#Narniathon21: Through the door

Pauline Baynes

You will by now — I hope! — have completed your first (re)visit to Narnia for this #Narniathon21 event by reading and thinking about The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the first published title in the series of what’s variously become known as the Narniad or the Chronicles of Narnia.

As promised, I’m going to pose three general questions as a spur to your discussion in the comments section below, which you can either answer or ignore as you choose — though I hope you will have lots to say with or without my prompts!

My three questions will centre around three themes — magic, allegory, and character — but feel free to range beyond these if you so wish.

Illustration by Pauline Baynes

1. The first inkling of magic comes when Lucy enters the wardrobe and passes through into the snowy landscape. If this was your first ever read of this fantasy what was your reaction to this? And if it wasn’t your first read, was the magic still there and did Lewis sustain it through to the end?

2. If you initially read this as a child, were you aware of and, if so, curious about the Christian allegory Lewis enfolded into the narrative? But if your first experience of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is as an adult does knowing that this is regarded as an allegory affect your appreciation of the story?

3. And now a more light-hearted question: who is your favourite character, and why? (Or maybe you have more than one favourite character.) Because if story is, to paraphrase Hamlet, the thing that catches our conscience, it’s individuals, whether human or otherwise, with whom we feel affinity or antipathy and who drive most stories forward.

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So, now, when you’ve had your say, you’ll be eager to return to Narnia and the next stage in Lewis’s saga. January’s Narniathon read is of course Prince Caspian, and our moot will reconvene on the 28th, the last Friday of that month, to report on our explorations. Here’s a clue about one of the themes we may be examining…

“‘Girls aren’t very good at keeping maps in their brains’, said Edmund.

‘That’s because we’ve got something in them’, replied Lucy.”

C S Lewis, ‘The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian’
#Narniathon21 image after Pauline Baynes

83 thoughts on “#Narniathon21: Through the door

  1. I’ll come back to the other two; (whispers) because I am supposed to be working right now, but re question 2, the allegory I felt really stood out to me this time: Aslan’s death and resurrection: his ‘dying’ in place of a traitor/a sinner, and subsequent ‘resurrection’; the references to him as the ‘King’ ‘Lord of the whole world’; plus Edmund’s position as a Judas of a sort. I don’t think I ‘saw’ any of this on my first reading though I did read them as a college student rather than as a child.

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    1. I’m back.
      1. While having read the book and seen the films many times, the sense of surprise is somewhat lost as the magic becomes expected, yet I think the moment of Lucy’s getting into the cupboard and finding the way through still had that charm or sense of magic that I would have loved as a child.

      3. as far as favourite characters go, this time I think the Professor stood out to me the most. One for the fact that it is rarely that one finds an adult in children’s fantasy fiction who not only believes in ‘magic’ but encourages them on their adventures; the second was just the good sense he showed when Peter and Susan refused to believe Lucy.

      A close second in my favourites were the Beavers. I loved the warmth of their home and also once again Mrs Beaver’s good sense–that she could see that there was no way they would beat out the White Witch and may as well go about things practically.

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      1. I’m with you on that first encounter with magic, Mallika, an unexpected snowy landscape is always magical, and its non-appearance in winter for some of us nearly always a disappointment. The Professor, I also agree, is unusual in being a sympathetic adult; while far from irritating me Mrs Beaver, and Mr Beaver of course, were not the annoying talking animals that bothered me during previous reads but essential players and friends to the Pevensies.

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        1. The other ‘magic’ moments that I liked; I just remembered as I was writing my review were Father Christmas returning, and more so, spring breaking through–there’s something so lovely about the snow finally melting away and green leaves breaking out.

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          1. Father Christmas was an unexpected figure whose appearance I initially hated, but I now suspect that Lewis included him for a variety of reasons — first, to allocate gifts to Peter, Susan and Lucy which would prove useful in the coming conflict, and secondly because he knew that FC was only a more recent incarnation of a pagan North European figure, possibly Odin under the epithet Jólnir, a name associated with the midwinter Yule period. lt feels as though Lewis wanted the Pevensies to see the ancient figure (he’s described as ‘so big, and so glad, and so real’ but he also makes them feel solemn) in a guise they recognise.

            And I agree about the coming of spring!

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        1. The Professor, being who we’ll know who in The Magician’s Nephew, is of course predisposed to believe in the magic; but in any first encounter of LWW we’re not to know that! As for Mr Tumnus, I seem to remember from Spare Oom you saying that, Katherine: I’m really looking forward to a reread of it when we come to the end of this Narniathon!

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    2. That’s really interesting, that the allegory was uppermost for you for this read. A recent post on Lory’s blog* reminded me of a niggle I’d always had about Lewis’s supposed allegory—it was never exact, nor was Aslan’s self-sacrifice exclusive to Christian myth. Theologically there are a lot of muddled and muddied issues to resolve:

      1. Faced with Jadis why didn’t the all-powerful Aslan destroy her immediately? This has always been a logical argument against an all-powerful god: why wait to overthrow evil and thus inflict untold misery on innocent individuals?

      2. Why does Aslan accept Jadis’s false argument that Edmund has betrayed him personally? Because Edmund has had no knowledge of or involvement with Aslan up till the parley. Edmund, it’s true, has unwittingly sort of betrayed his siblings (and been spiteful with Lucy) but not Aslan. Morally speaking there are many grey areas in the narrative.

      3. There’s also a conflation between Aslan’s ‘resurrection’ and apparent ‘redemption’ which isn’t clear to me and which I need to think more on.

      * Lory’s excellent post is here: https://enterenchanted.com/through-the-wardrobe-door-narniathon21/

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      1. Thanks, I’ll have a look; yes, you’re right there; perhaps his telling Jadis about Aslan’s return and plans counted as the betrayal vis-a-vis Aslan; there’s lots to think about and reconsider, for me even as regards Edmund’s character

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      2. It is indeed a thought provoking post; i agree, on the first point one could say would apply to any conception of God or even in real life scenarios since sinners or wrongdoers aren’t exactly destroyed by ‘God’ and in fact continue on with impunity. So human explanations of being tested and eventually meeting one’s fate only feel like rationalizing the situation for ourselves.

