The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
by C.S. Lewis
This 1950 book is the first in the series of seven Chronicles of Narnia
that fuse Christian spirituality with the world of British children's fantasy literature inherited from E. Nesbit
. Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy are siblings sent away during the air-raids of World War II to stay in a vast country house with an eccentric old Professor, during their summer holidays. There first Lucy, then Edmund too, then all four children discover that a seemingly plain wardrobe in an otherwise unfurnished room is also, sometimes, a gateway into a magical kingdom called Narnia.
Isn't that simply the stuff that childhood fantasy is made of? On a rainy summer day, while exploring the house or perhaps playing hide-and-seek, you creep inside a great wardrobe full of coats that keeps going back and back and back... until suddenly you are standing in snow, in a strange forest on a wintry night, and meeting magical creatures like fauns, talking beavers, dwarves, centaurs, unicorns, giants, and nymphs.
Before they know what's hit them, the children are caught up in the battle between the evil White Witch, who wants to be Queen of Narnia, and the great Lion named Aslan, son of the Emperor Across the Sea. The Witch (whose name, for you trivia buffs, is Jadis) causes it to be winter all the time, but never Christmas, in Narnia, and between her wolfish Secret Police and her wand that turns people into stone, she rules the kingdom with a mailed fist.
But Aslan has returned from across the sea, heralded by Father Christmas himself, bringing springtime in his train. And the four human children-- Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve-- are destined to sit on thrones in the great palace of Cair Paravel, and to rule over Narnia in peace and justice. Getting to that point, however, involves a mixture of betrayal and redemption, sacrifice and resurrection, hard-fought battles and healing miracles.
The children grow up a lot, to say the least. And readers familiar with my four favorite storytellers of all time-- Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John-- will recognize a lot of this story as a thinly veiled retelling of their account. The result is a moving and exciting adventure that stands on its own feet, and at the same time, a brilliant attempt to put the Christian message in a form that makes its basic themes accessible to the modern generation. At least, this story draws its inspiration from biblical sources, with highly effective results.
On the other hand, the story doesn't come right out and say this, it doesn't ask anyone to make a religious commitment. It is, very simply, a good story, full of action and beautiful imagery and humor and sadness and suspense and creepy-crawlies and sometimes unflatteringly realistic portraits of its main characters. And it proves, as the best children's fantasies always do, that even little people can play a vital role in the big fight between good and evil. To put it simply, if you like anything from E. Nesbit to Susan Cooper, it will be right up your alley.
This classic has been repeatedly translated into films and, I hear, will soon be again. Better still, it is readily available in any bookstore, often in a "boxed set" with the six stories that follow it. I think the whole set is a safe bet, books that you will enjoy reading over and over, and that parents can readily share with their small children. But try The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe first, and see for yourself!
Recommended Age: 8+
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