The Chronicles of Narnia

The Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis, Pauline Baynes I only recently read the Narnia novels as an adult, so I can't speak to how I might have experienced it as a child. I thought the first book I read, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe too blatant in its Christian Allegory and would have stopped there if a couple of friends hadn't urged me to read on--I'm glad I did. The Christian Allegory is present in each novel--as is Aslan the Lion, a Christ-figure who is the only constant in all seven books. After The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe though, those Christian aspects didn't bother me--even became part the journey I enjoyed--even though I'm not a Christian--am in fact an atheist. I couldn't help contrast this series in my mind to Pullman's His Dark Materials which I'd read before trying Narnia. It became more and more obvious as I went through the Narnia books that Pullman's series was written very much as the "anti-Narnia." One would think Pullman's atheist polemic would be more to my liking. Yet, despite that I have my problems with Narnia, I think I prefer it to His Dark Materials. Pullman is Lewis' match in imagination and thought-provoking ideas--and there's much about His Dark Materials I find amazing. I also find it at times angry and bitter in its attacks on religion and even more heavy handed than Lewis in making its points. I prefer Lewis' tone frankly. At times preachy, yes, but there's a gentle whimsy and above all humor that Pullman lacks. Narnia is filled with imagery, imagination, symbolism but above all ideas conveyed through the events of the story. I find that rare in adult literature let alone childrens' literature. I couldn't help but admire how Lewis uses the intricacies of a spell in The Silver Chair to convey the ideas in Plato's of Allegory of the Cave or the echoes of Dante in The Last Battle. There's so much that's rich and wondrous here. Nor is Pullman the only fantasy author where I can see Lewis' influence. Even though I'm a lover of the fantasy genre, somehow I managed to never read Narnia before. Once I did, it was evident Lewis' Narnia is every bit as influential as Tolkien's Middle Earth. The Horse and His Boy with its talking horses made me think of Lackey's companions in her Valdemar books. The warrior mice of Prince Caspian made me think of Jacques' Redwall. The messenger owls, giants, feasts and the evils of the color green connected to snakes in The Silver Chair reminded me of Rowling's Harry Potter series. The shape of Narnia in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was reminiscent of Pratchett's Discworld. There doesn't seem a corner of fantasy that doesn't seem encompassed by the borders of Narnia and that makes it a must-read for fantasy fans and anyone who wants to be culturally literate. There were aspects that did frustrate and annoy me at times. I don't agree with those Lewis critics who accuse Narnia of racism and sexism--I think it's more the opposite when you look at the Chronicles as a whole. The accusations of racism come from Lewis' depiction of Narnia's adversary, the southern land of Calormen, a land out of the Arabian Nights. I admit some descriptions of them made me wince and gave me pause--but it's also true there are positive characters among the Calormenes such as Emeth and Avaris--the heroine of The Horse and His Boy who marries the Narnian Cor and has a child with him. And sexism? Well, these books were written in the fifties--there are instances of what a friend of mine calls "gender fail." (Particularly evident to me in The Silver Chair). However, I found striking in Narnia--in contrast to much more recent testosterone laden fantasy--its gender balance among the characters and how the girls are every bit as brave, smart and important to the story as the boys. You couldn't say the same of Tolkien for instance. I did hate the ending of the series in The Last Battle. Without getting into spoilers, the ending does give me pause about how it might be received by children. However, yes, I would give Narnia to children. Personally, I'm skeptical of all the fears of indoctrination. Yes, children are impressionable. But frankly--and this is borne out by friends of mine who'd read Narnia as a child--the Christian Allegory is likely to go over their heads. I've known adults of all faiths and no faith who loved Narnia as a child. More than that, I like how the series takes seriously children's moral choices and the workings of conscience. And above all, how it can't help but be wonderful fuel for the imagination.