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Into the Wardrobe: C.S. Lewis and the Narnia Chronicles Hardcover – 27 Sep 2005


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: John Wiley & Sons; 1 edition (27 Sep 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0787978906
  • ISBN-13: 978-0787978907
  • Product Dimensions: 14.7 x 2.5 x 22.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,051,855 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

“…in this volume, C.S.Lewis’ biography is given concisely, yet thoroughly…before you go to the movies this winter to see the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, read this book…” ( The Eternal Night , 13 th December 2005). “…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.” ( www.eden.co.uk , 13 th December 2005) “…fluent and mature…” ( Church Times , 9 th December 2005)

“…in this volume, C.S.Lewis’ biography is given concisely, yet thoroughly…before you go to the movies this winter to see the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, read this book…” ( The Eternal Night , 13 th December 2005). “…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.” ( www.eden.co.uk , 13 th December 2005) “…fluent and mature…” ( Church Times , 9 th December 2005) "...short but scholarly..." (Books for Keeps, March 2006)

Review

"[ Into the Wardrobe ] will be best enjoyed by fans who have read the entire series, but those who haven′t may be so impressed by Downing’s exploration of Lewis′s deep and sophisticated imagination that they will sneak ‘into the wardrobe’ and devour the Chronicles for themselves." –– Publishers Weekly "Everyone who has enjoyed the Chronicles of Narnia and anyone who is interested in the writings of C.S. Lewis must read this excellent work…Downing helps the reader understand how the Chronicles reflect not only Lewis’s towering intellect, but also his strong faith and his sensitive heart." ––Armand Nicholi, M.D., author, The Question of God: C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life "Like his previous studies of Lewis’s life and writings, Into the Wardrobe proves again that Downing is a master at weaving essential facts and fresh insights into a smooth narrative…a balanced and satisfying guide for either experienced or first–time readers of Narnia." ––Robert Trexler, editor, CSL: The Bulletin of the New York C. S. Lewis Society "With lucidity and uncommon good sense, David Downing offers a guide to the Narnia Chronicles that will deepen the reader′s appreciation of these perennial favorites while illuminating the origins of Narnia in Lewis′s life and work." ––John Wilson, editor, Books & Culture "What David C. Downing does so well is give us lenses through which Lewis’s myriad works come into sharp focus, revealing the convictions, insights, scholarship, experience, and questions that shaped the man who brought us Narnia." ––Jeffrey Overstreet, film critic, Christianity Today and LookingCloser.org "David Downing′s sprightly study of the Narnia Chronicles provides readers with a fresh interpretation of Lewis′s children′s books…Read and rejoice." ––Ralph C. Wood, University Professor of Theology and Literature, Baylor University, Waco, Texas, and author, The Gospel According to Tolkien: Visions of the Kingdom in Middle–Earth

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Tevis Fen-Kortiay on 18 Oct 2012
Format: Hardcover
The centerpiece of this book is the chapter 'The Genesis of Narnia,' a useful summary of the creation process behind the wonderful Narnia books. Downing cherry-picked most of this information from the thousands of pages of letters, essays, nonfiction books and biographies published by and about C.S. Lewis. He also includes a few new observations not published elsewhere, revealing for instance that the country of Calormen featured in 'The Horse and His Boy' was based primarily on the 'Arabian Nights' collection (his source was an unpublished letter from Lewis). Downing's book also includes a brief biography of Lewis and chapters on Narnia's spiritual vision, moral psychology, classical and medieval elements, an exploration of Narnian names, literary artistry, and a helpful appendix on Narnian allusions which might be obscure to modern or non-British readers.

'Into the Wardrobe' becomes frustrating when Downing speaks from his position as a published author, college professor and "C.S. Lewis expert" to forward some sketchy or inaccurate claims, in particular: (1) that Rudolf Otto coined the word 'Numinous,' (2) that the Narnia books are not allegory, and (3) that C.S. Lewis disliked source criticism.

