The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - C. S. Lewis

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis, Pauline Baynes

You know when you re-read a beloved childhood book and you're bitterly disappointed because you realise that said childhood book is actually a bit shit, not to say actively rage-inducing?

 

Well, happily that was not my experience today.

 

This is possibly because The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was never that much of a favourite with me when I was small - The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter were much more interesting to me. It may also be because I was re-reading it for degree purposes, and thus thinking about it as a popular children's text rather than making value judgements. But I suspect it's mainly because The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is actually quite a good book, even read by an adult.

 

Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy are four siblings evacuated during the war (which war is never quite stated) to a Mysterious House in the country inhabited by a Mad Professor. They find a wardrobe full of fur coats which opens out into a magical land called Narnia, ruled over by a White Witch whose magic ensures that it's always winter but never Christmas. And once there, of course, they must Fight the Witch and Save the World.

 

Obviously, there's a lot more going on here than a simple but rather lovely fairy tale/Christian allegory about sacrifice. In fact, I kind of got the impression that the admittedly rather heavy-handed Christian overtones - the innocent victim, the Emperor's Deep Magic, the return of spring - were almost bolted on to a far more primal and, let's face it, more interesting kind of story, a story about what lies deep in the woods, about the warring powers of winter and spring, ice and fire. You'll notice that the old, non-wintry Narnia which Mr Tumnus the Friendly Faun describes at the beginning of the book is not exactly a place of Christian sweetness and light: there are midnight dances with nymphs and dryads and treasure hunting in the deep caves and Bacchus rocking up to get everyone drunk "for weeks on end". And, apparently, that's all fine. That's How Narnia Should Be. Not necessarily a safe place where angels sing on high - it's never that, not even at the end - but a place of revel and dance and wild magic. A place that is warm, as opposed to the White Witch's ice. I was reminded quite strongly of Hans Christian Andersen's tale "The Snow Queen", which is another story about the freezing of natural desire, natural emotion, with another Christian dimension which seems a bit bolted on.

 

You're not, necessarily, going to read this for the stellar characterisation or the perfectly sensible plot (neither of which, in fact, exist in this book). But it is a good fairy tale, and the land of Narnia is, truly, a wonderful, fascinating one. This one certainly deserves to be a classic, even if the messages are a bit mixed and the Christianity a bit clumsy. (Having said that, I never noticed the Christian symbolism when I was small. Children care about that kind of thing less than we think.)