I never read The Chronicles of Narnia as a kid. I read them the first time a few years ago, before The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe was released. And I kind of liked the books. I don’t mind religious imagery, in fact, I think it’s pretty interesting stuff. Not that I believe it. But still. I liked the ideas C. S. Lewis had and there was some pretty basic stuff and very old (Christian-European) stories and beliefs he used well.
I guess that still holds true. But right now, I’m absolutely disgusted with myself for having ignored (or actually really not noticed?) the other side of these books: the misogyny, the xenophobia, the christian radicalisation.
And let’s not even start talking about the non-existent literary merit. [Bad, sketchy, one-dimensional characters, story telling that seems more like checking things off a list than actually telling something and police report style minimalistic writing.]
I started re-reading these books for the release of Prince Caspian. I read the first four in Summer, then took a break and asked myself whether I would continue and finally decided that I would do so in January. So, I’ve had a little more reaction time to the first four books.
Let me talk about each book shortly, in internal chronological order:
The Magician’s Nephew (1955)
Polly and Digory are used by Digory’s evil uncle as test subjects and accidentally witness the creation of Narnia by Aslan and incidentally bring the White Witch to Narnia.
Of course, as all the others this book is chokeful with Christian analogies and sketchy characters, but it’s my favourite of the seven books. Although (or probably because) it doesn’t seem to fit so well with the other books in the series, interestingly enough.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)
I guess that’s the most famous of the books, describing the Pevensies (Lucy, Edmund, Susan, Peter) first adventure into Narnia and how they became Kings and Queens of everything, because they are human. Oh yeah, and they defeat the White Witch.
There are some beautiful things happening in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. But most of the story leaves me scratching my head. The way Edmund is treated, for example. Or how none of the kids are actually characterised in any way.
The Horse and His Boy (1954)
Shasta is a Calormene boy and a slave, by chance he meets the talking horse Bree and together they make their escape to Narnia. On their way they meet another fugitive pair – Aravis and her talking horse Hwin.
I don’t know what this books is doing here. It doesn’t fit the rest of the Chronicles and this is really where the xenophobia starts. Like big time. I don’t think that anybody would be any poorer if this drivel was never published.
Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia (1951)
Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy are once again whisked away to Narnia, where they help Prince Caspian claiming his rightful throne as King of Narnia.
I think this is the book where the children’s characters are the worst, ever. The movie did a wonderful job giving them some issues and depth. But I love Reepicheep. Again, there are some wonderful images in this novel, but mostly I want to scream in frustration when I read it.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)
Edmund, Lucy and their cousin Eustace find themselves on the ship The Dawn Treader with Caspian, travelling to the end of the world.
This book sets my head spinning. On the one hand, there’s really cool stories. On the other hand, there seems to be even more misogyny than usual. There’s Reepicheep again, but the whole thing seems to be a pointless sequence of scenes.
I probably should say that I won’t see The Voyage of the Dawn Treader or any of the other to be released Narnia movies becuase of all the issues I have with the books. But I know myself and I know that I will. In my defense: the movies are actually better than the books, scaling way back on the misogyny and the xenophobia.
The Silver Chair (1953)
Eustace and Jill are back in Narnia, sent on a mission by Aslan himself to save Prince Rilian, who disappeared a while ago.
This book really got me going. The way Lewis condescendingly talks about the school Eustace and Jill attend (apparently a school that *gasp* doesn’t hit its students!) made me want to hit Lewis in return. The the whole story is kind of weird. Although I do like Puddleglum, but that’s about as much good as I can say about this book.
The Last Battle (1956)
When an ape convinces a donkey to pose as Aslan and makes a deal with the Calormenes, King Tirian has to call on all the humans who have ever been in Narnia to help him defeat the threat.
I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. It’s the escalation of all that is bad in these books. And the whole Susan thing and the ending… I just hate it. It ruins everything that was still left to be ruined.
C. S. Lewis: You and me, we’re fucking done, professionally. Fucking ass.