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ISBN/ASIN : 0007116764
Manufacturer : Collins|
Release data : 08 May, 2001
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Once upon a time...
C.S. Lewis was many things - a popular theologian (almost a contradiction in terms today), an engaging academic (see above qualification, as it applies here, too), and an expert storyteller, the craft of which came from his careful blending and imaginative use of the previous two. The Chronicles of Narnia stand up favourable to the work of Lewis' longtime friend and contemporary academic and storyteller, Tolkien (of Lord of the Rings fame). Narnia, however, does not go off into the same fantastic realms of Tolkien, but rather charts a different path, in that while Tolkien strives to use fantasy and mythic elements to tell more general philosophy, Lewis in the Narnia tales deliberately crafts the imagery to fit a Christian framework, and a fairly Anglo-catholic one at that.
Narnia is series of adventures for children, but like the best of such stories, continues to hold power for adults who read them as well. Resurgence in popularity of late has occurred because of the film, 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe', second in the series (depending upon which chronology one follows), but the whole series is a charmer. In 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe', the story focuses upon Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, four exiles from war-time London in the English countryside who discover the portal to Narnia in the back of a mysterious wardrobe. The king of Narnia, Aslan the lion (whose imagery fits both Christian and English mythic lore) is battling the icy witch, who styles herself as Queen of Narnia. Through a classic struggle of good and evil in epic battle format, the pure-hearted children and the graceful king Aslan win the day, but eventually the children must return to their own world, even after such adventures.
'Prince Caspian' takes place long after (in Narnia time - one discovers the passage of time from one world to the next is variable), as Caspian befriends many of the creatures of Narnia, both natural and fantastic. The four children, enthroned as kings and queens of Narnia at the end of the first adventure, must return to help Caspian, whose main desire is to live in old Narnia, forbidden tales of which he has heard.
'Voyage of the Dawn' sees Edmund and Lucy drawn back into Narnia through a painting, together with their horrid cousin Eustace Scrubb. Caspian is now king, on a knightly quest to discover lost knights of old, and also to seek the end of the world (in a literal sense). Sea voyages and other journeys take them far and wide, until Aslan again appears to return the children home. Eustace becomes a better person for his Narnia adventures, much as Edmund had transformed during his first major Narnia experience.
Eustace returns in the 'The Silver Chair', this time from his school, with fellow student Jill, who is also less than popular. Jill, like the earlier Edmund, must find redemption, and seeks to save Rilian (son of the now-dying Caspian). Here we encounter the Parliament of Owls as well as the bottom of the world - once again, Aslan helps to save the day, despite the nay-saying of Puddleglum.
Shasta is the boy and Bree is the horse in 'The Horse and His Boy'. Shasta is about to be sold into slavery when he escapes with Bree, and they meet Aravis and Hwin, another escaping duo, on their way to Narnia. They uncover a plot against Narnia, and must work to save the kingdom of their dreams.
'The Magician's Nephew' is often considered the first of the series, with events that preceed 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe'. It gives background and insight into the overall workings of Narnia. Polly and Digory discover the portal to the Woods between the Worlds, and there is a greater mix of worlds here than in any other story. However, this is also the beginning of the other stories, with Aslan providing the same kind of guidance he would throughout the series.
'The Last Battle' is, as the title suggests, the last of the series. Narnia falls into the final conflict of good and evil, with a false Aslan (a false messiah figure) appearing and humans destroying all things around, particularly the natural environment. Old Narnia must pass away, but a new Narnia is held in promise as the real Aslan returns to lead the faithful.
While many of Lewis' original readers were occasionally disturbed by the Christian overall (and indeed, at Lewis' interpretation of Christian lore), in fact the state of biblical illiteracy is such today that most will miss much of the Christian allegory unless it is specially spelled out. Narnia can stand on its own merits as a story independent of its underpinnings, but just as most mythological and even biblical stories can achieve, this one becomes stronger the deeper one explores the symbolic meanings.
Lewis is very much a creature of his culture - this is very post-Victorian (read, more Victorian than the Victorians) in style and morals, even in the 1950s (a time so many in our present culture look back to as a high point in moral culture) he was looking back to a better time - perhaps it is no surprise that instead of finding it in the past, he found it in Narnia?
This is a series that is wonderful for children of all ages, and for adults - the tales bear repeating over and over, and many editions of these texts come with wonderful artwork. This particular one has illustrations by Pauline Baynes, the original illustrator for the series, and they are wonderful indeed.
Many decades ago, two drinking buddies wrote vastly different fantasy series, which set the groundwork for the fantasy genre. One was J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the classic "Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit." And the other was C.S. Lewis, the author of the philosophical "Space Trilogy." Before these two, fantasy was only a few books by a small number of obscure authors.
Many years later, C.S. Lewis is still a classic, much-read author, and his books are about to hit the big screen -- "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" will debut in December, following the footsteps of Tolkien's movie adaptations. So, dust off the Narnia Chronicles and reacquaint yourself with these fantasy stories.
"The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe" opens as four children (Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter) are being shipped to a country mansion to avoid German bombings. While exploring the house, Lucy accidently ventures into a winter-locked world called Narnia, ruled over by the evil White Witch. The god-king Aslan is about to return to destroy the Witch -- but she has a hold on Edmund....
