What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that the plot and writing, although superior, are somewhat dated, and the art is small and simplistic. The language is simple but precise, and the main characters act valiantly to help save Narnia from the White Witch's enchantment (though one is initially caught under her sway). The story also contains bits of British culture, vivid descriptions of violent combat and is heavy on Christian allegory.
What's the story?
Young siblings discover that a wardrobe in an old country house is a portal to the magical land of Narnia. There, Edmund meets the evil White Witch and is lured into betraying his siblings, but the plot fails.
The lion Aslan, lord of Narnia, returns to the land, heralding the end of a long, joyless winter, and the children, who continue to elude the witch's grasp, meet with him.
The witch demands an audience with Aslan and announces that Edmund, exposed as a traitor, must die. Unknown to the others, Aslan agrees to take Edmund's place and submits to execution. However, he comes back to life and summons anarmy of woodland creatures and mythical characters in time to help Peter and the other children, including a repentant Edmund, defeat the witch's forces and bring peace to Narnia.
After years of ruling Narnia, the children return through the wardrobe to find that time has stood still.
Is it any good?
Unlike the works of his friend and colleague J. R. R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia series does not stand up as well to the test of time. Written a half-century ago, this novel, occurring in an imaginary realm visited by children, is full of storyteller's asides and precious English children, and features an odd mix of childish adventure and bloody battles. His sometimes heavy-handed Christian allegory (Aslan sacrifices his life for the wayward Edmund and is resurrected) can also get overwhelming: One particularly disturbing scene has the two girls witnessing Aslan being trussed, sheared, and beaten by evil, gloating creatures, a nod to the indignity suffered by Christ before his crucifixion.
Young children who are read this story may enjoy the fairy-tale aspects, but older kids who are not fans of fantasy may be put off by the almost laughable repetition of scenes in which the children are comforted by the sudden availability of tea, and the way the forces of good seem to have too easy a time of it in vanquishing their foes. Other stories in the series are somewhat more fun -- try The Voyage of the Dawn Treader or The Magician's Nephew.
Explore, discuss, enjoy
Families can talk about the messages Lewis' books send about the nature of good and evil. Why do you think Edmund chooses to betray his brother and sisters by running off to join the White Witch? Why can't Lucy get back into Narnia through the wardrobe any time she wants to? And why is there a lamppost in the Narnian forest (hint: try reading the first book in the Narnia chronicles, The Magician's Nephew, for some interesting background). If parents and children are familiar with Christianity, they can also discuss how the book's plot and characters are like various stories and people found in the Bible. For example, how is Aslan like Jesus Christ?