Further Up and

Further In

Understanding Narnia

By Joseph Pearce

TAN Books, 2018

216 pages, $24.95

To order: tanbooks.com or (800) 437-5876

 

Why do we need yet another book about The Chronicles of Narnia? Hasn’t book after book explained the Christian symbolism in C.S. Lewis’ classic series of fantasy books?

Yes, but Pearce’s treatment is different. He literally does go “further up and further in,” delving deeper into not only the Christian mysteries found in “the Narniad” but also excavating meaning from Lewis’ literary expertise and his role as a social and cultural critic. He deftly points out where Lewis, as a scholar of medieval and Renaissance literature, alluded to great works from those periods and how he peppered his books with critiques of fads and movements to which he was averse.

The results are eye-opening, prompting awe of Lewis’ literary skill and genius.

For example, in the chapter on The Magician’s Nephew, Pearce describes Digory and Polly’s encounter with the villain of the story:

“Stumbling upon the study of Digory’s wicked Uncle Andrew, an amateur magician, the two children find themselves unwilling guinea pigs in Uncle Andrew’s experiments with some magic rings. … ‘I am the great scholar, the magician, the adept, who is doing the experiment,’ he tells Digory. ‘Of course I need subjects to do it on. … No great wisdom can be reached without sacrifice.’”

This last statement is undoubtedly a great aphorism, but, writes Pearce, “the sacrifice to which [Uncle Andrew] is referring is the very opposite of that self-sacrifice that can be said to be the definition of all true love; it is not the sacrifice of self for others of which he speaks but the sacrifice of others on the altar that the prideful self erects to itself; it is the sacrificing of others for our own self-gratification, the subjugating of the will of the weak and vulnerable to our own will to power. We can see, therefore, that Digory and Polly are victims of an evil relativism that places … narcissistic worship of the self over all else …”

The children are also the victims of “scientism,” which Pearce defines as “the arrogant belief that the physical sciences take precedence over religion or philosophy as a means to discovering the truth about things” and are above any notion of right and wrong. This is an important distinction for people of faith to make, and Pearce does a good job explaining how Lewis’ fiction addresses a problem that bedevils society to this day.

There’s much more. In the chapter on A Horse and His Boy, Pearce meets head-on the charge of racism that has been leveled at Lewis by detractors, and in the chapter on The Last Battle, he dismantles the arguments of those who contend Lewis was guilty of the heresy of Universalism.

A good bibliography rounds out this little book and provides numerous avenues for further reading. One of the items Pearce recommends is Planet Narnia by Lewis scholar Michael Ward, which presents a compelling answer for those who wonder why Lewis only wrote seven Narnia books and what ties the books together thematically. (Hint: It’s not the seven sacraments.)

However, Ward’s book is somewhat scholarly and dense, so for a more concise revelation of the secret to the seven books, I recommend Ward’s video documentary The Narnia Code. Its omission from Pearce’s bibliography is an unfortunate oversight. Also, Pearce’s style is sometimes repetitive and overwrought (“… the glorious cosmos that God has made and the glorious fairy tales that reflect it so gloriously”), but this was a small distraction in an otherwise illuminating book.

Who should read it? Fans of Narnia and C.S. Lewis, obviously. Also, I believe all Christian students should read and study The Chronicles of Narnia, and Pearce’s book is an excellent companion to such a course of study.

In addition to explications of Narnia’s Christian symbolism and message and the discussions of culture, politics and social movements, Pearce reinforces other subjects that Christian educators teach, such as theology, philosophy, history and even literature itself, particularly how to read great books most profitably.

Highly recommended.

Clare Walker writes from

Westmont, Illinois.