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Tales Before Narnia: The Roots of Modern Fantasy and Science Fiction

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In his acclaimed collection Tales Before Tolkien, Douglas A. Anderson illuminated the sources, inspirations, and influences that fired J.R.R. Tolkien’s genius. Now Anderson turns his attention to Tolkien’s colleague and friend C. S. Lewis, whose influence on modern fantasy, through his beloved Narnia books, is second only to Tolkien’s own. In many ways, Lewis’s influence ha In his acclaimed collection Tales Before Tolkien, Douglas A. Anderson illuminated the sources, inspirations, and influences that fired J.R.R. Tolkien’s genius. Now Anderson turns his attention to Tolkien’s colleague and friend C. S. Lewis, whose influence on modern fantasy, through his beloved Narnia books, is second only to Tolkien’s own. In many ways, Lewis’s influence has been even wider than Tolkien’s. For in addition to the Narnia series, Lewis wrote groundbreaking works of science fiction, urban fantasy, and religious allegory, and he came to be regarded as among the most important Christian writers of the twentieth century. It will come as no surprise, then, that such a wide-ranging talent drew inspiration from a variety of sources. Here are twenty of the tributaries that fed Lewis’s unique talent, among them: “The Wood That Time Forgot: The Enchanted Wood,” taken from a never-before-published fantasy by Lewis’s biographer and friend, Roger Lancelyn Green, that directly inspired The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; E. Nesbit’s charming “The Aunt and Amabel,” in which a young girl enters another world by means of a wardrobe; “The Snow Queen,” by Hans Christian Andersen, featuring the abduction of a young boy by a woman as cruel as she is beautiful; and many more, including works by Charles Dickens, Kenneth Grahame, G. K. Chesterton, and George MacDonald, of whom Lewis would write, “I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him as my master.” Full of fascinating insights into Lewis’s life and fiction, Tales Before Narnia is the kind of book that will be treasured by children and adults alike and passed down lovingly from generation to generation.


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In his acclaimed collection Tales Before Tolkien, Douglas A. Anderson illuminated the sources, inspirations, and influences that fired J.R.R. Tolkien’s genius. Now Anderson turns his attention to Tolkien’s colleague and friend C. S. Lewis, whose influence on modern fantasy, through his beloved Narnia books, is second only to Tolkien’s own. In many ways, Lewis’s influence ha In his acclaimed collection Tales Before Tolkien, Douglas A. Anderson illuminated the sources, inspirations, and influences that fired J.R.R. Tolkien’s genius. Now Anderson turns his attention to Tolkien’s colleague and friend C. S. Lewis, whose influence on modern fantasy, through his beloved Narnia books, is second only to Tolkien’s own. In many ways, Lewis’s influence has been even wider than Tolkien’s. For in addition to the Narnia series, Lewis wrote groundbreaking works of science fiction, urban fantasy, and religious allegory, and he came to be regarded as among the most important Christian writers of the twentieth century. It will come as no surprise, then, that such a wide-ranging talent drew inspiration from a variety of sources. Here are twenty of the tributaries that fed Lewis’s unique talent, among them: “The Wood That Time Forgot: The Enchanted Wood,” taken from a never-before-published fantasy by Lewis’s biographer and friend, Roger Lancelyn Green, that directly inspired The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; E. Nesbit’s charming “The Aunt and Amabel,” in which a young girl enters another world by means of a wardrobe; “The Snow Queen,” by Hans Christian Andersen, featuring the abduction of a young boy by a woman as cruel as she is beautiful; and many more, including works by Charles Dickens, Kenneth Grahame, G. K. Chesterton, and George MacDonald, of whom Lewis would write, “I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him as my master.” Full of fascinating insights into Lewis’s life and fiction, Tales Before Narnia is the kind of book that will be treasured by children and adults alike and passed down lovingly from generation to generation.

