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Saturday 10am #5

The free books shelf at the front of my library is filled with donated books which haven’t made the cut for the booksale we run. It throws up hidden gems and many ghastly paperbacks, and some which are both, like the two at the top published by American company Collier in 1980. They are not only easily the worst of the many covers I’ve seen for C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia – they are possibly the worst covers (or the best bad covers) I’ve ever seen. The pictures look like the work of an average high school art student obsessed with swords and sorcery. The design looks suspiciously similar to the early covers of the Choose Your Own Adventure series, which Bantam had started publishing with massive sales in 1979.  The inside text, for reasons unknown, has slightly clumsily redrawn versions of Pauline Baynes’s charming 1950s line drawings from the original edition.

I have long wondered what to do with my own copies of The Chronicles of Narnia, given to me as a Christmas present in about 1990. In my childhood, we made a weekly trip to the library, hauling back a large cane basket of books. But we were not book buyers, which was partly down to there being no bookshop in Collie and partly down to books being regarded as an unaffordable luxury. The Narnia books, then, were a precious thing, the British edition (Lions, 1980, reprinted 1987) with all seven squeezed into the case (I could never get them in and out easily) and numbered with matching covers. (I took great pleasure in series as a child; I think it’s what drove me to obsessively amass 350 Phantom comics, even though I don’t think I ever loved the rather facile stories as much as I wanted to – but that is for another week’s post.) Despite dating from the same year as the American ones, my books had far better covers, realistic and vivid pictures that I thought the height of artistic accomplishment in primary school. (I didn’t appreciate Pauline Baynes’s illustrations so much then.) The artist, Stephen Lavis, did covers for a number of books I was drawn to at that time; he is one of the quintessential illustrators of my childhood.

The problem with my Narnia paperbacks was their bindings – they were badly glued and pages came out in clumps as I read three of the books; the others will probably go if I ever try to read them again. In my library’s booksale, I bought much better recent reissues of the first two of the series with sewn bindings and Pauline Baynes’ original cover art; unfortunately the cover reproductions are a little blurry, but you can’t have everything. It made me move my original copies of these two into the purgatory pile by my door where they have still been sitting until today, several months later. I also looked up the cost of buying new copies of the remaining five in this new edition and am yet to justify it. So we have an impasse in the land of Narnia at my house, and a couple of years to resolve it before I would contemplate reading the books to my son. As to my complicated relationship with C.S. Lewis and The Chronicles of Narnia, I wrote a little about that here some years ago.