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Narnia and the Fields of Arbol

Narnia and the Fields of Arbol: The Environmental Vision of C. S. Lewis

Matthew Dickerson
David O’Hara
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Narnia and the Fields of Arbol
    Book Description:

    The remarkable breadth of C. S. Lewis's (1898--1963) work is nearly as legendary as the fantastical tales he so inventively crafted. A variety of themes emerge in his literary output, which spans the genres of nonfiction, fantasy, science fiction, and children's literature, but much of the scholarship examining his work focuses on religion or philosophy. Overshadowed are Lewis's views on nature and his concern for environmental stewardship, which are present in most of his work. In Narnia and the Fields of Arbol: The Environmental Vision of C. S. Lewis, authors Matthew Dickerson and David O'Hara illuminate this important yet overlooked aspect of the author's visionary work. Dickerson and O'Hara go beyond traditional theological discussions of Lewis's writing to investigate themes of sustainability, stewardship of natural resources, and humanity's relationship to wilderness. The authors examine the environmental and ecological underpinnings of Lewis's work by exploring his best-known works of fantasy, including the seven books of the Chronicles of Narnia and the three novels collectively referred to as the Space Trilogy. Taken together, these works reveal Lewis's enduring environmental concerns, and Dickerson and O'Hara offer a new understanding of his pioneering style of fiction. An avid outdoorsman, Lewis deftly combined an active imagination with a deep appreciation for the natural world. Narnia and the Fields of Arbol, the first book-length work on the subject, explores the marriage of Lewis's environmental passion with his skill as a novelist and finds the author's legacy to have as much in common with the agrarian environmentalism of Wendell Berry as it does with the fantasy of J. R. R. Tolkien. In an era of increasing concern about deforestation, climate change, and other environmental issues, Lewis's work remains as pertinent as ever. The widespread adaption of his work in film lends credence to the author's staying power as an influential voice in both fantastical fiction and environmental literature. With Narnia and the Fields of Arbol, Dickerson and O'Hara have written a timely work of scholarship that offers a fresh perspective on one of the most celebrated authors in literary history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7319-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Zoology, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. viii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Conventions and Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction: Ecological Crisis, Environmental Critique, and Christian Imagination
    (pp. 1-17)

    This book asks what the late writer C. S. Lewis had to say, both directly and indirectly, about nature and ecology¹—about the world in which we live, and about our (human) relationships with that world and with our fellow inhabitants. We address that topic by exploring Lewis’s ten best-known works of fantastic fiction: the seven books of the Chronicles of Narnia and the three novels collectively referred to as the Space Trilogy. At its core, then, this is a work of literary exploration. As enjoyable as literary exploration may be, however, we hope that this book is more than...

  6. Chapter 1 What He Thought about Everything
    (pp. 18-45)

    In a preface to a volume of essays about C. S. Lewis, the late philosopher and writer Owen Barfield makes an interesting comment. “There was something in the whole quality and structure of his [Lewis’s] thinking, something for which the best label I can find is ‘presence of mind.’ And if I were asked to expand on that, I could only say that somehow what he thought about everything was secretly present in what he said about anything.”¹ Though Barfield’s remark may sound like hyperbole, the more one reads of Lewis the more one realizes what an accurate statement it...

  7. Chapter 2 Nature and Meaning in the History of Narnia
    (pp. 46-84)

    Wendell Berry’s powerful novelJayber Crow—published in the year 2000 at the start of a new millennium—has as its subtitleThe Life Story of Jayber Crow, barber, of the Port William Membership, as Written by Himself.¹ And the book is, in a way, the life story of Jayber Crow. But it is also the life story of a small town, and more specifically of two characters in the town, one of whom is loved by Jayber, and one who is despised by him. The one loved by Jayber is Mattie Keith or “Mattie Chatham as she was to...

  8. Chapter 3 The Magician’s Nephew: Creation and Narnian Ecology
    (pp. 85-114)

    Anyone doubting that Lewis’s vision for Narnia is an agrarian one need only consider the job description for the first king of Narnia, given inThe Magician’s Nephew.Even though it was the sixth book in the series to be published,The Magician’s Nephewis the first chronologically in the history of Narnia, and it may have been the second one Lewis imagined.¹ It recounts the story of the creation of Narnia, and of its first inhabitants. In chapter 11, a London hansom driver named Frank and his wife, Nell, are called to be the first king and queen of...

  9. Chapter 4 The Last Battle and the End of Narnia
    (pp. 115-151)

    The Last Battle,the final book of the Chronicles of Narnia, begins with the ominous phrase, “In the last days of Narnia …” It ends with the great heroes of all seven books entering a heavenly paradise. For some, the most important environmental critique (or condemnation) of Christianity relates to the belief in heaven and the end of the earth. If one believes nature is only temporary, why not exploit it? If heaven is all that matters, why not do to the earth whatever we want? These questions have particular force if one’s view of heaven is ethereal—that is,...

  10. Chapter 5 Out of the Silent Planet: Re-imagining Ecology
    (pp. 152-181)

    In recent decades biologists have discovered life in some very unlikely places. Extremely hot or cold environments, such as deep-sea vents and pools under Antarctic ice, harbor an abundance of creatures. Just decades ago, conventional wisdom held that nothing could live in such places. Now we find that things do live there, things that have expanded our notions of what animals may be like. In the past, we have ruled out the possibility of life in certain places because our imaginations would not allow us to believe life could be there or because the life in those places escaped our...

  11. Chapter 6 Perelandra: Creation and Conscience
    (pp. 182-207)

    In 1960 a young girl named Meredith wrote to Lewis and asked him which of his books he thought was most “representational.” Lewis replied, “Do you mean simply which do I like the best? Now, the answer w[oul]d beTill We Have FacesandPerelandra.”¹ For the last few decades of his life, Lewis consideredPerelandra(written in 1941–1942) one of his best works.

    Most ofPerelandratakes place on Venus, which is called Perelandra by its inhabitants. This second book in the Space Trilogy is quite different from the other two novels. Nearly all of its dialogue is...

  12. Chapter 7 That Hideous Strength: Assault on the Soil and Soul of England
    (pp. 208-240)

    InThe Lord of the Rings,J. R. R. Tolkien provides a threefold glimpse of the destructive ecological impact of evil. After portraying environmental devastation in its most extreme form in the faraway landscape of Mordor, and also in the ravaged land of Isengard, he brings the battle back to the Shire, the homeland of the Hobbits. For many readers, this third and final portrayal of devastation—the destruction of the soil, water, and air of the Shire—is the saddest and most deeply moving of the three ravaged landscapes, even though it is the least extreme. Tolkien modeled the...

  13. Chapter 8 The Re-enchantment of Creation
    (pp. 241-260)

    In the title of this chapter, we use the wordenchantment.We have used the word often throughout this book, but so far haven’t stopped to say exactly what we mean by it. Part of the reason is that it has multiple meanings, and we have made use of more than one.

    Enchantment may be a subjective feeling. Something—in the context of this book, that “something” is nature, or creation—may make usfeelenchanted. In an essay with the curious title “Talking about Bicycles,” Lewis describes this sort of enchantment by means of explaining the way one might...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 261-287)
  15. Recommended Reading
    (pp. 288-289)
  16. Index
    (pp. 290-304)