A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

Still a Friend of Narnia

on April 3, 2018

I recently read Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Books as an Adult by Bruce Handy, which is a book right up my alley. (Not that it mentions Magic in the Alley by Mary Calhoun, since the poor book never got the love it deserves.) Although even reading about books I don’t have strong feelings about was interesting, I particularly enjoyed the chapter entitled “God and Man in Narnia,” which is the first one that touched on books I deeply cared about, and it really struck a chord in me.

First, there was this quote in the footnotes: “The kids enjoyed the live-action Narnia films that began coming out a few years later, but though they sound like perfectly reasonable adaptation, I have strenuously avoided them, not wanting to literalize such a core part of my childhood imagination.”

Yes, yes, yes! I’ve never known how to put this: usually when I have to defend my desire not to see movies based on beloved books, I say “I already know what they look like,” but this really captures the true sentiment. They’re exactly as real in my head as they should ever be.

Hardy goes on to discuss some of the issues with the Narnia books, which is always uncomfortable reading. I’m not a Christian, which no doubt made it easier to for me to overlook spects that make others squirm. (Coincidentally, I literally only realized last night, when my husband mentioned the breaking of the tombs, that there was allegorical significance to the breaking of the stone table.) But when the book discussed the intentionality of it — Narnia as deliberate propaganda —  I started to feel like that was really the last straw and I would never be able to read them again.

And then I got to a quote from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, describing the magnificence of Aslan and the children’s instinctual, awed reaction to him. And Hardy’s commentary:

“I’m no expert [the author has previously stated he’s an atheist], but Lewis’s ostensible fantasy strikes me as an unusually sophisticated, not to mention graceful and humane, portrayal of belief, no matter the age of the intended audience. Or perhaps I should just say that the Narnia books allow me to ‘get it’ in a way that most religious expression, whether art or testament, does not.”

And again, this. I felt it. My older sister and her friends felt it. Even my mother , who raised us without any religious influences at all, felt it. (I remember discussing with her whether the poor stone picnickers would be brought back to life, and her assuring me that Aslan would find them.) Even knowing very little about Christian imagery and theology, I felt the pull of Aslan. It didn’t convert me, but it gave me something important. A sense of grace?


The book does also talk about racism and sexism in Narnia, and makes a sincere attempt to address the racism problems in much of classic children’s literature, including offering The Birchbark House  and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry as counterpoints to the “Little House” books. But I felt the author didn’t give enough account to his own internal blinkers about “girl books.” He describes Dorothy, Lucy and Susan Pevensie, and Alice as “blank slates,” and thinks Anne is too soppy to even read. He skimmed Little Men, thereby missing out on some fantastic fun. I was thinking as I read, a little wistfully, that this is the book I myself once wanted to write. Maybe I still need to.


5 responses to “Still a Friend of Narnia

  1. victoriajanssen says:

    For me, the author’s voice, telling ME a story, is the thing that can never be replicated in a movie version, no matter how close to the source material. (I think that sort of teacherly authorial voice has gone somewhat out of style in MG/YA, as well.)

    Book and movie are just separate things to me, and never the twain shall meet. I do go see the movies, sometimes, but I usually don’t re-read the book first.

    WILD THINGS sounds like a book I would enjoy.

    • willaful says:

      I adore a good omniscient narrator. Have you read E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks? That’s a good one. And I read a critique of it for showing instead of telling. *facepalm*

  2. Miss Bates says:

    You should write that book. I read the The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe after I was no longer an atheist, so they totally resonated as Christian allegory for me. I never read them as a child, I was a child with very little patience for any kind of fantasy book. I adored Anne of Green Gables and Little Women, though, as well as the Little Prairie books. I wonder what my response to them now would be?

    • willaful says:

      I read the Little House book to my son (with some omissions and many explanations) and found there was still a lot to enjoy in them. I chose them because I thought he’d enjoy the detailed descriptions of old technology and methods, which was what I remembered the most.

      Little Women is an integral part of me, so I will always love it.

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