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Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Chronicles of Narnia: Renowned for a Reason

I remember my dear mother introducing me to the works of C.S. Lewis in a small, Christian book store. She took the liberty of purchasing all seven books of The Chronicles of Narnia for me when I was seven, promising that I would be provided with the acclaimed radio dramas produced by Focus on the Family Radio Theatre based on that series. I read through the whole series in a year, with the exception of The Silver Chair. I cannot of course say that I fully appreciated the greatness of this series at such a young age, but even then I was undoubtedly enthralled by them, and returned to them for many years afterward.

The Chronicles of Narnia is a high fantasy adventure series, telling of the adventures of a group of humans from our world, living in the first half of the twentieth century, and their adventures in the fantastical land of Narnia. Narnia is a land of magic, mythical beasts, and talking animals, ruled by the noble lion, Aslan. The first of the seven books written and published in the series was The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe, and the last published was The Last Battle. However, Lewis worked with an eager fan to have the series organized in chronological order, so that they began with The Magician's Nephew and ended with The Last Battle, having Wardrobe coming second. To make matters even more complicated, the books actually written in yet another different order.

The thing about all of Lewis' fiction, insofar as I have read, is that he manages to successfully combine Rule of Fun with Rule of Symbolism. Each of the books in the Narnia saga manages to present an allegory of some sort, and Lewis loved allegory. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was an allegory about Christ's sacrifice. The fifth book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, is an allegory about the walk of a Christian's life. The Last Battle, clearly enough, is an allegory about the end times. Even Prince Caspian, the least popular book in the series, though one of my personal favorites, has themes about restoration of true faith after a period of spiritual hibernation.

Other, more overarching themes present in all the books are faith, forgiveness, love, patriotism, friendship, creation, corruption, sacrifice, and redemption. To put it another way, every book has something to say about something important, while at the same time telling a great story. The conversational, Lemony narration present throughout the books draws the reader in, making her hang on to the last period. Of course, Lewis' writing style in this series matures as time goes on, but retains that unique flavor that all great authors have. This is particularly evident if you read the books in publication order, though I myself have only read them in chronological order. Perhaps I will try the former pattern next time I read the series.

My favorite book in the series is most certainly The Horse and His Boy. Although it has been criticized by some fans due to its standalone nature, this installment in the Narnia saga is very near and dear to me. I like it because it is not only a wonderful adventure story, but because of the allegory it contains. That allegory is of a person's journey from being an unbeliever to being a Christian. This is represented not only in the literal journey to Narnia as depicted in the book, but also in the book's three central characters, Shasta, Bree, and Aravis, as they change and develop throughout the story. It also plays host to one of my favorite female characters in all of literature, Aravis, and also one of the most memorable characters in the whole Narnia series, a talking warhorse named Bree. It may be the odd-man out in the series, but it's probably the most memorable.

Due to being very, very good books, The Chronicles of Narnia are also incredibly popular, having been translated into 47 languages, with more than 100 million copies sold. They have all been in print continuously since their original publication in the 1950s, and they don't look like they'll be running out of steam any time soon. In addition, Focus on the Family Radio Theatre made a series of audio dramas based on the books in the early 2000s, and they even aired on BBC Radio in 2005. They are all excellent, if slightly abridged, productions which I absolutely loved. I highly recommend them.

There are also the various Narnia film adaptations. I haven't seen the BBC adaptations, and I therefore will reserve judgement until I do. In the meantime, the more recent film adaptations done by Walden Media, Disney, and 20th Century Fox, are a more complex case. Their adaptation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was quite good, without a doubt the best of those made. I originally was pretty hostile to the adaptation of Prince Caspian due to the film's flagrant deviations from the source material, not mention a few glaring plot holes. However, it was still a fairly good film. The adaptation of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, however, is a sad case. To cut a long story short, it deviated from the source material even more than the previous film, and wasn't even a good movie, for a variety reasons which we won't go into here. True, there were some good things about it, but it was mostly bad. There is an adaptation of The Silver Chair currently in the works, and I hope that it will redeem the series. Until then, my experience with the cinematic Narnia has been sadly stunted.

In short, The Chronicles of Narnia are a remarkable series which everyone should read. That's right, everyone. Douglas Gresham, Lewis' stepson, has said that those who believe that these books are for children only are "sadly mistaken." These books speak to people of all ages, and will be found entertaining for different reasons by children and adults alike. They contain great wisdom, great storytelling, and great writing. Narnia is something I have loved since childhood, and hope to continue loving well into my adulthood, where I will share them with the younger generation. Until then, Lewis' most famous work is the primary reason that Lewis is among the most prominent of my influences, and for that, I once again salute him.

Image courtesy of vintagenovels.com