        Re Edmund, the point Lori raises about how Aslan dealt with him, through a conversation was something that interested me as also her point on Edmund not quite being a Judas. The explanation of sorts about his attitude having to do with school as she says is incomplete, so how are we to understand it

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        1. Lewis wasn’t entirely happy at his schools, was he, and spent periods of his childhood being privately tutored, so I wonder if Edmund’s and Aslan’s private conversation was a reflection of his preference for one-to-one dialogue rather than the hurly-burly of institutional education.

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          1. Now that you mentioned Lewis’ school experiences, I’m also thinking about whether Edmund’s viewing Jadis’ castle as a ‘dunce cap’ besides ‘sorcerer’s hats’ also reflects his disapproval

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  2. I was just sitting down to write my LWW post, thinking I was well over a week late. I’m rather thrilled to see that I’m not. I’ll just answer the questions first:

    1. I have no memory of when I first read LWW. Chances are good that it was read aloud to me. Ours was a Narnia-heavy household and I read all the books many times as a kid, though not nearly as often as my baby sister, who pretty much read them continually for a few years. This time, I found that the transition into magic did hold up for me. It’s interesting to me that it’s all tactile — Lucy is in the dark and can only feel twigs instead of fur, and crunching snow instead of wood underfoot. The light only dawns after a moment of fumbling around in the dark. Which is probably a callback to Dante or something.

    2. Since I am a dummy, I did not notice the symbolic elements of the story until college, when a friend pointed them out to me. My mom, who *loves* Lewis, must have wanted us to figure this out on our own; I can’t think of any other reason she wouldn’t have mentioned it. I enjoy the ‘what if Christ came to a different world’ aspect.

    3. Hm. It’s very difficult to pick a favorite. I do love Mr. Tumnus though. And Mrs. Beaver’s utter practicality is very appealing to me.

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      1. I don’t know if my comments are appearing on your blog, Jean, so I’ll repeat my comments to your post on LWW here. I’m pleased you discuss the semiotics of the Narniad, especially here in LWW, as the symbols that pepper the texts and which Lewis appears to introduce so artlessly are hugely important. You mention some of the traditional beasts used in medieval Christianity (like the pelican who feeds her young with her blood) but of course many of the others were common in heraldry. The red lion was once a supporter of the arms of the Northern Ireland parliament, taken from the Royal Banner of Scotland to acknowledge the Ulster Scots, while the white stag appears on the crest of the Irish coat of arms.

        But Lewis was also a lover of Norse mythology from an early age, as also Greek myth and Arthurian legends (though I think he may have been less enamoured with the last in his academic career) so it’s unsurprising to find giants, fauns and centaurs among the Narnian bestiary, and even the siblings as medieval monarchs before their return to earth.

        But I hadn’t really registered how important red was as an accent colour in this instalment, so thanks for pointing this out! I’m also reminded that the planet Jupiter has its Great Red Spot and wonder if Lewis was consciously influenced by this feature.

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    1. Yes, the sensual aspect to Lucy’s first transition is what gives a kind of immediacy and makes the magic feel real more than the flash-bang-wallop of conventional magic sfx. I’ll look out for your piece now, Jean, where no doubt you’ll elaborate the other two points! 🙂

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  3. I first read it as a child, and the allegory went totally over my head. I just loved it and identified strongly with Lucy. This time:

    1. The magic was still there, until the winter ended! The ice and snow really does add to the peril. but once it melted, the book changed.

    2. When winter was over, the religious aspects took over for me with the ever so obvious Easter story I didn’t see as a child.

    3. The child in me still identifies as Lucy I’m glad to say. I did see the Professor in a different (more Dumbledore?) light this time though – I liked him.

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    1. I too sensed that change, Annabel, as breaking the apparent stasis of snow and ice rushed events along faster, just like thaw turns accumulated frozen water into rivers, increasing to torrents.

      Lucy and the Professor were my favourites too, Lucy whose charitable nature was symbolised by the healing potion she was gifted, the Professor because he understood that magic can be found if you were receptive to it and because he retained a childlike wonder himself.

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  4. Q2: I have to confess that when we first read LWW as a class read in school I loved it but simply didn’t understand the Xtian themes. I thought, for example, until we got to what I now think of as the Harrowing of Hell in the Witch’s castle, that she had turned Aslan into a lion. I was I guess about eight or nine at the time, a pious Catholic boy with access to all that imagery and language, but I only wondered where this was going when Aslan became the central agent rather than the children. I was much more interested in the transformation of Edmund, and think it was my second reading, on my own, that let me see the symbolism of the characters. Was I alone in just not twigging this?

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    1. I envy those readers like you, Nick, who first experienced LWW and the rest of the Narniad as children and are able to recall residual memories of early impressions and their reception of that world, its characters and its stories. I too, as you know, had a Catholic upbringing but I soon developed a suspicion of ‘improving’ literature that played on feelings of guilt, and so I wonder if I’d have sussed out the apparent messages Lewis was trying to get across. (I’m still scarred by memories of the frankly racist Wopsy: The Adventures of a Guardian Angel which my parents foisted onto me.)

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        1. Yes, indeed, looking forward to more discussion! By the way, I like Lory’s description in her comment below of how she regards the Narniad as ‘analogy’ more than allegory; and I quote her Lewis’s comment in a letter of how myth (which the Narniad sort of is) has “ever varying meanings … for different readers and in different ages.”

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  5. When my kids were small, someone gave us a copy of The Narnia Cookbook, and we made an annual version of the beavers’ dinner each February, along about the time everybody got cabin fever: fried fish, boiled potatoes, and a gloriously sticky marmalade roll. Mr. and Mrs. Beaver are my favorite characters (although I also have a soft spot for Mr. Tumnus, who gave Lucy such a lovely tea).

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    1. I really warmed to the Beavers this time round, and though I’m not keen on oily fish I relished their domestic set-up, welcoming, self-contained, cosy, warming and, above all, with walls lined with books. What’s not to like? 🙂 Tumnus, though, I just feel sorry for.

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  6. I haven’t read it this month but I did re-read it just a few years ago so thought I’d join in for this one!

    1. Yes, the magic was still there for me, though tempered by my adult cynicism. I find it harder to believe in good and evil in quite as straightforward a way as I could as a child. But I still loved Mr Tumnus and the Beavers, and the thaw is one of the great pieces of children’s literature for me. And of course the Stone Table scene is simply wonderful!

    2. I first read it when very young, and was the child of atheist parents, so although we weren’t prevented from learning the Bible stories they weren’t a major feature of our lives. As a result, I think I completely missed the allegory back then. This time of course I knew that it was an allegory and the parallels are pretty obvious, but what surprised me was that it wasn’t only the Christian story in there – there’s a real mish-mash of legends and folklore too, Bacchus, Silenus, fawns and giants, and so on. I’d forgotten much of that, and was actually expecting it to be more strictly focused on the Christian story than it was. However, Aslan and the Stone Table was nearly as powerful now as it was when I was a child even though this time I was far more aware of the allegory.

    3. That would be Aslan. As a child, I adored Aslan, and I use that word advisedly – I wouldn’t go so far as to say I prayed to Aslan, but for me, looking back at my young self, he was the Christ figure that Christian kids had in their lives, and which I, as a young atheist, hadn’t. As an adult, that makes me see how open we are as children to being – I don’t want to say indoctrinated, but I’m struggling to find a less pejorative word – into religion and makes me feel that, had I been brought up in a faith, I may never have questioned it, or at least not until I was fully adult. In terms of the humans, Lucy was always my favourite, not just because she’s the nicest, but because she was the youngest of four, with teenage siblings who dismissed her because she was younger – let’s just say this youngest of four identified!

    Here’s my review, if you’re interested: https://fictionfanblog.wordpress.com/2015/07/17/the-lion-the-witch-and-the-wardrobe-by-cs-lewis-narrated-by-michael-york/

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    1. Your point on Lucy also made me think of Bets from the findouters; she too is often able to ‘see’ what the others are not (often an important clue) but isn’t always immediately believed or taken seriously. So one can see the books as telling us something about us as people being dismissive of things that don’t fall within our fixed frames (and indeed our treatment of age).

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    2. Thanks, I’ll look it up!
      The Classical themes are important to Lewis – think of his SciFi trilogy, especially the final one – and his “day job” as a medievalist informs Narnia particularly.
      Looking forward to your review.

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    3. What a brilliant and balanced review, I’m unsurprised it garnered so many likes and comments so thanks for the link! Your points here are well made too, with the Stone Table scene the emotional heart of the story (I was reminded of Hieronymous Bosch’s powerful and moving painting in the National Gallery, ‘Christ Mocked’) and your drawing attention to the pagan figures as a counterbalance to a purely Christian interpretation of the novel.

      Aslan I find really hard to engage with. It seems to me that Lewis was trying to combine the two aspects of the biblical God, the fierce, jealous, angry one of the Old Testament and the kind, brotherly one of the New. For myself I find him manipulative in a way that distances him from any total acceptance.

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      1. Thank you! 😀 Yes, I know what you mean about Aslan from this re-read, though when I was a kid I must have just skipped the angry part – possibly because I identified with Lucy and accepted her love for Aslan without too much thought. And I find that when I re-read books I loved as a child, I slip back into the same emotions. I rarely end up disliking a character I once loved even if my adult mind doesn’t see them in quite the same way. I must admit I’m wary of the other books though – I had more mixed feelings about some of them even as a child. I did go on to read Prince Caspian after this, but didn’t enjoy it, so I stopped then. Maybe I’ll be inspired to read one or two more as your Narniathon continues!

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  7. Hmm, interesting questions!

    1. I had read Dr Seuss and fairy tales, so was probably used to strangeness and magic (despite Enid Blyton being my favourite). I had no issues with any of it though!

    2. I was vaguely aware of Aslan representing Jesus, but tbh I just loved the adventure.

    3. Characterwise, I was always rather fond of the animals – Tumnus and the Beavers were favourites. I expect I identified with Lucy, though I can’t actually remember at that distance!

    My review is here! https://kaggsysbookishramblings.wordpress.com/2021/12/30/a-journey-back-to-childhood-narniathon21/

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    1. I enjoyed your review, Karen, and am warmed by your still finding the novel as effective (though perhaps in different ways) as you did when younger. One of the reasons I included the allegory question was to see if awareness of that charge impacted or not on your appreciation of LWW as sheer storytelling and, I’m pleased to note, it clearly hasn’t! 🙂

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  8. Great questions, Chris!

    1. I did not read any of the Narnia novels as a child. I never heard of them until way into adulthood and didn’t read LWW until about 5 years ago. I remember being enchanted by all the talking animals and the sacrifice of Aslan, mostly. I read it again two years ago when I read it as part of reading the whole series I concentrated of more on the story and how it was constructed. Frankly, I didn’t then or with this last read last week, see it as “magic.” What happened in Narnia feels very realistic to me and not part of some magical universe, even though there is a witch and talking animals and a wardrobe that opens up into another land. It feels like a normal place where those things are not out of the ordinary. Not sure if this makes sense, but I wonder if that outlook is because I didn’t read this as a child and have read so many novels as an adult where so-called magic is just part of life?

    2. I have no problem with Aslan as Jesus and with the whole LWW book as representative of the/a Christian story. We know the importance of Lewis’ faith in his life, so this is not a problem for me. Aslan, the Witch, Father Christmas, the White Stag can be interpreted as Christian symbols as are so many of the characters and situations. However, I think the appeal of the series the world over is these are also symbols of other religions and cultures, which if Lewis couldn’t see that, I would be surprised. Many cultures/religions have a sacrificial/resurrected figure, children who stand up to an evil demon or person suppressing their country/religion, have creation myths involving animals and so many other elements. The universality of the story I think is applicable everywhere!

