Review: The Chronicles of C.S. Lewis
Like so many before me, I was a young adolescent when I first encountered (and became an instant fan of) C.S. Lewis, Narnia, and of course, Turkish Delight (which sounded just as magical and mysterious as a world filled with talking animals.) By the time I graduated high school, I’d read around 15 of Lewis’ books…and I read another 15 or so before finishing college and grad school. Most of those have been reread multiple times over the years, and I’ve picked up a few more here and there.
So of course I was excited about Shawn Small’s The Chronicles of C.S. Lewis…a project born from the decision to read all of Lewis’ works in chronological order. Shawn is a wonderful storyteller (as evidenced in his previous works, The Via Crucis and The Via Advent) and is the perfect person to serve as tour guide and docent on a journey through Lewis’ collected works.
I even thought I would take up Small’s challenge and reread each of the books (or at least skim through for a refresher) as I progressed through The Chronicles of C.S. Lewis.
I figured I had nearly all of the books on my shelf anyway. Then I began reading the introduction to The Chronicles and discovered that Lewis wrote 74 books.
74 books, you say? Ah…well, in that case it would seem “nearly all” isn’t completely accurate. Apparently, I meant to say, “about half.”
I’ve been stumbling around for decades as a self-proclaimed C.S. Lewis fan…completely oblivious about just how little of his work I’ve actually read. (Granted, many of those were collections of essays, lectures, or poems that were compiled and published after his death…but still.)
On the upside, from my perspective, Lewis recently published a lot of new books.
Though the subject matter and tone are certainly different, those who have read The Via Crucis and The Via Advent will immediately recognize a similar writing style and flow in The Chronicles of C.S. Lewis.
In each of these works, the chapters consist of simple, concise reflections. The minimalist style doesn’t forego story-telling…it just tells that story one panel at a time, with plenty of room built in for the reader to reflect and mentally add their own elements to the scene.
The use of brief vignettes and snippets can be frustrating at times – I regularly found myself wanting to know more and wishing Small had written more. However, in the midst of one such moment, the near staccato feel and abrupt ending to a chapter took on a deeper significance. After having been introduced, in a most unsatisfyingly brief manner, to several collections of essays and poetry, I found myself creating and filling an Amazon wish list with new-to-me works by Lewis.
Small’s storytelling is frustratingly incomplete… and compelling. Therein lies one of this book’s most brilliant contributions. Often the contextual “glimpse behind the curtain” in relation to a favorite text sent me scrambling to the bookshelf, rereading familiar words with new eyes. Meanwhile, as I sampled tiny, tasty morsels of introduction to previously unknown texts, I kept thinking, “How have I never read this?” – and I was motivated to remedy that lack.
The Chronicles of C.S. Lewis provided just enough of a taste that I will remain unsatisfied until I have read each of these works for myself. Yes, I think I would have enjoyed a more detailed discussion, but it might not have driven me back to the source material. As it stands, I suspect that years from now I’ll point to this book as the catalyst for my second great discovery of C.S. Lewis.
Well played Shawn Small, well played.
Just as the reader is compelled to pursue the rest of the story, the style also provides an invitation to wait for it: to process and reflect on both what’s been said, and what remains unsaid.
In The Chronicles, perhaps more so than in either of his previous works, Shawn subtly and effectively invites the reader to become a co-creator in the story-telling process. The book is entertaining and accessible enough to be read in one sitting. The ongoing narrative of Lewis’ development as a thinker/writer offers a consistent thread from beginning to end.
And yet, when paired with your favorite journal and coffee mug, the chapters seem equally suited to be processed one at a time. They are brief enough to serve as a journaling prompt, and substantial / insightful enough to function as a daily devotional.
Or perhaps you will choose (as I plan to do in a subsequent reading) to approach The Chronicles as a travel guide as you read or re-read through Lewis’ books. Each chapter would serve to introduce and provide context, background, and a starting point for reading in dialog.
Regardless of your particular reading preferences, if you are a C.S. Lewis fan …or have ever wondered if you might be, I highly recommend The Chronicles of C.S. Lewis.