Voyage of the Dawn Treader: My Favorite Narnia Book

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

Which Narnia book is your favorite and why?

Voyage of the Dawn Treader: My Favorite Narnia Book

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has always been my favorite Narnia book. Part of that is undoubtedly because it focuses on Lucy, my favorite protagonist throughout the series. However, more importantly, I have always loved the sense of adventure the book imparts. Going beyond the known boundaries of Narnia is incredibly exciting! Readers never know what the voyagers will encounter next–scholars, dragons, maybe even a star! The joy of discovery is on every page.

However, Dawn Treader also possesses its more somber moments, which give the book the weight I think it needs to be something I truly want to return to again and again. Though Caspian and his crew are thrilled to be sailing where few have sailed before, not all their discoveries are wonderful. Lucy falls to temptation and experiences heartbreak. Eustace succumbs to greed and faces the possibility of never being able to return again. Reepicheep must decide if the quest is worth his life. The questions they each face, about what is most important to them and why, are the questions readers must confront in their own lives. And that makes the book resonate with me each time I pick it up.

The entire Narnia series is one that I love returning to year after year. But Dawn Treader has always held a special place in my heart. It seems to encompass so much! And in such a small volume. The best books are the ones that reveal something new to me each time I return. And Dawn Treader continues to do that.

A Classic I Loved As a Child but Love Less Now (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

What Is Classic Remarks?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

How Can I Participate?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

This Week’s Prompt:

What is a classic you loved when you were younger, but feel differently about now?

Star Divider

Considering that we celebrate the works of C.S. Lewis frequently here at Pages Unbound, this may be a bit shocking, but I enjoyed The Chronicles of Narnia much more as a child than I did rereading them as an adult.

I first encountered Narnia with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in third grade, and I went on to read and reread the entirety of the series (besides The Last Battle, which I’ve only read twice) over the course of the next two years or so.  I was obsessed.  I loved the stories.  I was disappointed in the existing movies; I was excited when new movies were announced.  I basically wanted to be Lucy Pevensie or to somehow find myself suddenly in Narnia one day.

So I was very surprised when I reread The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as an adult and felt the story was a bit…sparse.  As a child, I felt as though I could open the pages, walk into Narnia, live the story and just live there.  As adult, I felt like nothing was happening and nothing was explained and there was just so much missing that I had apparently just imagined into the story when I was younger.  Sometimes I wonder if this says something sad about me (I’ve moved away from being able to take words and make them come alive with my own imagination to being rigidly fixated on exactly what is or is not written on the page?), but the end result is that I definitely found the story shorter and less detailed than I remembered it.  And it was disappointing.

I still have a lot of respect for C.S. Lewis and for The Chronicles of Narnia.  There is a lot of good scholarship on the series, so clearly adults are finding things that are interesting and complex about the books, enough so to fill their own books with discussion of them. However, the difference between my experience reading the books as an adult and as a child was so stark that I’m not sure I’ll ever fully get over it, and sometimes I wish I still had the ability to read a short chapter book and make it come alive for myself, rather than thinking something is lacking.

Briana

Finding Narnia: The Story of C. S. Lewis and His Brother by Caroline McAlister, Illustrated by Jessica Lanan

Information

Goodreads: Finding Narnia
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: November 2019

Summary

Caroline McAlister follows Jack and Warnie Lewis from boyhood to the writing of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in this picture book biography.

Star Divider

Review

Finding Narnia proves a lackluster picture book biography, so focused on simplifying matters for children that it loses its heart in the process. Caroline McAlister seeks to move from Jack and Warnie’s boyhoods up to the writing of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but, rather than focusing on concrete details, attempts to write a thematic work tied together by the concept of Jack and Warnie’s differences, and Jack’s longing to find out “What if?” The result is that the book provides neither enough biographical meat to feel like real biography, nor enough emotional resonance to feel like inspirational. The biographical end note is more effective at bringing Jack to life than the picture book text.

