By AmyLynn Miller, Franciscan University of Steubenville
This summer I decided to pick up The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis for the first time in a while. I had forgotten just how wonderful Lewis’ fantasy series is: in rereading it, I found not just the fun story I had read as a child but so much more. Depths of beauty, goodness, and truth are there to discover. I wanted to share just a few out of many reasons why you should return to the wonderful land of Narnia.
#1: Good, pure fun
I have been an avid reader, and I am often discouraged and sometimes disturbed by some—or, dare I say, a lot of the fiction I have found in the YA or adult sections of the library. Whether the problem lies with the questionable morality of the characters, lustful “romance”, or writing that does not rise above the mediocre, some books leave a great deal to be desired. It is refreshing to go back to something as innocent, fun, and well-written as Narnia. I found returning to the world of noble adventures, Talking Beasts, a humorous narrator, and easily distinguishable good and evil to be uplifting and rejuvenating.
#2: Just like Aslan’s country, the “further in” you go, the more you find
You might be thinking, “Narnia is very fun if you’re under the age of, say, thirteen. But I’m an adult. I need something more substantial.” In response, I would point you to the words C.S. Lewis wrote in the dedication of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: “Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”
Narnia is not only for children. Lewis himself was not necessarily a children’s author but primarily an apologist. As an adult rereading Narnia, it is amazing to me how much theology and how many biblical references and analogies Lewis incorporated into his books. To be sure, the stories are simple and can be read by any age, but that, in my opinion, is a major reason they are so beautiful. Because I read the books as a child and know the initial story, I can look deeper and read into some of the less obvious theological, spiritual, and biblical parallels that Lewis wove into his timeless tales. Much of the series’ beauty lies in the fact that it is easily grasped by all ages, because the older you are, the more you find there.
Prior to this summer it had been years since I had read The Chronicles. I had thought that I—like the Pevensie children when they are told they cannot return to Narnia—had learned all I could from Narnia. I picked the books up again this summer not expecting all that much besides the nice sentimentality that one gets when one rereads childhood stories. In other words, I underestimated them. What a silly mistake on my part! I have learned so much more from Narnia this time around, and so I firmly stick to my conviction that The Chronicles is as much a series for adults as it is for children.
#3: Inspiring characters
I would say that in modern literature it is not unusual for characters to either make bad choices that are glossed over and never mentioned again, or even—unfortunately—to be rewarded and applauded for misbehaviors and mistakes. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell who is the good guy and who is the bad guy.
In contrast, Lewis’ good guys are well-defined as such, primarily by their efforts to become better, but they remain relatable human beings. They’re tempted, and sometimes they resist and overcome, but sometimes they fail. When they make mistakes, they are also given redemption, forgiveness, and a new start. I can’t think of a main character in The Chronicles who does not mess up and try to make things right again, often after an encounter with or help from Aslan. It’s a nice reminder that we cannot let our mistakes go unaddressed, but we also cannot and are not expected to fix them and become better people without the mercy and grace of God.
There’s also something noble about Lewis’ characters. They push on toward their goal, sometimes when they think they can’t (which brings St. Paul’s words about fighting the good fight to mind). They are brave, even when they don’t think they can be. Lewis himself said, “Since it is so likely that [children] will encounter cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.” His characters are great examples of that bravery and heroism.
A list of reasons to reread Narnia would not be complete if I did not include the great Lion himself. Aslan is a wonderful Christ figure, and I have found that God speaks through Lewis’ character. One of the things that flew over my head as a kid was the wisdom and truth that flows from Aslan’s mouth. Everything he says is applicable to life and has the power to touch your heart if you read his words as if Jesus is speaking to you. I could go on and on about this point, but I suggest that you reread the books and see for yourself what I mean.
#5: Renews your thirst for Heaven
Narnia is the type of world that I really wish I could go to—magical, wonderful, and full of adventures—and in that longing I recognize an echo of my longing for Heaven. We are not made for this world, and it is so easy to forget that. But when my heart is awakened to desire a different, pure, beautiful world like Narnia, my soul is reminded of my end goal. As St. Therese says, “The world is thy ship and not thy home.”
In addition to that echoed longing, Heaven—or Aslan’s country, as it is called throughout The Chronicles—features prominently in the last two or three books of the series. In The Last Battle, Lewis writes beautifully about what he thinks Heaven will be like. It serves as a lovely reminder of what our goal is in life: to be with our Lord forever in the Father’s house. I treasured rereading the last two or three chapters of The Last Battle, and they inspired in me new faith that I am not meant for this world and hope that I, like the Friends of Narnia, may one day go “further up and further in!”
#6: They’re a relatively short read
This isn’t Eragon or Lord of the Rings. You don’t have to dedicate weeks upon weeks (or months upon months, as it were) to The Chronicles. Each book is no longer than two hundred and sixty pages. It would take you no time at all to read one, and you could get through the series before you know it.
#7: Watching the movies isn’t enough
Just like any book-to-movie adaptation, the movies leave things out and naturally are not exact copies of the books. In the films, some of the best parts of the books are either changed slightly and lose their poignancy or altogether left out. While the movies are good, there is nothing like reading the books themselves. (And, even if you were to watch all the 90s BBC TV specials and the 2000s Disney movies, there are still books from The Chronicles that were never made into movies.)
If it’s been a while since you’ve taken them down from that dusty top shelf, or if you’re looking for a summer read that lifts your eyes, heart, and soul up to God while maintaining a sense of fun and fiction, I encourage you to take a little time to reread The Chronicles of Narnia with fresh eyes. I hope what you find there will reawaken your sense of wonder, make you laugh (and maybe cry), and bring you closer to God.