Thursday, April 16, 2015

N is for Narnia

April A-to-Z: must-read books

The Chronicles of Narnia (1949-1954)
By C. S. Lewis
(1898-1963) England

Nearly every reader I talk to remembers these books from their elementary school days and loved them. Do your kids a favour: Encourage them not to see the movies until they’ve had the opportunity to read the books. Novels are such a richer experience than movies because our imaginations can reach so much further than an image on a screen can. Let the jeopardy do its job in the books; let it create the tension it is supposed to, as it only can when free of spoilage of the plot. Then let the movie supplement the book afterwards! 

It seems to me that there are two main brands of kid magic you can find in books and Lewis’ approach to fantasy, unlike that of his friend, Tolkien, is dedicated to both: It’s got the magic of imagination and limitless possibility in a world of rich creation. And it has the kid magic which happens when kids transcend the normal boundaries of childhood by taking on serious circumstances, rife with adult jeopardy, where the plot conspires to block adults from coming to the rescue. That is a magic that I forgot existed through all my adult life, until I was forced to read youth books again in the scope of school volunteer work.

I re-read one of these books as an adult, judging it would serve well in a writing exercise of my own design. I turned The Horse and His Boy into a poem, in pursuit of the idea that my own unfinished epic fantasy novel, begun a long time ago in over-ambitious and na├»ve manner and subsequently abandoned, might finally come to life in the form of an epic poem (the exercise was successful but the adaptation of my own novel still lingers on the back burner). In the course of that exercise I was stunned to see Lewis’s Christian agenda and bigotry toward Arabs so obvious; stuff I certainly never caught as a kid.

My advice is: Don’t let this deter you or your kids from experiencing these delightful stories. Wait until they’ve read the books and then ask them whether they identified such agendas, and use it as a parenting opportunity.

Times have changed and kids may be more aware of diverse cultures than I was, and thus I may be wrong, but my guess is that they will experience the simple joys of the stories without falling prey to the politics.

These are must-read books for every young person, and probably, sixty-five years later, still available in every library.

A passage from The Horse and His Boy:

…there was a great splash and he found his mouth half full of salt water. The shining thing had been a long inlet of the sea. Both horses were swimming and the water was up to Shasta’s knees. There was an angry roaring behind them and looking back Shasta saw a great, shaggy, and terrible shape crouched on the water’s edge; but only one. “We must have shaken off the other lion,” he thought.
   The Lion apparently did not think its prey worth a wetting; at any rate it made no attempt to take the water in pursuit. The two horses, side by side, were now well out into the middle of the creek and the opposite shore could be clearly seen. The Tarkaan had not yet spoken a word. “But he will,” thought Shasta. “As soon as we have landed. What am I to say? I must begin thinking out a story.”
   Then suddenly, two voices spoke at his side.
   “Oh, I am so tired,” said the one. “Hold your tongue Hwin, and don’t be a fool,” said the other.
   “I’m dreaming,” thought Shasta. “I could have sworn that other horse spoke.”
   “Soon the horses were no longer swimming but walking and soon with a great sound of water running off their sides and tails and with a great crunching of pebbles under eight hoofs, they came out on the farther beach of the inlet. The Tarkaan, to Shasta’s surprise, showed no wish to ask questions. He did not even look at Shasta but seemed anxious to urge his horse straight on. Bree, however, at once shouldered himself in the other horse’s way.
   “Broo-hoo-haw!” he snorted. “Steady there! I heard you, I did. There’s no good pretending, Ma’am. I heard you. You’re a Talking Horse, a Narnian horse like me.”
   “What’s it got to do with you if she is?” said the strange rider fiercely, laying hand on sword-hilt. But the voice in which the words were spoken had already told Shasta something.
   “Why, it’s only a girl!” he exclaimed.
   “And what business is it of yours if I am only a girl?” snapped the stranger.  Youre probably only a boy: a rude common little boy – a slave probably, who’s stolen his master’s horse.”

The Magician’s Nephew (1955)
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)
The Horse and His Boy (1954)
Prince Caspian (1951)
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)
The Silver Chair (1953)
The Last Battle (1956)

1 comment:

IntrepidReader said...

I have to confess I have never read any of them. It sounds like I have missed out on a great read. I think by the end of April I am going to have a nice list of 26 books to read, thanks to your wonderful posts.