?
  3. OH, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet” –
    from “The Ballad of East and West” 「東と西のバラード」. (Complete English text is here Couldn’t find a complete Japanese translation; can you help?) The first line of the ballad is the most famous and often quoted, but the story tells of two brave and honourable men, one British, one Indian, who come to respect each other for their courage and honesty, despite their difference in culture. しかし東もなければ西もない、国境も、種族も、素性もない、


April 27th session report

Rifuan, April 6th, 2011
Rifuan, April 6th, 2011

We are still working our way through an English translation of St Exupery’s “Wind Sand and Stars”.  In today’s session, we read through and discussed sections 4-6. Our next session will be May 25th.

  1. uillaumet lost in the Andes – chapter II, section II, page 30-40 (end of chapter II)
  2. Chapter IV (pages 48-62) – the cyclone
  3. Chapter V, section II, pages 68-74 (end of chapter V) – night in the Sahara
  4. Chapter VI, pages 76-82 (end of chapter VI) – the snakes under the table
  5. Chapter VII, section I (pages 85-90) – the gazelle in the Sahara
  6. Chapter VII, section V pages 106-119 – Bark the slave
  7. Chapter IX, pages 174-189 – the Spanish Civil War
  8. Chapter IX, section VI pages  215-224.
  9. Chapter X – conclusion.

Session #26 (May 26th) report. Sessions 27 and 28

Yesterday’s session (#26) was the last one on C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”. At the end of the session, I proposed our next book: C.S. Lewis’ science fiction story for adults, “Out of the Silent Planet”. This is not a long book, but it is more challenging.

At the end of yesterday’s session, we received a visit from a number of interested people. Perhaps some of them will join us for the next session.

If you did not attend recent sessions of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, you are warmly welcome to re-join us for the new book (if this book does not interest you, why not send me an email with your requests). It is quite ok to “drop out” when we are reading a book you are not interested in, and to “drop back in” later.

There is no homework for the next session. We will begin reading the book in the next session. After that, I will follow the same pattern as before: homework will be reading a few chapters, and in the sessions we will discuss the meaning, ask questions, and talk about what interests us about the book.

The next sessions in June will be:

June 9th,

June 23rd.

We had an interesting discussion about fairy-stories compared with myths and traditional tales. Thank you very much to all of you who attended.

I mentioned a seminal essay by Lewis’ close friend and fellow-Oxford don, J.R.R. Tolkien, titled On Fairy Stories. Yoko Okuda told me the Japanese title, and using Google I found this Japanese article about it. If you are interested and have time to read it, please give me your opinion. I’m looking for online resources related to C.S. Lewis and fairy-tales to suggest to my students as secondary reading materials. Is this suitable/interesting/useful for university students (English majors), do you think?

(It includes several links for further reading, all in Japanese)

Here is Lewis talking about the fairy-tale. He is writing about some fairy-tales that he had read (written by George MacDonald), but I think he is also describing an effect he wished to create in the readers of his own stories:

“It goes beyond the expression of things we have already felt. It arouses in us sensations we have never had before, never anticipated having, as though we had broken out of our normal mode of consciousness and “possessed joys not promised to our birth.”  It gets under our skin, hits us at a level deeper than our thoughts or even our passions, troubles oldest certainties till all questions are reopened, and in general shocks us more fully awake that we are for most of our lives.”

Now that you have finished the book, how about taking an online quiz, to test your knowledge!

Here is a quiz I found:

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Session 26: May 26th, 2010 – Chps 14-17 of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

The next session will be on Wednesday, May 26th. We will discuss the last few chapters of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, and also discuss the book as a whole. What whall we read next?

To prepare for this session, please answer the following questions:

  1. Why do you read?
  2. Which parts (episodes, phrases, words, etc) of this book did you like or remember best? Were there any particular words or phrases that you found memorable?
  3. Why did Lewis write this story?
  4. Lewis said that LWW was a fairy-tale.  However, there are no fairies in this story! Is it a fairy-tale? What is a fairy-tale? How is a fairy-tale different from a myth, legend, folk-tale or science fiction?

Session 25: April 21st, 2010 – Chps 11-13 of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Christmas Pudding

Originally uploaded by Turkinator

While eating some Christmas pudding, also called plum pudding, we summarized and discussed chapters 11-13 of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Our next session will be the last Wednesday in May, May 26th. We will summarize and discuss the last chapters of the book.

In addition, I plan to discuss these questions:
1) Why do we read?
2) Lewis said the Narnian stories are fairy tales. How is a fairy tale different from other kinds of fiction?
3) Lewis wrote that he chose to write the Narnian stories as fairy-tales because the fairy-tale was the best way to express what he wanted to say. What did he want to say?

Session 24: March 24th, 2010 – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, chps 7-10

A 6th century mosaic of Jesus at Church San Ap...
Image via Wikipedia

Session #24 was held on Wednesday, March 24th, [Correction] 3-5 pm. We  heard summaries of chapters 7-10 of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and discused them. We began reading chapter 11, and heard a brief report about another C.S. Lewis book, Till We Have Faces.

