Bruce Edwards, |
Further Up & Further In:
Understanding C.S. Lewis's
The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe
(Broadman & Holman, 2005)
In his preface to Further Up & Further In: Understanding C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe, author Bruce Edwards explains that his objective in producing this slim volume is to provide a companion to the classic children's book, halfway between an informative traveling buddy and a piece of literary commentary for the non-academically minded -- particularly, as the cover suggests, those who have come to it through the recent film. It sounds like a good idea. Narnia is always a good place to spend an afternoon in, and Edwards' promise to take his readers "further up and further in" is an attractive proposition.
Unfortunately, it takes no more than 15 or so pages to discover a number of irresolvable problems with both the idea and its execution. The first is the inherent contradiction in writing a book that claims to take a reader more deeply into the text of another book -- one it can scarcely avoid being external to. Edwards' approach to dealing with this seems to be to paraphrase, in first-person plural and chronological order, the entirety of The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe.
The result resembles an unusually celebratory, gratingly cute set of Cliffs Notes, with rather more summary and less substance than typical of that icon of superficial scholarship. Moreover, in his drive to include the reader and spell out the reactions readers should be having to the events of the book, Edwards writes in a manner that is almost unreadable for the thinking adult or child. As an example of the prose style that makes the hundred pages of text rough going, consider the following passage: "What a feast! Potatoes! Fresh fish! Marmalade rolls! Creamy milk! Beer (for Mr. Beaver, only)! Finally, tea! We sigh, with great contentment. We're warm. We're fed. We're safe. Now to business" (48). It's hard to see how reading Edwards's paraphrase could deepen, except by comparison, an enjoyment of Lewis's more intelligent and certainly less condescending prose. Distracting, too, (and surprising, given his academic background) are Edwards' frequent past/present tense inconsistencies when discussing the events of Lewis's book.
Although the majority of the book is devoted to summary of the novel, Edwards includes some notes addressing biographical, mythological and above all, Christian matters within it. His reading of the book is specifically, almost exclusively, Christian. While the Biblical references Edwards points out are interesting, their predominance, in combination with the scarcity of other notes and occasional religious comments, has the effect of making his book, and Lewis's, a bit less accessible to non-Christians. Perhaps it makes it more accessible to Christians, but The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe is, by virtue of the allegory at its heart, accessible to Christians to begin with. It seems a little unfair to both the book and its readers to limit its broader appeal.
But the primary problem with Further Up & Further In is that it offers no compelling reason to read Edwards' book when one could be rereading Lewis's instead, to go "further up and further in." The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe is not a book that requires outside criticism, nor a full paraphrase, to be enjoyable or understandable. Whether in essays or novels, Lewis's writing is recognized for its clarity and concision. It's true that there is certainly greater depth to be explored in Lewis's world -- but, citing a fear of becoming too external, too intrusive, Edwards does little of it. There is, however, genuinely excellent -- and accessible -- scholarship available on C.S. Lewis, some of it written by the great man himself. Anyone looking for more on Narnia would do well to go to seek out real literary criticism, which, contrary to popular belief, is not invariably dry or dull.
It is tempting to wonder how much of this project was prompted by an interest in capitalizing off the interest generated by the film, but regardless of the motives behind its creation, Further Up & Further In is a curiously redundant book that doesn't quite do -- well, anything, except to demonstrate the author's fondness of Lewis's work and agreement with his views. Surprisingly little of Bruce Edwards' long study and presumably deep knowledge of the subject comes through in his book. Perhaps reading groups will be able to make use of it, particularly for the discussion questions and bibliography provided in the back, but returning to its source and inspiration seems, overall, like a much better option.
by Jennifer Mo