When four children (Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy) are relocated from their home and sent to a large country estate during wartime in Britain, they find a large wardrobe in an empty room that, upon entering, takes them into the magical land of Narnia. It is a beautiful, snowy land inhabited by talking animals and mythical beasts. But they soon discover that the snow is a wintery curse cast by the evil White Witch who, in fear of an ancient prophecy which names the four children as the true Kings and Queens of Narnia, seduces Edmund and attempts to use him to betray his siblings. But she is too late, as the ancient and powerful lion Aslan, lord of Narnia, returns to the land, and her magic begins to fade and spring once more returns to Narnia. Her last chance now being a desperate and bloody battle to rid Narnia of Aslan and the children, lest she be killed or exiled.
The book is written in a clear style that speaks directly to a young audience without pandering to them or being condescending. The brisk prose uses powerful imagery in short bursts, preventing the reader from getting distracted from the plot or the characters. And the characters also well represent the different facets of a child’s personality – each one effectively giving the reader something different to relate to and associate with. And though the Christian imagery is both strong and recurring throughout the book, Lewis himself swore that this book is not allegorical at all, but merely a fairy tale to entertain children.
Perhaps most surprising is the violence and brutality of the book. The narrative is clearly for a very young audience and the violence is so under-used that when it suddenly appears it has real weight and tension to it. Edmund goes very quickly from being in the Witches favor to being mistreated; he has fulfilled his purpose to her and she has no real need of him. Where only a chapter previously he was being treated as important and special, the story declines quickly to a point where the Witch punches him in the face for speaking out of turn, and two chapters later we see her preparing to slit his throat in the forest; and of course, the culminating low point is seen when she tortures and mutilates Aslan before executing him only several more chapters after this.
The Chronicles of Narnia is Lewis’s seminal work, and that for which he is most well known. And like his contemporary, Tolkien with The Hobbit, his name is established in English speaking cultures around the world. Unlike Tolkien, who chose to focus on the journey and even used the world itself almost as a main character, Lewis uses Narnia as a springboard and he leaps between scenes to keep the pace brisk and exciting between action, accounting for the limited attention spans of children nicely.
Lewis clearly wrote for children, whereas Tolkien wrote for a wider demographic; stories set in Middle-Earth being deeper and more mature than those of Narnia. But perhaps this is the defining strength of Lewis’s work – Tolkien alienates the youngest readers, whereas Lewis is able not only entertain them, but to speak directly to them. Despite Tolkien’s clearly massive influence on the fantasy genre, it could be argued that Lewis is the more influential of the two – his work is enjoyed and appreciated earlier in life, and this in turn grows the interest which will later lead readers on to Middle Earth and beyond.
As a novel it is riddled with plot holes and flaws, but as a children’s book this is acceptable – the intended audience don’t need deep backstory or contexts to get enjoyment; if anything, the lack of over-writing makes this an exceptionally well written book. Despite being set during late the late Edwardian period the book has stood the test of time relatively well – though some colloquialisms and idiosyncrasies do exist which will date the book to modern readers.
A classic, and an instant favorite for many children, and a beloved memory for many adults: it is worth reading again to relive your youth, and even though there are countless film and TV adaptations, I think you will find that while reading this book you will not be limited to those visuals and will adequately incorporate your nostalgia with your imagination.