You could say that I've been a citizen of Narnia for 30 years now.
I was first introduced to the "The Chronicles of Narnia" fantasy books by C.S. Lewis as a college student. From the moment I opened The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in 1975 and followed Lucy Pevensie through the coats in the wardrobe, into the land of Narnia with its crunching snow, I was hooked.
In the last three decades I've probably read the Narnia series seven or eight times. They never seem to grow old.
I still wonder what "Turkish Delight" tastes like (in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe).
I still laugh at the gloomy comments of Puddlegum (in The Silver Chair).
I still shiver when I think of the island where dreams come true (in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, my favorite of the seven books).
And I still marvel at the way Lewis weaves Christian truth into the stories, yet does it so tastefully and skillfully that you can enjoy the books even if you don't recognize the biblical parallels.
Something gained, but something lost
And now, with the film release of "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," a new age of Narnia has begun. So why am I feeling a bit sad?
On one hand, I loved the film, and I purchased a DVD on the first day it was released. It was a thrill to see these characters that had existed in my imagination finally come to the screen.
Yet that's also the problem: For 30 years I've been a citizen of a land that has existed only in imagination, and I shared this experience with millions of citizens who have read the novels. Once the movie was released, it wasn't quite the same. As much as I enjoy the movie, my private images of Narnia have begun to merge with the real images on the screen. And I sense that something has been lost somehow.
At the same time, a major movie release like this brings new attention to the original books. And that can only be a good thing.
An exhortation to parents
In fact, here's what I wish every parent (or grandparent) reading these words would do: If you have children or grandchildren under the age of 10, do not miss the opportunity to read these books to them.
Reading to our children was a high priority for my wife, Merry, and me. I read the Narnia series separately to each of our two daughters at around age seven, and I consider it one of the highlights of my parenting years. Each night they were swept away by C.S. Lewis' simple, yet profound language into a world of kings and queens and talking beasts and a wondrous lion named Aslan. They never wanted it to end.
You may be wondering why I would encourage you to read these particular books to your children. What makes them so special? Two reasons stand out to me:
First, the Narnia books do a wonderful job of creating an alternative world that captivates children (and obviously many adults as well). Children love fantasy—it stirs their imaginations in a way that regular novels often cannot.
Second, and most important, the Narnia stories are a rare example of fantasy stories that contain clear Christian truths. I read many books to my daughters when they were young, but I found that very few were so effective and creative at reinforcing biblical values. Reading these books gives you a great opportunity to talk to your children about the truths woven into the plots. (FamilyLife also offers the book A Family Guide to the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by Christian Ditchfield that will help you discern the Christian themes.)
Take, for example, one simple sequence in the book, Prince Caspian. A group of travelers is walking down a gorge, and one of them, Lucy, spots the Great Lion, Aslan (the Christ figure in the series), urging them to instead hike up the canyon. The problem is, nobody else can see Aslan—only Lucy. She is unable to convince them of Aslan's wishes, and they vote to continue heading down the gorge.
At the bottom, they run into a deadly ambush, and they are forced to flee all the way back up the canyon to where they began. Lucy is awakened at night by Aslan, and is told the group needs to immediately begin hiking up the gorge as he had originally intended.
It is a terrible thing to have to wake four people, all older than yourself and all very tired, for the purpose of telling them something they probably won't believe and making them do something they certainly won't like. "I musn't think about it; I must just do it," thought Lucy.
She rouses the travelers, and they reluctantly begin their hike. They are led by Aslan, but at first only Lucy sees him. Gradually the others overcome their doubts and begin to see the lion as well.
In the skillful hands of the author, this sequence becomes something much more than a hike through a gorge—it is an allegory about obeying the will of God. No matter what anyone else thinks or does, we are called to follow God with all our hearts.
The original order
Let me also put in a plug for what I consider the correct order of the books. For several decades the seven books of the Narnia series were presented in the order in which they were written:
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The Silver Chair
The Horse and His Boy
The Magician's Nephew
The Last Battle
Now they are often packaged in chronological order according to when events took place in Narnia, which puts The Magician's Nephew first. Yet I've always preferred this original order, and I'm glad the film producers began with "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe." Lewis wrote that book for people learning of Narnia for the first time—when he describes Lucy entering Narnia for the first time, you experience this new world through her eyes.
A great adventure
I'm hoping that the film of "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" will be as enchanting as the book. But I'm also hoping that this new publicity about Narnia and C.S. Lewis will encourage millions of new people to read all seven books in the series.
If you haven't read them to your children, a great adventure awaits you. And when you come to the final words of The Last Battle, and learn of the "Great Story … in which every chapter is better than the one before," perhaps you will feel just a tinge of the joy we will experience when we pass from this life to the next.
At that point, I will be happy to proclaim you a true citizen of Narnia.
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