Wednesday, September 4, 2013

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

There are six required categories for the Back to the Classics Challenge. I’d finished 4/6 books, so I chose a classic for my next read from the category "a classic that prominently features an animal." I picked The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.

I don’t know how I missed reading this as a kid. My first real exposure to the story was the movie that came out 8 or so years ago. That was a significantly long time ago when I consider how much younger my kids were then. We watched the movie together and afterward, my husband read the Narnia Chronicles to them. I was reading other things with them at the time, so I missed out. I don’t feel an obligation to read all the books, but I have wanted to read this one ever since.

It’s a classic fantasy adventure for children. The four Pevensie children—Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy—are exploring the many rooms of an old house in the country where they have been sent for safety during the bombing of London. One room contains an old wardrobe. Lucy ventures into the wardrobe and out the back of it. Beyond the wardrobe is the magical land of Narnia.

Narnia is a land where animals talk and live side-by-side with mythical beings such as fawns and giants. It would be a beautiful place except that it has fallen under the rule of the evil White Witch, who calls herself the Queen of Narnia. She has put the whole land under a wintry spell so that spring (and Christmas) can never come. With her magic wand, she can turn any animal that crosses her into stone. But the White Witch is aware of a prophecy stating that when humans come to Narnia, the evil times will be over. Naturally, she is on the look-out for any human invaders.

Lucy eventually brings her brothers and sister to the place she has discovered. Edmund has an encounter with the witch and is, for selfish and childish reasons, swayed to her side. The other three siblings, with the help of animal friends, bravely set out to find Aslan, the Great Lion. Aslan is the source of an ancient power greater than that of the witch.

This all sets the stage for a final battle between good and evil, requiring sacrifice and redemption.

It’s a very straightforward story and a fine adventure for children. It even has an appearance by Santa Claus (or Father Christmas.) The movie had more high tension and some scenes that could be scary for kids, but the book is quite tame and matter-of-fact in its narration. I think kids would understand the emotions–the sibling quarrels that get out of hand because of the circumstances, but it’s not overwhelming. The only real evil in the book stems from the White Witch. There is no nuance or complexity to worry about, so it’s a nice introduction to fantasy adventure for young children. I know there is a whole literature about the Christian allegory in the book. You can compare Aslan to Jesus and Edmund to Judas and find a bunch of other examples of how Lewis is alluding to Christian themes in this story. I suppose that is one way to make the simple story more interesting–to play with it a bit. But I think it works best as an adventure story to read with quite young children, who will simply be thrilled to see good triumph over bad. Trying to read it with children for the Christian allegory might be too confusing for them and ruin the fun of the story, while for adults, I think there are novels that work in the Christian themes in a more subtle way with a more complex and interesting storyline.

The Back-to-the-Classics Challenge is hosted by Sarah Reads Too Much.