- Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
- ISBN: 0060764899
- Published: October 16, 1950
They opened a door and entered a world–Narnia–the land beyond the wardrobe, the secret country known only to Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. Lucy is the first to stumble through the back of the enormous wardrobe in the professor’s mysterious old country house, discovering the magic world beyond. At first, no one believes her. But soon Edmund, Peter and Susan, too, discover the magic and meet Aslan, the Great Lion, for themselves. And in the blink of an eye, they are changed forever.
What I Liked
This is the first time I’ve read any of the Narnia books since I first read them in 2nd or 3rd grade. This first book is definitely enjoyable, as I remembered it. I was surprised to find how little the children actually do–the overall struggle and the events in the book happen pretty independent of them. What really incites the main action in the book is Edmund finding himself as bait for Aslan, but that happened because he was the first human boy unlucky enough to encounter the White Queen. I don’t think there was anything in particular about these children that meant the prophecy was about THEM, specifically–reading the book, it felt like they were just the first four kids to wander into Narnia and get caught up in the prophesy. The fight between Aslan and the White Queen, and the greater forces that are apparently at work, were an issue long before the children got to Narnia, and I got the sense those forces will keep doing their thing once the children are back in England. (I read the entire series, but I have a dim memory of the books–I’m curious to read the rest now.)
This idea of the children being bit players in a larger struggle was a surprise, and I think it makes the Christian allegory a little clearer for me–in an unexpected way. If you think of the children as stand-ins for humanity, the book is making a theological statement about humanity’s place in the world, and our relationship to those greater forces. The book is also a more interesting hero tale variation than I thought–the children do have a hero’s journey, but Aslan has a far more traditional one, albeit a journey we only see the final stages of. The ending of the book is kind of a giant unanswered question for me: how do you, after living out a full lifetime in a magical kingdom–after ruling that kingdom–do you then live as a child in decidedly non-magical England? What choices do you make? How does that inform the rest of your life? I know the rest of the books focus on Narnia, but I would love to read more about what happens to these kids as they try to navigate their old lives. (I think some of them do go back to Narnia? I don’t remember.)
I’m using this book as one of my hero tale literature circle options, and I’ll probably write about how that goes. I like how the backdrop of the book is England in WWII–that gives some interesting context, and students can read the fantasy elements from that perspective. There is the Christian allegory, obviously (more for high schoolers to explore, I think), and I think there’s a lot in here about the nature of good and evil. One thing that really struck me is that we don’t really see much about the White Queen’s reign; when Edmund is unconvinced that the White Queen is on the bad side and that they should automatically believe the animals and the faun, I was actually agreeing with him. The only evidence they had was what the animals had told them, and the only concrete things the animals said about how she was evil was that a.) she turned animals into stone, and b.) it was always winter and never Christmas. Which is not great, and she is definitely shady towards Edmund, but there’s really nothing from what the animals say to the children (or from what I can see) that indicates she was a terrible ruler. How quickly the other children just accept that she’s bad is interesting, as is the lack of specific evidence to that, and of course there’s Edmund’s redemption arc and the nature of Aslan himself.
The language and writing style can be a little difficult for students who aren’t familiar with it, but it’s a classic middle grade series.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
- - Great world-building
- - Classic MG fantasy series
- - WWII historical context
- - Not typical hero tale narrative
- - Writing is kind of distant
- - I had a hard time caring about the characters
- - Some annoying sexism
- - Too much tell, not enough show for me