The Battle of Britain
The backdrop of the novel is Germany's World War II bombing attacks on London, which began in the summer or 1940 and stretched through the winter months into 1941. Britain had recently withdrawn 224,000 of its troops from France and had no remaining allies on the European continent, yet Winston Churchill refused to seek terms with Hitler. Hitler prepared a landing operation against England, called Operation Sea-Lion. German High Command realized, however, that such an operation could not be successfully carried out unless they had gained air superiority over the English Channel, and in August of 1940 German bombers began daily and nightly attacks on British factories, ports, and airfields. Then, Britain launched its own night bombing raids on Berlin. Furious, Hitler ordered his air force to focus less on military targets and more on the city of London itself. In the ensuing months, parents evacuated their children from the city and many London residents spent their nights in underground (subway) stations as Nazi bombers shelled the city. But the Germans were unable to break the spirit of the British people: civilian morale remained high, industrial production continued, and the British air-fighter command put up a heroic and inspired resistance in the night skies over London. These factors, combined with the sinking of numerous German invasion transports docked in their port in France, forced Hitler to continually postpone...
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The story begins in England during the early 1940s, while World War II is in progress. Four London children have been sent by their parents to the English countryside because German airplanes regularly bomb the city. In the country, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy live with an old professor in a large, mysterious house. They enjoy exploring the old house and playing such games as hide-and-seek. One room is empty except for a wardrobe full of fur coats. Lucy, the youngest, enters the wardrobe, slowly works her way to its back, and is amazed to find herself among trees and snow. She has discovered Narnia, a land where magic is real, animals can talk, and creatures such as unicorns actually exist. Narnia is ruled by the evil White Witch, who has cast a spell so that the land is eternally covered in snow without ever having Christmas.
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Lewis makes many references to the Bible in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. (Allusions are references to other works of literature, ideas, persons, or events, which are designed to lend additional meaning to the work at hand.) Lewis uses biblical references to imbue the story with Christian meaning. (For a comprehensive compilation of allusions in the Chronicles of Narnia, see Paul F. Ford's Companion to Narnia.) The way Aslan's death is handled, for example, illustrates how Lewis draws parallels between the children's story and the story of Christ. When Susan and Lucy meet Aslan in the wood before his capture, Aslan says, "I should be glad of company tonight," and "I am sad and lonely." Lewis is probably deliberately echoing here the biblical story of the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane when Christ made similar comments to his disciples not long before his arrest (Matthew 26:38). Furthermore, before killing Aslan, his captors shave him, spit on him, and jeer at him, an allusion probably to the torments Christ endured before being led to the cross (Matthew 27:31). The moment before the White Witch plunges the stone dagger into Aslan, she says, "In that knowledge, despair and die," another Christian reference to Christ's words on the cross about being forsaken and feeling despair before dying (Matthew 27:46).
Aslan's self-sacrifice so that Edmund may live suggests Christ's self-sacrifice so that...
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Lewis uses a third-person omniscient intrusive point of view in telling this tale. He often has his narrator directly address the reader, calling on him to use his own experiences to understand motives and actions of the characters. The tone which results is frequently avuncular.
Perhaps the most notable technique is Lewis's use of imagery. Through concrete language he accumulates details which convince the reader that another world in a different dimension of time somehow coexists with the prosaic world of wartime England. For example, in his account of the meal at the Beavers' home, Lewis describes new caught fish frying in a hissing pan, creamy milk, deep yellow butter, and a gloriously sticky roll — details which add verisimilitude to the fantasy of the children's having dinner with talking beavers underneath a dam.
Although the novel is not an allegory, allegorical overtones add to the texture of events. In Aslan's very being and in his actions can be seen the Christ story. The White Witch's demonic nature is also allegorical. She is herself, but she also represents Satan and the forces of Hell. In these allegorical overtones are also the archetypal elements of the story which add to the force of the plot. Each character endures a kind of rite of passage: Edmund, of course, initially fails his, succeeding only after a great price has been paid for his sins. Equally archetypal are the warm/cold images as well as the light/dark images....
