Happy New Year everybody! So December’s Book Club post is a few days (ahem, a week) late, but as one bud was out of the country over the holiday period and the others were passed out on their sofas after consuming insane amounts of Christmas food, we’ll let it slide this once…! This month we took on C.S Lewis’ classic high-fantasy tale, where four children climb through a wardrobe into the magical world of Narnia, filled with witches, talking lions, thinly veiled Christian mythology and Turkish Delight. Let’s get right to it!
SPOILER WARNING: The following post contains major spoilers for the plot of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.
I know I read this when I was young, but it didn’t stick with me as a classic of my childhood. Reading it back, I can see why. I was bored! It was boring! Too much talk and not enough action. I can’t believe the battle between a MIGHTY LION and an EVIL WITCH was done in a paragraph.
Credit for the creativity of Narnia as a setting, it’s beautiful and picturesque, but it needs more substance. If it were Philosopher’s Stone length and packed more little details in to build the atmosphere and sense of life, I would be a bit more into it.
Aslan as a character is fantastic, and his sacrifice for Edmund is noble and brave and wonderful to read, but it’s been so long since I read a death scene where the character remained dead that the whole ‘resurrection’ deal is getting on my nerves.
And lastly, my main issue: that of Edmund. A) Was Lewis’ character development sheet for Edmund literally just the word ‘bully’ with a big bold line underneath it? And B) If you are going to make a character’s entire personality the word ‘bully’ with a big bold line underneath, at least make it consistent! That Turkish delight magic only lasted until Edmund decided it didn’t, and after he lost his mean streak he was bland.
Rating – ⅖ stars – Narnia is beautifully crafted place, but there are better stories about it than this.
Hayley’s Review / Defense of Narnia
I’m going to start off by saying that I love the story! I am very lucky to own the A4 version of The Chronicles of Narnia and they are also beautifully illustrated. While The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe is not my favourite of the Narnia stories (that being The Magician’s Nephew) it is still very significant. I’ll never forget Miss Holder at school telling us how Aslan is Jesus. I’m not a religious person and I’ve never upheld the Christian faith, but as a story about morality and justice, I think it works beautifully. Narnia is a wonderful metaphor about those icy moments in life, and when you start to feel better/conquer the problem spring comes around.
In the way that TLWW is written it is very clear that this is a children’s story. How everything must be done before bedtime and that the only real markers that time has passed is breakfast, lunch and dinner. As I find writing for young children very challenging I have to admire C. S. Lewis’s ability to talk to the reader directly without sounding patronising or condescending. I remember reading this and feeling close to the characters because C. S. Lewis was my way into the narrative.
Now, I do agree with Rosie in the fact that there is a lot of talking and walking and very little action, but in the terms of the story I feel it’s right. Often the hardest of journey’s aren’t filled with action and adventure but having to wade (metaphorically) through piles and piles of snow, which can be just as emotionally and physically draining as one large battle. But, the fact that Aslan killed the White Witch in a paragraph was, sure, as an adult reader a little disappointing, but Aslan as a character is almighty and seeing as her wand was already broken the Witch wouldn’t have been able to put up any form of fight!
Overall, as an adult reading it, the magic wasn’t as much there as when I was a child. But there was definitely some magic.
Rating – ⅘ stars – A beautiful story about morality placed in a land of magic and wonder. I just wish there had been a story of what it was like when the kids were adults and ruling Narnia. I wanted more there, and I remember as a kid I wanted more there too.
I think The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is one of those things where it’s hard to separate the work itself from it’s own mythology. Like The Wizard of Oz or Harry Potter the Narnia books are such a cultural juggernaut that examining the book alone is almost impossible because there’s also the weight of nostalgia to certain scenes that most people are aware of even if they’ve never read the book (Lucy’s discovery of the lamp post for example) and the lingering memory of its adaptations (I for one found myself reading lines in the voices of the actors from the BBC version). There’s also the knowledge that without this the later Narnia books wouldn’t have existed, and while many of those are arguably better, most of the seeds for them are sown here.
To me TLWW definitely reads as the one most clearly intended as a children’s book rather than a fantasy (one of my favourite touches is the early assurances that it’s super dumb to shut yourself in a wardrobe you guys please don’t try this at home). It’s characters are drawn very simply and don’t get much in the way of personality but this compares to a lot of children’s literature at the time where the simplicity of the characters allows the reader to more easily put themselves in their place (I definitely remember dressing up at Lucy more than once in my childhood). The characters’ simplicity is matched by that of the plot which is a basic quest affair culminating in a final battle, but as always Narnia’s strengths lie in the land itself and its mythology. Although this is much less developed than in the later books there’s still plenty of good here. The image of the lamp post in the middle of the wood remains striking and Narnia itself feels fully realised even early on.
