I recently read The Chronicles of Narnia (or rather I heard the audiobook), and I have a couple of hang-ups now that I am done with the series. So here er go:
A little background knowledge: I had most of the books read a loud to me as a child but had never read The Silver Chair or The Last Battle before now. I choose to read them in the same order as it was done to me as a child, based on Narnia Chronology, meaning The Magician’s Nephew comes first. Partly because I remembered it being my favorite!
The Magician’s Nephew tells the story of the creation of Narnia and the Christian allegory presents through out the series og made painfully clear from the get go if you read in this order. Not that that’s a negative, it still remains my favorite.
I felt the Christian-inspired creation much was carefully crafted and not as ostentatious as one might expect (and fear) of a book from the 50’s. The story highlights lessons of friendship and loyalty. I enjoyed the immense empowering of the voice of the children – and the treatment of our female lead is called into question. Lewis gives her a voice and let’s her speak out against societal misogyny. A groundbreaking thing considering the time it was written!
In The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe we them meet the Pevensee children that are synomenous with Narnia. The story is more fairytale-esque overall, however yhe resurrection of Aslan clearly Christian. The story is heavily focused on the role of family as well as tur battle of good and evil.
The role of Edmund is to blur the lines – he objectively sells out his siblings for a bit of candy, however, his motivations aren’t that clearly expressed. Personally, I see him as the middlechild who perhaps feels a bit forgotten, he desperatly wants to be one of ‘the older children’, he wants to feel important – something the White Witch makes him feel.
The story arch obviously makes him see the error of his ways and teaches the reader an immense lessons of repentance and forgiveness when Aslan takes his place. But it the return from Narnia Also illustrates (in my opinion) how you can’t live in a fantasy world forever. There is a distinction between the fantasy of Narnia and the real world.
I then skipped The Horse and His Boy as I remembered disliking it so much as a child and instead proceeded to Prince Caspian which had to major impact on my personally. It is a story of battle – but Also of belief, as Lucy believes in Aslan so wholeheartedly that she can see him when the others can’t. But really I can hardly remember how the conflict is resolved.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader on the other hand was my favorite (2nd to Magician’s Nephew). It is probably the story with the most subtle Chistian-allegory and it reminded me more of Gullivers Travel’s by Jonathan Swift than anything Narnia. There is great agency for all chracthers inbolves and especially Eustace goes on a journey of self-discovery, learning to become part of the group. He eventuelly becomes a very sweet boy (much to the diamant of his mother) and I loved how the story blended adventure, with lessons of growing-up and love into a seemless story.
The only drawback being the underlying racism I felt was present regarding the Duffers who apparently need a wise (Christian) to guide them through their stupid (uncultured) life. Also this is the book that expressively states that the children will know Aslan my another name (Jesus) in their own world.
The Silver Chair felt like a filler in in my opinion and served more as an introduction of the new main characters, Eustace and Jill, than anything else. However, the is a clear lesson or allegory about being lead into the darkness (away from Aslan/Narnia/Jesus) but that you can be saved and return to the light (of Christianity).
The there was The Last Battle which I already reviewed here on the blog. I expressed how I felt ‘cheated’ by this story (specifially the ending) as it seemed to to against many of the things I just described in this post. The ultimate Christian aspect of going to Aslan’s Country (heaven) just seemed like such a wrong way to end this epic, in my opinion. All the moral/value lessons that are present throughout are clearly Christian in nature, and I honestly loved the series so he religious aspect is not my hang-up.
Still something about The Last Battle just continues to feel wrong. Even now that I have had time to “call down” and think I am still unhappy. One aspect of it is the complete eradication of the Calormenes, (worshippers of Tash). Only a single Calormene is allowed into Aslan’s Country since his actions were good – and anything good is done in Aslan’s name, even if you don’t know it. But how can it be that not a single Calormene other than him was good at heart?! Soldiers follow orders and obey their leaders, and can in my opinion not be held individually resonsible – yet not a single Calormene is allowed into heaven! Is it not good to fight for what you believe to be the truth? And even if they were all evil, what happened to all those lessons of forgiveness?! The stories leading up to The Last Battle give ample opportunity for repentance and forgiveness but these lessons are completely ignored in my opinion. A terrible explaination might be that the Calormene are a different race from the Narnians.
“Like many English men of this era, Lewis was unconsciously but regrettably unsympathetic to things and people Middle Eastern. Thus he sometimes engages in exaggerated stereotyping in contrasting things Narnian and things Calormene” (Paul F Ford).
However, evem when allowing for this cultural-temporal difference between Lewis and myself, I still have one more bone to pick.
I think the main issue I continue to have is the fact that Lewis chose to included the Pevensee parents in the train crash. They are in no way involved in build-up of the narrative. Their pressence is established through an off-hand remark towards the end and in my opinion their pressence is totally uneccessary. The only thing it accomplishes is leaving Susan utterly and completely alone in the real world. Not only does she loose her siblings and cousin, no her parents are clumsily killed-off as well. Add this to the fact that Susan herself is written off in a snide comment about “not being a friend of Narnia” and “caring more about stockings and invitations” (made by her own brother), I think is absolutely horrible.
She may have lost faith in Aslan/Narnia but does that really warrent killing her entire family in one swoop?! and essentially saying there is no way of her to join them in heaven! Wasn’t The Silver Chair exactly about that?
In my opinion this inssensitive treatment of Susan has nothing to do with the otherwise wonderful (and universal) lessons that Lewis found in Christianity and weaved into The Chronicles of Narnia through his excelent storytelling and magical language. If I ever decide to reread the series I’ll skip The Last Battle because everything up until that point is a wonderful children’s tale, despite its faults.