Category Archives: 1950-1959

Year 63

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Author/Editor: C.S. Lewis

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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was the first of the Narnia chronicles by C.S. Lewis, a set of tales that introduced many of us to fantasy literature. The books were controversial initially—a fantasty story at a time when it was considered entirely possible that fantasy would render children incapable of dealing with the real world. Happily, that seems to have been incorrect.

Certainly, the books are products of their time and cultural milieu. For some, that is an insurmountable barrier; for others, it’s an opportunity to write new works. Neil Gaiman’s short story, “The Problem of Susan,” for example, engages the question what it means to be an adult woman, and how that fits or doesn’t fit into the ideology of Narnia. It’s also been suggested that some of Phillip Pullman’s work has been a reaction to Lewis’s Christian ideology.

Despite its issues, many of us have, at some point in our childhood, peered into a wardrobe or its nearest analogue to see whether the back might lead into a forest this time…

Year 64

1951: The Lost Childhood and Other Essays

Author/Editor: Graham Greene

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Graham Greene writes:

I remember distinctly the suddenness with which a key turned in a lock and I found I could read – not just the sentences in a reading book with the syllables coupled like railway carriages, but a real book.

This book is a  collection of essays about authors, Greene’s childhood and reading. The Times Literacy Supplement wrote about the book:

The individual studies constantly please the reader with wit, stimulate with imagination, move him to admiration by their original thinking, and by the excellence of their writing.  ( Book Jacket)

Published  first in 1951, this book is an early work of non fiction of the author who went on to write such well known works as Travels with my AuntBrighton Rock, and The Quiet American. Much of his work reflected his File:Graham Greene's Birthplace blue plaque crop.jpgCatholic upbringing and explored moral and social issues.  The author of more than fifty books during a sixty-year career, Graham Greene (1904–1991) unquestionably ranks among the twentieth century’s great writers. His novels alone have sold more than 20 million copies and have been translated into nearly thirty languages.

Read more at the site for the Graham Green International Festival and the New York Times Reference Page on Greene.

Year 65

1952: Invisible Man

Author/Editor: Ralph Ellison

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In this American literary classic, the anonymous black narrator introduces himself in this way: “I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”

Year 66

1953: Fahrenheit 451

Author/Editor: Ray Bradbury

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Still in print today, this book is one of Bradbury’s most well-known works of fiction that portrays a society in the not so distant future when fireman burn books forbidden by the totalitarian regime.

Bradbury shares insights into the book in the preface:

Photo courtesy of Biography Resource Center

Fahrenheit 451 show how important books are to freedom, morality, and the search for truth. The novel concludes with Montag, a fireman who has rejected his role as book burner, joining a community that strives to preserve books by memorizing them.

Bradbury concludes the Preface with the following statement:

Fahrenheit 451 was written, in its entirety, in the basement of the library at UCLA, on a pay-typewriter into which, every half hour I had to feed ten cents.  I wrote in a roomful of students who didn’t know what I was doing there, just as I didn’t know what they were doing there.  Perhaps some other novelist was in the basement room working away; I should like to think so.  What finer place is there to work than in such a library deeps?

Bradbury was the  recipient of the 2000 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, the 2004 National Medal of Arts, and the 2007 Pulitzer Prize Special Citation, died on June 5, 2012, at the age of 91 after a long illness.

Additional Resources:

Year 67

1954: The Fellowship of the Ring

Author/Editor: J. R. R. Tolkien

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The Fellowship of the Ring is the first volume of Tolkien’s epic fantasy saga The Lord of the Rings. It was critically acclaimed when it was first published in 1954 and has since influenced countless fantasy fiction writers and is also directly related to the rise of various role-playing games in the 1960s. Its influence extends to modern video games as well as popular film.

