Children Delight in Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Chronicles of Narnia captured the imagination of children by mixing entertainment and wonder in a delightful secondary world embodying a strong but unobtrusive Christian framework. They also raised the status of children’s literature and influenced later fantasies for children.

Summary of Event

When C. S. Lewis began writing the seven books composing The Chronicles of Narnia (1950-1956), he was already a respected scholar at Oxford University and a successful author of religious nonfiction books and fantastic fiction using Christian themes. His work reflected his experience as an atheist who had converted to Christianity. With the Narnia books, Lewis added to his writing a concern for children’s experiences, especially in maturing and navigating the difficult and sometimes frightening adult world. Part of his goal in writing the books was to fire his young readers’ imaginations by depicting Christian themes in a strange new fantasy world. [kw]Children Delight in The Chronicles of Narnia (1950-1956) [kw]Chronicles of Narnia, Children Delight in The (1950-1956) Chronicles of Narnia, The (Lewis) Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The (Lewis) Prince Caspian (Lewis) Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The (Lewis) Silver Chair, The (Lewis) Horse and His Boy, The (Lewis) Magician’s Nephew, The (Lewis)[Magicians Nephew] Last Battle, The (Lewis) Narnia Christianity;literature Fantasy literature Chronicles of Narnia, The (Lewis) Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The (Lewis) Prince Caspian (Lewis) Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The (Lewis) Silver Chair, The (Lewis) Horse and His Boy, The (Lewis) Magician’s Nephew, The (Lewis)[Magicians Nephew] Last Battle, The (Lewis) Narnia Christianity;literature Fantasy literature [g]Europe;1950-1956: Children Delight in The Chronicles of Narnia[03150] [g]United Kingdom;1950-1956: Children Delight in The Chronicles of Narnia[03150] [c]Literature;1950-1956: Children Delight in The Chronicles of Narnia[03150] [c]Popular culture;1950-1956: Children Delight in The Chronicles of Narnia[03150] Lewis, C. S. Tolkien, J. R. R. MacDonald, George Green, RogerLancelyn Nesbit, E. Baynes, Pauline

Although Lewis at this time had little experience with children, he had always loved stories of fantasy and the numinous, and he regarded good children’s books as equally fit for adult and child readers. He did not write explicitly to teach about religion through allegory. Instead, the Narnia books were inspired, Lewis said, simply by images that came to him, such as a faun carrying an umbrella or a great lion. Lewis then wrote the stories around these images. Among Lewis’s literary influences were George MacDonald, a Scottish fantasy author whose children’s fantasy combined Christian themes with personal myth-making, and E. Nesbit, celebrated for her stories of ordinary English children in fantastic situations.

A more direct influence on the Narnia books was Lewis’s close friend and fellow Oxford scholar J. R. R. Tolkien, whose classic fantasies The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955) Lewis greatly admired. Lewis and Tolkien belonged to a literary club called the Inklings Inklings whose members read their manuscripts to each other. Though both men shared religious concerns and a desire to rehabilitate myth Mythology;in literature[literature] and fantasy, Tolkien objected to the Narnia books’ mixing of mythological traditions. Lewis found a more congenial reader in Roger Lancelyn Green, a scholar of children’s literature and the author of several children’s books, who later became Lewis’s biographer.

The first book in the Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950), was begun in 1948, although the book’s plot recalls an earlier story that Lewis told to three girls who were staying at Lewis’s house in Oxford during World War II. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe the four Pevensie children, Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy, are evacuees from London during World War II staying in the house of Professor Kirke. There, they find a magic wardrobe that leads them into Narnia, a country inhabited by talking animals and mythical creatures, whose king is the great lion Aslan. At one point in the story, the traitor Edmund is about to be killed by the evil White Witch. Aslan sacrifices himself for Edmund in a re-imagining of Christ’s sacrifice for humankind. As a result, the White Witch’s power is broken upon Aslan’s resurrection. After many years, the children return to England only to find that they have been away for only a few minutes.

Working on and off from 1949 to 1953, Lewis produced six further explorations of Narnia. Beginning in 1950, the books were released by publishers Geoffrey Bles and Macmillan in Great Britain and the United States, respectively. They featured accomplished illustrations by Pauline Baynes. Each new book expanded the cast of characters and added to readers’ understanding of Narnia.

