Sunday, December 04, 2005

Alison Lurie

on the Chronicles of Narnia at the Guardian. I must confess that I have read those novels innumerable times, and that in spite of the obvious problems I still find them completely enchanting (I reread the whole set a couple years ago, and if I had them here right now I expect I would be ready to do it again). They're not the first novel series I fell in love with as a child--I got the Laura Ingalls Wilder ones for my fifth birthday and read them again and again--but then I got the Narnia ones for the next year's birthday and they were so perfectly the books that I loved and had been waiting for that I must say the set became exceptionally fragile and page-falling-out-y by not very many years later. These are the books I remember being completely obsessive about that year I was six--the summer I turned seven we moved to a new city and a new house so it is easy to mark these things. For some reason the most intense things I remember from the books are the things to eat and drink (well, I expect it's another one of these post-WWII-England-when-everything-was-horrible writing things, like Evelyn Waugh retrospectively embarrassed by the gluttony revealed in the wartime novel Brideshead Revisited): the Turkish Delight (which I imagined as being something like the buttery shortbread my mother made for dinner parties); the cordial Lucy is given by Aslan; the green and yellow rings like boiled sweets that Diggory's uncle has in The Magician's Nephew; the sherbets of The Horse and His Boy. But though there are all sorts of reasons I found them magically captivating, it also seems to me that they were painful (in a good way, I'm not saying this critically) in their moralizing about choices and ethics and so on: I was the kind of child who couldn't read about Edmund betraying his friends (and seriously, that novel offers a better depiction of the psychology of addiction than almost anything else I can think of) or about Jill forgetting to say the lines that Aslan has asked her to memorize without getting a serious knot in my stomach. In fact it's making me anxious just thinking about it.

Two good literary reflections on the Narnia stories: Anne Fadiman's introduction to the essay collection Rereadings: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love; and the amazing story called "The Problem of Susan" written by Neil Gaimanand published in the 2004 anthology Flights.


  1. I remembe reading them all when I was about 9 or 10 and liking them, and then realizing a year later about all the Christian/Muslim allegory and the critique of modern society and was angry in that righteous middle-school way about C.S. Lewis' hidden agenda. Thus I think they're ruined for me, which I suppose is sad, but just thinking about the plot "The Horse and His Boy" makes me feel uncomfortable. Maybe I'm too PC (also, I seem to remember reading somewhere that the Silver Chair is an attack on atheism, which obviously makes me angry, although I can't remember enough about specifics for that one to actually know why that would be)...

  2. Oh, yes, I think the Muslim stuff in "The Horse and His Boy" is probably unforgivable; do check out the Fadiman piece, it's really great, she describes reading the book aloud to her son & basically finding herself completely stymied because of a false and white-washing memory of the book. And yet, and yet...

  3. What a lot of nonsense. "The Muslim stuff" is "unforgiveable"? What you nitwit politically correct types forget is that the muslims--even the "moderate" ones--think that all christians are "heathens" and "infidels" who are not much better than animals, and who will not go to heaven. And of course we all know what the Wahhabists think of "infidels"--the only good infidel, is a dead infidel. Yet you let what you're "supposed to think" ruin a perfectly good piece of literature for yourselves that you would otherwise enjoy. Pathetic. Get a brain; learn how to use it.