Cross-posted on my blog.
As part of my 2014 C.S. Lewis Project, I have (re)read the entire Narnia series, and will be writing a blog post about each book, as well as a wrap up post, over the course of the next ten days or so.
Today’s post is about The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.
Everyone knows that book, right? Of all of the Narnia books, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the most iconic, the most beloved, and the most read. And, for good reason – because, in my opinion, it is the best of the seven. So, rather than providing a plot summary about a book that everyone already knows nearly the entire plot of, I just want to talk about what this book means to me.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was the first – the very, very first – fantasy book I ever read. I checked it out of the Boise City Library in approximately 1974, when I was around 8 years old. My mother would take my brother and I to the library on alternate Saturdays. There was only one central library at that point, and it was huge. Or, perhaps it was small, but looked huge to my childish eyes. She would leave us in the children’s area, and go off to wander through the stacks for her own books. I would invariably leave the library with great piles of books – anywhere between ten and twenty books. A feast of books, ready for the devouring.
And, one of those times, C.S. Lewis’s masterpiece was in that precarious pile of books.
There are precious few plot summaries, in my mind, that match The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for simple attraction. A young English girl, Lucy, steps through a magical wardrobe to a world where she is to be queen. For a girl growing up in Boise, Idaho, this was heady stuff. Not Nancy Drew, with her roadster and her lawyer father. I could relate to Nancy Drew. Or, even, Trixie Belden, with her love of horses and her poor-little-rich-girl BFF. Ramona Quimby, Claudia from The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, July Blume’s young characters – I could picture myself in all of them. They looked like me. They dressed like me. Probably, even, they talked like me.
But this English girl living during World War II who is utterly ordinary except that she is to step through a wardrobe and become a queen of Narnia, she was different, and she changed everything. I have been chasing the sense of immeasurable possibility that this book awakened in me for my entire life – only rarely finding it.
I didn’t recognize the heavy-handed allegory that Lewis inserted into the book until many years later, and, honestly, I love the book more if I ignore the Christian imagery, because in my maturity I have become much less of a believer. I believe in C.S. Lewis, and I believe in Narnia, and I believe in Lucy and in the immense power of fiction and fantasy to enrich lives, but I really don’t much believe in God. At least, not in the God that is worshiped in the patriarchal, self-aggrandizing and self-referential houses of worship that I have typically encountered in my largely unsuccessful experiences with organized religion.
My connection to this book defies explanation. When I heard that it was being made into a live action movie, I was thrilled. And even though the movie is not as good as the book, the moment on film when Georgie Henley pulls the sheet off the wardrobe and opens the door and she breathes the magic of Narnia, that moment sent chills down my spine and brought tears to my eyes.
I love this book passionately. I love Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, and their delicious meal of fried fish, I love the idea of Turkish Delight, although in my mind it was something akin to a chocolate truffle, not some nasty fruit jelly beloved only of old people, I love Father Christmas (NOT Santa Claus) who appears in a sleigh to give gifts to the children as a harbinger of the breaking of the power of evil. I love the castle at Cair Paravel with its four thrones – and at the time, with my childlike innocence, I accepted unquestioningly that four siblings could jointly rule a kingdom without things devolving into chaos, plotting, and, probably, regicide. I love Tumnus the Faun, and his sardines and toast. And I love all four of the children, although, truth be told, I was rather partial to the grown-up Susan (which made the betrayal of The Last Battle all that much more devastating to my young girl mind) because I was the oldest girl in my famiy, the caretaker, the mature one, not the baby of the family, doted upon and indulged.
I return to Narnia regularly, and the magic remains for me. Every single time. This time was no exception – I read it around Christmas (which is the proper time to read it) and fell in love all over again. Its flaws are more apparent to me as an adult, it seems, sometimes, a bit turgid, a bit too pat, and a bit too boy-centered, with its easy acceptance of the concept of primogeniture, and that Peter would, of course, be the high king, since he is the eldest male. The feminist in me can’t help but wonder why he gets to be in charge – why not sensible, motherly Susan, or Lucy, with her overflowing goodness and happy-go-lucky nature. Or even Edmund, the betrayer, whose mistake and genuine penitence stimulated in him a sense of justice.
But, even with its flaws, reading it is wondrous. A step backwards into youth, into a sense that the world is still the limitless place that I believed it was when I read this book as a child.