30 review for Tales Before Narnia: The Roots of Modern Fantasy and Science Fiction

  1. 4 out of 5

    Highlyeccentric

    I don't know how long I've owned this for - perhaps since 2009? - but I only just got around to reading it. It's a collection of short stories by authors Lewis is known or supposed to have enjoyed. Not all have much in common with the Narnia books - for instance there was a 'letter from hell' cited as loosely connected to the Screwtape Letters. I skipped quite a few of the stories. However, I really enjoyed E. Nesbitt's "The Aunt and Amabel", about a universe through a wardrobe; and Andersen's " I don't know how long I've owned this for - perhaps since 2009? - but I only just got around to reading it. It's a collection of short stories by authors Lewis is known or supposed to have enjoyed. Not all have much in common with the Narnia books - for instance there was a 'letter from hell' cited as loosely connected to the Screwtape Letters. I skipped quite a few of the stories. However, I really enjoyed E. Nesbitt's "The Aunt and Amabel", about a universe through a wardrobe; and Andersen's "The Snow Queen", which I'd never read before. Foqué's 'Undine' was in there, and glorious; Walter Scott's "The Tapestried Chamber" I also loved.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kenzie Barnett

    It was an interesting book with a look at a lot of authors and works that are lesser known. However, as I read through, the selections seemed rather odd. The preface had stated the purpose of trying to show things that inspired C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia or influenced his stories. While many times the editor pointed out how the author may have had this role, the stories where instead normally cautioned as being "one he maybe read" or "he probably would have liked". There were a few that i It was an interesting book with a look at a lot of authors and works that are lesser known. However, as I read through, the selections seemed rather odd. The preface had stated the purpose of trying to show things that inspired C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia or influenced his stories. While many times the editor pointed out how the author may have had this role, the stories where instead normally cautioned as being "one he maybe read" or "he probably would have liked". There were a few that it actually said he had not read, but they tied to one of his stories. Overall, the stories were all good and seemed like a good way of looking at the "roots of modern fantasy and science fiction". This little misnomer of purpose though confused me greatly as I was excited to see what could have inspired the great Lewis himself.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Arabella

    Like any anthology, some of the stories really worked for me while others fell flat and were, to me, unreadable. I particularly enjoyed the beautiful "Undine" which was apparently very well known in the last century, and the original letters which were the foundation for "The Wind in the Willows". As a Narnia fan since childhood, I found this book incredibly frustrating in that the editor presents these stories as those that CS Lewis read and was influenced by. However, with a couple of exceptio Like any anthology, some of the stories really worked for me while others fell flat and were, to me, unreadable. I particularly enjoyed the beautiful "Undine" which was apparently very well known in the last century, and the original letters which were the foundation for "The Wind in the Willows". As a Narnia fan since childhood, I found this book incredibly frustrating in that the editor presents these stories as those that CS Lewis read and was influenced by. However, with a couple of exceptions, this assumption seems tenuous at best and most often just wishful thinking. The whole book feels like an excuse to throw a miscellaneous group of stories together and to pretend there is some rhyme or reason behind it.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Julie Davis