Year 68

1955: Lolita

Author/Editor: Vladimir Nabokov

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One of the most controversial novels ever published, Lolita is the story of a man who has a sexual relationship with his twelve-year-old step-daughter and it examines both his and her struggles with the implications. The narrator’s voice is so tortured and yet sophisticated that readers may “find ourselves the more shocked when we realize that, in the course of reading the novel, we have come virtually to condone the violation it presents”.  Although it was banned in both the UK and France when it was first published, Lolita is consistently on many “Best Books” lists.  The name Lolita has been adopted into popular language as a term to describe a seductive young girl or situation in which an older man is infatuated with a young girl or vice versa.

Year 70

1957: Reality and Prayer

Author/Editor: John Magee

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This book is by one of Puget Sounds most influential teachers and scholars, John B. Magee. In it, Magee examines types of prayer—not only the history of particular types of prayer, but also interpretations from a philosophical, psychological, and theological perspective.

Magee left a lasting impression on Puget Sound. His influence can be found lingering in the Magee Address, which showcases scholarly inquiry that reflects “…broad intellectual curiosity, scholarly ethics and rigor, personal excellence, commitment to the liberal arts”. It can be found in the Magee Professorship of Science and Values, currently held by Suzanne Holland.  And it can be found carrying on into the next generation of scholars via the John Magee Memorial Scholarship in the Philosophy department.

Year 71

1958: Doctor Zhivago

Author: Boris Pasternak

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Many of us in the United States know Dr. Zhivago as a sweepingly romantic tale, perhaps from reading the novel, perhaps from the portrayal by Omar Sharif & Julie Christie or even the more recent version, with Keira Knightly and Hans Matheson. The story follows Yuri Andreeivich  Zhivago and Lara Guichard through their tormented romance and the historical upheavals of the early twentieth century in Russia.

What we sometimes forget in the focus on the novel as a romantic and literary classic is the focus on the historical events and traumas—as well as the tribulation Pasternak suffered as a result of this novel.  While documenting a classic love affair, the novel also highlights the suffering of the First World War, the internecine struggles between reformers, revolutionaries, and conservatives of all stripes in the Russian Revolution, and the subsequent hunger and repression that many suffered in the following years. We also may overlook the struggles Pasternak faced as a result of writing his book. It was deemed insufficiently interested in the progress of society, and refused publication in the Soviet Union. However, it was eagerly consumed as samizdat by Soviet readers, and cemented his reputation as an author. Pasternak died in 1960 of lung cancer, and despite minimal notices for his funeral, thousands came to his funeral.

Year 72

1959: Titus Alone

Author/Editor: Mervyn Peake

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The third book in the Gormenghast Trilogy, Titus Alone is a bizarre story of identity and imagination. Following the journey of Titus Groan, an Earl who renounces his succession to explore the world, this book describes an almost nightmare world of death rays, shark-shaped cars, and mysterious, faceless policemen. Titus ultimately realizes how much of his identity is based on his former life that he abandoned and yearns for normalcy.

Because of the odd environment that he creates in Titus Alone, and a stylistic deviation from previous works, many readers have questioned the sanity of the author, Mervyn Peake; indeed, Peake showed signs of Parkinson’s disease and mental instability during the 1950s while writing this book. Despite this, the Gormenghast Trilogy has been referred to as “works of pure, violent, self-sufficient imagination that are from time to time thrown up…poetry flows through [Peake’s] volcanic writing.”

Mervyn Peake was born in China.  His parents were missionaries and from an early age he demonstrated a love of drawing and writing.  His family returned to England when he was a young man and he attended college in London and began a successful career as illustrator and writer.  The Gormenghast books are by far his best known.   It was in May of 1943 after a discharge from the army that Peake began his epic work.

Source Citation (MLA 7th Edition)

Winnington, G. Peter. “Mervyn Peake.” British Novelists, 1930-1959. Ed. Bernard Stanley Oldsey. Detroit: Gale Research, 1983. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 15. Literature Resource Center. Web. 10 Oct. 2012. Retrieved from: