01/10/2008. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books. 530 page enlarged paperback. Price: $15.00 (US), $17.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-49890-8).
check out website: www.delreybooks.com
Firstly, I should point out that 'Tales Before Narnia' is not an anthology of CS Lewis' other works. Nor indeed is it purely a book about stories that were around when Lewis was growing up. What we have here are twenty short stories, including a couple poems, of authors Lewis acknowledges as read as a lad and others where he was acquaintances with as a university don that he admired and read. There are only two which have any direct connection to Narnia. Author Owen Barfield, whose story 'The Child And The Giant' is here, was father to Lucy and whom Lewis was godfather. Then again, when has any author resisted using names of people they know in stories? 'The Wood That Time Forgot: The Enchanted Wood' by Roger Lancelyn Green was printed later than Narnia but written earlier and which Lewis openly acknowledges as borrowing the idea for using elements of for when Tumnus met Lucy the first time.
I should point out that not all the stories here are short stories. Some are just notable snippets from novels that can be read as short stories. So you've got things like Kenneth Grahame's 'First Whisper' which is actually a series of letters he sent his son telling him about Toad's escape from prison and the end sequence from 'Wind In The Willows' for instance.
Considering this anthology includes the likes of E. Nesbit, Hans Christian Anderson, Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stephenson, Rudyard Kipling, J.R.R. Tolkien (a poem) and G.K. Chesterton it would be right in assuming that Lewis had a decent taste although he wasn't that keen on Kipling's stories.
I think the story that appealed to me the most was 'The Man Who Lived Backwards' by Charles F. Hall. One of two tales that appeared in British mag, 'Tales Of Wonder' in 1938, before he vanished off the scene. After an accident, a man finds reality reeling backwards, unable to communicate, eat or drink is truly a horrifying consideration of the consequences. I'm not going to give away too much but Hall magnificently covers all stops. This story is really worth the price of admission here, folks. Truly magnificent Science Fiction.
This doesn't denigrate the rest of the material here which was all an interesting read but I was really taken by surprise by this one. Don't buy this book if you expect to find CS Lewis' source material but if you want to see the kind of material that he felt influenced him, then there's much to read here.
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