    3. If I had to pick a favorite character it would be Edmund. Ooo, yes he frustrated me with his treatment of Lucy and the way he turned on his siblings. But as we learn, it was out of profound hurt. And Aslan sense that. He was given a way out of his nastiness and the chance to rise above is personal weaknesses to make amends for his disastrous behavior. Edmund is the kind of “bad” person who turns himself around and that always gives me hope. I also think Lucy is an extremely important character for little girls. She believed in herself regardless of how she was disbelieved. She stood her ground when she was mocked and belittled. She knew what she knew and would not bow. When the professor asked those questions of the other children about her, I thought that was an important learning lesson for kids to look at situations and people in general in assessing whether something is believable or not.

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    1. “I think the appeal of the series the world over is these are also symbols of other religions and cultures, which if Lewis couldn’t see that, I would be surprised. Many cultures/religions have a sacrificial/resurrected figure…”

      Oh yes, Lewis had a great interest in those universal themes; his conversations with Tolkien about them were instrumental to his faith. And the Dying God theme was far more popular back then — anthropologically speaking — than it is now; everybody was talking about it. So you’re right, it was deliberate.

      I love your description of Lucy’s character and the professor’s questions. His sensible reasoning really stood out to me this time, too. (It’s also an echo of Lewis’ own trilemma argument: that Jesus was either a lunatic, or evil, or telling the truth about himself.)

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    2. Oh, how fascinating to read your responses, Laurie! I think those of us who read and enjoy (and perhaps even compose) fantasy accept magic as an aspect of hyperreality due to our ability, however temporarily, to suspend disbelief in it Myself I do try to distinguish between what is ‘real’ and what isn’t, but I do know that philosophically I’m doing so as as an individual with an imperfect ability to observe things as they are. The only issue I have with fictional magic however is that it must have a functional rationality, unless it all exists in a dreamlike environment.

      I agree that Lewis’s narrative isn’t exclusively Christian but deliberately includes aspects of so many other cultures, religions and traditions. I do however feel uncomfortable when Christianity, which is touted as the one and only true religion, feels free to incorporate pagan notions with no sense of incongruity, and the same applies to a purely Christian interpretation of the Narniad.

      I did warm to Edmund: he seems to me to be an entirely credible human child—more so than Peter or Susan in this instalment anyway—and I liked the way he redeemed himself by the end, as much due to himself as anything externally spiritual.

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  9. Thank you for your interesting questions, Chris. I’ve been pondering before I answer as it’s so long since my first reading as a child and my attitude to the series has subtly altered over the years.

    1. That magical moment when Lucy enters Narnia holds such strong memories for me and these were brought flooding back as I re-read the book this week. It is the sensory descriptions that convey the change of world so beautifully. I’m sure I wasn’t the only child who occasionally crept into a wardrobe ‘just in case’. Even closing my eyes in the hope of feeling tree branches as I inched to the back and disappointment! I think it worked well as an adult too. There is a quiet beauty in a snowy landscape that is conveyed so well. It helped that I originally received the book as a Christmas present and reread it at Christmas time giving the story an added impact. The transition to Spring is full of joy, even more so than I remember as a child.

    2. I can’t remember when the full realisation of the Christian message really hit me as a child. With a Catholic upbringing and a convent education the nine or ten year old me quietly accepted the resurrection of Aslan without question. As an adult I now wonder why I never discussed this with anyone. Maybe because in those days we weren’t encouraged to question things? Did I think he represented Jesus? I really don’t know, but I did know he mattered, He mattered to the children and he really mattered to me too. The stone table scene upset me dreadfully the first time I read it. It was The Last Battle that made me read the whole series again aged about 11ish I think, possibly 12. Reading TLTWTW now it feels so obvious.

    3. As a child I identified strongly with Lucy and loved the fact that a heroine in a story could be an ordinary little girl like me. She is quiet but strong and as an adult I can well understand why she appealed to me. I loved Tumnus and the Beavers too and again I like them now, particularly the Beavers. It is Edmund who now strikes me as an interesting character. Even as a child I liked how he reformed and was forgiven but now I find myself wanting to help him. He comes across a little more as sad rather than bad to me.

    I’ve rather waffled on but one last point. In my mind this was a big story with big themes that I felt was more ‘grown up’ than my previous reading material. Reading it now I’m struck by its length or rather its lack of length. My copy is less than 200 pages long. Nowadays that would probably be a book targeted at younger readers or maybe reluctant readers. Children’s books today appear much longer. I wonder why?

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    1. Harry Potter is why. Until HP came along, the conventional wisdom in publishing — especially 1960 – 1990 — was that kids and teens would not read any book over 200 pages long. So they wouldn’t publish any books over 200 pages long. When Harry Potter, over 300 pages, was a runaway hit and the books just kept getting longer, that broke the barrier. Kids’ books are now routinely chunksters that nobody would have published in 1985.

      That said, those books are mostly not written to the same level of complexity as you got in many children’s books from the first half of the 20th century. They are long, but the language and construction is often simpler. This seems to be true for a whole lot of books; for example, when I read a short adult non-fiction book from the 1930s, the author has often packed an incredible amount into those 150 pages. If written now, that same book would be 700 pages long and contain a whole lot more background, description, and explanation.

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      1. Yes, JKR uses a lot of folklore to embellish her stories, and a lot of work goes into the world-building; CSL is able to do this more concisely, deftly but his Narnia children are (in the first books at least) are less complex. Potter is the obvious first comparison, but of course Pullman’s His Dark Materials gives us fat books of world-building, ambiguous characters – even children that die – and big questions about religion…

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      2. With my background as a school librarian I had assumed it was linked to Harry Potter as that was what kick started the trend but nonetheless I think it’s an interesting development. For some children the daunting size of many ‘middle grade’ adventures and fantasies are a negative aspect of reading. When trying to encourage reading for pleasure it can be an obstacle to overcome. Nick has mentioned His Dark Materials and that’s another that started the trend too.

        I think what struck me reading TLTWTW as an adult was the effective world building and the complex themes covered so concisely and in child friendly language. It’s accessible to young children even if they don’t initially understand the links to Christianity etc. The battle of good versus evil and the opportunity for forgiveness and change is a universal message.

