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...