“Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy.”
There is a wardrobe in an old room. Picture yourself opening the wardrobe door. You climb inside it, carefully leaving the door cracked open slightly as you push your way back in amongst the antique coats, which smell of dampness and age and silent history. But wait! It is cold underneath you and, as you reach down, you grasp a wet, slushy substance that could only be snow!
What a wonderful way to begin The C.S. Lewis Project, the Classic Children’s Literature Event and now Chris at Calmgrove’s #Narniathon event! The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is an enduring children’s classic that is magic, just pure magic! Peter, Susan, Edmond & Lucy discover an old wardrobe and find that it can transport them to another world called Narnia, where the White Witch has cast a spell on the land and “everything is winter and never Christmas.” However, all is not bleak and hopeless because Aslan the Lion is on the move. He begins to bring spring to Narnia, but Edmund betrays his siblings with the result that Aslan willingly pays for Edmund’s transgression with his life. With his resurrection, and after an enormous battle led by Peter and Edmund, Aslan is acknowledged King of Narnia.
Lewis rejected the assertion that this story was intended as an allegory and, being an expert in that area, Lewis was certainly qualified to judge:
“By an allegory I mean a composition (whether pictorial or literary) in which immaterial realities are represented by feigned physical objects, eg., a pictured Cupid allegorically represents erotic love (which in reality is an experience, not an object occupying a given area of space) or, in Bunyan, a giant represents Despair.
If Aslan represented the immaterial Deity in the same way in which Giant Despair represents Despair, he would be an allegorical figure. In reality however he is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, “What might Christ become like if there really were a world like Narnia and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?” This is not allegory at all ……. This …… works out a supposition.”
While this book contains references to Christianity, Lewis did not initially set out to write a Christian story:
“Some people seem to think that I began by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children; then fixed on the fairy tale as an instrument, then collected information about child psychology and decided to what age group I’d write for; then drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out ‘allegories’ to embody them. This is all pure moonshine. I couldn’t write in that way. It all began with images: a faun with an umbrella, parcels, a lamppost, a snow-covered kingdom. At first there wasn’t even anything Christian about them. That element pushed itself in of its own accord.”
However, within the story Lewis communicates aspects of Christian faith in way that is easy to understand and, through the death of Aslan, Lewis allows us to experience the act of ultimate sacrifice, the agony and horror of Christ’s death and to experience the conflicting emotions of his friends and disciples, as well as their joy upon his resurrection. His style is a simple straight-forward narrative that easily communicates emotions of joy, perseverance, loyalty, pride, envy, betrayal, and sadness. A timeless story with timeless themes that can be read again and again with unabated enjoyment!
(Editted and Republished Post from January 14, 2014)
C.S. Lewis Project 2014, Children’s Literature Event, Narniathon21
Other Narnia Books
This was my favorite book when I was in fourth grade. I think it's time to read it to my younger ones.
Thanks for sharing that info about Lewis' take on allegories. So did he not agree with the way The Pilgrim's Progress was presented?
You're welcome! Lewis loved allegory and he followed the allegorical format of The Pilgrim's Progress in his Pilgrim's Regress. In this case, he was just attempting to explain the distinctions between allegory and supposition. The Giant Despair in TPP was not meant to be an actual physical being, but represents a feeling or experience; this signifies an allegory. Aslan is an actual being even though he represents Christ, so therefore he is not allegorical, but, in Lewis' terms, a supposition.
I knew that Lewis had said this story wasn't an allegory, but I didn't know the technical components of an allegory in detail, so Lewis' quote enlightened me as well!
C. S. Lewis is my favorite author ever, and I love how his works can be enjoyed by every age and at so many levels.
I would so love to join in the challenge but I'm super busy this year… Would you mind if I joined in for the few works of Lewis's I haven't read yet?
I'm looking forward for the rest of your posts on Lewis throughout the challenge!
Oh yes, Sophia, by all means join for just a few of the challenges! There will be quite a few members who will be choosing to only cover a few of the books. Just go to the Dead Writers Society on Goodreads, which is linked in my original C.S. Lewis Project post. It's a private group but just request membership and say I sent you. They are a lovely group of people and we have some very interesting discussions! Or you can just follow along from my blog if you want to be more incognito. 🙂
Got it! Good to know.