    As with this editor's Tales Before Tolkien, this collection presents not only tales Lewis read but those which would have been in the current story environment when he was growing up. A really wonderful collection and one which I enjoyed thoroughly, all the moreso for the inclusion of short stories by some of Lewis's fellow Inklings who are lesser known. I didn't feel I had to painstakingly read every story if one wasn't the sort I like. A quick skimming was perfectly adequate to give me the gist As with this editor's Tales Before Tolkien, this collection presents not only tales Lewis read but those which would have been in the current story environment when he was growing up. A really wonderful collection and one which I enjoyed thoroughly, all the moreso for the inclusion of short stories by some of Lewis's fellow Inklings who are lesser known. I didn't feel I had to painstakingly read every story if one wasn't the sort I like. A quick skimming was perfectly adequate to give me the gist. If one approaches it that way then you will probably like it just as much as I did.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    Like the weather, my mood about this book changed depending on the chapter. Some were like lovely spring days, full of delight and pleasure: The Aunt and Amabel, Magic Mirror, The Child and the Giant, and best of all The Dream Dust Factory. Most, though, were tedious, gray hours without end, like a drizzling, cold autumn day. Undine and The Snow Queen were particularly awful. I was amused that Lewis and Disney agree the most interesting part of The Snow Queen is the idea implicit in the title. U Like the weather, my mood about this book changed depending on the chapter. Some were like lovely spring days, full of delight and pleasure: The Aunt and Amabel, Magic Mirror, The Child and the Giant, and best of all The Dream Dust Factory. Most, though, were tedious, gray hours without end, like a drizzling, cold autumn day. Undine and The Snow Queen were particularly awful. I was amused that Lewis and Disney agree the most interesting part of The Snow Queen is the idea implicit in the title. Undine, which in this collection meanders across more than 60 pages, was nicely summarized on Story Nory in less than 10! I think what really killed it for me though, was not just the uninteresting, laborious stories (every reader creates a hierarchy within an anthology, after all), but the seriously lacking introductions. I expected that if you were to publish MOSTLY public domain works, then my money is actually buying the author's insight. In the little gray boxes at the beginning of each piece, I expected far more than "Lewis listed this in a top 10 article once." I hoped Anderson would spend more time delving into the connections, unfurling them like a more detailed map of a familiar country, and making my synapses tingle with frissons of new insight. If there's a book like that out there--and I really hope there is!--this unfortunately isn't it.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Not quite as good as his "Tales Before Tolkien", or else Tolkien just read better stories! Still, quite a few good stories here. Not quite as good as his "Tales Before Tolkien", or else Tolkien just read better stories! Still, quite a few good stories here.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Vivian

