The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

I came to the Chronicles of Narnia quite late in my childhood reading. Unlike Middle Earth, Narnia was a place I felt immediately at home in, perhaps because it relies so on “simple, creamy English charm” as Anthony Blanche would say.

I haven’t figured out why American fundamentalists are so anxious to introduce Narnia to their children. Although it is a Christian allegory (a story of death, resurrection, and redemption), the emphasis is on the allegory. Aren’t these parents afraid to let Narnia opens up the world of myth to children who have been taught that the only truth is literal?

Narnia is a parallel world with portals into our own. So the first lesson Chronicles teaches us is that we earthlings, and indeed our entire universe, are just a tiny part of creation. Other worlds and other gods abound. And if God is God by any name, if he can take the form of a lion and be called Aslan in the world of talking animals, why can’t he take other forms and names in our own world?

Our first glimpse into Narnia we see snow falling in the glow of a gas-lit London street lamp (incongruously stuck in the middle of a wood) and a faun. The vision of the movie is very true to the book. I held my breath a bit at the beginning, because the opening credits filled in the backstory of the war-time evacuations of British children to the countryside. And it took me awhile to decide if I liked the children. Peter and Susan seem a bit too old. And for some reason, I expected Lucy to be blond. Of the four children, she has the most complicated part, and 10-year-old Georgie Henley does the best acting, despite being the youngest. Mr. Tumnus, the faun, is perfectly realized. And I couldn’t imagine anyone but Tilda Swinton playing the White Witch. Overall, the movie is well done, indeed.

One detail that did annoy me was that when Father Christmas appears, no one called him by name. Were the screenwriters afraid American children wouldn’t know the anti-papist British term for the patron saint of children and prostitutes? And another scene confused me, for I have no memory of such dramatic crossing of the ice river. For the most part, the film avoids grandiose CGI-centered scenes and remains true to the scale of its protagonists and their small island nation in the tradition of “The Wind in the Willows”, Beatrix Potter, and AA Milne.

Between Lewis, Tolkien, and Rowling, American children are getting exposed to new worlds of wonder and myth. Who knows where that will take them.

If you are new to the books, read them in the original order, not the chronological order in which they’ve been recently republished. Otherwise, you will ruin some of the most delightful surprises for yourself.
The original order is:

  1. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
  2. Prince Caspian
  3. The Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader’
  4. The Silver Chair
  5. The Horse and His Boy
  6. The Magician’s Nephew
  7. The Last Battle

3 Responses to “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”

  1. M2 Responds:

    I’m very glad you wrote this. The series is delightful, magical and rich, yet in the last two weeks I’ve spoken to a handful of people who say they’ve never read the series because it’s too Jesus-y, they don’t like being spoken down to by Christians, etc.
    I’ve always liked the fact that you keep your religious books on the same shelf as your books on myth. To me, that shows a level of contemplation and open-mindedness that’s rare in this world.
    It’s nearly impossibly hard, I think, to see the actual product without being either won over by or offended by any associated marketing. I think that’s true whether we’re talking about religion or doughnuts.

  2. M Sinclair Stevens Responds:

    When I first read the series, I was a devout Catholic with natural tendencies toward pantheism who had grown up in love with every kind of mythical landscape, including one of my own creation.
    In the final book, “The Last Battle” there is a passage which clarified my own feelings about morality and God, and pretty much set me free of Christianity as the one true way.
    “(the heathen) fell at his feet and thought, Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion…will know that I have served Tash (the false god) all my days…but the Lion said, Son thou art welcome. But I said, alas Lord, I am no son of Thine but a servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me…no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore, if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn…And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then though he says the name of Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves.” — C. S. Lewis

  3. KAT Responds:

    Somewhere in me I have a rant about Susan and Lipstick, but it will have to wait until I see the tail-lights of my clients disappear into the gloom of Christmas eve on the 405.

The surface and beneath the surface