Synopsis: The Pevensies are living as evacuees in the British countryside during WW2. Lucy climbs into a wardrobe, accidentally finding Narnia, and a faun.
I suppose I should start with a quick mention of why I am beginning my re-read with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, instead of The Magician’s Nephew. There are two schools of thought on the order in which the Chronicles should be read, which I’ll be looking at in more depth soon. For me, the books provide the richest reading experience when you begin with LWW.
I often wonder how I would react to this book if I’d never read it before. The story is so familiar, with so many associations built up over the years, it is impossible to say. Even people who have never read the book recognise the image of a girl finding a snowy world in the back of the wardrobe. It’s part of our culture now.
The first thing that strikes me is the simplicity of the introduction. There’s no thrilling first-sentence ‘hook’ of the kind I was told to look out for in school. The writing is economical and throws us straight into the story. When you’re as good as Lewis, you don’t need to use the language tricks we were taught at school.
Something I always loved, although as a child I couldn’t articulate it, is the style of narration in the Narnia books, and this begins immediately. Some fantasy books are so serious, and full of florid descriptions, but here Lewis tells us conversationally about the servants in the house, and gives us snippets of information like the distance from the house to the nearest post office. It feels like we are talking with a friend. The children are introduced through their conversation, which gives us clues to their personalities straight away. Edmund is drawn perfectly within just a few lines. Those of us with older brothers probably recognise him immediately.
I hadn’t noticed before that a stag is mentioned here, which echoes the final chapter’s theme.
For some reason, when the children are listing animals they might see, it reminds me of ‘Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!’ from The Wizard of Oz.
The stories are, of course, set in a particular time, and the language here reflects that. I wonder if children now would know what a wireless was, or why the proximity to the railway station is considered relevant. I don’t suppose many children now refer to people as ‘old chap’ or ‘old dear’. I first started reading the books in the 1980s, and I never questioned these old fashioned terms; I wonder if that is still the case for readers in 2015.
Lewis makes his children act like children – something many writers struggle with – and that can be seen when Lucy rubs the fur coats on her face, when Edmund tries to hide his laughter at the strange old professor, and when the siblings bicker over nothing in particular. Lewis never seems to have forgotten how children ‘are’.
The faun is introduced with such care that even before I have reached Pauline Bayne’s illustration, I can picture him quite clearly. It is such a memorable image. I wonder what the paper-wrapped parcels actually contained – we never find out.
In her book about her relationship with Narnia, ‘The Magician’s Book’, Laura Miller discusses the idea that Lucy opening the doors to a wardrobe, and travelling through them to a new world, reflects the reader’s experience of opening the pages of the book and doing the same. I love this idea, which had never occurred to me but which now seems quite obvious.
Some stories take a while to get going. That accusation could not be levelled at LWW. By page 15 I’ve met the main characters, and am now in a strange new place with a faun.