I wish I liked The Chronicles of Narnia more than I actually do. *sigh* Surprisingly I enjoyed this book the least out of five that I've read (yet). But to each their own. If and when I have children of my own, I will make sure to read these books to them early on, so they can avoid the same cynical trap I am stuck in right now. Very nice quotes, by the way. I think they explain quite a bit about Lewis's intentions.
I think you are wise to have your future children read these books when they are young; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was one of my top favourites as a child but, sadly, I don't enjoy it nearly as much now that I'm an adult. I understand the themes better now, but that doesn't make up for the loss of the imagination of a child that can take you right into the world of Narnia.
Oh, Lewis's comments are quite interesting–I've never seen them before, so I didn't know that was how he saw his story. I've always read Aslan and his saving of Edmund as allegory, but then again, I'm not really an expert at literary terms! The distinction between allegory and supposition does seem a bit of a fine line, though.
And I totally agree about returning to this again and again–every time I read this series I see something new. Glad you enjoyed it!
When I first read his comment, I thought the difference between allegory and supposition was splitting hairs, too. But I've been reading a book about reading books 🙂 and I wonder if the distinction is made because it should change HOW we read the book. And if we don't read the book the way it was intended to be read, perhaps it changes our experience of it ….???? If the allegory is an idea and a supposition is a replacement of the real thing, wouldn't a supposition be more personal and more effective …??? I'm not really sure myself ……. I just thought I'd throw that out there! 🙂
BTW, I'm really enjoying your challenge, Amanda. I'm on my third book now, so if I can get four read, I'll be happy!
Cool! I don't have a Goodreads for some strange reason, but I will be getting one shortly, so I'll join in for Mere Christianity, I think…
That's a good point about the difference between reading something as it was intended vs how we see it. Of course, no author can control how any reader personally reacts to their book(s). And now I'm inching my way into literary theory that I know very little about!
I'm glad you're enjoying the event. I'm having fun too, but rather than having FINISHED anything, I'm in the middle of three books! Hopefully I'll have two finished by Monday, though.
Lovely review! I regret not reading Lewis as a child as I’m afraid the time for me to enjoy his great work is probably past. He’s a very interesting writer, however, and I appreciate your discussion regarding the difference between an allegory and a supposition (I had always assumed The Lion,Witch was an allegory). I do find it a find line to draw; however, that doesn’t mean it’s non-existent! As you say, Lewis can be presumed to know what he was talking about vis á vis his work!
Thank you, Janakay! 🙏 Oh no, the time hasn’t past! Lewis himself said:
“It is usual to speak in a playfully apologetic tone about one’s adult enjoyment of what are called ‘children’s books’. I think the convention a silly one. No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty – except, of course, books of information. The only imaginative works we ought to grow out of are those which it would have been better not to have read at all.”
I thought it was an allegory too when I first read it until I read Lewis’ words and figured out what an allegory actually meant. In a true allegory, the characters all represent something. In TLTW&TW, Aslan is a supposition of what Christ might be like in another world but the other characters are representative of nothing but themselves. The book itself is really a hodge-podge of fantasy, medieval culture, philosophy, etc. which perhaps shouldn’t be surprising as Lewis was a professor of medieval and renaissance literature. Perhaps that’s what makes it so much fun.
I do hope you give them a try at some point. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!
This is still one of my absolute favorite books of all time. I can’t believe it’s been 8 years since we did the Return to Narnia read-along!
I know! I remember that read-along with fond memories. Yes, eight years and definitely time to read it again!!
like most, i was mesmerized by this at a young age… in many ways i wish i’d never grown up; a lot of magic has been lost… splendid pictures, i must say…
I remember being mesmerized too by this book, but then as a child I didn’t read any more of the series. I wish I had because it was definitely a different feeling reading it as a child. But reading it as an adult is valuable in a different way and one discovers things one missed as a child. I feel like you do. That childhood magic is so special. Perhaps it will return one day somewhere else ……
What a sympathetic review, and wonderful that you quote Lewis’s own words at length to counter the ‘allegorical’ theory with his ‘supposal’ concept!