1. Downing claims that Rudolph Otto coined the term 'numinous,' which is not true: According to the Oxford English Dictionary the word numinous was coined in 1640 A.D., to mean "the sense of nearness of the divine," and it still means precisely the same thing today. It is true that Otto suggested in his book 'Idea of the Holy' that since God is all-powerful we puny humans must automatically regard him as terrifying despite his benevolence, and this conception of the numinous was influential on Lewis and several other intellectuals of the time ("Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "...
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Mooncarrot the Hare on 30 Oct 2010
Format: Paperback
This book is an accessible introduction to the Narnia tales.

The author writes in a style that makes the vast detail of these stories clear. In fact the general reader will come away realising that there are unlikely to be many coincidental details in these stories at all. Background detail of names of characters and inspirations for plot themes are all introduced without the book becoming a heavily scholarly treatise.

The advantage of this book is that parts of it are more like a dictionary of Narnia. This serves a useful introductory function for anyone who does not wish to go into the intense erudition of other works. Readers can test the waters with this book and if they want to swim in deeper oceans they could consider Dr Michael Ward's 'Planet Narnia'Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis.

There may be quibbles at some points. The reader might think that as an American the author makes a bit too much of democracy. He claims that Frank and Helen (whisked away from her chores on washing day to become a queen - a bonus, as another writer has observed)is an example of Lewis elevating ordinary folk. In fact the passage in Magicians Nephew is likely to be Lewis giving his commentary on the effect on people of city life, since the narrator describes the guile of urban life sloughing off Frank - a countryman, not a Cockney - in the moments after he arrives in Narnia at the beginning of its creation.

This is just an example of how this book will enable any reader to develop their own critical appreciation of these seven extraordinary stories.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By RR Waller TOP 500 REVIEWER on 11 Aug 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
SAFE READING - NO SPOILERS

Anyone familiar with the "Narnia" series will enjoy this book and I recommend it. Unlike some others written on "Narnia", e.g. Michael Ward's "Planet Narnia - The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of CS Lewis" which is very scholarly in its approach, David Downing's is an easier read but I am not suggesting it is not scholarly either. (I do recommend Ward's too; it is very convincing, well researched but it is more difficult and challenging reading but all the richer for it.)
Downing has a wealth of information about CS Lewis and each "Narnia" book is dealt with individually with great insight, perspicacity and joy. I enjoyed having new light shed on many aspects of the series and on the man himself.
Having sat in the "Eagle and Child" (locally "The Bird and the Baby") often imagining the smoke and conversation, this book engenders more imaginings. One delightful story quoted elsewhere (but which I feel sure must be apocryphal!) is of Lewis saying to Tolkien, "Oh no, not another bloody elf story to read?" (With this view I have a great deal of sympathy having visited Middle-Earth on occasions; short week-end breaks are about all I can take but living there ...!)
The chapter headings - "Genesis of Narnia", "Classical and Medieval Elements" and "What's in a Narnian Name?" - lead one to expect a great deal. He does not disappoint and I am sure any reader will come away enriched, perhaps reaching for one of the series.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 6 reviews
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Lewis' Ingredients for Creating Narnia 18 Sep 2005
By Roger N. Overton - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
C.S Lewis is most widely known today for his children's tales, The Chronicles of Narnia. However, David C. Downing notes in Into the Wardrobe: C.S. Lewis and the Narnia Chronicles that, "some of his contemporaries were shocked when the eminent C.S. Lewis started writing children's stories." (XIV) Lewis had written some fiction previously, a sci-fi trilogy, The Great Divorce, and some poetry, as well as some notable literary work, but not fiction for children. So when the Chronicles began to be written, what emerged was not merely fairy tales for children, but a magnificent composition of classical, medieval, and modern ideas filtered through the creative theological imagination of C.S. Lewis.

Into the Wardrobe explores the background of Narnia in the life and thought of C.S. Lewis. As should any book of this nature, Dr. Downing begins in Chapter 1 with a biography of Lewis. In Chapter 2 we are introduced to the writing of the Chronicles in the order they were composed. Here Dr. Downing offers a summary of each book and some explanations of their origins, including the lost Lefay fragment that was a potential beginning of The Magician's Nephew.

