Ted & James Baehr,
Narnia Beckons: C.S. Lewis's The Lion, The Witch & the Wardrobe & Beyond
(Broadman & Holman, 2005)

C.S. Lewis is a famously complex man; he was a reluctant soldier, a remarkable scholar, a prodigious writer and a devoted family man and Christian. But Ted Baehr and James Baehr, the authors of Narnia Beckons: C.S. Lewis's The Lion, The Witch & the Wardrobe & Beyond, have woven together a collection of essays from distinguished scholars and biographers in such a way that Lewis's complexities are easily grasped. Indeed, after reading this book, one might even feel kinship with Lewis and the characters that he created.

Moreover, the book is filled with splendid illustrations from Lewis's life, family and fictional characters, as well as photos from the places he haunted. Such a combination of essays and illustrations may give Narnia Beckons the lighthearted feel of a picture book, but the essays therein are anything but childish.

Lyle Dorsett, curator of the Marion E. Wade Collection (a collection of Lewis's work) at Wheaton College, Illinois, opens the book with a fast-paced but thorough overview of Lewis's life and times. Author Deborah Smith Douglas takes up the baton in chapter 2 and leads the reader through a walk in Oxford. Smith Douglas does an excellent job of submerging the reader in Lewis's character, life and works -- and in the process introduces us to Joy. Not Lewis's wife Joy but "the complicated sensations of that moment under the wind-murmuring trees on the banks of the river -- part heart-lifting awe, part piercing sadness, memory entwined with longing and with love -- [that] Lewis himself knew well. He called it joy." It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of this recurrent experience of joy for Lewis. In his spiritual autobiography, significantly titled Surprised by Joy, he claims that, "in a sense the central story of my life is about nothing else."

The highlights continue throughout the book's five sections: chapter 5, by Carolyn Stanford Goss and Joseph Stanford Goss, is an engaging philosophical treatise built around the question: "Will we meet Plato in Heaven?" Chapter 6, by Sherwood Wirt, presents the last interview Lewis ever gave, while chapter 12, by professor and author Paul F. Ford, examines The Lion, The Witch & the Wardrobe 50 years on. Chapter 15, by James Baehr, examines Lewis and the cinema, including 2005's big-screen production.

Narnia Beckons is a treasury of insight into Lewis's life and philosophies for both the casual reader as well as those more familiar with his work. But perhaps author and teacher Jerry Root put it best when he wrote: "Once in an interview Elisabeth Elliot was asked, 'How could a person deepen his theology and become a clearer thinker?' She answered, 'Study the Bible; and study C.S. Lewis. He covered the whole field of theology in popular, understandable language. The fact that he could put it in simple language is proof to me that he understood it better than many theologians.'"

If you are interested in C.S. Lewis, his theology and his work, it would be difficult to imagine a better book for you than this.

review by
Jim Curtiss

1 September 2007

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