Writing a picture book biography is no small feat, as a lifetime must be condensed into only a couple hundred words. Caroline McAlister attempts to do this by trying to give readers a “feeling” for who Jack and Warnie were instead of fitting in as many facts of possible. Jack likes stories. Warnie likes technology. Jack likes knights. Warnie like trains. Jack likes a world of talking animals. Warnie likes India in the real world. Unfortunately, it feels like this contrast (perhaps oversimplified for drama), comes sometimes at the expense of biographical fact. Moments like Mrs. Lewis’s death and WWI are glossed over, creating a lack of emotion in the book. A writer usually cannot dismiss WWI in three sentences and still have readers understand how such an event impacted the characters. Without this understanding, it is hard for readers to feel why Jack’s question of “What if?” was so important to him.

The ending of the book regrettably does nothing to leave the readers with a a lasting impact. Instead, it just tapers off into a vague summary of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, in a bid to appeal to avid fans and the sense of wonder that Lewis’s world creates. Needless to say, this ending will probably be less meaningful to those discovering Lewis for the first time through the book. And it will probably confuse children expecting some sort of conclusive ending.

The illustrations in Finding Narnia are nice. They are serviceable. But they are not memorable and they do not save the book from feeling underwhelming. They are, however, apparently well-researched, based on the number of end notes provided to explain the details readers may have missed.

One begins to regret that all the research done for the book does not seem immediately obvious, due to McAlister’s struggle to write a successful picture book. She is far more engaging writing the lengthy biography at the end of the book and it seems clear that her love for C. S. Lewis would probably have been better used if she had written a book for older readers. Still, fans of the Inklings often tend to like things just because the Inklings are mentioned in them, and I suspect some fans will just be cheered to see any picture book featuring Jack and Warnie.

2 star review

The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth

Information

Goodreads: The Light Between Worlds
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: Oct. 2018

Summary

Five years ago, Evelyn Hapwell, her brother Jamie, and her sister Phillipa found themselves transported to the magical world of the Woodlands while hiding during an air raid. Then, after fighting a war there over the course of five years, they were sent back to London at the very moment they had departed.  Evelyn would do anything to return to the tree spirits and the mighty elk Cervus.  But Philippa, concerned with nylons and boys, is convinced they must make a life where they are.  When Evelyn goes missing, however, Philippa must confront her past.

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Review

“My story hasn’t ended yet.”

The Light Between Worlds is, depending on how one interprets it, either a highly derivative work or a thoughtful reimagining of what it might have been like to return from Narnia.  Full of obvious parallels to C. S. Lewis’s popular children’s series, the book follows two sisters: one who longs to return to the magical world they left and one determined to make the best of the life they now lead.  It is a provocative premise, but one that might have been better served by more original plot elements and less overwrought prose.

Though kind readers will likely accept The Light Between Worlds as a continuation of Narnia rather than as a pale imitator, the question remains: Is it necessary to copy Narnia in order to explore some of the questions the books leave open?  Catherynne M. Valente, after all, explores a similar theme in her highly original Fairyland series–the question of what happens when mortals returned from Faerie would do anything to return.  Instead of creating her own rich world, however, Laura E. Weymouth chooses to write one-to-one correspondences, giving readers a story in which Evelyn/Lucy, along with Jamie/Peter and Phillipa/Susan, ally themselves with Cervus/Aslan to fight a villain who combines elements of the White Witch, the Telmarines, and Carlomen.  Parallels run rampant as the trio are called by a bugle sound from WWII-era London to the Woodlands where they dwell in a castle by the sea and fight a war for five years, before returning to the exact moment they left.  Is this a homage or a rip-off?  Perhaps, sadly, it does not matter as readers will be too distracted by finding parallels (and deciding whether they should be offended or not) to truly enjoy the story.

