The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

Recently, while watching Walden Media’s offering of C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I began to consider what appeared to be a very prominent theme. I’m an ardent fan of the The Chronicles of Narnia having feasted on them a multitude of times since I was 9 or 10 years old. In addition to placing myself alongside the Pavensis and their friends in all their adventures, I was at a place in my mental development where I could begin to grasp the spiritual messages and morals presented by Lewis. From the time I enthusiastically realized that Aslan’s sacrifice for Edmund—really for all Narnia—represented Christ’s sacrifice for mankind, I delightedly began looking for other manifestations of Biblical truths. As I uncovered individual themes and motives in each book, I wondered about connections between the books. I haven’t investigated much of the criticism on these books, so what I’m about to propose might already be a well-developed idea or maybe you’ve already thought this through yourself. Even so, I’d like to provoke some of your thoughts on this subject and if you haven’t considered it, this theme might be a great new way for you to look at these stories. The Chronicles of Narnia comprise Lewis’s treatise on faith in God.

Starting with Wardrobe you’ll remember that the first problem in the book is whether the older children will believe Lucy about here new-found “country in the cupboard.” Being the youngest, Lucy is the perfect candidate to first encounter Narnia. She knows what she has experienced and cannot recant her account since she possesses an artless candidness for which children of her age are known. Lewis captures her trusting nature perfectly in her following a devious Mr. Tumnus to his house and in her manner and conversation throughout the story. Her love and trust of Aslan are immediate and complete. She is Lewis’s tribute to Christ’s injunction for faith like a child.

Each sibling takes a different approach to Lucy’s story. Edmund finds himself in a position where he too encounters the magical country. As you know he does something quite different. He knows Narnia is real, but he denies it. He desires to prove himself equal to Peter and to admit to Lucy’s account, he thinks, would look silly to his brother— especially after giving Lucy such a hard time. Edmund is a fool on the scale of belief. He’s the kind of person who knows deep down that a thing is true but doesn’t want to admit it either because he is afraid of his peers, or because he doesn’t want to face the consequences of his wrong beliefs. Edmund continues to exhibit the traits of a fool even after he is forced to admit he was wrong. He suppresses the truth about the witch and betrays his siblings for selfish gain.

Susan’s objections tend to be materialistic. You remember that she is the one with all the practical concerns. She’s the one that suggests putting on coats to keep warm when the children enter Narnia together for the first time. Susan is the first to point out the back of the wardrobe. She can see that it is solid wood. In Peter’s and Susan’s interview with the professor, Lewis narrows in on Susan’s bewildered reaction to the professor’s statements. In fact, you’ll find that the only thoughts he describes in this passage are Susan’s. The professor’s thinking does not align with what she has come to expect from grown-ups, and she “[doesn’t] know what to think.”

Peter cannot accept Lucy’s account from a rational standpoint. Like any rational person, he looks objectively at what he sees to be the facts and then extracts a conclusion—Lucy’s story must be a joke. When she insists, Peter decides that she could be insane. But as the professor points out, Peter excludes some of the facts in order to think that Lucy’s story is irrational. Lucy’s stellar record in honesty and her perfect sanity should tell Peter that Lucy’s insistence contains some credibility.

Much to our delight, all the children soon come to believe when they are unexpectedly thrust into Narnia. Edmund produces a negative form of this belief by trusting the White Witch. You can note the way that the general belief in the world of Narnia refines into a more specific belief, or trust, in Aslan. All of the children (except Lucy) are initially hesitant to trust Mr. Beaver and his talk of Aslan. Aslan proves his worthiness of their trust through his sacrifice for Edmund and his assistance in defeating the White Witch. In the subsequent stories, Aslan manifests himself to be the God of all worlds and it is through Narnia that he gains the faith of the Pavensis, the Professor, Polly, Eustace, and Jill. But I’ll deal more with this in a later post.

The Prophet: A Novella by Francine Rivers

Last week I finished the latest in the Sons of Encouragement Series – The Prophet – which tells the story of Amos. The author’s introduction to the book states that she takes the story from the biblical account itself, adding only what she believes is consistent with the account in terms of character motivations and plot events.