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While The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is an exciting adventure story, it is not a simple novel entirely dependent on plot. Lewis uses a wide variety of techniques to make the novel interesting on several levels. Symbols play an important part. For example, Aslan's death plainly represents Christ's sacrifice and Resurrection. Aslan's father, the Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea, represents God; the irredeemable evil White Witch represents Satan. The snow that covers Narnia throughout the year is a symbol of death, an indication that Narnia is a cold and bleak place where life cannot properly develop. Springtime and Christmas, symbols of hope, never come to Narnia until the White Witch's defeat. Lewis uses similar symbolism to describe the White Witch's character: "Her face was white—not merely pale, but white like snow or icing sugar, except for her very red mouth. It was a beautiful face in other respects, but proud and cold and stern." The paleness represents death, just as the never-ending winter represents the death of Narnia. Red often represents evil, and the witch's red mouth only speaks cruelties and hate.
When Lewis created the magical world of Narnia that can be entered through a hidden passageway in the real world, he employed a literary technique found in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and in Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth. This device makes magical...
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Compare and Contrast
- 1950: The end of World War II against Germany and Japan results in a worldwide shortage of food and raw materials badly needed in Great Britain. Unable to export at high enough levels to meet the international balance of payments, England becomes a debtor country.
Today: England is the world's fourth largest creditor country, with the highest percentage of this money being poured into German industry. Japan is the world's largest creditor country, while the United States, by contrast, is the world's largest debtor country.
- 1950: The cold war is underway, and Great Britain cooperates with the United States in a military campaign in Korea to drive invading North Korean forces out of South Korea. The stated U.S. goal is to stop the spread of communism and make the world safe for democracy.
Today: The cold war concludes in the early 1990s, but the U.S. war on terror is ongoing. Great Britain cooperates with the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, which ousts dictator Saddam Hussein.
- 1950: A golden age in children's literature begins in Great Britain, a period of intense creative outpouring on the part of children's authors. Unlike pre-war children's literature, which according to Peter Hollindale and Zen Sutherland in Children's Literature: An Illustrated History expressed British imperialism and "domestic norms of social class and sexual roles,"...
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Topics for Discussion
1. Edmund lies, is cruel, knowingly helps evil, and seems like a villain; yet he is made a king. Why isn't he punished for all the bad deeds he commits?
2. The old professor had never been to Narnia and seems too old to believe in fairy tales, yet he takes Lucy's original story seriously and later accepts the children's tales of adventures in Narnia. Why does he believe these tales?
3. The children all experience different feelings when they first hear Aslan's name in chapter 7: "Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of summer." What do these responses reveal about the children?
4. If Edmund "deep down inside him . . . really knew that the White Witch was bad and cruel," why does he continue to serve her?
5. What is important about the White Witch being able to "make things look like they weren't"?
6. Aslan makes a great sacrifice for Edmund and for Narnia. Edmund is unaware of Aslan's sacrifice. Lucy believes that he should be told about it, but Susan says that he shouldn't be. Who do you agree with? Why?
7. Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy grow into wise, good, and happy adults in Narnia. Why should they return to the wardrobe and back to childhood? Is this a...
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Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. C. S. Lewis has said that he visualized pictures of his stories and that he wrote about what he saw. How important are the descriptions of scenes—the pictures—to the success of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe?
2. Some critics classify The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as modern fantasy, like J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, in which the author creates a world primarily from his own imagination. Others classify the novel as a moralistic fairy tale, like "Beauty and the Beast" and "Snow White," because it seems to teach a moral lesson and borrows characters, such as unicorns, from traditional folktales. How would you classify the novel? Why?
3. Some people complain that the novel is too violent and that having Peter and Edmund actually participate in battles gives readers bad impressions about how they should solve the world's problems. Do you agree?
4. The Last Battle, the final volume in The Chronicles of Narnia, won the 1956 Carnegie Medal for the best children's book published in the United Kingdom the previous year. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe did not win this award. Compare the two books. Which is better? Why?