If readers can get past the obvious parallels, however, the story has a lot to offer as it largely avoids becoming the standard YA fare full of love triangles, out-of-the-blue betrayals, and enemies-to-lovers tropes.  In particular, the story sets itself apart by trying to capture that elusive element of Faerie, that feeling of awe that occurs when boundaries between worlds blend in the woods.  It furthermore focuses on two sisters, each very different, each viewing the story through her own distorted perspective.  Evelyn captures sympathy with her desire to gain what she has lost while Philippa inspires as a kind of redeemed Susan, one who wears lipstick as a weapon to conquer the world.  If the story could have only avoided the dreaded insta-love (two times!), there would have been much to celebrate.

Unfortunately, however, many of the book’s good qualities are obscured, not only by the Narnia parallels, but also by the overwrought prose.  It desperately yearns to be “lyrical,” but stringing fancy words together does not necessarily make a sentence flow.  Nor does writing a string of vague sentences guarantee an air of mystery.  Half the time the prose makes no sense and the other half of the time it simply sounds ridiculous.  But it all becomes exceedingly hilarious when Evelyn intersperses her overly dramatic narration with interludes about needing socks.  Or when she speaks for the first time and says things like, “Thanks, Dad.  You’re a brick.”  Who is this girl who narrates her life as Evelyn, beloved of Cervus, walker between the worlds, who writes in first-person fancy prose, but who speaks to others using ordinary slang?  It is all incredibly jarring.

The Light Between the Worlds is an engaging book with richly drawn protagonists.  However, the resemblance to C. S. Lewis’s beloved children’s books, as well as the desperate prose, will likely lose the story some fans.

3 Stars

Classic Remarks: The Fate of Susan Pevensie

Classic Remarks 1

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.  Feel free to comment even if you are not officially participating!  This week’s prompt is:

Susan Pevensie’s fate in C. S. Lewis’s The Last Battle has been criticized for being sexist. Do you think it’s sexist or is Lewis trying to do or say something else?


The Last Battle

WARNING: Spoilers for The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis.

Context

For those who don’t quite remember, Susan Pevensie is noticeably absent from The Last Battle, at a time when nearly every other beloved Narnia character gets to make a reappearance.  When confronted with her absence, the other kings and queens have a lot to say.  Readers who think the passage is sexist, as today’s discussion question indicates, tend to fixate on the fact that Susan is now said to be wearing lipstick (gasp!).  Here’s the full passage for better context:

“My sister Susan,” answered Peter shortly and gravely, “is no longer a friend of Narnia.”

“Yes,” said Eustace, “and whenever you’ve tried to get her to come and talk about Narnia or do anything about Narnia, she says, ‘What wonderful memories you have! Fancy your still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children.’”

“Oh, Susan!” said Jill. “She’s interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations. She always was a jolly site too keen on being grown-up.”

“Grown-up, indeed,” said the Lady Polly. “I wish she would grow up. She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she’ll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age. Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one’s life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can.”

Atheism, Vanity, or Sexism?

I’ll be the first to admit I do not like everything C. S. Lewis has to say about women and the role of women; however, reading this passage as a sexist condemnation of Susan because she’s become obsessed with stereotypical female items is short-sighted.  The problem is bigger and more complicated than a personal dismissal by Lewis of womanly vanity. Rather, the issue is that Susan is no longer interested in Narnia and she is interested in things one might consider “worldly.”

The fact that the Chronicles of Narnia is Christian allegory is incredibly important for interpreting this passage.   The words say that Susan no longer believes in Narnia because she finds it childish to believe in magic.  But a disbelief in Narnia is also a disbelief in Aslan, and since Aslan is the way Christ manifests in Narnia, the implication is that Susan has lost some of her belief in God.  There’s not a lot elaboration here. Is she atheist? Agnostic? Nominally Christian but not really practicing ? At any rate, there’s a distinct issue with Susan’s lack of faith.  She’s essentially become too adult (too “intelligent?”) to believe in myths and things she cannot see.

