Monday, December 28, 2009

Joint Review: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

I read both of these award-winning classics as a child multiple times. Thought I would reread them as an adult to see if they held up. Like most children’s books I’ve been rereading they went by so fast that I didn’t have much time to really get into them. But they’re both still quite good. For the uninitiated:

In TLTWATW, Lucy and her sister and two brothers are staying out at a large estate with an elderly man (“The Professor”) for the duration of WWII to avoid the bombings in London. While exploring, Lucy finds that through the back of an ordinary wardrobe she can enter the magical world of Narnia. However it is currently unpleasant there as The White Witch has declared herself Queen, and made it always winter but never Christmas. Eventually her siblings join her there, and they struggle to evade the White Witch and search for Aslan who is said to be returning and who will set things to right.

AWIT is the story of Meg, her baby brother Charles Wallace, and a boy from school, Calvin, as they travel through time and space to try to rescue Meg’s missing father, who is on a mission for the government. They are helped by Mrs. Which, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Whatsit in their task.

Both books feature strong characters, exciting plots, and independent-thinking young women. One thing I particularly noted was unusual with the perspective I have now is how the evil land of Camazotz in AWIT resembled Stepford very much, and it predates Ira Levin’s novel by a good 10 years. I get why I liked them both and why they both won awards. They are terrific, imaginative and inspiring children’s novels that hopefully will stay classics for decades to come.
One thing I really wanted to check out upon my rereading them though, was how religious they were. At the time, any religious elements went right over my head. But as an adult I became aware of both authors’ full oeuvres, which included quite a bit of religious writing. I also was eventually told that TLTWATW was a flat-out Christian allegory which I really had missed entirely. Interestingly, that book is the one that doesn’t mention God at all. In retrospect, the allegory is fairly obvious and plain, but as a child I just took the story at face-value and read nothing more into it. AWIT did however mention God a few times more than I remembered. They are fighting Evil, and of course what fights evil but the forces of Good and Godliness. Hmm. It was a bit more overt than I remembered, although it can be fairly open as it’s a non-specific God and doesn’t ever mention Jesus. I have several Jewish friends with kids getting to be the right age for these books and I was wondering if they’d be appropriate. I think actually both would work. AWIT isn’t Christian per se. And the allegory in TLTWATW is pretty below the radar for most young children, unless it is explicitly spelled out for them. Still, I’m not very comfortable with books proselytizing to impressionable children. However, I managed to escape unharmed.

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