Twelve Titles Chronicle the Legacy of C.S. Lewis | November 15, 2005

By Ron Ratliff

Not long before he passed away, Irish-born writer C.S. Lewis (1898 – 1963) said that he doubted anyone would read his books five years after his death. He could not have been more wrong. Some 42 years later, he is probably the most popular Christian writer in print. Lewis published a number of popular Amber Jewelry, Tea Sets, Sleeping Bags, Wholesale Tea Sets Christian books, including The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, and The Great Divorce. In the late 1940s, he began writing children’s stories and produced the wildly popular seven-volume series "The Chronicles of Narnia," which continues to sell in staggering numbers in the United States and abroad.

The books reviewed here include scholarly studies of Lewis’s life and thought – not always sympathetic – as well as studies of "The Chronicles." With the December release of the movie version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (the first book in the series), expect high demand for many of these titles.

BAEHR, TED & JAMES BAEHR. Narnia Beckons: C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Beyond. Broadman & Holman. 2005. 192p. photog. ISBN 0-8054-4042-9. $24.99. LIT

Although it looks like a coffee-table book, this work is not thin on content. In addition to the numerous photographs related to the series, it contains thoughtful articles on the meaning of all Narnia books, particularly The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Compiled by a movie critic and a Lewis scholar, with contributions from other scholars like Lyle Dorsett, Peter Kreeft, Jerry Root, and Paul Ford, the book examines Lewis’s life, the series as a whole, earlier incarnations of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe on the big screen, as well as the new film set for release in December. There is also a study guide to the first book that gives detailed reflections on each chapter. A great starting point for those who have not read the series.

BROWN, DEVIN. Inside Narnia: A Guide to Exploring The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Baker. 2005. 192p. ISBN 0-8010-6599-2. pap. $12.99. LIT

Brown (English, Asbury Coll.) here provides a close literary analysis of The Lion in a scholarly yet accessible manner, centering his argument around the belief that most Narnia books are primarily devotional rather than literary. His book often reads like an engaging running commentary rather than a mere collection of essays owing to the author’s tendency to draw opinions from other scholars who have written on Narnia. Highly recommended.

DOWNING, DAVID C. Into the Wardrobe: C.S. Lewis and the Narnia Chronicles. Jossey-Bass. 2005. 256p. ISBN 0-7879-7890-6. $19.95. LIT

Downing, a well-known Lewis scholar who previously explored Lewis’s conversion to Christianity in The Most Reluctant Convert, here examines the origins of"The Chronicles," the series’ spiritual and moral elements, and Lewis’s use of names. His immense knowledge of the many nuances of the series and his ability to bring so many perspectives together are the book’s key strengths. Of particular interest is the chapter on Lewis’s literary influences and the glossary of odd and invented words Lewis used in the books. For all collections.

DURIEZ, COLIN. The C.S. Lewis Chronicles: The Indispensable Biography of the Creator of Narnia Full of Little-Known Facts, Events, and Miscellany. Bluebridge, dist. by Independent Publishers Group. 2005. 320p. ISBN 0-9742405-8-3. pap. $14.95. LIT

This day-by-day chronicle of Lewis’s life by scholar Duriez (Tolkien and Lewis: The Gift of Friendship) is filled with numerous little-known facts related to the writer, e.g., where he went; what he did; what was occurring in history at the time; and nicknames and pseudonyms for the people and places in Lewis’s life. A treasure trove of information for the fan and novice alike, this may not be an essential purchase, but it is warmly recommended for extensive collections.

EDWARDS, BRUCE. Further Up and Further In: Understanding C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Broadman & Holman. 2005. 192p. ISBN 0-8054-4070-4. $12.99. LIT

If you are looking for a superb study guide to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, this is a wonderful choice. Lewis scholar Edwards begins with a chapter on the writer’s life, stressing the importance of the books and authors that had a profound influence on Lewis. These, Edwards argues, along with his friendship with J.R.R. Tolkien and his strong Christian faith, provided the materials Lewis needed to write "The Chronicles." Of particular interest are background notes that examine key characters and elements of the story, such as the wardrobe, Turkish delight, and deep magic.

GRESHAM, DOUGLAS. Jack’s Life: A Memoir of C.S. Lewis. Broadman & Holman. 2005. 176p. ISBN 0-8054-3246-9. $16.99. LIT

Gresham, Lewis’s stepson through his marriage to Joy Gresham (recounted in the play and film version of Shadowlands), here writes of Lewis’s life and his own relationship with the writer. Although somewhat personal, the memoir does not cover any new ground or offer insight into their relationship. Instead, Gresham sticks to the facts of Lewis’s life and never really lets the reader in on how his own life was affected by Lewis, what he learned from him, and what his life is like now having been his stepson. One can only hope that Gresham will eventually pen a more personal account. Still, this is a good purchase for general collections.

