The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe

Star summary: 

5- warm, rich writing full of wisdom; immense value as an allegory of salvation; believable & memorable characters & setting; intriguing plot with unexpected twists and layers (the requisite prophecy and self-sacrifice); ground-breaking work as the first allegorical true fantasy for children.

** This book was written first in the series, and is the most well-known, but it occurs second in the series' chronology.

Summary: Four siblings- Peter, Susan, Edmund & Lucy- enter the fantastical world of Narnia through a magical wardrobe in the home of the Professor. Lucy, the youngest, enters first, and makes friends with a faun (Mr. Tumnus) under a solitary iron lamp-post in a snowy forest. She finds that Narnia is under the control of the White Witch, who has made it "always winter and never Christmas." Her friend confides that he himself was under orders to surrender any children into the Witch's care, but he lets her return home through the wardrobe. When she returns, she finds her brothers and sisters do not believe her. One, Edmund, is particularly nasty, teasing her relentlessly and calling her crazy. He secretly follows her through the wardrobe a few days later, meeting the White Witch herself, and falls under her spell through enchanted Turkish Delight. He agrees to bring his brother and sisters to her castle, and returns home. However, he lies to Peter & Susan, saying that he was only playing a game with Lucy, and that there is no Narnia. Lucy is crushed, and the older two are confused. Finally, one fateful day, all four children hide in the wardrobe and find themselves in Narnia. Edmund's deceit is revealed, and in his anger he runs away to the White Witch. Meanwhile, the children take refuge with Mr. & Mrs. Beaver, who explain that the true King of Narnia is Aslan, the Great Lion, Son of the Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea, and that his coming will end the White Witch's reign and her life. The children are to be a part of this, for so runs an ancient prophecy. A race begins across Narnia, with some creatures helping the children, and others helping the Witch, until finally Peter, Susan and Lucy reach Aslan, while Edmund finds himself imprisoned by the evil Witch in whom he had trusted. Aslan promises to help Edmund, and this he does, through one of the most beautiful Gospel analogies in all of literature. In his own death and resurrection he pays for Edmund's sin and ransoms his life. Edmund is forever changed, joining in the fight against the White Witch, whole and happy again. The Battle for Narnia ends with the White Witch overthrown, all those whom she had turned to stone set free, and the four Pevensie children set up as Kings & Queens in Narnia. So they reign for years, until a hunt leads them to the old Lamp Post again, and they stumble back through the wardrobe... their old selves again.

Cautions? Witches who imprison little boys, turn creatures into stones, hags, talking wolves, demons and other creatures of the dark are all frightening. Aslan's death is extremely well-done; appropriately heart-wrenching, yet tastefully so.

Themes? The price and nature of sin; Edmund is led to sell his very own siblings for some Turkish Delight (a type of sweet)-- which leaves him hungrier and more unhappy, and in the end cost him his very life and liberty. The goodness and wildness, as it were, of God- Mr. Beaver's description of Aslan as good but not safe is one of my favorite descriptions of God in all of literature. Truth v. lies- these come up in the children's conversations with the Professor, who points out that something seemingly outrageous may well be worth believing in, indeed may be the only logical thing to do.

Bottom line? Children are meant to see themselves in Edmund, whose sin enslaves him and leads him to betray his own siblings. Aslan represents Jesus, the good, powerful, untame King who died to ransom sinners and set them free, and to set right everything the White Witch (Satan) has put wrong. Children will be moved to love Aslan as the Pevensie children do. There is a reality beyond what we can see with our own eyes-- perhaps even nearer than a wardrobe door.

Talking points:
- Edmund's drawing into

Appropriate audience: 3rd grade reading level, but will hold the interest of adults. As a read-aloud, age 4 & up.

Stars: Historically, this book set the stage for all children's fantasy, and brought allegorical "morality plays" to a new level of richness. One of Lewis' most winsome qualities is his narrative voice, who is wry, insightful, humorous, and compassionate. One gets the feeling that he understands children and their parents very well. The prose is rich, and ultimately quotable. The characters are delightfully believable, and the fantastical creatures fit in seamlessly. (The only "cardboard character" is the White Witch, and I believe this is appropriate-- she stands in for Satan, who is fearful, proud, cunning, wholly evil, and single-minded in his pursuit to rule.) I honestly cannot think of a better book for a child to read.

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