The last five chapters examine the content of the series categorically. Chapter 3 takes on the "spiritual vision" of the Chronicles. The spirituality of the series is seen through the perspective of Aslan, who is envisioned as "a Numinous Being," "Supremely Good," "Creator," "Co-Sufferer," "Redeemer," "Comfort and Guide" and "Judge." Next, Dr. Downing examines is the morality taught throughout the series through Edmund's failures, technology, and the virtues of honesty, empathy, privacy, and trust.

Chapter 5 looks into the classical and medieval elements found in the Chronicles including hierarchy, chivalry, magic, and astrology. For those who have wondered where Lewis might have gotten the names for his characters, this is described in detail in Chapter 6. The final chapter deals with the literary legacy of the series and grapples with a few of the criticisms that have been made of them and Lewis himself.

Into the Wardrobe was almost consistently a stimulating read. My favorite chapters were the one on the spiritual roles of Aslan and the one about classical and medieval elements. For the former, as with most Narnia fans I suspect, I can never get enough of informed Aslan discussion. For the latter, the scholarly work of Lewis in classical and medieval studies is usually only a footnote in what I've read. Dr. Downing shows that this area of Lewis' life and study is just as important as the rest and played an influential role in the formation of the Chronicles. The only chapter I didn't care much for was the one on Narnian names. Perhaps due to the subject at hand, at a couple instances I felt like I was reading a genealogy in the book of Numbers

David Downing offers us a thought-provoking behind-the-scenes look at what went into the writing of The Chronicles of Narnia. His knowledge of the subject matter and accessible writing style make this book an educational and enjoyable read at the same time.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Stands Out in a Crowd 14 Nov 2005
By Rocky Mountain Dan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
David C. Downing's INTO THE WARDROBE is one of the best Narnia guides in print. Downing is a leading C.S. Lewis expert and his familiarity with the subject matter gives this book unusual insight and depth.

Those who have just discovered "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" will find here the background information they were looking for but will also discover a thoughtful and and highly readable exploration of Lewis's themes and artistry that they may have overlooked.

And those who are familiar with Narnia from numerous readings and re-readings will find new insights and little known information here. For example, Downing explores the influences on Lewis of the "Arabian Nights" and the obscure "Voyage of Saint Brendan." Downing also dug deep to find the origins of some distinctive Narnian names such as "Puddleglum"

and "Prunaprismia."

Downing's INTO THE WARDROBE will certainly make the reading of the Narnia Chronicles more rewarding and it is a good read in its own right. Highly recommended.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Insight into Narnia 11 Jan 2006
By Christian Book Previews - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
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
5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
An Essential Aid for Explorations into Narnia 4 Dec 2005
By J. W. Cejka III - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book helps the Narnia Chronicles spring to light and life. The author enriches one's understanding of the man behind the story, the story behind the story, and the story itself. This is superbly written and accessible.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Worth a look, but includes some misleading & inaccurate claims 5 Oct 2012
By Tevis Fen-Kortiay - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The centerpiece of this book is the chapter 'The Genesis of Narnia,' a useful summary of the creation process behind the wonderful Narnia books. Downing cherry-picked most of this information from the thousands of pages of letters, essays, nonfiction books and biographies published by and about C.S. Lewis. He also includes a few new observations not published elsewhere, revealing for instance that the country of Calormen featured in 'The Horse and His Boy' was based primarily on the 'Arabian Nights' collection (his source was an unpublished letter from Lewis). Downing's book also includes a brief biography of Lewis and chapters on Narnia's spiritual vision, moral psychology, classical and medieval elements, an exploration of Narnian names, literary artistry, and a helpful appendix on Narnian allusions which might be obscure to modern or non-British readers.

'Into the Wardrobe' becomes frustrating when Downing speaks from his position as a published author, college professor and "C.S. Lewis expert" to forward some sketchy or inaccurate claims, in particular: (1) that Rudolf Otto coined the word 'Numinous,' (2) that the Narnia books are not allegory, and (3) that C.S. Lewis disliked source criticism.

