Book Reviews · DVD Reviews

Christmas Reads: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Over the next few weeks, we are going to be counting down to Christmas with our favourite Christmas books (and their film adaptations).

Book Review: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

narniaThe Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis is a series that lots of people remember fondly. The stories of adventure and excitement in a magical world called Narnia certainly thrilled me! The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has become a Christmas classic. It is technically the second book in the series, but it was the first book published by Lewis, and it is the story of four brothers and sisters, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie who are evacuated from London during the Second World War (as many children were, so they wouldn’t be hurt by the bombs) and sent to an old house in the country. Lucy, the youngest of the family, explores inside a large wardrobe and finds herself in a snow-covered wood, where she meets a faun (a person who has the legs of a goat) called Mr Tumnus under a lamp-post. There is an urban legend in Durham that says Lewis was inspired to have the lamp-post in the middle of a wood by seeing a particular lamp-post in a wooded area of the city on a dark, snowy night.

tumnus
Mr Tumnus the faun with Lucy, and the lamp-post in the background

She and her brothers and sister embark on an adventure to save the land of Narnia from the evil White Witch who has made it “always winter but never Christmas” and turns anyone who opposes her to stone. However, little do Lucy, Peter and Susan know that Edmund followed Lucy through the wardrobe and met the White Witch, who gave him Turkish Delight and persuaded him to work against his family.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was published in 1950 but it is still highly enjoyable today. Narnia is filled with talking animals and magical creatures, like centaurs, fauns and unicorns. It is watched over by a magical lion called Aslan, who helps the heroes defeat the White Witch. At one point they even meet Father Christmas, as they start to weaken the White Witch’s power! The Pevensie siblings have to fight through many trials as they try to save Narnia, not the least of which is their own brother’s betrayal, but this is a story about family and forgiveness. They fight as much as any other family, but it is only by all four of them working together that they can defeat the White Witch.

DVD Review: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

narnia 2A film adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe came out in 2005, and it is a surprisingly faithful adaptation. With a cast of unknowns as the Pevensie siblings, it is a beautifully-filmed version that shows quite how marvellous Narnia is, even when held in the depths of winter by the White Witch. A lot of the filming took place in New Zealand, and just as it did for Middle Earth in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, the landscape gives a sense of a vast and magical world.

Tilda Swinton is perfect as the White Witch, and it is easy to see how she persuades Edmund over to her side before revealing how terrifying she really is. There are lots of recognisable actors involved: Liam Neeson makes a wonderful Aslan and James McAvoy is Mr Tumnus, as well as Jim Broadbent, Dawn French, Ray Winstone and Rupert Everett also appearing.

Tilda Swinton as the White Witch, with her chariot pulled by polar bears
Tilda Swinton as the White Witch, with her chariot pulled by polar bears

The film gives more time to the time the siblings spent in London during the Blitz and their relationships with each other so Edmund’s betrayal makes more sense. The film-makers deliberately filmed the big battle at the end, which was not seen in full in the book, which makes a fantastic set-piece and allows Peter and Edmund to have more character development than they did in the book. It also has an amazing score which really brings across how enchanting Narnia is.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a fantastic Christmas read, or Christmas film, for anyone. When it is cold and snowy outside, snuggle in and read about Christmas coming to the snow-bound world of Narnia, and the promise of Spring on the horizon.

If you liked this…

C.S. Lewis wrote a whole series of books about Narnia, including The Magician’s Nephew, which goes back to when Narnia came into being and how the Pevensies’ lovable guardian, Digory Kirke, was involved in Narnia right from the start, as well as telling how Jadis, the White Witch, first came to Narnia. We have audiobook editions of The Chronicles of Narnia, so you can even have them read to you by people like Patrick Stewart, Derek Jacobi and Kenneth Branagh (find both print and audio versions in the BOOK ZONE at 823.91).

Some of the remaining Narnia books have been adapted to film with similar levels of faithfulness, so try Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (both in the BOOK ZONE at 823.91), about the brave Prince Caspian as he escapes his cruel uncle Miraz and then goes on a sea voyage to many magical places.

C.S. Lewis was a very active Christian and partly wrote The Chronicles of Narnia to explore the ideas behind Christianity through a fantastical setting. It’s still a very fun story, but it is also religious allegory. For an alternative, Philip Pullman wrote the His Dark Materials trilogy in response to The Chronicles of Narnia, which is a fantasy series that is also an atheist allegory. Read Northern Lights (BOOK ZONE or QUICK READS at 823.91) for another fantastical adventure.

On the other hand, if you are interested in learning more about the symbolism of The Chronicles of Narnia (and not just the religious symbolism!), watch The Narnia Code, a documentary about the hidden meanings in C.S. Lewis’s books (as he was a highly respected scholar, it’s no surprise that he references everything from the planets to Edmund Spenser’s poem The Faerie Queene). You can also learn more about C.S. Lewis’s life from the drama C.S. Lewis: Beyond Narnia (both in the BOOK ZONE at 823.91).

 

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