Q&A With "Into the Wardrobe" Author David C. Downing
- Friday, December 23, 2005
In a recent interview with Christianbook.com, David Downing, C.S. Lewis expert and author of "Into the Wardrobe: C.S. Lewis and The Narnia Chronicles," discusses his own exploration of the classic children's book series, "The Chronicles of Narnia."
Christianbook.com: Why do you think "The Chronicles of Narnia" have become children's classics?
David Downing: I think part of their ongoing appeal is that they can be enjoyed at so many levels. Children can enjoy the fast-paced adventures, lovable characters, and vividly-described settings. Older readers appreciate Lewis's perceptive psychology and the soul-nourishing spiritual vision that gleams through all the "Chronicles." And even seasoned literary scholars are amazed by how often details in these "simple" stories are based on ideas borrowed from Aristotle or Plato, as well as the dozens of subtle biblical and literary allusions.
CB.com: Your book, "Into the Wardrobe," is comprehensive while still an approachable size. The appendix, bibliography, and index are troves of easily accessible information covering the whole series. For a project of this scope, and for it being as obviously well-researched as it is why wasn't this produced as a more encyclopedic volume?
Downing: My editors at Jossey-Bass and I agreed that we wanted to blend solid research with popular readability. We wanted "first-time visitors" to "Narnia," such as those who have only seen the film version of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," to find here a helpful introduction. But we also wanted to offer more substance and insight to seasoned readers of all seven "Narnia" books, so we included more substantial sections on the writing of all seven books, plus the in-depth notes and bibliography you mentioned.
CB.com: One fantastic chapter gives etymologies to Narnian names, in much the same way as John Granger's "Looking for God in Harry Potter" does for that series. While the convention of "making names mean something" is noticeable in the "Potter" books, it doesn't seem to be as much in the "Chronicles." What was your motivation for digging so deeply into word origins, and did you expect such fascinating "Easter eggs"?
Downing: I knew from reading Lewis's other books that many Narnian names had special meanings. He explained in a letter that Aslan is Turkish for "lion," a name he encountered in "The Arabian Nights." And he discusses the Hebrew word Emeth, meaning "true, faithful," in "Reflections on the Psalms." So when we meet a Calormene nobleman named Emeth in The Last Battle, we know Lewis is giving us a clue to his character.
As a classical scholar, Lewis knew Greek and Latin, of course, but he also read German and French, as well as Anglo-Saxon, medieval Italian, and even Old Icelandic. So it becomes a kind of treasure hunt to look into hidden meanings of Lewis's names, to find added insights into their character based upon their names.
One of my favorite names, the morose Marsh-wiggle in "The Silver Chair," is explained in Lewis's scholarly tome, "English Literature in the Sixteenth Century." There Lewis mentions a rather minor English poet who was sometimes unintentionally funny, as when he called the fiery river Styx in hell a "puddle glum." Lewis said he couldn't help but smile over the odd phrasing. And he makes his readers smile when turns that phrase into the name of one of his most memorable Narnian characters, Puddleglum.
CB.com: Are there any parallels between the seven books and Lewis' nonfiction books? Which of his nonfiction books would match best with the seven books in the series, if one wanted to get a larger picture of Lewis' worldview than what the stories give?
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