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The bio, the pitch and the motherlode



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They are vast, they are legion --- more numerous than the ghouls, hags, ogres and werewolves in the army of the White Witch. Nothing can stop the onslaught of the Books About Narnia.

Spurred by the release of the movie "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" on Friday (which grossed 67.1 million its opening weekend), publishers have flooded bookstores with more than two dozen tie-ins and bandwagon-riders, most of them unofficial and many of them quite serious in the way they consider the life and faith of Narnia's creator, C.S. Lewis.

"When 'Lord of the Rings' came out, we weren't prepared for that phenomenon," says Charlotte Abbott, senior book news editor at Publishers Weekly. This time, publishers --- including several religious and small presses --- decided to be ready for what they hoped would be Narnia mania, and brought out more books than were connected to any single "The Lord of the Rings" or "Harry Potter" movie.

("The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" is the first of seven Narnia fantasy books Lewis wrote in the '50s, and the first in what Disney hopes is a movie franchise. Several editions of the complete series and individual volumes also are available.)

"I think so many people have read 'Narnia' through the years that the publishing houses want for people to get all the insight they can," says Connie Corbin, ministry coordinator at Full Cup Coffee House Ministries, a Christian bookstore and coffehouse in Buckhead. Her store is stocking all things Narnian, from kids' coloring books to the seven novels on CD.

"We're so thirsty for something good," Corbin adds. "And the opportunity for sharing something with your kids is huge here."

The breadth of Lewis' life contributes to the range of books. An Oxford literature professor and close friend of "The Lord of the Rings" author J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis (1898-1963) wrote the Narnia books for children (he had none of his own), but it was his Christian writings for adults that landed him on the cover of Time magazine. "Mere Christianity" and "The Abolition of Man" are readable musings on Christianity. "A Grief Observed" is his first-person account of his crisis of faith after the death of his wife, Joy, after their brief but happy marriage (commemorated in the book, TV special and movie "Shadowlands").

One interesting tidbit that recently surfaced, too late to make any of these new books: Lewis, who died in 1963, was "absolutely opposed" to a live-action version of "Narnia," according to an unpublished 1959 letter he wrote to a BBC producer. "Anthropomorphic animals, when taken out of narrative into actual visibility, always turn into buffoonery or nightmare," he wrote in the letter, which was quoted on the BBC's Web site.

Oh, well. The movie exists, it's going to be hugely popular and will spark questions among many viewers about its Christian symbolism and the interesting, varied life of the man who created it. Here's a quick look at some of the major new books about Lewis and Narnia; a guide to the guides, if you will.

> "C.S. Lewis & Narnia for Dummies" by Richard Wagner (Wiley, $19.99). Actually more for smarties, Wagner's book in the popular series offers a very thorough overview of Narnia, Lewis' life and his other writings. He points out that even though Lewis and Tolkien were friends and fellow professors at Oxford, and Tolkien helped convert Lewis to Christianity, Tolkien despised Narnia and thought it "a hodgepodge of myths." As a bonus, "Dummies" even throws in a recipe for Turkish delight, which fans of the book/movie know is a sweet treat used to tempt young Edmund into the clutches of the White Witch.

> "The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis" by Alan Jacobs (Harper, $24.95) is a big, respectable biography of Lewis, written by the director of the Faith and Learning Program at Illinois' Wheaton College. The cover sums up how we view Lewis this season: There's a black-and-white photo of Lewis in his Oxford robes, with a color drawing of a lion, meant to be Aslan, the hero and Christ figure of "Narnia." Jacobs is a sympathetic biographer, but does not shrink from those who have criticized Lewis. (While Tolkien thought Narnia jumbled, contemporary critics such as the novelist Philip Pullman find what they claim is racism and sexism in the books.)

> "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Official Illustrated Movie Companion" by Perry Moore (Harper, $19.95) isn't really a coffee-table book, since it's a paperback, but it's a large and lavish souvenir of the movie, full of color photos and the usual "making of" stories. You won't find any perspective here, but if someone on your Christmas list is enamored of the movie's special effects or actors, this would be the best of the new books.

> "C.S. Lewis's Case for Christ" by Art Lindsley (InterVarsity Press, $14) has no lions on the cover, nor even very much about Narnia compared with the other books here. Lindsley, a senior fellow at the C.S. Lewis Institute in Springfield, Va., wants to use Narnia mania as a springboard for a serious examination of Lewis' Christian writings. Lewis could write about religion in a manner both straightforward and challenging, and in recapping his work, Lindsley does the same.

> "C.S. Lewis: Creator of Narnia" by Michael White (Carroll & Graf, $14.95) is another solid bio of Lewis. It stands out from the pack because White admits right off that he's an atheist, but he does not condescend to Lewis' faith. (Most of the other authors are Christian.) Also, White, now a writer in Australia, is a former member of '80s pop music group Thompson Twins.

> "The World According to Narnia: Christian Meaning in C.S. Lewis's Beloved Chronicles" by Jonathan Rogers (Warner, $14.99) can be enjoyed by both adults and precocious kids who want to further explore the background and Christian symbolism of Narnia.

> "Jack's Life: The Life Story of C.S. Lewis" by Douglas Gresham (Broadman & Holman, $16.99). Gresham is the son of Lewis' wife, Joy, and Lewis' stepson and controller of his estate. This is a slim and very loving remembrance.

> "Cameras in Narnia: How The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Came to Life" by Ian Brodie (HarperCollins, $14.95). A smaller version of the making of the movie than the big "Official Companion."

> "Further Up & Further In" by Bruce Edwards (Broadman & Holman, $12.99). A serious book club-type guide to the whole series.

> "The C.S. Lewis Chronicles" by Colin Duriez (BlueBridge, $14.95). A biography done as a chronology.

> Also new and Narnian: "The Magical Worlds of Narnia" by David Colbert (Berkley, $14); "Remembering C.S. Lewis: Recollections of Those Who Knew Him" edited by James T. Como (Ignatius, $16.95); "Inside the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" by James Stuart Bell, et al (St. Martins, $9.95); "Passport to Narnia: A Newcomer's Guide" by George Beahm (Hampton Roads, $12.95); and "The Heart of the Chronicles of Narnia: Knowing God Here by Finding Him There" by Thomas Williams (W Publishing, $13.99).

Copyright 2005 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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