The book starts by introducing Amos as a shepherd caring for his flock. His care of the sheep demonstrates his compassion and love for the sheep, and is replete with imagery. He is a man at home in the hills and uncomfortable in the city. His brothers, on the other hand, work for one of the priests in the Temple to pay off family debt, engaging in extortion that enriches the priest and enables them to pay.

As Amos learns what the family business is about, anger fills him against the wicked priest, his brothers, and ultimately against God for allowing it to go on. He does the duty required of him with sacrifices, but his heart is no longer quiet. In the midst of this comes a sudden set of visions from God. He resists when God calls to him, but finally gives in.

Though he is of Judah, God sends him to Israel. At first he is well received when he prophesies against Israel’s enemies, and even tolerated when he speaks of the judgment coming to Judah. The people seek to lavish gifts upon him and bring him into their homes. However, when it is time to speak against Israel’s sins he is reviled and beaten. Few welcome his words, and most that do have reasons of their own that have nothing to do with repentance.

Amos repeats his message throughout the years, and when it is time he returns home so that the words of the Lord can be written down. Constant is his message to repent and turn from the rebellion of their hearts, and constant is his cry that Israel and Judah turn from their flagrant idolatry. The end of his story is harsh, though perhaps fitting, or at least possible in light the enemies he has made.

Unlike some fictionalized Bible stories, Francine Rivers does not invent a superfluity of details, but prefers instead to keep the story trim and edifying. As with all fictional works, especially those based on true events and/or real people, the author’s interpretation of events must be taken into account as it alters how a story is presented, and teaches the reader to see certain things.

The story might come across as perhaps too preachy for those wanting more of a novelization, or as not didactic enough for those wanting a real exposition of the prophet. This book stands in the middle of those two extremes and takes some risks for doing so.

Not being an expert on the Minor Prophets, nor the time period involved, I cannot judge historical veracity. However, based on the story presented here, I can say that it is a well-told, if not simple tale. For readers daunted by reading the Old Testament prophets or readers looking to understand the historical and cultural context of Amos without having to crack open commentaries and history books, this telling is a good place to start.

The Bad Beginning & The Reptile Room by Lemony Snicket

I have to wonder what it is that makes these stories so fascinating and enjoyable. These children’s books are more enjoyable than many fiction titles targeted at adults and certainly better than Harry Potter. Have you read any of the books in this series? I watched the movie which covers the first three books and was intrigued by the story, so I decided to listen to the unabridged audio. (The audio books are read by Tim Curry – an enjoyable experience in itself.) These first two volumes are short stories; each audio book is just over three hours and that makes them great for exercising or short trips.

If you haven’t delved into this series, then let me recommend it to you. The story follows the history of the three Baudelaire orphans: Violet, Klaus, and Sunny. In every book, only the worst possible things happen to the children. Lemony Snicket records that woeful tale of these orphans as they are pursued by the evil Count Olaf. Olaf will do anything to get his hands on the children’s fortune and of course, no adults believe the children when they attempt to get help, so the three orphans have to defend themselves against their arch-nemesis.

As depressing as this might sound, the truth is that this story isn’t very depressing. I can’t explain why the story is this way. Somehow, Snicket has managed to weave various elements together and keep the tone light-hearted (mostly). I suspect the key ingredient to making the story successful is the “over-the-top” approach. The “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day” syndrome seems to abstract the reader from feeling to much pain. The lively, unique and enjoyable characters have emotions with which everyone can identify.

The Bad Beginning tells of how the children were orphaned and introduces the main characters of the series. Mr. Poe, the coughing banker, is in charge of the large fortune that the children will inherit as soon as Violet becomes of age. Until that time, the children are supposed to live with a relative. The first relative that Mr. Poe puts them with is the thesbian Count Olaf. Olaf is a horrid man that will do anything including murder to get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune…. The orphans must outwit Olaf’s diabolical scheme to save themselves. (Of course, Olaf escapes the clutches of the law to become the children’s arch-nemesis.)

In The Reptile Room, Snicket introduces one of the more enjoyable characters of the series. Uncle Monty is a bit of an oddity, but loveable all the same. He is a great herpetologist and he keeps a great collection of reptiles around the hosue (i.e. the reptile room). Olaf is not content to the let the children escape his clutches quite so easily, and so he prepares a dastardly plan to gain control of the fortune.

