ENTHUSIASTS are rarely the most engaging about their passions. We have all met the railway hobbyist or fantasy fan whose detailed analyses suck the energy out of their subject. It was with some trepidation, then, that I approached Katherine Langrish’s new non-fiction book, especially when one places its intriguing title (an in-joke for Narnia fans) alongside its subtitle: Travels in Narnia with my nine-year-old self.
I should not have worried. This is an outstanding piece of work, which grants treasure to both “Lewis fandom” as well as to those whose knowledge reaches barely beyond that timeless wardrobe which first took Lucy, Edmund, Peter, Susan, and all of us to another world.
Langrish is, of course, an award-winning children’s novelist, and, goodness, can she write. Her prose is precise, crisp, and refuses flashiness. She never gets in the way of the overwhelming love she felt as a child for Narnia, nor does she put a clumsy adult finger through Lewis’s prose and vision.
Ever the novelist, she says, “Story is king.” What I find most beguiling, however, is her ability to be simultaneously forensic and critical — she doesn’t dodge Narnia’s racist and sexist controversies — while bringing the reader into fresh relationship with the books.
Each chapter is devoted to one of the seven stories, and weaves together close readings of the text, and her childhood recollections, as well as adult insight into the myths and stories that lurk behind Jack Lewis’s storytelling.
In choosing to follow Lewis’s own preferred reading order (beginning with The Magician’s Nephew), Langrish brings the full sweep of the series alive, besides revealing fresh connections, cracks, and joins in the mythology.
Langrish may no longer identify as a Christian, but she is an ally of faith’s richest longings. This solidarity makes for a book which is not only thrilling, but a must read. Be ready for smiles, tears, and an encounter with Deep Magic from the dawn of time.
Canon Rachel Mann is Rector of St Nicholas’s, Burnage, and a Visiting Fellow of Manchester Met University. Her latest book is The Gospel of Eve (DLT, 2020) (Books, 27 November 2020).
From Spare Oom to War Drobe: Travels in Narnia with my nine-year-old self
Church Times Bookshop £15.29