Imagine you’re a teenager in Britain whose godfather is the writer extraordinaire C.S. Lewis. One day he comes to visit and presents you with his latest manuscript. Not only does he use your name as one of the main characters, he dedicates the book to you. That’s exactly what happened to Lucy Barfield in May of 1950.
I hope that by now everyone who reads The Scriblerians would already be aware of The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, but in case I’m wrong, let me introduce you. The first book published in this series of seven is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Set in 1940 England as well as in the fantastical land of Narnia, the story highlights the adventures of Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy when they walk into a magical wardrobe and find themselves in a different world.
While the children do become heroes as they fight epic battles against evil, another hero outshines them all, beyond what any excellent king or queen of Narnia would ever hope to accomplish. Aslan, the great and terrifying Lion. (“’Course he’s not safe, but he’s good. He’s the King.”) He knows the deepest magic, and he sacrifices himself for the unworthy.
“Hmmm, 1950,” you’re thinking. “The world was more conservative then. I bet this book was accepted with open arms by the reading public. What wonderful lessons for our children!”
Think again. The literary leaders in the U.K. had already been bitten by liberal theology. Strike one: the book was fantasy, not realism. Stories of witches and make-believe worlds should only be in picture books for little children. Strike 2: using a novel to display an obvious Christian allegory was a method of brainwashing older children. Strike 3: the story was too violent. Children might be frightened.
However, Lewis and his publisher did not strike out. Children loved the book, and it sold, and it sold, and it sold.
Later, in some fundamentalist circles in America, he had the opposite problem. The word, “witch,” was in the title. What kind of Christian author writes about witches? While I was teaching in a Christian school in the 1990’s, one of my students was not allowed to read the book in our literature unit.
In recent years, movies have been made that remain quite true to the novel, but if you haven’t read it yet, READ IT! Words on the page of a classic can outperform the best actors and scripts every time. And once you’ve read it, keep going.
My advice? Don’t read them in order of publication. The Magician’s Nephew has so many delicious secrets to reveal, it would be a shame to miss odd details throughout the series by reading it last! Either read them in chronological order of the characters’ adventures, which means start with The Magician’s Nephew, or do what I used to with my fifth grade classes. I read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe aloud first, followed by The Magician’s Nephew. The final chapter elicited so many delighted “ahas,” the local library had a difficult time keeping Prince Caspian and the other four books on the shelves!
Short survey: which of the seven books in the Chronicles of Narnia is your favorite? My best friend loves The Last Battle. Mine is the Magician’s Nephew.