When I was in fifth grade we were given the choice of reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950) and The Indian in the Cupboard. All of the girls chose The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. All of the boys chose The Indian in the Cupboard. So, naturally, I chose to read The Indian in the Cupboard. I sure as hell wasn’t going to pick the “girlie” book. Now, I’m not sure why there was such the gender division amongst these books – they’re certainly not directed to either boys or girls in particular – but it kept me from reading C.S. Lewis for quite some time. Add to that the fact that I’ve never been a huge fan of fantasy – I despise The Hobbit, although I do like Harry Potter and my issues with His Dark Materials has less to the with the fantasy and more to do with Pullman’s interpretation of Milton (wow – that’s got to be the most pretentious thing I’ve ever said) – and you’ve got a sound explanation for why I’ve missed one of the most influential series in literature.
Given all that, I have this to say about finally entering Narnia: I really wish I had read this sooner. Lewis’s narrative voice is superb. I love how he interjects and speaks directly to the reader (a technique clearly borrowed by my beloved Lemony Snicket). The effect is that you’re drawn in as a storyteller, allowing you to view the story not through any one character’s eyes, but from the outside as a whole. You’re not forced to take anyone’s side. Whether this was an intentional lesson on Lewis’s part, I’m not sure, but it serves to promote the idea that there’s more than one way to look at a story and more than one way to judge a person.
The plot is fairly well-known by now. Four siblings enter a wardrobe and end up in the snowy Narnia, which has been cast into eternal winter by the evil White Witch. It is up to the kids, along with the lion Aslan and the many woodland creatures on their side, to defeat the White Witch and return Narnia to the happy state it once was. The Christian parallels are also fairly well-known: Aslan as a stand-in for the resurrected Christ, Edmund for the treasonous Judas, the White Witch for the tempter Satan, Turkish Delight for the apple. I won’t go into depth about this – again, I don’t have to because I’m not in college anymore – but I will say that the beauty of the book is that you can read it without paying heed to the Christian allusions at all and still enjoy a great story about adventure, betrayal, forgiveness, and family. It’s truly a story that I think all can relate to. And it’s not just for boys or for girls.
I leave you with a quote I particularly loved, regarding Edmund’s thoughts as Aslan’s coming prompts Narnia to thaw: “Unless you have looked at a world of snow as long as Edmund had been looking at it, you will hardly be able to imagine what a relief those green patches were after the endless white.” Oh, Edmund. I live in Chicago. Believe me, I know how you feel.