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Book review: Paths in the Snow: A literary journey through ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’ by Jem Bloomfield

by
24 November 2023

A classic comes freshly alive with this guide to it, says Rachel Mann

NEARLY 75 years on from its first publication, C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe retains an undiminished power to inspire, entertain, and fascinate. Jem Bloomfield’s delicious new book offers fresh and rather wonderful insight into its resilience as both children’s novel and cultural phenomenon. His investigation into the vast cultural, theological, and literary traces that lie in the text, like footprints in the Narnian snow, invite us only deeper into strangeness and mystery.

Paths in the Snow is an intoxicating tour de force that journeys through each chapter of Lewis’s novel and places it in conversation with an eclectic, but always apposite, set of literary connections and allusions. The famous chapter when Edmund is offered Turkish delight is explored through the prism of mid-century British rationing of sweets and Golden Age detective fiction; there is also a thoughtful and playful account of Narnian time which draws on J. B. Priestley and Agatha Christie, among others.

Bloomfield — a Church of England Reader as well as an English academic — handles the familiar biblical resonances of Lion with particular skill. For him, Aslan both is and is not a cipher for Jesus; he argues, persuasively, that Aslan deserves to be handled on his own terms.

I can think of no other book on Narnia which brings the likes of Dorothy L. Sayers, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Dennis Wheatley cheek to cheek. Bloomfield is not trying to be flashy and self-indulgent. During the pandemic, he ran a digital Lewis book group for his Midlands church; he also set up a Lewis study group (“Narnia Club”) at the university at which he teaches. Yes, he is erudite, but he knows how to communicate. I adore grip, and Bloomfield has it.

For those of us who love Narnia, Paths in the Snow is like taking a beloved walk through familiar topography and seeing it as if for the first time. There are moments of Pythonesque humour (the White Witch is described as a “statuesque lady distributing Turkish Delight”), but the book’s real strength lies in how it makes a reader feel smarter. Bloomfield’s book is a perfect gift for all Narnians, and reminded me why, as a child, I wanted to buy real estate “beyond the wardrobe”.

I gobbled this book up in a single sitting. Unlike the White Witch’s infamous Turkish delight, Bloomfield serves up food that satisfies.

The Ven. Dr Rachel Mann is Archdeacon of Bolton and Salford, and a Visiting Fellow of Manchester Met University.

 

Paths in the Snow: A literary journey through The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
Jem Bloomfield
DLT £16.99
(978-1-915412-30-0)
Church Times Bookshop £15.29

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