Season Two

Unknown Friends: Season Two archives

S2E40: The Last Battle, by C. S. Lewis — Dec. 1, 2021

  • The Last Battle portrays heroism at its finest. In Narnia’s darkest hours, young King Tirian and a few faithful friends stay true to each other and to Aslan – though they’ve never seen him – and keep resisting evil at all costs. And, in the end, our heroes find themselves surprised by joy.

S2E39: The Magician’s Nephew, by C. S. Lewis — Nov. 24, 2021

  • Published sixth but functionally a prequel to the other Chronicles, The Magician’s Nephew tells of Narnia’s creation by Aslan, witnessed by the boy Digory Kirke. Digory eventually learns that people only see what they want to see, and they get what they want to get: a warning to us all to be careful what we wish for.

S2E38: The Horse and His Boy, by C. S. Lewis — Nov. 17, 2021

  • In The Horse and His Boy, C. S. Lewis’s fifth Chronicle of Narnia, a boy called Shasta is searching for freedom and identity, and he can only learn where he belongs when Aslan tells him the true story of his life.

S2E37: The Silver Chair, by C. S. Lewis — Nov. 10, 2021

  • Tests of faith and faithfulness return in The Silver Chair, but this time our new heroes Eustace, Jill, and Puddleglum must defy enchantments, false appearances, and their own expectations if they hope to fulfill the quest on which Aslan has sent them.

S2E36: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C. S. Lewis — Nov. 3, 2021

  • The Voyage of the Dawn Treader explores the temptations and transformations of Caspian, Lucy, and Eustace and consistently reminds us that Aslan is the source of all joy. Interestingly, in a letter to a young reader, C. S. Lewis simply said that The Voyage portrays “the spiritual life (especially in Reepicheep).”

S2E35: Prince Caspian, by C. S. Lewis — Oct. 27, 2021

  • Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia, the second book in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles, shifts our perspective on the reliability of myth, explores the relationship between faith and faithfulness, and teaches simple but profound life lessons along the way.

S2E34: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis — Oct. 20, 2021

  • Published 71 years ago (almost to the day), C. S. Lewis’s children’s book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe deserves the respect it has long received. Accessible to young readers and inspiring to readers of any age, the story of Aslan’s restoration of the land Narnia vividly portrays essential truths about the nature of good and evil.

S2E33: Operation Grendel, by Daniel Schwabauer — Oct. 13, 2021

  • A military sci-fi novel that almost feels like a psychological thriller, Daniel Schwabauer’s Operation Grendel probes and pushes past the normal boundaries of the human mind, exploring deception, impersonation, and artificial intelligence that can integrate with and influence a person’s thought processes.

S2E32: Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen — Oct. 6, 2021

  • Jane Austen’s youthful, hilarious, and scathing novel Northanger Abbey demonstrates the truth that stories shape how we think but relationships have an even greater power to teach and mold us.

S2E31: Captains Courageous, by Rudyard Kipling — Sept. 29, 2021

  • Far more than just a maritime adventure story, Rudyard Kipling’s 1897 novel Captains Courageous thoughtfully juxtaposes two distinct American lifestyles: the tradition of the rough seaman and the prosperity of the innovative businessman.

S2E30: The Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare — Sept. 22, 2021

  • Anti-Semitism is the chief accusation lodged against Shakespeare’s difficult comedy The Merchant of Venice, but religious prejudice may be less of an issue in the play than is commonly thought. Truly, the drama’s thematic core is a complex endeavor to reconcile law and liberality.

S2E29: Julius Caesar, by William Shakespeare — Sept. 15, 2021

  • Shakespeare’s tragedy about the assassination of Julius Caesar taps into timeless questions about honor, justice, pride, and wisdom, and the play ultimately requires audience members to interpret its characters and themes for themselves.

S2E28: The Door on Half-Bald Hill, by Helena Sorensen — Sept. 8, 2021

  • In her Celtic-influenced fantasy novel The Door on Half-Bald Hill, Helena Sorensen pits life against death and declares life to be the undeniable winner, but her thematic content lacks coherence thanks to the story’s combination of Christian and pagan perspectives.

