C. S. Lewis, we find, is an author that is widely known (well, not to one lady we met at a conference this fall who asked if he would be coming to the event) but not as widely studied as we might expect. In the new, informal and very heartfelt biography of Jack (as he liked to be called) Lewis,Jack’s Life, by his stepson Douglas Gresham, Gresham writes, "…if you are someone who reads, then the chances are that you have read something by C. S. Lewis, and if you haven’t, then you have a great feast of reading before you." Very true; very true!
And right now is a great, great time to decide to embark on a Lewis binge—revisiting his work if you haven’t for a while, or dipping into some books about him to get the big picture of his significance, or, if you never have, actually working through a couple of his books. As you most likely know, he has written fiction for adults and children, theological essays, literary criticism, poetry, apologetics, delightful letters, and Biblical studies. It is hard to know where to begin, although most say his most important little classic is Mere Christianity, which in their earliest form were broadcast talks on the BBC. The fictional and creative story of some demons corresponding about their "charge" who they are instructed to keep away from Christian faith is Screwtape Letters and many readers come back to it time and again. I have heard one speaker insist that Experiment in Criticism is one of the most helpful books everyone should read, and many stand on his awesome essay "The Weight of Glory" in the collection of that name. Of course this time of this year, it is nearly essential to read or re-read The Chronicles of Narnia, especially The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. (Read it first, even though it is now numbered # 2 in the series.) With the very, very long-awaited new movie out in December, there has been a renaissance in Lewis-related books, Narnian stuff and a great new set of books that help readers appreciate the stories, and their Christian insights.
It is daunting to describe some of these—others with more credentials than I (like Jerry Root for Christianity Today and Art Lindsley for the newsletter of Washington DC’s C.S. Lewis Institute) have also been writing annotated lists of the best of the new crop of Lewis-related titles. If I had access to these here, I think I’d just tell you, dear H&M readers, to check out their recommendations. I am sure there will be much discussion this winter about the many new LWW studies that abound, and the relative strengths and merits of each. I do know I surely have enjoyed reading through many of them these past weeks and it has gotten our family talking about Digory, the Tree of Protection, Mr. Tumnus, Puddleglum, Rumblebuffin, Tash…and on and on. I don’t have time or space to tell of the new editions with new covers, nifty sticker books, family devotional guides, the very cool tribute CD (yeah, David Crowder Band doing an eerie song called Turkish Delight) or the big one-volume editions, or the kiddie picture books that are out. (Did I mention the forthcoming Narnia toys in Happy Meals? I kid you not.) There really is a great outpouring of good resources and we are thrilled.
So–northward to Narnia, as somebody in The Chronicles might say. Let’s go about it, shall we? I think I will just do this month's column in plain old list fashion and as the professor would put it, if you haven't seen these yet, I hope you do. I suppose they are in no particular order. I sincerely hope that my descriptions help you find just the ones for you.
RECENT BOOKS ABOUT C. S. LEWIS
Jack’s Life: The Life Story of CS Lewis Douglas Gresham (Broadman & Holman) $16.99. I’ve mentioned this above—it is a delightful telling of the man himself, written as if for a young reader, by the beloved stepson himself. Few knew or loved Lewis as Douglas did and his telling of the inside story, here, is sweet and admirable, making it the ideal beginner’s book or great for true devotees. A DVD is included in the back, which features a fascinating interview with the colorful Gresham. A forward by Christopher Mitchel (Director of the prestigious Wade Center at Wheaton) lends an extra bit of gravity to this otherwise slim and chatty book. Very tender and interesting.
The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis Alan Jacobs (Harper SanFransico) $25.95. Well, well. If Jack’s Life is an easy-to-read and lovely little essay from Lewis’s most dear relation, and a fine intro, this magisterial tour de force of Lewisiania is perhaps the most important Lewis book written in more than a decade. Granted, it is not exactly a chronological biography (Jack by George Sayers, published now by Crossway, is the best, serious bio and the standard by which any others are measured.) Still, this is, as one reviewer says, " the book on Lewis we've all been waiting for: probing, generous, lyrical, and entertaining." Frederick Buechner says of it, "It is hard to imagine a more insightful and even-handed treatment of the life and work of C. S. Lewis… (Jacobs) reveres him without canonizing him and does rich justice to his complexity as both a human being and a writer." Jacobs is a serious reviewer and significant writer, erudite and dense, and it is fitting that he take up the task of giving us such a rich and detailed study. The pleasant and just a little bit funny dust jacket, too, I must say, helps make it well worth owning.
