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Intellect

BYU C.S. Lewis expert explores author's 'personal Narnia'

With audiences dusting off their copies of "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" in advance of the movie's debut Friday, a Brigham Young University history professor and C.S. Lewis expert is pointing out the parallels between the famous tale and its author's own life.

Paul Kerry, who has walked in the footsteps of the author at Oxford and Cambridge as a visiting fellow, also notes that the commonly held notions of Christian undertones and allegories in the novel are oversimplifications.

Kerry, a member of the Oxford University C.S. Lewis Society, asserts that Lewis' life paralleled the journey of the Pevensie children in the first "Narnia" novel. Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie traveled from their world and home to a professor's modest house, where they found a wardrobe which contained a portal to Lewis' imaginary land, Narnia.

Kerry, an intellectual historian who earned his Ph.D. at Oxford, compares the journey of the children to Lewis' personal journey, which began when the Ireland native traveled to England at the age of 10 to attend boarding school. He continued on to the battlefields of France after enlisting in the British army in 1917 to fight in World War I. Lewis then returned to England and settled at Oxford. Within the university walls he nestled into Magdalen College. He was involved in a fellowship of colleagues, including J.R.R. Tolkien, and began his writing. His novels were the portal to a greater place, his personal Narnia, Kerry said.

"In many ways Lewis found Narnia in Oxford and Cambridge, in the intellectual atmosphere, friendship with colleagues, the age old rituals and tradition and the fortresses and palaces of the colleges and university buildings," Kerry said.

According to Kerry, the dreaming spires that inspire the mind, flourishing gardens and extensive libraries of Oxford University were the birthplaces of many of Lewis' writings. These ancient and beautiful places gave Lewis "time to walk, time to talk and time to think," Kerry said.

Kerry points out another similarity between the book and the movie: the professor, his home and the idea of a journey.

The children in the novel stumble into the magical land of Narnia through the professor's wardrobe. Likewise Lewis, an Oxford don, was able to introduce children throughout the world and time to Narnia through his writing. Kerry also noted how in many ways Lewis' book shows that life is a journey filled with adventure and choices and that we need to rely on family and the fellowship of friends.

"The professor's home in 'The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe' is in some ways similar to what Lewis' home in that time period would have been like," Kerry said.

The location, design and, of course, the wardrobe are comparable to the Oxford home of Lewis, where he lived with his brother Warren.

Kerry also points out that although the novel is commonly interpreted as a direct allegory, Lewis did not intend it to be so. Scholars use, among other interpreted symbols in the novel, the example of the character of Aslan, a lion who sacrifices his life in the place of the boy Edmund who transgressed in Narnia. Aslan later rises from the dead to live again. Although this parallels the Christian belief in Jesus Christ's atonement, crucifixion and resurrection, it is not a direct commentary, Kerry says.

"Lewis did not draw correlations directly but inspired thought," Kerry said. "He used symbols to invite the reader to think and ponder on an idea."

Writer: Noelle Nicolai

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