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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe    by C. S. Lewis order for
Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
by C. S. Lewis
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 1994 (1950)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

When I recently re-read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first published of seven volumes of the Chronicles of Narnia, I was struck by the charming dedication to Lucy - 'I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books ... you are already too old for fairy tales ... But some day you will be old enough to read fairy tales again.' Fortunately most of us do that and appreciate these books both as children and, perhaps a little differently, as adults.

This is a story of four children - Peter, Susan, Edmund and the youngest, Lucy - sent to an old professor's rambling country house to avoid the air-raids of wartime London. 'He himself was a very old man with shagggy white hair which grew over most of his face as well as on his head'; somewhat leonine in appearance in fact. On rainy days, the children find that the house itself has plenty of scope for exploration. Lucy is the first to stumble through the wardrobe full of long fur coats into a wintry scene with a lamp-post in the middle of a wood. She meets Mr. Tumnus the Faun and has tea in his cave. He warns her of the White Witch, who is searching for 'a son of Adam or a Daughter of Eve' for her own nefarious purposes. Her spells are responsible for its always being Winter in Narnia, but (the ultimate child's nightmare) Christmas never coming. She's an altogether nasty character with the bad habit of turning other creatures into statues.

Lucy returns to the frustrating experience of her siblings' disbelief, after the doorway between the worlds closes behind her. The next to go through is Edmund, vulnerable through jealousy and malice (which may have a lot to do with his birth order in the family). He meets the Witch, who conjures up tasty and addictive treats and manipulates him into agreeing to bring his brother and sisters to her. When the four finally fall through together they meet Mr. Beaver, who tells them that Aslan - the great Lion, Lord of the wood and 'son of the great Emperor-beyond-the-sea', is on the move - 'Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight'. Before they can meet him, they are betrayed and must flee. They have a marvellous encounter with Father Christmas, who provides them with tools and weapons.

Aslan's coming to Narnia weakened the witch's power enough to let Father Christmas through. It also brings spring via some lovely descriptive passages ... 'Every moment more and more of the trees shook off their robes of snow ... the mist turned from white to gold and presently cleared away altogether.' The children do meet Aslan, but the prior betrayal requires a sacrifice, which finally liberates Narnia. There is a very strong relationship between the tale of Aslan and Christian beliefs, but I also wonder if Lewis is drawing an analogy to the sacrifices made in the 'war to end all wars' that had just passed and was the most significant event of his time. Just as in his story, those sacrifices liberated a country, that of his readers, and brought its people out of the stasis of wartime life. My favorite passage in the story describes one of the Witch's statues coming alive ... 'a tiny streak of gold began to run along his white marble back - then it spread, then the color seemed to lick all over him as the flame licks all over a bit of paper.'

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is pure magic with a strong dose of morality mixed in. If you're not too old, or have grown old enough again like Lucy, read and re-read the seven books of the Chronicles of Narnia.

Notes: This version is enhanced by the charming black and white illustrations of Pauline Baynes. You can read online summaries of the Seven Chronicles, including sample chapters.

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