C. S. Lewis’s Case for Christ: Insights from Reason, Imagination and Faith Art Lindsley (IVP) $14.00. How to explain this rich and thoughtful book in a few sentences? Art is an old H&M friend, former staff specialist in apologetics for Young Life and the CCO and has worked hard on thinking about how best to make a relevant defense of the Christian faith for years; he has earned the right to be heard, and I admire his good efforts to engage in what he described in his previous book, True Truth, as holding to "absolutes without absolutism. " That is, he wants to counter post-modern relativism and hold to objective truth, yet doesnÃƒÂªt want to be strictly dogmatic or wooden, let alone arrogant or rude. In studying Lewis’s own thoughts about coming to faith in Christ, he finds the perfect ally for this project: Lewis used heart & mind, reason & imagination, logic & story. Dr. Lindsley should be applauded for this bold move—to insist that Lewis, known for his impeccable logic and sharp wit and strong mind, is equally helpful in his use of myth, imagination, and intuition.
World-renowned evangelist and apologist Ravi Zacharias asserts that this is a book he heartily recommends because it uses "the spyglass of Lewis" to help us work through obstacles to faith that are common these days. Jerry Root (co-author of The Quotable Lewis) says, "There are few scholars who understand C. S. Lewis’s apologetic work as deeply as Art Lindsley. " As a guide to Lewis, to the wide scope of his thought, or as a guide to strengthening your own faith (or those whom you talk with) this could be a very useful tool.
Another nice feature of this thorough and at times demanding book is the fictional piece—helpfully set off in italics—in each chapter about a
diverse group of folks who gather each week, strong coffee in hand, at a bookstore lounge to engage in a C.S. Lewis reading group. The (fictional?
Or is it Art?) leader of the discussion knows the master’s work, well, and the skeptic, the new ager, the moralist and other characters are challenged to think through their presuppositions and worldview and, finally, their faith, as they engage the Lewis material. A neat little device that keeps the reader intrigued and aware that these issues are the Big Ones. Real questions with real answers. I hope other real-life Lewis study groups break out in bookstores across the land. Or, in the spirit of Lewis, at a spot like The Eagle and the Child.
The Most Reluctant Convert: C. S. Lewis’s Journey To Faith David Downing (IVP) $13.00. Now out in paperback, this interesting volume—entitled after a quip of Lewis’s made about himself— is doubtlessly the most thorough study of Lewis’s conversion process. If Art Lindsley (see above) plumbs Lewis’s thinking as an apologetic tool and as a way to answer skeptics Dr. Downing writes to just tell the tale. It is a very valuable contribution to serious Lewis scholarship and a fine example of how to do fascinating biography, telling this slice of the story just right, allowing us in on the saga of Lewis’s journey to faith.
Into the Region of Awe: Mysticism in C. S. Lewis David Downing (IVP) $17.00. I have noted this here before, but it is still relatively recent and, frankly, one of the more intriguing Lewis books out in years. No one has taken this side of Lewis as seriously as Downing, and he is clearly the scholar to do so. He maintains, drawn from a close reading and wide study, that Lewis’s romanticism shaped his spirituality, making him more of a mystic than most would imagine. Lewis was clearly not Tom Merton; Downing helps us see, though, that he was closer, perhaps, than we ever knew‟ A must-read.
Seeking the Secret Place: The Spiritual Formation of C. S. Lewis Lyle W. Dorsett (Baker) $12.99. Although Dorsett, long a respected Lewis scholar and the wonderful compiler of good anthologies (The Essential C. S. Lewis and Letters to Children) may not use the language of mysticism as does Downing (above) he surely has helped us understand Lewis’s inner spiritual life as much as anyone. He has done remarkable research, uncovering Lewis's relationship with his spiritual director, and writes, here, of his prayer life, his inner journey, and his interest in classic spiritual disciplines. Absolutely wonderful and very inspiring.. (By the way, we still have in stock Dr. Dorsett’s wonderful A Love Observed, the story of Lewis’s romance with and marriage to Joy Davidman, long out of print, but now reissued by NorthWind.)