Update: Today we discussed the following topics:

  1. dragons as archetypes
  2. when the children hear the name “Aslan“, “everyone felt quite different… At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside. Edmund felt a sensation of horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer.” Have you ever had such an experience?
  3. in single file 1列縦隊で
  4. “Safe? … Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
  5. Lilith, Adam’s first wife, according to legend. I see that, according to Wikipedia, there is only one possible place in the Hebrew bible which might be referring to Lilith.
  6. When the children discover that Edmund is missing, their first instinct is to look for him, but Mr. Beaver says no: “‘Don’t you see that the only chance of saving either him or yourselves is to keep away from her [the Witch]’…. ‘Oh, can no one help us?’ wailed Lucy.  ‘Only Aslan,’ said Mr. Beaver, ‘ we must go on and meet him. That’s our only chance now.'” Here Lewis introduces the idea that one’s first instincts may not be always the best thing to do: the children have to learn that there is a higher value, something more important, than simply finding Edmund: what needs to happen is to save him. Imagine if the children did look for Edmund and did find him, what then? Perhaps he would have refused to come with them, because he preferred to be with the White Witch (hoping that she would make him a Prince and give him more Turkish Delight).
  7. (Chapter 9). Edmund was not 100% bad:
    1. he did not actually want “his brother and sisters to be turned into stone.” He pretended he believed that she wouldn’t do anything very bad to them.
    2. “At least, that was the excuse he made in his own mind for what he was doing. It wasn’t a very good excuse, however, for deep down inside him he really knew that the White Witch was bad and cruel.”

    We discussed “sin”, and the Christian idea that you must first accept that you are a sinner before you can become a Christian (i.e. accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Master). When I was a high school student, some of my friends became Christians, and they were always telling me about this; this feeling of sin was something I did not feel at all, and I could not accept it. C.S. Lewis wrote “The [second] greatest barrier I have met [in presenting the Christian Faith to modern unbelievers] is the almost total absence from the minds of my audience of any sense of sin. . . . The early Christian preachers could assume in their hearers, whether Jews, Metuentes or Pagans, a sense of guilt. . . . Thus the Christian message was in those days unmistakably the Evangelium, the Good News. It promised healing to those who knew they were sick. We have to convince our hearers of the unwelcome diagnosis before we can expect them to welcome the news of the remedy.” [from Lewis, “Difficulties in Presenting the Christian Faith to Modern Unbelievers,” Lumen Vitae, 3 (1948); reprinted as “God in the Dock,” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1970), pp. 243-44 (in Britain, Undeceptions: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper [London: Geoffrey Bles, 1971], p. 200)]

  8. (Chapter 10). Mrs. Beaver refuses to panic, and remains practical. I cannot think of specific examples now, but this kind of character may be considered typically British. Although I’m sure such characters exist in other cultures, the combination of stoicism (link to Japanese Wikipedia) with good humour is a character trait traditionally highly valued in British culture.
  9. How can there be a Father “Christmas” if it is “always winter and never Christmas” in Narnia? asked a participant. Quite right! Probably children who read this book will not question this, though. Also, of course, how can there be a Father “Christmas” in another world into which Jesus Christ has not been born? Perhaps Lewis was appealing to a basic human sense that “always winter” and never any fun or celebration, is somehow wrong; that there should be some happiness and joy, even in the middle of winter.
  10. The children receive 3 gifts from Father Christmas: a sword and shield for Peter, a bow and arrows and a horn for Susan, and a dagger and a vial of healing cordial for Lucy. It is part of the convention of fairy tales for the hero to receive  magical gifts. In addition, the gifts are not purely personal toys, but are given to the children for the purpose of helping them to help others. What if Edmund had been there? Would he have received a gift? What would he have received? Would Father Christmas have given him Turkish Delight?
  11. (Chapter 11). Slowly, Edmund realizes that the Witch never “intended to make him a King.”
  12. The White Witch is not only cruel, but she is a puritan: she gets angry at the gifts Father Christmas gave to the squirrel family: “What is the meaning of all this gluttony, this waste, this self-indulgence?”

We also heard a brief summary of C.S. Lewis’ novel Till We Have Faces (thank you, Okabayashi-san!). Someone asked the meaning of the title. The title comes from a single line in the book, near the end, when the main character, Orual, asks “How can the gods meet us face to face till we have faces?” In a letter to Dorothy Conybeare, Lewis explained ‘the idea behind the title was that a human being must become real before it can expect to receive any message from divine beings; “that is, it must be speaking with its own voice (not one of its borrowed voices), expressing its actual desires (not what it imagines that it desires), being for good or ill itself, not any mask, veil, or persona.“‘ [Constance Babington Smith, Letters to a Sister from Rose Macaulay, 1964, 261; also at Hooper, Companion (see IX) 252, quoted in Wikipedia.]

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The meaning of “shadowlands”

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Shadowlands is the title of a book and the movie made from the book, about C. S. Lewis‘ marriage. In the movie, C.S. Lewis mentions the word “shadowlands”: he explains that it was the title of a story he wrote. “Shadowlands” referred to a place in shadow – the sun shone somewhere else, but not here.

An alert reader pointed out that the same word, “shadowlands”, appears in the last Narnian story, “The Last Battle” and helpfully found the quotation for me on the Internet:

‘There was a real railway accident,’ said Aslan softly. ‘Your father and mother and all of you are – as you used to call it in the Shadowlands – dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is over: this is the morning.’

After reading this, I wrote,

That suggests that this reality, this planet Earth, is the “Shadowland”, i.e. a preparation for the reality which comes in another world. That fits with the idea in “The Great Divorce”, where Heaven is the real reality: what was experienced before Heaven was only half real. Hell, or purgatory, is a kind of “shadowland”: everything is grey and cloudy and dull. Not exactly night, but not exactly bright day either.

The conversation continues here, if you are interested.

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Session 23: March 10th, 2010 – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, chps 3-6

Arthur Rackham, illustration to Hansel and Gretel
Image via Wikipedia

Today, we summarized chapters 3-6 of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

We discussed archetypes – the witch is an archetype. This character exists in many different cultures. Does it not also exist in Japan? Some people thought not. Later, I got this comment from a participant:

today’s talk on the archetype and the witch made me rethink about the difference between Western and Japanese culture. And it also reminded me of my childhood when I was always wondering if there are any witches in Japan. It might be difficult to find an exact image of “witch” in Japan, but “yamanba” may be the closest.

I have to correct what I have said when you have mentioned about “noh” masks. There is a “hannya,” who turns into an “oni” due to her jealousy, but perhaps you were suggesting “yamanba” instead? (In Japanese here).

Update: It might be interesting to compare Lewis’ White Witch with the Japanese character “Yuki-Onna“. Or perhaps also with Andersen’s Snow Queen. That would make a good essay for students, don’t you think?

What interests me in the idea of archetype is that there are similar types that exist in the minds and cultures of human beings who live in very different places. Dragons, for instance, are found in the myths and legends of China and Japan. This is understandable, as the two countries are close geographically and culturally. Perhaps the notion of dragon came to Japan from China. However, dragons also appear in Norse, Celtic and Indian myths.

A New York Times article (2003) about dragon is titled From Many Imaginations, One Fearsome Creature. It suggests that the origin of the dragon idea was the bones of dinosaurs, particularly of pterodactyls. However, dragons exist in Inuit mythology, yet no dinosaur fossils have ever been found where the Inuit live:

For thousands of years, cultures across the globe have feared different versions of overgrown reptiles. GREEK MYTHOLOGY — Perseus fought to spare Andromeda from a sea dragon, perhaps inspired by sightings of oarfish (right), which grow up to 30 feet long. THROUGHOUT EUROPE — Roman accounts of dragons spawned many legends; biblical dragons gave them credibility. THE INUIT — They had visions of dragons in a region where no reptiles exist. This one, confronting a caribou, was carved in bone. MT. PILATUS, SWITZERLAND — Pterodactyl fossils (below) are plentiful in this area. CHINA — Flying dragons could be harnessed for transportation. THE AZTECS — Their serpent god Quetzalcoatl had various guises and was seen as a protector usually.

Peter Schaker writes of the White Witch,

She is, of course, the evil force in the traditional fairy-tale separation of good from evil… She is simply the archetypal figure of the temptress witch, whom we respond to quite directly as “bad.” And that is how Lewis himself viewed her: “The Witch,” he wrote in a letter, “is of course Circe, . . . because she is . . . the same Archetype we find in so many fairy tales. No good asking where any individual author got that. We are born knowing the Witch, aren’t we?” [In a letter to a friend, 1954.]  Circe, in the Odyssey, tempted men with magical food and turned them into animals. The Witch, by her affinities with Circe, fits the same pattern, or archetype, as the witch who caught Hansel and Gretel, the old witch in Grimm’s “Sweetheart Roland,” and the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz: each tempts its prey, hates human beings, and epitomizes selfishness, cruelty, and desire for control. Each suggests to children the nature of evil..

Lewis seemed to believe that the witch was an archetype, in other words, a universally recognized figure.  However, if the witch archetype, for example, does not exist in Japanese culture, that would suggest that the witch archetype is not universal. Perhaps some archetypes are universal and some are not? What are some Japanese archetypes?

Finally, the differences between Japanese and Western culture are obvious and easily explained – geographical distance, and historical isolation. What, to my mind, are more surprising than the differences are the similarities. Dragons, for example, are part of both Japanese AND Western cultures. Isn’t this odd!

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