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A Reader’s Guide to Caspian:  A Journey into C.S. Lewis’s Narnia
By Leland Ryken and Marjorie Lamp Mead
InterVarsity Press Books
172 Pages

In preparation for reading A Reader’s Guide to Caspian:  A Journey into C.S. Lewis’s Narnia, I took the authors’ advice, laid out in the book’s preface:  “’DON’T READ THIS!  Not yet.’  Instead, curl up in a corner somewhere quiet and settle down to read C.S. Lewis’s delightful story of Prince Caspian on your own.  And once you have enjoyed this classic tale in its superb and unique richness, then pick up this reader’s guide once again and join with us in conversation about story generally and the tale of Prince Caspian in particular.”  I am not sure how long it had been since I read the book which follows The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, but it had been long enough that I had almost completely forgotten the details of the plot and most of the characters.  As I read, I found myself enchanted once again, held entirely captive by the genius of Lewis’s storytelling.  Not only was I caught up in the adventure, but I also found myself as an adult reader catching literary details, references, and subtleties that, as a child, would have completely passed me by.  It is a testimony to Lewis as master myth-maker that his stories can be enjoyed by so many different people, at so many different ages and times.

Leland Ryken and Marjorie Lamp Mead, the authors of A Reader’s Guide to Caspian, capitalize on this quality of Lewis’s “children’s books”, treating them as serious works of literature as well as exciting adventure stories.  They characterize their book as a tour guide, of sorts, to the masterpiece that is Prince Caspian.  The book is jam-packed with information about Caspian and its author and establishes Ryken and Lamp Mead not only as Lewis scholars of the first order, but also as lovers of a tale well-told.  This Reader’s Guide contains information for every kind of reader, from the serious student to the casual inquirer.  It also includes many helps for reading groups or home-schooled students, including discussion questions, background information, and a chapter-by-chapter analysis of the story.  The chapter “Are the Narnian Stories Allegorical?” helps to clear up the confusion about whether or not Aslan = Jesus (as so many people have assumed over the years).  In turn,  “The Christian Vision of Prince Caspian” highlights the different ways in which this story in particular shows that “The whole Narian story is about Christ” (as Lewis himself said).  I can only imagine that Ryken and Lamp Mead thoroughly enjoyed themselves while exercising their scholarly skills on a piece of writing which really does stand up to such close scrutiny. 

That being said, I wonder what Lewis himself would think of such a detailed “reader’s guide” to a story that he unmistakably meant to be, first and foremost, simply enjoyed as a story.  Ryken and Lamp Mead address Lewis’s concern that his books would be read allegorically this way:  “. . . he saw an inherent danger that readers will reduce stories to a conceptual and abstract level if they interpret them allegorically, though it is possible to read allegorically without succumbing to this tendency.  Lewis underscores this point when he writes, ‘Let the pictures tell you their own moral.’”  They also point out that Lewis was concerned that readers would find meanings in the text where they did not rightly exist.  Lewis said:  “As we know, almost anything can be read into any book if you are determined enough.”  I don’t believe it can be fairly said that Ryken and Lamp Mead are reading things into Lewis’s book which don’t rightly belong there, but at the same time, the Reader’s Guide contains an exhausting amount of detail that ultimately, for me, adds up to Too Much Information.  I found the chapter-by-chapter (and at some points practically paragraph-by-paragraph) analysis a bit overwhelming and ultimately not that helpful to my overall understanding of the book.  I appreciated some of the background information that helped to explain literary references and intriguing details about Caspian, but at times felt a bit lost in the sea of the authors’ archetypal criticism. 

The elephants hiding out in the appendix of this book are the new Narnia movies.  Interestingly, rather than comment on the movies themselves, Ryken and Lamp Mead simply include in the Appendix a cross-section of reviews of the first movie, The Chronicles of Narnia:  The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, both favorable and critical.  Since many of their readers will have seen the movie, I would have expected and been interested in a thoughtful analysis from the perspective of these two respected Lewis scholars.  This omission is particularly perplexing because it seems clear that InterVarsity Press means for the release of its Reader’s Guides to coincide with the release of the movies in theaters.   My suggestion for InterVarsity Press would have been, rather than trying to capitalize on the success of each Narnia movie as it comes along, that they publish one book as a companion to Lewis’s entire series.   That way readers could appreciate the background and biographical information which is pertinent to all of the Narnia books, as well as information specific to each story, without feeling overwhelmed by what is ultimately too much of a good thing.

Jennifer Monroe



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