From The Library of C. S. Lewis: Selections From Writers Who Influenced His Spiritual Journey compiled by James Stuart Bell (Shaw) $16.99. Although this book is now just one year old, it is so little known that it deserves to be re-introduced. It is, as the subtitle says, excerpts of writers such as G.K. Chesterton, George MacDonald, J.R.R. Tolkein, Dorothy Sayers. From Julian of Norwich through John Bunyan, from George Herbert to Owen Barfield, this is a treasure chest, packaged in a very handsome, chunky hardback. I might wish for some greater annotation, noting what Lewis found of interest in these excerpts, or something more about the authors. But I quibble. This is a great and wonderful collection, guaranteed to help us avoid the "chronological snobbery. " that Lewis so quotably and memorably warned about in "On The Reading of Old Books" found in Walter Hooper’s must-have anthology, God In The Dock. Of course, he warns against reading only books from your own time and the need for an ancient perspective on modern biases. Let those who have ears…
BOOKS ABOUT NARNIA
Not A Tame Lion: Unveil Narnia Through the eyes of Lucy, Peter, and other characters created by C. S. Lewis Bruce Edwards (Tyndale) $12.99 I must admit, this surprised me a bit; several superb publishers with a history of doing enduring Lewis work all have new books out and I didn’t expect this little title from a sometimes-less-than-serious publisher to impact me as it did. I shudder to actually choose a favorite of this list, but I think I shall name this as my favorite new book on Narnia. Well written, excellently composed, tons of great quotes, passionate and practical, this is a true winner. That it includes discussion questions is a bonus, making it a great choice for a small group or Sunday school class. Thanks to Edwards for caring this much, writing so movingly, and bringing such great information to the fore in such a compelling book. Hip, hip, hooray. A redeemed serving of Turkish delight–with no fears—for him.
Into The Wardrobe: C. S. Lewis and the Narnia Chronicles David D. Downing (Jossey-Bass) $19.95. I must say that this, too, was a remarkably good read; more detached and semi-scholarly than Edwards' great book noted above, Downing, here, gives us a very stimulating over-view of nearly anything that might be important about Lewis, or in Narnia itself. Not arranged by book but rather by theme "Moral Psychology" or "Classical and Medieval Influences" or "What's In A Narnian Name? " it gives great information, clearly and helpfully. Publisher’s Weekly implies it may be one of the very best of the introductions to Narnia, and Ralph Wood (surely a trustworthy judge) says "Read and rejoice!" Not bad, eh? Good for thoughtful beginners or for true fans.
C. S. Lewis & Narnia for Dummies Richard J. Wagner (Wiley & Sons) $19.99. Some people I know have a visceral dislike of the rude title and ubiquitous bright yellow covers with bold black type of this series. Maybe for a computer book—maybe—but for all these other topics, now, too? Yes! From Asthma to Catholicism, Homeschooling to So Doku, these fun-lovin’ and intelligent guidebooks are jam-packed with good information, presented with wit and accessible expertise. The Narnia one is a wonderfully easy (Jack might think it too easy) way to acquire lots of Lewis info, fun trivia, important, wise, insight and such. The author "gets it"and, I must admit, has been one of the best books of this sort that I’ve read this season. Maybe I’m just a dummy. Maybe you are too? Great! Despite the color of the cover, this book is a gem!
