And the Fuckery I Found There
As I mentioned, I’ve done a reread of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Now, when I was younger, this was one of my absolute favorite books; I loved the animated movie that was produced in the late ’70s and grabbed a copy of the book from my local Kmart, reading it for an entire year in middle school. I loved the hell out this book, which is why I chose it and not any of the other Narnia books, for a reread.
So how did it hold up? Well, here’s my answer. Now, the book is pretty well known, so I’m not going to say spoilers on much of this. There’s been at least two film versions of this book and one television adaptation, so the details have been out there for a decently long time. If you say “Narnia” most people know exactly what you’re talking about. However, since this is a bit of a takedown, I’m going to post my thoughts after the jump; I don’t like the idea of possibly ruining a childhood here.
For everyone else: if you’re ready, let’s hop into the wardrobe, shall we? And by that I mean, hitting the jump below.
The Plot: A group of four children are sent to live in the English countryside in the house of a kindly old Professor. While there, the children discover that a wardrobe housed within one of the rooms is actually a doorway into another world, one that has been cursed. But the children might be able to lift that curse and liberate the land.
Alright, this is pretty standard fantasy fare; cursed land, evil witch, young heroes that can save the kingdom, talking animals. It’s pretty standard in that regard. Now, when I was a kid, this was absolutely magical. The idea of a doorway into another realm was one of the coolest things I had ever read. But it isn’t groundbreaking or new at all. It’s been done before. A few example of this include The Phantom Tollbooth, The Indian in the Cupboard, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
As I’ve said, this is nothing new. The plot itself isn’t groundbreaking either; it’s mostly swords and some sorcery and magic. But to be honest, the story is more than a little below average when it comes to sorcery. There are a few examples, but most of Narnia’s troubles are solved via non-magical means. (Hell, a gigantic battle takes care of most of the problems.)
Yes, magic does come into play in the storyline but it isn’t as prevalent as I had originally thought as a child. The White Witch’s magic wand is an example, as is the whole incident with Aslan at the Stone Table–we’ll be getting into that in more detail later–but as for the rest of the plot, there isn’t a hell of a lot of magic. Sure, you meet Father Christmas and a talking lion but there isn’t a lot of spell casting or wizardry here.
The Characters: I used to think that this was one of the better portions of the book; the kids all had distinctive personalities, the Professor was wise beyond his years, the Beavers were a kindly couple.
I was wrong. Boy, was I wrong.
The children have the barest semblance of personalities; we know that Peter and Susan are the two older children. We know that Peter seems to be the de facto leader. We know that Lucy steps into the wardrobe for the first time because there are fur coats inside and she loves the feeling of fur. We know that Edmund is an absolute brat. We know that Susan is skeptic enough to want proof before she believes anything, which gives her more depth than her siblings. But that’s it. That is really all we know about these characters.
The Professor? His “wisdom” springs from using deepities like Lewis’s own “lunatic, liar or Lord” argument or saying that it’s possible for an entire country to disappear when you shut the door to a closet because things don’t always stay in the same damn place. Seriously. That is it. There really isn’t a helluva lot wise about this guy. He simply sounds that way because he just happens to be an adult and he believes Lucy’s story! Now, later on in the Narnia chronicles we discover as to why, but that isn’t really a factor here and it isn’t brought up at all.
The Beavers? We can assume that they’re good at heart, but that’s because they take in the children and act as guides. They feed the children, give them a place to hide and eventually get them to the Stone Table, which is where they will all meet up with Aslan, the great Lion. But once the couple serves that purpose, they essentially disappear. We don’t see them again for any real length of time after Aslan comes into the picture. They promptly fade into the background, only making appearances during a key scene between Aslan and the White Witch and to tell the children after they have become Narnia’s rulers that Aslan won’t stay in his own damn country for an extended period of time. Again, that’s pretty much the size of it all. They are guides and little else.
The White Witch is evil just to be evil. There is no real motivations to her actions; she’s just the villain. That’s all. Nothing more and nothing less. We don’t know why she is there, claiming to be Narnia’s queen. We just know that she is and she’s evil. As for Aslan, he’s pretty much the same as the Witch, only he’s the opposite of the coin. He’s the rightful ruler of Narnia and the rightful King and he’s good. There’s not a lot to his character, either.
When I was a youth, my brain didn’t comprehend this. I saw magic and little else. In my mind, the characters were well developed and rounded and fully formed beings in their own right. But after rereading the story, I can see now that the characters were barely that at all; they were vehicles for Lewis’s supernatural retelling of a Passion Play.
Then there’s this mind bender:
Why is Aslan standing upright? He’s a freaking lion, for heaven’s sake! This makes him look ridiculous! We’re also treated to hearing about Aslan sitting on a throne or knighting one of the children with a sword, but just how the slag does he do it? He also has a pair of leopards who carry his standard and crown. How could they hold either without opposable thumbs? This makes no sense!
