Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Reading Influences: Narnia

I was so very good yesterday, getting to everything on the to-do list. Today's list is a wee bit more ambitious, so we'll see how I do. I've reached the end of the parts I'm reworking on the current book and will be plunging ahead into the unknown.

I still don't have any reading I'm ready to talk about -- the book for the last couple of weeks wasn't bad, but I don't have anything to say about it and am not sure I'd recommend it, and I haven't finished the current book. So, I'll talk about more books that influenced me.

I guess I'd always read fantasy in some form or another. I had the books that went with the Disney fairy tale movies (what we had to do in the Dark Ages before home video -- there were also records with the songs and a narrator telling the story), and I had "real" fairy tale books. I went through a phase of checking out every book with "witch" or "magic" in the title, but oddly, I don't remember any individual books. I know I read The Hobbit in fourth grade, but at that time, nothing clicked in me to say "this is the kind of book I like," perhaps because I was at the height of Star Wars mania then and was getting into science fiction.

What turned me into a fantasy reader was the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I'd actually read The Horse and His Boy sometime in early elementary school, probably in second or third grade because it came during my horse phase, when I'd check out anything that had anything to do with a horse, but it didn't click with me then, probably because it was such a one-off and I was far more focused on the horse than on the fantasy. But I clearly remember when I started the series and really discovered the world of fantasy. I was in sixth grade and for some reason I had to meet my mom at her office after school instead of going straight home (I don't remember if there was some business thing we had to do or if it was meant as a treat). I had to ride the shuttle bus from the neighborhood where my school was to the post where my mom's office was. She'd bought a copy of The Silver Chair for me, probably to keep me occupied until she got off work. I was instantly hooked.

There was a quest, a long journey, giants, magic and all those wonderful things that come with fantasy. My imagination seemed to totally explode, and my brain went into overdrive imagining more things that could take place in a land like Narnia. I was very disappointed that I had ordinary closets instead of a magical wardrobe. I remember being reluctant to take off my nightgown and embroidered house slippers in the morning because that seemed like an outfit closer to being appropriate attire for a fantasy world. Of course, I had to get the rest of the series, but I rationed them because I knew there were only seven books and the author had died before I was born. To help spread them out, I started looking for other books like that and read The Lord of the Rings (I had no idea at the time that the authors were friends).

The funny thing is, in spite of me having grown up going to church and reading the Bible, I never caught on to all the Biblical allegory until I was in college and taking a "parageography" class. In one of the lectures, the professor got into allegorical worlds, including Narnia, and I had the big "Oooooh" lightbulb moment. I had just read it at face value as fantasy. Now it's hard not to see it. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is the most obvious parallel, but the Gospel message is more subtly woven throughout the other books. I have to admit that I really intensely dislike The Last Battle. That book just doesn't work for me, on so many levels. I'd put off reading it for months because I didn't want the series to end, and then when I finally let myself read it, I was very upset and disappointed. I can see what he was trying for, but I think it has the opposite effect on many (if not most) readers. Most of the people I've heard dismissing Lewis entirely have used things from that book as a reason.

As an adult, I've gotten more into Lewis's theological writings, and I think his writing style is actually better suited for that than for fiction. But Narnia is a special place, and it was my gateway into fantasy. I doubt I'd be doing what I am today if I hadn't read that first book. The Silver Chair remains my favorite, perhaps because it's more of an adventure story and less preachy. Jill, our designated "outsider" character does get her "conversion" experience, but she wasn't a horrible person to begin with (unlike Eustace in the book where he played the "outsider" role). She didn't have to dramatically change, just learn to have faith. It seems that the film version of The Magician's Nephew is still in development, and I'd thought it odd that they were going out of chronological order to go back and do that one after Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but part of me kind of hopes that they're letting the kid who played Eustace (who was wonderful) grow up a bit so they can add a teen romantic subplot to The Silver Chair. When I read the book now, they're just kids to me, but when I was eleven, I totally read a romance into it.

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