A Reader’s Guide Through the Wardrobe: Exploring C. S. Lewis’ Classic Story Leland Ryken & Marjorie Lamp Mead (IVP) $13.00. Ryken has been one of the deanÃƒÂªs of evangelical sophistication on matters of literature and a generation of young lovers of books are in his debt. That he is the Clyde S. Kilby Professor of English at Wheaton makes him uniquely qualified to bring imaginative and well-researched literary critique to his beloved Lion, Witch & the Wardrobe story. David Downing comments on the back, "…approaches (Lewis's) classic story the way Lewis himself read literary texts. It shows readers how to fully engage the narrative as thoughtful adults, while retaining a child’ s sense of wonder and delight." Wonderful sidebars give you fabulous excerpts and great Lewis quotables. The on-going discussion questions are thoughtful and provocative, good for solitary reflection or small groups. Certainly one of the best, smartest books available on LWW.
Aslan’ s Call: Finding Our Way To Narnia Mark Eddy Gibbs (IVP) $10.00. Well; Gibbs wrote a wonderful, readable and thoughtful guide to virtues in Lord of the Rings called Tolkien’s Ordinary Virtues. Had it been gussied up in fancy hardcovers with prestigious-looking blurbs, I think it may have been taken with the seriousness it deserved. This new one, too, may be a sleeper: it is a fine, fine book, interesting, well written, concise, compelling and quite useful. This journey–meeting this lion who is fierce and unpredictable and very large–may be a romp. And it may be an adventure, and it may take courage, but it will shape us. Gibbs is an able, enjoyable, and insightful guide. Very nicely done, with great passion and good heartedness.
The Lion The Witch and the Bible: Good and Evil in the Classic Tales of C. S. Lewis Robert Velarde (NavPress) $12.99. What piqued my interest here is the note that the author co-taught a class with the famous and honorable Vernon Grounds at Denver Seminary, and that that course formed the core of this study. That it focuses on wisdom, virtue, moral choices, and the like was a worry—will it ruin the story?— but I was taken with the book in just a few pages. Lewis was a practical moralist, always, and he wove dramatic lessons into his work. If contemporary Christian’ s had half the insight offered in this simple book the church—and the world–would be in a considerably better way. Good discussion questions, too.
Walking Through the Wardrobe: A Devotional Quest into the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Sarah Arthur (thirsty?) $9.99. Sarah A. is a great writer for youth, and she did a fine job bringing Christian themes to teens in Walking With Frodo and Walking With Bilbo and, more recently, Dating Mr. Darcy. (You can imagine.) This is a devotional study and Lewis’s concerns against over-doing the allegorical readings notwithstanding, this is a lovely little book, packaged in a hip style, that would make a great gift to any Narniac teenager.
The Way Into Narnia: A Reader’s Guide Peter J. Schakel (Eerdmans) $14.00. We ordered a big batch of these, knowing Schakel's credentials and stature as a scholar of all things Lewis. Someone in the publishing world noted that this may be the most important new book on Narnia this year. It certainly is useful—and is especially so as a good reminder that the stories are, firstly, sprightly fairy tales, and ought to be enjoyed as such. The table of contents itself reveals much—he has a theme or insight attached to each of the Chronicles. For instance, he will tell us of "Magic and Meaning in Lion‟"and "Believing and Seeing in Prince Caspian" and "Longing and Learning in Voyage" and so forth. Yet, it is a bit denser than some of the other new releases, and the much-anticipated 40-page annotations of obscure terms and historical allusions left me less than thrilled. This may indeed be the most prominent of the new batch of books, and who can resist a chapter like "Place and Personal Identity in A Horse and His Boy" or "Endings and Transcendings in The Last Battle"?
The Keys to The Chronicles: Unlocking the Symbols of C. S. Lewis’s Narnia Marvin Hinten (Broadman & Holman) $9.99. This slim little volume gives a spiritual lesson based on symbols and allusions in each of the volumes. Brief and interesting, it is a delightfully rich study by an author who has written widely on Lewis and is himself, like Jack, a scholar of British Renaissance literature.
A Field Guide to Narnia Colin Duriez (IVP) $13.00. What a lovely collection of random thoughts, helpful essays, quick info and thoughtful ruminations. Here's what it says on the cover: "An Overview of the Life and Work of C. S. Lewis", "A-to-Z Coverage of Narnian Beings, Places, Things and Events" and "An Introduction to Key Spiritual Themes. " A very fine endorsement on the back from Dr. Armand Nicholi (you must know his award-winning The Question of God: C .S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex and the Meaning of Life which was made into a PBS documentary this year) gives it additional weight. The lovely forward by Brian Sibley (C. S. Lewis Through the Shadowlands) also makes this a very nice edition—more than a collection of words, maps, creatures. Mr. Duriez is most well known for his great study on the friendship between Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.
