Into the Wardrobe by David C. Downing offers some unique insights into the Chronicles of Narnia while keeping its scholarly views readable.
Downing begins his book rather unimaginatively with a brief biography of C. S. Lewis, but soon turns to explore the conception of each of the Chronicles in the order Lewis wrote them. The next chapter discusses the books’ spiritual vision, focusing on the various aspects of Aslan: creator, redeemer, judge, etc. In “Moral Psychology,” Downing points out how Lewis portrayed qualities both positive and negative, with Edmund and Eustace as examples. In “Classical and Medieval Elements”, the author demonstrates how Lewis used include hierarchy and chivalry within his series.
The heart of Downing’s book delves into the names Lewis gave to characters and places, and researches possible origins. Lucy and Jill were young girls Lewis knew, Aslan means “lion” in Turkish, and an Italian village was once called Narnia. The book ends with a chapter on Lewis’s literary abilities, an appendix of terms and allusions used in the Chronicles, extensive notes, bibliography, and index.
While Into the Wardrobe proves Downing’s claim of C. S. Lewis expert, one mistake jarred throughout the book. He seemed not to realize Jadis from The Magician’s Nephew and the White Witch of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe are the same person. He entertains the possibility due to a letter Lewis wrote, but completely ignores the White Witch being called Jadis in the report of Tumnus’ arrest.
Apart from this minor point, this book is an excellent resource for all Narnia fans. It offers insight for everyone who loves Narnia - from curious children to literary scholars - although its aim lies more toward the latter. -- Katie Hart, Christian Book Previews.com
Published in the early 1950s, C. S. Lewis's seven Chronicles of Narnia were proclaimed instant children's classics and have been hailed in The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature as "the most sustained achievement in fantasy for children by a 20th-century author." But how could Lewis (a formidable critic, scholar, and Christian apologist)conjure up the kind of adventures in which generations of children (and adults) take such delight? In this engaging and insightful book, C. S. Lewis expert David C. Downing invites readers to join his vivid exploration of the Chronicles of Narnia, 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 presents each Narnia book as its own little wardrobe - each tale an opportunity to discover a visionary world of bustling vitality, sparkling beauty, and spiritual clarity. And Downing's examination of C. S. Lewis's personal life shows how the content of these classic children's books reflects Lewis's love of wonder and story, his affection for animals and homespun things, his shrewd observations about human nature, along with his vast reading, robust humor, theological speculations, medieval scholarship, and arcane linguistic jokes. A fun glossary of odd and invented words will allow readers to speak with Narnian flair, regaling friends and family with unusual words like cantrips, poltoonery, hastilude, and skirling. A masterful work that will appeal to both new and seasoned fans of Narnia, Into the Wardrobe offers a journey beyond Narnia's deceptively simple surface and into its richly textured and unexpected depths.