Lewis hammers this point home by suggesting that, since Susan no longer concerns herself with spiritual matters, she has concerned herself too much with worldly matters.  To me, the mention of “nylons and lipstick and invitations” is just Lewis’s way of saying she’s obsessed with passing material things.  It is unfortunate that “lipstick” becomes an obvious stand-in for “vanity” since make-up isn’t inherently either good or bad, and implying women who wear it are spiritually corrupt is a low blow.  However, I don’t think we should read too much into it.  First, Lewis is obviously not saying women are more likely to be corrupted by the world than men are. Second, I think critics’ focus on the word “lipstick” overlooks so much else in the passage.  It even overlooks the “invitations” that come right after it, which simply implies Susan is prioritizing her social life over her spiritual life, and that’s not a specifically female failing.

However, Susan’s situation might not be so dire as readers generally interpret it to be.  Polly certainly has a strong opinion on the matter, suggesting Susan will grow up to be the type of woman who’s continually chasing after her lost youth.  However, Polly isn’t Aslan; she doesn’t actually know the future, and this is just her disillusioned best guess.  In reality, we simply don’t know what happens to Susan.  Yet we do know that she has lost her entire family. Peter, Edmund, and Lucy have died, but so have their parents (as well as all the Narnian kings and queens that Susan is evidently friends with).  People respond to tragedy in many ways.  This may drive Susan to seek even more comfort in worldly pleasures, or it may be the wake-up call that reminds her what’s important and brings her back to God.

I like to think there’s hope for Susan.  Lewis definitely gives a dig at lipstick, but it’s clearly not what he meant the focus of the passage to be; it’s what we, decades later with our feminist reading lenses, have chosen to focus on.  It may be an unfortunate or thoughtless stand-in for vanity or other moral failings, but the message is really not that “Susan is damned because she likes make-up” and critics who have said so have missed the point (I’m looking at you, Emily Wilson).

Briana

The Twistrose Key by Tone Almhjell

The Twistrose KeyInformation

Goodreads: The Twistrose Key
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: October 22, 2013

Official Summary

A striking middle-grade debut in the tradition of The Chronicles of Narnia and The Golden Compass

When a mysterious parcel arrives at her family’s new home, eleven-year-old Lin Rosenquist has a curious feeling she’s meant to discover what’s inside.

Much to Lin’s surprise, the ornate key contained in the parcel unlocks a spellbinding world called Sylver, hidden behind the cellar door. Sylver is an enchanting land of eternal winter, inhabited by animals that shared a special connection with children in the real world, either as beloved pets or tamed wild animals. In death, they are delivered to Sylver, where they take on a curiously human-like form and still watch over the children they cherish. While Lin is overjoyed to be reunited with her beloved pet, Rufus, she soon learns that the magic of the Petlings and Wilders is failing, and snow trolls want to claim Sylver for themselves. Lin must discover a way to stop them and save this enchanted world.

Full of charm, suspense, and heartfelt emotion, this memorable classic in the making will leave readers breathless.

Review

The Twistrose Key promises a lot, and I was attracted the moment I heard of it.  The official summary boasts, “Exhilarating suspense and unforgettable characters await the readers of this magical adventure, destined to become a classic.”  A classic magical middle-grade adventure? I thought.  It’s about time someone wrote a book that can stand alongside The Chronicles of Narnia. Count me in!

Unfortunately, for the first 100 pages—nearly one third of the book—I felt I was reading Narnia (see specific comparison quotes below).  From the main character’s chance meeting with a talking creature in a snowy magical world to the way time works in Sylver, it is clear Almhjell is heavily inspired by Lewis.  While taking some seeds from Narnia would not be amiss in a fantasy, attempting a rewrite of Lucy Pevensie’s iconic meeting with Mr. Tumnus in a frozen wood is bold—and in most cases destined for failure.

Once all the background information on the world of Sylver and Lin’s quest there is set up, the book does become more original.  It also becomes more fast-paced.  Protagonists Rufus and Lin travel more widely, they encounter more powerful magic, and they uncover a number of titillating secrets.  They decipher prophecies, they escape from traps, and they battle a horde of trolls.  It’s quite exciting, really, and made all the better by the bond between Rufus and Lin.  They are fantastic traveling companions, determined to stick by each other through whatever adventures befall them.

