Without a doubt, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis was my favourite book as a child. The idea of finding a magical world in a wardrobe was entrancing; a world of talking animals and dryads, of magic and dwarves, and, of course, of Aslan. I was obsessed with Narnia, and would imagine myself finding a door like that of the wardrobe to take me to this land.
Like many other children of the early 1980s, I first discovered Narnia through the BBC serialisation on a Sunday afternoon. Although it looks dated today, I thought it was magical at the age of 6. My parents, having incredible foresight, taped every single one of those episodes. When I left home at 18, they were still in the video drawer. Now, none of us own a video player, but I expect the videos themselves are still there.
The idea of escaping, and finding a magical world, has always fascinated me. A few years ago, I read The Magicians by Lev Grossman, and found a similar, more adult, escapism. Harry Potter and the His Dark Materials novels have a similar pull. I don’t know whether this is through disappointment with my own life or just a sense of wanting to explore something. I suppose because it is fantasy, it is safe. In all honesty, I’m more of a homebody than an intrepid explorer. But perhaps in Narnia, I could be so.
Magic is a theme running through The Chronicles of Narnia. Not spells, like in Harry Potter, but more enchantments, like the White Witch’s everlasting winter, or her power to turn people into stone. The restoration that Aslan brings in returning spring to Narnia, and bringing the stone statues back to life is a deeper magic.
The true ‘deep magic’ though lies in Aslan’s sacrifice of his own life to atone for Edmund’s betrayal. Herein lies the true magic of Narnia. In Aslan’s story,we recognise Jesus and His sacrifice for our own sin. It is Aslan that the children truly love, and in Aslan I have come to understand more about the nature of God.
A phrase repeated through the series is, “He’s not a tame lion.” Aslan can be fierce, dangerous, unpredictable. As can God. Yet often I allow myself to think of God as a comfortable, familiar presence. Yet God is to be feared. He can be dangerous, fierce and unpredictable. Yet He is love itself.
Reading The Chronicles of Narnia now, they can seem very dated. We discussed The Last Battle, the final book in the series, in book group last year, and we were shocked at how racist it seemed in its depiction of the Calormenes. Yet, in reading the novel as adults, we could examine the complexity of it in ways that we could not as children.
A good novel should stay with you and be re-read when you choose. I really hope Ben likes Narnia even a little bit as much as I did.