illustration of an open wardrobe door with a castle and lion visible in through the door and an outline of a young girl standing on the opposite side of the door

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

by C. S. Lewis

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Critical Overview

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Surprisingly, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe received very little critical attention when first published in 1950 considering the renown Lewis had achieved from his previous writings. Perhaps the fact that it was a children's book, and a fairy tale at that, caused it to be overlooked by many critics and not taken seriously by others. Prince Caspian (1951), the second book to be published in the Chronicles of Narnia, was more widely reviewed, probably due to the sales success of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the fact that Lewis was beginning to stake his claim as a legitimate children's writer. Lack of critical attention aside, the reviews received by The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe were generally favorable, albeit not particularly analytical.

One reviewer who had mixed opinions about the book was Chad Walsh, whose review of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe appeared in the November 12, 1950, edition of the New York Times. He says he thought the book "well-written," adding that "one would expect that of the author of The Screwtape Letters," but found it lacked the "sense of the uncanny and magical that one finds in The Wind in the Willows and the writings of George MacDonald." Nonetheless, Walsh's children would not let him stop as he read it to them, leading Walsh to make a rather hasty generalization about children enjoying the story more than adults: "I made the mistake of reading them the first chapter, and since then it has been two chapters a night, sometimes followed by tears when a third chapter is not forthcoming. I see that children like their fairy land folk matter of fact, whereas adults prefer them whimsical or numinous."

Mary Gould Davis, in her December 9, 1950, Saturday Review of Literature review, also refers to a George MacDonald story, but not in order to show how Lewis's book is lacking; rather, she simply says The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe compares to The Princess and the Goblin in that "[it] has an underlying meaning in its theme." As regards the book's visual effectiveness, Davis compliments Lewis on his "beautifully drawn" word pictures and credits Pauline Baynes's drawings for "effectively bring[ing] out the children, Aslan, and the wood creatures of Narnia." She concludes with the praise, "It is an exceptionally good new 'fairy tale.' "

The 2000 unabridged audio release of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, celebrating the book's fiftieth anniversary, was reviewed in Publishers Weekly on November 20, 2000. With the reputation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a children's classic already well established, this review's focus is on the reading of British actor Michael York, calling it "a nimble, enchanting performance." The reviewer also says York "conveys an unflagging sense of wonder and excitement, certain to captivate a broad range of listeners."

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