Exploring C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles Of Narnia, by Kirk H. Beetz
If you are looking for a textbook, fit for older high school or even early college students, that puts C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia in a historical and literary perspective, this book is certainly a good one. It is a large book at more than 600 pages, so it will not be a fast read for anyone, but the book has a lot of material and certainly d1oes a good job at helping the reader to become familiar with the context in which Lewis wrote his popular novels for children. Indeed, as is often the case when one reads a book like this one, one becomes aware that writing great literature, regardless of the age range for which the book is intended, often involves a deep knowledge of a wide variety of issues. And if Lewis was by no means as detailed a world-builder as his friend Tolkien was, he certainly included enough details that a compelling world was still created that people still enjoy reading about and thinking about, and that is no mean achievement for a full-time literature professor who had a great many other irons in the fire as well as being a writer of some of the best-loved novels for children of all time.
This book is a sizable one at more than 600 pages and contains four sections and fifteen chapters. The book begins with introductions by both the editor and the author and then discusses the life and theology of C.S. Lewis (I) with discussions of Lewis’ life (1), as well as his theology and writings for young people (2). After that the author discusses the background to to the Chronicles of Narnia (II) with an introduction to the novels and their internal history (3), the thematic development that occurs through characters, whether major or minor or not seen or even mythical in nature (4), the Norse, Greek, and Miltonian mythology that went into the series (5), the historical background that Lewis drew on (6), as well as the foods (7) and geography (8) of the novels. After that the author gives an analysis of the seven novels of Narnia (III) in the order of their chronology within the series, starting with The Magician’s Nephew (9) and then moving on through The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (10), A Horse And His Boy (11), Prince Caspian (12), The Voyage Of The “Dawn Treader” (13), The Silver Chair (14), and The Last Battle (15), with specific thematic discussions as well as chapter-by-chapter summaries and biblical references and notes on vocabulary and so on and so forth. The final section of the book provides various supplementary materials (IV) including a conclusion regarding the legacy of the Chronicles of Narnia as well as a bibliography, selection of internet resources, index, and some information about the author.
Indeed, one of the pleasures of this book for many readers will be the way that understanding Lewis’ Narnia novels will lead the reader to want to study other matters that are of interest, whether that includes European fairy tales, the history of the Middle East, biblical theology, existential philosophy, or the events of World War I and World War II that Lewis lived through, in the first as a soldier and then as a popular theologian giving encouragement on the radio and in print. The author has also been very detailed in reflecting upon the thematic and character development that occurs in the novels and notes at the various aspects of the world of Narnia Lewis pondered upon as being relevant in telling a tale that serves as a parable of salvation and God’s plan for humanity (and perhaps even animals as well) without serving as mere allegory. This is a book that gives a great deal of information to the reader but also introduces the reader into the reality that any fiction worth reading is also fiction worth thinking and reading about as part of a larger conversation that involves history and culture and the way that the author thought about his or her world.