There are echoes here of The Snow Queen. Lewis’s evocation of the eternal deep winter in Narnia makes you feel the cold in your bones. It is easy to imagine the vast landscapes, and the constant fear of the terrifying power of the White Witch who rules and subjugates all. We see Narnia through the innocent eyes of the children who explore it; we thrill to hear of the distant thrones in the castle of Cair Paravel. While they remain empty, the witch’s power will not be broken, but there is a prophecy that ‘two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve’ will be enthroned there and usher in a golden age.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a profound story of good versus evil, and it can be enjoyed on many levels. I was an adult before I understood the parallels between the hero, the lion Aslan, and Jesus Christ, and that added a whole new dimension to the story. The significance of the coming of Aslan, who is whispered to be ‘on the move’, the stone table – the sacrificial altar – and of his rising from the dead suddenly became apparent. We are caught up in the war between good and evil. In this respect, it’s a very spiritual book, with redemption as a central theme.
Set in 1940, and published in 1950, the novel is very much of its time. Its main protagonists are the siblings Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, evacuees from the war who are staying in a rambling country house owned by a professor, who is perhaps not as absent-minded as he seems. (C. S. Lewis himself was a professor at Oxford.) Like Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven, the children enjoy the kind of freedom that today’s young can only dream about, and it is during a game of hide-and-seek that Lucy finds the wardrobe . . .
There are seven novels in the series, and you have to read them all to learn the history of Narnia and find out what happens to it in the end. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was the first to be published, and the most celebrated and widely read – it has been translated into forty-seven languages – but Lewis hated the first draft and destroyed it. Later, he wrote a prequel, The Magician’s Nephew, the last in the series to be published.
Today, I can still thrill to the coming of Aslan, still be moved by what happens at the Stone Table and Cair Paravel – what a wonderful name for a castle – and still re-live that wonderful moment, when, as a child, I read about Lucy’s feet crunching on snow as she pushes through the fur coats in the wardrobe. My children also loved The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; my son read all seven books over and over again, and my daughter tells me she really did believe that another world lay beyond the wardrobe, if you knew where to find it. I think I believed that too, and I’m sure many other children do.
So many strands and elements come together to make The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe one of the greatest children’s classics of all time. It’s a fantasy tale, an adventure story and a thriller. Every child should read it, for it allows the imagination to soar and tugs at the heart.
Alison Weir’s new novel Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen is out now, published by Headline