The Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis It's been over 10 years (at least, probably more) since the last time I read The Chronicles of Narnia. I've always felt a little bad about giving the entire series only 2 stars; I must have been in a particularly snarky mood the day I added it to my GR shelf. I think it definitely deserves at least 3 stars. They don't have the depth and complexity of his friend Tolkien's work but then Narnia was not quite the focus of Lewis' life as Middle Earth was Tolkien's. And, even if one can't accept the religious/philosophical basis of Lewis' world, one can hardly argue with the moral lessons his heroes learn. I just finished The Magician's Nephew, and am on Chapter 2 of the classic The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe as I write this first installment of my review(s).

The Magician's Nephew, read 6/3 - 3 stars: I recall especially liking this installment in the series because it went back and explained who the White Witch was and where she came from. The story's simple enough: Digory and Polly become friends one summer in London. In exploring the rowhouses where they live, they inadvertently stumble upon Digory's uncle's study, where his uncle tricks Polly into touching a magic ring that transports her to another world. In order to bring her back, Digory must use a second ring to follow Polly. They wind up on the dying world of Charn and, there, Digory's unwise curiosity awakens Jadis, the future White Witch. When her sister's rebel armies threatened to depose her from the throne, Jadis uttered the "Deplorable Word" and destroyed all life on the planet (which, if you think about it, is pretty "heavy" stuff for a book geared toward the 8-12 crowd). Well, Jadis follows the children back to London. Trying to escape from her, Digory, Polly, the uncle, and a hapless cabbie and his horse wind up in Narnia on the morning when Aslan sings the world into being. This is another favorite part of the book for me because it pays homage to the importance of language in defining the world. Digory must embark on a short quest (aided by Polly and the cabbie's horse, transformed by Aslan into a pegasus) to retrieve a silver apple from the Western Wilds to atone for bringing evil (Jadis) into the world, and doesn't succumb to using the apple for his own, selfish purposes. Meanwhile, Aslan has made the cabbie (Frank) and his wife (Helen, who the Lion's brought over from our Earth) the first king and queen of Narnia. Digory and Polly (and his chastised uncle) are returned to Earth, where Digory plants a seed from the fruit that he retrieved for Aslan, which subsequently grows into the tree that provides the wood for the wardrobe that Lucy Pevensie stumbles into 50 years later. Overall, a good if slight read. You can certainly read a lot into it if you're aware of Lewis' more serious works but you don't need to to enjoy the basic tale of human decency.

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, read 6/7 - 3 stars: I won't go into any remarks about the story as anyone who's conceivably interested in this review is probably already familiar with it via their own reading or seeing the movie, which remained pretty faithful to the novel.

It's unfortunate but these books (for me, at any rate) don't hold up well after 30 years. I like the Pevensie kids but Lewis doesn't really develop them as characters (we only understand that Edmund's been a creep only since he's been away to boarding school in a throw-away line toward the end) and there's never a great feeling of menace. I'm not a huge fan of the movie but I think it was better in this sense than Lewis.

Shortly, I'll be hitting the library for books 3 and 4 (The Horse and His Boy and Prince Caspian), which I only vaguely remember. I do so not with a sense of dread - I'm actually enjoying these rereads, though the tone of these updates may not convey that very well.

The Horse and His Boy, read 6/11 - 2.5 stars: The tale for every kid who's gone through that phase when they really dislike their parents: They're not really your parents; and you're really the son of a king! Throw in a couple of talking horses trying to get back to Narnia, another child escaping a planned marriage and the malicious plotting of a foreign prince with his eyes on Queen Susan and you have the ingredients for a pleasant adventure tale.

As I've discovered with the previous books, there's not much meat on these bones in terms of character or suspense. And the "folksy" writing style may charm an 8-year old but it falls flat in this adult's reading.

