Through the Wardrobe

Narnia has been coming up a lot for me lately.  I went to see The Voyage of the Dawn Treader…my book club book pick was inspired by Narnia…the series was referenced on a blog I follow…  I decided the universe was telling me something (and that book club book especially made me want to go back to the original) and I decided to re-read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis.

I say “re-read” because I know I read it before, but I honestly couldn’t tell you how long ago it was.  Years and years, although the story is so familiar that in some ways it doesn’t feel that long.  For those who somehow don’t know the story (side-note–I once overheard a woman tell a librarian she’d never heard of the series, so it’s possible), it’s the story of four children who go through a wardrobe and find themselves in the magical country of Narnia.  There they meet the great lion Aslan and fight an epic battle against the White Witch.

It’s a wonderful story on many levels.  It’s a lovely children’s fantasy with dashing heroes, not too much blood, magical creatures like Mr. Tumnus and Mr. and Mrs Badger, and several stern admonitions that it’s very foolish to shut oneself inside of a wardrobe (I honestly think Lewis was worried about this, he repeats it so many times).  On a more symbolic level, there’s a clear Christ story enacted.  But it works on both levels, for however you want to take it.  I’ve always thought that was the mark of the best kind of book–a good story and a good message where neither one gets in the way of the other.

I enjoyed Lewis’ style very much.  Things happen so quickly.  Lucy, the first child into Narnia, gets there by page six.  As the adventures continue, they go on at a tumblingly-quick rate.  There’s even a point where Lewis writes, of an unpleasant night journey by sledge, “This lasted longer than I could describe even if I wrote pages and pages about it.”  Thankfully, he doesn’t bother, concluding, “But I will skip on to the time when the snow had stopped and the morning had come and they were racing along in the daylight.”

C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien were in the same writing group.  I’ve heard that Tolkien spent years and years on The Lord of the Rings, and Lewis wrote The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in a matter of weeks (something that I’ve also heard annoyed Tolkien no end).  I have to say, it shows for both of them.  Different viewpoints on writing could consider that a plus or a minus to either one, but my preference would have to be with Lewis.

Lewis begins the book with a lovely dedication to his goddaughter, the real-life Lucy.  In somewhat contradiction to the story that he wrote the book in a few weeks, he says that he wrote it for her but she grew up faster than it did and she’s now too old for it, “but some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”  Lewis clearly understood about the cross-age appeal of the best children’s stories.  We may go through an age where we think we’re too grown-up for “kids books,” but eventually we get old enough to realize we can come back to them.

St. Paul wrote, “When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me” (1 Corinthians 13:11).  C. S. Lewis added, “Including the fear of being thought childish.”  We don’t have to “think like a child or reason like a child” (paraphrasing Corinthians) to appreciate a story written for children.  We can enjoy it with new eyes, new understanding, and hopefully some of the old magic too.

8 thoughts on “Through the Wardrobe

  1. Anis Salvesen

    I’m a C.S. Lewis fan and remember reading the series back in junior high then re-reading it over the years. I think because I’ve also watched the story of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe so many times on tv, I also didn’t realize there were so many details that I could still glean (or at least be reminded of). For example, I totally don’t remember noticing his “several stern admonitions that it’s very foolish to shut oneself inside of a wardrobe.” When I ready that you honestly think Lewis was worried about this, he repeats it so many times, I laughed out loud. Did he pre-date the modern-day litigious society? The original disclaimer king?
    Also, I love learning the juicy details about how it only took him weeks to write it (really?!) and how Tolkien was annoyed!

    1. So glad you enjoyed the post! This recent reread was the first time I ever noticed the constant references to not shutting yourself in a wardrobe–I guess it went past me as a kid (although I never shut myself in a wardrobe, so maybe it reached me subconsciously…) And I love the backstory on Lewis and Tolkien too!

  2. Some books I loved as a kid I go back and read now and I’m just not that into them. So I love the books that I loved as a child and love just as much as an adult! It’s such a talent to be able to write something that both children and adults enjoy.

    1. It’s so nice to find a book that you remember, and can still enjoy. I’ve read L. M. Montgomery’s journals, and she wrote about that experience too–she compared it to meeting an old friend after many years. Either she’d be disappointed to find that they seemed changed–or glad to find them the same and that she could still connect with them.

  3. Diane

    This is clearly a story and a series that is for both children and adults. You can read them as a child and enjoy them on a basic fairy-tale level. You can read them again as an adult and enjoy them for their deeper meaning and symbolism. They are timeless classics.

  4. Dennis

    There are few children’s books that have such cross-appeal to adults as the Narnia series (though Harry Potter comes to mind). I enjoyed your comments on a fascinating book and its equally fascinating author.

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