Saturday, October 15, 2005

C. S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe

Truth be told, I'm much more of a Tolkien fan than a Lewis fan when it comes to each writer's respective fantasy fiction. The Lord of the Rings is an incredible literary work, and functions on so many different levels (as fantasy, as quest narrative, as allegory, as a modern retelling of every epic from Beowulf onward ...) and, for all I know, The Chronicles of Narnia may likewise be a work of such depth. If this volume, however, is any indication of what the entire Chronicles is like, I'm probably better off sticking with Tolkien.

As a narrative, the novel pretty much remains in the "children's literature" vein of, say, The Hobbit. Lewis's tale of four children who discover a portal into the snow-ridden secret land of Narnia via a magical armoir, and become embroiled in an epic battle of Good vs. Evil, has a memorable collection of characters, enchanting settings, and a distinctly Christian subtext. For me at least the main turn-off is the style which, because of its quaintly repetitive structure (not to mention a somewhat intrusive narrative consciousness), never really transcends the level of an elaborate children's story.

I'm not suggesting that this novel is necessarily flawed as a result of this. This was no doubt Lewis's design, and there's obviously nothing wrong with exploring Good vs. Evil through a children's story. Part of the problem here is that I've only read this one novel (which is Volume Two of the entire seven-volume Chronicles), so I'm taking the work out of its larger context. Just as The Lord of the Rings begins in the Shire with Bilbo's birthday and, over the course of the narrative, increases in complexity and darkness, so too might The Chronicles. I'd have to read all seven volumes to find out. Unfortunately, reading The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe doesn't leave me hungering for more; I think I get the idea here.

Has anyone else out there read it? Am I missing something?