HINTEN, MARVIN D. The Keys to the Chronicles: Unlocking the Symbols of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia. Broadman & Holman. 2005. 128p. ISBN 0-8054-4028-3. pap. $9.99. LIT

Hinten, a contributor to The Lamp Post, a Lewis journal, believes that Lewis’s background in literature and his incredible intellect combined to produce a multilayered saga full of allusions to literature, Christianity, linguistics, and mythology. In this slim but informative book, he studies such allusions at great length, helping readers trace some of the key Bible references in the Narnia series and find answers to such questions as the origin of the names Aslan, Puddleglum, and Emeth. Ideal for students and advanced readers.

JACOBS, ALAN. The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis. HarperSanFrancisco: HarperCollins. 2005. 368p. ISBN 0-06-076690-5. $25.95. LIT

There have been a number of biographies of Lewis over the years by the likes of Walter Hooper, A.N. Wilson, and George Sayer. This new study stands out from the lot in that it covers more than just the facts of Lewis’s life. Jacobs (literature, Wheaton Coll.) aims to unravel the origins of Lewis’s imagination and write a life of the mind. He is interested in tracing how a child from Ulster grew up to become an Oxford don and a great Christian thinker. Jacobs doesn’t overlook Lewis’s shortcomings either, aptly demonstrating how some of his best work was produced at the most difficult times in his life. Occasionally sympathetic but mostly balanced, this riveting biography is destined to become a standard work on Lewis for some time. Highly recommended.

Revisiting Narnia: Fantasy, Myth and Religion in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles. BenBella. 2005. 240p. ed. by Shanna Caughey. ISBN 1-932100-63-6. pap. $14.95. LIT

This collection of essays explores a wide range of topics and offers a wealth of different viewpoints about Lewis and Narnia. Some of the essays are written by well-known Lewis scholars like Colin Duriez, Wesley Kort, and Joseph Pearce, others by the likes of Ingrid Newkirk, PETA’s cofounder and president; Jacqueline Carey, a best-selling author and agnostic; and Sarah Zettel, a self-confessed "non-Christian, progressive, feminist liberal." Some are critical studies of "The Chronicles," both positive and negative; yet others are personal reflections about the books. Taken together, these disparate pieces provide a wonderfully stimulating read. For serious literary collections.

ROGERS, JONATHAN. The World According to Narnia: Christian Meaning in C.S. Lewis’s Beloved Chronicles. Warner Faith: Warner. Nov. 2005. 208p. ISBN 0-446-69649-8. pap. $14.99. LIT

Rogers, the author of the "Wilderking Trilogy" of fantasy-adventure novels for young readers, here explores Christian influences in "The Chronicles," addressing how lessons learned in these stories can be applied to a Christian-based life. The book’s strength lies in the author’s thorough knowledge of the series as well as Christian theology. Those already familiar with the stories needing a deeper perspective on their Christian roots will greatly benefit from Rogers’s insight.

SCHAKEL, PETER J. The Way into Narnia: A Reader’s Guide. Eerdmans. 2005. 212p. ISBN 0-8028-2984-8. pap. $14. LIT

Schakel (English, Hope Coll.) has written or edited five books on Lewis, including two about "The Chronicles." Here he revisits the series by providing some fresh insight, arguing that the most rewarding way to read the series is not as allegory (as many have previously suggested) but as fairy tales. He also delves into Lewis’s friendship with J.R.R. Tolkien and considers his immense knowledge of medieval and Renaissance literature. Extensive annotations for all seven books help first-time readers. An accessible and important contribution to the Narnia scholarship; highly recommended.

WAGNER, RICHARD. C.S. Lewis and Narnia For Dummies. Wiley. 2005. 364p. ISBN 0-7645-8381-6. pap. $19.99. LIT

Just what would Lewis have thought about being the subject of a book in the "For Dummies" series? Perhaps he would have been pleased to discover that, despite its title, this volume contains a wealth of information about his life and work in clear prose. Throughout, Wagner (Christianity For Dummies) also provides numerous boxes that contain fun and informative facts. The book will be especially helpful to those interested in Lewis’s more theological works, e.g., The Problem of Pain or The Abolition of Man. A wonderful resource for public library collections.

Ron Ratliff is Humanities Reference Librarian at Kansas State University, Manhattan

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