Stories That Shape Us: the Chronicles of Narnia

My copy, which looks very good for a book I've had since I was five.  Most of the damage is from repeated rereads and a minor disagreement with a puppy...

My copy, which looks very good for a book I’ve had since I was five. Most of the damage is from repeated rereads and a minor disagreement with a puppy…

When I was five years old, my mom–probably tired of repeating Dr Seuss books over and over again–came home from the store and handed me a copy of The Magician’s Nephew.   “I wasn’t sure if it would be too scary,” she said, “but I thought you might like to try it.”   She would have read it out loud to me if I asked her to, but in a fit of independent spirit I decided that it was time I tackled a real novel all by myself.

I was not a fast reader (yet), but I got all the way to the introduction of Jadis (that scary-looking lady on the cover) on my first try.  Jadis scared me, so I stopped for a while.  I don’t remember it being very long, although it’s true that time is funny in childhood memories.  I had been enjoying the story so much that eventually, to reassure myself, I flipped through the book looking only at the pictures.  With the flawless logic of a very girly five-year-old, I decided that no book containing a pegasus could possibly be THAT bad, and immediately plunged through the rest of the book.  (“I could lose my job for saying this,” said my kindergarten teacher to my parents, “but have you ever considered homeschooling?”)

I liked The Magician’s Nephew so much that I reread it, and then I reread it again, all the while begging my mother for the next book.  I have to hand it to her: she encouraged my fledgling book habit and accommodated it as much as possible in a town with no bookstore, and eventually we acquired the entire series.  I remember this process taking a very long time, but it’s entirely probable that my judgement was clouded.

This was the book that introduced me to real fantasy, the one that changed my budding love for reading into an obsession.  It set the precedent for literally everything else I have ever read afterward.   It’s the entire reason why, for basically the entirety of elementary school, my mother constantly had to drag my nose out of a book in order to get me to do anything.  The Chronicles of Narnia were the beginning of several bad habits of mine: the one where I peek at the later chapters when alarmed or unsure about beginning chapters, for example (this happens less and less nowadays, but it still occasionally happens).  Also the one where I bring books to the dinner table (my family eventually gave up on explaining table manners and, once they decided a good example was useless, started bringing their own books to the table too). Also the one where I reread things I like.  I don’t just reread them once, either.  I reread them until the cover falls off.  And then I get another copy and reread them some more.

The Last Battle (Chronicles of Narnia, #7)

Apocalypse+end of the world? Totally okay with my five-year-old self. What happened to Susan?  Less okay.

As an adult, looking back, I can see loads of problems with the series.  Actually, I saw most of the big ones even as a kid: why are humans divinely ordained to rule over animals?  Especially when the animals are just as sentient as the people are?  Isn’t that a little elitist?  Rather uncomfortably similar to white supremacism, actually, when you think about it?  And what about Susan’s fate in the last book?  I could write entire essays on the problem with Susan being denied entrance to Heaven based seemingly on the fact that she discovered sexuality, but other people have already done that (see Neil Gaiman’s short story The Problem of Susan, if you don’t mind never sleeping again).  And as an adult, the bluntness of the Christian metaphors is sometimes hard to take.  (As a kid I just thought it was interesting.)

I can see all of that, but I just can’t dislike the series.  It’s too deeply embedded in my childhood and my love for reading; too many wonderful things have come from my love of those stories for me to stop loving them.  And you know what?  Sometimes, when I’m feeling incredibly nostalgic, I still go back and reread the whole thing.  No matter how many times I read over it, the wonder of my first real experience with fantasy is still there, waiting for me.

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