In terms of my other buds criticisms I’d say that the amount of talking and walking doesn’t bother me that much (after all another famous children’s book of the era is The Hobbit a book where the whole plot is basically talking and walking, at least TLWW has less singing) however I can see why it might be annoying as the book is relatively action free. Also while some of the elements might seem common today I feel that at the time they would have been fairly original, for example Aslan’s resurrection predates Gandalf the White by almost half a decade. However, I have to argue the case for Edmund as a character. Yes he’s mean in the first third and hardly featured in the last but I find his development during the middle of the story where he realises just how bad he screwed up and suffers the consequences of his actions fairly compelling and he certainly gets more in the way of growth than any of the other characters. (Also heads up Hayley there is a story about the kids ruling Narnia, it’s called The Horse and His Boy and it’s fab).
Rating – ⅘ stars – A fully realised fantasy world telling a simple story about good overcoming evil, to me it’s easy to see how this became a classic.
I am very much like Rosie, in that even though I read all of The Chronicles of Narnia when I was younger, the stories don’t really stick with me as ‘classics from my childhood’ that I look back on with nostalgic feelings of love and endearment. That being said, I do love Narnia as a setting, and re-reading the first time Lucy climbs through the wardrobe into this magical world of lampposts in the snow and a talking faun did warm my heart and make me smile.
Trying to read TLWW independent of the series as a whole and, as Elen said, without thinking of the cultural impact that the series made was difficult, but in all I also found myself wishing for some more excitement and adventure. There was a lot of trudging along in the snow to and from various locations, and the main battles seemed to be over and done with in a blink of an eye. Another thing that I craved while reading it was more magic! We know that the White Witch can turn animals into stone and magic up some hypnotising and wicked Turkish Delight, but what else can her magic wand do? And Aslan also clearly has magical powers, but I don’t feel like we see the full extent of them.
I understand that as it is a children’s book the characters will be reasonably two-dimensional, being either ‘good or evil,’ so while Edmund’s cruel nature and betrayal is resolved quite quickly, I’m glad that there was a character who appeared to develop over the course of the book. Even though his characterisation as the ‘nasty disagreeable’ one who decides to betray his sibling doesn’t seem to be rooted in anything apart from his brother calling him a ‘beast’ that one time (Overreaction much?!)
Rating – ⅗ stars – A quick fantastical read with some heart-warming nostalgia for those who’ve already read it in times gone by, but this book is mainly world-building for me above anything else. I much prefer The Horse and His Boy and Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and even The Magician’s Nephew (because who doesn’t love a good origin story) in the Narnia series, which are more adventurous and magical. But this is a classic in it’s own right and the start of a beautiful and unique set of children’s stories that defined a generation.
(It is a great book to read in the cold of winter, by the way, as a positive reminder that the ice will always thaw and spring will come again. I hope it arrives here soon, please, because I am freezing my faun horns and tail off over here.)
I’m going to start off my saying that, unlike Rosie and Michelle the Narnia books are probably the classics of my childhood, in fact one of my earliest memories is of reading the stories and how proud little seven year old me was of having finished them. The audio-books and BBC adaptations were also pretty permanent fixtures to the point where, like Elen, I could hear the exact inflection of the audio-book narrator while I was reading. Basically these stories were massively influential on me as reader and have helped shape my tastes right up to the present day, therefore I find them really hard to judge separately from that massive legacy which they have for me.
Regarding the criticism that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is low on the action and high on the walking, I do agree with this – in fact it’s true of almost all the Narnia books, most of which focus on a journey rather than a big climactic scene. Personally, I would have liked a bit more elaboration on the battle and the Witch’s defeat (although I guess ‘and then Aslan mauled her to bits’ isn’t exactly kid-friendly), but I didn’t find the middle journey too tedious as it allowed Lewis to show the Witch’s loosening grip over Narnia while building up to the introduction of Aslan.
I also found Edmund’s character to be a little bit more than ‘bully’ at the beginning, it seemed to me that he was struggling against the authority of Peter and Susan, who had put themselves into substitute ‘mother’ and ‘father’ roles in the absence of their parents, by belittling Lucy and keeping secrets with the White Witch. His desire to be the Prince and later King ruling over his siblings seems a pretty realistic fantasy for a middle child, until of course his miserable experience shows him that he and his siblings are better off sticking together.
This isn’t my favourite Narnian adventure (I’m another one who prefers The Magician’s Nephew and The Horse and his Boy) but it does feature some of the most iconic scenes of the series (the lamp-post, Aslan’s death) and my personal fave character, Jadis, so I enjoyed the hints towards her power, backstory and how she’s changed since the events of The Magician’s Nephew (seriously someone write than villain backstory!). Plus I love the little glimpses of Narnian mythology we get with the dark creatures and the Deep Magic.
Rating: Totally biased but it’s a 4.5/5 stars for me, this was magical the first time I read and I still found it magical now.
Group rating – 3.5 / 5 stars