Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Week in Narnia

The Chronicles of Narnia
by C. S. Lewis

Hello, reading friends. No, I have not dropped off the face of the earth, nor have I stopped reading. I hurt my back and have been in bed for most of the past week. Things are looking up now, but my back is still stiff and sore and I can tell it will be awhile before I move through the day with my usual vigor. By coincidence, I started reading The Magician's Nephew the same day I injured myself. I've been aware of the Narnia books for years, but had never read them. My husband E. likes them a lot, but I had resisted them largely because I have never been able to get into Tolkein's Lord of the Rings series (try as I might), and I mistakenly thought that the Narnia books would be the same.

However, I recently got interested in reading The Magician's Book, which is one woman's memoir about what the Narnia books meant to her and how they continue to affect her life and perspective. T. and S. sent me The Magician's Book for my birthday, and I had decided that before reading it I would read at least a couple of the Narnia books to get a sense of them. But, I found myself captivated by the Narnia books themselves. Because I was laid up for several days, I just kept reading them, and plowed through the whole series in a week. I am glad to have read them all, but think I will probably have to go back at some point and read them more slowly. The combination of pain meds and the speed with which I read them is causing some of the details to get a little fuzzy already.

I found the Chronicles of Narnia to be thoroughly enchanting (isn't that a Narnia-esque word?) and cannot wait to share them with my two boys. I love how the world of Narnia is created by Aslan's singing, and how the children are the leaders there. One of my favorite quotes from the books comes in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when Lucy asks her new friends the beavers if Aslan is safe. The male beaver responds:

"Safe? Of course he's not safe. He's the king! But he's good." Isn't that how we feel (or should feel) about the God who created us and who is (or should be) Lord of our lives?

I also liked in the final book, The Last Battle, when a repentant Calormene, a worshipper of Tash, asks Aslan for mercy. Aslan responds "Any good you have done, whether you realize it or not, you did in my name and for me. Likewise, anyone who does evil to another in my name is no true servant of mine." Lewis made a pretty fair attempt there to deal with the issue of religious pluralism. It's not a "all religions are the same" letting us off the hook, but a way to begin creeping through the maze of acknowledging and proclaiming our truth while acknowledging that there is truth to be found in other traditions.

Something that bothered me about the books was that the human Narnians were always described as "fair haired" and "light skinned" and the Southern enemies, the Calormenes, are "dark" and "swarthy," "savage and barbaric." The books were written in the 1950s and I guess Lewis (whether he was aware of it or not) played into the racial stereotypes that prevailed at the time. Now, 50 years later, I find those stereotypes disconcerting and offensive, but tried to keep in mind the times in which the stories were written. The books also have more violence in them than I am typically comfortable with, with children fighting with swords and arrows. I believe, though, that Lewis intended the fights to be metaphorical for the ongoing cosmic struggle between good and evil. I can deal with contextual, metaphorical violence better than I can the gratuitous and the gory.

So, are there any Narnia-philes out there? E. and I have been talking about the books a lot around our house. Here are some questions for discussion (with my responses in italics) - jump in!

What is your favorite of the Chronicles of Narnia?
Either "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" or "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader." I was also very moved by the ending of "The Last Battle," but did not find it as fun to read as the other ones.

Who is your favorite human character in the books?

Who is your favorite non-human character? (Just to be fair, let's exclude Aslan).
Reepicheep or Puddleglum

What character seems the most transformed by what he/she experiences in Narnia?
Edmund. Or wait. Maybe Eustace.

Aslan is clearly a representation of both God and Christ. Were there characters or events that seemed like a representation of the Holy Spirit?
For me, the glorious music as Aslan created Narnia in "The Magician's Nephew" and Aslan's breath blowing Eustace and Jill to Narnia in "The Silver Chair."

There is gentle humor in the Narnia Chronicles, but I would not call them side-splittingly funny. Were there any parts that were more overtly humorous?
I laughed out loud at the Monopods in "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader."

I had intended to jump right into The Magician's Book after finishing the series, but find I need to process the books a little more, and also need to get immersed in another world for awhile. However, I will probably read it and post on it fairly soon, so stay tuned!
Oh - what IS Turkish Delight, anyway?

By the Lion's Mane,

Reverent Reader


At 3/24/09, 1:31 PM , Blogger reverendmother said...

I've had Turkish Delight, and don't like it much. Imagine squares of very thick and slightly sticky fruit gelatin, covered in powdered sugar.

The big question you missed: in which order should one read the books? You read it the way I did, chronologically. My husband think that's an abomination, and swears by the order of publication, in which LWW comes first. Since I was reading them as an adult, and for more theological reasons, I liked getting the whole sweep of history, from Genesis to Revelation, as it were.

I have a book, Companion to Narnia, or something like that, that goes into more detail with the characters and symbols. Kind of like an encyclopedia.

And I've used that "Of course he's not safe! But he's good. He's the king" quite in many a sermon.

I do love the series and am glad that I'm not the only one who discovered it as an adult. I too found the Lord of the Rings trilogy totally impossible.

At 3/24/09, 3:29 PM , Blogger Reverent Reader said...

Hey RM! E. and I have had the EXACT SAME discussion about the order in which one should read the books. He swears that LWW should be first, follwed by "Prince Caspian" and then "Voyage of the Dawn Treader." I did think about raising that in my post, but was afraid that can of worms would make the post interminable! Thanks for weighing in!


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