The story also gets progressively darker, which is a major departure from Narnia in itself.  Lin suffers various injuries, with appropriate gushing of blood, and seems in real danger of dying at several points.  The descriptions of what happens to some of the bad guys in the tale are also pretty grisly.  This edgy take on children’s fantasy will appeal immensely to modern audiences.

However, Almhjell strikes a great balance by including childlike moments and activities that lighten the tone of the novel.  Lin refuses to remove the grubby old cardigan her grandmother knit her and that Rufus used to live in.  She recalls her times playing troll-hunters with her friend at home when she must fight real trolls.  She thinks how disappointed her parents will be if she fails in her quest and never returns home.  Lin, though a Twistrose, is still a little girl—and a delightful one at that.  A well-written and believable child heroine.

The Twistrose Key certainly has its flaws.  Its beginning is very derivative, and when it is not being derivative it can be confusing.  (Lin’s quest, in particular, is not clearly defined when introduced.)  However, if readers are willing to stick out the story until the point Rufus and Lin leave Sylveros, they will find a real adventure awaiting—one that has action, but also charm, one that takes readers to magical places, but also explores real questions like the nature of friendship and courage.  I am not as in love with The Twistrose Key as I had sincerely hoped, but it is a pleasant read for fans of the genre.

Purple Ribbon

Are you sure we’re not in Narnia?

This section includes a side-by-side comparison of quotes The Twistrose Key and The Chronicles of Narnia, in order to highlight the similarities.  The quotes, of course, count as spoilers for those who prefer to go into books blind.

“There was no cellar, and no riverbank, either.  Instead she looked out on a desolate, frozen mountain valley, where winter twilight painted the snow blue, and stern peaks rose into the sky.  A creature crouched in the snow before her, facing away, but so close that she could smell it: a musky scent” (Twistrose 9).

“And then she saw that there was a light ahead of her; not a few inches away where the back of the wardrobe ought to have been, but a long way off.  Something cold and soft was falling on her.  A moment later she found that she was standing in the middle of a wood at night-time with snow under her feet and snowflakes falling through the air…She heard a pitter patter of feet coming towards her.  And soon after that a very strange person stepped out from among the trees into the light of the lamp-post” (Narnia 113-114).

“When true danger rises, when the last hope is lost, it is said in Sylver that only a child of Earth can help” (56).

“When Adam’s flesh and Adam’s bone
Sits at Cair Paravel in throne,
The evil time will be over and done” (147).

“That’s right, girl.  Time flows differently in Sylver…An hour here can be a day in your world, or a day can be a week, we never know” (49).

“If, I say, she [Lucy] had got into another world, I should not be at all surprised to find that the other world had a separate time of its own; so that however long you stayed there it would never take up any of our time” (132).

“The Observatory allows us to see our human children, but only for a time….”

“You mean because they died?”

“No.  Because they aren’t children anymore” (344-345).

“’Oh, you two [Lucy and Edmund] are,’ said Peter.  ‘At least, from what [Aslan] said, I’m pretty sure he means you to get back [to Narnia] some day.  But not Su and me.  He says we’re getting too old’” (417).

Works Cited

Almhjell, Tone. The Twistrose Key. New York: Penguin, 2013. Print.

Lewis, C. S. The Chronicles of Narnia. New York: HarperCollins, 2002. Print.

The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis

The Magician's NephewGoodreads: The Magician’s Nephew
Series: The Chronicles of Narnia #1
Source: Purchased

Summary:  When Digory’s magician uncle trick him and his friend Polly into wearing his magic rings, the children find themselves in place they believe is the gateway to a number of new worlds.  Wonder turns into worry, however, when they visit a dying world and unwittingly release an ancient evil that will follow them home to their world and then to the newly created Narnia.

Review:

[Some Spoilers!]

