For many years now our family has enjoyed the most wonderful Summer holidays in Cornwall. And it’s at this time that my tradition is to read a book by C.S.Lewis.
Having exhausted his science fiction trilogy, and his essays and works on the Christian faith, I have now turned to the Chronicles of Narnia. Last year it was “the Magician’s Nephew,” this year “the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”
One of the best known and loved of Lewis’s works, the out-line of the story will be known to most. Children are playing hide and seek in an Uncle’s large house. One child, Lucy, bolts into a wardrobe and into another world, populated by Fauns. talking animals, and an evil witch who has cast the land in a perpetual Winter, and cancelled Christmas. Lucy is shortly followed by Edmund, who meets said Queen and is turned to the dark side by a box of Turkish delight. Then enter the rest of the gang, older children Peter and Susan.
They are befriended by Mr and Mrs Beaver, and taken to meet the land’s power for Good, Aslan. An epic confrontation between good and evil follows. What is also well known is how this is modelled on the Christian Gospel, with its vicarious sacrifice to pay the price for evil and treachery, and resurrection and the defeat of evil.
For my money Lewis does this without distorting or spoiling the story. It is, above all, an engaging, fast paced, imaginative and moving story. And I think you would feel that with no knowledge of Christianity. For those of and sympathetic to the Christian faith it offers another level of meaning, and it is skilful how the events do parallel those in the Gospel. As well as the main notes, we get the torment and persecution of Aslan by monsters echoing the torture and taunting of Christ, and the women watching the tomb and tending to the slain Christ are echoed by Lucy and Susan in this story in their ministering to Aslan at the stone table. But the foundation to all this, I have to stress, is a really good story. None of it would work if it wasn’t.
I love also the black and white illustrations by Pauline Baynes, sketches that capture the magic and wonder of the story.
Lewis’s gender politics are dated and have been a problem for many, and hotly debated. That they were the norm when he wrote does not mean that they do not grate. There is a line here that made me wince about battles being uglier if women fight. No, war is ugly whoever fights, and World War One destroyed the notion of wars fought by poetic, chivalrous combat.
It is a problem, but not one in my view that should spoil the story. We have to be sympathetic to the fact that he was writing in and of his time, and his female characters, Queen included, are so epic. Lucy and Susan drive the action as much as if not more that their male counterparts.
A wonderful story, well written by a master story-teller. Young or old, this is here to be enjoyed.