The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
Published in 1950
Genre: Fantasy, children’s literature
“Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy.”
One would be hard-pressed to find a fan of fantasy novels who hasn’t heard at least a passing mention of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which is the first book published in C. S. Lewis’s seven novel Chronicles of Narnia saga. Following the adventures of the four Pevensie children, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe transports readers to Narnia; a magical place where animals speak English and the forces of good and evil battle for the fate of the land. Despite such heavy stakes, Lewis introduces us to a wondrous place and teaches a few lessons along the way.
Due to the Blitz of London during World War II, the aforementioned Pevensie children (Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy) are sent to a house in the country owned by an old professor because apparently that’s what parents do in that situation. Given nearly free rein of the grounds, the children play and count their lucky stars that they are able to be in such a safe environment. One day while exploring the house, Lucy finds the eponymous wardrobe alone in a room.
She enters and meets Tumnus, a well meaning faun whose conscience keeps him from turning Lucy over to the evil White Witch. Edmund later follows Lucy into the wardrobe while playing hide-and-go-seek and meets the White Witch; she entices him with addictive sweets and convinces him to bring his siblings to her with the promise of more. In order to defeat the witch, the Pevensie children team up with the lion Aslan and a great battle ensues.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe uses many elements often found in Western fantasy and fairy tales. Some of the greatest hits, if you will, of magical creatures make appearances; a unicorn, a Minotaur, fauns, satyrs, and talking animals help or hinder the children along the way. Edmond’s temptation with candy by the White Witch is also reminiscent of the story of Hansel and Gretel.
The use of archetypes continues with a prophecy that is integral to the story, often found throughout Western storytelling and especially in the fantasy genre. The prophecy states that two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve will return to reclaim the throne of Narnia and end the White Witch’s reign. It is due to this prophecy that the White Witch tries to capture all four children in order to turn them into stone and prevent the prophecy from being fulfilled.
Christian themes are definitely present in the novel; Father Christmas shows up, humans are known in Narnia as Sons of Adam or Daughters of Eve, and **spoiler alert** Aslan’s death and resurrection is eerily similar to that of Jesus in the Bible. One might argue that this follows Joseph Campbell’s paradigm in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, but there isn’t enough evidence to support this because Aslan isn’t the protagonist. However, the presence of Christian undertones isn’t surprising given Lewis’s background and definitely doesn’t hinder the story.
The narrator uses very proper English (basically the stereotype most Americans think of when they think of British people speaking [wait…did I just stereotype stereotyping?]) which also fits with the language of the children (they exclaim, “I say!” quite a few times). The narration also sporadically makes use of the first person “I” and speaks directly to the reader, much like someone telling a story. This is conducive to reading aloud the book aloud which is a spectacular advantage for a children’s story.
Much of the book is made up of summary and general description; though he does get into specifics at a few parts of the book, Lewis primarily sticks to summary and zooms in for scenes when necessary. However, this feels lacking compared to other contemporary children’s books like Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White or The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien (did everyone writing children’s books in the fifties abbreviate their names?).
The brevity of the book surprised me due to the richness of the world and I would have liked to have learned more about the different cultures and timeline of past events. I also realize that were six books written after and they most likely delve further into the history of Narnia and the realms.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is a solid children’s tale that doesn’t do much to distinguish it from other fairy tales or fantasy books. I felt it a bit obvious on the Christian allegory aspect, but not to the point that it became preachy. The book is definitely a great tool for teaching the lessons of morality and forgiveness to children, but not much besides. I will read it to my kids (whenever they become a reality…I don’t currently have any kids), but I don’t plan on finishing the series myself unless they want me to read them too.
Verdict: 3 feline resurrections out of 5
Recommended for: Children ages eight and up, people who find talking animals to be whimsical, and mostly children.
Not recommended for: Children ages seven and down, people afraid of talking animals, or people who enjoy the His Dark Materials trilogy.