Monday, February 21, 2011

Book Review: The Chronicles of Narnia Series

It is really quite shocking to me that I have gone 45 years of my life without reading this famous series, especially since I spent four years of my life transcribing the personal letters of C.S. Lewis and often reading comments in reference to the Narnia books. I did attempt to read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, to Bryce several years back, when he was probably 7. It didn't go well. I think the only thing he would remember from our progress in that book (we read probably 2/3 before he lost interest) was the image of young Edmund and his insatiable desire for more Turkish Delight.

Bryce, God-love-him, may never be a willing reader ... but his brothers still hold great promise. Trevor has been roused by every single commercial he saw for the "Voyage of the Dawn Treader" movie. Of course, I always hate to take them to a movie based upon a book unless we have already read the book together (what a fuddy-dud, I know!).

Thus, in early January, the two little boys and I began reading The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. At 4 and 6, they didn't last long either, but I remembered that I had picked up an excellent comic version of the book in the discarded books at the DeKalb Public Library many years ago. This one was far easier for them to stick with and still follow the story. Trevor loved it so much that he begged to photocopy one of the glorious pages inside (the page revealing the grand battle between the witch's allies and Aslan's army). Indeed, if you are looking for an excellent introduction to the Narnia books for those too young for the full novel, this is a steal through Amazon for used copies starting at only $2.43!

After we finished reading the book, we rented the movie. Trevor watched the whole thing with me. Sean gave up about 20 minutes into it. By this point, it was clear to me that we would never make it through the novels leading up to the "Voyage" book. I gave up that lofty goal and decided I would continue reading them for myself. I was sad to discover that the very day I finished reading the "Voyage" book, the movie was no longer showing in our theaters. Oh well.

When I worked at the Marion E. Wade Center, transcribing Lewis' letters, I had the privilege of meeting Douglas Gresham (C.S. Lewis' stepson). He was there doing his own research into Lewis' life and letters. We sat at the same grand table, in the collection, working together and even went to the Stupe to chat. He was utterly delightful. We made a pact that whichever one of us published our book first would send off a signed copy to the other. Alas, I have a copy of his Lenten Lands, but will he ever get a copy of a published book with my name on it? I have also seen one of his three produced movies.

As for the books, there were certainly some I enjoyed more than others. I'm glad I read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe first or I might not have been quite as interested in Narnia. I was aware of the issue of what order to read the books in, but couldn't really remember what the advice was (to read them in the order they were published), so I read them in the order that the Scholastic book set comes in after finishing LWW (Scholastic puts them in roughly chronological order for Narnian time).

I appreciated reading the books and catching glimpses of deeper spiritual truths within the story. But, I also wondered how it might have felt to have read them for myself when I was yet a child. I am hoping that I can read the series to my younger boys when they are a bit older. There is so much to chew on within these books. They are truly a series you could read time and time again and, with each reading, glean new fodder to consider.

I think my favorite part of all was coming to the end of The Last Battle. It was a glorious moment, full of such a strange mixture of sadness and joy. Finishing the books, no doubt, felt a lot like finishing one's life journey. There is the grief that such grand adventures are coming to an end, but also a wondrous reunion with those we have encountered before and a clear vision of eternity.


Amy Sorensen said...

I am glad you have filled in this serious gap in your education!!! ;) I did read these as a child and they had a serious impact on me. I'm not sure I can even say which is my favorite, but I know for certain I am thoroughly envious of your experience with Douglas Gresham. That is something to remember!

Wendy said...

Amy, you are lucky to have read these in your youth. And, indeed, I was lucky to form a friendship with Doug Gresham. We rekindled it for a while a few years back, but then lost touch again.