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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 473

This series combines the elements of youth and childhood that Lewis loved and employed in many of his works: enchantment, magic, talking animals and trees, Arthurian legend, other worlds and journeys among them, time travel, and myth. The series contains elements of many genres: utopias, fairy stories, children’s stories, medieval...

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This series combines the elements of youth and childhood that Lewis loved and employed in many of his works: enchantment, magic, talking animals and trees, Arthurian legend, other worlds and journeys among them, time travel, and myth. The series contains elements of many genres: utopias, fairy stories, children’s stories, medieval chivalric romances, fables, folktales, and novels. Its ideas pull from a deep well of learning in history, literature, philosophy, and religion. Although they never obtrude, St. Paul and the Gospel writers, Saint Augustine, Dante, John Milton, and Edmund Spenser are always visible in the subtext. Lewis acknowledges many specific authors, especially Edith Nesbit, George MacDonald, Beatrix Potter, H. G. Wells, and (preeminently) the biblical writers. The Bible provides the structure, patterns, and values of the Chronicles. The marvel of these books is in the convincing mix of all these elements and the ease of reading. Simplicity and profundity dance together.

In the Chronicles of Narnia, ordinary people such as cab drivers and schoolchildren are chosen to perform extraordinary feats and fulfill extraordinary destinies. They battle evil from within, in the form of laziness, greed, pride, selfishness, and disbelief, as well as evil from without, in the form of soldiers, traitors, witches, enchantments, and an assortment of evil mythological creatures. All these challenges are met with the richer resources of good, flowing out of its source in Aslan, who is to the world of Narnia what Christ is to Earth according to the biblical account. Aslan creates Narnia, populates it, providentially watches over it, and guides it to its end and new beginning.

As is usual in Lewis’ books, evil is portrayed as the drying up of human potential, as restriction and imprisonment. The dwarfs who reject Aslan in The Last Battle cannot see him, and Eustace embodies greed in the form of a dragon. Goodness is expansive and liberating. Those Jadis turned to stone are restored to life by Aslan’s breath, and Eustace is “undragoned” to become a hero and liberator of others in turn. The stable that Aslan occupies at the end of The Last Battle is bigger on the inside than the outside and opens into the new Narnia. The grand achievement of this series is its awakening of a longing for the good, for justice, purity, truth, courage, charity, patience, and perseverance.

The influence of the series is vast. When J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and Lewis’ work appeared during the 1950’s, they revived fantasy literature from its doldrums. The Narnia books have been the subject of conferences, scholarly work, artworks, and television and video performances. An estimated twenty million or more readers have enjoyed the Chronicles. Perhaps no other work has done more to rehabilitate the reputation, multiply the readership, and broaden the creative potential of fantasy literature in the twentieth century.

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Critical Evaluation