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      3. Good point, Jean, whatever her detractors may otherwise say or claim about her, Rowling got children to fall in love with reading at the turn of the century at a time when the death of children’s literature was routinely announced, and got them immersed — for better or worse — in increasingly massive tomes. The downside, as you and Nick say, is that the extraneous detail is not necessarily a substitute for concise storytelling.

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    2. I’m glad the magic in LWW still held up for you, Anne, as it did for me. That entry into Narnia was one of the reasons I was pleased to start the Narniathon with this around midwinter because of our expectations (however artificial!) of a white Christmas and all the associated trappings. So many seasonal narratives, on the page or on the screen, have the first flakes of snow appearing around this date, even when it may be rare or, for some countries, non-existent!

      I mentioned elsewhere the Stone Table scene as being the emotional heart of the story, evoking empathic responses that can reveal our essential humanity. It reminds me strongly of Bosch’s painting in the National Gallery, ‘Christ Mocked’, with leering faces surrounding Jesus, so much so that I wonder if Lewis had this image in mind when he wrote that scene.

      Edmund as more sad than bad? I think so too!

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      1. Pauline Baynes’ illustration of the Stone Table scene conveys that so well too doesn’t it. They are so linked in my memory with the story. Yes, poor Edmund, let’s start an appreciation society!

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        1. It does, I agree. And poor Edmund indeed, though I can’t help being reminded of the name Edmund in the first series of Blackadder in which Rowan Atkinson’s Edmund is rather silly but also comes to an unfortunate end…

          The archaeologist in me fancies the stone table as more like a prehistoric dolmen than Baynes has depicted it, though most if not all Northern Irish dolmens seem to have been supported on three megalithic supports, not four as in LWW; Lewis is likely to have seen at least one of them in Ireland, but there are a few examples within easy reach of Oxford which he may have visited.

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  10. My favorite character was Lucy because I simply wanted to be her, to go through that door into another world. Also, at the age when I read the books I had a bit of a “nobody understands me” complex that found it satisfying when her solitary and disbelieved experience of Narnia turned out to be real.

    I did not connect the books with Christianity or Aslan with Christ, until it was pointed out in a sermon in church. I don’t remember how old I was then, maybe around 12, but I had certainly read the books several times already. I felt stupid for not noticing, but now, I don’t think it’s so strange to overlook the parallels. As I argued in my recent post, the death and rebirth of Aslan has little in common with the passion of Christ and can certainly be read on its own terms. LWW is definitely not an “allegory” and I think Lewis at some point cautioned against seeing the books that way. I believe he described the story as his imagination of what would have happened if Christ had created and been active in a world like Narnia. So sort of “analogy,” rather than an allegory.

    Thanks again for the event, glad it’s generating some lively discussion! See you next month with the return to Narnia.

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    1. I too identify with Lucy’s character and role more than that of any other character here (well, possibly the Professor too). Lewis of course dedicated the book to his goddaughter Lucy Barfield, daughter of his friend Owen Barfield and I suspect there’s a little bit of the real person in it (Lucy was 15 when LWW was eventually published). Apparently when, as an adult, Lucy Barfield was ill in hospital with MS her foster brother Geoffrey (to whom the Dawn Treader volume was dedicated) used to read the complete Chronicles to her; she died in 2003.

      I was pleased to read your post, particularly when you emphasised the universality of the themes that Lewis made use of to build his story; ‘analogy’ is certainly a good term to apply and how I’d like to regard the novel. Wasn’t it Tolkien who thought the Narniad was too allegorical? Certainly he denied LOTR was in any sense an allegory and cordially hated it described as such.

      I’m currently reading a series of essays in Revisiting Narnia, the first of which discusses Owen Barfield’s thoughts on myth and then quotes Lewis when he calls myth “a story out of which ever varying meanings will grow for different readers and in different ages” (2005:19). I hope this dictum will continue to be reflected in comments on the Narniathon! 🙂

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  11. I didn’t realize you’d hosted this challenge, been away from blogging for a while. It’s been so long since I read or watched Narnia series, might be a good idea to hunt those down again. 🙂

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  12. I first read the Narnia series when I was a preteen, then again as a teenager. Later I read it to my small children, and later we read it to each other in preparation for the movie. Every single time I read LWW I am struck anew at the magic and easy acceptance of it after the initial reluctance to believe Lucy. (Would you?) Imagine stepping into a world of fauns, talking beasts, and a massive lion, who is the king and very wild. I’d be hiding and working frantically to get back to the wardrobe ASAP.

    I was too young my first time through it to recognize the Christian allegory but I’m certain as a teenager I read it expressly to look for the hidden Christian messages. LWW has the most symbolism of the seven books, I think, especially the bit about crucifixion and resurrection of Aslan. As an adult I can dismiss some of my teenage ideas since I’ve read that Lewis didn’t intend the series to be a Christian allegory.

    I’ve always been a Lucy fan. She remains sweet and innocent from start to finish and so devoted to Aslan and his message of a deeper love.

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    1. I’m pleased you’ve joined in this conversation, Anne! Myself, I’d like to think I’d be like the Professor, accepting of Lucy’s experience and allowing her story to be true. (But then, with the hindsight of reading The Magician’s Nephew we know exactly why he is inclined to believe her!) With my interest in myth and traditional stories I can also see there is a great deal more to the Narniad than just a Christian interpretation; and though I hadn’t come across that point from Lewis that the series wasn’t intended to be an allegory I’m not surprised any longer. I’m curious now about Prince Caspian which didn’t make as much an impact on me as the others in the series…

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      1. I just reread Prince Caspian and I had the same feeling. Like that book isn’t nearly as wonderful as the others. I like to think of you as the professor. Since it matches the little I know about you. Wonderful assignment here. Thanks!

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        1. Well, I’ll accept that compliment, Anne! Though I’m a lot less hirsute than Pauline Baynes depicts him, I’m also bearded and have an old house with lots of books! Glad to have you as part of his spread-out readathon, I’m hoping there’ll be as many responses to subsequent volumes.

