Allison's Book Bag

The Chronicles of Narnia: Random Thoughts

Posted on: November 25, 2012

The Chronicles of Narnia

A shamefully-numbered set of The Chronicles of Narnia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A note from Andy, your guest reviewer throughout November:

I will be supporting Allison in two ways this month as she participates in National Novel Writing Month. First, I will do my best to stay out of her way. Second, I am taking on her blog duties by writing four or five guest reviews and possibly some other posts.

This is not a review

Repeat: this is not a review. You do not need one. Either you’ve already read the series or you’ve seen the movies, or you’ve heard plenty about one or the other. And if you haven’t read the books, you probably have your reasons. Furthermore, reviewing a seven-book series would be a lot of work.

If you want a review, here it is. The Chronicles of Narnia is another of my childhood favorites. My two favorite books in the series are The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Silver Chair. I love books that can take me to new places, and the Narnia books do that extremely well. It’s a world I’ve eagerly returned to many times over the years. Narnia somehow managed to squeak past my prejudice against fantasy. If you haven’t read this great series, you should.

Now that the review portion of this article is out of the way, I’d like to share some random Narnia-related thoughts.

Christianity in Narnia

Yes, C. S. Lewis was Christian. Yes, there are Christian themes in the Narnia books. No, children will not pick up on them. And no, this does not mean the books will sneak up on children while they are sleeping and cram a Christian soul down their throats. Lewis certainly hoped that the Narnia books would help children to understand Christianity – but if the Narnia books had the power to convert, then as many times as I’ve read the set I surely would be a better Christian by now. (And no, the books did not make me a Christian – I was a Christian before I read them.)

There are some obvious Christian themes and allegories in the books – chiefly the death and resurrection of one prominent character, and the Armageddon that is central to The Last Battle. There are probably more, but even as an adult I don’t see them. Does Puddleglum the marsh-wiggle represent, um, doubting Thomas? A leper? Anything? I have no idea. Reading the character’s Wikipedia entry, I learn that C. S. Lewis modeled the sad-sack marsh-creature on his gardener. Perhaps children who read The Silver Chair will become obsessed with rakes and chrysanthemums?

In what order should the books be read?

Where’s my soapbox? I am strongly anti-revisionism. The first Narnia book C. S. Lewis wrote was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It was the success of that book that lead to the rest of the series. However, the publication order of the books does not match the chronology of their stories. Specifically, The Horse and His Boy (the fifth book to be written) takes place during the events of Wardrobe, and The Magician’s Nephew (the sixth book to be written) takes place before the events of Wardrobe. Some publishers, therefore, number the books according to chronological order rather than publication order. This is unequivocally wrong.

Before I go any further, let me make a couple of things clear. First, no matter how strongly I feel about the reading order of the Narnia books, obviously you are free to do whatever you want. It’s not for me to tell others how to live their lives – as much as I would like to. And secondly, if you have already read the Narnia books, I am not concerned in the slightest with how or where or why you will read them again. What I care about is people who are reading the books for the first time – people who would do well to ignore what I just said about being free to do what they want.

C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis (Photo credit: sfjalar)

C. S. Lewis himself actually agreed with a young fan that it would probably be best to read the books in chronological order. He was wrong. Or perhaps he was just humoring the boy.

The only reason to put The Magician’s Nephew first is out of an obligation to chronology. But what need is there for such an obligation? Many movies and TV shows feature flashbacks. Do you chop these up on your home computer and re-assemble the scenes in chronological order? If not, why do so with the Narnia books?

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is a magical story. It’s the book that got readers to care about Narnia. The Magician’s Nephew is only of interest because it tells of the origins of Narnia. But why should anyone care about the origins of Narnia if they don’t know anything about it? If you want to introduce a child to Narnia, you should do so via the magic of Wardrobe and not the far-less-magical Magician’s Nephew.

