Friday, April 20, 2012

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950)

     I am just going to assume that everyone over the age of ten – those who were raised in the USA or the UK, at least – has more than a passing awareness of C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950).  The copy of the book that I read showed up in the house some time around the mid-1980s (itself published in 1970, so I assume it was a hand-me-down from my cousins), which was well after I had been traumatized by the animated version of the story (the vision of a shaved, sickly Aslan still haunts me...well, on the exceedingly rare occasion that I have cause to think of it).  I know that the second book in the series, Prince Caspian (1951) was also a lurker among the books my brother and I never read, but it apparently did not survive the 10 moves since leaving Palos Park, IL.
     My motivation for reading this now was two-fold.  One, I had never read it (and it is a staple of fantasy literature, even if it is aimed for younger readers).  Two, I figured I could finish it rather quickly.  As a matter of fact, it got picked up when it did because I needed something to read while having new tires put on the car.  I judged – rightly so – that it would not be so demanding that the noise of the adjoining garage would preclude any progress.  In the 45 minutes I was there, I got 71 pages into the story and filled out three pieces of paperwork for the work order.
     Now, having seen the big budget live action film version (2005), I was on the look out for differences.  I enjoyed the Disney/Walden Media version, but I really only took the time to see it because they had the presence of mind to include the shot of the charging minotaur in the previews.  I had no idea if there were minotaurs in Lewis' book (there are), but I want them in most of my fantasy films.  Whether they belong or not, I want axe-wielding minotaurs.  To get back on track, I was impressed at how well the film teased out the bits of the book and made the world seem more whole.  It also softened how harsh the story seems to be on Edmund (who does not have much of any redeeming characteristics in the novel).
     Yes, it is weird that Father Christmas exists in the fantasy world of Narnia.  But not as much as I thought when watching the movie.  Lewis tells the entire tale in a conspiratorial – yet grandfatherly – manner.  It is clear that it is meant for younger children, full of wonder and willing to give magical qualities to the world in which they live (in this case, it is another land accessible through some magic furniture).  In that regards, it really works.  The Christian overtones may be too obvious to adults, but they would most likely be reassuring to children (that what they are taught in church, and presumably by parents who take them to church, has meaning in the fantasy world of Narnia).
     I wouldn't put The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe up there with The Lord of the Rings (1954-55) in terms of quality of story or writing, but it is much more accessible.  It is the kind of a story that a younger reader can understand (I remember friends who read The Lord of the Rings in 5th grade, and I hold to this day that they would not be able to get much out of it at that age).  It doesn't have much to say other than that those whose need to exercise control are born out of greed and fear are the tyrants we cannot allow to remain in power (apply that lesson to current politics as you will).

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