As the title suggests, this book from C.S. Lewis expert Peter Schakel isn’t just about The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which is getting most of the public attention on account of the upcoming movie.
Rather, The Way Into Narnia takes on all of the Chronicles. As a volume—or “reader’s guide,” as it’s called—it has strengths and weaknesses.
On the one hand, it offers chapters about each of the installments, with too much print devoted to summarizing the work. To whom should this appeal? If you’re new to Narnia, read the actual books. If you’re not new, you probably need a volume with fewer summaries and more analyses. This, then, is the book’s weak point.
On the other hand, it offers an annotated guide (about 40 pages worth) to the Chronicles that may contain the book’s real value.
“There would be value in having an edition of the Chronicles of Narnia with marginal notes clarifying unfamiliar or archaic words, identifying allusions, indicating parallels to other works of Lewis, and offering interpretive comments for problematic passages,” writes Schakel. “In the absence of such an edition, this section selectively provides such annotations as a guide to consult while reading the books, or as a reference later to answer questions that arise.”
For example, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Mr. Beaver refers to the Witch as being from Adam’s first wife, named Lilith. What readers may pass over on their own, Schakel has unearthed and explained, including an annotation about Lilith being a “female demon in Jewish mythology” and “perhaps having roots in Babylonian demonology.”
Schakel, an English professor at Hope College in Holland, Mich., goes on to explain how medieval folklore held that Adam was first married to Lilith, who refused to subordinate herself to him.
Schakel’s annotations, then, can really deepen one’s appreciation of Lewis’ work.
In the same way, the few chapters on Lewis himself, his friendship with J.R.R. Tolkien and—perhaps most importantly—Tolkien’s development of and Lewis’ assumption of ideas about FaÃ«rie are quite interesting.
Schakel spends some time discussing what FaÃ«rie (“a place that creates a sense of marvel and mystery”) meant to Tolkien and Lewis and how the latter employed its powers in his own writing.
Schakel also discusses some of the more prominent issues regarding Lewis and the Chronicles: allegory versus supposition, the reading order of the books, and how Lewis came to have the idea for Narnia in the first place.
Schakel is obviously well-versed in Lewis scholarship, and he delivers several engaging portions. However, his annotations section is interesting enough that, extended, could have left a real imprint. The commentary that he does include alongside the book summaries could have been incorporated in such an approach.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
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