Although one can certainly read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe without delving into the large body of scholarly biographical and analytical works surrounding it, I thought you might be interested in hearing about some of the books I read while preparing our Read-Aloud Poster. This is, of course, just a sampling of what’s available; if you have a resource you particularly love, would you let me know? I’d be most grateful.
General content: Most of these books contain synopses of all seven chronicles, as well as some biographical information on Lewis himself. They vary in the depth and perspective taken, but you will find some of the same basic information in each. I’ve tried to highlight here some of the unique features of each book that might help you choose one over another (if you’re not going to dive in and make an entire stack like some people we know.)
Past Watchful Dragons (1971), by Walter Hooper Hooper was Lewis’ literary secretary and one of the foremost scholars of his work, which contributes strongly to the value of this shorter work. My favorite parts of this book were actually written by Lewis himself: a side-by-side comparison of Narnian and English history, and the “Lefay fragment,” which appears to have been an early draft of The Magician’s Nephew but was not included in the final version. Because Lewis destroyed his original manuscripts, the Lefay manuscript is of particular interest. If you’re like me, you’ll jump at the chance for any “extra” bit of Narnia you can find.
Companion to Narnia (2005, revised edition), by Paul F. Ford Here is the encyclopedia-type reference you’ll reach for when you want to know the mythological background of a faun or the history of the White Witch. You’ll really appreciate it if you go on to read the rest of the chronicles and can’t remember, by the time you’re reading The Silver Chair, some reference to Prince Caspian. There’s also a nice discussion in the front matter of the various arguments for and against certain reading orders of the books, if you’re interested in that. There are also several helpful appendices; one compares Narnian time with earth time across all the books, and another table neatly organizes all instances of travel between worlds through the series. This isn’t a read-it-straight-through kind of book, but if you are planning to read the series, it will be an invaluable reference.
A Reader’s Guide through the Wardrobe: Exploring C.S. Lewis’s classic story (2005), by Leland Ryken and Marjorie Lamp Mead This is the only book I read that concerns itself primarily with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe rather than the series as a whole. If you’re only reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I think you will really appreciate this in-depth guide. The primary content is organized by chapter in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; each chapter of the guide discusses one concept or literary principle exemplified in the corresponding book chapter. For example, Chapter 13 of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is Deep Magic from the Dawn of Time, and Chapter 13 of Ryken and Mead’s book discusses the symbolic and metaphoric meanings of magic in Lewis’ writing.
Each chapter also has reflection and discussion questions which would be great for supplementing your family discussion. I think it would be especially fun to have a family/mom book club in which the families read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and the moms meet separately to discuss A Reader’s Guide. Super fun!
Into the Wardrobe (2005), by David C. Downing Downing’s book contains biographical material on Lewis as well as summaries and analyses of each of the Chronicles of Narnia. However, the features I found most interesting were a discussion of the spiritual parallels between Aslan and Christ, and a chapter on the origins of the various character names in Narnia.
Further Up and Further In (2018), by Joseph Pearce One of the more recently published books in my stack, Pearce’s book is written from a strongly Catholic perspective and concerns itself primarily with the spiritual truths to be uncovered in each of the books in the series.
If you’re the type of reader that likes to immerse yourself in the books you read, my hope is that this gives you a place to start. Have an idea for what Narnia-adjacent resources I should add to my bookstack? Send me an e-mail, please - I’d love to hear!