'Looking for the King' - first thoughts

Ignatius Press is based in California, David C. Downing is an English professor in Pennsylvania, and the English used in ‘Looking for the King’ certainly betrays the book’s origins. To an English, Oxford University Alumni (i.e. me), the language used throughout the book is very much ‘American English’. We simply do not talk (or write) like that. Page after page was spoiled for me by language that simply will not do in the pages of a novel set in 1940 war-time England.

It is unlikely however that its intended American readership would not even notice the incongruities… but for an international market, the book needs rewriting.

Some examples? We do not ‘write’ people, we write to them... a ‘sedan’ would not be seen outside Blackwells, a car might... Blackwells is not a ‘bookstore’ it is a bookshop... we do not have a ‘clerk’ at a shop’s till, we have a shop assistant. I could go on and on and on. I laughed at the scene in the Eagle and Child where JRRT’s waistcoat is described as a 'vest', and again later where Tom tore his 'pants'. Without doubt Tollers, Charles and most particularly Jack Lewis, would have roared with laughter. Why? Vest and pants are shall we say, are more intimate parts of the male apparel outside North America.

As another reviewer has succinctly put it, but in a different context: "I wish someone had challenged the author to do at least one more rewrite on the manuscript, to improve everything. I have no problem with the plot outline, but the author doesn't deliver on it."

I hope that "Looking for the King" reaches a wide audience, not the least as its portrayal of Charles Williams (in particular) is excellent. But is that what the book is actually seeks to achieve?

But read Sheldon Vanauken’s “A Severe Mercy” – albeit not a novel – if you really want to be introduced to the ‘real’ C.S. Lewis, and be immersed in the Oxford of 60 years ago.

I'll seek to comment on the plot in my next posting...

3 comments:

Rebecca said...

I was skeptical myself, but I might have tried reading it if I hadn't come across your review first!

Many thanks!

Anonymous said...

The book is written from an American's point of view. Why would an American be thinking and speaking in British English? I think you are too caught up in minor details and missing the plot, characters, and theme of the story. Americans call this missing the forest for the trees.

Roger R. said...

Dear Anonymous...

Obviously... that is the point I made (and so have you). BUT... there is little doubt that LftK is meant for a wider audience, and THAT is the point. My review will follow mentioning the plot, characters and theme.

Incidentally, don't think I am somehow anti-American. My children have both married Americans, and I am personally very enamoured by the country. But literature is literature, and if one cannot be honest...