I try not to spoil too much here, but I do spoil The Last Battle pretty well, so I’ll try to mark the spoiler area somehow in the post.
The first two chapters of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe* were in my fifth grade reading textbook. I was reading ahead in the book because “bring an outside book to keep you entertained during downtime” wasn’t really a thing when I found them.
They were way back in the back of the book, and I had little hope that we would ever get there.** So pretty much every time I had a chance to sneak a peek at that section of the book, I would do so.
I didn’t realize that some of what we read was excerpts from longer works, so when a story just kind of stopped, it was pretty normal to me. We did make it to those chapters, though, and my teacher told us that this was part of the book, which was part of the series. The next time my mom and I went to the library, I picked up the entire book, which led to me getting the next book, and the next, until I finished the series.
I checked them out over and over, until finally my mom bought the books for me in paperback. I still have them. I cannot get to them right now, though, because Alex’s bar stools are in the way.
If you’re one of the three people in the English-speaking world who has never heard of the Chronicles of Narnia (though there are probably more in non-English-speaking countries), here’s a basic rundown of the plot.
Should I do this in book order or in plot order? Can I somehow hybridize the two?
The flagship book in the series is the above-mentioned The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. This is the story of the Pevensie kids, particularly the youngest child, Lucy, who are sent away into the countryside to the home of a family friend, Professor Kirke, during the London Blitz during World War II.
During a game of hide-and-seek, Lucy hides in a wardrobe. The wardrobe is roomier than she’d expect. It’s full of fur coats which, as she walks farther into the wardrobe, eventually become (may C.S. Lewis forgive me the inaccuracy and the pun) fir trees. She emerges into a clearing in a snowy winter forest with an old-fashioned lamp post in the center. There she meets a faun named Tumnus, and he takes her home for tea.
When she returns hours later, only a few minutes has passed for her siblings and they don’t believe her. Eventually they do, and they end up going on a quest to save Edmund, the younger of the two boys.
The book ends with the crucifixion and resurrection of the lion Aslan, which kind of shocked me when I first read it. I thought that Lewis was mocking the death and resurrection of Jesus. It didn’t stop me from loving the series, but still.
Now, let’s do this chronologically. My series of books is in the order in which the books were written, but nowadays they sell them in chronological order.
The series tracks the entire existence of the land of Narnia. I guess that entire plane of existence, really, since there are other countries than Narnia.
We begin with The Magician’s Nephew, in which a preteen named Digory Kirke*** is living with his uncle, who has made pairs of magical rings that will allow one to travel between worlds. Digory and his friend Polly end up traveling from world to world, where they watch Aslan create Narnia.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe comes next, and the following book, The Horse and His Boy, takes place during the events of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
Then there are three more books, which chart the family of Caspian, a prince of Narnia, and their interactions with the Pevensies and their cousin Eustace.
The final book in the series, The Last Battle, caps the series with the destruction of Narnia. The Last Battle is pretty controversial for several reasons.
It has a rather interesting take on the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. Aslan allows non-believers into heaven based on their acts rather than their beliefs. That’s the Sheep and the Goats right there, but I know more than one Christian who is horrified by the thought.
Spoilers ahead! Awoogah! Awoogah!
Then there’s Susan. I may end up breaking this off into its own post if I end up going on too long on this.
The Pevensie kids, Professor Kirke, Polly, Eustace, and Jill are waiting on a train platform and the train somehow collides with the platform. They go to heaven, where they are joined by the Pevensie kids’ parents. Susan, who has become a pretty typical young adult, with interests in fashion and dating, is not there.
Some people take the parents’ presence as proof that we’re in the human end-time as well or something and that Susan went to hell. Further, since Polly and Professor Kirke speak disdainfully of Susan’s interest in fashion (which is likely CS Lewis’s own opinion — I never said there was no misogyny in his work, just that Susan doesn’t go to hell for it), fashion and boys must be the reason that she went to hell.
But Susan isn’t dead. The Pevensie kids’ parents were on the train. They all died at roughly the same time.
If Susan isn’t allowed into heaven, it’s not because of boys and makeup. It’s because she no longer believes. Lucy had said something to Susan about Aslan or Narnia and Susan said that she remembered that fun game they played when they were kids. So, yeah, she’s lost her faith.
Of course, even that’s no guarantee that she won’t go to heaven because of the Sheep and Goats part. Even without faith in Aslan, if you feed the hungry, house the homeless, heal the sick, etc., you still can get into heaven. It works for Emeth in The Last Battle, after all.
Though I do feel very sorry for Susan. She lost her entire family — parents, siblings, even her cousin Eustace and the beloved family friend Professor Kirke, all in one shot. I cannot imagine how devastated she must have been. I hope she had good friends to support her through that time of difficulty.
I do have some criticisms of the books. There is definitely some Islamophobia in there with the Narnians’ enemies the Calormen, who come across as Muslims were portrayed in the Crusades. I think he rethought some of this, though, because in The Last Battle, we see Tash (the Calormene god), who is more Hindu diety-esque (not an improvement) than a stand-in for Allah.
There’s also the sexism inherent in the portrayal of Susan, which I noted above. As a person on the ace spectrum who isn’t very into makeup and things (I love to wear dresses because they make it so easy to be comfortable and still kind of fashionable), I found Lucy’s refusal to go that direction to be a comfort, but I totally can see how someone on the allo, fashion and makeup end would find the portrayal of Susan to be offputting.
*there is no Oxford Comma in this title, which is odd, because Lewis attended Oxford. I’m just kidding. Probably.
** I stopped in the middle of this sentence to see if I maybe had a solution to my ongoing desire to show how I edit as I write using Word’s “track changes” feature. It didn’t work the first time I tried, so I’m going to research it and come back to it later. For now, writing.
*** Notice the last name? Yep. He’s the professor from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.