I encountered Jared Lobdell’s work because he was one of the few critics to make C.S. Lewis’ WWII-era science fiction–what I call the Ransom Cycle–a study of its own. His 2004 book, The Scientifiction Novels of C.S. Lewis: Space and Time in the Ransom Stories, takes seriously Lewis’ literary context and looks intertextually at the Ransom Cycle in terms of genre and the books that shaped its form and content. Scientifiction Novels was interesting in that it tried to treat Lewis’ incomplete novel “The Dark Tower” as an integral part of the Ransom universe, struggling to decide what that meant. I would differ with Lobdell on the directions he sometimes took–and am wary about completing the novel (as he attempts to outline)–but it is an appreciative effort.
Jared Lobdell has more work out and on the way. Here he describes a little bit of the process of trying to get Eight Children in Narnia to print after nearly 20 years from brainchild to bookstore.
Along about the time of the C S Lewis Centenary in 1998, I had the idea of writing two books on C.S. Lewis’ fiction: one on the Ransom novels and one on the Narnian stories (actually the book on the Ransom stories started a little earlier). The Ransom book duly appeared in 2004 from McFarland. Reviews were sparse and I remember Joe Christopher found it very curious that I had not only included “The Dark Tower” (Walter Hooper’s title) but had provisionally re-titled it and suggested how it might have come out had Lewis finished it.
The Narnia volume was ready for publication in 2006 and in fact accepted by Open Court, which had published three of my books on Tolkien. But after accepting it, and paying me half the agreed-upon advance on royalties, they found themselves unable to publish it for ten years. I revised it from time to time, but the approach remained essentially in place. I wanted to look at the creation of a Victorian (or Edwardian) children’s story by an author with whom (and with his friends) I corresponded, and whom I had read for close to sixty years (now close to seventy), who was a coeval (and favorite) of my parents, whose every book I read, and whose birthday, by the way, I shared (along with Madeleine L’Engle and Louisa May Alcott). I never did make it to study under him at Oxford, but to me he was of my world.
My approach in Eight Children in Narnia is straightforward, fundamentally an overview, a book at a time (with looks at their different kinds), then a conclusion. If I trace the original vision of the faun with the umbrella hurrying home to tea to Debussy’s l‘Apres-midi d’un faun or the “valiant” Lucy of Narnia to the “valiant” Lucia da Narni in Shellabarger’s 1947 novel Prince of Foxes (but not the film, which omits her) or the first description of the Professor to a combination of two of the Council of Days in The Man Who Was Thursday, that is because reading and listening (and living) as much as possible within Lewis’s world, these seem to me virtually self-evident.
When I started reading Lewis, his most recent novel was That Hideous Strength. and I read that and its two predecessors while I was in grade school. My reactions to Lewis were, as the pavement artist says, “all my own work,” pretty much — a few of them he confirmed in correspondence, a few Owen Barfield confirmed in conversation and correspondence, a couple by Ronald Tolkien in correspondence. They could still be “wrong,” I suppose, but like Lewis himself (if we believe him), where I fail as a critic I may be useful as a specimen. There may still be one dinosaur left.
Jared Lobdell is an historian, economist, and literary critic, as well as a friend and correspondent of several of the Inklings. Besides Eight Children in Narnia, his most recent publications are his self-published Poems 1957-2002, an exceedingly slim volume, and Tax Revision By Commission in Pennsylvania 1889-1949, presumably of minimal interest to anyone reading this. Currently, he is putting together a volume of his essays and studies on the Inklings, with long essays on Nevill Coghill and Lord David Cecil, (and Canon Fox), and his essay pointing out Hugo Dyson’s Jewish parentage (born Henry Victor Dyson Tannenbaum). He has the concluding essay in Laughter in Middle-Earth.