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Posts Tagged ‘Childhood Chronicles before Narnia

Whenever I like an author, I tend to want all their books. If they’ve written an autobiography, I desire that too. I’m also going to find of interest collections of their speeches or essays. Then there are the anthologies which contain short works by them. Suffice to say, I want every piece of writing by them, including their childhood stuff. And that’s how I came to be interested in Boxen by C.S. Lewis and W.H. Lewis.

According to the back cover, half a century before the publication of his beloved Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis created another imaginary world. The tales of Animal Land which Lewis shared with his brother soon developed into the kingdom of Boxen. In a succession of stories, the two explored its history and geography, along with the exploits of its inhabitants, and even wrote an encyclopedia for Boxen. All of these writings, together with the illustrations of the two brothers, have now been combined into one volume. Boxen also includes an introduction by Lewis’ stepson Douglas Gresham, and a “History of Boxen” by  literary advisor of the estate of Walter Hooper.

For the fans of Lewis, Boxen holds much merit. Even at the young age of eight, Lewis knew how to plot a story. Immediately after characters are introduced, some conflict is introduced and suspense is maintained to the end. Resolutions aren’t contrived, but flow naturally from events. There are times even logical twists. One of my favorite stories is The Sailor, about cat and a bear who argue over who will run a naval marine ship and how it should be run. There’s even a second part, wherein the two have forged a friendship but now must avoid being considered deserters when they accidentally overextend their shore leave. In his correspondence with children, Lewis indicated that he couldn’t write plays, and for that reason I felt surprised to see two scripts in Boxen. One play is about how the ring of a king goes missing and what troubles resulted from the theft.

Some reviews of Boxen are understandably negative. One has to consider the fact that readers of Boxen have in their hands the writings of an eight-year-old! While the record for the youngest traditionally-published author goes to a four-year-old, the more common examples of young authors come from those at least in their teens. There is something to be said for how maturity can improve quality. One also has to consider that fact that Lewis and his brother didn’t write Boxen for publication, which means Boxen hasn’t undergone the normal scrutiny of revision. In fact, none of the Boxen stories had been numbered to indicate their order and some of them had missing pages. The supplementary newspaper for Boxen has apparently long ago disappeared. Even the Boxen stories which do exist were almost burned by Lewis’ gardener, who had been instructed to put on the bonfire a great many notebooks and papers of Lewis.

Truly, Boxen is more for Lewis’ fans, a decision which the publisher must have consciously made. The spelling of the two boys has been left intact. While their diction is impressive, the two were not perfect spellers. All of the available stories about Boxen were published, including those clearly labeled sketch or fragment. As such, there is redundancy in or overlapping of some tales. Finally, there’s the inclusion of straightforward histories and geographies of Boxen. Although a great deal shorter than Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien, I consider it akin to this volume.

If you’re unfamiliar with Lewis, Boxen isn’t for you. Start with The Chronicles of Narnia. If that set already resides on your shelf, check out some of Lewis’ nonfiction such as Mere Christianity or his autobiographical works such as A Grief Observed and Surprised by Joy. On the other hand, if all of these books and more by Lewis are part of your reading background, Boxen should be an interesting insight into the genius of C.S. Lewis.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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