Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

In our household of avowed C.S.Lewis worshippers, this comes as heresy, but The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe was never a favourite of mine.

Certainly, climbing into a wardrobe only to find it a portal to another world was interesting, in the way that Dr Who's ever-expanding Tardis was interesting. And it was always pleasant to read about Turkish Delight. But the books I read over and again were more likely to feature heroines away in the exotic land of boarding school or dancing school, or in the unreachable past.

I didn't read it to the girls. They listened to it on tape again and again, utterly inhabiting the land of Narnia. They drew pictures and maps of it, made bows and arrows and shields and daggers, designed scenes and plays, wrote and posted letters to Aslan, creating a culture of Narnia in the privacy of their own conversations and their own room.  I never asked them if they had tried to enter Narnia through their own wardrobe but imagined their great disappointment when they discovered they could not.

It was the girls' devotion that put it on my list of Books To Read To Snowy. And this time I did read it, chapter by chapter, lunchtimes.

It's an odd book, dated in its language, full of nursery reassurances - meals, for example, continue to be regular and battles are concluded in time for the Pevensie's bedtime.  The dialogue is old fashioned to a 21st century ear, almost priggish, as when Edmund is speaking to Lucy:

"I say Lu! I'm sorry I didn't believe you. I see now you were right all along . Do come out. Make it Pax."

See kids, there is a point to Latin...

Yet when we reach the climax of the book,  when Aslan makes a  sacrifice of himself, murdered by the White Witch on the Stone Table,  to save the traitor Edmund,  Lewis reaches deep into the wellspring of  human sorrow and wisdom to give us a subversive, anti-cultural hero, in the way that Christ ( this story  being a Christian allegory after all ) or Gandhi  or the Buddha or Aung San Suu Kyi is a hero.

And this archetype, surrounded by talking beavers and marmalade rolls and Father Christmas, is what gives the novel its power and makes it endure. The moral of  this story being  that my daughters recognised the majesty of such a hero long before I did.

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