How to make (most) readers mad; Narnia edition

To each of us you reveal yourself differently,
To the ship as coast line
To the shore as ship.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Narnia is one of the children’s classics that you either read when you were young or you will never read again. If you want to learn more and have an honest and informed opinion, you are in the right place.

In this article I will not only focus on the most popular ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)’.

Instead, I will talk about the complete series so also about; Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia (1951), The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952), The Silver Chair, The Horse and His Boy (1954), The Magician’s Nephew (1955), The Last Battle (1956).

This series has a special place in my heart, it has been with me for most of my teenage years, I read the first three books when I was about 13 and the last one when I was 18. (I swear it didn’t take me 5 years, but when I was 18 I finally decided to complete it, so I reread it from beginning to end).

That is why in this review you will hear a lot of my love for the series but I will still try to be critical and truthful.
In this case, if you really want to understand ‘Narnia’ you have to know the life of its creator, here I will briefly explain it to you.

Disclaimer: In this article I will give my review of the book (without spoilers) and another small space with my opinions (with spoilers). I will warn you in the arc of the article so if you continue reading beyond my warning, your spoiler will be your own fault.

That said (I want to avoid the annoyed comments), let’s begin.

C. S. Lewis, The Author

Clive Staples Lewis, born in Belfast, Ireland, was an Anglican lay writer and theologian.

The story of our ‘Narnia’ can be traced back to his childhood. The little boy in fact loved animals very much. Proof of this is that when his beloved childhood dog, Jacksie, died, he firmly decided to call himself by the same name, in his honour. He no longer answered to his name, but after some time he decided on Jack as his given name, and called himself that for the rest of his life.

He also grew up surrounded by books. His father, a lawyer, had a huge library and the child was never short of something to read. This greatly stimulated his childhood imagination, in fact he enjoyed creating entire worlds inhabited by animals, who ruled happily.

This certainly brings us back to the magnanimous Aslan whom Lewis used as a spiritual guide in the book. (a bit like Virgil for Dante).
In fact, the concept is very similar to the divine comedy, with Narnia C.S.Lewis wanted to tell the story of how he entered and emerged from the dark forest.

As a child he was baptised, his mother was in fact very religious. The latter unfortunately died when the writer was only nine years old and this marked him greatly.

But during his life his faith faltered a lot. After studying at Oxford, he decided to join the army. He soon regretted this decision. The horrors he saw and felt caused him to fall into depression and after finishing his duties he decided to return to his studies.

Many of his friends died in the war, one of whom loved his mother very much and asked Lewis to take care of her if he could not make it. So it was and he kept his promise, for years he looked after his friend’s mother and they came to have such a close relationship that he himself referred to her as a mother.

This young boy, wounded by the loss of his mother and many loved ones, lost all trace of faith. He also began to see it as a duty and decided to approach more mythological subjects. He became an atheist for the same reason many are.

“Why, if God exists, would he let all these horrors happen?”.

Given his writings, it is obvious that he then healed his wounds. Also thanks to another exemplary writer, J. R. R. Tolkien, the father of ‘Lord of the Rings’. Both taught at Oxford and became close friends. They were also part of a coven, ‘The Inklings’, a literary group that loved fantasy and fiction.

As an adult, Lewis was also a spectator of the Second World War, and his life linked to these constant battles can be seen in his prose. The writer of Narnia died on 22 November 1963, as an Anglican layman. His last writings were taken as a Christian example against the sceptics.

Review (without spoilers)

Narnia is an excellent classic to learn from. The whole story follows a well-defined thread, each action has its own motivation and weight, and all to arrive at a predestined conclusion. The writing is impeccable, quite predictable given the author’s many studies.

The reading order of Narnia has been much discussed over the years because the books were not numbered. At first the writing order was used but then seeing how the story unfolded, they decided to follow the chronological order of the story in the book.

So the most quoted order (the one I used myself) is this:The Magician’s Nephew (1955), The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950), The Horse and His Boy (1954), Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia (1951), The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952), The Silver Chair and The Last Battle (1956).

To tell you the order I used, I checked my book (which I hadn’t opened in a long time) and spent half an hour enjoying the smell of paper. Don’t judge me, you certainly do too because there is no such thing as a normal reader.

Okay back to us.

The story of Narnia.

This saga does not follow in the footsteps of only four characters, as many believe because of the films.

Following the above order. the first book tells us about the adventures of Polly and Digory.

Two neighbours who, after befriending each other, spent their days playing and scouring the surroundings in search of something adventurous. One day they decided to enter an attic that connected many houses, including their own.

That day was very important, because the two children soon discovered that Digory’s mad uncle was not only mad, but also a magician at his first steps. Uncle Andrew, without any second thoughts, used his nephew and his little friend as guinea pigs to find out what his magic rings were capable of.

And so it is that the doors of Narnia open not only to the two children but to all readers.

This story opens you up to Lewis’s specific way of telling and to the strangeness of this new magical world. New in every sense, because in this story we see, or read, with our own eyes the birth of Narnia. We see the beginning of the world, as Aslan created it.

