Full spoilers for the entire book below. Proceed with caution.
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Title: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Author: C.S. Lewis
Publication Date: 1950 (novel), 2000 (audio)
Publisher: Harper Audio
Narrated By: Michael York
Recording time: 4 hrs and 21 mins
Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie are evacuated from London in 1940, to escape the Blitz, and sent to live with Professor Digory Kirke at a large house in the English countryside. While exploring the house, Lucy enters a wardrobe and discovers the magical world of Narnia. Here, she meets the faun named Tumnus, whom she addresses as “Mr. Tumnus”. Tumnus invites her to his cave for tea and admits that he intended to report Lucy to the White Witch, the false ruler of Narnia who has kept the land in perpetual winter, but he repents and guides her back home. Although Lucy’s siblings initially disbelieve her story of Narnia, Edmund follows her into the wardrobe and winds up in a separate area of Narnia and meets the White Witch, who calls herself the Queen of Narnia. The Witch plies Edmund with Turkish delight and persuades him to bring his siblings to her with the promise of being made a prince. Edmund reunites with Lucy and they both return home. However, Edmund denies Narnia’s existence to Peter and Susan after learning of the White Witch’s identity from Lucy.
Soon afterwards, all four children enter Narnia together, but find that Tumnus has been arrested for treason. The children are befriended by Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, who tell them of a prophecy that claims the White Witch’s rule will end when “two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve” sit on the four thrones of Cair Paravel, and that Narnia’s true ruler – a great lion named Aslan – is returning at the Stone Table after several years of absence. Edmund slips away to the White Witch’s castle, where he finds a courtyard filled with the Witch’s enemies turned into stone statues. Edmund reports Aslan’s return to the White Witch, who begins her movement toward the Stone Table with Edmund in tow, and orders the execution of Edmund’s siblings and the Beavers. Meanwhile, the Beavers realise where Edmund has gone, and lead the children to meet Aslan at the Stone Table. During the trek, the group notices that the snow is melting, and take it as a sign that the White Witch’s magic is fading. This is confirmed by a visit from Father Christmas, who had been kept out of Narnia by the Witch’s magic, and he leaves the group with gifts and weapons.
The children and the Beavers reach the Stone Table and meet Aslan and his army. The White Witch’s wolf captain Maugrim approaches the camp and attacks Susan, but is killed by Peter. The White Witch arrives and parleys with Aslan, invoking the “Deep Magic from the Dawn of Time” which gives her the right to kill Edmund for his treason. Aslan then speaks to the Witch alone, and on his return he announces that the Witch has renounced her claim on Edmund’s life. Aslan and his followers then move the encampment on into the nearby forest. That evening, Susan and Lucy secretly follow Aslan to the Stone Table. They watch from a distance as the Witch puts Aslan to death – as they had agreed in their pact to spare Edmund. The next morning, Aslan is resurrected by the “Deeper Magic from before the Dawn of Time”, which has the power to reverse death if a willing victim takes the place of a traitor. Aslan takes the girls to the Witch’s castle and revives the Narnians that the Witch had turned to stone. They join the Narnian forces battling the Witch’s army. The Narnian army prevails, and Aslan kills the Witch. The Pevensie children are then crowned kings and queens of Narnia at Cair Paravel.
After a long and happy reign, the Pevensies, now adults, go on a hunt for the White Stag who is said to grant the wishes of those who catch it. The four arrive at the lamp-post marking Narnia’s entrance and, having forgotten about it, unintentionally pass through the wardrobe and return to England; they are children again, with no time having passed since their departure. They tell the story to Kirke, who believes them and reassures the children that they will return to Narnia one day when they least expect it.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is a book written for children – a category of human I have long since left. As a result, I read the book with an understanding that I am not its audience. The novel is short, direct, and has an intentional fairy tale style in its presentation. The story itself is an allegorical tale about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. While that might seem weighty for a young audience, Lewis’ presentation – in the tradition of all fairy tales – finds a balance between delivering a morality tale about a heavy subject matter while not losing the light and fun escapism of a fantasy. The end result is that the story of Aslan is enjoyable on its own, but it might also be a tool that its readers can refer back to, once older, when attempting to understand the life of Jesus Christ.
As an adult reader, I enjoyed the book but I found it to be cute rather than engrossing. A young reader might be able to latch onto one of the four siblings and imagine him or herself in their shoes, but as an adult, the most relatable person in the story was the Professor. The Narnian adventure here was not for me, but I can see myself having some joy in pointing younger people in its direction.
“The Narnian books are not as much allegory as supposal. Suppose there were a Narnian world and it, like ours, needed redemption. What kind of incarnation and Passion might Christ be supposed to undergo there?” – C.S. Lewis
The allegory is relatively straight-forward. Aslan represents Christ, the White Witch represents Satan, and her castle of statues represent those who have died under condemnation, “turkish delights” represent the temptation of sin, Edmund’s betrayal represents the Fall of Man, that required the sacrifice of Christ to obtain mankind’s redemption. After Aslan’s death and resurrection, he then empties Narnia’s version of hell and saves the living.
My favorite moment in the novel was the somewhat random-seeming appearance of Santa Claus (i.e. Father Christmas), bestower of weapons to children.
The scene from the film adaptation captures the moment quite well:
All in all, this was a fun children’s book. I am not certain that I will have any reason to read it again, any time soon, but if you have not read it, or have not done so recently, then I recommend picking it up again. Perhaps you will think of a young person in your life who might enjoy a Narnian wardrobe adventure.