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    2. According to NarniaWeb Lewis did not think that Narnia was a Christian allegory. He called it a “Supposal”. Here is what is said about that:

      “Although Lewis makes it clear that The Chronicles of Narnia isn’t an allegory, he doesn’t deny that some symbolism was written into the series. But, to understand his approach, you need to recognize that Lewis differentiates allegory from something he calls supposal. In a December 1959 letter to a young girl named Sophia Storr, he explains the difference (emphasis mine): I don’t say. ‘Let us represent Christ as Aslan.’ I say, ‘Supposing there was a
      world like Narnia, and supposing, like ours, it needed redemption, let us imagine what sort of Incarnation and Passion and Resurrection Christ would have there.’

      Allegory and supposal aren’t identical devices, according to Lewis, because they deal with what’s real and what’s unreal quite differently. In an allegory, the ideas, concepts, and even people being expressed are true, but the characters are make-believe. They always behave in a way reflective of the underlying concepts they’re representing. A supposal is much different; the fictional character becomes “real” within the imaginary world, taking on a life of its own and adapting to the make-believe world as necessary. If, for example, you accept the supposal of Aslan as true, then Lewis says, “He would really have been a physical object in that world as He was in Palestine, and His death on the Stone Table would have been a physical event no less than his death on Calvary.”

      For more read on: https://www.narniaweb.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/583816_ch06.pdf

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      1. Interesting that this writer distinguishes between allegory and ‘supposal’. His explanation, I have to say, sounds a bit like special pleading: in a quote from Lewis’s Of Other Worlds (1966) one commentary I’ve read suggests that ‘by writing the Christian message into a fairy tale, Lewis knew that what he was doing was deceptive: he hoped that the essence of Christianity would “steal past [the] watchful dragons” of readers’ resistances to religion.’ Allegory or supposal (and I’d quibble with Lewis’s definition of allegory) I accept this characterisation of Lewis’s approach as ‘deception’. The fact that LWW largely stands up on its own merits as storytelling is very much in its favour, and if so I don’t think special pleading is either necessary or appropriate. But that’s just my opinion, Anne!

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  13. Risa

    I didn’t read Narnia as a child. When I first picked it up as a young adult, I felt too grown-up for the writing style that was geared toward children. Then came the movie of LWW and I was determined I was going to read the book after watching it, since I was able to recognise the allegorical nature of the story. By then I was a full-grown adult, able to appreciate children’s writing again. I’ve read this particular book three times since then — including once with my sons and once with my 6th graders (only back in November 2021).

    This story is indeed absolutely magical! The moment Lucy steps into / out of the wardrobe, I feel Lewis just opens our eyes up in wonder just as much as Lucy’s do. Perhaps, my favourite ‘magical’ description from the book is when the White Witch is riding through the land as the snow is melting. Even as Lewis describes the journey of the sleigh; the change in the ride as the ground gets slushy and bumpy; the colour that seeps into the white land; and the little happy party that gets turned into stone by the irate queen, I could feel the sense of magical wonder along with Edward.

    I don’t know that I have a ‘favourite’ character, but I do like the journey of Edward very much. Edward was not all out ‘bad’, but the meanness in him already made him weak and susceptible to external influences that would make him worse. Considering the allegorical nature of this story, I feel Edward represents a large majority of people, and while his character’s role might be likened to that of Judas Iscariot, I see him more so as a Peter. At the end, he is redeemed, and because of what he has been through, it makes so much sense that he is dubbed ‘Edward the Just’, making him a compassionate king.

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    1. It makes a kind of sense that Edmund could be regarded as more Peter than Judas, Risa, given that he does eventually acknowledge Aslan: the thaw heralding spring is the equivalent of the cockerel crowing three times for Peter, the thaw of course also leading to Jadis’s realisation that her power is on the wane.

      It must be extra special to be able to share the magic again and again, whether with your children or with your young students, and find your sense of wonder reinforced with the reception it may get. As well as the recent-ish LWW film I remember watching a BBC TV adaptation with our children in the late 1980s; it must have had some positive effect because our middle child recently borrowed my one-volume edition of the Chronicles to read to her children.

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  14. I wonder if almost every child who reads, or is read to as I was at the age of 5, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe doesn’t tap on the back of a closet to see if it opens to a magical world. I think I believed in that possibility more than I ever did in Santa. It was filled with hope, and promise, and adventure, just as I have come to realize parallels the Christian’s life.

    It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized Aslan represented Christ, but what a wonderful way to introduce Him to children. To adults. Similarly to the Bible, when I read and reread the Chronicles, I discover new meanings and insights.

    My favorite character? Perhaps now I identify with Mrs. Beaver, fussing about over things that aren’t so important, really…or, it could be Susan, the bossy big sister. Either way, I seem to identify with the flawed characters the most.

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  15. Hooray – the Narniathon!!!!! This is going to be fun!

    Here are my answers…

    Question 1

    The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe wasn’t my first fantasy read. So when I first came across it, it seemed to me to be a blend of fairytale, fantasy and Greek/Roman myth (a subject I was totally hooked on for a lot of my childhood). I took to it immediately and the fantasy element definitely worked for me.

    Question 2

    I wasn’t aware of the allegory as a child – I just thought it was a good story. I particularly liked the idea of a deeper older magic saving Aslan but had no idea that this was in some way related to Christian love. I find it kind of ruins the story to think that. When I first reread the stories as an adult, however, I was a Christian (I am not now) and was quite interested to see what Lewis did with it. It didn’t sit very well with me though, for two reasons.

    Firstly, I don’t like the idea of an author deliberately writing a children’s story which secretly (from the child’s point of view) proselytizes for their religion. When I was teaching RE we were not allowed to share our own thoughts on religion to avoid any kind of conscious indoctrination and, even as a Christian, this seemed right to me. (Although I was probably a pretty poor Christian.) After all, I reasoned, if Christianity were true it wouldn’t need sneaky tricks played on children for people to see it.

    Secondly, I think the allegory was quite clunky in many places and seems, to my mind anyway, to break the true magic of the story. That’s probably just me though since I’m not very keen on allegory generally.

    Question 3

    My favourite character in this story is Mr Tumnus. I liked the way he was going to follow his orders from the witch at first (because I like following orders too) but then came to like Lucy and decided he would disobey and help Lucy back to her world.

    However the character which most interested me was Edmund – I didn’t understand why he did what he did and really wanted to understand him.