S2E27: Moon Over Manifest, by Clare Vanderpool — Sept. 1, 2021

  • This week we take a look at Clare Vanderpool’s Newbery-winning novel set in Kansas, Moon Over Manifest, a tale about a 12-year-old girl searching for a good story, for the truth about her father, and ultimately for a home.

[Click the Manalive tab under “Podcast” for my chapter-by-chapter audiobook of G. K. Chesterton’s novel Manalive.]

S2E26: Manalive, by G. K. Chesterton — July 14, 2021

  • Published in 1912, G. K. Chesterton’s novel Manalive introduces an exuberant guest among the bleak residents of Beacon House and makes the case that goodness is the true path to happiness. According to Chesterton expert Dale Ahlquist, “This novel is Chesterton’s most practical and least theoretical book. This is the book on how to live Chesterton.”

S2E25: Bleak House, by Charles Dickens — July 7, 2021

  • Bleak House is arguably my favorite Charles Dickens novel and one of his only major works with a domestic focal point: the house of the novel’s title. G. K. Chesterton suggests that this novel “represents the highest point of his intellectual maturity” and declares, “When Dickens wrote Bleak House he had grown up.”

S2E24: Father and Son, by Edmund Gosse — June 30, 2021

  • In his memoir Father and Son: A Study of Two Temperaments, Edmund Gosse traces his upbringing in a devout Christian home and his gradual departure from the faith of his parents, but the inaccuracies and self-justification so evident in his narrative make it difficult to discern the true nature of his relationship with his father.

S2E23: The Chronicles of Prydain, by Lloyd Alexander (Part 2) — June 23, 2021

  • In Part 2 of my two-episode review of The Chronicles of Prydain, I describe what actually happens in the series’ five books (without spoilers!) and explore the life lessons and moral philosophy presented in the books.

S2E22: The Chronicles of Prydain, by Lloyd Alexander (Part 1) — June 16, 2021

  • In Part 1 of my two-episode review of The Chronicles of Prydain, I share details about the life and personality of the author, Lloyd Alexander, and also introduce the series’ main characters.

S2E21: The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde — June 9, 2021

  • First published in 1890 and condemned as indecent, Oscar Wilde’s only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray insightfully depicts the corruption of a soul by hedonism and serves almost as a confession of Wilde’s own secretly scandalous life.

S2E20: I, Juan de Pareja, by Elizabeth Borton de Treviño — June 2, 2021

  • Elizabeth Borton de Treviño’s 1966 Newbery Medal winner, I, Juan de Pareja, tells the story of a 17th-century Spanish painter and his beloved slave, while exploring the nature of art as well as themes of longing, contentment, friendship, and faith.

S2E19: Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury — May 26, 2021

  • In his 1953 dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury offers an insightful – even prophetic – vision of a future in which books are unwanted, media is omnipresent, and people have lost the ability to focus, to think, or even to know one another.

S2E18: The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins — May 19, 2021

  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, published serially in 1859-60 by Charles Dickens in his literary magazine All the Year Round, introduced a suspenseful plot structure and investigative narrative style that helped create the mystery novel genre we know today.

S2E17: The Girls of Slender Means, by Muriel Spark — May 12, 2021

  • Muriel Spark’s 1963 novel The Girls of Slender Means depicts a mix of struggling and successful young women at the end of World War 2, and Spark tells the girls’ story with wry humor and almost shocking efficiency, which belie the novel’s spiritual weight.

S2E16: Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley — May 5, 2021

  • Bearing little resemblance to its modern cinematic descendants, Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein tackles weighty issues like the mutual duties between creator and creature and the relationship between virtue and happiness.

S2E15: Alas, Babylon, by Pat Frank — Apr. 28, 2021

  • One of the first works of fiction ever to imagine a post-nuclear-war America, Pat Frank’s 1959 novel Alas, Babylon tells an intriguing tale of chaos, community, and survival, while also offering a glimpse into the cultural morality of the 1950s.

S2E14: The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak — Apr. 21, 2021

  • The Book Thief, Markus Zusak’s World War 2 novel published in 2005, explores themes of compassion and courage through sympathetic characters, but the book’s worldview limits its ability to answer essential questions of suffering and sin.