1. Downing claims that Rudolph Otto coined the term 'numinous,' which is not true: According to the Oxford English Dictionary the word numinous was coined in 1640 A.D., to mean "the sense of nearness of the divine," and it still means precisely the same thing today. It is true that Otto suggested in his book 'Idea of the Holy' that since God is all-powerful we puny humans must automatically regard him as terrifying despite his benevolence, and this conception of the numinous was influential on Lewis and several other intellectuals of the time ("Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "...Who said anything about [Aslan] being safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good"). However, if you look up numinous in any modern dictionary, you'll see that Otto's attempt to globally update the word's definition was unsuccessful. Anyway, even if Otto had managed to modify the meaning of 'numinous,' that is simply not what it means to coin a word. For example: if I redefined the word "God" in this Amazon review to mean "a giant purple frog," would that mean I had "coined" the word God?

2. Downing states that Narnia is not an allegory because (a) it does not always have one-to-one allegorical correspondences, and (b) Lewis did not encourage his readers to think of Narnia as an allegory, but as a "supposal" (as in "Let us suppose that..."). To the first point, it is a fundamental misunderstanding of allegory to believe that a piece must be restricted to one-to-one correspondences to qualify as allegory. Consider Edmund Spenser's 'The Faerie Queene,' one of the most-referenced allegories in the English language and a special favorite of C.S. Lewis. On page 321 of 'The Allegory of Love,' Lewis mentions that the Faerie Queene has allegorical correspondences to both the Christian virtues and politics. Queen Elizabeth alone corresponds to at least three different characters (from Wikipedia's Faerie Queene page):

"[Queen] Elizabeth...appears most prominently in her guise as Gloriana, the Faerie Queene herself; but also in Books III and IV as the virgin Belphoebe, daughter of Chrysogonee and twin to Amoret, the embodiment of womanly married love; and perhaps also, more critically, in Book I as Lucifera, the 'maiden queen' whose brightly lit Court of Pride masks a dungeon full of prisoners."

While it's true that Lewis encouraged a child correspondent to think of Narnia as a "supposal" rather than allegory, is it perhaps the case that Lewis felt that it is proper in romance (which today we would call 'fantasy') for the inner meaning to be carefully hidden?

"As is proper in romance, the inner meaning is carefully hidden." -C.S. Lewis in a letter to Arthur Greaves (18 July 1916)

Lewis referred to the hidden element in fantasy stories as the 'kappa element' (kappa meaning hidden), and he held a lifelong enthusiasm for that subtle hidden meaning behind words which can express "things that can't be directly told," even stating in his book 'Spenser's Images of Life' that "all great truths should be veiled." Carefully keeping Narnia's allegorical inner meaning hidden does not disqualify it as allegory.

3. Downing wrote that "Lewis generally disliked source criticism, the interpretive approach that assumes major characters and images in a story can usually be traced to something in an author's life or reading habits." This is very misleading. Lewis held a lifelong fascination with what he (in common with most English-speaking literary scholars of his time) called quellenforschung (German Quelle, source + Forschung, research), the study of tracing sources for a literary work. In his introduction to 'George MacDonald; An Anthology,' Lewis wrote: "I am a don, and "source-hunting" (Quellenforschung) is perhaps in my [bone] marrow." On page 375 of 'Letters of C.S. Lewis,' the author writes to praise Charles A. Brady for being "the first of my critics so far who has really read and understood all my books," specifically stating "The Quellenforschung is good." Many of Lewis' scholarly books, in particular his 'Allegory of Love,' include facts and guesses on the literary sources informing his favorite authors on nearly every page. It's true that Lewis wrote a cautionary essay called 'Psycho-Analysis and Literary Criticism' on the dangers of mistaking an armchair psychological diagnosis of the author for literary criticism. He was also wearied by quellenforschung done badly, as when a few critics misguidedly assumed The Lord of the Rings had anything to do with the atomic bomb. Neither fact changes the reality that C.S. Lewis held a lifelong fascination with identifying the literary sources for his favorite books.

Casual readers may come away from Downing's book misled into believing that identifying the Narnian books as "mere" allegory, or acknowledging that Lewis loved hunting down the literary sources for his own favorite stories, would somehow diminish his achievement. The reality is almost completely the reverse: his Narnian stories have such profound power to convey a sense of the numinous *because* Lewis was able to identify, distill and revivify the allegorical insights of John Bunyan, Dante, Edmund Spenser, George MacDonald, Boethius and his other literary heroes.
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