But the biggest brain breaker of all is this:
So, Aslan, the great and glorious son of the Emperor beyond-the-Sea, trades spots with Edmund and dies in his place, since Edmund is a traitor and the Witch has a right to murder every traitor to Narnia. This gruesome show is witnessed by Lucy and Susan, who follow after Aslan when he leaves in the dead of night. They spend nearly an entire chapter mourning him, only to find at dawn that his body is gone and the Stone Table has cracked in half. When they rush to the Table, Susan asks if it is more magic and a now reanimated Aslan proclaims that it is indeed, more magic.
Huzzah! Aslan is alive again! Woo Hoo!
There’s only one massive problem: ASLAN KNEW THAT HE WOULDN’T REMAIN DECEASED.
Upon rising that very next day, he tells Lucy and Susan both that if the Witch had looked a little further back, she would have seen a different incantation: basically, if someone who was not a traitor took the traitor’s place, the Stone Table would break and death “would start working backwards”. In other words, that “victim” would not remain dead; s/he would rise from death, none the worse for wear. Aslan knew this, he knew that he would not remain dead, he just didn’t know for exactly how long.
There was no real sacrifice in Aslan’s case. He knew he would return. He just wasn’t exactly sure as to when. But he already knew that his resurrection was assured.
Even worse? IT DIDN’T HAVE TO BE ASLAN WHO WENT IN EDMUND’S PLACE.
Reading the incantation now just pisses me off: it flatly states that the party making the “sacrifice” had to be innocent. In other words, if they hadn’t betrayed Narnia or hadn’t aligned themselves with the White Witch, they were in the clear. Anyone in Aslan’s party, whether it was Susan or Lucy or either of the Beavers or the leopards that served him, or the bull with the head of a man or even, for a twist, Peter, could have stepped forward and given his or her life in exchange for Edmund’s and the result would have been the same. But since Aslan is Lewis’s chosen representation for Christ, it had to be the Lion. Because Jesus. Which again, makes the entire damned thing hollow.
There was no actual sacrifice. None. Aslan would eventually rise again and deal with the Witch. He wouldn’t remain a dead carcass, rotting on the Stone Table. He knew this, he had foreknowledge of this yet he still acted as though he was giving up something when he went to the Stone Table that night. But he wasn’t. He never was. Well, maybe he was giving up a night’s sleep but that’s not something to mourn so heavily.
To top that all off, just how screwed up is Narnia, anyway? You align yourself with the White Witch and you die. If you betray Aslan, the White Witch can cut your throat and that’s the end of that. Someone or something has to die or the entire damned country will perish. Think about that. This was built into the fabric of the frigging world; if you’re not on the side of Aslan, you can be sacrificed and oh, by the way, if you don’t die then someone else will have to go in your spot. Because this great and “wise” Emperor beyond-the-Sea let that shit happen. Because somebody has to die in order for you to be forgiven.
I am forced to agree with Mr. Beaver. The White Witch made her claim as queen by being the Emperor’s executioner. But hey, the Emperor didn’t give a damn, now did he?
Dear Primus, how did I miss this as a kid? I spent every lunch period during my seventh grade year, reading a chapter of this fucking book; I should have caught on a helluva lot sooner! Looks like the Suck Fairy decided to pay me a visit. Boy, did she ever. None of the glorious magic that I felt was in this at all. I saw far too many plot holes in this to properly enjoy it.
Speaking of plot holes, here’s a gem:
So, uh, how did the kids end up back in merry olde England, not having aged while spending years upon years in Narnia? No seriously, shouldn’t they have remained the same age when they returned to the world on this side of the door? You can claim magic but I don’t think that would hold true in this world.
It’s one of the most glaring plot holes in the story and I managed to completely miss it. I read this book for an entire school year, managing to get through a chapter a day during my lunch and I still didn’t see this. It just soared over my head.
I can’t help but feel a little embarrassed by that fact.
Again, youth is probably the main reason why. I saw glitter and not dust when I read. I was so wrapped up in the “Oh, cool, magical talking animals and unicorns and mermaids” that I failed to even notice it. I was distracted by what I thought was magic and sorcery, when it really wasn’t there.
I don’t think I can properly enjoy these books again. I’ve read the entire series and thought it was magnificent but now, I fear I won’t have that same reaction. Now, I fear that I’ll be too busy picking the stories apart rather than enjoying them. Being a skeptic can suck sometimes.
Thankfully, this was a library book, so I can just drop it off at the local library and be done with it. However, I do have an omnibus of the entire series; I just can’t remember where I placed it. But now, I feel the need to try and find it. Not for a read through, but to drop it at the Little Free Library down the street. Someone else might enjoy it. But I fear that I’ve grown a bit too old and too fussy to properly enjoy a jaunt in Narnia.