Finding Narnia takes us into the lives of two brothers whose childhood inspired one of the world’s greatest fantasy series.
*Finding Narnia: the Story of C. S. Lewis and His Brother by Caroline McAlister, illustrated by Jessica Lanan. Roaring Brook, 2019, 39 pages.
Reading Level: Picture Book, ages 4-8
Recommended for: all ages, especially Narnia fans
Jack and Warnie weren’t just brothers; they were best friends. But they were very different. From the beginning, it was Jack who dreamed up stories of other worlds.
Warren Hamilton Lewis, three years older, had the practical, analytical mind. From childhood he was obsessed with railway lines, ships, and schedules. Clive Staples Lewis (Jack) spent his imaginative life on mythical lands and heroes. Yet they found ways to collaborate: for Jack’s imagined kingdom of Boxen, populated with by humans and humanized animals, Warnie provided transportation and industry. The boys grow up but never, except for their boarding-school years, grew apart. Even during the Great War when they served in different theaters, they stayed in close touch. Much later, when they lived in comfortable bachelorhood on a country estate outside of Oxford, Warnie typed the manuscripts Jack wrote in longhand, including the stories about an imaginary land, a bit like Boxen, called Narnia.
This picture book wouldn’t be of much interest to those who never visited Narnia, but to fans it will be a treasure. We gain an appreciation of Warnie’s invaluable friendship and support to his brother. Features of their childhood ended up in the Chronicles, such as geographical features, humanized animals, and a hand-carved wardrobe brought to the Oxford house from their childhood home. Even the endpapers are worth close examination, for they contrast the geography of the British Isles with that of Aslan’s world. Don’t miss the Author’s and Illustrator’s notes, which fill in details of the brothers’ lives and work. The latter, in particular, lists biographical touches not explicit in the text. My one complaint is that the water-color illustrations could be a little more detailed. In a double-page spread of the boys’ nursery, the illustrator includes the little “toy garden” in a biscuit-tin lid that Warren constructed of moss and small flowers. In Surprised by Joy, his brother cites that throwaway project as his first inkling of transcendence and longing. There must have been something exquisite about that little garden, but it’s represented her as a blob on a square. Otherwise, anyone who’s ever been enchanted by the Chronicles of Narnia will find this picture-book biography equally enchanting.
Overall Rating: 4.75 (out of 5)
- Worldview/moral value: 5
- Artistic/literary value: 4.5
We’re chock-full of Narnia posts! See “Reflections in a Dragon’s Eye” (mostly about the Dawn Treader movie), Megan’s thoughts on introducing the series to her boys in “The Narnia Dilemma,” and Betsy’s “5 Souvenirs from Narnia.“
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