5. Writers sometimes use light and dark to represent good and evil, or knowledge and ignorance. How does Lewis use this device?
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Topics for Further Study
- An allegory is a composition, whether pictorial or literary, in which immaterial or spiritual realities are directly represented by material objects. Write a short story that is an allegory. Take an abstract concept or a virtue, such as honesty or patience or courage, and write a story in which the main character in human or animal form conveys the characteristics of your chosen abstract concept.
- Watch the 2005 film adaptation The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, noting where the film follows Lewis's book and where it differs. Consider elements such as theme, plot, dialogue, and characterization. Why do you think the filmmakers decided to make these changes? Prepare a class presentation in which you discuss the differences, but be sure to highlight some similarities as well. Use clips (DVD or VHS) from the movie to support your conclusions.
- The morning after Edmund's rescue from the White Witch, Aslan and Edmund have a private conversation apart from everyone else, even the reader. The narrator says, "There is no need to tell you (and no one ever heard) what Aslan was saying, but it was a conversation which Edmund never forgot." Based on your knowledge of the characters, what do you suppose Aslan said to Edmund? How do you think Edmund responded? Imagine the conversation and then write it out as a dialogue between the two characters.
- Music plays an important part in The Lion, the...
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Lewis has acknowledged his debts in the shaping of his imagination in many contexts. The major names which he has cited are Edith Nesbit, George MacDonald, Andrew Lang, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Rider Haggard. The creations of other worlds coexisting with this one and entered through a door or a cave or a hole in the ground were read by him: Lewis Carroll's Alice books, Jules Verne's Voyage to the Center of the Earth (1864) are two among many which he had read.
Those who have written about Lewis comment on his having been an extraordinarily widely-read man who retained all which he had read. Clearly, the Narnia books, like the space trilogy, reflect the imaginative stories he read from earliest childhood until his death. However, none of his fiction is a mere amalgam of previous works. His novels are his, original, powerful, and, for all the minor inconsistencies so annoying to Tolkien, complete.
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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the first of seven books in The Chronicles of Narnia. Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy figure significantly in only three of the sequels: Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader," and The Last Battle. In the first of these, the children help good Prince Caspian recover his throne. In the second, Edmund, Lucy, and their cousin Eustace help King Caspian search for seven lords who have been banished by Caspian's evil uncle Miraz. This novel is notable for its humorous moments as well as its high adventure.
Next in the series is The Silver Chair, in which Eustace and his schoolmate Jill search for Prince Rilian, heir to Narnia's throne. Following The Silver Chair is The Horse and His Boy, which focuses on the adventures of Shasta, a young boy, and Bree, a talking horse, who escape from slavers and journey to Narnia to warn of an impending invasion. Next comes The Magician's Nephew, in which Lewis explains some of the history of the land of Narnia, including how it began. The story's main characters, Polly and Digory, are sent by an old magician into fantasy worlds. Eventually they and the witch Jadis end up in Narnia. The most controversial of the books is The Last Battle because it deals with dying, death, and the afterlife. Taken as a whole, The Chronicles of Narnia provide a wondrous vision of the history of a well-imagined fantasy world. Magic, adventure,...
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- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was adapted as a radio dramatization by Focus on the Family in April 1999. The full-cast production features realistic sound effects and notable actors. Paul Scofield is the storyteller, and David Suchet is the voice of Aslan. As of 2006, it was available on audio CD.
- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was first adapted as a television series (nine twenty-minute episodes) in 1967 by the ABC Television Network and was directed by Helen Standage from a screenplay by Trevor Preston. As of 2006, it was unavailable for home viewing.
- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was produced as an animated television special in 1979 by the Episcopal Radio-TV Foundation and the Children's Television Workshop. This production's animators were Steve and Bill Melendez; the screenwriter was David D. Connell. It aired on CBS, was watched by thirty-seven million viewers, and won an Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program. As of 2006, it was available on DVD.