The Soul of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Gene Veith (Victor) $14.99. This hardback was an enigma to me at first—Veith writes for the conservative World magazine and has written clearly, if with a bit of over-reaction, to postmodernism and other cultural tendencies. Here, he writes not just about Narnia, but about the "fantasy wars" (should Christians read Harry Potter?) and the call for discernment when approaching the genre. I figured that Dr. Vieth is a good Lutheran lit Prof., after all, and an advocate for a uniquely transformational world-and-life view; he has done some books that I truly like. So I entered, perhaps as if going through a suspicious wardrobe, with a bit of trepidation. And I was very quickly hooked. What a fascinating study, laden with good insights, practical advise, helpful reportage, and useful comparisons. I admire his desire to be Christianly faithful, and not falling for a party line (of those who are strictly opposed, say, to Harry Potter’s witchery or those who laugh off such concerns as unimaginative ranting of fundamentalists.)
Veith frames this discussion with good explanations on the nature of stories and ponders the ways in which imagination can enhance one’s life. He not only gives some very interesting reflections on Harry P and his Muggles gang, but has a powerful chapter on the brilliant, if fiercely anti-Christian His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman (also soon to me a major motion picture.) Pullman, it is significant to note, has said, "I hate the Narnia books. I hate them with a deep and bitter passion. " As one writer put it, after Pullman’ s recipients speech for the prestigious Whitbread Prize in England, "He's a fine writer, a fine writer with a cause. His cause, as he himself has made clear, is to destroy Christianity and to liberate the world from any faith in the Christian God. " The first half of Veith’ s book is a good theological introduction of LWW and is fine. The second half is this broader study of magic and fantasy, Christian discernment and the pitfalls of some contemporary approaches to fantasy. A nuanced and helpful study, very readable and wise.
Roar! A Christian Family Guide to the Chronicles of Narnia Heather & David Kopp, illustrations by Martin French (Multnomah) $19.99 I want to award this with some kind of honorable mention for the sheer audacity and creative vision of those who put this treasure chest of a book together. Vivid new illustrations and brightly colored graphics on heavier stock paper, this oversized, paperback handbook to each of the seven stories is interactive, fun, loaded with pure insights and plenty of goofy trivia (and nifty stuff like "You Know You’re a Narniac If You‟" test.) There are indexes of creatures and characters and the obligatory Bible parallels and lessons. And there are some very helpful articles for parents (one has the sense this is designed for homeschoolers or families that want to more deeply enjoy these stories as read-alouds.) One of the articles tackles the important question of violence in the fables and another looks head on at the accusations of racism and sexism. A piece by J.I. Packer is lovely, and a few other contributors offer very useful sidebars. Not a straightaway book, but a companion resource, this guide is a hoot, and, we believe, very good to have.
Check out more at www.roarofnarnia.com and, if impressed, please order through us. We are eager to hear your feedback, too, especially about this lion-sized imaginative guidebook.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe Audio read by Michael York (HarperCollins) $27.50. Of course there are plenty of new editions of the stories themselves–one big volume with all 7 chronicles in one, either with the movie tie-in photo of the White Witch or the adult drawing of the head of Aslan, various-sized and price-range paperbacks, boxed sets and so forth. There are even dumbed down first-reader editions (hmmmm.) There are large sized, full color picture books.
I thought it might be fun not only to remind you of the well-done radio dramas that are available (excellently produced by Focus on the Family, like their Bonhoeffer radio show), but the actual audio version of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Of course, these stories have been read aloud for decades, and we certainly would not want to dissuade a family from actually doing the reading. But for holiday travels, perhaps, or for a sick child who cannot wait for dad or mom to read, the Michael York renderings, now available on CD, are very, very nice. The enhanced CD includes some interactive bonus material on CD-rom, too. Four hours, unabridged, on four compact discs. What fun!