‘It is very foolish to shut oneself into any wardrobe.’
But to enter a magical land through a wardrobe? That can lead to all sorts of exciting adventures.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the second novel in the Narnia series, when put into reading order. Yet, interestingly, it was the first of the novels that Lewis wrote for the series, and perhaps that is why it is the most popular. A combination of things helped Lewis to write this story, the first being a mental image of a snowy wood. However, the Narnia stories are the only books Lewis has ever written for children, and he did so because of the evacuees he had staying with him during WWII. The four children knew few stories and that was why Lewis began to write The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. When you think about it, that is highly reflected in the beginning of the story: four children evacuated from London and sent to live with a man. But that was just the beginning. More images appeared to Lewis, and he was inspired by the likes of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tales (the White Witch being like the Snow Queen), Beatrix Potter (and her talking animals), Ancient Greek legends (filled with mythological creatures), and much more.
The edition I have is also filled with the beautiful original illustrations, drawn by Pauline Baynes. She managed to perfectly capture the images Lewis had been picturing for a long time, and they certainly add something special to the stories.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has always been one of my favourite stories and I have loved the films and television adaptations. But it recently occurred to me that I had never read the original story and that perhaps there might be differences, or the written story might hold something that little bit more magical. Of course, the main story itself is well-known and I think Lewis is spot on when he describes his work as a fairy tale. Fairy tales are mythical and magical and hold stories that are well loved by many generations, and this story fits that to a T.
The title itself is fairly self-explanatory: these are all people or items that feature heavily in the story. But it is an odd title to someone who is unfamiliar with the story. The three things do not seem to go together at all unless you are familiar with the tale, in which case they almost seem to be logically listed together. Again, someone who is unfamiliar with the story would find it odd to discover a magical land at the back of one’s wardrobe, and yet those who know the story would immediately think of Narnia.
One of the things that I found I liked about reading the novel itself was that C.S. Lewis narrates it himself using the first person, ‘I’. In this way, it feels intimate and as though we are really being read the story by him, and there is just something utterly wonderful about that. Lewis also involves the reader by addressing them personally using ‘you’. He gives things to think about and there are little asides which feel as though you are having a conversation with him. I also liked that when the children are split up, Lewis writes alternate chapters going between the parties so that you are focused on one party for a whole chapter before going back to find out what the other was up to during that time; it really adds to the suspense of the story.
The story itself follows four children (Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter) as they are drawn into the world of Narnia through a wardrobe in the house they have been evacuated to. It is Lucy who finds it first and who sets the events in Narnia off by meeting a faun (Mr Tumnus) who is supposed to capture her for the White Witch. Edmund finds Narnia next by following Lucy in, yet he immediately runs into the White Witch and perhaps it is for this reason that he joins her side and agrees to betray his siblings. It is when all four children go through the wardrobe that the real adventure begins. The White Witch is out to stop them in order that the prophecies not be fulfilled, but ‘Aslan is on the move’ which means that her power is weakening and the children must find Aslan and battle the Witch in order to take their places as Kings and Queens of Narnia.
I think that my favourite scene is when Lucy meets Mr Tumnus for the first time, by the lamppost. The pair have such a polite exchange, considering one is a young girl and the other is a faun, and their friendship and manners are so lovely and innocent that you are quickly on their side and want everything to work out so that they are both safe. Perhaps this is also my favourite scene because Lucy has always been my favourite character. I first fell in love with the story when I was young and at that time Lucy was the most relatable to me. She is the youngest of the four siblings, but is adventurous and brave, and as it was her who first discovered Narnia, she is the wisest about it.
Just as I have always loved Lucy, I have always found Edmund to be my least favourite. He can be very nasty and is foolish in following the White Witch so easily without a thought for his brother and sisters. He thinks mostly of himself and wanting to outdo Peter, the eldest. His foolishness is shown by Lewis in the fact that when he goes through the wardrobe after Lucy, he shuts the door. This was not clever because it means he cannot see his way out again and both Lucy and Peter leave the door slightly open for that very reason, showing their intelligence.
Of course, the children encounter a variety of animals and creatures during their adventures, but my favourites were the Beavers. They are so funny as a married pair and provide some light relief, but they are also extremely intelligent and help the children a lot, both in leading them to Aslan and answering their questions. There is a scene when the children are having dinner with the Beavers that was particularly helpful to the reader. As the children are unfamiliar with Narnia, they ask lots of questions that the reader is also thinking, and Lewis uses the Beavers to convey information. For example, whenever I have watched the films of this story, I have always wondered why the White Witch hated the children when she seems to be human herself. However, as the Beavers tell the children when they are just as confused, the White Witch is not human at all, but is half Jinn and half giant. Additionally, the Beavers are the ones who tell the children all about Aslan the lion and about the prophecies which are to unfold during the story:
‘Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.’
‘When Adam’s flesh and Adam’s bone
Sits at Cair Paravel in throne,
The evil time will be over and done.’
That leads me to another thing that I love about this story: it is filled with prophecies and myths. I find this to be a clever thing in stories because it makes a fictional place come to life, as if it has its own history and future. Prophecies come into this story again later when a sacrifice must be made at the stone table, and what happens is filled with deep magic and goes well into the history of Narnia. Of course, the many creatures that Lewis brings to the story also add to the myths and legends; only they are not part of the myths of Narnia because they are real. There are so many legendary creatures, most of which I had not heard of until I was introduced to Narnia, but the vast amount of such creatures really captures your imagination as you try to picture them all.
The ending of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe rounds things up nicely. It works as an individual story because this particular plot is finished, but it also works well within the complete chronicles because you are left wanting more and wandering if the children will go back and if so, what new adventures they will get up to. The final sentence hooks you in and encourages you to read more of The Chronicles of Narnia. ‘But the Professor was right, it was only the beginning of the adventures of Narnia.’
I would highly recommend this book because I think it is a classic that everyone should read. The story is original, clever and exciting and there is a reason that it has lasted so well and is still a favourite amongst children’s literature. However, there are some moments where I think the language would be difficult for children. There are words like ‘fraternizing’, so I think it is better for older children, or as a story for parents to read aloud so everyone can enjoy it together.
Lewis himself said,
‘People won’t write the books I want, so I have to do it for myself’,
and what a brilliant job he did in creating the magical world of Narnia and this clever, fun and truly unforgettable tale. In my opinion, it will forever remain one of the all-time greats.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis, part of The Complete Chronicles of Narnia, published by Collins, firstly in 1998, (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was first published in Great Britain in 1950), RRP £29.99, ISBN 0-00-185713-4