For the same reason – if I may build an addition to my soapbox – no one should be introduced to the world of Star Wars through The Phantom Menace. First of all, it’s a terrible movie. If it had actually been the first Star Wars movie Lucas had made, that would have been the end of the series right there and Lucas would have spent the last twenty-five years as a pastry chef. The first movie was Star Wars – which, by the way, is its full name, not Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

Now, if you have done any research into the Narnia books, you may wish to point out that Lewis was himself a revisionist, as he made a few changes when preparing some of the books for American publication. Please don’t bother me with facts.

Hollywood Grabs Aslan by the Scruff

You may have noticed that the Narnia books have finally gotten the Hollywood treatment. Thankfully, they followed publication order, and they made it through the first three books before hitting some snags that could delay the continuation of the film series for a few years. I don’t know whether to be sad about this because the third movie, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, was awful.

Why was Dawn Treader awful? Thank you for asking. It was awful because Hollywood doesn’t know when to keep its mitts off a perfectly good story.

I’m well aware that movies cannot be identical to the books upon which they are based. First, every scene and line of dialog in a full-length novel would not fit into a two-hour movie. Second, some things read well but do not translate well to screen. And third, authors sometimes make poor choices. But that’s my point: there should be a good reason for any changes that are made, and those changes should be for the better.

The Dawn Treader, as I mentioned early, is one of my two favorite Narnia books. I love the epic ocean journey to strange and distant lands. There are a lot of great scenes. All of which Hollywood ruined.

Let’s start with Eustace’s transformation into a dragon. The metamorphosis itself is handled poorly, but perhaps it would not have been possible to reproduce the book’s telling of the event from Eustace’s point of view – describing the boy waking up in a cave to see two columns of dragon-nostril smoke rising before him, and his eventual realization that all evidence of a nearby dragon was emanating from himself. But worse than Eustace’s conversion to dragon is his reversion to boy. In the book, Aslan peels him like an onion. In the movie, Aslan simply zaps him back to normality. Now tell me, have you ever seen a dragon sliced open and a boy stepping out of its empty husk? No, you have not. And you won’t, because Hollywood didn’t have the imagination (or, perhaps, the budget?) to show it to you. Instead you saw a cheap generic blast of CGI that you have seen a thousand times before.

There’s more. The movie makes the mistake of thinking that battles are exciting, and so everything that was not a battle in the book has been turned into one. In the book, an encounter with a sea serpent is wrought with tension as the Dawn Treader’s crew and passengers work frantically to push the monster’s tightening coils past the stern. In the movie, the encounter is a paint-by-numbers battle.

The good news: apparently the studio that made the first three films will not be making the fourth. The bad news: it sounds like we may not be getting any more films for quite a while due to contractual muckery.

Wrapping up all this randomness in a nice neat bow

You should read the books if you haven’t, but if you don’t read them in the right order I’ll cry. Enjoy the movies, and hold out hope that there will be a fourth movie and that it will be better than the third. Don’t worry about being turned into a zombie Christian – the books will leave you and your children in full possession of your mental faculties.

5 Responses to "The Chronicles of Narnia: Random Thoughts"

Hopefully your thoughts on The Chronicles of Narnia will encourage someone who hasn’t read the books or watched the movies to do one of those activities. My favourite volumes in the series, as Allison can confirm, are The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and The Last Battle. The probable reason is their being most clearly Christian, as you suggested in your review (sorry, your collection of random thoughts). If I remember correctly, I read each to at least one of my grade five classes.

Perhaps someone will be motivated to read the books just to see if they agree with me about the correct order. Or perhaps someone who has only seen the movies will be motivated to read the books to see if the books are better. I didn’t go into much detail concerning what’s great about the series, but it certainly is, and I absolutely recommend that people read it. Even adults.

I have never seen a paint by number battle ever! Interesting. http://www.segmation.wordpress.com

Hopefully you understood that I was talking about a battle sequence that just goes through the motions and does nothing new or interesting. A battle sequence for the sake of having a battle sequence. Many action movies have such scenes nowadays. They seem to be required for some reason.

Got it. Thanks for sharing!

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