With the movie coming out and all, plus Kathy & my somewhat reduced mobility these days (named “Sam” :-), I figured I’d go back to the source material and re-read the “Chronicles of Narnia.” Like a lot of my friends, these books were incredibly influential for me growing up — when Peter, Susan, Edmund & Lucy stumbled upon the wardrobe and were transported to a whole new world, well, that was a magical moment for me, too.
It seems to me that comparisons to both “The Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter” are inescapable, given the material and the origins of each — and on this re-reading, I was pretty disappointed with the whole series. It seems clear to me that both Lord & Potter are significantly richer & deeper experiences and with less obvious agendas than the allegory of Lewis. Narnia seems flat to me today — the characters are very thin, the stories very simple, and the allegory transparent. I find that I’m not as entranced/overwhelmed with Narnia as I am with MiddleEarth; I’m not as in love with the characters and the story as I am with Hogwarts.
I do think that it’s an important series of books — in particular, I think the first book is important; I could do without the cosmology of the last two — in terms of setting up a template for talking about kids in fantasy worlds and for creating from whole cloth so many fantasy ideas. I do think they’re worth reading and hope that Sam will read them when he gets a little older (he’s still working through Good Night, Moon at the moment) and I hope they’ll open up as many new ideas & thoughts as they did for me.
One other note: the traditional ordering of the series was the order that Lewis published the books in — when Harper Collins purchased the rights in the 1970s, they reordered the books to be chronological, because Lewis at one point said that they might make more sense that way. This puts The Magician’s Nephew first in the series, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe second. My own feeling is that this pretty well ruins the series. As I mentioned above, the magic moment for me and millions of other kids, I presume, was when the 4 kids stumbled through the wardrobe — that motivates everything else in the whole series. In the new order, you’re learning the “why” of things before you really care very much about the “who” or the “what.” Just my 2 cents.