Marvin D. Hinten,
The Keys to the Chronicles:
Unlocking the Symbols
of C.S. Lewis's Narnia

(Broadman & Holman, 2005)

The Keys to the Chronicles has all the greatness and flaws of any book written by any academic who profoundly loves his subject. It is well researched and thorough. It is also full of citings and conversations about the works of other academics, which the average reader may not be interested in. What average reader, for example, would know who Brian Sibley is? At times one feels as if one is overhearing a private conversation. Nevertheless, it is a good book that would interest any writer who wants to understand the workings of C.S. Lewis's mind.

The book succeeds best in showing how the creative mind works. Authors -- especially those like C.S. Lewis who are very educated and who remember everything they read -- will drop all kinds of allusions into their stories. These allusions, as author Marvin D. Hinten capably shows, can be biblical, literary, philosophical, biographical or historical. Hinten does an excellent job of cross-referencing these allusions: Lewis's relationship with his god-daughter, Lucy; Lewis's love of Shakespeare, as in the allusions to A Midsummer Night's Dream; the Eucharist as in Aslan's Table; and even other creative works, personal letters and essays by Lewis.

Generally, Hinten lists allusions and the sources of a Lewis phrase, name or character, showing the literary, biographical or historical connections, but after marking the allusion, like a point on a chart, he often moves on without stepping further into that particular linguistic territory. That creative choice makes this book a good addition to our store of knowledge on C.S. Lewis.

An English professor at Friends University in Wichita, Kansas, Hinten obviously loves Lewis. Also a contributor to Narnia Beckons, he is definitely a researcher, but some readers might have wanted him to make meatier examinations of these allusions. Perhaps he doesn't do this because other scholarly books have already examined Lewis's Narnia and he did not want to retread other terrain. And certainly many readers don't want an exhaustive, overly academic examination of a beloved children's book. Keys to the Chronicles is just enough of an "insider's" academic book without being too much so. Academics might wish the book were much longer, and average folks might wish it weren't bogged down with so much insider academic references. But the book is helpful to the reader who wishes to better understand Lewis's spirituality -- although his contention that the King James translation of Lucifer as "day star" did create a tiny bit of suspicion about the accuracy of the research in the book. (The word "star" is often used to describe an angel, and both Christ and Lucifer are referred to as "day star" -- depending on the translation -- and when Hinten writes the Lucifer/daystar sentence and then quickly moves on to speaking about the phrase "the World's End," one shakes one head because after all that well-done research he messed up on something that could easily have been checked.) But that is a small quibble. This book is recommended.

by Carole McDonnell
11 February 2006

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