    The most interesting aspect of this collection is the inclusion of an introductory sidebar relating why each piece was selected and how each may have influenced Lewis's writing. I enjoyed learning of friendships and acquaintances. Sadly, there is no helpful table of contents. I enjoyed the story "The Aunt and Amabel" by E. Nesbit about a girl who enters another world by means of a wardrobe and boards a train bound for "Bigwardrobeinspareroom". The Hans Christian Andersen story of "The Snow Queen" The most interesting aspect of this collection is the inclusion of an introductory sidebar relating why each piece was selected and how each may have influenced Lewis's writing. I enjoyed learning of friendships and acquaintances. Sadly, there is no helpful table of contents. I enjoyed the story "The Aunt and Amabel" by E. Nesbit about a girl who enters another world by means of a wardrobe and boards a train bound for "Bigwardrobeinspareroom". The Hans Christian Andersen story of "The Snow Queen" was familiar to me and I enjoyed re-visiting it. Another story about an enchanted mirror by George MacDonald was included. This too I had read before as it is to be found in his landmark fantasy novel "Phantastes". I had neither heard of nor read "Undine" by Friedrich de la Motte Fouque which is an early Mermaid-turned-human tale. I enjoyed "The First Whisper of The Wind in the Willows" -- a collection of letters written by author Kenneth Grahame to his young son who was away on holiday. "The Wish House" by Rudyard Kipling addresses the fascinating premise of taking on another's suffering. Of Kipling's writing Lewis said, "One moment I am filled with delight at the variety and solidity of his imagination; and then, at the very next moment, I am sick, sick to death, of the whole Kipling world." "The Waif Woman" by Robert Louis Stevenson was completely new to me. It reminds me of "The Fisherman's Wife", for in it a woman longs for fine dresses and jewels which she acquires through deceit from a guest in her household. The finery is cursed, as the guest knew, for which reason she gave specific instructions for their disposal (which was unheeded). I learned that Dickens first introduced the notion of his best-known "A Christmas Carol" in chapter 29 of "The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club." A ghost story set in America on the heels of Britain's defeat in the Revolutionary War, "The Tapestried Chamber" by Sir Walter Scott was among the selections. As you can see, there's a lot of variety. I enjoyed Lewis's remarks about Owen Barfield, who became his lifelong friend from undergraduate days. Lewis describes him as "the man who disagrees with you about everything"--the man who shares your interests, and who "has read all the right books, but got the wrong thing out of every one ... When you set out to correct his heresies, you find that he forsooth has decided to correct yours!" and that he was "the wisest and best of my unofficial teachers." G.K. Chesterton's "The Coloured Lands" is a clever piece about a forlorn boy who meets a gentleman who knows just how he feels and offers him some colored spectacles to help change the boy's frame of mind. All said, this collection offered a pleasant stroll through pieces penned by many authors whose works have stood the test of time.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    I found this a really interesting read as it catalogues the writers and stories that influenced and inspired Lewis. Each story is introduced in terms of its impact and often with a quote or comment. Unfortunately, I didn't love all of the stories and did find myself skipping a few along the way. I found this a really interesting read as it catalogues the writers and stories that influenced and inspired Lewis. Each story is introduced in terms of its impact and often with a quote or comment. Unfortunately, I didn't love all of the stories and did find myself skipping a few along the way.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    In this volume Douglas Anderson has selected works that represent the influences on the literary sensibility of C. S. Lewis. These works include children's stories, fairy tales (often from the German or Scandinavian traditions), religious allegory, and science fiction. Each selection contains an introduction indicating Lewis's relationship with the work (when he read it, what he thought of it, whether he knew the author personally, etc.). The selections are for the most part worthwhile reading i In this volume Douglas Anderson has selected works that represent the influences on the literary sensibility of C. S. Lewis. These works include children's stories, fairy tales (often from the German or Scandinavian traditions), religious allegory, and science fiction. Each selection contains an introduction indicating Lewis's relationship with the work (when he read it, what he thought of it, whether he knew the author personally, etc.). The selections are for the most part worthwhile reading in themselves and mainly serve their function. I qualify this statement because occasionally the editor has made questionable choices. The decision to include a dialogue between two devils, for example, on the surface makes sense if looking forward to The Screwtape Letters, but the editor's introduction calls into question whether Lewis knew of this work at all. The choice of Kenneth Graham's letters in which he first laid out the plot of The Wind in the Willows is odd, given that Lewis seems to have known that work in its published form only. A disappointing omission is anything from the large corpus of medieval literature to which Lewis devoted his scholarly career. Overall, however, this collection gives insight into a great author and is enjoyable reading in itself.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kendell

    I loved this collection of stories written by friends or authors that inspired C.S. Lewis. My favorites include: The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson, The Magic Mirror by George MacDonald, Undine by Friedrich de la Motte Fouque, The Tapestried Chamber by Sir Walter Scott, The Dragon's Visit by J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Dream Dust Factory by William Lindsay Gresham. Some of these authors were the pioneers for all modern folk lore and sci-fi/fantasy and I really enjoyed this anthology! I loved this collection of stories written by friends or authors that inspired C.S. Lewis. My favorites include: The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson, The Magic Mirror by George MacDonald, Undine by Friedrich de la Motte Fouque, The Tapestried Chamber by Sir Walter Scott, The Dragon's Visit by J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Dream Dust Factory by William Lindsay Gresham. Some of these authors were the pioneers for all modern folk lore and sci-fi/fantasy and I really enjoyed this anthology!

  11. 4 out of 5

    David

    [Read a detailed review on The Warden's Walk.] I loved this collection – it played right to my tastes. The variety of authors ensures a variety of writing styles, so if some don’t suit you, something else likely will. An excellent read for anyone interested in fantasy literature, loosely defined, especially that which is fifty or more years old. Anyone interested in C.S. Lewis would be interested in this collection. [Read a detailed review on The Warden's Walk.] I loved this collection – it played right to my tastes. The variety of authors ensures a variety of writing styles, so if some don’t suit you, something else likely will. An excellent read for anyone interested in fantasy literature, loosely defined, especially that which is fifty or more years old. Anyone interested in C.S. Lewis would be interested in this collection.

