I’m feeling slightly irritated. I just finished reading The Narnia Chronicles, all seven at one shot in the order suggested by the author. I had seen one movie, Prince Caspian (the fourth of the books) on my one and only movie outing in the recent past, and enjoyed it and wanted to know more. Besides, the books came highly recommended (thank you, Doug).
Of course, I enjoyed the books. They lie somewhere between those Great Masters, J R R Tolkien and Enid Blyton, and I suppose I must now add J K Rowling to the cloud.
Cloud, not crowd – because there’s not a lot of similarity between these writers. You could loosely call the genre Fantasy (I’m talking more about Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree, Noddy, and those books, not so much the Famous Five, Five Find-Outers, Secret Seven, and the boarding school books); and you could loosely – but only very loosely – call all of them children’s literature in that they were purportedly written for children. (I don’t doubt Enid Blyton on this, but I’m very much less certain about the others.)
So, if you consider these authors together and add C S Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles to the picture, it’s certainly quite a cloud you get, in my opinion.
The Narnia Chronicles differ from Tolkien’s world and Rowling’s mainly in that there is less continuity between the various books. The principal characters are not always the same or do not always play a key role from one book to the next; they might feature, but only in passing; or they might not feature at all.
Of course, there’s a lot of suspense and excitement in each story, and I could hardly wait to get to the end of each; and of course good always prevails over evil; but there’s more to these books than that.
When I re-read all of J K Rowling at a stretch, I commented upon various Christian undertones in the series. But there, those undertones were really under the fabric – she was clearly just spinning a really good (if slightly long) yarn.
With Narnia, it is like that most of the time… But not always. Too often for my liking, the story is less of a story and too much of an allegory for Christianity. In the first book, there’s Eve tempting Adam with an apple; then in the second book, there’s the martyrdom of Aslan to save the life of the repentant sinner and traitor, Edmund; and his (Aslan’s) subsequent resurrection; complete with two loyal female “disciples” to witness it. There’s more, but these are the most obvious parallels to the Bible.
Still, the books are enjoyable despite these explicitly Christian overtones. So why am I irritated?
I’m irritated with the seventh book – the much acclaimed and award- (Carnegie Medal) winning book, The Last Battle. The trouble is that I still want to read an adventure-fantasy, even if it has an obvious religious message. But in this last book, I feel that there is too little adventure fantasy. Just when things should be hotting up and coming to a thrilling climax (you’ve gone through six whole books already, leading to this) the whole thing dissolves into a lengthy allegory of the day of reckoning, with the faithful going into Paradise on the right hand and the others being cast out on the left hand of Aslan. Can you believe that almost 70-odd pages are given over to this allegory? It is sickening sweet and it is unrelenting. There’s some tying up of loose ends, but for the most part, it’s just mush. Ugh. It’s like having a perfectly nice dinner and then being served a dessert that is so thick and gluey and oversweet that it just doesn’t slide down your throat.
That’s why I’m irritated. I want to call C S Lewis back from the grave (or from Aslan’s country or wherever he went after he left this earth) and tell him: you set out to write adventure fantasy. Now finish it.