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The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (1950), by C. S. Lewis

Friday, 15 January, 2010

Book Review by Wendy Thomson

There has been four inches of snowfall and Reading looks like Narnia.  I stand underneath the lamp-post outside BMW Coopers, holding up my umbrella to keep snowflakes out of my eyes, and I feel like Mr Tumnus the faun about to discover Lucy appearing from the wardrobe.

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, the second book of The Chronicles of Narnia, is my favourite story from childhood and I enjoy it just as much now, even though the days of sticking plasters on my knees and playing with my brothers is over.  In the story there are two sisters (Lucy, Susan) and their brothers (Edmund, John) who are evacuated from London during the Second World War to stay with an elderly professor who lives in a large house in the countryside.

The siblings play hide and seek and Lucy wanders into a spare room searching for a good hiding place.  She climbs inside a large wooden wardrobe; but finds at the back trees and snow, which is a bit of a shock after fur coats and mothballs.  Lucy has stumbled upon a magical world called Narnia, ruled by a wicked ice queen; who has made it always winter but never Christmas.  Ordinary animals can speak and a battle for good over evil is destined.

There is a rich variety of mythological creatures, some of which come from the classics and some created by the author.  We are told of unicorns, fauns giants, dwarfs, dryads, naiads, satyrs, centaurs, ogres, hags, cruels, incubuses, wraiths, horrors, efreets, sprites, orknies – perhaps C. S. Lewis was not fond of Scottish islanders – wooses, ettins, winged horses, even a dragon.

Magic exists.  When I was little – littler- I thought I could fly down the stairs, I could cast spells over snails from the garden, and I believed animals understood every word I said to them. C.S. Lewis connects magic to reality; any child can step into an ordinary wardrobe and find a world inhabited by talking beavers and be recognised as a daughter of Eve or a son of Adam.

Christianity is a frequent topic if you can ‘Adam and Eve’ it.  Aslan, the Lion is a living god of Narnia, a wise and benevolent force who inspires hope and liberation.  Like Jesus he sacrifices himself to save his people and he rises from the dead.  He has a large flock of Narnians.  His church is headed by the children who act as bishops – as kings and queens of Narnia they guide their subjects and set good laws.

The Lion and the Witch as individuals can be viewed as a metaphor for the soul.  Every person has good and evil inside them and experience internal conflict.  Decisions are made for love and fear.

It is a patriotic story – one that could be enjoyed whilst listening to ‘England my Lionheart’ by Kate Bush.  The Professor lives in a huge country house ‘so old and famous that people from all over England used to come and ask permission to see over it.’  It is pro monarchy – Aslan is ‘King of Beasts,’ the children are rightful rulers of Narnia destined to sit on the four thrones at Cair Paravel castle.  Peter and Edmund are knighted.  We distrust the pretender to the throne – the Witch attempts to legitimise her dictatorship through the self imposed title ‘Queen of Narnia and Empress of the Lone Islands.’

The battle between the Lion and the Witch echoes the war that the children left behind (World War II).  They have to grow up quickly and experience harshness, including cold (it’s always winter), hunger (enchanted Turkish Delight is given to Edmund which leaves him always wanting more) and death (Lucy and Susan witness Aslan being killed by the Witch).

The children are given weapons so that they can take part in the battle. Gifts received from Father Christmas include a sword and shield, bow and arrows, dagger and horn. C.S. Lewis tones down the violence for his intended audience.  The Witch is fond of turning rebellious inhabitants into stone using her magic wand – she’s not depicted as a mass murderer although her cruelty is evident.

Like the war taking place back in England there are informers: ‘there are trees that would betray us to her;’ traitors – Edmund is disloyal to his siblings and runs to the Witch after she offers him rank and privilege; and fierce opponents – Maugrim, chief of the Witch’s secret police is a scary SS-like wolf.

These are children that anyone can relate to.  The eldest – Peter and Susan – assume the role of the absent parents who care for and reprove the younger pair.  They have good manners – Lucy lends her handkerchief to those in need of such a useful item including Mr Tumnus the faun and Giant Rumblebuffin.

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is inspirational because these ordinary children are special – they are saviours of a nation.  Instead of being scolded by Mrs Macready the Professor’s housekeeper, they bravely fight a war, heal the wounded, and fulfill a prophecy.

(c)  Wendy Thomson 2010

January 2010

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