Friday, August 1, 2008

The Professor of Narnia: The C.S. Lewis Story

I recently interviewed Will Vaus, author of Mere Theology, about his new book, The Professor of Narnia: The C.S. Lewis Story.

RV. There are a lot of biographies about C.S. Lewis. What makes The Professor of Narnia unique?

WV. The Professor of Narnia is unique in that it is targeted for younger readers of the Narnia stories who want to learn more about the author, C. S. Lewis. Most of the Lewis biographies are purely for adults. So this book is for younger readers, but can be enjoyed by adults as well.

Secondly, this book relates Lewis's life to the major spiritual themes Lewis himself associated with each of the Narnia stories. It is really amazing to see how his life correlated with each of these themes.

RV. Could you offer an example of how Lewis's life correlated to a Narnian theme?

WV. Well, to name just one, Lewis said The Horse and His Boy was about the "calling and conversion of a heathen." In the story that heathen was Shasta, but in real life it was Lewis. Both experienced sehnsucht through "northerness," and this experience of longing led them each to a conversion experience in different ways. You'll just have to read the book to find out more!

RV. How did you become interested in studying the life and works of C.S. Lewis?

As I relate in the introduction to the book, my fourth grade public school teacher read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to our class. After that, I was hooked. I had to read the rest of the Narnia stories. Before that time I wasn't much of a reader, nor had I ever read any fantasy stories. The Narnia books opened up whole new worlds to me - fantasy worlds, and the world of reading in general.

As I got older I gradually read more of Lewis's other works. I didn't come to faith in Christ through reading Lewis, but Lewis kept me in the faith - he helped me to see that Christianity was intellectually credible, at a time when I was having many intellectual questions about ultimate reality.

I kept reading Lewis all through college, seminary, and into adult life. But it wasn't until many years later that I read any biography about Lewis. And then a few years after that I would say I became more of a student of his life and works and started writing about Lewis for myself. It has been a gradual life long process.

RV. There's been a resurgence of interest in the children's fantasy genre in our day. What do you think are some potential benefits and detriments of this resurgence?

WV. One benefit is that children's imaginations become better developed through reading fantasy. And of course this gives authors more of an opportunity to use the fantasy genre for Christian purposes.

The downside of that is that as young people experience sehnsucht, a sense of longing, through reading fantasy literature, that longing can, if not properly instructed, lead them down some wrong roads - into the occult for example. This was something Lewis had an interest in for a brief time, but he also learned the dangers of it early on in his life and so forsook any involvement before he went too far down that road.

RV. You lived in The Narnia Cottage in Ireland. What is that and what was it like living there?

WV. The Narnia Cottage is a 400-year old stone house in Ireland on the former property of Douglas Gresham, Lewis's stepson. Gresham gave it the name.

Our family had a wonderful time living with and working for the Greshams. We especially enjoyed living in a small, Irish village where we could walk to a minuscule local market to pick up our groceries, or have a drink in our local pub. Our three boys also attended the local elementary school. Working for the Greshams we became acquainted with people from all over the world who came to visit. And we led a weekly Bible study for people from the local area; that was fun. The discussions in our small group Bible study were wide-ranging and very lively - with Catholics and Protestants all thrown together and learning to love and respect one another.

RV. Did your work on Mere Theology help you in preparing The Professor of Narnia?

WV. Not exactly. The two books are very different. However, in some places in Mere Theology I do show how Lewis's life influenced his theology. In The Professor I try to relate Lewis's life to the Narnia books, and I do so in a more down-to-earth manner. Mere Theology is more scholarly, while still being accessible to the average reader, whereas The Professor is deliberately more popular.

RV. Do you have a specific age range in mind for readers of your new book?

WV. Yes, I read this book aloud to my three boys as I was writing it. It is written at a middle school reading level. So I think people from middle school age on up will find something of interest in it. As I have mentioned already, it is written for those who have already read the Narnia stories who want to learn more about the author without having to read a longer, more technical and scholarly biography. I think many adults will enjoy the book as well. Though as I wrote the book I was writing it as though directly speaking to middle schoolers.

RV. How do you envision the book being incorporated into educational settings? For example, how might it be utilized in public, private, and home school settings?

I think the book can be enjoyed by young people reading the book on their own. However, I have also had teachers in Christian school who have used the discussion questions on my web site which are written to accompany each of Lewis's books. I think teachers will enjoy having this kind of book that they can give to their students who are studying Lewis's works. It will help them to understand Lewis's life and background in a very user-friendly sort of way.

I think the book will be ideal for home-schooling parents who want to help their children understand more about the author of the Narnia books and his Christian convictions. There has, of course, been a lot of interest in Lewis among home-schoolers in recent years. So yes, I hope this book will be used in schools of all sorts - public, private, Christian and home-school settings.

RV. One thing I tried to do in my book Conversations with C.S. Lewis was make it fun. In reading the description for The Professor of Narnia, it sounds delightful. How would you describe the writing style?

WV. The reader will have to judge how fun it is. I tried to make the style fun for younger readers and I had fun writing it. As I have already mentioned I really tried to write this as though talking out loud to a middle school reader. My children, in listening to me read the first draft out loud, helped me to eliminate lots of things that were of little or no interest to them. They liked the early chapters best, and the chapter that deals with the writing of the Narnia stories. And I tried to include all the funny stories of things that happened to C.S. Lewis as he was growing up. There is also a fair amount of imagined dialogue, based on historical reality, as in your book. I hope this helps bring the story alive for younger readers.

RV. Do you deal primarily with the life of C.S. Lewis or do you add other elements such as communicating some of his key ideas?

WV. A few key ideas come through but only as they relate to the telling of his life, and in a way that is approachable for younger readers. The key ideas where introduced, for the most part are more subtly presented.

RV. When is the book scheduled for release?

WV. The book should be in print some time in September.

RV. How can readers pre-order a copy?

Readers can pre-order from Amazon or their favorite bookstore, online distributor, or direct from the publisher.

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