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Tales Before Narnia
The Roots of Modern Fantasy and Science Fiction
Classic Stories That Inspired C.S. Lewis
edited by Douglas A. Anderson
Del Rey, 339 pages
Tales Before Narnia
Douglas A. Anderson
Douglas A. Anderson received a Mythopoeic Scholarship Award for his work on The Annotated Hobbit. He is acknowledged as the worldwide expert on the textual history of The Hobbit and the The Lord of the Rings. He is the editor of close to a score of single or multi-author anthologies, co-editor of Tolkien Studies, and long long ago staffer then co-owner of Borealis Books in Ithaca, NY. Tolkien on Fairy-stories co-edited by Verlyn Flieger, a critical edition of Tolkien's essay "On Fairy-stories" including lots of previously unpublished draft material by Tolkien, will appear from HarperCollins (UK). Mr. Anderson currently lives in southwest Michigan.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Tales Before Tolkien

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

In Tales from Narnia, Douglas A. Anderson reprints a score of works which were putative direct or indirect influences on the writings of C.S. Lewis, although the relevance of the material extends beyond merely the Chronicles of Narnia to such of Lewis' works as The Screwtape Letters and the Space Trilogy. Lewis was a voracious and lifelong reader, so lots of potential material exists for such an anthology, and Anderson has distilled some of the best of these here. Anderson documents, in succinct but informative head notes to each story, the direct ties or affinity of style or thought that links them to Lewis. In some cases, the links are more tenuous than others, but as Anderson points out in his introduction, and I can attest to in my investigations of Tarzan of the Apes's precursors, there is a fine line to walk between over-emphasizing influences and ignoring them -- and there are times when a confluence of societal factors leads to the multiple concurrent development of an iconic character or plot, of which one particular instance prevails. Tales from Narnia is completed by further information about the authors reprinted as well as others known to Lewis, presented in an "Author Notes and Recommended Readings" section.

There are certainly a number of wonderful nuggets, some of which I was familiar with and some of which were interesting finds for even such a jaded fan of older fantasy as myself. A full list of works included is given below.

"The Aunt and Amabel" by E. Nesbit is interesting in that it portrays a wardrobe as the portal into an fantasy world, albeit one not developed beyond the extent of a short story. In this vein, I must admit to being more partial to the edgier and creepier alternate world behind the door to the old wing of a country estate in Algernon Blackwood's The Fruit Stoners (1934), but clearly Nesbit's story is a more direct precursor. More interesting perhaps is the first printing of a portion of Roger Lancelyn Green's unpublished novel The Wood That Time Forgot, which while written before the Narnia books and clearly read by Green's friend, C.S. Lewis, has superficial if striking similarities to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: children find their way into a lost forest world through a portal, and there are exposed to various temptations.

H.C. Andersen's "The Snow Queen," George Macdonald's "The Magic Mirror," G.K. Chesterton's "The Coloured Lands," and Owen Barfield's "The Child and the Giant," along with Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué's Undine, comprise the fairy tale influences. With its theme of the ultimately doomed romance between the water-sprite Undine and the knight Huldbrand, Undine is one of the loveliest bittersweet productions of the German Romantic movement. Though widely available it is also widely forgotten and, besides Lewis' ties to it, is well deserving of being reprinted.

The pieces "Letters from Hell: Letter III" by Valdemar Thisted and John Magowan's "Fastosus and Avaro" both consist of conversations with devils, and are putative influences on Lewis' The Screwtape Letters. While suffering from the now somewhat dated construct of presenting theological/philosophical concepts through a dialogue between characters of differing points of view, they are an interesting counterpoint to the more openly fantastical works presented.

Another fascinating and seldom seen piece is Kenneth Grahame's First Whisper of The Wind in the Willows. First edited and published by K. Grahame's widow in 1944 [rpt. as My Dearest Mouse - The Wind In The Willows Letters (1988)], it collects Grahame's 1907 letters to his son which told stories of Mole, Ratty, Badger and Mr. Toad), whose adventures were later collected and published as The Wind in the Willows (1908). The reprinting here excludes the reproduction of the letters' crossings-out and rewordings present in the original edition, which perhaps of interest to a textual scholar, intrude on a smooth reading and appreciation of the stories. While it does include a series of story-letters which are primarily about Mr. Toad's adventures, it excludes the non-canon animal story "Bertie's Escapade" -- Bertie being a pig -- which was neither a letter, nor original to First Whisper....

