The Imaginary World Of The Young C.S. Lewis
Between the ages of seven and 29, C.S. Lewis produced short sketches of an imaginary world named "Boxen"--a cosmos bounded by his older brother Warner's imaginary India on the east and by young Jack's wholly invented Animal-Land on the west. Walter Hooper, the editor of this volume and Lewis' former secretary, literally snatched these pages from a small fire to which the elderly "Warnie" was feeding them in 1964. Although few authors would care to have their childhood fantasies published, these sketches do possess a distinct, daft charm. Warnie and Jack Lewis lost their mother to cancer in 1908, and were reared chiefly by their father, a public prosecutor steeped in the angry politics of Northern Ireland. Precocious Jack's Boxen is similarly a hotbed of insurgency: the early tales deal with "Manx against Manx," "The Relief of Murry," and the invasions of Horse-Land and Pig-Land. Later stories move beyond aggression into ethics. In "The Silor," a novel written when Jack was 14 and at boarding school, Mr. Cottle ("a strong and wiry young Cat") arrives on board H.M.S. Greyhound charged with the secret mission of reforming its crew's lazy ways, but is himself corrupted by a genial paymaster, James Bar (a bear). Lewis leaves them as "good friends if not good officers. . .they manage to hit a golden mean between Bar's desparate [sic] exploits and Cottle's absurd idealism." The charm here lies in the innocence and, in fact, the averageness of the stiff, childish drawings and the predictable roster of kings and heads of state (King Bunny was Jack; the Rajah or "Jah" was Warnie). Flashes of the great fantasist-to-be appear only in the increasingly sure-footed handling of humor and characterization; spelling, though, remains agreeably erratic throughout. Although more an indirect portrait of an Edwardian childhood than a major collection of new stories, Boxen--as Lewis' first and formative imaginary kingdom--should be of interest to Narnia enthusiasts.