When I first read The Magician’s Nephew in fourth grade, I was not impressed.  After the excitement of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, this book seemed pretty tame.  The main character was, first of all, a boy (Polly has always seemed a bit ancillary to me) and a lot less happens, in terms of action.  Digory and Polly accidentally release a crazy sorceress and then, what?  Watch a world get born.  Half the time, the crazy sorceress is not even around; she is off ruining the lives of people who are not the main characters.

Re-reading has slowly changed my opinion.  In the first place, I have grown to believe that watching a world come into being is interesting after all.  There is the obvious enjoyment that readers learn a few fun facts from this book, such as where the lamppost and the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe originate, but there is also a more subtle pleasure to be had in watching Aslan bring Narnia to life.  The connections between Aslan and God are fairly obvious here; he is the Creator, he is both terrifying and wonderful, and he knows everything about you.  Watching Lewis’s imagining of how a Creator might operate is fascinating.  The Magician’s Nephew, then, is a bit more about the experience of art and creation than about an exciting plot.

Nonetheless, the book does have entertaining moments.  Digory’s Uncle Andrew is a schemer with no backbone to support his plans, and it gets him into some hilarious situations when he must interact with people of stronger personalities.  Likewise, the Talking Animals Aslan creates get into lots of scrapes while exploring the new world around them.  And, yes, there is the rampaging evil Sorceress.  While these moments have never struck me as comprising the bulk of the book, they do add lots of life and fun.

Finally, this is Narnia and it is Christian allegory, so of course there are moral lessons.  However, Lewis manages to incorporate them into the plot; it is Digory learning the lessons, and then the reader tangentially, so it never sounds preachy.  As a child, I never felt Lewis was talking down to me or purposely trying to instruct me from his vantage as a wise adult, and I never get that sense from re-reading.

The Magician’s Nephew is a quieter book than some of the other Chronicles, but it is imaginative and ultimately charming.  It also helps complete the circle of Narnia’s existence by presenting its origin, and I think portraying a world from start to finish is a beautiful concept for a series.

Published: 1955

Krysta 64

C.S. Lewis Read-Along: The Chronicles of Narnia Discussion Questions

Lewis Button

To start off our event, here are some discussion questions for The Chronicles of Narnia series in general.  Feel free to post your answers on your own blog at any time or comment below!

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you think The Chronicles of Narnia should first be read chronologically or by date of publication?
  2. What do you think the Christian elements add or detract from the series?
  3. Do you think it is important for children’s books to have more humor than this series?
  4. Who are your favorite characters from the series and why?

Briana’s Answers

1. Do you think The Chronicles of Narnia should first be read chronologically or by date of publication?

I was first introduced to the series when my third grade teacher read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to my class.  I fell in love and obsessively read and reread the series for at least the following year.  I may be biased because of that, but I have since concluded that beginning with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe does make sense.  It is a more immediately gripping and interesting story than The Magician’s Nephew in my (and many readers’ opinions) and therefore a better tactic for getting new readers to like the series.  The Magician’s Nephew is also more interesting in retrospect, as readers can see details like the origins of the infamous lamppost and think, “Oh, so that’s how that got there!”

2. What do you think the Christian elements add or detract from the series?

When I initially read the series as a child, I did not notice the books were Christian allegory—and this certainly was not due to an ignorance of Christian teaching on my part—so I can personally see no argument that the Christianity takes something away from the books.  They’re good, adventurous stories.

In defense of the allegory, however, I do think it is worth something that C. S. Lewis was invested in putting what he saw as truth into his books.  Great books are always something in which the authors truly believe, and they contain things the authors think are important.  Lewis’s commitment to Christianity, I think, is part of what gives Narnia lots of heart.  And, to be honest, Christianity is full of great stories, even if one is a non-believer, so they are interesting reworked into fantasy, as well.

