Thursday, December 2, 2010

Review: The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.

*Consider this your warning that this is a long post. :) That is all.*

I never read The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis as a child. While I knew of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (my best friend loved it), I never had any real interest in picking up the books.

At times I wish I could go back and shake myself and shove these books into my young hands. Part of me feels as though I missed out on the magic and wonder of that in my childhood.

Anyway, the first time I read these was in college. When Matt found out that I had never read them, he made me. When he was a kid, he read them with his family and watched the old BBC versions on tape over and over again. And since there can't be something that Matt has read, but I haven't, I knew I had to read them as soon as possible. I did, I loved them, and it has been love ever since.

During this reread, I really just wanted to be reminded of why I loved them so much. It had been a couple of years since picking them up, so I wanted to revisit their wonder and see if the magic was still there. I decided to read them in the new chronological order that the publisher chose (I read them in publication order the time before), and while it made sense to read it in chronological order, I think I prefer it the other way.

First up was The Magician's Nephew. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Narnia, this first book explains the beginnings of Narnia. Digory and Polly become friends in London and eventually get into trouble with Digory's Uncle Andrew. Uncle Andrew had created rings to take individuals in and out of our world, and has Digory and Polly become his first subjects. The explore the world inbetween worlds and land in a mysterious place where they awaken an evil witch. She travels back with them-first to London, and then to Narnia when they make their way there.

I love this book for its explanations and descriptions of the beginning of Narnia. It very much hearkens to the beginning of the world outlined in Genesis, with the creatures and plants all arriving from the bidding of a higher power (in Narnia-Aslan).

I also love the way Lewis talks about the loss of innocence and sinning in a way that is approachable to children. Digory's mistake of bringing the witch into the novel (you hear more about her in later novels) is a sad mistake, but he learns from it.

The character of Uncle Andrew is always frustrating though. I hate when adults act like children (even in real life) and I find him to be a frustrating fellow.

But I love the imagery of the trees growing from nothing, and the sprouting of the famous lamp post in the woods. The animals getting their right to speech is also a wonderful scene and makes my nerdy little heart happy. And of course, the creation of the magical wardrobe sets up the rest of the series wonderfully. In all, I loved this first book much more this time around.

Up second is probably the most well-known of the series, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. And while I certainly love this one, I don't love it as much as some of the others. Perhaps I know the story too well, but I don't feel the magic and wonder as keenly as I did the first few times I read it.

This novel has four new children for us to follow-Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. Digory is still in the novel (he plays the part of the old professor who has the wardrobe in his country house-time passes differently in Narnia than in the real world), but doesn't play any significant role. The Pevensie children are whisked away to Narnia through the magic wardrobe and are immediately thrust into world politics. The White Witch is wreaking havoc on the land and it is their goal to bring that to an end.

I do love the dynamic with these children, that develops through the rest of the novels where they pop up. Peter, as the oldest, is the proud and heroic. He seems to know what to do when the other flounder and seems to be a natural born leader. When he and his siblings become the high kings and queens of Narnia, he leads with strength. I always liked Peter.

Susan is the oldest girl and probably my least favorite of all the children. Even in this novel, you can tell she doesn't want to believe in the magic of Narnia. She assumes it is children's play and seems to be the first to place blame on someone else.

Edmund is the third child and while he falters in this novel, I still love him. I think we all have a little Edmund in us that wants to get out: selfish, sick of being seen as a "little" brother, and yearning to be something better than our other siblings. I know I had feelings like that as a child-that competition with my siblings to prove myself. So I love Edmund's character for that kind of honesty.

Little Lucy is also a great character. She serves as the innocent being, the one that others can turn to when there is a need for something childlike to be done. She is the one who runs to comfort others and asks the things that the readers need answered. She shows that she is growing up in later novels, but she is one of the only human characters who maintains her innocence and her belief in the magic of Narnia.

The third novel, The Horse and His Boy, has the Pevensies as background characters. Instead, the focus is on a boy named Shasta and a talking horse of Narnia called Bree. Both live in the land south of Narnia as slaves. They escape to find their way north into free lands.

