Boxen: The Imaginary World Of The Young C.S. Lewis, edited by Walter Hooper
As someone who has read a great deal by and about C.S. Lewis, it is perhaps surprising that only now have I gotten to his earliest tales, that of the imaginary world of Boxen. To be sure, I have read about Boxen, as many of the writings about C.S. Lewis’ fiction and the author’s own memoirs commented on his childhood imaginative fiction and the way that it prefigured in many ways the fiction that Lewis wrote as an adult. Yet at the same time there is something odd about reading the material written by someone as a child. Some people are embarrassed by their first attempts to write stories, but Lewis appears to have been moderately but not excessively proud of them, even serving as a curator of his works and ranking the various texts as part of an exercise in textual and historical (?) criticism regarding these works, and some that alas have not survived to our knowledge to the present-day. At any rate, these are enjoyable works even if they are slight, and those who read them with a tolerant and indulgent eye and the memory of one’s own juvenile literature will find much to smile about here.
This short book of around 200 pages is divided into various parts. First, the editor introduces the material and discusses the surviving Boxen manuscripts and seeks to burnish his own credentials by claiming to have saved many of them from a posthumous burning of documents by Warnie Lewis. After that the manuscripts are divided into two sections. The first consists of various materials related to Animal-Land, including such fragments and stories and materials as: “The King’s Ring,” “Manx Against Manx,” “The Relief of Murry,” “History Of Mouse-Land From Stone-Age To Bublish I,” “History of Animal-Land,” “The Chess Monograph,” and “The Geography Of Animal-Land.” The rest of the stories, longer ones and somewhat more mature efforts, including “Boxen: or Scenes From Boxonian City Life,” “The Locked Door and Than-kyu,” and “The Sailor,” followed by a discussion of the Encyclopedia Boxoniana by the amused and indulgent adult C.S. Lewis, who imagined the possibility of future people being interested in this juvenile body of work as he was, and careful to note various works as being “bad” and “good” with regards to their coherence with the Boxonian mythos as a whole, which the author admits to finding some pleasure in even as an adult.
And if C.S. Lewis could find pleasure in these works, we are certainly permitted to do so. It is striking that the author’s behavior with regards to his fictional world was not to ignore the parts that children usually find boring (like history and politics) but to fully clothe the realm with a fascinating and complex (and somewhat shambolic) political system as well as refreshing honesty about cliques and wars and their causes in matters of prestige and so on and so forth. A lot of the stories center around a small group of people like a brave but somewhat pugnacious frog named Lord Big and a corrupt purser for a ship who seeks to thwart some reform efforts in the logistics system of the Boxen military. By and large the stories are told with a high degree of verve and they are clearly material written by someone with a strong literary mind even as a child, and seem in many ways to be a sort of preparatory work for the Narnia universe, much more accomplished as it may be. Although the stories are themselves not Lewis’ most famous works, they are certainly the sort of works that can be enjoyed today as a send up of British imperialism and the way children view the follies of adult politics.