How often have you walked out of a movie theater, left a great musical performance, read an amazing book, or been moved by a piece of art and wondered, how did they do that? Where did those ideas come from? For however it happens, the arts move us in ways we cannot quite describe and add meaning to the fabric of our experiences.
If you have ever wanted to peek behind the scenes and discover what influenced the writer, composer, or artist, you will want to add Into the Wardrobe by Dr. David C. Downing to your booklist as he opens the window into C.S. Lewis and his epic Chronicles of Narnia series. Dr. Downing is one of the leading experts on C.S. Lewis, an award-winning author, a former professor of English at Elizabethtown College (Lancaster County, PA) and current co-director of the Marion E. Wade Center of Wheaton College.
This book, published in 2005, doesn’t cause the reader to lose any of the magic of the Narnia series, but rather adds appreciation for C.S. Lewis as he explores the series “offering a detailed look at the enchanting stories themselves and also focusing on the extraordinary intellect and imagination of the man behind the wardrobe.”
Downing begins by looking at the life of C.S. Lewis and how that life influenced Lewis and his “love of wonder and story, his affection for animals and homespun things, his shrewd observations and human nature, along with his vast reading, robust humor, theological speculations, medieval scholarship, and arcane linguistic jokes.” He includes a timeline of Lewis’s life that may help you see the path God took throughout his life to shape this man and his writing.
Dr. Downing then moves deeper into the behind-the-scenes information with chapters on “The Genesis of Narnia,” “The Spiritual Vision of the Narnia Chronicles,” “Moral Psychology,” “Classical and Medieval Elements,” “What’s in a Narnian Name?” and “Lewis’s Literary Artistry.” He ends the book with an appendix that includes notes, a bibliography as well as definitions, allusions, and textural notes.
Here’s a glimpse in the chapter on “Moral Psychology” as the author discusses the subheading, “Edmund’s Moral Descent”:
“Lewis’s concept of the central self affected one way or the other by every moral choice, implies a kind of moral momentum. Every good choice strengthens one’s inner resolve to make another good choice next time, while every bad choice leaves one inclined to further bad choices down the road.”
Dr. David Downing
Just a bit further as Downing looks at the subject of honesty as a part of the chapter on moral psychology, he writes:
“In Narnia, honesty is not only the best policy; it is also the best therapy. Genuine moral and mental health consists not only in telling the truth to others but also in telling the truth to oneself about one’s true interests and motives. As Edmund treads through the snow to the White Witch’s house, he hears more than one voice inside. One is telling him that he is making a great mistake, that he needs to turn back, to repent. But it is drowned out by the other voices crying ‘I want’ and ‘I deserve’ and ‘I’ll show them.'”Dr. David Downing
Have you wondered where Lewis got the names he chose for the many varied characters in the Narnia series? Lewis grew up having a fascination with names and nicknames, deciding to choose to be called “Jack” rather than his given name of Clive. Additionally, his vast reading and love of language helped him create names that sometimes came from centuries before in the Greek, Latin, Hebrew, French, Old English, Norse, and Celtic literature. Sometimes names were not chosen for their meanings.
“Like the faun’s names, Lewis seemed to choose Calormene names based on their sound rather than their meaning.”
Dr. David Downing
What guided Lewis’s clear literary artistry? Perhaps Downing’s words about an essay distinguishing two sides of the writer (the author and the person) can illuminate our understanding:
“The author writes simply to release a creative impulse, an idea or a compelling image “longing for a form,” for some coherent expression. Soon, however, the person enters into the writing process with his or her own values and purposes, a desire to shape the writing toward some significant end. The author may write only to please – oneself or one’s readers- but the person wishes to both please and instruct, to communicate some of one’s own views of the world.”Dr. David Downing
Dr. Downing closes the book with this picture of what he understood about C.S. Lewis, the man and author of The Narnia Chronicles:
“For Lewis, too many things about our contemporary world have become dreary and unenchanted. By inviting readers to a place called Narnia, he wants to re-enchant us, to revive our sense of wonder, to regale our inner vision with adventures of great peril and greater promise. He seeks as well to renew our hope, to suggest a bright benevolence at the heart of things-not only in imagined worlds but also in our own.”Dr. David Downing.