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December 2, 2005

Smith College Professor, Expert on Religious Meaning of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – Although the Dec. 9 premiere of the movie “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” has resulted in a surge of interest surrounding C.S. Lewis’ book, it has not altered Carol Zaleski’s focus.

Zaleski, Smith College professor of religion, has spent nearly three hours each week this semester talking with students about the writings of the famous group of authors to which Lewis belonged. Her class will read and discuss “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” the week the movie opens in theaters nationwide.

“Lewis is by far the most successful popular Christian writer of the 20th century,” said Zaleski. The influence of Lewis and the other members in his group, called the “Inklings,” is immense, she added.

Lewis’ story chronicles the adventures of four siblings as they travel to the magical world of Narnia and embark on a quest to rid the world of the witch and her followers. Aslan, the lion, is their guide. Published in 1950, Lewis has commented that the story muses about Christ in another world, with the lion as Jesus.

Based in Oxford during the decades surrounding World War II, the Inklings also included J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Williams. Most group members were devout Christians, who valued the imagination as a conveyer of spiritual truths. Their works of allegory, mythology, fantasy and theology have had far-reaching impact, according to Zaleski.

Lewis and Tolkien are major contributors to the renaissance of English childrens literature. Tolkien created a new genre of fantasy literature and is inadvertently responsible for the explosion of computer and Internet role-playing fantasy games, Zaleski said.

In addition to her course, called “The Inklings: Religion and Imagination in the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams,” Zaleski is also working with her husband, Smith research associate Philip Zaleski, on a book about the intellectual history of the Inklings. The couple previously collaborated on “Prayer: A History,” released last month, and “The Book of Heaven.”

Smith College is consistently ranked among the nation’s foremost liberal arts colleges. Enrolling 2,800 students from every state and 60 other countries, Smith is the largest undergraduate women’s college in the country.


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