Dear THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA by C.S. Lewis: Some unexpected mixed emotions

Dear The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis:

We have a bit of a long, complicated relationship, you and I. Unlike so many other people my age, for some reason I didn’t read you when I was younger. Instead, I started reading you for the first time a few years ago and, over the span of many months, I finally managed to finish reading you. The fantasy genre was my first true bookish love–fantasy series like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings and Eragon were what helped make me the bookworm I am today. Everyone was always surprised that I hadn’t read you yet because they were convinced that I would really like you as well.

But… I hate to say this, but I had some mixed feelings about you, Chronicles of Narnia.

Let me start with all of the things I really enjoyed about you. By far my favorite installments in this series were The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, and Voyage of the Dawn Treader. These three novels seemed the most action-packed to me in a way that made somewhat logical sense and still incorporated some of my favorite characters (those being the beloved crew of the Pevensie children). For the most part, these adventures were exciting and wondrous and fun and I was reassured by the comfort of returning to a happy ending again and again. The fantasy aspects of these books were also just so fun, and I know that younger Holly would definitely have enjoyed you a lot more than present Holly unfortunately did because of those magical elements.

And yet… something just felt off about you. Is it because you’re geared towards younger readers? Maybe, although I’ve read plenty of children’s books in recent years that I didn’t read when I was younger and absolutely adored them (I recently wrote a Top Ten Tuesday post all about such books here). While I know some stories tend to age better than others, I generally believe that children’s books can be enjoyed by readers of all ages–especially ones that have withstood the test of time, like you. (C.S. Lewis wrote your first book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, in 1949.) So while age may be a slight contributing factor here, I don’t think it was my main problem with you.

Instead, I guess my primary issue with you was a nagging feeling that although you were addressed to younger readers in your fun magical adventures and whimsical language and storytelling, your overarching themes of philosophy and religion seemed to be geared towards a different audience. At times Lewis’ message was subtle, but then suddenly (like in the last book) it would be so glaringly obvious that that was the kind of story he actually wanted to write. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with those themes of philosophy and religion being so heavily incorporated into children’s literature; in fact, I think those are some of the most interesting books to read. However, I just couldn’t help but feel like Lewis was actually trying to write a different series all along, or maybe his ideas would have been more effectively executed had you been written as a series for an older age group.

I most felt this way while reading your final installment, The Last Battle. I’m not going to say exactly what happens because it was such surprise in the beginning and I don’t want to majorly spoil anything, but it’s safe to say that I was shook when I first started reading this book. It took such a dark, twisted turn that seemed so out of place amidst the rest of the you, especially my three favorite books that I previously mentioned. Here we see Lewis’ religious themes really come to fruition, which was both brilliantly done and a bit jarring. Although these themes were cleverly woven throughout your many installments, you lacked the wonderful happy ending that I had expected from such fantastical, whimsical series.

I don’t mean to write a such a harsh letter to you, Chronicles of Narnia. I really do think you are brilliant and clever and a bit of a masterpiece–just not the one for me.

Wishing you the best!

Yours,

HOLLY

25 Replies to “Dear THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA by C.S. Lewis: Some unexpected mixed emotions”

  1. I do think that reading the Narnia books is different as a child versus an adult. When I was a child, I could see the obvious parallels like Aslan= Jesus and The Magician’s Nephew is a creation story and so forth. What was less clear to me were things like how Prince Caspian or even Voyage of the Dawn Treader were necessarily spiritual books. On the whole, I just enjoyed Narnia because I liked the world (even if it’s not as developed as some fantasy worlds) and I liked the adventure.

    Now that I’m older and have read a bunch of Lewis’s non-fiction, however, it’s easier for me to see how the books are him sort of working out his beliefs/philosophy in narrative form. This is also really interesting to me. It gives the books another layer. And, I think that’s important to keep me reading because sometimes the adventure and the world don’t live up to what I remember as a child. Prince Caspian, for instance, is, really, a very simple story. Boy runs away, finds allies, has a fight, the end. Not much happens.
    But, when I was a kid, this was a truly epic adventure.

    The Narnia books will probably never be the same to me now that I’m older. But, when I was a kid, they really were magical.

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    1. Thanks for sharing! That’s so interesting! I do think I would have a bit of a different perspective on them now if I new more of C.S. Lewis’ biblical references/philosophy in general. Just don’t think this series is necessarily my cup of tea overall!

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  2. My favourite book in the entire series is The Silver Chair, closely followed by The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. You’re absolutely right about the last book. To see Narnia fall from its days of glory ( talking beasts and other magical stuff) was hard to digest but it made sense that human values slowly eroded over time, if that is what it symbolised. The end however, jolted me. Susan did not deserve what she got. Towards the end it became exceedingly clear that Aslan was another form of God. It was probably C.S Lewis’ way of gently reminding his readers that even in the darkest of times, hope and faith will help you stay afloat. To me, these books are a treasure trove of happy childhood memories. But you are right, this series might not be for everyone.

    Wonderful post, as always, Holly!

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  3. we studied this in my english class last year which was good mostly. I read and adored the books as a kid but see now that it is a bit more complicated, which is interesting. Lewis certainly isn’t subtle, but I think it’s a mistake to assume that serious thoughts about spirituality can’t be compatible with writing for children, although Lews sacrifices coherency for his ideology at times

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    1. I don’t mean to say that serious thoughts about spirituality can’t be compatible with writing for children–just that I think he could have done a lot more with them and more explicitly and concretely talked about the nuances of his philosophy were this series written for an older audience.

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  4. The Silver Chair was (and remains) my favorite of this series when I was younger, though my second favorite has changed frequently. I re-read the whole series back-to-back at the end of last year, though, and I discovered something shocking: I hate The Last Battle. Not even listening to Patrick Stewart narrate it could save the book for me. (And I didn’t used to mind it.) I think part of it is the societal norms today vs. when this was written, but I think some of it is changes in me as a reader as well.

    I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy reading these as much as I remember enjoying them. But then again, I’m also sorry that I don’t enjoy them now the way I once did.

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    1. The Last Battle was SHOCKING to me–I literally had to rewind the audiobook at times and listen to certain parts again because I couldn’t believe what I was listening to. Such a strange, unsettling departure from the rest of the series. I’m so glad you felt a similar way!

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  5. The first time I read the series was in college when I was taking a C.S. Lewis class and we read them in the order they were written, which was different. I honestly can’t even remember what happened in the last book, but I’m sure it’s a reflection of Revelations in the Bible, right? I do remember enjoying them at the time, but I wonder how I’d feel about them now. Maybe someday I’ll give them a reread?? Great post!

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  6. So interesting! I read the books when I was a kid and to be honest I don’t remember them clearly enough to have a strong opinion but reading this does make me want to go back to them and see how I feel now.

    I quite like the feeling of reading classic children’s series as an adult. As this post proves, it provides an interesting perspective

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  7. I’ve only ever watched the Narnia movies, and never read the books. I’ve always postponed them, because although I loved the movies, I’ve read so many reviews of the books that have left me a bit reticent on reading them … :/

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