Book Review: The Chronicles of Transformation, A Spiritual Journey with C.S. Lewis
The popularity of C.S.Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia is well-known and well-deserved. Originally published between 1950 and 1956, the Chronicles introduced us to a new world of wonder, enchantment and delight. Now, there is a new guide to these beloved books, a guide that goes straight to the heart of what C.S. Lewis was trying to convey in his stories. The Chronicles of Transformation: A Spiritual Journey with C.S. Lewis, recently released from Ignatius Press, enables Truth and Beauty to “steal past watchful dragons,” those obstacles and attitudes we erect like fortresses, and enter directly into our hearts, minds and souls. It is a perfect invitation to accompany us on our journey through the Eucharistic Revival.
The 253-page book contains seven essays, one for each of the Narnian Chronicles. By way of introducing each essay, poet Madeline Infantine has written “On Knowing Him Here for a Little, A Poem in Seven Parts.” Each of the parts of her poem recall specific events within the books, but they also activate our imagination. Lewis considered imagination “the organ of meaning,” an intuitive response that points us to the Really Real, the land of the True North we are all seeking, our everlasting home. It is our cleansed imagination that gives us glimpses of what is true. However, the imagination must be formed and also transformed – Lewis calls it “a baptized imagination,” as Catholics we would call it “redeemed.” The poem works beautifully with each following essay, combining both imagination and reason to arrive at understanding. The imagination gives us a glimpse of meaning, but then reason, “the organ of truth,” comes in to refine and clarify our understanding. The book also has seven original illustrations by Stephen Barany, which could be used as a type of Visio Divina as you read each essay and poem part.
The first essay in the Chronicles of Transformation, written by editor Leonard J. DeLorenzo, is titled “The Power to Thaw Frozen Hearts,” and explores The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by asking “Can you imagine a better way to explain evil to children than to give them a figure who makes it always winter but never Christmas?” Both the child and the childlike can immediately understand the consequences of a world overrun by sin. Each of the following essays take on other questions of faith. “Due North,” the essay on The Horse and His Boy, written by Francesca Aran Murphy, tackles the issue of Joy, which for Lewis is not an emotion but “an experience of deep and blissful longing for an unknown entity.” This essay asks us to consider where we are seeking Joy and uses the animals and characters in the story to show examples of pride and humility, attitudes keeping us from or leading us towards our True Joy, our “inborn, native desire for an unknown or surprising home, where we will fall into the arms of the Father.”
The Chronicles of Transformation aims to do just what it says. It takes us on a spiritual journey through the seven Chronicles of Narnia, but not just to sightsee. Instead, there is real spiritual work to be done in wrestling with the ideas presented in the original books. Drawing on Lewis’ insistence on the use of imagination and reason, The Chronicles of Transformation takes us into Narnia so that we can listen with fresh ears to the Gospel story, lifting the veil away from the familiar, in order that when we arrive back in our own world we will see God’s plan and presence with new eyes here and now, right where we are. As Aslan himself tells Lucy, the point of their visit to Narnia is not to escape her own world and its problems. Rather, it is so that “on knowing me here for a little” bit of time, she could come to know him in a much deeper and more intimate way back in her own world. Lewis hopes the same will happen for us.
The Chronicles of Transformation, A Spiritual Journey with C.S. Lewis is written for anyone who has ever stepped into a big, wooden wardrobe, sailed upon the Dawn Treader, met a Marsh-wiggle, as well as those of us who wish we had. High School aged readers and up will enjoy it. It is especially valuable, though, to any parents or other educators who would like to journey with their children through Narnia, particularly during these three years of the Eucharistic Revival when we are each called to a personal transformation in Christ. This is a book I am glad to have on my bookshelf, and one I plan to return to again and again.
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