I’ve had these copies since I was probably three or four years old. I think my parents bought them for me when we briefly lived in the U.K. (which would explain the ancient price stickers being in pounds instead of dollars). Before I could read, I used to sit with these books and flip through the pictures to try and make sense of the story. This illustration particularly freaked me out with that skull head above the doorway.
The Chronicles of Narnia. There are earlier examples of sword and sorcery, but no one did it better than, or with as light as touch as C.S. Lewis. If anyone were to ever ask me which books in my collection I valued the most, I'd point to this set of The Chronicles of Narnia without even thinking. The quality of the hardback covers and the illustrations by Pauline Baynes really set these editions apart from modern versions.
Although I’m a total science fiction nerd, and I certainly love a good fantasy movie, I’ve never much cared for the sword and sorcery or high fantasy literary genre. I really tried to get into the Wheel of Time series, but I could barely break past the hundred page mark. And I’ll confess, I’ve never finished The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s not a bad genre by any means, I just can’t seem to get very excited about it, because in my opinion, high fantasy peaked with these books:
Do the modern versions have the same great drawings as these? I could write for pages about the artwork, but no one would care as much as I do so I’ll keep it to myself.
Eventually my mother read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe to me, and although I liked the image of Mr. Tumnus carrying presents in the snowy wood where it was “always winter and never Christmas,” I’d never choose this book as my favorite in the series. In fact, I think it’s probably the weakest story or maybe it has the weakest characters of the lot. The Pevensie children, except for maybe Edmund, were kind of dweebs. It’s too bad that this is the one Narnia book that everyone reads because it really doesn’t reflect the more mythic and medieval quality of the other books.
In my opinion, everyone should read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Silver Chair, which make a nice duo. Heck, The Horse and His Boy has been something of a dark horse in the race for my favorite.
Eustace Scrubb was my favorite character. He had the best arc. First he’s the little asshole kid (a familiar archetype to anyone growing up), and then he turns into a dragon and it does him a world of good. He becomes this solid guy by the end of the series. For you Harry Potter fans, he's kind of the Neville Longbottom of the series. I want my characters to start off rotten like him and then slowly get more likable.
But why does no one seem to read the entire Chronicles? What’s up with that? It would be like reading The Little House on the Prairie and never picking up, or even acknowledging the existence of On the Banks of Plum Creek. The Chronicles of Narnia are such good simple stories, why hasn’t that translated to more of an audience than say The Lord of the Rings? Rings has some great elements, particularly the idea that no matter how good we believe ourselves to be, we all possess a corruptible soul, but it gets so bogged down in its own world-building and its awkward sense of pace. The Ents always make me want to hurl the book across the room. And there's too much singing.
The Chronicles of Narnia rarely gets as dark or boring as The Lord of the Rings. In fact, I think its message is just the opposite. No matter how awful we are, redemption and forgiveness is possible. Obviously, that's the Christian element for which Chronicles is so well known, but isn’t that the best part of Christianity? The good part?
Not being a very good Christian myself, I never cared to read The Chronicles of Narnia that way, but I still felt that Aslan, the gentle lion, was always a comforting image. I guess it recalls our most basic needs from religion, to feel protected and loved. Can’t argue with that.
Do you have a favorite book from The Chronicles of Narnia? Or do you like The Lord of the Rings better? Tell me why, I'd love to know.