The December opening of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in cinemas around the world will ensure that millions meet — or renew their interest in — the mind of C.S. Lewis.
That can only be a good thing, as the writer was as gifted a Christian apologist as he was a storyteller.
Lewis published 34 books between 1931 and 1962. Since then, hundreds of books have been written about him and his writings. Why the intense interest? For one thing, Lewis is unique among Christian writers. He's able to reach readers from a variety of religious backgrounds and no religious background. His writings provide a bridge between different Christian cultures and an invitation to skeptics to explore Christian ideas.
Although Lewis, a professor at Oxford and Cambridge, remained an Anglican until his death in 1963, his books have helped many souls find their way into the Catholic Church. A list of notable converts who credit Lewis for contributing to their Catholic conversion would take several paragraphs.
That's an article for another time. For now, with the highly anticipated movie run upon us at last, here's a starter list of (mostly new) books for those who want to go deeper into Narnia — and the mind behind it — than the local multiplex will allow.
THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA
by C.S. Lewis
Harper-Trophy Full Color Collector's Edition
7 books, $59.99
Available in bookstores
All editions of Narnia are not alike. The words are the same but the quality, legibility and presentation differ. This boxed edition of trade-sized paperbacks has a readable typeface printed on high-quality, glossed paper. And Pauline Baynes, illustrator of the original editions of the series back in the 1950s, colored her black-and-white illustrations in 1991 especially for this edition — all of them. Adults will enjoy the historicity of the artwork while children will find it an irresistible invitation to read.
One suggestion: Read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe first rather than The Magician's Nephew, which is numbered first. Although Nephew can be read as a prequel to Lion, the former assumes a familiarity with the Narnian universe that is best gained by reading Lion first.
INSIDE NARNIA: A GUIDE TO EXPLORING
THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE
by Devin Brown
Baker Publishing, 2005
192 pages, $12.99
To order: (800) 877-2665
Written for the literary-minded and the Narnia enthusiast, Brown's book focuses on the most famous Narnian book with a chapter-by-chapter discussion. There are several other books this year focusing on the spiritual themes of Narnia, or specifically The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but this work avoids the all-too-prevalent tendency to preach to the reader. That's also worth noting since Baker is an evangelical Protestant publisher. The story's Christian themes as well as its literary background are explored, and the opinions of a wide range of Lewis scholars are meticulously referenced. Inside Narnia is a comprehensive and illuminating study of Lion, drawing from a variety of perspectives and presented with panache.
REVISITING NARNIA: FANTASY,
MYTH AND RELIGION IN C.S. LEWIS
Shanna Caughey, editor.
Benbella Books, 2005
240 pages, $14.95
To order: (214) 750-3600
This collection of essays is fascinating for the diverse viewpoints of its contributors. If you are interested in reading some of the top-notch Christian Lewis scholars, you will find Catholics (Jesuit Father James Schall, Joseph Pearce, James Como) and Protestants (Peter Schakel, Colin Duriez, Louis Markos). Of the 25 writings offered, these six alone are worth the price of the book. Also included are essays from several agnostics and even an animal-rights activist. (Where else are you going to find a chapter titled “Why I Love Narnia: A Liberal, Feminist Agnostic Tells All”?)
THE NARNIAN: THE LIFE AND
IMAGINATION OF C.S. LEWIS
by Alan Jacobs
342 pages, $25.95
Available in bookstores
There are already a dozen or so Lewis biographies in print. Yet this new entrant, written by a professor of literature at Wheaton College who is a contributor to First Things and the Weekly Standard, is a welcome addition.
If there is a theme at work in these pages, it is to link Lewis’ life and imagination with the Narnia stories. During the years Lewis was writing the series, he was also at work on his autobiography, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of my Early Life (1955). Jacobs traces his correspondences without succumbing to a version of what Lewis called “the personal heresy” — the idea that poetry is first and foremost the expression of the poet's personality. While respecting Lewis’ achievements, Jacobs avoids hagiography, is willing to question the literary quality of Lewis’ work and candidly discusses Lewis’ most significant relationships. These include his strained relationship with his father (Albert), his strong bond with his brother Warnie, his unusual arrangement with Mrs. Janie King Moore (with whom he lived for 28 years), his friendship with J.R.R Tolkien and other “Inklings,” and his late-in-life marriage to the brash American poet Joy Davidman.
Not just a derivative rehash of previous biographies, Jacobs’ book is a work of original analysis, thoughtfully and modestly offered for consideration.
INTO THE REGION OF AWE:
MYSTICISM IN C.S. LEWIS
by David Downing
Inter-Varsity Press, 2005
207 pages, $17
To order: (630) 734-4000
Downing is one of the most highly respected Lewis scholars writing today. His other books, Planets in Peril (a study of Lewis’ Ransom trilogy), The Most Reluctant Convert (a biography of Lewis’ early life) and Into the Wardrobe (an introduction to the Narnia stories) are all recommended. Into the Region of Awe is worth a look because of the unique subject matter it treats: the influence of Christian mystics in Lewis’ writing.
Along with an introduction to Lewis’ thought on mysticism, the book also serves up an overview of some of the great mystical writers — Augustine, Dante, Thomas a Kempis, Brother Lawrence, Julian of Norwich and others. Downing explains what separates Christian mysticism from New Age varieties and shows how Lewis portrays mystical experience as a sense of longing and awe (sometimes referred to as the numinous or Sehnsucht) in his fiction. This useful volume from one of evangelical Protestantism's biggest publishers is both instructive and intriguing.
REMEMBERING C.S. LEWIS:
RECOLLECTIONS OF THOSE WHO KNEW HIM
James T. Como, editor
360 pages, $16.95
To order: (800) 651-1531
Previously titled C.S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table, this collection of remembrances by people who personally knew C.S. Lewis was first published in 1979. It's been considered a standard Lewis reference for 25 years, as the insights of many of Lewis’ closest friends (George Sayers, Owen Barfield, Bede Griffiths, Roger Lancelyn Green, Austin Farrer, Adam Fox and A.C. Harwood) provide a unique perspective on the man's character and influence. Walter Hooper, one-time secretary of C.S. Lewis and the man most responsible for guiding Lewis’ literary legacy, contributes an up-to-date bibliography of all Lewis’ writings. The book's editor, James Como, is also the author of Branches to Heaven, the Geniuses of C.S. Lewis (Spence Publishing) and a founding member of the New York C.S. Lewis Society.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must note that Como is also my “Grand-godfather” — the sponsor of my sponsor — by conversion. (I was received into the Catholic Church in 1998.) The work of C.S. Lewis continues to draw followers of Christ into the Catholic Church.
Robert Trexler is editor of CSL:
The Bulletin of the New York
C.S. Lewis Society.