Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

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Off with their Feet!
According to my mother, who worked at Geoffrey Bles at the time, when C. S. Lewis handed in the MS of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe he regarded it simply as a working title, and asked them to supply a better one. It took some persuading to make him believe that it was already very good. I can see why he was doubtful, but it is good, of course; not least because of its riddling conjunction of three apparently unrelated objects: one adventurous, one supernatural, one resolutely domestic. The unusual rhythm helps too: three amphibrachs. Threes work well in Western culture, anyway - it gives the structure to so many of our jokes and folk tales.

I learned in conversation with my friend Chiho today that in Japan this book is simply called The Lion and the Witch (ライオンと魔女). The wardrobe has disappeared! Presumably this seemed a good idea to whoever translated it, back in the day, but I wish I knew what had gone through their head, and what canons of Japanese taste this version satisfies that the original did not.

I fear for other truncated titles: E. Nesbit's Five Children; Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate, J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher, etc. I'm sure you can supply more...

I suspect the wardrobe is missing from the title because it's not a readily-recongisable part of traditional Japanese furniture. It works inside the novel for it's explained in context, but as the title, it's not an attraction.

I have to admit, that our wardrobes here are smaller, so it took til I saw those lovely big 19th century ones that I realised what the title really meant. When I first read the bok, I imagined the children having to squeeze in and being half suffocated to death with their arms and legs every whichaway. I actually hid in my wardrobe more than once and I barely fitted even when I was small. It's harder to imagine Narnia. When I lived in Paris for a few months, I had one of those old-fashioned ones and as an adult I could almost walk in...

There are so many ways in which it's a wonderfully, terribly English book!

There are closets of various kinds in Japan, but perhaps not the free-standing variety. I wonder how it's described in the Japanese translation?

I don't remember any with much hanging space. Loads of sliding one with much space for big folded things, but not ones for hanging clothes except in very Western households. Maybe I'm misremembering?

I think that's generally right - not that I'm an expert. Chiho and I agreed that "oshiire" would probably be the nearest Japanese word to "wardrobe", so I just Googled "Japanese-style oshiire", and this is what I got.

I've said it before, but I'm just glad Lewis didn't go with The Lion, the Witch and the Abandoned Chest Freezer.

Edited at 2016-08-27 12:08 pm (UTC)

That's what I was envisaging. No dark depths...

I would like to read The Lion, the Witch and the Abandoned Chest Freezer. I think it's the sequel to Hansel and Gretel.

Didn't your copy have the picture to help you? The Pauline Baynes illustrations are as much a part of the fabric of my thinking about Narnia as Lewis's words.

It did, but this meant that I was reading portal fantasies where I needed to work out a portal in my head to get to the portal in the book ie the home universe was fantastical.

I can see that it would have that effect. But then, there's something of that implicit in the children being sent away to stay with the Professor in an old house in the country: it's not just the passage of time since the book was written, there's a degree of distancing right there. More so once Lewis had retrofitted the reason why that house was a magical place, but he'd set it up, consciously or not, from the start.

Portal on top of portal on top of portal. But, as a child, I wanted to have something in common with them (and most of the animals were strange - not the mythical ones, but things like beavers were very outlandish), and the small recognisable things did not exist for me. It's one of the reasons I couldn't deal with the Christian messages when I worked out what they were. I left Lewis alone for a long time. It wasn't talking to me on enough levels. As an adult, childhood is a foreign country, so I don't need familiar objects.

Edited at 2016-08-28 09:10 am (UTC)

I think that's true of the house in general, but I think that the wardrobe itself was deliberately described in as non-magical a way as possible, as a thoroughly utilitarian piece of furniture - which heightens the surprise when it turns out to be otherwise. Baynes's picture is pretty unfancy, and in the text when they first open it a couple of mothballs drop out.

In contrast, in the 2005 film it's an obviously magical wardrobe even at first sight, carved with Narnian designs, which are dramatically revealed when they pull off the dustsheet. It makes visual sense, but spoilt the contrast in the novel.

Yes, that's a fair distinction, and I didn't mean to suggest otherwise. Which brings us back to the title, and the wonderfully mundane 'wardrobe' clincher.

The Wizard, To Kill, The Velveteen, The Hunger, A Wrinkle . . .

Finnegan. A Portrait of the Artist. A la recherche du Temps. Dombey. The Mill. Pride. The Merry Wives. Paradise.

Howl's Moving. I wonder to where Howl is moving?

The Lord; A Wizard; The Children.

From "Weird things customers say in bookshops":

"Have you got 'Lionel Richie and the Wardrobe'?"

I'd buy it!

The House at Pooh.
Anne of Green.
Through the Looking.
House of the Four.

Phrases with two or four items seem to work better in Japanese, somehow. I suspect but cannot prove Chinese influence here.

Thanks. I was wondering whether it might be a more general cultural bias.

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