Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 05/06/2008 by Mark Tubbs.
Recommended. A wonder-inducing guide to the Narnia stories, explored chapter by chapter.
When, as a first year high school English teacher, I thought to brush up on all things Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia, or the Narnian stories, as Lewis preferred to call them, were the natural starting point. In the mists of my memory I remembered the outline of the plots and most of the major characters, but I wasn’t prepared to discover two things: their sublime artistry as stories, and their biblical parallels. Christin Ditchfield has aided in my refresher. She has done an enormous amount of spadework for either the interested or uninitiated reader. Her knowledge of the Narnian stories works in concert with her biblical knowledge, which is likewise extensive.
I was impressed with The Family Guide to Narnia on at least two counts. Firstly, because the biblical tie-ins are appropriately and sensitively chosen. We know all too well how easily biblical passages are misappropriated for all sorts of reasons. Secondly, I was impressed by Ditchfield’s sensitivity regarding Lewis’ understanding of allegory – he maintained his Narnia stories were not allegories, strictly speaking. Rather, Lewis understood the stories in terms of their creation, beginning from a picture in his mind, not developing out of a doctrinal idea. As Ditchfield points out, however, the Bible so suffused Lewis that it couldn’t help but seep into the stories. Indeed, by The Last Battle, and probably much earlier, the seep becomes a generous flow.
The seven sections of the guide run parallel to the seven Narnia books, obviously, and Ditchfield has elected to take a consecutive chapter-by-chapter approach. You might expect that such an approach would relegate discussion of larger themes to secondary importance, but this isn’t the case. Each page features the next consecutive chapter and a key verse (conveniently used as a memory verse, perhaps?) is provided. Then, biblical parallels and principles are explored in point-form paragraphs, not too short and not too long. Finally, a reinforcement exercise under one of five headings appears: “Think About It”, “Sound Familiar?”, “Do You Know?”, “Did You Notice?”, or “Can That Be Right?” Each chapter reflection ends with a brief list of applicable Scripture passages.
I suppose the question remains, even after pointing out all these helpful tie-ins, whether it’s not just better to go straight to the source – the Scriptures. My response probably isn’t too helpful: yes and no. In the final scene of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader – initially supposed to be the final book in the series – “Lewis makes the most explicit reference to the ‘story within a story’ and the purpose for his writing The Chronicles. Aslan tells the children that although they will not meet him in Narnia again, they can know him in their own world: ‘But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.’ ”
With a child on your lap, the Narnia books open, the Bible and Ditchfield’s books nearby for reflection time at the end of each chapter, and a childlike sense of wonder, I’m certain you will learn to know this world’s Aslan a little bit better by re-reading the Narnia stories.