Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S Lewis

There are these children’s classics that you read as a child and then again as an adult and you find something different to appreciate with them both times around and can see why they’re regarded the way they are. The Hobbit and Alice In Wonderland are two such examples.

I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a kid, I actually read the entire Narnia cycle, and I loved it at the time. I reread the whole thing years later as an adult and didn’t get that same feeling of wonder.

Over recent years there’s been a bit of debate about how to read the Narnia books. Although The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was the first published, it doesn’t actually begin the cycle, that’s the second last book published; The Magician’s Nephew, and The Horse and His Boy takes place in between The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the second published book; Prince Caspian, yet it wasn’t published until after the 4th book; The Silver Chair. You can buy sets of the books and even an omnibus which has the books in chronological as opposed to published order. I prefer published order, personally, although the first time I read them I think I started with The Dawntreader, which was the 3rd book published and read them any old how.

Reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as an adult, after having read the book as a child is an interesting experience. When I read it as a kid it was just a good old fashioned magical adventure story with talking animals. I didn’t know about C.S Lewis’ religious beliefs, or see that the story was a Christian allegory. As an adult that message and the parallels with the bible hit you with sledgehammer subtlety. It’s not just that, either. I used to think lack of editing was a recent thing, but after I’d read for the fifth time in the early chapters that shutting oneself in a wardrobe was both silly and dangerous I started to wonder.

At heart the book is an adventure and I think it embodies many children’s fantasies in that the Pevensie siblings (Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter) not only find themselves in a magical land full of talking animals they become kings and queens, have many adventures and even manage to get back home in time for tea.

As a child Lewis enjoyed Beatrix Potter’s work, and the talking animals of Narnia reflect that, his knowledge of mythology and legend is also on display with the many mythological creatures that populate Narnia, everything from dwarves and fauns to minotaurs and centaurs abounds in the land.

When reading the first book one gets the sense that there is a much richer history behind it all, and this was later covered in the following books which moved through Narnia’s history, both back and forward. As a cycle the books cover the entire history of the land from it’s formation in The Magician’s Nephew to it’s eventual end in The Last Battle, where all the children who have played an important part in Narnia’s history, except for Susan who stopped believing, come together to be there at the end. Despite that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe can be read as a standalone, although Lewis probably had the ideas for the other 6 books right from the beginning.

The four kids in the opening volume are very much a product of their time and reflect many wartime British children. I would have preferred they be more like the Hodbins in Connie Willis’ Blackout/All Clear, but they were for the most part well behaved and spoken and therefore rather bland. Lucy is the heroine of the piece, but I always found her a bit too good to be true, her brother Edmund, who often battled with a darker side to his nature was far more interesting to me.

If you have read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and want to read more there are the other 6 Narnia books. For something along the same lines, but more intended for older readers, and much more modern there’s Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, which has a concept of children’s books set in a magical land called Fillory, which is clearly based on Narnia. For younger readers there’s also Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree and Wishing Chair books which have the same idea of children visiting magical lands from our world by means of enchanted tree in the Faraway Tree books and a flying chair in the Wishing Chair books.        


  1. I'm adamant that the books should be read in published order, and I'm annoyed at all the sets that have them in chronological, or that sell them separately and number them chronologically. The Magician's Nephew is actually kind of boring, and you don't care about Diggory unless you start to recognize elements from the other books and gradually realize this is the creation myth.

    Also, I hated The Magicians. Hipster Magician Ruins Narnia, more like.

  2. I'm with you there, Alice. I agree that the books are best experienced by being read in publication order, and it annoys me that they've been rereleased in chronological order. I was much the same about The Magician's Nephew. I think my favourite is The Horse and His Boy.
    I wasn't great impressed with The Magicians either. I didn't like what he tried to do with Narnia, but it was very clearly influenced by Lewis' work.
    Thanks for the comment.