Worlds Beyond: How The Chronicles Of Narnia Introduced Us To Other Authors We Love
I had come to Narnia as a child after spending an entire year making my way through the Fellowship of the Ring. When I said “more!” to my father, he took me to the living room and showed me seven books in a box. I sat down and immediately thought, “Well, they’re easier to read” and devoured them over the summer. It was a bit like discovering a magic wardrobe in the guest room. I kept thinking, these were sitting in the living room the whole time! When I finished Narnia I asked to know what was going to happen next and looked for other books on magic or space, talking animals or time travel.
I could write ten more articles on Narnia without too much trouble, but “Susan’s Problem (s)” is a good cornerstone that gets to the heart of a lot of the things some of us hate or love about. of Narnia now that we are adults.
As the Great CS Lewis Reread community grew, I was very grateful for the insightful, generous, intelligent and kind comments here. Before moving on to Lewis’s other work, I thought it would be fun to write two more articles while we are still in Narnia to talk about the consequences of this world and how it has changed our reading and writing. (for those who are writers), and just get to know yourself better.
So for me, looking at how reading The Chronicles impacted my life as a reader, I see four different paths that start from the summer I read. The last battle Until today. These are basically: looking for “more books like this”; my father’s speculative fiction book raid; books with direct links to Lewis; and the search for more religious or religiously motivated speculative fiction.
When I first started looking for “more books like Narnia,” I didn’t have the easiest time. It was the early 1980s, so we didn’t have the same embarrassment of wealth as elementary school children today. But my parents managed to find two books that I immediately fell in love with: The phantom toll by Norton Juster and The old and future king by TH White. The first taught me that books can be weird, funny, and delicious, and the second taught me to love King Arthur and sent me to The death of Arthur and later to Chrétien de Troyes and through the present day and my almost irrational excitement for the next one The green knight movie!
I don’t know how I missed Robin McKinley or the Redwall books, but I did. It seemed difficult to find fantastic books for children at the time, but maybe it was my location, available bookstores and (probably at stake here) going to Christian schools where library books don’t get. are not diversified. certain territories (but where I read The war for Mansoul, an adapted version of John Bunyan’s story about a besieged city called Mansoul and I’ll leave it to you to see if you can understand the metaphor. This is also where I read the strange apocalypse novel 666 by Salem Kirban who besides being incredibly dark and weird – there is cannibalism in this book and also ruby ring lasers – had the added benefit of a foreword where the author said that it was “mostly fiction” but also it was true because it was based on the Bible. If you haven’t been frightened by the religious devotees who start by saying the story you are about to read is true then you really missed a deep terror.)
Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea novels have been by far the most influential and beloved book series through this “Can I Find More Books Like Narnia” portal. I found A magician of Earthsea in sixth grade and I was so deeply thrilled that I drew pictures and reread the book during recess. (This is also why Jay Hightower was arrested and then “disciplined” for copying my drawing of the Shadow Pursuing Ged thing. The professor saw it and thought it was a demon, and Jay took the belt instead of denouncing me. Which, again, Christian school in the 80s, and also sorry, Jay!) I still love these books!
Now the “What’s on Daddy’s Shelf” path in Narnia was considerably busier. Dad is one of the original sci-fi nerds, so there was a lot of sci-fi from the golden age and a really big pile of all the best sci-fi magazines. But, also, there were a lot of ’70s novels in there that, uh, weren’t suitable for nine-year-olds.
So I had some great adventures with Ray Bradbury (I particularly liked The Martian Chronicles and one of the news that take place on Halloween) and Isaac Asimov (I robot!). There were even a few Asimov juveniles buried in there, so I read a few Lucky Starrs. I discovered some Doctor Who and Star Trek romanizations. And a little later I came across The Riftwar saga Raymond A. Feist books, which I loved.