Tales Before Narnia also includes tales of Christian love and of coping with loss (Kipling, Williams). Sir Walter Scott's "The Tapestried Chamber" is a fine and oft-reprinted old-school ghost tale, while C.F. Hall's wonderfully humourous story of time travel gone somewhat awry is reminiscent in spirit of H. Kuttner's Proud Robot stories.

However, in my book, the best piece in the whole collection is Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Waif Woman. A Cue - From a Saga" -- a story which wonderfully captures the bleakness of Icelandic sagas, while purveying a message of modesty and respect of others. I enjoyed "The Waif Woman" both because it was not something I would have expected from R.L. Stevenson, because the story seemed to mask a lot of underlying themes, and also largely because I very much enjoyed the absence of a happy ending, which would have ruined the story.

Tales Before Narnia, besides being of interest to fans and students of C.S. Lewis, provides a sufficiently wide array of stories, that while not everyone will thrill to every story (however seminal some might be in their genre), certainly everyone should find something to their taste. The introductory and appendix materials are well balanced between being informative and succinct, as well as ably pointing out the stories' links to C.S. Lewis' works without getting bogged down into arcane academic controversies. Certainly, between Andersen's "The Snow Queen," Fouqué Undine and Grahame's "Mr. Toad Letters" a reader will already have gotten his money's worth of fantasy classics, the remainder being rather delicious if variegated icing on the cake.

Table of Contents (alphabetically by author)
TitleAuthorType of workDate of orig.
"The Snow Queen: A Tale in Seven StoriesHans Christian AndersenFairy Tale1845
"The Child and the Giant"Owen BarfieldFairy Tale1930
"The Coloured Lands"G.K. Chestertonshort story1925
"The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton"Charles Dickensexcerpt1837
First Whisper of The Wind in the WillowsKenneth Grahameletterswritten 1907
publ. 1944
"The Wood That Time Forgot:
The Enchanted Wood"
Roger Lancelyn Greenexcerptwritten 1945,
"The Dream Dust Factory"William Lindsay Greshamshort stories1947
"The Man Who Lived Backwards"Charles F. Hallshort story1938
"The Wish House"Rudyard Kiplingshort story1924
"Tegnér's Drapa"Henry Wadsworth Longfellowpoem1849
"The Magic Mirror"George MacDonaldexcerpt1858
"Faustos and Avaro"John Magowanexcerpt1772
A King's LessonWilliam Morrisshort story1886
UndineBaron Friedrich de la Motte FouquéFairy Tale
"The Aunt and Amabel"E. Nesbitshort story1909
"The Tapestried Chamber; or, The Lady in the Sacque"Sir Walter ScottShort Story1828
"The Waif Woman. A Cue - From a Saga"Robert Louis Stevensonshort storywritten 1892
publ. 1914
"Letters from Hell: Letter III"Valdemar Thistedexcerpt1866
"The Dragon's Visit"J.R.R. Tolkienpoem1937
"Et in Sempiternum Pereant"
(And May They be Forever Damned)
Charles Williamsshort story1935

Copyright © 2008 by Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist whose interests lie predominantly in both English and French pre-1950 imaginative fiction. Besides reviews and articles at SFSite and in fanzines such as Argentus, Pulpdom and WARP, he has published peer-reviewed articles in fields ranging from folklore to water resource management. He is the creator and co-curator of The Ape-Man, His Kith and Kin a website exploring thematic precursors of Tarzan of the Apes, as well as works having possibly served as Edgar Rice Burroughs' documentary sources. The close to 100 e-texts include a number of first time translations from the French by himself and others. Georges is also the creator and curator of a website dedicated to William Murray Graydon (1864-1946), a prolific American-born author of boys' adventures. The website houses biographical, and bibliographical materials, as well as a score of novels, and over 100 short stories.

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