The news there is another Narnia movie in the works has fans becoming cautiously delighted. Some may be planning – if they haven’t done so already – to re-read The Silver Chair, or even the whole series. Perhaps some will be digging out their old DVDs to watch The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
Or instead of just reading or watching the stories, you may want to dig deeper – to go “further up and further in” in your understanding of what C S Lewis was trying to convey when he wrote the stories. Devin Brown’s three in-depth studies correspond to the three stories which were adapted by Walden Media into films. Inside Narnia explores The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005). The other two books are Inside Prince Caspian (2008) and Inside the Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010).
Devin Brown, professor of English at Asbury University, is a long-time C S Lewis expert. In addition to teaching a course on C S Lewis at Asbury, he has contributed many scholarly articles about Lewis to various publications. He was also a member of the advisory board for the C S Lewis Bible, which was released by HarperOne at the end of 2010. (For more, see his Bio on the Asbury University website.) Taking advantage of the buzz surrounding the first Narnia movie in 2005, Baker Books published Inside Narnia: A Guide to Exploring The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe just before the release of the first film.
Inside Narnia is more than a cursory look at the themes of the book; that had been done before. As Brown tells us in the Preface, he had certain goals in mind in writing the book which would distinguish it from other Narnia commentaries available at the time. He notes most books about Narnia were devotional in nature. The ones which were literary in their approach usually devoted only one chapter to each of the seven chronicles.
“By devoting an entire work to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I hope to provide the kind of close literary analysis it warrants and also supply a good deal of supplemental information from Lewis’s life and other writings. In addition, I offer a wide selection of comments and opinions from other scholars, here for the first time collected in a single work.” (p.7)
The book is a kind of “running commentary,” giving various views about the details of the book, and letting the readers make up their own minds about the issues. However, Brown’s high view of Lewis’s literary skill is evident, and the reader will probably find himself coming away with a broader respect for Lewis’s abilities as a writer. For example, the way Lewis gradually introduces important aspects of the story is an eye-opener. The concept of “gradualness” also applies to how the characters are developed. Edmund does not just suddenly decide to betray his siblings. He gradually slips to that point, and Lewis shows us how it happens. While not making excuses for Edmund, Lewis helps us to understand “where he’s coming from.”
Brown is extremely thorough, actually taking time to examine the illustrations of Pauline Baynes and the affect they have on the interpretation of the story. His thoroughness will lead to many “spoilers” – not only from this story, but from the other six books as well. With this in mind, I do not recommend this book to a Narnia novice. The details will destroy the sense of discovery Lewis has built into the series as it was written.
As Brown indicates in several places in the book, the Chronicles are best read in publication order the first time through. Which brings up a Catch 22. In order to convince someone they should read the books in the order they were released, you need to provide details which would spoil the surprises. In any event, it would be to the readers’ advantage to read the entire series before reading Inside Narnia if they wish to avoid spoilers. A good knowledge of the seven chronicles will also help in understanding the points Brown makes.