Features

Foretastes of heaven

Special Issue | An upcoming Narnia movie means rich new book releases

Issue: "Summer Books 2005," July 2, 2005

When The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe comes out in a new film release in December, an avalanche of new books will follow. The big-budget collaboration between Disney and Walden Media will feature stunning visual images (brought to you by Weta Workshop, of Lord of the Rings fame). These will show up in picture books, movie companions, and new editions of C.S. Lewis' classic Christian fantasy. And judging from advance publication lists, virtually every Christian publisher will put out a book about The Chronicles of Narnia.

Most of these will not come out until closer to the movie date, but some of the authors have track records that make their books especially promising. Bruce Edwards, one of the top Lewis scholars, has two: Further Up & Further In: Understanding C.S. Lewis' the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (Broadman & Holman) and Not a Tame Lion: Aslan and the Spiritual World of Narnia (Tyndale). Another prominent Lewis scholar, Peter Schakel, has repackaged some of his earlier work in The Way into Narnia: A Reader's Guide (Eerdmans).

Of the new books I have seen, Finding God in the Land of Narnia by Kurt Bruner and Jim Ware (SaltRiver/ Tyndale) takes a meditative approach, beginning each short chapter with an episode from the series followed by discussion, leading to personal reflection. More analytical is Thomas Williams' The Heart of the Chronicles of Narnia, with the evocative subtitle, Knowing God Here by Finding Him There (Thomas Nelson).

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Most of the new books are about The Chronicles of Narnia as a whole rather than the specific novel the movie is based on. An exception is A Reader's Guide Through the Wardrobe: Exploring C.S. Lewis's Classic Story (InterVarsity Press) by Leland Ryken, the renowned Christian literary scholar, and Marjorie Lamp Mead, the associate director of the Wade Collection, Wheaton's treasure trove of Lewis manuscripts and memorabilia, including the actual wardrobe that inspired the series.

Mr. Ryken and Ms. Mead convey a wealth of learning, not just on Lewis' ideas but on the literary conventions and techniques he uses to convey them so effectively. The authors teach with a light, easily understandable touch, including illustrations, graphics, and discussion questions.

To bolster the impression that everybody and his dog is writing a Narnia book, I have written one myself, The Soul of the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (Victor/Cook). It, too, concentrates on the one novel, unpacking its meanings and its methods. It also suggests how Christians should approach fantasy writings, including the difference between those that are helpful and those that are harmful. The book compares The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe not only to Harry Potter books but also to another popular children's fantasy series, one also slated for major motion pictures: His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, whose goal is to do for atheism what Lewis does for Christianity.

Which is a reminder that, as nearly all of these books emphasize, the frozen world under the domination of an evil power who turns living hearts to stone is not just the imaginary realm of the White Witch, but it is our own fallen, sinful world. Non-Christians will flock to a Narnia movie, creating a prime opportunity for evangelism.

A good way to get ready would be to read Lightbearer in the Shadowlands: The Evangelistic Vision of C.S. Lewis (Crossway), a collection of essays edited by Angus Menuge. (I have an essay in that one, too.) Also useful would be Not a Tame God: Christ in the Writings of C.S. Lewis by Steven Mueller (Concordia).

Those books have been out for a while, but my favorite recent book on Lewis would also arm evangelists: Wayne Martindale's Beyond the Shadowlands: C.S. Lewis on Heaven and Hell (Crossway). The book sheds light both on Lewis and on the eternal life ahead, which can be even more wondrous than Narnia.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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