A Brick in the Valley

The Narnian by Alan Jacobs
December 9, 2007, 4:33 am
Filed under: C.S. Lewis, Recommended Reading

 Let me explain why many of you should make it a priority for the New Year to read The Narnian by Alan Jacobs.  And, at the same time, suggest that others shouldn’t bother.

The introduction to Alan Jacobs’s, The Narnian, is brilliant.  The first few pages are worth the price of the book – – worth the price of many books.  In his introduction, Jacobs sets forth a thesis for his biography and I think, and British idiom is appropriate when Lewis is the subject, that Jacobs is “spot on.”

But, before you sail off to Amazon to put The Narnian on your wish list, I would say that if you are not a lover of Lewis, and especially, The Chronicles, then it won’t be worth your time to try and understand the big idea that Jacobs develops.

If Lewis doesn’t resonate with you on a deep level, then Jacobs’s thesis won’t either.  Read no further.

Lewis would have agreed with the suggestion that some need not read any more.  In telling his own story, Lewis referred to episodes in his own life when he felt a wistful longing.  After describing those moments, Lewis wrote,

The reader who finds these three episodes of no interest need read this book no further, for in a sense the central story of my life is about nothing else. For those who are still disposed to proceed I will only underline the quality common to the three experiences; I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again. Apart from that, and considered only in its quality, it might almost equally well be called a particular kind of unhappiness or grief. But then it is a kind we want. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures of the world. But then Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is. (Surprised by Joy).

Jacobs’ thesis summarizing the thought and writings of C.S. Lewis is his belief that,

Lewis’s mind was above all characterized by a willingness enchanted and that it was this openness to enchantment that held together the various strands of his life – – Clearly, Lewis’s  imagination was a transforming one: he took the people he knew and loved, the great events he experienced, the books he read, and swept them all together into the great complicated manifold world of Narnia . . .He was a Narnian long before he knew what name to give that country; it was his true homeland, the native ground to which he hoped, one day, to return.  (Jacobs, The Narnian, xxi, xxv, emphasis his).

The more I think about it – – the more I think Jacobs has nailed it.  If you’re a lover of Narnia, and if you haven’t already read The Narnian, then see what you think. 

Otherwise, you need read no further.

Jacobs, Alan. The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis. New York: HarperCollins, 2005


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