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

Start Free Trial

Historical Context

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 545

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 Britain had recently withdrawn 224,000 of its troops from France and had no remaining allies on the European continent, yet Winston Churchill refused to seek terms with Hitler.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 Operation Sea-Lion. The Battle of Britain may not have defeated Hitler in the short term, but it was a defensive victory that strengthened England's resolve to continue fighting until Hitler's defeat in 1945.

The post-war years in which Lewis wrote The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe witnessed great economic instability in Great Britain. The newly elected Labor government of 1945 implemented an austerity program due to worldwide shortages of food and raw materials that Britain needed to import. Food, clothing, and sources of energy were severely rationed; in 1947, food rations were cut to well below wartime levels, and the use of gasoline by civilians was prohibited. Only when financial aid started funneling in from the Marshall Plan (the U.S. assistance program to help rebuild European economies), to the tune of $2.7 billion between 1948 and 1951, did Britain's economic situation begin to improve.

But beyond the economic and political forces at work in post-war Britain, a more sinister spiritual force was starting to take hold: moral uncertainty. Belief in a moral universe of absolutes and faith in a benevolent God were shaken by awareness of war atrocities led many to the conclusion that theirs was not a culture of moral progress and development but a culture of death. Moreover, the future prospect of living under the cold war's dark cloud of nuclear threat did nothing to strengthen a belief in mankind's capacity for goodness. As a result, church attendance in Great Britain steadily declined, and faith in a deity was replaced by faith in one's own ability to succeed in a world devoid of God. In response to this climate of skepticism and cynicism, Lewis wrote The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, a story which asserts that even in a universe corrupted by evil, there still exist beauty, truth (standards of right and wrong), joy, and the presence of a benevolent creator who will eventually make all things right.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 147

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.

Literary Style

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 774

Biblical Allusion

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 others may live (John 3:16; Matthew 20:28). By sacrificing himself, Aslan satisfies the Deep Magic, which states that the penalty for the crime of treachery is death, an allusion perhaps to the penalty for sin under the Old Testament covenant (Romans 6:23; Hebrews 9:17-22). But his sacrifice also satisfies the Deeper Magic, an incantation which causes Death to work backward when an innocent victim is sacrificed in a traitor's stead; the reference here seems to be to the remission of sins by Christ Jesus under the New Testament covenant (Romans 6:23; Hebrews 9:12-15). In these and countless other ways, Lewis elevates the children's story to the level of Christian teaching or parable.

Point of View

Lewis weaves first, second, and third person points of view throughout the telling of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Sometimes he expresses his personal opinions (first person), sometimes he addresses the reader directly (second person), and sometimes he relays the action in the voice of a third-person narrator. When done well, this style can be very effective in children's stories because it emotionally engages readers and makes them feel as if they are part of the action. For example, when the narrator relates how the Pevensie children feel when they hear the name of Aslan for the first time, he conveys their sense of wonderment and excitement directly to the reader by suggesting the reader has perhaps experienced something as mysterious in a dream:

And now a very curious thing happened. None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different. Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something which you don't understand but in the dream it feels as if it had some enormous meaning—either a terrifying one which turns the whole dream into a nightmare or else a lovely meaning too lovely to put into words, which makes the dream so beautiful that you remember it all your life and you are always wishing you could get into that dream again. It was like that now.

Another example occurs when the narrator describes the sadness Susan and Lucy feel after Aslan's death. He comforts the reader, too, as a person who also knows what grief is: "I hope no one who reads this book has been quite as miserable as Susan and Lucy were that night; but if you have been—if you've been up all night and cried till you have no more tears left in you—you will know that there comes in the end a sort of quietness." In this case, Lewis draws in the reader by referring to grief experienced by the reader that may help the reader identify with the children's reaction.

What makes this style even more effective is Lewis's familiar and friendly tone. The narrator does not feign omniscience (to be all-knowing) and is never condescending or patronizing. In fact, using direct address, Lewis puts himself on the same level as his readers, apparently addressing each one of them personally. This intimate tone may contribute to the book's popularity. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe lends itself to being read aloud, which is suitable for a children's book.

Literary Techniques

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 321

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. Lewis neatly reverses the facile association of white with light in his depiction of the Queen. He makes her whiteness a function of her denial of real light, an apery of beauty.

Finally, in the battle scenes Lewis echoes epical battles in their particularity and terrible beauty. The battle is part of the ordeal in a rite of passage, a symbol of the war which all must fight, and a literal adventure with danger and near loss.

Literary Qualities

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 549

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 events seem more realistic because the action of the book begins in the real world. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the magical world of Narnia reflects the real world. The children escape London of World War II, which the Nazis bomb, only to find themselves in the land of Narnia, where the White Witch acts as a cruel dictator whose laws are enforced by ruthless secret police.

