The Classics Reclamation Project is my personal challenge to read and enjoy the classics. Each Wednesday, I post about the classic I’m reading at the moment. I’m currently reading The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.
It’s taking me some time to get through The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I’m enjoying them immensely, but the edition I’m reading is all seven books in one and, as a consequence, is quite hefty. I’ve pretty much been reading it in my reading chair, opting for lighter books elsewhere and for travel.
At this point, I’m just over half way through the Chronicles, having read four of the seven books. My edition claims to have placed the stories in the order that Lewis preferred, which is as follows:
- The Magician’s Nephew
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
- The Horse and His Boy
- Prince Caspian
- The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
- The Silver Chair
- The Last Battle
I can certainly see why the order of the books isn’t set in stone. Unlike the other series I’ve read, each chronicle occurs in the same world but not in a clear, set-in-stone order. I never realized, before I picked The Chronicles of Narnia up, how much dipping in and out of Narnia there was, and how many different lead protagonists it involved. Thus, its order is flexible in a way that Harry Potter or His Dark Materials could never be.
The Magician’s Boy tells of the founding of Narnia. I didn’t particularly love this first tale as a story. I did like the relationship between Polly and Digory, the story’s child hero(in)es, which was rather cute. I also liked the way it set up the rest of the Chronicles by explaining where Narnia came from, how the White Witch got involved, and how a magical wardrobe came to exist in our world. But it felt very much like a set-up to the other novels, not so much a story in and of itself.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is the Narnia story most familiar to me. In reading the original, I was impressed by how true to the book whatever movie version I saw as a child was. In this story, Lucy, Edmund, Peter, and Susan–all siblings–find their way into Narnia through a magical wardrobe. After their initial adventures, they are crowned kings and queens of Narnia. The time between their coronations and the point at which they eventually leave Narnia–a substantial length of time, as the children are adults by the end–isn’t explained in any detail, and when they do return to their own world, it’s as if no time has passed. I enjoyed reading this tale, but as I already knew what would happen, I wasn’t riveted.
The Horse and His Boy was the first Chronicle I really enjoyed. It takes place while the four children are ruling in Narnia, even though it doesn’t involve them directly. This adventure follows Shasta, a boy from a country south of Narnia, and Bree, a talking Narnian Horse who was taken from Narnia when he was a colt, as they escape from their own country to Narnia. I cringed now and again at the way in which the dark-skinned barbarians from the south were portrayed but tried not to dwell too much on it. Lewis portrays Bree the Horse in a way that is highly entertaining. For instance, when he asks Shasta if he has ridden before and Shasta replies that he has ridden the donkey:
“‘Ridden the what?’ retorted the Horse with extreme contempt. (At least, that is what he meant. Actually it came out in a sort of neigh–‘Ridden the wha-ha-ha-ha-ha?’ Taling horses always become more horsy in accent when they are angry.)” (p. 209)
Prince Caspian is as far as I’ve gotten. Centuries after the four childrens’ time, Caspian’s uncle, Miraz, has ruled wrongfully in Narnia for many years. Caspian longs for the Old Narnia of Talking Animals and Dwarves and nature spirits, but men have driven all the creatures of old out. When his tutor, who is part Dwarf himself, warns Caspian that his life is in danger from Miraz, Caspian flees to the woods, where he encounters the very creatures he’s dreamed of restoring to Narnia. A war begins to determine who shall rule the land. Through magic, the four children (known to the Narnians as the kings and queens of old, though they are children once again) are summoned to aid the Old Narnians in their rebellion.
Lewis really does have a delightful writing style, which I would have loved as a child. He pops up here and there as the story’s narrator, such as when he is describing the enemy’s army in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:
“Ogres with monstrous teeth, and wolves, and bull-headed men; spirits of evil trees and poisonous plants; and other creatures whom I won’t describe because if I did the grown-ups would probably not let you read this book–Cruels and Hags and Incubuses, Wraiths, Horrors, Efreets, Sprites, Orknies, Wooses, and Ettins.” (p. 180)
He also has a way of describing the potentially gory bits in a way that avoids being graphic but takes away no excitement from the scene. For instance, in The Horse and His Boy, a huge battle is described blow-by-blow, almost like a sporting match, by a hermit who is watching the whole event in his magical pond. Naturally, he leaves out anything especially disgusting.
I have been making a conscious effort to ignore all the religious imagery and symbolism in which The Chronicles of Narnia are steeped. I have no wish to analyze such things, and I know that, had I read the stories as a child, I would only have picked up on a wonderful fantasy story. I have nothing against what I know is there, but I am not interested in digging into it.
At about the halfway point, I’m definitely enjoying The Chronicles of Narnia, and I can see why they are considered a classic. Lewis writes delightfully and cleverly, and his imagination must have been a spectacular place. While I don’t particularly love all the underlying layers below the story’s surface and have turned a blind eye many times, I am quite looking forward to wrapping up the series with the last three books.