cover image The Way Into Narnia: A Reader's Guide

The Way Into Narnia: A Reader's Guide

Peter J. Schakel. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, $15 (202pp) ISBN 978-0-8028-2984-9

Schakel, author of Reading with the Heart: The Way into Narnia and Imagination and the Arts in C.S. Lewis, combines material from those books with new insights in this perceptive and thorough reader's guide. The book is driven by Schakel's conviction that ""the best way to enter Narnia is to read the Chronicles as fairy tales,"" and to that end, he offers an essay on how Lewis's notion of the fairy tale was profoundly shaped by his friend J.R.R. Tolkien's definitions of faeries and fantasy worlds. Schakel can be refreshingly opinionated, such as when he admonishes readers who try to read the Narnia series as a strict allegory: ""they are tempted to look for one-to-one parallels between characters, objects, and events in Narnia and corresponding ones in the Bible. However, that is not the way Lewis wanted the Chronicles to be read. Instead, he proposes ""broad patterns of Christian meaning"" in the series, analyzing each novel and discussing how each employs elements of the fairy tale to construct those patterns. Schakel's guide is sometimes scholarly in approach (which is not surprising, as he is an English professor and a Lewis scholar), incorporating, for example, a detailed essay on the textual differences between various editions of the Chronicles and a thorough discussion of the vexing question of the order in which they should be read. He also offers an engaging biographical essay on Lewis and almost 80 pages of annotations at the end of the book, ""clarifying...archaic words, identifying allusions, indicating parallels to other works of Lewis, and offering interpretive comments for problematic passages.""