What kid didn’t end up hiding in closets, hoping to magically end up in Narnia, after reading C.S. Lewis’ classic children’s novel The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? Turns out, the desire still holds upon adult re-reading.
There’s a reason this book is a classic—it stands the test of time no matter how old you are. It was always one of my favorites as a kid (I even suffered through the rest of the series), and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I still enjoyed reading it now.
There were certain plot points I didn’t remember. For instance, that they’re at the Professor’s house in the first place to avoid being bombed in the London air raids. I also forgot that basically all of their problems stem from Edmund being a little jerk-wad. Ugh, Edmund. His siblings quickly forgive his betrayal to the White Witch, but I still haven’t. In his (extremely light) defense, it turns out (magical) Turkish Delight is incredibly addictive and all of his misdeeds were done in pursuit of getting his next fix. Okay, Edmund.
The biggest disappointment of any kid’s life isn’t finding out that Narnia isn’t real—it’s that Turkish Delight actually tastes kind of gross. Oh that Edmund, screwing us over here in the real world too. A pox on you forever!
Another thing that struck me was the point of view. Most stories for children and teens today are written in first person, or close third person. You’re always deep within the minds and feelings of the characters. Think of how much of The Hunger Games series is devoted to Katniss’ emotional state.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is told by a narrator—it’s really the author himself telling the tale. As a modern reader, I found the distance from the characters surprising and momentarily off-putting. How do Peter, Susan, and Lucy feel about their brother’s betrayal? What’s going through their minds? But what really matters here is the magical world, the fantastical creatures, the moralistic actions and their consequences … in other words, the story part of the story. It’s why it reads as a near-fairytale, practically a fable.
Despite Aslan’s death and reincarnation, and a guest appearance by Father Christmas, there wasn’t much in the way of the overt allusions to Christianity—which is something that I was sure I must have simply overlooked as a child (as I have in seemingly all other classic kid lit, like A Wrinkle in Time and Little Women). However, the most interesting thing I uncovered is that apparently the Witch is a descendant of Adam’s first wife, the historically maligned Lilith. Lewis saves the real Jesus-y stuff for the later books—I remember being really confused (i.e. Jewish), and vaguely bored by those books. Apparently Narnia is Heaven? I prefer The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a perfect standalone novel and it surely can be read as such.
Despite my issues with the rest of the series, there is one place where I would love for another Narnia novel to come out of, or even a full-on series. Calling all fantasy writers, have I got some source material for you!
After the Witch is conquered, the Pevensie siblings become Kings and Queens of Narnia, and spend the next 15 years having adventures, growing up, and ruling the land. They are good and fair rulers, and their reign is known as the Golden Age of Narnia.
One day, on a royal hunt, they chase down the White Stag (not to kill him—he’ll grant you a wish if you catch him). They follow the Stag into the woods and pass a mysterious lamppost—they don’t even know what it is at first, having forgotten all about their life before Narnia. (Don’t they ever wonder about their old life? How do they forget about it?! Is the war over? What about their parents? Don’t think they think, “Hey, we’ve been gone a long time, someone must be wondering where we are”?)
They continue the chase and suddenly trees become fur coats and they find themselves back in the wardrobe. They emerge as children, once again, no time at all having passed in our world—their kingdom lost. In the immortal words of the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt theme song, “That’s gonna be a fascinating transition.” One that we hear nothing about!
That’s the story I want to read—their rule of Narnia, the adventures and plights they encounter, and their transition back into mortal life (with the modern deep-in-their-heads perspective). So don’t mind me, I’ll be over here reading Golden Age of Narnia fan-fiction in the back of my closet.
Featured still via "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" (2005), via Disney