So this week I read the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S.Lewis; one of the Inklings I knew of him long before I read the books. In fact, as you can see from the cover of the version I have, I read it quite late, just before the release of the Prince Caspian movie.
The Chronicles follow, as their name implies, the story of the world Narnia from its inception to its end. Throughout its history Narnia is meant to be ruled by sons and daughters of Adam, in fact, people from our world. So all 7 stories (but one) have heroes from our regular world: Digory and Polly in 1900, the Pevensie children (Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy) in 1940 – 1942, Eustace Scrubb and Jill Pole.
The truth is that only Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy were even rulers in Narnia, but in the last story they all appear with crowns.
The style is definitely specific to children stories in English I find, with the author sometimes speaking to the reader, as if it were a kid to whom they were telling the story as opposed to writing it. I don’t recall any French children story where the writer speaks to the reader… Then again I haven’t read any of those in years whereas I’m discovering some in English for the first time. Or re-discovering them, as with this one.
I wasn’t impressed by the story back then, neither the book nor the movie; I actually bought the book because I figured it had to be better than the movies, which were aesthetically beautiful but not as engaging as I thought. Now reading them again with a bit of distance, it’s interesting but in many ways they’re too easy. Which is certainly a testament to C.S.Lewis’s skills: it takes talent and work to make something look easy.
Still I find the Christian allegories and symbols so present that sometimes it’s annoying: the apple from the tree in The Magician’s Nephew, the sacrifice and resurrection of Aslan, Lucy’s faith vs her siblings during their adventures in Prince Caspian, the divine interventions in the following books… Aslan as a source of redemption and as a deus ex machina is a bit too present for my taste: and it’s often introduced by a prayer. The evil of adoring false gods and idols… And of course the true Narnia and the sorting of the pure souls from those condemned to Hell, which here takes the form of dumbness and loss of the light/knowledge offered by Aslan.
Not to say there are positive things and lessons for children to be learned throughout the course of the books: forgiveness, resilience, trust, courage in the face of adversity, benevolence towards other creatures whatever they may be… The writing is smooth and easy, agreeable too.
And Narnia remains a world rich with many aspects. And there’s one unique thing – or at least it was the first book I read it in and it stuck with me: differing timelines between Narnia and our world, which is fascinating to me.
I see how The Chronicles of Narnia can be an all-encompassing experience for children, it’s not as immersive a world as Tolkien’s Middle Earth or Rowling’s word of Harry Potter. But I’m aware that it may well have to do with the timeline I read the book: I was after all near 30 years old and probably expected to be as enthralled as I was when I first read LOTR at 14. Not entirely fair for poor Lewis.
Still apart from that differing timelines, I don’t find anything so absolutely extraordinary about Narnia: the travelling between world were used before (Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Wizard of Oz…), the Talking Animals (Wizard of Oz, Alice…), the mingling of diverse mythologies (I could say the Hobbit but they sort of were published around the same time).
I’ve enjoyed reading Narnia but it’s not necessarily a book that I would put on that list. I need to finish it sometime but from the little I read The Screwtape Letters seemed more interesting.
Did you read The Chronicles of Narnia?
What did you think?