  12. 5 out of 5

    A.

    I found one or two of the selections to be so boring that I couldn't finish them, but I comforted myself with the thought that the author wrote that C.S. Lewis himself didn't particularly care for those authors, so I'm in good company. Generally speaking, I found myself thinking that I wished people still wrote things like this. The language is just so much more vivid and controlled than the way people write now. I found one or two of the selections to be so boring that I couldn't finish them, but I comforted myself with the thought that the author wrote that C.S. Lewis himself didn't particularly care for those authors, so I'm in good company. Generally speaking, I found myself thinking that I wished people still wrote things like this. The language is just so much more vivid and controlled than the way people write now.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides

    If you're curious about the precursors to fantasy generally or you are a C.S. Lewis aficionado, I'd recommend this. A bit to my sorrow and regret, I bounced off Undine. And there was a Hans Christian Anderson story that was a bit on the twee side. (I finished it anyway.) But there were some fine and surprising stories in here. If you're curious about the precursors to fantasy generally or you are a C.S. Lewis aficionado, I'd recommend this. A bit to my sorrow and regret, I bounced off Undine. And there was a Hans Christian Anderson story that was a bit on the twee side. (I finished it anyway.) But there were some fine and surprising stories in here.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kristiina

    This book was very interesting and thoroughly enjoyable. the author did use quite a few stories not specifically listed by Lewis as a story he had even read, however the excerpts explaining each passage proved to be interesting. The story of Undine is particularly fascinating!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Varnika

    The joy when the dusty pick from the second hand shop turns out to be a nugget of pleasure. These tales turned me right back into a phase of children's books, bringing with it gentle and insightful commentary from the author. The joy when the dusty pick from the second hand shop turns out to be a nugget of pleasure. These tales turned me right back into a phase of children's books, bringing with it gentle and insightful commentary from the author.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Mimilaila

    These short novels are really amazing. Beautifully written and there are so many that you are bound to love at least one of them. If you loved reading Narnia and the Lord of the Rings you will also enjoy this book.

  17. 5 out of 5

    François B

    Great book with quite a few stories I'd enjoy reading a few more times. I especially enjoyed Undine, The Snow Queen, and (not sure I remember the title correctly..) The Magic Mirror(?). These three stories alone are worth price of the book. Great book with quite a few stories I'd enjoy reading a few more times. I especially enjoyed Undine, The Snow Queen, and (not sure I remember the title correctly..) The Magic Mirror(?). These three stories alone are worth price of the book.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jon

    Interesting take on all things C.S. Lewis. Disappointing that many of the tales seem to be inspirations for things like Screwtape and not Narnia specific, but a fascinating collection nonetheless

  19. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    Works of fantasy and sci-fi that had some influence on C.S. Lewis including authors like Hans Christian Anderson, Longfellow, E. Nesbit, Owen Barfield, etc.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    I really enjoyed all the stories in this book. It's amazing to see how many elements of the Narnia series were adapted from earlier works. Definitely a must read for fans of the Narnia series. I really enjoyed all the stories in this book. It's amazing to see how many elements of the Narnia series were adapted from earlier works. Definitely a must read for fans of the Narnia series.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ernest

    This was an interesting collection of stories, with some influences particularly evident. The similarity of some of the stories might put some readers off.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    An interesting collection of fairy tales and other excerpts of authors who influenced CS Lewis. Always good to get exposure to undeservedly obscure fantasy writers.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Debi

    I grew up on fairy tales so I loved this book. These are all stories that C S Lewis read and liked or that influenced some of his own writings. These are stories I'll read again and again. I grew up on fairy tales so I loved this book. These are all stories that C S Lewis read and liked or that influenced some of his own writings. These are stories I'll read again and again.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Chris

  25. 5 out of 5

    Margaret McDonald

  26. 4 out of 5

    Paula

  27. 4 out of 5

    Cori

  28. 4 out of 5

    Victor

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Harmon

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kate Adams

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