A blogging friend, Deb Nance @ Reader Buzz, asked a question this week: "What single book was for you the most influential book you have read?"
Deb Nance said she was challenged to answer this question by a 1994 Internet posting called One Book List. The instigator of that project, Paul Phillips, started it this way: "My proposal is this: I would like for each of you to decide on a single book that you would most like for the world to read for inclusion in the list. The book that, for you, was the most influential, or thought-provoking, or enjoyable, or moving, or philosophically powerful, or deep in some sense you cannot properly define, or any other criteria you wish to set." Ultimately over 800 titles were added to the One Book List. Of course, that was long ago, and the information about the One Book List is only available now through the Wayback Machine here. The One Book List itself can be found here. I started looking through it, got overwhelmed and stopped by the time I got to the end of 'A" submissions.
But the seed was planted. What is the single most influential book I've ever read? For obvious reasons my brain immediately went to the Bible. But when I looked at the titles on the One Book List all the books seemed to be novels. So I decided that yes, the book that has influenced me the most it the Bible, but what is my One Book Novel?
At first I decided the task was impossible. How could I identify just one novel above all other special books? Then I decided that I would identify one special book from important periods of my life: Green Eggs and Ham from my young childhood, A Wrinkle in Time from my tween years, and Cold Sassy Tree as the book that brought me back to reading after a long hiatus, all came to my mind. All were important in my development but were not that influential. Was there a book which stood for all parts of me during all seasons of my life?
Then it hit me. Of course there was one book (series) that fit that bill -- The Chronicles of Narnia. (Yes, yes. I know it is seven books, but it is ONE series.)
I was around eleven or twelve when a friend of the family gave (loaned?) me the Chronicles of Narnia set. My father was a missionary at the time and we lived in Liberia, West Africa. As a kid raised in the church I knew the resurrection story but when I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe Aslan's death at the hands of the White Witch and his resurrection made the Bible and the message of the gospel come to life for me. "When a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead... then Death itself could start working backwards."
I reread the series some time as a teenager when I was very active in my church youth group and living a life of faith.
As a young mother I read the Chronicles of Narnia to my children who were probably around five and eight at the time. I still recall snuggling on the bed with them as we'd read a chapter or two before turning out the lights each night. My youngest daughter, who was just learning to read, would take a pad of paper and scribble words on it as I read. If I turned the page too soon she'd stop me, "I haven't finished writing it down, yet." Such precious, precious memories. When I shared this memory with my husband yesterday he asked if I ever discussed the religious allegories with the girls. I might have. I don't remember. What I do remember was all the love that was shared during those moments with the books.
The three of us reread the series when the girls were older. We decided we wanted to reread the books before the movies came out. The first one I recorded on Goodreads of the set was The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in 2010, so it is likely we read the first and second books in the series before I was using that site to keep track of my books/reading choices. Once again we'd cuddle together but this time all three of us would take turns reading aloud. Memories of us spending time together reading during a family vacation at Whistler come flooding back to me as I think about the series. We were all leading busy lives and the upcoming movies never materialized after the third book. But we eventually finished the last book together, The Last Battle, in 2013. It was a project of love and community that lasted us years.
My younger daughter is especially fond of The Chronicles of Narnia and has read the series by herself on at least one occasion. When a whole set of first (or second) edition hardcovers came available at a secondhand book shop, I bought those for myself and gave Carly my old paperbacks. We are both purists and believe that the books need to be read in the order that C.S. Lewis wrote them, starting with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950), not The Magician Nephew (1955). It irks us that some publisher decided that the books should appear in chronological order and I believe if one does start with the sixth book, it will wreck the magic for the reader. Just sayin'.
|My hardcover set of The Chronicles of Narnia in the correct order 😉|
C.S. Lewis said he did not write his series as a Christian allegory but more as a 'supposal.' (Love that word.) He said,
I’m not exactly “representing” the real (Christian) story in symbols. I’m more saying “Suppose there were a world like Narnia and it needed rescuing and the Son of God (or the ‘Great Emperor oversea’) went to redeem it, as He came to redeem ours, what might it, in that world, all have been like?” Perhaps it comes to much the same thing as you thought, but not quite. -Letters to Children
And in his NYT essay, "Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What's To Be Said," Lewis wrote:
Some people seem to think that I began by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children; then fixed on the fairy tale as an instrument; then collected information about child-psychology and decided what age-group I’d write for; then drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out ‘allegories’ to embody them. This is all pure moonshine. I couldn’t write in that way at all. Everything began with images; a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion. At first there wasn’t even anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord. . . . I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralyzed much of my own religion in childhood. Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or about the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation to feel can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did harm. But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday school associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons? I thought one could.
Right now our pastor is preaching a sermon series at church about the power of stories to help us understand the messages of the gospel. This quote from Lewis certainly mentions this as it discusses the power that a fairy story has on expressing ideas that otherwise seem too far away and holy to totally embrace.
So there it is -- my ONE most influential book (series) -- 'The Chronicles of Narnia' by C.S. Lewis.
What about you?
What single book was for you the
most influential, or thought-provoking, or enjoyable, or moving, or
philosophically powerful, or deep in some sense that you cannot properly
define, or any other criteria you wish to set?
Let's hear your thoughts in the comments below!