As an avid reader and writer, I cannot help but admire the writer’s enormous reserve of imagination and fantasy.

We are overwhelmed by talking animals, mythological creatures, landscapes and breathtaking landscape descriptions.

The descriptive part is what fascinates me the most. I am aware that many people consider it the slowest part but personally I think it is the most important part in a fantasy.

Of course if in a novel you describe your new house to me in great detail, even going so far as to talk about the drainpipes, I will start yawning and inevitably swear.

But this is not the situation in fantasy. Here you are describing a whole new world, one that I have neither seen nor heard of. I see through your words, that of the writer. So it is the writer’s job to construct the wonder within me.
C.S.Lewis gets top marks in this field.

I was constantly fascinated while reading, the whole saga, and couldn’t wait to move on to another place, to see and learn more.

In the second book, however, we see the very famous scene, little Lucy enters the wardrobe.
We get to know with her a different Narnia, with many more years and history than when we left her. Now it is a wounded Narnia, at war, which Lucy and her brothers must save.

We see the aftermath of the first book, of Digory and Polly’s first visit.

The witch has returned and taken power but fortunately Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter are ready to fight to restore the world to its glory.

Here too we see Aslan, who despite trying to meddle little in this world, appears a few times to help people do the right thing and puts his final paw into it.

We are now in the third book, other protagonists appear and we see Narnia through different eyes. We get to know another side, a little less green and happy.

In the fourth book we meet Caspian and our four heroes return to their beloved land, once again to bring it back to peace.

In the fifth only some of our protagonists return to their favourite world, with a new travelling companion.
Together they embark on adventures, explore to the ends of the earth and grow up, the thing Lewis was most keen to emphasise.

The sixth book introduces us to another protagonist who goes to Narnia thanks to a known guide. Here we learn about other creatures and other hidden gems of this gigantic world.

The last, the last battle, is just as it sounds. We see Narnia for the last time, and the ending will leave all readers open-mouthed (and with a few tears), so to talk about it properly let’s move to the “spoiler” part.

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Short commentary on the characters (with semi-spoilers)

It is complicated to judge the main characters as you would judge those in another book. The various characters in Narnia and their journey always represent something.

Characters often change and fall flat over the course of the book. They become more and less depending on the author’s need.

For example from Lucy’s book you can take Edmund, who at the beginning has a definite character but when he grows up he becomes just like Peter (a responsible older brother). A very similar thing happens to Eustace Scrubb, who eventually becomes very much like Edmund.

This must be kept in mind when reading, C S Lewis gives much more weight to world-building and the meaning of things than to bringing characters to life. And this is a choice he made consciously in the course of the book.

Review (with spoilers)

Many have complained and to this day continue to be disappointed with the ending of Narnia.

Many of the stories in this saga end exactly as you would expect from a children’s saga, with a happy ending.

The last one, however, has a bitter sweet taste. For as much as the last pages are positive and happy for the characters, the reader is still weeping for what their happiness means.

Susan’s abandonment.

After the appearance of the three Pevensie brothers, one is immediately aware of the great void – where is Susan? And above all, how can the brothers be there if they were never to return?

We have to wait a few pages but then we are given the answer and it is not positive.

We are told that the three brothers, and ALL the people who have ever been to Narnia, died in a train accident. They were returning from a party organised in honour of Narnia because even though they had grown up, they never stopped believing in it.

Susan did. She never went to that party, she thought that all the adventures, the whole life she had lived in Narnia was a dream. Just an illusion.

That is why she concentrated on adult life and never spoke of ‘this stupid game’ with her brothers again. And so she never went to that dinner, thus remaining the only survivor of the family, alone.

Many people don’t like this ending and I must say that I was also quite devastated by it, one of the things that annoyed me most was that Susan is mentioned for a page and then never spoken of again.

Then the siblings are happy in the real Narnia (paradise) and feel at peace without a care in the world. (Even the loss of the Narnia we have known hurts a bit).

And for goodness sake, I understand the Christian allegory behind it. There is no suffering in heaven.

But that is not to say that this breaks readers’ hearts a little.

One thing I want to point out, though, that many people don’t understand about the ending is this:
Aslan did not kill all those people.

Sad as it is, Aslan did not kill them, that was not the point.

Once you know the writer’s life and the strong Christian allegory, it is easy to understand the meaning of the ending.

Aslan is Jesus to the writer and he certainly did not mean him as a murderer of innocents. Aslan simply opened the doors of Narnia to believers, while Susan, who no longer believed, did not have the opportunity to have this benefit.

And death is not seen as suffering but rather as grace, the road to eternal happiness. (don’t take it literally stay alive, thank you).

Susan is a symbol, she is C.S. Lewis.

Susan represented the writer, who had lost his faith in his youth, so like him she is destined to find it again.

But Lewis never wanted to write Susan’s book because it would have dealt with topics too dark for the level of what he usually wrote. So he left it to the reader to finish the story.

The article ends here I hope you found it useful, remember to follow me on Pinterest and subscribe to the newsletter so you don’t miss out on new articles, happy reading!!!

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