And then there's the issue of just how racist and politically incorrect can the portrayal of the Calormenes get. I can see why the issue comes up but I've never understood why people expect anything different from an Irishman born and raised in the late Victorian Era. Now, if the Pevensies had been 2nd-generation Indian immigrants and Fabian socialists that would have been unexpected. Note, too, that Aravis, a full-blooded Calormene, is not only accepted into Narnian-Archenland society but becomes queen of Archenland and mother to that nation's greatest king, Ram.

If there's any bigotry present in the story, it's religious - anything that doesn't agree with Lewis' interpretation of "The Truth" must be wrong and can only lead to evil. Here Lewis just hasn't taken the time to develop a nuanced view of the subject. And, considering his audience, I don't blame him. What 8-year old want to hear the debate about the relative merits of Aslan (Jesus) vs. Tash (Allah?, OT Yahweh?, any pagan idol?)?

Prince Caspian, read 6/12 - 2.5 stars: I just watched the 2008 movie, "Prince Caspian." It's rare but I must say the film improved upon the book, particularly in evoking a greater sense of menace from the Telmarines.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, read 6/14 - 2.5 stars: I first noticed this in Prince Caspian: Lewis never refers to his nonhumans characters as "he" or "she." It's always as "it," even the Dwarfs are nongendered objects - "Trumpkin was named regent in Prince Caspian's absence. It ruled as his viceroy." Decidedly odd.

I've always linked Dawn Treader to the The Odyssey. I think because of the sailing aspect of the tale since there's not much Homeric about the story.

The Silver Chair, read 6/15, 3.2 stars: Outside of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, this is the most enjoyable of the novels I've reread so far. The story introduces two new children - Eustace Scrubb and Jill Pole. Actually, we met Eustace in Dawn Treader but The Silver Chair is Eustace's story; he isn't tagging along with the Pevensies.

Also, Aslan is not relied upon as a deus ex machina except at the end when his back terrifies the bullies at Eustace's and Jill's "progressive" school.

There's no overly or overtly Christian symbology. I'm sure you could find it if you looked but it doesn't hit you over the head as some episodes elsewhere in the series do. (Meeting the Lamb in Dawn Treader, for example.)

I also liked Puddleglum the Marshwiggle very much. He worked well for me.

The Last Battle, read 6/16, 2 stars: Easily the worst of the series unless you're a Christian and/or a Platonist. The tale begins promisingly enough: The ape Shift convinces his not-very-bright-but-essentially-good friend, the donkey Puzzle, to put on a lion's skin that has washed up in their pond and pretend to be Aslan. Hiding Puzzle in a stable and only letting people see him at night, Shift terrorizes the Talking Animals into obeying him. He also makes the mistake of inviting the Calormenes in. In short order, Shift is a drunken mess and the Calormenes are chopping down the dryads' trees and enslaving the Narnians. I think I got the wrong lesson from this: Never blindly follow authority figures. The Talking Animals (and the humans) are so afraid that the creature in the stable might be Aslan that they hardly question Shift's insane demands. At this point any pretense to story ends and the remainder of the book is a retelling of the Last Days of Revelation. The world comes to an end; the righteous move on to Heaven, the damned to oblivion. (I will say there's no hint of hellfire. Those not worthy simply cease to exist - punishment enough, I suupose.)

And the tone of the story is "off" compared to the rest of the books. It's grim and savage in a way that similar scenes in the earlier novels were not. The events I have in mind are the Giants of Harfang in The Silver Chair and the Dwarfs here. You knew the Giants planned to eat Eustace and Jill (and Puddleglum, though they probably wouldn't have enjoyed that much) but you also knew that the children would get out of it. You could laugh at the fat Giant queen, and the only suspense was wondering how they would escape. Compare that to the Dwarfs massacring the Talking Horses or the complete destruction of the entire Pevensie clan (except Susan), Eustace, Jill, Digory & Polly in a catastrophic train wreck.

Overall: Like Tolkien's The Hobbit, though to a lesser degree there, The Chronicles don't wear well past childhood but I'm glad I took the time to revisit them.