I really couldn't remember this novel when I came around to it this time. I find that is had less of the magic, but I still loved it on this reread. It discusses a lot of what it means to be free, to be oppressed, and to find your true identity. I found it to be a more mature novel than some of the others, with some deeper issues at play. It was originally the 5th book published and in publication order, the later books were more mature in theme.

With the Pevensies as adults in this novel (it takes place during their long reign in Narnia from their first visit), it seems a little off, like it doesn't quite click into place. For this one, I liked where it was placed in the new line up, but could see where it could be confusing in publication order.

The fourth novel, Prince Caspian, is one that I thought I knew based on the movie. It is the only novel I had only read once before, so I was surprised by how much was different.

Caspian is a prince of Narnia, but runs away from his uncle who wants power. He has to summon up the talking beasts of Narnia to recapture his throne and return Narnia to its former glory. In despair, he blows the ancient horn to call for help.

The horn was given to Susan in their first trip to Narnia as children, and the four Pevensie children return to Narnia (far in the future from when they left it) to help Caspian.

The book has a big epic battle near the end, but for me, the most exciting part was watching the children rediscover their faith in the magic and wonder of Narnia. Lucy, Edmund, and Peter recapture that spirit quickly (Lucy is first, of course), but here is where we see that Susan has turned away from belief in magic and wonder. Susan is seen as the snooty older sister, too old to play childish games, and to play. She has lost her childhood and youth and the reader can see it beginning to slip away.

It is sad to think that many people lose their sense of imagination and their ability to marvel at wondrous things as they age. They lose their ability to have faith and believe in the unbelievable. It is sad, but I can think of people I know personally who have had this happen.

Book five is my all-time favorite of the series, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and I cannot wait to see the movie coming out soon. We are introduced to a new character, Eustace (cousin to the Pevensie children), who I just love. Only Edmund and Lucy return (Peter and Susan are told at the end of Prince Caspian that they will never come back), so Eustace provides us with a new character to begin to relate to. He is a selfish and snotty boy that you can't help hating at the beginning.

The three children join a ship, the Dawn Treader, on a voyage to the ends of the world with a grown-up Caspian and a cast of other characters. Together, the venture past known lands to discover many mystical and beautiful islands. Each island brings a new adventure and challenge.

I love this novel for the sense of adventure and the quest all the characters find themselves on. Each land has something new to offer and as a reader, you are never bored. You kind of get swept away with the characters and experience each land with them.

The Silver Chair was the other novel I didn't remember as well. Eustace is joined in Narnia by a classmate, Jill, and together they set off on a quest to find Caspian's son Rilian.

My favorite part of the novel comes at the very beginning when the two characters first land in Narnia. Jill doubts the magic and wonder of Narnia, so Aslan confronts her. Its an interesting conversation about faith and belief that I am still thinking about.

As for the rest of the novel...well, it has its slow parts. I found the journey of the two main characters with Puddleglum (a marsh-wriggle) to be tedious. There didn't seem to be as much action in the middle of the book, and while the characters do see marvelous things, they didn't wow me.

When they finally find Rilian, they must help him combat his own demons before making their escape back to Narnia. I suppose you could compare this with resisting temptation and the fight to hold on to what you believe. But I did love the end section and message it conveyed to me. I'll let you explore it on your own (you need to keep some of the magic you know).

The last and final book in the Narnia series is The Last Battle. Overall, this is probably my least favorite book, until the last 3 chapters. I'll get to those in a bit.

This novel sets up the end of the world of Narnia. Eustace and Jill are sent back to aid King Tirian of Narnia in the destruction of an evil plot. A clever Ape found a lion's skin and convinced his donkey friend to wear it. Together, they pretend that the donkey is Aslan, and begin to draw a following to the false figure.

With the few creatures they can find to aid them, Tirian, Eustace, and Jill lead a revolt, but what happens is the end.

The world of Narnia comes to a close in the last three chapters, much like ours does in the Book of Revelations. It tells the story of Judgment and the end of days. If you are Christian, you'll see the parallels here more than anywhere else. Aslan calls his faithful creatures to him and together they watch the end of Narnia-through flames and water.

I won't comment on it more than that, but the imagery in the last three chapters is beautiful, as Lewis "destroys" the world of magic and wonder he created. I can't pretend to say anything profound about it, so I won't. But I was reminded how angry I felt the first time I read it that the good guys didn't win in an easy way.