I also came across – far too early in my life – the book Ariel by Stephen R. Boyett, on any tech that stops when the magic returns, a young man befriending a unicorn, and oh yeah something about a sexual awakening. I remember asking my dad while I was reading, “What is an erection?” and he said, “Something you put up, like a building.” And I was like, hmmm, I don’t know how to make sense of that in this context. I was quite confused by the detailed sex scene that takes place towards the end. My dad, years later: “Yeah, well, obviously I didn’t remember that part or I wouldn’t have let you read it.”
As for books directly related to Lewis, well, I ended up reading everything the man had ever written, including his school work, his poems, his letters. I had mixed feelings about The space trilogy, which I loved and hated (look forward to discussing this here with all of you in the future). My experience with This hideous force give me her novels long enough that when I came back and read Until we have faces I was old enough to understand and appreciate it.
Lewis directly referred to many authors he loved or respected throughout his writing, and some of those I have grown to love and respect also include Charles Williams (especially Lion square and All Hallow’s Eve), GK Chesterton (in particular The Notting Hill Napoleon and the stories of Father Brown, as well as Eternal man), Dorothy L. Sayers (I’ve only read a handful of her novels, so I still have a lot to do!), And of course George MacDonald.
By the time I got to MacDonald, I quite enjoyed his children’s fairy tales (I actually bought some nice editions illustrated by Maurice Sendak), but I was also probably too young for the weirdness of Phantastes and Lilith. I was confused by him. Was it for children or for the elderly? I discovered – much later in my life – that what I liked most about MacDonald was his sermons. His Unspoken sermons are beautiful, interesting, and describe God in a way that powerfully resonates with my own experience.
Then, finally, the last category Narnia opened up to me was the search for more religious or religiously motivated speculative fiction. I don’t mean “Christian fiction” (ie “fiction written by Christians”) when I say this, although I have no problem with those who like this genre. What I mean are stories that seriously struggle with the faith, or at least are nuanced in their religious character.
Of course, there are a variety of amazing books that fall into this category, many of which are highly regarded by people of different faiths: A hymn for Liebowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. Fred Saberhagen falls into that category for me, although he’s much less open about it. Also Clifford Simak. Susan Palwick’s incredible work, both short stories and novels, often has transformative and healing properties that I find refreshing.
Connie Willis, winner of eleven Hugo Awards and seven Nebulas, has written many novels that are very important to me, including Book of Revelation. I can’t tell you how often I think of this book and the astonishing emotional picture it portrays of someone doing the right thing, even knowing that they can’t change what’s about to happen. .
I also deeply liked the work of Gene Wolfe. I was amazed when I started to read The shadow of the torturer and I thought, “Uh, is this a book about Jesus?” and as I read on the series got to where I was wondering if, well, maybe Severian was literally meant to be Jesus? A lot of Wolfe’s short stories are beautiful, complicated explorations of faith in intergalactic contexts, or the future, or just, you know, a quiet story about staying in a Bed & Breakfast just outside of Hell.
I also like religious and spiritual stories that don’t come from a Christian perspective, like the work of Ursula K. Le Guin (The tombs of Atuan might have the most frightening and accurate picture of corrupt and perverted spiritual work I’ve ever read … I was so relieved when Ged finally appeared!) or recent books like SB Divya’s Machinehood, which has atheists and Christians and neo-Buddhists and Muslims all inhabiting the same future with all of the complexities, misunderstandings and bounties you might expect after living in the real world, today.
There are many, many more… and I can trace my introduction to many of them back to Lewis and Narnia. I’m sure I would have met some anyway, through another path, another portal, another closet. But I’m thankful that once my dad took me into the living room and handed me a box of those seven books.
Now I would love to hear about your trip. Where and when did you first read the Chronicles? What doors have these stories opened for you and what books have you discovered as a result?
In two weeks, we’ll be back to talk about the effect Narnia has on us as writers and creators. Yes, I will invite you in the comments to talk about your own projects! I look forward. In the meantime, my friends, remember Aslan is moving!