Monday, October 25, 2010

Favorites Monday: The Chronicles of Narnia

As you might have guessed from my admiration of Almanzo Wilder's brown Morgans in last Monday's post, I was a horse-mad child. I read all of Marguerite Henry's books--King of the Wind was my favorite by far--all of Walter Farley's Black Stallion series, and anything else I could find with a horse on the cover.

When I was 9 or 10, the pastor of my childhood church came to me and said he had a book he thought I'd like because it was called The Horse and His Boy. Naturally I was intrigued--it had the H-word in it--so he loaned me a boxed set with all seven Chronicles of Narnia.

I read them. And when I'd finished The Last Battle, I put it down and picked up The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe again. Then my mother said if I was going to read them to shreds like I had with the Little House series, I shouldn't do so with borrowed books, so we gave Brother Todd his books back and bought me my own set. Which I proceeded to read to shreds.

Of course, they weren't the horse books I was expecting, but they were even better. I'd never read fantasy before, so Narnia opened up a whole new world of imaginative possibility for me. I loved the characters, especially Lucy and Aravis. And I couldn't help getting a feel for the author's personality, his love of beauty and sense of the numinous. I even wonder if part of the reason I fell in love with the British landscape when I finally got to see it firsthand, especially the more remote, mountainous areas like the Lake District and the Highlands, is that England and Scotland look like Narnia to me.

Just these past few months I've been reading the series to my daughter. I still love them, but not quite as much as I did as a child and young adult. I can see holes in the world-building I never noticed then. E.g. why were the people of Narnia so surprised by humans in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when there must've been humans aplenty in Archenland and Calormen the whole time? I'm far more aware now that Lewis was a man of his time when it came to race and gender issues, and while I'm too much of a historian myself to expect the people of the past to share my own values, I find myself glossing over and eliding certain sections as I read to my daughter. And I finally understand why the treatment of Susan's character annoys a lot of my friends. It never bothered me growing up that she got the short end of the stick, because I was much more an Aravis or Lucy type myself, growing up in a small-town Southern world that valued the beautiful, girly Susans more. But now I feel like it was a bit sloppy and, frankly, sexist of Lewis to equate "girliness" with being too shallow and superficial to remain a Friend of Narnia.

Still. That only puts a small dent in my love for the series.

I could talk about Lewis and Narnia at much greater length, but I've got my own books to write, dinner to cook, babysitting to find for the concert Mr. Fraser and I are going to Saturday, and so on. So I'll just say that if you'd like to read more, I enjoyed the New Yorker's Prisoner of Narnia article from a few years back.

What about you? Any childhood favorites that you look at through different eyes as an adult?


  1. Dr. Dolittle. Still love them but the racism of the time is a lot more obvious now (I'm glad that later editions edited that out) as is the White Man's Burden approach to civilizing native tribes.-Fraser

  2. I never read Dr Dolittle, though I'm vaguely familiar with the story--will have to look at the edited editions as a possibility for my daughter now, because she loves talking animals, and she can deal with the originals when she's old enough to really understand.