Lewis's descriptions of the domain and actions of evil characters such as the White Witch and her secret police, are suspenseful. For instance, when Edmund passes through the moonlit courtyard of the witch's castle, he is terrified to discover a dwarf and a huge lion within a few feet of him. Gradually, he realizes that these figures are merely part of a collection of stone statues, victims of the witch's golden wand, scattered like chess pieces throughout the courtyard. That the complete picture of Edmund's surroundings emerges only slowly as he edges through the shadows creates considerable suspense. Lewis draws his scene through direct images, "an enormous lion, crouched as if ready to spring" and metaphorical ones "as the pieces stand on a chess board when it is halfway through the game." While Edmund is relieved to be out of immediate danger, he sees the first horrible evidence of the White Witch's evil, and the suspense continues to build.

Some of the literary qualities of Lewis's novel include the use of historical events (i.e. World War II) to give the story added meaning; allusions to familiar myths and stories, such as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, to add cultural depth; striking images with highly descriptive language; likable, interesting characters who develop within the action of the story; and a tight plot that gives the story suspense and continuity. These elements challenge the reader's intelligence and make the novel a more intense and entertaining reading experience.

Compare and Contrast

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 287

  • 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," the post-war literature is "singularly free of prescriptive ideologies."

    Today: Children's literature, while still imaginative, is restricted by fashionable ideologies of political correctness. As Hollindale and Sutherland state in Children's Literature: An Illustrated History, "From the 1970s onwards another rule-book gain[s] authority, prescribing a new agenda of political correctness in matters of sex and gender, class and race, faithfully reflecting tensions and divisions in the adult political world."

Literary Precedents

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 153

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.

Media Adaptations

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 393

  • 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 Outstanding Children's Program. They were later edited into three feature-length films, and as of 2006, they were available on DVD.
  • Buena Vista Pictures released The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a major motion picture in December 2005. This Walt Disney and Walden Media production, a combination of live action and computer animation, was directed by Andrew Adamson. As of 2006, it was available on DVD.
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was adapted as a musical in 1985, with music, book, and lyrics by Irita Kutchmy. As of 2006, it was available from Joseph Weinberger Ltd.
  • Narnia, another musical adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, was written by Jules Tasca with lyrics by Ted Drachman and music by Thomas Tierney. It was first published by the Dramatic Publishing Company in 1987, and as of 2006, it was available.
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was adapted as a stage play by Joseph Robinette in 1989. As of 2006, it was available from the Dramatic Publishing Company.

For Further Reference

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 302

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.

Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1955. In this autobiographical work, Lewis explains the development of his ideas, many of which are reflected in the Narnia books.

Lockhead, Marion. Renaissance of Wonder: The Fantasy Worlds of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, George Mac- Donald, E. Nesbit and Others. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1977. Engagingly written, Lockhead's study places the Narnia novels in the context of the recent history of children's fantasy and provides a critical appreciation of C. S. Lewis's achievements.

Bibliography and Further Reading

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 428


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 through the Wardrobe: Exploring C. S. Lewis's Classic Story, InterVarsity Press, 2005, pp. 74-75, 166.

Walsh, Chad, "Earthbound Fairyland," in New York Times, November 12, 1950, p. 222.

Further Reading

Caughey, Shanna, ed., Revisiting Narnia: Fantasy, Myth and Religion in C. S. Lewis's Chronicles, BenBella Books, 2005.

This book is a collection of twenty-five essays by writers of various disciplines and faiths, revealing a refreshingly diverse assortment of insights and interpretations on the mythological and theological nature of Lewis's Narnia stories.

Deighton, Len, Fighter: The True Story of the Battle of Britain, Castle Books, 2000.

This book gives a detailed account of the conflict, analyzing the strategies, weapons, and tactics employed by both the Germans and the British.

Hooper, Walter, C. S. Lewis: A Companion and Guide, HarperSanFrancisco, 1996.

This book, written by a well-known Lewis scholar, is an invaluable resource for those who wish to have an exhaustive biographical, textual, and historical study of Lewis's legacy at their fingertips.

Ryken, Leland, and Marjorie Lamp Mead, A Reader's Guide through the Wardrobe: Exploring C. S. Lewis's Classic Story, InterVarsity Press, 2005.

This book is a comprehensive literary and historical overview of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which helps readers better understand both the story and its author.

Schakel, Peter J., Imagination and the Arts in C. S. Lewis: Journeying to Narnia and Other Worlds, University of Missouri Press, 2002.

This book provides in-depth analysis of Lewis's theory of imagination and demonstrates how Lewis teaches his readers, through the Chronicles and other works, the value of imagination as demonstrated in the various arts.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access



Critical Essays