THE MOST INFLUENTIAL CHILDREN’S STORY EVER TOLD
C.S. LEWIS’ TIMELESS TALE OF GOOD OVERCOMING EVIL IN A MAGICAL LAND, IS A MUST READ BOOK FOR READERS, YOUNG AND OLD
The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe
(The Chronicles Of Narnia, Book 2)
Genre: Children’s, Juvenile Fantasy
Format: Paperback, 208 Pages
Date: 12th March 2012 (First Published 1950)
To say that C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe has a very special place in my heart would be a major understatement. It was the first novel that I ever read, when I was just seven years old, igniting a lifelong interest in fantasy literature. It is perhaps the most influential children’s fantasy book ever written, and its enduring popularity has ensured that it has never been out of print since it was first published, six decades ago.
This timeless tale of good overcoming evil was an integral part of my childhood, as I’m sure it has been for countless other people. It will no doubt remain so for many years to come, and my love for the book makes writing this review with any kind of objectivity, rather difficult.
Drawing on his own personal experience, Lewis commences his story in England at the beginning of the Second World War, a period in which many children had to be evacuated from the cities, to the refuge of the countryside, to escape anticipated Nazi bombardment. Lewis himself is known to have taken in three young evacuees during this time. Such is the case for the Pevensie siblings; the book’s four protagonists, Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter, who are sent to the country home of an elderly professor.
Lewis’ tale really begins in earnest when the youngest sibling, Lucy, inadvertently discovers that a wardrobe in a spare room is a doorway to Narnia, a magical land that Lewis has populated with talking animals and mythical beings from various European mythologies; principally Greek and Roman. Lucy learns that Narnia and its inhabitants have been subjugated for a hundred years by an evil queen, known as the White Witch, who has the land in the grip of a curse that makes it perpetually winter, but never Christmas.
There is hope, however. An ancient prophecy indicates that the curse and the White Witches reign will be broken. All that is required for this prophecy to come to pass, is the arrival of four humans (two sons of Adam, and two daughters of Eve), who are destined to fill the four thrones of Cair Paravel, to become monarchs of a liberated Narnia. Which is where Lucy and her siblings come in.
Even if you have not read the book, you can still probably guess how The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe ultimately concludes. But it doesn’t reach that conclusion without difficulty, heroic endeavours, sacrifice and tears. If you want to know how it reaches that conclusion, you will have to read this wonderful tale for yourself.
As much as I love this book, it is not without its critics. Over the years, The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, (and The Chronicles Of Narnia in general), has drawn numerous and varied criticisms from academics and commentators. Much of the criticism focuses on Lewis’ supposed use of allusions and symbolism from his Christian faith. Lewis is known to have been an erudite writer of Christian apologetics, which has lead to some of his more vehement critics viewing the Narnia novels as pro-Christian propoganda, although Lewis always maintained that his stories were not intended to be Christian allegories.
Despite the denials, the appearance of Christian themes is rather conspicuous through much of The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe. The most glaringly obvious example being the sacrifice and subsequent resurrection of Aslan the lion, who is widely viewed by people to be a “stand-in” for Jesus. It’s also not uncommon to find Edmund being likened to Judas.
Although not obviously applicable to this book, other criticisms that Lewis’ writings have attracted include accusations of sexism, due to alleged gender stereotyping, as well as accusations of racism on account of the portrayal of other ethnic/cultural/religious groups.
Some of these criticisms maybe more valid than others, but I don’t want to turn this review into an examination of their validity. In fairness to the author, his writings can be used to make cases both in support of the accusations, or in defence of Lewis. Regardless of where one stands in this debate, there is little doubt that these alleged issues will not be noticed by children; who are, after all, the intended audience for Lewis’ Narnia stories.
Moving away from the academic criticism, if I put on my “adult reader” hat, there are a few things within the narrative of The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe that I could nitpick. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, for a children’s book, Lewis’ characters are for the most part very black and white. With the notable exception of Edmund, the “good guys” are inherently good and virtuous; though there is never any attempt to show what makes them so, or why. It’s little wonder then that Edmund is the most interesting protagonist.
Likewise the “bad guy”, the White Witch, is inherently evil, simply because Lewis’ says so without actually showing the reader. In many ways the White Witch reminds me of a Bond villain who snatches defeat from the jaws of victory because of an illogical need to revel in her evilness, instead of simply getting the job done.
It also amuses me to some degree, that Lewis portrays the sacrifice of Aslan as a selfless and noble act. Yet when I think about it, the fact that Aslan knows he will be brought back to life means that it’s not much of a sacrifice after all.
Anyway, I have no desire to pick apart a story that has had such a major impact on my life. I will simply conclude this review by stating that The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe is a must read children’s fantasy tale, with an indelible magical quality that will captivate the imaginations of readers, young and old, for generations to come.
Telling it like it is. Giving you honest and balanced, spoiler free reviews. Completely devoid of irrational fanboyism, or shameless astroturfing.