I still remember the day when I was 11 when Miss Utting, our English teacher, came in the classroom carrying a pile of copies of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It was our first class reading book, which means a book that we would read together in class. It was also my passport to the magical land of Narnia.
Most of my classmates were already familiar with Narnia for they had watched the animated movie shown on TV without fail every Christmas but I was a complete Narnia virgin. For the first time, like Lucy and her three siblings, I entered the land of eternal snow through a wardrobe where I found a friend called Mr Tumnus the faun.
The First and the Best
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the most popular and best known of the seven Narnia books. It was written in 1950 as the first title in The Chronicles of Narnia but was re-ordered as the second in later editions which are sequenced by the stories’ chronology.
Because, as already mentioned, it was my first visit to Narnia, I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe with no pre-conceptions or expectations, apart from the fact there was probably a good chance that I was going to like it because I loved fairy tales. I did not like it. I loved it.
The book centres on four siblings, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy who discover the land of Narnia through a magical wardrobe. The land of Narnia is ruled by the evil White Witch who has cast a spell on the land so that it always snows but never Christmas. The children find out that they are key to the prophecy that will restore summer and peace to Narnia with the help of the great Lion Aslan.
The book has been criticised for being overly moralistic and for overstating its Christian elements to indoctrinate children. But I was from a practising Catholic family attending a Catholic school and so everything about The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe felt normal. I recognised Jesus in Aslan straight away and understood why he had to pay for the sins of Edmund. I wasn’t particularly sad when the White Witch, brutally killed him because I knew that, like Jesus, he was coming back to life again bigger and stronger.
It wasn’t the book’s Christian themes that made me love it. It was the fact that it was a good old-fashioned fairy tale about a magical country that I desperately wanted to visit, with characters that I truly wanted to meet. I asked myself (bitterly) why the animals on Earth couldn’t speak the way the animals in Narnia did. I wanted some of the Turkish Delight that Edmund had, even though it was given to him by the White Witch. I wanted to hear Aslan’s majestic roar and be terrified of him and hug him at the same time. Simply put, Narnia was the magical country that I always had in my head, finally made real by the mighty pen of C. S. Lewis.
I have re-read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe several times and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that each reading is as magical as the first. The book’s charm never wanes and its themes of bravery, sacrifice and sense of duty are as important today as they were in 1950 when Lewis wrote the book. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe instantly became my favourite children’s book when I first read it and it has that distinction even today. I don’t think it will ever be replaced in my heart or on my bookshelf by any other book.