I like that you indicate how far he cast his net and particularly appreciated your choice of images, particularly that of Una and the lion which I’d forgotten from my faint memories of ‘The Fairie Queene’ but which doubtless fed into his ragbag of influences.
A fantastic contribution to Narniathon (and the other memes, which I was unaware of).
Chris, you are so quick! I was going to go to your post and comment with the link to my review but you found it already.
Was it sympathetic? I find that when I read, I first try to put on the author’s shoes and try to get into his head complete with all its beliefs, values, etc., to understand him/her as well as I can. Only then do I let my own worldview colour what I’m reading. (or I try this process as much as possible, as it’s probably impossible to read something all the way through without one’s preconceived ideas colouring it at least a little) It’s interesting that Tolkien, who was Lewis’ good friend, hated this series but I don’t think it bothered Lewis much.
“Ragbag” is right! As we read further Lewis colours his writing with so many references and philosophies.
Thank you for your kind words and for hosting this read-along. I’m so glad to be able to read them again with others!
Oh do post a comment with a link to this piece on my blog — I get a pingback notice in the comments but it’s always good to have an individual response! Yes, your review was sympathetic, just as you say — I too try to get where an author is coming from without prejudging what they’ve written, but that isn’t always the case with someone I’ve read years ago when I was opinionated but relatively ignorant… Anyway, glad you’re appreciating the readalong, I’m eking out my read of Prince Caspian before composing my review.
Done and done!
Yes, that makes sense. I think I employ the same method each time because sometimes I wonder if with some time and experience I would more able to understand the author on the second or third read. But, of course, it would depend on what sort of book I was reading.
I love the images you chose. 🙂
Thank you, Lory! I was thrilled to find the wardrobe one.
Great post. The quotes from Lewis are fascinating, and it’s certainly not allegory the way Pilgrim’s Progress is allegory. (The first time I read it, I didn’t even realize there was an allegorical interpretation!) I should find a copy and reread it.
Thanks, Reese! You should read along with us. We’re reading one book per month so it’s very manageable. Have I tempted you? 😉
I saw it at Calmgrove & I’m definitely tempted. But I guess I’ll have to buy a copy. The twice before that I’ve read it, I read my brother’s copy–whom I haven’t been able to visit for two years, so I can’t steal his… 😉 –and I’ve never owned it. I looked at my library system & they’re popular, alas, so who knows when I could get theirs. But I do think it’s worth owning! (Not that I don’t already have enough books around the house…)
You should buy the series! I know the problem of too many books but since there’s already too many, what could another 7 hurt? 😉
Those quotes from Lewis are quite interesting! Thank you so much for sharing those! The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is my favorite in the whole Narnia series. And in my opinion, it is most definitely the most magical. My family and I, we all love the books and the movies. We actually watched the first movie in the series again just a few nights ago. 🙂
I would say The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is my favourite too, but from reading the series in published order, boy did I learn to appreciate The Horse and His Boy and The Magician’s Nephew much more than when I read it in chronological order.
I found the movie stripped the book of what was so important to Lewis and did not support what he was trying to communicate, but it was good fun in its own right. I should watch it again!
I get it. I was very frustrated with the movie made for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. But at the same time, I felt the movie was an excellent movie in its own right. Such is the conundrum of books and movies I guess. LOL
i LOVE these books! And while I did understand the aspect of sacrifice, it was not until I was an adult, did I realize that there was a Christian aspect to it. But the aspects of loyalty and love and just sense of adventure are also very universal!
I went back and read your review on Goodreads. And it’s so true …. the themes are universal and so positive yet in an odd way, since it’s a fantasy, extremely realistic. I’m so happy to read this series again.
What a lovely review! I know it seems like hair-splitting to many of us, the whole allegory/supposition thing, but having taken some medieval literature — and the course featured a whole lot of allegory — it really is quite different. You’re right; it changes how you read.
Thanks, Jean and I think you’re completely right. People tend to jump on the story as an intended Christian allegory(either to laud it or to criticize it) and I think, like Lewis (and you) mentioned, it’s something entirely different. If one can shed one’s preconceived ideas, it’s fascinating to discover what that “different” is.
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