I recently received Through The Wardrobe: Your Favorite Authors On C.S. Lewis's Chronicles Of Narnia from Smart Pop Publishers. They stumbled across the review I wrote on The Narnia Code, and contacted me, asking if I would be interested in reviewing their book. I gladly said yes. I'm a pretty big C.S. Lewis fan, this could be a great read.
I was wrong.
Through The Wardrobe is a collection of chapter-long essays written by many different authors of young adult book. The more I read, the more astonished I was, frustrated even, about the lack of understanding of The Chronicles Of Narnia.
While there were several things that bothered me about this book, I'll keep it brief and only mention a few.
First of all, not one of the authors understood what The Chronicles Of Narnia are about. Several of the authors represented here understood that Lewis wrote allegorically, illuminating truths of Christianity within his stories. But many of them suggested that you don't need to understand Christianity to receive the full import of the Chronicles. I could hardly disagree more.
Lewis understood Story. He knew that his story would only make sense within the confines of Story. He knew that there was a Master Storyteller, to which he referred to as The Emperor Over the Seas, or Aslan's Father. Of course, he was referring to God. And he knew that his stories wouldn't make sense when separated from the Story or the Storyteller. The reason the Chronicles have stood the test of time is because of the Story surrounding the story. Without understanding that, the Chronicles are nothing more than an entertaining fairytale, and would have been forgotten long ago.
A few of the authors in Through The Wardrobe at least recognize that there is something deeper going on here, although they stop short of taking their thought through to the logical conclusion. They stop short, like embarking on a trip to New York City from my home in southern Missouri, stopping in Columbus, Ohio, screaming at the top of my lungs, "I Love NY!" It doesn't make sense, because I didn't complete the journey. Many of these authors have done exactly the same thing; they started a journey but didn't finish it. They uncovered a few interesting thoughts, but never examined them to find out just how far they might lead.
Lewis's stories are so much more than just entertainment; and yet, not a single author in Through The Wardrobe seems to grasp that fact.
But at least a few of these authors were headed in the right direction, even if they didn't make it there. There were a few others who missed the mark entirely!
Such as the chapter written by the book's editor. His topic was Light and Darkness; yet he dwelt on Hitler's, and Nazi Germany's, connections to the occult far more than he wrote about The Chronicles of Narnia. It was mildly interesting, but didn't have anything to do with The Chronicles. In fact he barely mentions Lewis or his stories in his essay. I read this chapter twice, and still can't understand why it was included in a book about The Chronicles Of Narnia.
Another author compared The Chronicles Of Narnia to His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. She calls Pullman's works "the mirror image of the Narnia Chronicles." Nothing could be further from the truth! There are no similarities at all! Lewis wrote an allegory with strong metaphorical symbolism of Christianity. In Pullman's atheistic story, God turns out to be the bad guy, and is completely unnecessary to man's continual existence. Mirror image?!? Please! These two stories are polar opposites!
In another chapter, the author compared C.S. Lewis to Al Gore, and suggested that The Chronicles are environmentalist, eco-friendly propaganda. She casts Aslan as Nature Incarnate and calls for "humankind to heal its relationship with the natural world" and encourages the reader to "learn to trust in Nature." Again, this is completely opposite of what Lewis intended for the reader to understand in The Chronicles. New Age, Mother Earth, goddess worship is not found anywhere in Lewis's works. This author, like so many of the others, missed the point entirely.
I'll mention one other issue. I realize this is small in comparison to the rest; but after reading so much blather and drivel, it only served to irritate me even further.
At least three of the authors referred to the seventh Narnia book, The Last Battle, as a thinly veiled metaphor for the Biblical book of "Revelations." What? Revelations? With an "S"? In my Bible, it's the Book of Revelation, singular, not plural. How hard would it have been to grab a Bible and check the spelling? I know, it's a minor issue, but it bothered me.
Out of all fifteen essays, only one caught my interest in any way at all. The last essay in the book spoke of the difference between Lucy and Susan Pevensie, and their maturity, or lack of. In this essay, the authors drew an application from the stories, rather than an interpretation. While I still feel they stopped short of a full understanding of The Chronicles, they at least pointed in the right direction and managed to make some interesting points.
Here's the main problem. Through The Wardrobe is the attempt of several different authors to understand and interpret Story without having a solid understanding of the Storyteller. In fact, many of them freely admit this in their essays. And that explains exactly why their interpretations fall short. Without understanding the greater Story, the big picture, you only get a glimpse of the truth and reality that C.S. Lewis saturated The Chronicles Of Narnia with. Sure, they make good entertainment even without understanding Story. But there's so much more packed in there for those with the eyes to see it.
As a result of these essays, other works by these authors are now suspect. Two of my kids are avid readers; but these authors won't be included in their reading materials, not without parental approval.
I would not recommend that you read Through The Wardrobe. There is so much more material out there about The Chronicles of Narnia, including The Chronicles themselves, that is far better. If you are interested in pursuing Narnia, this book isn't any help at all. It's not worth the time it would take to read it; nor the confusion that it fosters, especially in the minds of young readers.
Disclosure of Material Connection:
I received this book free from Smart Pop Books. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising"<[...]>.