I will comment on the fact that Susan;s loss of childhood is repeated here. I wonder if Lewis does it as a kind of warning-against losing all innocence as you get older, losing your sense of wonder and faith. It makes me sad, that people are like that.

In all, I am glad that I reread these when I did. I was reminded of their beauty and how they made me feel the first time I read them. I still felt wonder and magic. And I cannot wait to share these with my own children (very far off into the future). :)


  1. Great essay!

    I read them all as a child, several times over. But your essay makes me want to read them again as an adult.

  2. Brilliant review. I can't believe I haven't read them all when the main trilogy is by far one of my most favorite books ever!

  3. Love love love your thoughts on Narnia. I read them so long ago that I barely remember them now. I'm definitely inspired to pick them up again soon! :)

  4. I read them all as a child, and reread The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe last year. You know, I wonder if you'd have liked them better if you'd read them in the order they were written, which is how I read them. TLTWATW was the first book, and then the rest are in the same order as yours except The Magician's Nephew which is the 6th (second to last) book. It was fascinating for me to read about the beginning of Narnia, just before reading about the end.

  5. I read these over and over as a child (pronouncing Narnia wrong until a classmate corrected me!). My favorites are Dawn Treader and The Silver Chair. I can't wait for the movie!
    I have read these here and there with my own children, but none of them love them as much as I did. I think I'm competing with Harry Potter!

  6. I have never read The Chronicles of Narnia! I'm actually smack dab in the middle of them right now. I, too, wish I could go back in time and make my younger self read them! I only read the beginning of your post, since I've not finished the books, but I'll come back and read the rest once I've finished.

  7. Allie, it was such a treat to read this review. This series is my most favorite ever ever, and reading what you wrote was like a mini-journey through each book. Since you can't go back and shake your child-self, you'll just have to make it your mission to shake all the children you know so they won't have the same regret when they grow up. ;)

  8. I really enjoyed reading that. I read the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe as a child (I had a wonderful illustrated version) but I never even knew that there were more books in the series until a few years ago. I definitely hope to read some more of them soon

  9. I've only read up to "The Horse and His Boy" and have 4 and 5 waiting for me on the TBR shelf. So far, I haven't quite got the Narnia fever. Maybe because I didn't grow up with them?

    Have great hopes for the one next in line!

  10. I dislike how the publishers put them out of order -- I think it's especially important to read Lion Witch and the Wardrobe before The Magicians Nephew. I don't recall enjoyed THE SILVER CHAIR and THE LAST BATTLE at all as a child. But I loved all the others!

  11. I agree, I read them in the original order and that will always be the correct way in my head. I've never cared much for The Magician's Nephew and can't see readers getting drawn into the series nearly as well as if they'd started with The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. It's so much better!

    But of course I dislike how they've renumbered the Star Wars movies as well, so I guess I'm just a crankypants.

  12. I love Narnia!! I don't think I ever actually read the whole series, but I remember loving the characters, and the lion.

    Great post. :-)

  13. Ok, first of all, I LOVE the cover art you posted for the Narnia series!! Do you know where one can buy this set? Even though my Dad bought me some of these books for Christmas when I was a kid, I have never read any of the Narnia series!! And, I have no idea what happened to the books he bought that I never read. Oh well. After reading your post, I think I am going to add this series to my list at some point!

  14. I'm very slowly making my way through a re-read of this series (as my 'in-between' books), and I really enjoyed reading your thoughts. There certainly is a magic to them, but also a depth I hadn't really noticed the first time around. I suppose that is why they have lasted so long. They're all so great I don't think I can pick a favorite, but I think I'll always have a nostalgia for the very first one I read, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

  15. I haven't read this series in quite a long time, and you have definitely inspired me to pick them up again.

  16. Glad to hear you enjoyed these books. I read them as a child and still love them today, though of course some more than others. Reading this though I wonder at why it was Susan who lost her innocence and playfulness and couldn't come back... but the boys didn't. I wonder at what that says about sexism and women growing up as opposed to men. Hmm.. Interesting thoughts :)

  17. I first read these as a child and fell in love with the world of Narnia. I find new things each time I reread it. It's funny, but I always thought The Horse and his Boy was #5, interesting.