3. Do you think it is important for children’s books to have more humor than this series?

It never even occurred to me that The Chronicles of Narnia were not funny until I read a few pieces of literary criticism that took a huge issue with its lack.  Apparently, children are just not drawn into books that are funny, or books that do not crack jokes are too serious for them to handle.  Either way, I do not think Narnia is suffering from its lack of humor; I loved the books as a child and continue to do so now.  Also, books that try intentionally and often to be funny run the risk of alienating readers who have different senses of humor from the author.

4. Who are your favorite characters from The Chronicles of Narnia and why?

I was always a fan of Lucy as a child.  She’s the youngest, the underdog who is generally right and generally good, but no one believes it of her.  What child wouldn’t identify with that?

I also love Reepicheep, however, for being a fantastic combination of bravery, nobility, and cuteness.  He has some of the most quotable lines, as well.

The Horse and His Boy by C. S. Lewis

Illustrated by Pauline Baynes

Summary:  Shasta has grown up in Calormen believing an old fisherman to be his father.  One night, however, he overhears a nobleman offering to buy him as a slave and learns that the fisherman found him in a boat, a survivor of a shipwreck.  Realizing that he comes from the North, Shasta resolves to escape.  With him journeys Bree, a Talking Horse enslaved in youth and also determined to return home.  Their journey will set into motion a series of events which will decide the fate of both Archenland and Narnia.

(Note that the review assumes that you have read the book and works more as an analysis than as a review.  If you don’t wish to be spoiled, don’t read on!)

Review: Though set in a land of cruelty where the people do not know Aslan, The Horse and His Boy proves one of the most beautiful books in the Chronicles of Narnia.  Its beauty stems from our gradual realization that Aslan himself is the Author of the story. He has been with Shasta and the others from the beginning, turning the evils in their lives into good, and prodding them into the right direction when they begin to stray from their purpose.  Even when the other characters fear him out of ignorance or try to drive him away, he never abandons them.  And, incredibly, they ultimately discover that their wills and Aslan’s overlap, that what Aslan wants for them is what will truly make them happy.

None of this, of course, presents itself to us immediately.  We may even find the portrayal of Aslan in this book sterner than in the others.  He brings mercy, but also justice.  He personally swipes his claw across the back of Aravis, so that she knows the harm she inflicted upon her stepmother’s slave.  When Rabadash refuses to accept the mercy of the kings, Aslan turns him into a donkey.  Still, I have never heard that anyone found Aslan truly frightening or even unfair.  We recognize that both Aravis and Rabadash brought their fates on themselves.  Aravis, however, accepts her punishment and repents; Rabadash does not.  Aslan desperately desires to save both from harm, but both have free will.  He chastises only with reluctance and we know that he does so only because the punishment helps his children turn back to him.  Rabadash’s first rejection of love means that something greater is needed to prod him in the right direction.  His transformation into a donkey makes him one of the most peaceful kings ever to rule Calormen; we hope this helps reduce his pride.

Since Lewis presents pride as one of the central themes of the story, it is worthwhile for us to investigate its presence in the book more closely.  Aravis, Bree, and Rabadash all exhibit pride.  Aravis refuses to travel with or speak to a social inferior, Bree fears Horses in Narnia will think him silly, and Rabadash cannot stand for others to laugh at him.  Their pride threatens their relationship with God as well as with others.  In Mere Christianity, Lewis explains why.  He notes: “In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself.  Unless you know God as that—and, therefore, now yourself as nothing in comparison—you do not know God at all.”  Since we are all members of the Body of Christ, it is also difficult for us to be in a right relationship with each other if we do not know God.  Lewis, however, gives us hope.  Aslan forgives those who have harmed him and welcomes them back to himself with joy.

Lewis will continue to explore the nature of forgiveness and the road back to God in The Magician’s Nephew and The Last Battle.  It has appeared as a running theme throughout the series, beginning with the treachery of Edmund, but everything culminates in the Great Story without end.  The Horse and His Boy offers us a glimpse of that joy on earth when we humbly present ourselves before God and act in accordance with His will.

Published: 1954

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Krysta 64