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Books help readers fathom the fantastic world of Narnia and its creator
Book THE WAY INTO NARNIA: A Reader’s Guide
Publisher: Eerdmans
ISBN#: 0802829848
Author: Peter J. Schakel
Year: 2005


202 pp., $14.  In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis’ third novel in his seven-book Chronicles of Narnia series, the great lion Aslan tells the child Lucy that she will not get to return to Narnia, but that she will get to meet him in our world, by another name.

“This was the very reason why you were brought to  Narnia,” Aslan tells her, “that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”

For Peter Schakel, “what Aslan says to the children, Lewis offers to readers as a brilliant explanation of his ultimate goal in writing the Chronicles.” And Shackel’s third book about the chronicles, The Way Into Narnia: A Reader’s Guide, provides in its turn a brilliant bridge for translating the hold they have had on so many hearts, while avoiding the twin traps of either academic dryness or simplistic “this-means-that” analysis.

Well-steeped in Lewis’ life and influences, Schakel provides significant insight into the question: “How did a middle-aged professor with no children come to write books that have become classics of children’s literature?”

He also provides a lengthy (72-page) annotation for all the books explaining terms (“wireless -- an early term for radio”) and possible references (“Narnia -- a small medieval town in Italy, halfway between Rome and Assisi ... chosen probably because Lewis liked the sound of the word.”) But the heart of The Way Into Narnia is a book-by-book exploration of the seven stories. And his primary point is that readers are to take them on their own as fairy tales, while at the same time understanding that, for Lewis and his close friend and author of Lord of The Rings J.R.R. Tolkien, fairy tales were the way into deep truth.

Our desire for enchanted other-worlds is a reflection of “a desire for our own far-off country,” said Lewis. “In longing for elves, dragons and the realm of Faerie,” echoes Schakel, “we are actually longing for God and the heavenly realm.”

Schakel’s subheads for each chapter provide a quick clue to the themes he sees in each: Magic and Meaning in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Believing and Seeing in Prince Caspian; Longing and Learning in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; Freedom and Obedience in The Silver Chair; Place and Personal Identify in The Horse and His Boy; Endings and Beginnings in The Magician’s Nephew and Endings and Transcendings in The Last Battle.

Unlike so many other “what-they-really-meant” books, one has the sense that The Way Into Narnia won’t get in the way of an honest reading, but only enhance one’s enjoyment of the wonderful chronicles.

REVIEWED BY Leonard Freeman, rector of St. Martin’s-by-the-Lake, Minnetonka Beach, Minn., a longtime film and media review contributor for Episcopal Life.

Book INTO THE WARDROBE: C.S. Lewis and the Narnia Chronicles
Publisher: Jossey-Bass
ISBN#: 0787978906
Author: David C. Downing
Year: 2005


207 pp., $19.95. Clive Staples Lewis was uncomfortable around children, but luckily for their sakes, he was very comfortable around fantasies. In 1950, Lewis began writing the Narnia Chronicles, in which he was able, writes David C. Downing, “to pour more of his whole self into his writing.”

That “more” included voluminous reading, “love of wonder,” scholarship and “robust” humor. Into the Wardrobe also includes scholarship and humor, plus Downing’s genuine affection for Lewis. Downing begins with Lewis’ life story before moving to the “genesis” of the Narnia Chronicles, linking Lewis’s life to his art; for example, Lewis based nasty Uncle Andrew in The Magician’s Nephew on his schoolmaster.

Within this brief book, Downing considers the spiritual elements of the chronicles, the classical and medieval aspects and the probable bases for Lewis’ naming of places and characters, which ranged from their sound (“Tash”) to their etymologies (“Splendour Hyaline,” the name of Narnia’s galleon, echoes the Greek word for “glassy”).

For the reader without Lewis’ classical education and Irish-English roots and at a remove from his place in the 20th century, Downing provides an appendix of “Definitions, Allusions, and Textual Notes” for each book in the series.

Into the Wardrobe’s friendly tone embraces curious readers as well as certifiable zealots. Downing manages to quote a lot of sources without sounding pedantic, and he honors Lewis by quoting from his letters to children, who often asked him about the chronicles.

Downing inserts himself chiefly by the selection and arrangement of these sources but occasionally offers his opinions outright. About a fragment Lewis abandoned, Downing writes: “For someone with Lewis’s gift for fantasy writing, even an artistic ‘failure’ can be more intriguing than the ‘successes’ of other writers with lesser talent.” Into the Wardrobe serves excellently as a guidebook to the land of Narnia.

REVIEWED BY Martha K. Baker, a member of the National Book Critics Circle, who lives in St. Louis, Mo.

Book THE MAGIC NEVER ENDS: The Life and Work of C.S. Lewis
Publisher: Augsburg
Author: John Ryan Duncan
Description: 195 pp., $14.99. Written as a companion to the first American documentary on C.S. Lewis’ life and work, this book relates conversations with Lewis’ stepson, Douglas Gresham, and scholars who explore how he emerged as one of the most powerful literary figures and Christian writers of the century.

Publisher: Open Court Publishing
ISBN#: 0812695887
Editor/Translator: Gregory Bassham and Jerry Walls
Year: 2005

Description: 291 pp., $17.95. These two philosophers, with contributions collected from 22 other contemporaries, cover a broad range of topics, digging deep into the world that C.S. Lewis created. The essays offer expert and insightful guides through the Narnian philosophical forests.