"Prince Caspian" takes place long after the events of the first book. Young Prince Caspian escapes his uncle's castle when his life is threatened, and he finds refuge with the hidden races of Narnia -- dwarves, talking animals, dryads, centaurs and many others. And to help Caspian regain the throne, the two kings and two queens of Narnia are called back...
"Voyage of the Dawn Treader" begins when Edmund, Lucy and their obnoxious cousin Eustace are sucked through a painting into Narnia, where their pal Caspian is now king of Narnia (not to mention fully grown). Caspian is heading toward the end of the world to find several knights who were banished, and vanished into the perilous islands along the sea. But the Dawn Treader's voyage will literally take them where no one has gone before... and returned to tell about it.
"The Silver Chair" heads into slightly darker territory when Eustace returns to boarding school. He and outcast girl Jill Pole are drawn into Narnia, where Jill must perform a task to redeem herself for a stupid stunt. She must find Caspian's missing son Rilian. This search will send the two children across Narnia with the pessimistic Puddleglum, where they will encounter carnivorous Giants, creepy underground creatures, and an enemy worse than they could have imagined...
"Horse and His Boy" shoots back in time to the middle of the first book. Shasta lives with the man he thinks to be his father in a hovel by the sea, but when he learns that he was a foundling, he escapes with a talking horse, Bree. During his escape, he meets the escaping noblewoman Aravis (who also has a talking horse). The two plan to escape to Narnia. But in the capital city, there is a conspiracy brewing against the visiting Narnian kings and queens, and Shasta and Aravis are drawn into it.
"Magician's Nephew" clears up many of the questions about Narnia, Aslan and the White Witch. Digory and Polly end up in very serious trouble when they encounter Digory's weird, slightly nutty uncle, a magician who has created magical rings that send the user to other worlds. They accidently set loose the evil Queen Jadis, who goes on a rampage through London -- until they pull her out of our world, and into the newborn world of Narnia.
"The Last Battle" is definitely the end of the series, where Narnia has decayed into violence and hatred, as a prelude to the final battle between good and evil. Humans are destroying the trees and killing the dryads, and a false Aslan is appearing to mislead the fearful inhabitants of Narnia. Old and new friends -- some from other worlds -- will band together as the true Aslan prepares to lead them to a new land.
Anyone who dislikes allegory -- religious or otherwise -- should steer clear of the Chronicles. While Lewis' beliefs are presented in a more complex and subtle manner in his other books, like the Space Trilogy, the parallels to Christian belief are very obvious here. Even Tolkien, who was Lewis' longtime friend, found that annoying.
But as a fantasy, this series is a fantastic read, and was also the first of the kids-get-swept-into-other-worlds novels. Lewis reshapes typical mythical elements like dwarves, nymphs, talking animals, centaurs and wicked witches into shape in his invented world. Moreover, his land of Narnia is a complex and very inviting place. It's not always fun, but Lewis always leaves you with the feeling that the good guys will come out on top.
Like many other British authors writing for kids, Lewis' writing can get a bit precious. But he includes loads of detail, mystery and cultural intrigure in his stories -- and not just for Narnia either. For example, Calormene is a sort of generic Middle-Eastern land, very Arabian Nights. It's full of culture and beauty, but also with good guys and bad guys.
What's more, readers can appreciate the mysteries and questions that Lewis sprinkles through the book, and which are explained as the story goes on. Where did the lamppost come from, for example? Why are there humans in Narnia? Where did Reepicheep go? Most of these are answered at one point or another.
The Chronicles of Narnia are a longstanding classic, fun and dramatic and action-packed. For a bit more insight into the forthcoming movie -- and the history of fantasy -- check out "The Chronicles of Narnia."
Honestly great but dated?
I read these books when I was around 11 and really loved them. The huge Christian metaphor passed me by entirely until I was much older. In any case, I read them all and I still have my boxed set (not this one).
The plots are very interesting with a number of classic moral conumdrums that are all dealt with in a fresh and lively way. Also exposes the younger mind to some interesting ideas especially 'The Magicians Nephew' (the original 'retcon') which was published after the others in the series to tie-up plot details and has the wonderful creation passages. The books have a large amount of action but lacks the modern 'gross-out' factor popularised by Roald Dahl.
Even though C.S. Lewis has done a better job than J.K. Rowling of proofing the stories against being dated there are still some elements that that may jar slightly with younger readers, especially the 'tally ho!' conversational style and the imbalance between the roles given to boys and girls (like the Middle Earth of 'The Hobbit', Narnia is a man's world). Having said that, Harry Potter goes to a posh boarding school and speaks like a 1950s radio annoucer, so maybe this is no problem. I think the fact that most of the action takes place in Narnia allows a lot of this dated feel to be side-stepped and it certainly doesn't affect the quality and validity of the books, just their accessibility.
If you are looking for very innocent fiction for kids who can see past the dated speech and mannerisms then this is a good buy. Along with 'The Box Of Delights' and 'The Hobbit' this is part of the canon of fiction for youngsters and should be a stepping-stone to more sophisticated books.