My intent here is to share my Favourite Reads. Not the best – some of them aren’t particularly good, but they all hold a special place in my life, so I hope you’ll enjoy discovering or re-discovering them from my point of view.
If you’ve looked at More About Me, you’ll already know which books were read to me when I was a small child. If you haven’t, here’s a short-list of the most important: ‘The Tales Of Beatrix Potter’; Kipling’s ‘Just So Stories’, ‘Puck of Pook’s Hill’ and ‘The Jungle Books’; Rev. Audrey’s ‘Thomas The Tank Engine’ etc; and A.A.Milne’s ‘Winnie The Pooh’ books.
So, when I was older, what did I choose to read for myself, and more importantly, to re-read? Top of that list has to be C.S.Lewis’s ‘The Chronicles of Narnia.’ Thinking back, I think my father must have bought them as they were published, because I remember first reading them in the mid 50’s.
The best known is, of course, ‘The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe’, but it wasn’t and isn’t my favourite. It’s too obvious an allegory to be enjoyable as a constant re-read – and re-reading has always been important to me. There are moments in it which I loved, but there are also moments that grated. It was Lewis’s first book for children, and he didn’t quite get the balance right. He was ‘writing down’ a bit, simplifying the language too much. I didn’t need that, I loved wonderful new words, and it put me off. I wonder if that’s why even today some children don’t get past that first book?
But the later books hit the spot, and my favourite of them all is ‘The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader.’ I’ve lost count of the times I’ve read it. So what in the Chronicles appealed to me, what touched me? I loved his characters. OK, one or two are a bit two-dimensional; Susan certainly isn’t treated fairly, but because I was the youngest with older brothers, I identified with Lucy, wanting to be as close to Aslan as she was, because in him I’d found a totally reliable adult-figure. Like most readers I really wanted to meet Reepicheep, I delighted in the eccentricities of Puddleglum, and I fell in love with the Dawn Treader’s Caspian, and Pauline Baynes’ illustrations, which caught the spirit of Narnia for me.
‘Once a King or Queen in Narnia, always a King or Queen in Narnia’, ‘learn to know me in your own world’, these books took me beyond and away from our world, and yet somehow they connected back to it. And although they were in many ways Christian, they weren’t limited or limiting to that viewpoint. When I was thirteen I suffered a major bereavement, and in the following years ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ held me together and kept me sane. I can’t thank Lewis enough for them, and I can’t imagine not having the box set on my shelf.
But in recent years, new light has been shed on Lewis’s creation. Michael Ward in ‘Planet Narnia’ [OUP 2008] uncovered and described a hidden design in the books which is based on the Seven Heavens of the Medieval world, and I’ve discovered new meanings and fresh delights in C.S.Lewis’s imaginings.
In conclusion, it’s thanks to these books that I’ve spent a lot of my life travelling ‘further up and further in’, and I hope to continue that journey for the rest of my life.