“The Rosehead Nail,” by A. E. Stallings (Bonus episode) — Apr. 14, 2021

  • To celebrate the first birthday of the Unknown Friends podcast, I’m sharing A. E. Stallings’s lovely poem “The Rosehead Nail,” AND I’m planning two bonus episodes this month for my subscribers over on Patreon!

S2E13: North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell — Apr. 7, 2021

  • First published by Charles Dickens in his magazine Household Words (as a follow-up to his self-published novel Hard Times), Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel North and South follows a heroine and hero who – though slightly romanticized – undergo realistic and inspiring character growth over the course of their story.

S2E12: True Grit, by Charles Portis — Mar. 31, 2021

  • Charles Portis’s American classic, True Grit, features a tenacious, meticulous narrator and heroine, Mattie Ross, who tells her story with a solemnity that is somehow both amusing and admirable.

S2E11: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert C. O’Brien — Mar. 24, 2021

  • The 1972 Newbery medal winner, Robert C. O’Brien’s Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, blends fantasy and science fiction in its tale of a widowed mouse trying to save her family, and in the process the story explores themes of education, morality, and ultimately self-sacrifice.

S2E10: The Screwtape Letters, by C. S. Lewis — Mar. 17, 2021

  • Published serially in 1941, then in book form in 1942, C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters presents “the psychology of temptation from the other point of view,” as he wrote to his brother Warren when the idea of the book first struck him.

S2E9: The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame — Mar. 10, 2021

  • The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame’s classic children’s book published in 1908, depicts a tiny community of four dedicated friends who gently teach us much-needed lessons about humility, simplicity, faithfulness, longing, and home.

S2E8: Virgil Wander, by Leif Enger — Mar. 3, 2021

  • Leif Enger’s latest novel, titled Virgil Wander after its protagonist, depicts a middle-aged movie house owner getting a second chance at life. While the novel is engaging, quirky, and optimistic, it seems to lack the zealous Christian faith of Enger’s first novel, Peace Like a River.

Agnes Grey: Chapter 1 (Bonus episode) — Mar. 1, 2021

  • Enjoy this special bonus episode in which I read aloud the opening chapter of Anne Brontë’s novel Agnes Grey, reviewed last week in Episode 7 of the podcast’s second season.

S2E7: Agnes Grey, by Anne Brontë — Feb. 24, 2021

  • Drawing from her experience as a governess, Anne Brontë (the youngest of the Brontë sisters) wrote her first novel, Agnes Grey, at age 27, in which she conveys to her readers the all-importance of the golden rule – doing unto others as we would be done by.

S2E6: The Violent Bear It Away, by Flannery O’Connor — Feb. 17, 2021

  • The Violent Bear It Away, Flannery O’Connor’s second and final novel, explores one boy’s struggle against the religious fanaticism of his great-uncle, and in the process, O’Connor relies heavily on Eucharistic symbolism to portray the confrontation between the boy’s willfulness and his divine destiny.

S2E5: Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl, by N. D. Wilson — Feb. 10, 2021

  • N. D. Wilson’s Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl, a book on Christian apologetics published in 2009, not only responds to the “problem of evil” in the world but also explores the reality of God’s voiced universe and inspires wonder and gratitude in his readers.

S2E4: Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen (Part 2) — Feb. 3, 2021

  • In Part 2 of my analysis of Jane Austen’s much-debated novel, Mansfield Park, I respond to critical interpretations of Fanny Price’s character, offer my own understanding of Austen’s moral philosophy, and discuss her nuanced perspective on the art of theater.

S2E3: Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen (Part 1) — Jan. 27, 2021

  • In Part 1 of my two-episode discussion of Jane Austen’s controversial novel Mansfield Park, I introduce the book’s publication, reception, plot, and characters, drawing special attention to our timid but wise heroine, Fanny Price.

S2E2: Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis — Jan. 20, 2021

  • Doomsday Book, Connie Willis’s 1992 novel blending sci-fi and historical fiction, considers the incarnation of Christ from an intriguing angle, although the book suffers from tedious pacing and poor plot development.

S2E1: 84, Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff — Jan. 13, 2021

  • In this first episode of Season Two, I discuss how Helene Hanff’s delightful memoir 84, Charing Cross Road, published in 1970, perfectly epitomizes the remark that helped inspire this podcast: “Reading brings us unknown friends” (Honoré de Balzac).