Sad that Harry Potter Is Over? Here’s New C.S. Lewis for Fantasy Lovers

The eighth and last Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, smashed world records at the box office after its opening on July 15. Everyone from the now-young adults who grew up with the books to the new generations of J.K. Rowling’s fans have to find another outlet for their magical cravings. While you wait for Pottermore though, consider another fantasy writer to whom Rowling has often been compared: C.S. Lewis. For decades, his youngest fans have known Lewis best for his series The Chronicles of Narnia, and his older fans have enjoyed works like his The Great Divorce or The Screwtape Letters, which also employ elements of fantasy and develop intricately imagined worlds. What most of his fans have not realized until recently is that the author also worked for well over a decade on translating a famous work that might be (loosely) called “fantasy.”

Unpublished and relatively unknown until now, Lewis’ translation of the Aeneid is available in C.S. Lewis’s Lost Aeneid: Arms and the Exile, edited by A.T. Reyes, shows the widely disseminated and studied epic through the eyes of the beloved British writer. In this bilingual edition, Reyes presents Virgil’s Latin text with the famous author’s long-forgotten interpretation. Lewis’s vibrant Narnia, full of fauns, kings, and talking animals, is loved for its imaginativeness and its tangibility, and he brings just as much life to the ancient goddesses, heroes, and sea serpents of Virgil’s epic poem. The author considered Virgil one of the most important influences on both his work and his life, and his passion for the poem is evident in his carefully translated lines.

Like the epic itself, however, this translation is incomplete. The most substantial pieces come from Books 1, 2, and 6, although the fact they exist at all is nothing short of incredible. Lewis’s brothers cleaned out the family’s home after his death, and with a lack of consideration that makes modern scholars shudder today, decided to destroy most of his papers—including his manuscripts—in a bonfire. By what he calls “more than a coincidence,” Walter Hooper, Lewis’s old secretary, was able to rescue many of the papers after the Lewis family’s gardener warned him of what was about to happen. Hooper said later, “There were so many [papers] that it took all my strength and energy to carry them” away. Among them were some school notebooks which contained the only remaining copies of the Aeneid translations. The chance to read a collection of not only Lewis’s translations of the epic but his references to his work in his personal correspondences is, therefore, fantastic.

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