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|Past Watchful Dragons: The Narnian Chronicles of C.S. Lewis|
by Walter Hooper
Collier Macmillan, 1979
Recommended by: Greg Slade
In this slim volume, Walter Hooper, who was Lewis' secretary for a brief period at the end of Lewis' life and has acted as Lewis' literary executor ever since, attempts to give some background on how The Chronicles of Narnia came to be written and how best to interpret them.
According to Hooper, Lewis never kept the manuscripts of works once they had made it into print, but he does deliver up some tantalising fragments which he says he turned up amongst Lewis' other papers. Some of these are fragments of the material which Hooper has since published in Boxen. Others are, as far as I know, unavailable through any other source, including one fragment which appears to be part of an early draft of a sequel to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and which contains elements from several of the of the Narnia books, as well as material which Lewis never published in any form. The work also includes an "Outline of Narnian history so far as it is known," which, for all I know, may have sparked innumerable Narnia "fan fiction" stories. Hooper also sides with those who argue for reading the stories in order by internal chronology, rather than in the order of publication, and cites Lewis himself as an authority for this view. (p. 32.)
But Hooper's primary concern in this work seems to be to refute the notion that Lewis intended The Chronicles of Narnia to be an imaginative "retelling" of the Bible, or, worse yet, allegorical.
The reason why Lewis claimed that neither his Narnian stories nor his interplanetary trilogy are allegories is that he was using the traditional definition of the term: by allegory he meant the use of something real and tangible to stand for that which is real but intangible. Love can be allegorized, patience can be allegorized, anything immaterial can be allegorized or represented by feigned physical objects. But Aslan, for example, is already a physical object. To try and represent what Christ would be like in Narnia is to turn one physical being into another physical being and that, of course, does not fall within Lewis' definition of what constitutes an "allegory." (p. 129.)
Hooper brings in some of Lewis' own published work to buttress his case in arguing that the Christian themes in the stories were not Lewis' original agenda for writing the works, but rather occurred naturally during the course of their creation, because Lewis' thought and conversation was leavened with Christianity, and he could hardly have kept it out. This should give pause to those innumerable Lewis "wannabes" who seem to assume that they can create something as compelling as Narnia by setting out to write a story which will "teach" this or that doctrine. (June, 2005)
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