Gifted to me for Christmas 1994 by the Sunday School I temporarily attended – according to the bookplate (below right) – after I’d watched the 80s film adaptation at school, I remember the ungrateful disdain I felt for the novel; feeling I’d already read the book having watched the film. How ignorant I was. Granted, I only 8 years old, but we all know that adaptions are usually inferior to the original.
Unsure if I’d ever read this in my childhood during a desperately bored moment, I decided to seize upon the opportunity when this C.S. Lewis classic was selected for The Dead Writers Society‘s 2014 Series Project.
Immediately I was struck by the quaint simplicity of the language used 60 years ago and the innate kindness and naïveté expressed by the children of that era. Tedium and disjointed fantasist logic, though, soon irritated like mosquito bites; every few pages something caused an eye-twitch.
But in general, take my advice, when you meet anything that’s going to be human and isn’t yet, or used to be human once and isn’t now, or ought to be human and isn’t, you keep your eyes on it and feel for your hatchet.
– Mr. Beaver
Anyone spot the irony? That’s right, Mr. Beaver isn’t human. There are no humans in Narnia, that’s the reason for the children’s importance. He’s just warned them that every creature they encounter in his world is a physical danger to them, including himself. Ugh.
Edmund’s betrayal abruptly dismissed and forgiven was one of the worst irritants as his implicit pride, arrogance and greed left him open to the White Witch’s charms, and although it’s hinted he punishes himself, no one berates him for betraying his siblings for the archetypal stranger offering chocolate in the windowless van.
Sheldon: Hold on. Just because the nice man is offering you candy, doesn’t mean you should jump into his windowless van. What’s the occasion?
Seibert: Just a little fund-raiser for the university.
Sheldon: Aha! The tear-stained air mattress in the back of the van. ~ The Big Bang Theory
While it’s true that shame and self-punishment can sting more than anything anyone else could say, it still grates. Edmund’s apparent hurried redemption off-stage – rewarded with a battlefield knighthood – and later becoming a ‘graver and quieter man’ earning the name ‘Edmund the Just’ feels like a cop out. However, he’s the only character to be generally cautious, skeptical and untrusting as we witness him pointing out the unwise act of instantly trusting the word of a stranger, which is contradictory to his earlier aforementioned behaviour evident before he eats the tainted Turkish Delight. I suppose his complexity makes him the most interesting and well-developed character of the novel.
Edmund and the White Witch in her sleigh a.k.a. her windowless van
Crowning these sons of Adam and daughters of Eve for just showing up one day, also appalls me. Hardly meritocratic, and yet the 2005 movie changes this aspect. All four children earn their crowns by bravely fighting the good fight using the weapons bestowed upon them. Due to the time period in which this was written, Lewis only allows the Sons to wage war as Father Christmas claims “…battles are ugly when women fight” when gifting the girls with a bow and arrows (for Susan) and a dagger (for Lucy). Despite this, the boys do very little in the way of violence or strategy. Again, I can put this down to the age-appropriate and historical tolerance for violence in the media during the late 1940s.
Susan actually uses her bow
And now I’m reminded why I shouldn’t read pre-teen fiction; it’s never quite realistic enough for me to enjoy. However, I do wonder if this classic would make it past editors in this condition in the present day. Instinct tells me the manuscript’s syntax would be tinkered with and more contractions added for a smoother reading experience, at the very least. Its current form left me eager to abandon it to the never-to-be-read-again shelves, if it hadn’t been for the DWS Series Project, I would have, although I won’t be reading the rest of the series.
Read: 28 Dec 2013