When Chris over at Calmgrove canvassed for interest in a readalong of the Narnia books, back in the middle of the year, I was instantly interested; C.S. Lewis‘s books were crucial to me when I was growing up, and I read them over and over again. I still have my fragile old Puffin paperbacks and although I haven’t looked at them in decades, I do feel that I know them backwards. I wondered how I would find them now, as an old bat rather than a young stripling, so I shall try to stick to the schedule and re-read one a month – which shouldn’t be too much of a hardship!

Happily, the reading order is publication order, of which I am very much in favour – after all, that’s how Lewis wrote them and the order in which the story developed, so that just seems right to me. The first book in the series is of course the most famous, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, and even those who haven’t read the whole sequence probably know of this one.

The book opens simply with the lines “Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy.” They will be our protagonists throughout, and as the story begins they’ve been sent away to the country during WW2 for their own safety. Billeted in a big rambling house with an old professor and his housekeeper, there’s plenty to do outside to occupy the children. However, bad weather sends them off exploring the house and it’s in a room empty of everything but a wardrobe where the adventures begin. Lucy, the youngest, discovers as she hides in the wardrobe that it leads to another land, called Narnia, where it’s always winter but never Christmas. Here she meets a faun, Mr. Tumnus and has tea with him. There are all manner of talking animals and trees, and eventually Mr. Tumnus reveals the land is ruled by a White Witch who has an interest in human children… Lucy makes it back to her own world, but no-one believes she’s been gone; but things do not end there, and all four children will enter Narnia, encounter Aslan the lion king and fight battles they never imagined…

A great crowd of people were standing all round the Stone Table and though the moon was shining many of them carried torches which burned with evil-looking red flames and black smoke. But such people! Ogres with monstrous teeth, and wolves, and bull-headed men; spirits of evil trees and poisonous plants; and other creatures whom I won’t describe because if I did the grown-ups would probably not let you read this book – Cruels and Hags and Incubuses, Wraiths, Horrors, Efreets, Sprites, Orknies, Wooses, and Ettins. In fact here were all those who were on the Witch’s side and whom the Wolf had summoned at her command. And right in the middle, standing by the Table, was the Witch herself.

The story captivates from the start, and reading it as an adult I can see why. Much of this I put down to Lewis’s wonderful writing style; he was obviously a born storyteller. Conversational, descriptive, addressing the reader directly, any child picking this up would be sucked straight into the story – and I certainly was, both as a youngster and now! The story itself is totally absorbing – its creatures marvellous inventions, its setting completely realised, and the concept of a portal into another world through a wardrobe is just inspired. The action is stirring, the good characters lovable and the evil ones quite chilling. It’s a fully convincing world, and I know I would have liked to step into it when I was young.

Obviously reading the book now I see the underlying moral concepts, and these *are* interesting. Lewis’s Christianity is visible though it never takes over the story; rather ideas of good and evil are demonstrated, and certain characters learn lessons about what’s right and wrong. The bad guys are brilliantly portrayed, and really scary – and appear quite strikingly in one of Pauline Baynes’ excellent illustrations.

The latter, in fact, deserve special mention of their own as they must have formed the visual image of Narnia for a multitude of children as well as myself. The drawings are perfect, as far as I’m concerned, and I’ve never wanted to see anyone else’s interpretation. As I re-read “Lion…” I realised quite how important those drawings had been to my perceptions of Narnia, augmenting Lewis’s wonderfully chatty prose – they really are stunning!

So they lived in great joy and if ever they remembered their life in this world it was only as one remembers a dream.

I re-read “Lion…” in pretty much one sitting and found myself completely engrossed, despite knowing the story so well. Even though I remembered what was to come, the tension was still there when characters were in peril, and I found myself immersed emotionally in the telling of the tale. I come back to Lewis’s writing here, because I really can’t praise it enough – I have a love of language and good writing, and maybe some of that stems from my childhood reading of the Narnia books.

Well, I could go on but there’s no point slingling more superlatives about; and I’m sure that Chris will have a really interesting post coming out looking at the underlying symbolism and imagery in the books, and the themes. Me, I’m just happy I had the excuse of reacquainting myself with this wonderful storyteller; and as I remember the rest of the books less well than this one, I’m really looking forward to the rest of the readalong! 😀