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!