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    1. Oh, great answers, Jo! I too enjoy fantasy though, a little like Tolkien, I was puzzled and even confused by the mix of classical myth, Norse myth, middleclass beavers, and Father Christmas. Knowing now that this represents an amalgamation of Lewis’s own childhood fantasy obsessions makes it easier to accept, however. As for the accusation of the Narniad (and especially LWW) being allegory, everyone states that Lewis himself said it was not , though I’ve not seen the actual quote from his letter. Anyway, the parallels with Christian theology are never exact despite being present.

      Tumnus seems to be a favourite amongst the characters mentioned here, plus Edmund and the beavers, but the Professor and Lucy — my personal likes — also get a look in! I discuss Mr Tumnus a little in my review of LWW, scheduled for tomorrow.

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  16. Such interesting questions!

    Here are my answers:

    1. I read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe as a child and it was very magical then. My next reading was to my children and I remember being excited for them to experience the magic. Re-reading it now, I know what is coming, but it still feels very magical. It brings back the feeling of the first time I read it.

    2. I recognized the allegory the first time I read the book as a child. Each re-reading has caused to fell it deeper and be more awed by Aslan’s sacrifice.

    3. During earlier readings, I always most identified with Susan. I was an oldest child, so it was Susan and Peter that I identified with most. When reading it with my children, I remember loving Mrs. Beaver. This time through, I found myself really identifying with Edmund. That was surprising to me, but I think that at this point in my life I recognize my own tendency to sin and make mistakes. I thought Edmund’s ability to admit he was wrong was admirable.

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    1. Thanks, Gretchen, glad you approved my questions! I too think the magic of LWW lingers, whatever one’s age is when revisiting, and especially when reading to children which is often when one looks for the dawning of their first experience of it. As for allegory, I was well on the way to a fully-fledged atheism when I first read LWW, but with my interest in mythology I find Lewis’s borrowings from several religious philosophies of great fascination.

      Interesting that you identified with Susan, for the reasons you give. I too was the eldest (of three, as it happens) but Lucy was the one who most appealed to me.

      Anyway, thanks for your detailed responses! I hope you will be joining in with the rest of the readalongs.

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  17. I have nothing new to add to any of your thoughts or the comments above, it is too long since I last read the Narnia books (as a child I read The Magician’s Nephew and LWW a couple of times but none of the others. During my teacher training 30 yrs ago, I read the entire series having learnt about the Christian allegory which I did not see as a child. As an adult I felt like I had been hit over the head by the obviousness of it all and felt disappointed that my childhood love of the stories had been diminished somehow. I have always disliked being preached to or feeling like other people are trying to convert me with their fervour.)

    Anyhow, just wanted to say how enjoyable and enlightening reading all the comments have been for these posts. I may not comment much going forward, but I am reading your thoughts along the way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for following this discussion, Brona, and I know exactly what you mean by feeling as if you’d been hit over the head by the Christian overtones in Lewis’s storytelling. I’m less worried about it than I was before, and that may be due to a combination of realising that there was some essential worth in the Chronicles that I’d missed and a recognition that literary works can change their emphasis and significance according the the reader’s ongoing experiences and understanding. This is the main thing I take away from my decision to revisit the Narniad, and I suspect I’m not alone in that! So I’m glad you’ve found this exercise enjoyable and enlightening — job done! 🙂

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      1. “literary works can change their emphasis and significance according the the reader’s ongoing experiences and understanding. “
        Exactly! I had this experience with Jane Eyre in particular. As a teen I thought it was a boarding school misery story. Reading it my twenties I was surprised to see it was a romance – even if an icky one between an old married man & an innocent young woman! In my thirties I realised just how independent & strong Jane really was. I wonder what I would see now in my fifties?

        Good luck with the rest of your readalong. I’ll be curious to see what you discover this time around.

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        1. Jane Eyremay be a good example of a novel that speaks to us in different ways on subsequent reads, a commentary on their intrinsic richness. I’ll be interested to see if Prince Caspian falls into this category though! I’ve seen disappointment expressed that it doesn’t reach the standard set by LWW, so I’m intrigued.

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  18. 1. I’ve read this book twice before – once to my bilingual students in both English and Spanish and again via audio. This third time, the magic of Lucy’s, and then her siblings, forays into the cupboard stayed with me. Especially the ending of the book when they returned and only a bit of time had passed, but they had lived an entire of lifetime in Narnia. Beautifully done.

    2. As a woman who walks by faith, I certainly appreciated Lewis’ Christian allegory woven into the story. For me it was a confirmation of waiting and trusting God’s plan for our lives. Many times we don’t see the why of pain and the effect it has on others. But, as I went through my own walk with cancer by going through arduous chemotherapy, surgeries and radiation instead of a miraculous healing, I could see how God worked through my experience to bless others. That painful journey was one of the biggest blessings of my life. I’ve learned to walk through the coals of life with more grace and trust in Him and to attempt to become better, not bitter.

    3. How I loved the beavers! Especially when he asked forgiveness for his thoughts – his very thoughts….wow. Made me ponder my own thought life!
    Thank you for such beautiful questions and such a lovely reading challenge!

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    1. That return from Narnia after several years are supposed to have passed and yet the four adult monarchs are back to being children is a dichotomy I need to puzzle out for myself, but yes, it’s all part of the novel’s magic. Not being a theist myself I remain uncomfortable with the religious message as Lewis’s intention here seems manipulative, but I can’t deny that it is likely to bring comfort to many, especially if they have gone through a time of travail. So I’m pleased you liked the questions, Mia, and the excuse to revisit Narnia!

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  20. Three great questions, Chris. I wrote my answers to each of them when your post came out and now, having got around to actually posting them, I find a wealth of responses and information which in some ways makes my answers paltry and redundant and in others enriches and excites. I’m taking the questions in reverse order.

