It's Christmas in Narnia this winter

by
02 November 2006

Film tie-ins
NARNIA is the Disney empire's latest venture: the advertising and merchandising are everywhere. Among the T-shirts, stickers, and plastic dolls is a wide range of books, quite apart from the original version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Some of the biggest and glossiest of these come from the publisher of the book itself, HarperCollins. It has issued three large-format paperbacks of photos and colour images from the film. The most lavish, featuring colour photos on every page, is The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: The official illustrated movie companion by Perry Moore, the film's executive producer (£14.99; 0-00-720817-0). It contains interviews with the stars of the film, and articles about how it was made. It's the type of book dedicated fans will love, but it also offers much to the casual dipper.

A lighter version of this from the same publisher is Cameras in Narnia: How The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe came to life by Ian Brodie (£8.99; 0-00-721482-0), filled with colourful photos of the film being made. If you want to see behind the scenes, and study the costumes, special effects, and camera angles, this is the one for you.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Beyond the Wardrobe: The official guide to Narnia by E. J. Kirk (£12.99; 0-00-720571-6) focuses more on the story and less on the filming process, though it also has colour pictures on every spread. It includes chapters on the book's background and characters, and should help young readers to enter the imaginative world of Narnia.

For readers who might want to visit or revisit the original, HarperCollins has also put new covers on the seven Narnia novels, as well as on other C. S. Lewis titles, such as the "Cosmic Trilogy", Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength.

Guides to Narnia
For those who are looking for some help in finding their way through the stories, various American books offer guides for readers. A Reader's Guide Through the Wardrobe: Exploring C. S. Lewis's classic story (IVP, £7.47; 0-8308-3289-0) is by Leland Ryken and Marjorie Lamp Mead, both from Wheaton College, Illinois - whose study centre has preserved the revered author's wardrobe.

This describes itself as "an interactive, informative book", presenting background information about the story, interspersed with boxes of questions "for reflection or discussion". So we have chapters on "The Romance genre" and "Parallels to the Passion story", with an encouragement to "seek to interpret the religious references and meaning of what is happening". The approach might seem too like trainspotting for some, but it will have its devotees.

Less laboured, but in a similar vein, is The Way into Narnia: A reader's guide by Peter J. Schakel (Eerdmans, £7.99; 0-8028-2984-8), Professor of English at Hope College, Michigan. It covers all seven Narnia chronicles, treating them as fairy tales: hence chapters entitled "Magic and meaning in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" and "Believing and seeing in Prince Caspian". It also has 40 pages of annotations on the novels, which will amuse a UK audience ("tea: In Britain, a light meal, usually including tea, sandwiches, and cakes, eaten in the late afternoon. Meals and the delights of eating are a recurrent motif in the Chronicles").

A couple more volumes from the US bridge the gap between the works and the life of their author. Into the Wardrobe: C. S. Lewis and the Narnia Chronicles by David C. Downing (Wiley, £12.99; 0-7879-7890-6) is also by a professor of English from the United States. He addresses "moral psychology", as well as questions such as "Are the Chronicles politically incorrect?", and ones about "the spiritual vision of the Narnia Chronicles" . He covers all seven novels, but thematically rather than having a chapter on each, as The Way into Narnia does. The approach is more fluent and mature than others', but you still need to be quite a fan.

The Magic Never Ends: The life and work of C. S. Lewis by John Ryan Duncan, a film-maker, is based on a documentary Duncan made (Augsburg Books, £8.61; 0-8066-5280-2). It features interviews with  "Lewis scholars" and people who knew him, including his stepson Douglas Gresham, and his literary executor Walter Hooper. It focuses more on the life than the work, and that in a respectful, even reverential, way. But it does offer clues to the author's appeal, particularly for a US audience ("I think American society looks quite vigorously for proofs of God's existence. . . And Lewis gives them that," says Mr Gresham.)

Biographies of CSL
Anyone looking for a more straightforward treatment of C. S. Lewis's life will be spoilt for choice. There are at least three new biographies, and three reissued ones. The rival Christian publishers DLT and SPCK each have a new life of the author. For DLT, Colin Duriez, who has produced several volumes on Lewis' s life and work already, has written The C. S. Lewis Chronicles: The indispensable biography of the creator of Narnia full of little-known facts, events and miscellany (£9.95; 0-232-52646-X).

This is set out in an unusual but accessible format, giving events in Lewis 's life in short sections under dates - not every day, but often several a month. These are interspersed with lists and tables, in a style reminiscent of Schott's Original Miscellany: "Word frequency in The Problem of Pain", and "Lewis's science-fiction planets", for example. This is all done with a light touch, and furnishes both a sense of the everyday events of the subject's life and some of the building-blocks of his work. It is a useful addition to the literature.

SPCK's offering feels more weighty: The Narnian: The life and imagination of C. S. Lewis by Alan Jacobs of Wheaton College (£12.99; 0-281-05784-2). The biographer states his aim as "to write the life of a mind, the story of an imagination", rather than taking a conventional approach. It makes for a fascinating read that will draw in those keen enough to attempt more than 300 large-format pages.

The third new biography is by Michael White, who has already written lives of Tolkien, Stephen Hawking, and Isaac Newton: C. S. Lewis: The boy who chronicled Narnia (Abacus, £10.99; 0-349-11625-3). It lacks the reverential tone of so much of the US material - to an extent that many will find gratuitous: "He had a problem with women. . . Lewis disliked children and knew very few of them . . ." Mr White concludes of Lewis's books that "the world is a richer place because of them", but he seems perplexed by Lewis's "contradictory views".

One of the reissued biographies also studies these complexities: C. S. Lewis: A biography by A. N. Wilson (HarperCollins Perennial, £8.99; 0-00-720271-7). This was well received in literary circles on its first publication in 1990, but greeted more coolly by Christians - and not just because of the conclusions the biographer reaches about his subject's sex life.

Another reissue is Jack: A life of C. S. Lewis by George Sayer, the former head of English at Malvern College, who was a friend of Lewis (Hodder & Stoughton, £8.99; 0-340-90903-X). First published in Britain in 1997, this offers a warm "insider's view", though without the excessive respect of some. He has now come to believe, for example, that Lewis and Mrs Moore were lovers.

Finally, reissued from 1985, but with a couple of pages of new introduction, is Shadowlands: The true story of C. S. Lewis and Joy Davidman by Brian Sibley (Hodder & Stoughton, £7.99; 0-340-90865-3). This focuses on the story of C. S. Lewis's marriage to Joy Davidman, as familiar from the stage play, the BBC film, and the feature film of the same name. The author finds Lewis's faith shining through, despite his wrestling with doubts.

*

Beyond the lamp-post: Lucy in Narnia. From the same book as top photo

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