Worlds Of Narnia: A Treasury Of Myths, Legends, And Fascinating Facts, by David Colbert
On the front cover of this book there is a disclaimer statement that this particular book was not authorized or approved by C.S. Lewis’ estate or by Walt Disney company or anyone else associated with the Narnia books and movies, and that is important to recognize because although this book calls itself a treasury of myths and legends it seeks to perform a demythologizing on the reputation and character of C.S. Lewis himself. The author takes the unfriendliest interpretation of Lewis’ thinking and writing concerning other peoples and paints him as an ugly sexist and racist whose hatred of those different from himself–including other sects of Christians, to say nothing of Jews and Muslims–merits the hatred that some people tend to feel for him. A more fair-minded approach to Lewis would be to indicate that he had ambivalent feelings about a lot of things that were reflected in his writings, under the overall goal (not always perfectly attained) of bringing every thought and every prejudice he had under obedience to God. While this is certainly not a bad book it is not one that I can wholeheartedly recommend because it does fall short of the practices of Christian charity that Lewis himself sought to live.
This book is a bit less than 200 pages long and it is divided into a variety of unnumbered sections. After a short introduction the author generally organizes his thoughts on a book-by-book process through the Chronicles of Narnia. The author discusses Lewis’ thoughts about each novel and then asks other questions, such as why Lewis uses a wardrobe to transport the children to Narnia, or what is deep and deeper magic? Likewise, the author asks who inspired Diggory Kirke,and why Charn went from bad to worse, and speculates on the identity of the deplorable word that destroyed Charn except for Janis herself. In a Horse and is Boy, the author asks about the nature of characters like Bree and Shasta as well as Lewis’ thoughts on hearing someone else’s story. In Prince Capsian the author reflects on Reepicheep, the names of Bacchaus, and why only Lucy saw what she saw. The Voyage of the Dawn trader talks about why Eustace was painted by a bracelet and speculates on the story in the magician’s book. The author discusses some symbolism in the Silver Chair as well as the identity of Tash and whether or not Aslan should save Emesh in The Last Battle, and then closes with a discussion of why anyone would hate Narnia that springs from all of the resentment of the contemporary cancel culture.
Indeed, in many ways this particular book reminds us of why Lewis hated chronological snobbery so much, even to the point of occasionally taking the opposite extreme. This book is a sign of the contemporary tendency to judge the past by the standards of the present, or at best from the most “progressive” standards of the time, standards that Lewis (and a great many of us in the present time) view with ambivalence to contempt. If the author’s attempts to problematize Lewis’ thinking about various subjects are not always completely ridiculous, they are a demonstration of part of our own hostility to respecting those in the past whose standards were different than ours are. The author is deeply lacking in Christian charity in the same way that he accuses Lewis of, not remembering that among all of the different people it is important to be charitable towards it is those who live in that alien culture we know as the past. If Lewis was a provincial Anglo-Irishman whose practical experience of the world was limited even as he was fascinated by its myths and who had more than a bit of the Ulsterman about him, he was a reminder of the way that we as human beings strive, however successfully, to rise above the prejudices of our background in service to the universal rule of the kingdom of God.