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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (The Chronicles of Narnia) Paperback – 2 Nov 2009
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"The magic of C. S. Lewis's parallel universe never fades,"
About the Author
CLIVE STAPLES LEWIS (1898-1963) was one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century and arguably one of the most influential writers of his day. He was a fellow and tutor in English Literature at Oxford University until 1954 when he was unanimously elected to the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance English at Cambridge University, a position he held until his retirement. He wrote more than thirty books, allowing him to reach a vast audience, and his works continue to attract thousands of new readers every year. His most distinguished and popular accomplishments include Mere Christianity, Out of the Silent Planet, The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, and the universally acknowledged classics, the Chronicles of Narnia. To date, the Narnia books have sold over 100 million copies and been transformed into three major motion pictures.
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First published in 1950, this is one of the most classic portal fantasies ever written. Four children are sent from London to an old house in the country during the evacuations of World War II. Through a magic wardrobe, they enter the fantasy land of Narnia, which is a jumbled mixture of Greek mythology, Bible stories, and Arthurian romances, with a bit of Medieval Bestiaries thrown in and also a nod to George Macdonald. The White Witch has made herself Queen of Narnia, and put it under the spell of an ever-constant winter. With the arrival of the children and the lion Aslan, an old prophecy is met, spring comes to Narnia, and there is a major clash between the good and evil Narnians on who gets to dominate Narnia.
It is good writing to read aloud, and I can see why decades of schoolteachers have done so to their classes, including my own Year 3 teacher when I was a child. It's also a good silent read for children on the 8+years level. I had to explain the Adam and Eve story to my daughter, but otherwise the child doesn't need to already know the rich layers of references within it, which fed my own subsequent reading for years and years when I was a child - I wanted to know more about all the creatures C.S. Lewis had referred to! (Though I never did find out who the People of the Toadstools were.....)
Re-reading it again as an adult, what struck me was the influence of World War II. I have no idea how much C.S. Lewis followed the events of the war from his academic enclave, or how aware he was of the atrocities in Europe. But certain bits of the imagery - the wolf who was Chief of the Secret Police and visited victims in the night to trash their homes; the White Witch casually pointing her wand at a happy little family party at the side of the road and turning them to stone, in spite of Edmund's pleas - felt connected to it. And unlike the stone spells, deaths caused by gunfire can not be reversed.
My daughter hasn't got that far in her history lessons yet.
This novel is by far the most popular in The Narnia Series, and it’s easy to see why. Published in 1950, it offers complete escapism for the reader; Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy are evacuated from London to avoid the Blitz and are sent to a big house in the countryside. This is one location in the novel and the other, of course, is the magical world of Narnia.
Much of this story is etched into my memory from reading the books and watching the films but I did find one discover a part of the story (don’t worry, it’s not a spoiler) I’ve never really paid attention to before. It’s a conversation between Peter, Lucy, and Professor Digory Kirke, which goes like this:
“But there was no time,” said Susan. “Lucy had had no time to have gone anywhere, even if there was such a place. She came running after us the very moment we were out of the room. It was less than a minute, and she pretended to be away for hours.”
“That is the very thing that makes her story so likely to be true,” said the Professor. “If there really is a door in this house that leads to some other world (and I should warn you that this is a very strange house, and even I know very little about it) – if, I say, she had got into another world, I should not be at all surprised to find that the other world had a separate time of its own; so that however long you stayed there it would never take up any of our time. On the other hand, I don’t think many girls of her age would invent that idea for themselves. If she had been pretending, she would have hidden for a reasonable time before coming out and telling her story.”
I loved this part because you have two children worried about their little sisters sanity, only for a well respected Professor (and adult) to basically say, “Why not? Keep your minds open to other possibilities.” A great lesson for anyone reading this novel!
The writing style is very simple and easy to read which is such a difficult thing to achieve. I also really liked the little drawings scattered throughout the book. Overall, a brilliant story by C.S Lewis, and one which I feel has more than enough depth for adults and children to enjoy.
Sadly, in this case, the adage "You can never go home again" more or less applies. Whatever magic Narnia held for me when I was younger, the actual writing and the age of the original work have not held up against time. The Christian allegory is not subtle. The children's behaviour is strangely starched and/or grown-up. The pace is so super-fast that some dramatic events are over so quickly you hardly get time to absorb them at all. I almost felt like if I blinked I would miss something, even in print.
The concept was charming enough and I may read the others if they come up cheap on Kindle in future, but I think I'm lacking enough nostalgia to be excited about continuing.
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