Prince Caspian (1951) brought the Pevensie children back to Narnia centuries after they left to find themselves vaguely remembered legendary figures. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952) took readers to Narnia’s eastern seas. The Horse and his Boy (1954) took place in Calormen, a country to the south of Narnia, whose culture was inspired by Alf layla wa-layla (fifteenth century; The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments, 1706-1708; better known as One Thousand and One Arabian Nights). In The Silver Chair (1953), readers traveled to the underground lands beneath Narnia. To round out the series, The Magician’s Nephew (1955) told of Narnia’s creation, while in The Last Battle (1956), Aslan brought Narnia to an end, as the heroes of the previous books followed him into a new country.

The one constant in the series is Aslan, Narnia’s Christ. He acts as the child heroes’ friend and mentor, but he also challenges them to grow better. Aslan teaches Christian values, not by teaching but by embodying the power, mystery, and love that Lewis saw in Christ, so unobtrusively that many readers are unaware on a first reading of the Narnia books’ religious themes.

The Narnia books, which acquired their collective title The Chronicles of Narnia from Roger Lancelyn Green, quickly became a success. The Last Battle received the Carnegie Medal for best children’s book of 1956. Adult readers could take pleasure in the books’ literate tone and wide range of ideas. (Lewis was not afraid, for example, to borrow ideas from Plato in constructing his fantasy world.) Children could identify with Lewis’s sympathetic but imperfect child heroes who must mature and accept responsibility for their actions. Lewis effectively drew upon his own childhood experiences of tyrannical schoolmasters, bullies, kind nurses, wise tutors, and stories of wonder in writing the Narnia books. One reason he was able to do so was that he was in the midst of writing an autobiography, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life Surprised by Joy (Lewis) (1955). His recollections of his youth strenghtened his portrayal of the Narnia books’ young, fictional protagonists. Lewis did not think of what other children might want from his stories; instead, he wrote the books that he would have enjoyed reading as a child.

Significance

The Chronicles of Narnia stands as one of the hallmarks of twentieth century children’s literature and of fantasy for readers of all ages. Its seven volumes form C. S. Lewis’s most popular body of writing and perhaps his most enduring, inspiring a substantial body of criticism. The Chronicles of Narnia, in conjunction with Tolkien’s fantasies, drastically raised the status of fantasy and children’s literature in both the marketplace and the academy. Earlier children’s fiction was sometimes marred by a belief that children should be talked down to and that children’s fiction should avoid the frightening or the unpleasant. The Narnia books showed that children’s fiction could present serious intellectual themes and potentially frightening subjects in a way that children could accept.

The books helped inspire the many other children’s fantasy series—including Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain books (1964-1968), Susan Cooper’s Dark Is Rising sequence (1965-1977), Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (1962) and its sequels, and Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea books (1968-2001). Many later writers did not share Lewis’s Christian faith, but the values of courage, honesty, and compassion found in his works could exercise a broad appeal. From Lewis’s work, writers can learn that a good children’s book should appeal to all ages and that a children’s book can teach, not through instruction or heavy-handed moralizing, but through the imagination. His greatest legacy is in the generations of readers who explore Narnia over and over. Chronicles of Narnia, The (Lewis) Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The (Lewis) Prince Caspian (Lewis) Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The (Lewis) Silver Chair, The (Lewis) Horse and His Boy, The (Lewis) Magician’s Nephew, The (Lewis)[Magicians Nephew] Last Battle, The (Lewis) Narnia Christianity;literature Fantasy literature

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Downing, David C. Into the Wardrobe: C. S. Lewis and the Narnia Chronicles. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005. An excellent introduction to the Narnia books, combining biographical information with criticism.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ford, Paul R. Companion to Narnia: A Complete Guide to the Magical World of C. S. Lewis’s “The Chronicles of Narnia.” Rev. ed. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 2005. A Narnia encyclopedia giving extensive alphabetical treatment of characters, places, and themes within the chronicles, as well as items of historical importance.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lewis, C. S. Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories. London: Geoffrey Bles, 1966. This collection contains two valuable essays, “It All Began with a Picture . . . ” and “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to Be Said,” discussing the creation of the Narnia books.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life. London: Geoffrey Bles, 1956. This book, more an account of his journey from atheism to Christianity than a standard autobiography, provides a wealth of personal information helpful to an understanding of The Chronicles of Narnia.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Manlove, Colin. From Alice to Harry Potter: Children’s Fantasy in England. Christchurch, New Zealand: Cybereditions, 2003. A historical survey of British children’s fantasy by an author who has previously written on C. S. Lewis and Christian fantasy. Helpful for putting The Chronicles of Narnia into their historical context within children’s fantasy.

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