Tag: caroline mcalister (page 1 of 1)

Finding Narnia

When I began this blog, one of the things that mattered most to me was consistency: I committed (seven years ago! Goodness gracious) to writing weekly posts, because the blogs I liked best were consistent, reliable. I knew I could check every Tuesday for a new post, and, by gum, every Tuesday there’d be a new post to read. I looked forward to those posts. I have occasionally varied my schedule here to account for new babies or homeschool schedules, but for the most part I’ve kept my Weekly Post Commitment.

But every now and then a writing deadline or family illness comes along and sinks my well-intentioned ship. So, to that handful of you that might look forward to my Friday morning posts the way I look forward to my favorite blogs’ updates and who noticed my absence over the past two weeks: my apologies! I hope to compensate you for the missed posts by talking about C. S. Lewis. I find that C. S. Lewis typically makes everything better.

Finding Narnia, by Caroline McAlister | Little Book, Big Story

Caroline McAlister (author of John Ronald’s Dragons) has written a lovely picture book biography of C. S. Lewis—but! Her book is not only about C. S. Lewis. Finding Narnia is the story of Lewis and his brother, Warnie, and the way that they, together, brought the books into being.

From the brothers’ childhood games and stories, to the years when they were apart, to the moment when Lewis found himself thinking again, “What if . . . ?”, McAlister shows the way the seed of Narnia was planted, took root, and eventually flowered. She shows the work behind it, the patience, the love. When I was a kid, books seemed like mystical things to me—I thought ideas were something you waited for, not something you tended. So I love the way that Finding Narnia refutes that and shows readers another, far more common, way of writing a story.

Finding Narnia, by Caroline McAlister | Little Book, Big Story

And then, of course, there are the illustrations. Jessica Lanan’s watercolors are striking—so much so that three of my daughters commented on how pretty they are. She shows the imagined worlds of the brothers alongside their physical world in a way that feels organic and just right. That is as it should be, for this is not a story of how Narnia, in a bolt of inspiration, found Jack and Warnie, but how they, as children and then as grown men, found Narnia.

Finding Narnia: The Story of C. S. Lewis and His Brother
Caroline McAlister; Jessica Lanan (2019)

John Ronald’s Dragons

There are those who like to know the story behind their favorite stories, and there are those who don’t. Lydia is one of the latter. Biographies of her favorite authors, interviews or seminars—when offered, she turns them down with a polite “No, thank you.” She maintains that she likes the stories the way they are, without bothering with the shadows and scaffolds behind them.

But I am one of the former. I watched all of the extras on the Lord of the Rings DVDs. I read interviews with favorite authors, as well as prefaces, introductions, afterwords, and author’s notes. Those “in progress” videos my favorite illustrators post to Instagram are among my life’s simple pleasures.

John Ronald's Dragons, by Caroline McAlister | Little Book, Big Story

And so books like John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien, which tell the life of a beloved author in words and pictures, are just my cup of tea. But this one, with its well-told story and endearing illustrations, suited Lydia, too. McAlister follows J.R.R. Tolkien from childhood until the creation of The Hobbit, using Tolkien’s lifelong love of dragons to shape a story that deals gently but honestly with childhood, loss, war, and love.

John Ronald's Dragons, by Caroline McAlister | Little Book, Big Story

Eliza Wheeler’s illustrations, meanwhile, are beautiful. I know there’s a better adjective out there to describe them, something that conveys a sense of coziness, of light and dark, of delight, but I haven’t found it. Her surprising use of perspective and the way she works biographical and historical detail into each painting (and documents them in, yes, the Illustrator’s Note) adds another layer of meaning to the story, allowing us to read, in the margins, more about the inventive Tolkien and the major events of his life.

John Ronald's Dragons, by Caroline McAlister | Little Book, Big Story

John Ronald’s Dragons gives us an enchanting look into the story behind one of our favorite stories, and it’s one I know our family will return to again and again. It also motivated me to look for the story behind that story, and in my sleuthing I found a fascinating post about Eliza Wheeler’s research trip to Oxford, as well as this trailer for John Ronald’s Dragons.

John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien
Caroline McAlister, Eliza Wheeler (2017)