Well folks, the end of the summer is upon us and that means it's time for the annual "Seven Heavens of Summer Reading Awards." For those who don't know or don't remember, the SHSRA were started right here in 2008 in honor of Michael Ward's groundbreaking Planet Narnia. In this work, Ward asserts that Lewis ordered his seven Narnia books around seven planets of Medieval cosmology. Thus, when the end of summer draws near, I pick the top seven reads of the summer that best match with the characteristics of the seven Medieval planets. Without further ado, then, let's get on to the awards!
Moon: For the planet of madness, change and flux we have Terry Brooks' The Druid of Shannara. This meditation on mutability has a city turned to stone along with its godlike keeper, a woman changed into the earth, an elemental changed into a monster, a wandering minstrel into king, and finally a reluctant recluse into the first of a new order of Druids.
Mercury: For the planet of language and travel, only one book this summer will do: Memories of Odysseus by Francois Hartog. Hartog devotes this masterpiece of the historians craft to the way the ancient Greeks, and by extension ourselves, understand the interplay between language, boundaries, and identity.
Venus: For the planet that knows the two sides of Love, divine and infernal, only Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte will do. In her quest for Love, Jane learns to discern between the two sides of this powerful sphere and learns why God tempers his justice with Sorrow as well as Mercy.
Sun: The heaven of scholars in these awards has traditional belonged to the Inklings and their interpreters. In keeping with this spirit, I have two awards to give in this category, one for an Inkling and one for a piece of Inklings scholarship. For the Inklings the prize goes to Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics and other Essays by J.R.R. Tolkien. For Inklings scholarship, the award goes to The Company They Keep by Diana Pavlac Glyer.
Mars: Infortuna Minor was viewed by ancients and medievals alike as one of those "necessary evils" which befall men upon middle earth. This year's award goes to a work that struggles to keep in view both the good and the bad of the martial spirit: G.K. Chesterton's The Ballad of the White Horse.
Jupiter: The award for the planet of kings goes to that prince of comic characters Hellboy and Mike Mignola's Hellboy: The Storm and the Fury. I'd tell you more, but that would risk spoilers...
Saturn: For the planet of endings, this summer's final award goes to The Iliad by Homer. The Iliad presents us with a world that, like the shield of Achilles, is full of scenes of ceaseless conflict and in the end born up by the war that is at the heart of the cosmos itself. Homer, that prince of poets, looks into the void of chaos and mother night and seeks a way to live.
So there you have it folks, 2012's Seven Heavens of Summer Reading. It's been quite a trip, but well worth it. So how about you? What are your "Seven heavens" this summer?
*Runners up: Comus by Milton, Poetic Diction by Owen Barfield, Posthomerica by Quintus of Smyrna, The Borrowers by Mary Norton, Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers, David Elginbrod by George MacDonald, Lewis Agonistes by Louis Markos, The Cambridge Companion to Homer, and The Elf Queen of Shannara