If you’re reading this, I think it’s safe to assume you love C. S. Lewis and are familiar with at least some of his work, if not his life. Perhaps you are also an artist of some kind, and you long for that Inkling-like fellowship with other artists that Lewis and Tolkien seemed to have enjoyed and that many of us find at Hutchmoot. But what we don’t often consider is that one of Lewis’s primary relationships was not with another artist but with his very practically-minded brother.
I’d like to introduce you to a new picture book biography of C. S. Lewis—I hope you don’t mind if I call him Jack—and his brother Warnie. Like most picture book biographies, Finding Narnia: The Story of C. S. Lewis and his Brother by Caroline McAlister and illustrated by Jessica Lanan zeros in on one theme of its subject’s life: Jack’s relationship with his brother, Warnie, and its instrumental role in his own creation of fantastic worlds. From their childhood play world of Boxen to The Chronicles of Narnia, Warnie was at Jack’s side.
And yet, while Warnie did become a member of the Inklings, he wrote history, never fiction. From childhood, as Finding Narnia brings out, Warnie was fascinated with real-world things like trains, timetables, ships, maps, and India. As they grew older, Warnie remained the practical one, working for the army and typing reports.
Jack, on the other hand, was sensitive, loved to read, and had a vivid imagination. And even though he grew into a scholarly Oxford don, he never lost his ability to ask, “what if….”
As you can see, the brothers were very different. And yet, Warnie’s role as resonator—a term coined by Inklings biographer Diana Glyer—seems to have been one of the essential ingredients in Jack’s creative life.
The resonators we need may already be in our own community, part of our church, under our own roof. Carolyn Leiloglou
Boxen, the play-world they created during their mother’s illness, was a combination of Jack’s Animal-Land and Warnie’s India. As adults, since Jack never learned to type, Warnie was the one who typed Jack’s handwritten manuscripts of the Chronicles of Narnia. And when Tolkien criticized Jack’s sloppy mythology in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Warnie offered encouragement. Warnie didn’t have to be an artist to be the resonator Jack needed.
Which is why we creators don’t need to only surround ourselves with other artists, as Andrew Peterson has often pointed out. The resonators we need may already be in our own community, part of our church, under our own roof. After all, “art nourishes community and community nourishes art.”
And when you read this book to your kids, don’t be dismayed if they identify more with practical Warnie than with Jack. Finding Narnia gives them a delightfully equal footing, even in the endpapers, the first of which displays a map of Great Britain and the second a map of Narnia.
This short, picture book biography leaves off where The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe begins. If you’ve read the Chronicles with your children and want to introduce them to Jack and his brother Warnie, I can’t think of a better way. And for a picture book primer on J. R. R. Tolkien, don’t miss John Ronald’s Dragons by the same author.