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EH 32 Through the Wardrobe Door:
The Fantasy and Science Fiction of C. S. Lewis
Study Group Presentation Topics
Please scroll down to the current reading assignment for your topics.
For Mere Christianity
Create an overview or summary of the main points of Part One: "Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe" being sure to cover the main points of each chapter, but going beyond an outline to a coherent presentation of ideas. As part of your conclusion, explain as best you can the argumentative methods Lewis uses to make his "case" for Christianity in this part of the book. Prepare to present your overview to the rest of the class on Wednesday in a session of 15-20 minutes.
Create an overview or summary of the main points of Part Two: "What Christians Believe" being sure to cover the main points of each chapter, but going beyond an outline to a coherent presentation of ideas. As part of your conclusion, explain as best you can the argumentative methods Lewis uses to make his "case" for Christianity in this part of the book. Prepare to present your overview to the rest of the class on Wednesday in a session of 15-20 minutes.
Try to determine, based on the first three parts of the book, who Lewis intends as his audience. That is, take into consideration when and why Lewis was writing so that you can speculate as to whom he was making his "case" to. Speculate also whether Lewis's case is one that is likely to reach an audience of liberal arts students in the early 21st century and why or why not. Prepare to present your conclusions (and the evidence they are based on) to the rest of the class on Wednesday in a session of 15-20 minutes.
For The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Using Tolkien's essay "On Fairy Stories" and the list provided, account for the elements of fairy stories in the novel. Create your own order for these elements based on your own purposes in presentation. Identify specific aspects of the novel that illustrate these elements, and draw comparisons with specific examples from fairy tales that you have read or heard. Be prepared to teach your classmates what you have learned.
Using what you know of the Old and New Testament (you should refresh your memories) find what parallels you can to the major characters and events of the novel. Don't worry about exact parallels as much as close resemblances. Don't forget that the New Testament includes the Book of Revelation. Also, don't forget that Church tradition offers explanations for what happened to the souls of the "faithful departed" before the birth of Christ and for what happened to Christ between his crucifixion and resurrection. Be prepared to lead class discussion on the parallels between the stories.
Draw on your skills in reading fiction to create a presentation to your classmates on characterization and setting in the novel. Taking into account what they do and say, and what the author and other characters say about them, give a personality profile of each of the four Pevensie children. In addition, create personality profiles for each species of animal represented in a major Narnian character (include the Witch). As for setting, consider the importance of the time and place of the novel; don't forget that the children's Narnian adventures are a story within a story -- discuss both England and Narnia.
For Prince Caspian
As Group Two did for The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, you should find as many parallels as you can between Prince Caspian and Old and New Testament stories and characters. You may also speculate on the history of the Church and of other religious traditions. It may be helpful to draw comparisons to the previous novel: how does Lewis tell the same story a different way?
Groups Two and Three
Although, as Tolkien points out, myths and fairy stories are less didactic than fables, Lewis obviously wishes to teach lessons to his readers. Yet he has two audiences: children will notice matters of plot and character, but adults will notice more. What moral lessons does Lewis teach children in the first two novels? What additional morals does he teach adults? Be sure to explain how Lewis teaches these lessons and how the teaching methods differ for children and adults. Your own experiences as child- and adult-readers may be a helpful starting place for discussion. However you wish to distribute the work among yourselves is up to you, but take into consideration that this novel has two clear story lines (Caspian's and the Pevensies') as well as two distinct age groups (the children's generation and Miraz's generation).
For Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Everyone should read and be ready to discuss "Myth Became Fact" on Friday as well as be ready to apply Joseph Campbell's concept of the monomyth to the separate adventures in the Voyage.
At the end of the novel, Aslan tells Lucy, "This was the very reason why you were brought into Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there [in your own world]." In light of this statement, for Friday's discussion, each group will concentrate on the encounter with Aslan experienced by one of major characters. Group One will focus on Lucy, Group Two on Caspian, and Group Three on Eustace.
For The Magician's Nephew
Trace the appearance of the "monomyth" cycle as often as you can find it (and remember that smaller cycles are imbedded in larger ones) in the adventures of Digory and Polly. Remember that some adventures occur in Charn and England. Don't be afraid to speculate on variations on the theme, including an "anti-elixir" brought back from Charn.
This novel has more extensive time spent in other worlds besides Narnia. We also encounter more adults than usual in this book. These adults, by their personalities, behavior, and value systems, raise social and moral issues that children might not pick up on. Your mission is to pick up on these. Consider, among other things, matters of ecology and animal rights, of nuclear proliferation, of occultism.
It is now your turn to connect Hebrew and Lewisian mythology. Trace the parallels between the creation story as told in the first two chapters of Genesis and the story of the creation of Narnia. Try to be as specific as possible. Have a point to make about the effectiveness and purpose of Lewis's choice to re-mythologize creation in the way he does in the novel.
For The Last Battle
Create a presentation for your classmates on Lewis's portrayal of evil in the last two novels. That is, using the concrete examples of Jadis, Tash, Shift, and Rishda Tarkaan, develop a definition of evil and its different facets. Do not organize your presentation character-by-character because that organization goes against your purpose. Instead, organize by abstract concepts, by each facet of evil, and trace its existence in the different characters.
Create a presentation for your classmates on Lewis's portrayal of "unbelievers" in the novels. That is, using the concrete examples of the Telmarines in Prince Caspian, the Dwarves throughout the novels, Uncle Andrew in The Magician's Nephew, and Susan Pevensie, speculate on what point(s) Lewis wishes to make with these characters. You would be wise to consider the case of Emeth in The Last Battle as you pursue this topic since he is a mirror image of the others. Nevertheless, as I have directed Group One above, do not organize your presentation character-by-character because that organization goes against your purpose. Instead, organize by abstract concept, by each facet of unbelief as you encounter it in the different characters, and try to trace its source.
Create a presentation for your classmates on Lewis's portrayal of life after death, including his concepts of the last judgment and the destruction of creation. Do not compare Lewis's ideas to the accounts in Revelation, Daniel, or Matthew 24: these passages from the Bible will not serve your purpose because they are highly iconographic and symbolic and, therefore, offer no concrete, realistic details with which to connect Lewis's account. Instead, concentrate on defining Lewis's concept of the perfect world, perhaps as opposed to the fallen worlds he has described in the novels. Why, for instance, does Digory mention Plato in the next-to-last chapter?
For Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra
Building on what you began in your presentation on The Last Battle, prepare to lead class discussion on Lewis's vision of the nature of Satanic evil. Consult what you remember from the Bible about Satan's characteristics, and be sure to read Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28. Cite specific passages from Perelandra that exemplify Satanic evil through Weston (or the Un-man). How close to the Biblical accounts and suggestions does Lewis come? How does he differ? How does he expand?
Prepare to lead class discussion on Lewis's vision of unfallen worlds. Consider Narnia in The Magician's Nephew and Aslan's Country in The Last Battle as unfallen worlds, and show what these have in common with Malacandra and Perelandra. If possible, learn a little about other Utopias and educate your classmates on that subject.
Decide on the major themes of the two science fiction novels and trace those themes where they appear in the Narnia Chronicles. There does not have to be a one-to-one correspondence, but you should expect to see parallels. If the science fiction novels present themes different from or beyond those of the children's novels, have something useful to say about that. "Something useful" may be closely connected to the different audiences for the two types of fiction.
John D. Tatter, Birmingham-Southern College, email@example.com