Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis #review

Title: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (The Chronicles of Narnia #1)
Author: CS Lewis
Publisher: HarperCollins, 1950

I was about eight or nine when I first read all CS Lewis's Narnia books. If I consider the paradigm in which I lived at the time, much of the author's thematic treatments did not bother me in the least. While it has always been at the back of my mind to pick up Lewis's writing again in the future, the experience of dipping into The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was interesting...And troubling.

Much like his contemporary, JRR Tolkien, Lewis, to a degree, has been placed on a seemingly unassailable pedestal. The Narnia books are often mentioned and, as per many classics, have also spawned cinematic adaptations.

Okay, I'll admit I absolutely adored the Narnia books when I was younger. Our library at school and in Hout Bay didn't stock much fantasy for my age group, and to discover Narnia was like finding a box of chocolates when I least expected it. Talking animals, magic, supernatural creatures...and, of course, to younger self, Aslan represented an enigmatic, charismatic and utterly benevolent father figure.

When I was younger, it didn’t matter so much that there was plenty of Christian moralising in the tale—nothing contradicted what indoctrination I already received thanks to the religious instruction at school and at church.

And yes, if you've never stepped beyond that paradigm, then Lewis's Narnia books will most likely retain their childlike wonder, and perhaps not tarnish the way they have for me in adulthood.

Here I'd like to add that I feel the fault lies with the reader, and perhaps the fact that as the years have progressed, I've developed a taste for the GrimDark.

If I have to compare this book objectively to titles in the same age group that are currently available, I'd have to comment on the disconnect I felt while reading. This tale is told very much by an older person addressing younglings, and to a degree there is a fair amount of patronising apparent. Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy are placeholders rather than fully formed characters, with Edmund drawing the shortest straw when it comes to action and consequence. To be honest, they are a bit twee to me.

Then, of course, the thinly veiled Christian cosmology, executed to portray a particular mindset.

Okay, so those were the aspects that annoyed the ever-loving bantha pudu out of me. I do, however, consider that CS Lewis is very much a product of his time.

What I won't forget easily from my childhood, and of which I caught a whiff of with my reread was Lewis's wide-eyed sense of wonder. I gained the impression that Lewis really lived *in* Narnia while he wrote. His world is incredibly detailed, and though to a degree it suffers from the curse of a well-defined light vs. dark dichotomy, it is nonetheless a fantastic way to introduce the fantasy genre to children—probably best read out loud or enjoyed as an audiobook. In these situations I suspect that the story will gain so much depth.

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