The Complete Idiot’s Guide To The World Of Narnia, by James S. Bell Jr. and Cheryl Dunlop
For the record, my favorite book of the Chronicles of Narnia is A Horse And His Boy , a book that has always been difficult for people to place within the chronicles as a whole, not least because it was an expansion of a tale that the author told in one of the other novels of the series but that largely gives background information and is not fundamental to the overall story arc. Honestly, though, I don’t care, because the story of the ambivalence of freedom and responsibility and the difficulties of being a hidden prince and working out one’s destiny from a background of abuse and privation is so easy for me to relate to in a way that none of the other novels of the series really deal with to a great extent. At any rate, this book does a good job at discussing this and all the other novels in the Chronicles of Narnia series from the perspective of those who are fond of Lewis’ Christian perspective as well as aware of his debt to other storytellers from whom Lewis picks out juicy portions from the great cauldron of stories.
This book is a bit more than 200 pages and is divided into thirteen chapters and various other material. The first part of the book consists of six chapters that discuss the land of Narnia, its background, and its author, the most excellent C.S. Lewis. This includes a biography of C.S. Lewis (1), as well as the subject of myths and how they relate to Narnia (2), and the moral of the stories that C.S. Lewis was seeking to gently provide (3). It also includes the land of Narnia and its inhabitants (4), a discussion of Aslan (5), and the importance of relationships in Narnia (6). The second part of the book then discusses the seven novels of the Chronicles of Narnia, giving summaries and discussions of important issues in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (7), Prince Caspian: The Return To Narnia (8), The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader (9), The Silver Chair (10), The Horse And His Boy (11), The Magician’s Nephew (12), and The Last Battle (13), including the literary allusions that are made in the novels. After this the book ends with some selected additional readings for those who are interested as well as an index that are included in an appendix.
Admittedly, this book is not for those who are great fans of the series or knowledgeable about Lewis’ body of work as a whole. Nevertheless, this is a book that seeks to encourage both younger and older readers of the Narnia series that the books are worth being read and enjoyed by adults even though they were originally aimed for children. This book demonstrates the way that Lewis’ faith served as a foundation for his writing without being something he hit over the head of his readers, and also the way that Narnia is constructed from materials that are based on writings that he was fond of, ranging from the 1001 Arabian Nights to the writings of his friend Charles Williams and even a humorous difference he had with his friend Tolkien about how to properly say/spell dwarfs. Needless to say, one does not need to know this sort of background information in order to appreciate Lewis’ writings, but at the same time the more one knows about the background, the more one can become aware of how it was that Narnia was created, and perhaps how one can be encouraged to be creative (or sub-creative) from the raw materials that one has in one’s memory, imagination, and in the writings one has read and appreciated.
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