In 2011 the girls and I dove headlong into the world of Narnia, which was lovingly and thoughtfully created by author, C.S. Lewis. I hesitated only long enough to consider whether 5 and 6 years of age was too young to appreciate the allegorical themes contained in the series. I concluded that they would get it from me, if they didn’t understand it directly from the text. And so, we embarked — for that was, after all, the primary purpose of the journey.
Now, because I feel the need to state my position on this subject, I will tell you I have always begun with The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. For those of you wondering why I bring this up, I will try, concisely, to explain the issue. For many years the designated order of the seven books in The Chronicles of Narnia were as follows: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, The Horse and His Boy, The Magician’s Nephew, and The Last Battle. (This is the order in which they were originally published.) But then in 1994, the American publisher decided they were to be numbered according to their chronological order, thus switching The Magician’s Nephew to be the first book in the series because it is the creation story of Narnia.
But I didn’t want to read it in chronological order to my girls. I wanted their introduction to this world to be the story in which Aslan is first introduced and the book in which the Pevensie children first learn about Narnia and the strange, talking creatures who inhabit this world — as it was for me. I strongly believe that you cannot possibly fully appreciate witnessing the creation of Narnia until you know the land, and its landmarks have become familiar and dear. Would you as richly enjoy the scene from The Magician’s Nephew where Jadis throws the broken piece of a London lamp-post into the newly created Narnian soil only to watch the Lamp Post grow up before the children’s eyes — if you never knew that oh, so familiar landmark? I can only imagine it would lose some of its wonder. Or learning the origin of the wardrobe before you have experienced its magic and understood its importance as a gateway to Narnia? This is why I have continued to read these stories in the order in which they were initially introduced to the world — beginning with The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.
You see, when Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy are first in the strange land where it’s always winter and never Christmas, and they begin to hear about Aslan, son of the Emporer Over the Sea, there’s an air of mystery. They hear that he is returning to Narnia after being many years absent. And, at first the children (and thus, we) are not told that he is a lion. But when that fact has been disclosed, they ask whether he’s safe. And they’re told, “No, he’s not safe. He’s not a tame lion! … But he is good.” What a wonderful way to describe him, and his allegorical counterpart, Jesus. What a fantastic introduction!
And there are wonderful lessons for us to glean from these adventures. In the third book (The Dawn Treader), Eustace, who has been nothing but a major annoyance so far, is turned into a dragon in a series of curious events. And after a period of time during which Eustace learns and matures, Aslan (whom he has not yet met) wakes him up early one morning and summons him to a small pool where he tells him to get in and bathe and take off his clothes. But, being that he’s a dragon, instead of taking off his clothes he realizes he is meant to shed his skin. Then, seeing there is still a dragon skin underneath, he sheds that skin. This happens three times, to no avail, before Aslan says he himself will have to do it. This time, instead of being painless, the process is excruciating. But when it is done, and Eustace steps into the pool, he realizes that he is no longer a dragon. He is a boy again! And Aslan dresses him in brand new clothes. I love the way this illustrates our need to have our sins removed by Christ. We can shed some of our sinful habits, but we can never be free from the curse of sin without Christ’s (sometimes painful) intervention.
Woven into the stories are warnings against pride and self-sufficiency (Silver Chair and Horse and His Boy), vanity (Dawn Treader), heeding human advice rather than following divine guidance (Caspian), lust for gold (Treader), and a reminder to meditate on God’s word (Silver Chair). These and many more lessons are easily understood throughout the stories, without seeming preachy, or pompous.
There’s much more I could say about Lewis’s delightful allegories that are The Chronicles of Narnia! If you have never stepped through the wardrobe for yourself, you really ought to. There’s much to see and much learn. And there are many compelling friends you won’t be sorry to have met.