    My favourite character as a child was Mr Tumnus. And this time around it’s Mr & Mrs Beaver. As I child I recall how much I loved Lucy’s tea with the fawn. I so wanted tea with Mr Tumnus! This time, not so much. But I was very taken by meals with the beavers and I loved the interplay between them. I was also drawn to the professor this time but almost certainly because I’ve read the rest of the series relatively recently (which I never did as a child) so I know his significance now. My choices match the favourites of other commentators – nothing original there. I’m interested in how many people cite Edmund as a favourite. I didn’t warm to him as a child or as an adult. I’ll give him more thought.

    When I was enraptured by this book as a child I had no idea of the allegorical element and when I did become aware of it I chose to blank it out. I think I was quite annoyed by it and wanted the story to simply remain an enchantment for me. Reading it now, I am astonished by how I failed to pick up on it even as a child. It seemed to scream at me this time around. (And I still didn’t like it!) Reading this time, I wondered what Lewis’ intentions had been as he wrote, because the book is so clearly directed at children. The discussion on allegory and supposal is interesting. You were unconvinced I believe, Chris? I quite like this idea, probably because I so dislike the idea of such a magical childhood classic being intended as a vehicle for hidden purposes. But, returning to Christianity as he did, having previously rejected it, perhaps I can forgive him his fervour.

    A couple of responses to other comments in the thread. I agree with those who found the magic dimmed after the coming of spring. LWW is essentially a winter tale, it captures the enchantment of winter. Just thinking now, I would like the entire book to have been about the winter section of the story. There is easily enough material. And the return of spring, with the battle, Aslan’s sacrifice and Edmund’s retrieval would make a marvellous sequel! Book One would end perhaps with the coming of Father Christmas. I loved his appearance as a child and I still enjoyed it this time. (I’d forgotten him so he was a nice surprise.)

    Which brings me to your first question: magic. Narnia has always been a place of enchantment and magic in my eyes. The idea of pushing through the fur coats, feeling the twigs and the snow, the wonderful lamp post (and meeting Mr Tumnus) – pure magic. But this time (sadly) not so much. Perhaps it was unrelated, external circumstances impacting negatively for me as I read, but I do think there’s more to it. The book felt too short, I wanted more atmosphere and more time on each event. I wanted more words. Essentially, I wanted it to be written for modern audiences which of course, it is not.

    References in the thread on Harry Potter come to mind; perhaps I’ve come to expect more from a classic children’s fantasy. I struggled to let go of my adult critical head and found the writing too simplistic. Perversely, I think if I read it again now, having followed this discussion, I’d enjoy it more because I would be properly prepared to accept it for what I’d like it to be: a charming children’s classic. (I’d still choose to close my eyes to the allegory but I’d happily read it whilst reflecting on the theoretical supposal.) As it is, I think of Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising sequence and of course of Tolkien. Narnia as a wintry place remains undimmed but LWW as the first in the Narniad does not hold up against the first in those two sequences.

    I read and loved LWW as a child but I read the rest of the books in the series only recently so I’m fascinated to learn how my reaction to those differs when I read them again now – from one adult reading to another with no childhood influence. On to Prince Caspian, though first to your own review of this one!

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    1. Thanks, Sandra, pleased you appreciated the questions posed! I’ll answer your responses in the order you’ve given…

      Edmund’s seeming change of character struck me originally as not very credible — unless we assume that essentially he was at heart a charitable lad and that his sneering ways were a temporary aberration. I think we’ve all had grumpy moods as kids, and for me this may be the most compassionate way to regard him. Interestingly, I don’t believe anybody’s cited either Peter or Susan as their favourites!

      I wonder what age group was the audience Lewis aimed his story at? Probably pre-teen, as he told his dedicatee Lucy Barfield, around 15 when LWW was published, that she was probably too old to enjoy the book, and hence the magic? That idealised audience might be why the novel is the length it is. A (literally) “charming children’s classic,” as you characterise it!

      Myself, I find I accept LWW as ‘allusion’ or more as ‘analogy’, as I think Lewis’s preference for ‘supposal’ almost as fraught with problems as ay suggestion that it’s allegorical: the glaring example is questioning what a character with the name Christmas, called after what Lewis believed is the one true God, is doing in the story if we then ‘suppose’ that Aslan (with his father the Emperor) was an alternative Creator?

      Anyway, I enjoyed your comments, Sandra, they gave me lots to think about! 🙂

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  22. 1. This is my second time reading the Narniad. I was an adult when I read it the first time. It was 14 years ago. For me, it’s not the magic that draws me in. It’s the allegory.
    2. I’ve been aware of the allegory during both reads. I love the allegory. This time around, however, I noticed some things I had noticed before because I’m more well-read. I noticed the Lilith lore. I also noticed CS Lewis’ use of the word “law” when the White Witch and Aslan were discussing the deep magic regarding Edmund’s treachery.
    3. My favorite character is Lucy. I relate to her the most. I’m the youngest in my family, often not believed, small but fierce, etc. (Although once we get to Caspian, it’s Reepicheep.)

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    1. That’s interesting what you say, Jenni Elyse, that it’s not the magical but the allegorical aspect that draws you in. For me, personally, allegory is the tale wagging the dog, whatever religion or political creed it’s supposed to espouse. And to my way of thinking that doesn’t make for good storytelling: you might as well state plainly what you mean to say than be cryptic about it, because that way lies subterfuge, and dissembling.

      Allegory — and I apologise for going on about it — is a more deceitful distant cousin to parables and fables which at least declare outright what their message is at the end. I’m not arguing against symbols, analogues or metaphors, by the way, because that’s how we communicate, and think, and dream. No, I’m instead very wary of things that pretend to be something they’re not: and if one argues that LWW and the rest of the series are not really magical children’s stories but simply ways to get over doctrinal matters then I’d be very disappointed.

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      1. I can see where you’re coming from. I guess I don’t see the allegory as just a way to push doctrine. I see the allegory, especially in the Narniad, as an enhancement to the story. Without the allegory, the Narniad falls flat in terms of being a children’s fantasy.

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        1. I suppose we may have to agree to differ if we’re coming from different directions! But I hope that doesn’t stop you joining in with the rest of the read, and of course I welcome all points of view. 🙂 For myself, I’m hoping my reread may reveal it’s more than an allegory, or (as Lewis apparently saw it) a ‘supposal’.

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