Overall, I would recommend these stories with little reservation to any teenager or adult. The situational ethics and the swear word in The Reptile Room would cause me to hesitate giving the book to a child. Still, with a parent reading alongside or even reading them to a child (with on the fly editing of the swear word), these would make great stories. I really enjoy how Snicket attempts to explain big or unusual words to the children as well as his effort to encourage reading in children. These books must be read to understand just how good they are.

Cherokee Rose by Al and JoAnna Lacy

Occasionally I have reason to read authors I’m not normally interested in because their books show up in my mailbox at work. I read the books, fill out a review form for the publisher, and the library gets to keep the book for our collection. Cherokee Rose, by Al and JoAnna Lacy, falls into this category.

Al and JoAnna Lacy have established names in the Christian historical fiction market and command their own following. After reading this book, I can’t say that I’m a new member of that following. In all fairness, the authors certainly pack a lot of information in a book that weighs in at just under 300 pages, but therein also lies the weakness.

Cherokee Rose, the first in a new series, tells the story of the Trail of Tears, starting back before the event with the birth of some key historical characters, and follows them and some fictional characters through the early events that eventually started the exodus to the end of the trail. The story is told almost entirely from the point of view of the Cherokees. Despite being the focus of the book’s back cover blurb and the title character, Cherokee Rose, does not show up until part way through the book.

Cherokee Rose struggles through the injustices perpetrated on her people during the journey west and develops an interest in one of the soldiers escorting them because of his kindness to her people and because he is also a Christian. The gospel is shared plainly throughout the book, as well as an acceptance of the trials Christians are to endure. Faith is not a minor element in this story.

However, the story is handicapped by the authors’ attempts to fit too much into too little space. The plot and emotional intensity suffer from too much telling without enough showing, limited character development, and language that feels almost stilted at times. The amount of time and material covered could have easily been fit into more than one book. In all honesty I would have had little motivation to finish the book if I hadn’t had an obligation to do so. Perhaps the second book might be an improvement when it is released.

Readers who demand little from their books and who are interested in learning about the Trail of Tears from a novel rather than a history book might find this book enjoyable. I would recommend borrowing it from your library, though, instead of buying it.

The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (author of the great Sherlock Holmes) probably inspired Michael Crichton’s famous Jurassic Park series. In fact, upon learning that I was going through The Lost World, most people assumed that it was Crichton’s version. This is a sad commentary. (Not that Crichton’s book The Lost World is bad; on the contrary, it was better than his original title in the famed series – Jurassic Park.) It’s just a bit sad that the original inspiration is being lost to time.

Unlike Crichton and other variations on this theme, Doyle’s work is not an adventure/thriller. Instead, Doyle wrote The Lost World as a polemic for evolution. I overheard a PBS documentary commenting that Doyle was intertwined with the finding of one of the first “prehistoric man hoaxes.” Doyle always attempted to portray it as the genuine article and was apparently shunned from scientific communities because of it. Then Doyle wrote this story in which a character claimed that “with enough skill, anything could be made to appear real.” This line caused Doyle’s critics to accuse him of developing the first “prehistoric man hoax.”

It was these facts that made me interested in The Lost World. I am frequently fascinated by books that are written as polemics. I enjoy trying to figure out what an author believed. So I picked up this story to learn more about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

In this story, Professor Challenger has challenged the scientific community with the announcement that on a plateau in South America existed a prehistoric world. During a great (and heated) debate, a proposal is made: a team should be appointed to go and verify the Professor’s claims. This team consisted of a newspaperman (Malone) who authors the story in the form of letters to his editor, a professor (Summerlee) who ardently denies the possibility of dinosaurs surviving to the present age, and a great hunter-explorer (Roxton). When the three reach South America, Professor Challenger makes a surprise appearance to lead the expedition.

The story tracks the tale of the four men as they make their way down the Amazon to the hidden plateau. On top of the plateau, they find a prehistoric world with a variety of surprises that I won’t spoil for you here.

The most interesting part of the book is the identification of the “bad team.” While many bad characters and creatures come and go in the pages, the main threat to “truth” is the established scientific community. It is not a story of religion suppressing science, but of science supressing diverse points of view. Ironically, Doyle stands in strange company. Creationists and to a lesser extent the Intelligent Design group find themselves discriminated against by the establishment.