Book #9: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
- Though The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was the first book C.S. Lewis wrote in the Chronicles of Narnia series, the book is second in the chronological order of the series. The Magician’s Nephew precedes it.
- The Chronicles of Narnia has sold over 100 million copies and has been published in 47 languages since The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was first published in 1950.
- The movie based on the book was released in 2005 and has grossed $745 million, currently making it the 37th highest-grossing film of all time worldwide.
- It All Began With A Picture is an essay by Narnia author C.S. Lewis in which he describes the origins of the Narnia series.
- Lewis was an atheist-turned-Christian who also wrote The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity, The Space Trilogy, and countless other fiction and non-fiction books.
- Lewis died on November 22, 1963—the same day as John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
“Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids.”
Finally, a short and easy read. Thank you, C.S. Lewis. But that’s not the only bonus of this book—it’s also my first re-read on the Time list. At 208 small pages, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe will probably be my quickest read of the 101.
I’m sure you know the story, but here’s a quick recap: Four siblings, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, are relocated to a mysterious, large house of “the professor” during World War II in England. While exploring the house, they stumble across a magical wardrobe that connects to the fantasy land of Narnia—a land with dwarves, giants, centaurs, minotaurs, dryads, witches, talking beavers and wolves. It’s kind of like The Lord of the Rings without the hobbits.
Narnia has long prophesied about the eventual coming of the four—known as “the sons of Adam” and “the daughters of Eve.” Once they stumbled into Narnia (Lucy first, followed by Edmund, and then the whole group), they realize that a war is brewing between the White Witch and Aslan—a god-like lion who’s got most of the country on his side. The witch has enchanted Narnia and made it “always winter but never Christmas.” Did C.S. Lewis know how to connect with kids or what?
The kids get caught up in the middle of all of it. Edmund betrays his peeps for the White Witch, and Aslan sacrifices himself (but resurrects the next morning) in order to keep Edmund alive. In the end, the good guys win and the four children sit on the throne…that is, before they stumble back through the wardrobe into their normal lives where time stood still.
This is a classic children’s novel. C.S. Lewis said he dreamed up the plot after seeing a painting of a faun carrying an umbrella in snowy woods. In his essay entitled It All Began with a Picture, he said, “this picture has been in my mind since I was about sixteen. Then one day, when I was about forty, I said to myself: ‘Let’s try to make a story about it.’” From there, Narnia was born.
The book is loaded with symbolism. Lewis drew heavily from his Christian roots while creating the story. The main plotline in is an allegory of Christ’s crucifixion. Just a few examples: Aslan is the Christ-like figure who gives himself up for a traitor, Edmund, to an angry mob who ridicules and mocks him. The Stone Table on which Aslan dies parallels the cross on which Christ was crucified. Susan and Lucy, much like Mary Magdelene and the women in the gospels, are the first to witness the resurrected Aslan.
While some people criticized Lewis for trying to “indoctrinate” children, I believe a good story is a good story. And that’s what Lewis created. For years, authors have been writing allegories to Christ’s death. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe has to top the list.
On a personal note, I’ve always been a fan of Lewis’ writing. Mere Christianity was a book that marked a turning point in my life, so I’m obviously a bit biased and fond of his work. I love authors with a knack for verbalizing thoughts and feelings in ways that I myself can’t articulate. It’s a testament to C.S. Lewis that he can take theology and melt it down to something readable for ten year olds.
As you can imagine, the writing is simple, straightforward, and easy to understand. If Hemingway wrote fantasy novels for children, he might write them like C.S. Lewis. This is not Cormac McCarthy or Thomas Pynchon. Nothing heady here. But, at the same time, Lewis manages to write beautiful prose that creates vivid mental images—kind of like McCarthy without the stark, barren wasteland, blood and gore.
Most, if not all, of the books on Time’s list are timeless (pun intended?). That’s what makes a great book. The story itself carries on for years and years after its author is gone. There is no exception here. Whether or not you read the books as a kid, Lewis somehow manages to carry you back to your childhood—when your imagination was wide open and anything could happen.
Several years from now, I look forward to introducing my son to Aslan, the White Witch, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, Tumnus, the Beavers, and the land of Narnia. It’s really an amazing series of books. If you haven’t read them, then go read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe…like, now. It will take about two hours, if that, to read. Thank me later.
The Meaning: As I mentioned above, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is a Christian allegory. Even if you choose to not dig deeper into its meaning, the story itself is still amazing. Redemption. Sacrifice. Forgiveness. Honor. It’s all right there.
Highlights: Can it get any better than the moment in which the Stone Table cracks and Aslan comes back to life—with a full mane of hair, no less? Great scene.
Lowlights: Thanks to the movie, I kept imagining all of the actors while I was reading the book. That totally messed me up. Granted, Tilda Swinton was pretty creepy as the White Witch. But that’s why, whenever possible, read the book first or you’ve cheated yourself. Some Hollywood casting director has told you what the characters should look like. I’ve read this book before, but it’s been a long time.
Memorable Line: “Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight / At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more / When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death / And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.” – Old rhyme cited by Mr. Beaver
Final Thoughts: If you are a kid or ever once were a kid, you should read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It’s an amazing story by an amazing writer.
Up Next: Rabbit, Run