- The BBC produced The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a television miniseries (in a combination of live action and animation) in 1988, adapted by Alan Seymour and directed by Marilyn Fox. Over the next two years, the BBC filmed Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader," and The Silver Chair. The four miniseries were nominated for a total of fourteen awards, including an Emmy for...
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What Do I Read Next?
- Readers who enjoy The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe may want to read the rest of the books in the Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (1951), The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" (1952), The Silver Chair (1953), The Horse and His Boy (1954), The Magician's Nephew (1955), and The Last Battle (1956). If the reader is eager to discover how Narnia began and how the lamppost and the White Witch first got into Narnia, then The Magician's Nephew (1955) is the book to read.
- Beowulf, one of Lewis's favorite epic poems, was instrumental—along with J. R. R. Tolkien—in shaping Lewis's ideas about faith and mythmaking. This Anglo-Saxon poem narrates the adventures of the Scandinavian hero-warrior. Tales of Beowulf: Champion of Middle Earth (2006), edited by Brian M. Thomson, is available from Avalon Publishing Group.
- Published by Ballantine Books in 1970, Phantastes, by George MacDonald, is a must-read for anyone who wants to experience the book that made a significant impact on Lewis's creative and spiritual life. It is the story of a young man's journey through Fairy Land in search of life's meaning. Phantastes is an enchanting work from the author considered to be the innovator of the modern fantasy.
- Alan Jacobs's 2005 book The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis is an eminently readable biography that examines how the...
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For Further Reference
Edwards, Bruce L., Jr. "C. S. Lewis." In Research Guide to Biography and Criticism, edited by Walton Beacham. Washington, DC: Beacham Publishing, 1985. This article provides an overview of the best that has been written about Lewis, with evaluations of the most important biographies.
Ford, Paul F. Companion to Narnia. New York: Collier/Macmillan, 1986. This is a thorough alphabetical listing and discussion of the characters, places, events, and ideas in The Chronicles of Narnia. One of the best books of its kind ever published, it provides a sensible, sometimes witty, guide to the merits of the novels. It includes excellent illustrations by Lorinda Byron Cauley.
Harsh, Donna J. "Aslan in Filmland: The Animation of Narnia." In Children's Novels and Movies, edited by Douglas Street. New York: Ungar, 1983. Harsh first evaluates the novel itself, then compares the novel to the 1979 animated motion picture from CTW/ Melendez Productions.
Hooper, Walter. Past Watchful Dragons: The Narnian Chronicles of C. S. Lewis. New York: Collier, 1979. This is a good critical introduction to the series.
Lewis, C. S. "On Three Ways of Writing for Children." In The Riverside Anthology of Children's Writing, edited by Judith Saltman. 6th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985. First published in 1952, this article explains Lewis's views on what makes for good and bad children's literature.
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Davis, Mary Gould, Review of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, in Saturday Review of Literature, Vol. 33, No. 49, December 9, 1950, p. 42.
Ford, Paul F., Companion to Narnia, Collier Books, 1986, p. 230.
Hinten, Marvin D., '"Deeper Magic': Allusions in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," in Narnia Beckons: C. S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Beyond, edited by Ted Baehr and James Baehr, Broadman and Holman Publishers, 2005, p. 133.
Hollindale, Peter, and Zena Sutherland, "Internationalism, Fantasy, and Realism 1945–1970," in Children's Literature: An Illustrated History, edited by Peter Hunt, Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 259.
Lewis, C. S., C. S. Lewis: Letters to Children, edited by Lyle W. Dorsett and Marjorie Lamp Mead, Macmillan, 1985, pp. 44-45.
―――――――, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, edited by Walter Hooper, William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1970, p. 23.
―――――――, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Harper-Collins, 1978.
―――――――, Mere Christianity, Macmillan Publishing, 1978, pp. 32-36.
Review of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 247, No. 47, November 20, 2000, p. 32.
Ryken, Leland, and Marjorie Lamp Mead, A Reader's Guide...
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