Seven Books in Seven Weeks – The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
… Part one of a seven part series…
Last year, I did a silly thing on Twitter. No, it wasn’t sharing an inappropriate picture of my anatomy with my followers or trying to chat up a complete stranger using a series of amusing GIFs, it was far more subtle than that. Share one book that had made an impact on me, every day for a week. Funnily enough, it was called Seven Books in Seven Days and the main criterion was that you couldn’t say anything about the book in the Tweet, you just had to post the cover. Thinking back on it, it would have been more appropriate to have called it Seven Book Covers in Seven Days, but then that wouldn’t have been so headline-grabbing.
Anyway, it was a bit of fun at the time, but because I am a writer and someone who believes that people can still read more than two-hundred and eighty characters in one sitting without fainting, I always felt that my selections deserved a bit more explanation. So, today I give to you Seven Books in Seven Weeks, a series in which I will revisit each book that I Tweeted back in November and provide you with a little more context about why I chose it. It will actually take a little more than seven weeks to complete, due to other blogging commitments, but you get the idea and I am sure that you will forgive me for the subtle deception in the title!
The first book that I have chosen is a children’s classic and one which has been reissued countless times since it’s initial publication, as well as being adapted for television, the theatre and the big screen. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis.
First published in 1950, I have a copy of the 1971 edition, which was given to me by an uncle when I was about seven or eight years old. At the time, I was still of an age where I preferred pictures to solid text, so was delighted by the many delicate line illustrations, drawn by Pauline Baynes, which littered the chapters.
Without giving too much away, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe tells the story of four British children, who are sent to live with an elderly professor in the countryside, during the outbreak of the Second World War. Separated from their parents and in a wholly new environment, it is Lucy, the youngest of the two boys and two girls, who stumbles upon a magical world, apparently hidden within an old wardrobe, standing in one of the many unused rooms of the professor’s house. The world, called Narnia, has been locked in perpetual winter by the evil witch of the title. Lucy is mocked by her older siblings, until they too encounter the world and are thrown into an adventure, which sees them having to battle the witch, with the help of Aslan, a talking lion, in order to restore Narnia to its former glory.
As an adult, it is easy to disassemble the underlying mechanics of the story and especially with the cynicism that pervades modern society, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe could be dismissed as an outdated tale about four, privileged, white children, who, assisted by the most powerful being in the land, displace a tyrant, only to take over and rule without challenge until they are old.
However, through the eyes of a child, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, is a magical and very powerful book. While the setting, the characters and their behaviour are undoubtedly dated, they are also absolutely of their time and for me, this is part of what makes it a classic, along with the excellent storytelling, of course. Who, when they were growing up, didn’t like the idea of being thrust from their own mundane existence of school and suburbia, and dropped into a land filled with talking animals, overcoming supreme evil, in the form of a horrible enchantress, to end up living a life of luxury and adoration?
I recall being spellbound when I first read the book. I loved Mister Tumnus, the faun who befriends Lucy and is, in his own way, just as brave as the four children. The corruption of Edmund, Lucy’s older brother, with the promise of Turkish Delight had me on the edge of my seat and the scene with Aslan and the stone table upset me deeply, all of which was intended by Lewis’ fantastic writing.
Everything in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is meant to appeal to children and this is why I think that it has endured for so long. The clearly defined struggle between good and evil, the fact that the ‘good guys’ win in the end and get their reward, not to mention the ability to spend a lifetime in paradise, without any time passing in the real world, has an appeal that we see reflected, not only in modern storytelling, but also in modern movies, albeit to a lesser extent than before.
However, in amongst the saccharine and sugar frosting are darker themes. Edmund’s betrayal of his family, including Susan and Peter, his older sister and brother, for his own immediate gain, reflects a selfishness which many children can relate to and even though he is subsequently redeemed, he pays a price which hints at what life in the grown-up world can be like. The callous treatment of those who dare to oppose the witch, being turned into stone, introduces the nature of despotism and while done, I imagine, to help set the witch up as the central figure of hatred in the book, possibly also subliminally reflects events that had happened in Europe just a few years earlier.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is also a book which contains strong Christian themes and although, in 1958, Lewis himself made the point that they were suppositional, rather than allegorical in nature, I have to admit that I turned away from it for many years because of this fact. I have, however, since re-read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe a number of times during adulthood and am happy to say that the Christian overtones no longer bother me as much as they once did. And looking back, it is hardly surprising that the book has a somewhat religious bent to it. After all, it was written at a time when Christianity enjoyed a far stronger hold over the British public than it does today and C. S. Lewis was well known as a deeply religious man, who included Christian themes in many of his works, both those for adults and children.
The impact of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe on me has been profound. For one thing, it was one of the books which really got me interested in reading and I think that the fact that I’ve consumed both it and the other chronicles of Narnia more times than I can remember, speaks for itself. However, I also think that it helped me to develop my own ideas about what imaginary worlds could look like and taking Lewis’ lead, I’ve certainly not been afraid to do all manner of unusual and downright unexpected things to the characters in my own books. Anyone who has read ‘Death and the Schoolboy’ or ‘Drynwideon’ will be able to attest to that!
So, there you have it! Book one in Seven Books in Seven Weeks. Stay tuned for the next instalment, coming soon. As to what it is, well, you’ll just have to wait and see.
I hope that you enjoyed this blog. If you did, then please do share it with your friends and have a look at my other offerings.