Top 100 Children’s Novels (#4)
#4 The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (1950)
(#1)(#1)(#1)(#1)(#1)(#1) (#1)(#1)(#1)(#1)(#1)(#2) (#2)(#2)(#2)(#2)(#2)(#2) (#3)(#3)(#3)(#3)(#3)(#4) (#4)(#4)(#4)(#4)(#4)(#4) (#4)(#4)(#4)(#4)(#4)(#5) (#5)(#5)(#5)(#5)(#5)(#5) (#5)(#5)(#5)(#6)(#6)(#6) (#6)(#6)(#6)(#6)(#6)(#7) (#7)(#7)(#7)(#7)(#7)(#7) (#8)(#8)(#8)(#8)(#8)(#8) (#8)(#8)(#8)(#9)(#10)(#10) – 456 points
What better book to demonstrate that fantasy involves passageways? – Priscilla Cordero, Ocean County Library, Toms River, NJ
I love Peter and Edmund and Susan and Lucy and Narnia. I had friends in middle school who had plans to go to Narnia on a certain pre-determined date. They had some kind of plan as to how they would accomplish this journey, but they wouldn’t tell me because I didn’t believe they could do it. Faithless me. – Sherry Early
I once worked with a man who wouldn’t let his daughter read the Narnia books because of the religious symbolism. I thought to myself, Hey, if she doesn’t know a thing about Christianity, she won’t notice the symbolism! For that matter, I was raised Christian, and the only thing that mattered to me about the books was the storytelling. All of the hokey, derivative portals written about since in children’s fantasy can’t ruin the joy of that wardrobe with its forest of fur coats and the unexpected scent of snow beyond. The White Witch, with her bribe of Turkish Delight, gave me the shivers, and I loved characters like the pathetic, treacherous Faun, let alone the thought that a girl could learn to shoot an arrow and become a queen. – Kate Coombs (Book Aunt)
Apparently I have a thing for escapism. But this one always felt special to me because even though they were kids, they were made kings and queens and not the lesser princes and princesses. – Kristen M. (We Be Reading)
This is the only book I’ve ever physically thrown across the room, I was so emotionally involved and upset. Good thing I picked it up and kept reading. (I was in 5th grade at the time). – Eliza Brown, Assistant Retail Manager, The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art
Narnia was my entrance in the world of literary fantasy, and this book was my entrance into Narnia. I’ve loved and re-read the entire series more times than I can count, but LWW is really where the magic starts. I know some people make a case for reading the books in chronological-story order, rather than publication order, but I think the series is still most powerful when you start here, with the redemption narrative of Narnia. I will be forever grateful to C.S. Lewis for writing these books. – Beth Priest (Endless Books)
My family moved to a large house on 2 acres in upstate New York and I went around naming sections of the property after parts of Narnia. I was in high school and hadn’t read it in years, but clearly the book stuck with me. – Karen Halpenny, Book Editor, Sesame Street Events Co-Chair
Still has me hoping to find a secret world behind an ordinary door, sans the murderous ice queen. – Amy Farrier
The synopsis from the publisher reads, "When Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy are sent to stay with a kind professor who lives in the country, they can hardly imagine the extraordinary adventure that awaits them. It all begins one rainy summer day when the children explore the Professor’s rambling old house. When they come across a room with an old wardrobe in the corner, Lucy immediately opens the door and gets inside. To her amazement, she suddenly finds herself standing in the clearing of a wood on a winter afternoon, with snowflakes falling through the air. Lucy has found Narnia, a magical land of Fauns and Centaurs, Nymphs and Talking Animals — and the beautiful but evil White Witch, who has held the country in eternal winter for a hundred years."
According to 100 Best Books for Children by Anita Silvey (do you own your copy yet?) when Lewis was sixteen he envisioned a faun carrying an umbrella in a wood full of snow. "Then nine years later, a lion leapt into a story, and Lewis began working on a book entitled ‘The Lion’." I was unaware that he was only twenty-five when he began the tale. He’d be fifty-two by the time it published, though. That’s what we call in the business a gestation period. He did show an early manuscript to one Roger Lancelyn Green, though, and Green helped him get his manuscript up to snuff. The book was originally meant to stand alone, which is part of the reason it bugs me when publishers release the books in the order of what happens in the series rather than the order of when the books were written.
Of course, he was buds with J.R.R. Tolkien (though perhaps "buds" is not the term they might choose to describe their friendship). Tolkien wasn’t a fan of the series though. Considering he was a fellow who spent ages constructing a history and a bloody language for his fantastical world, he found the whole Narnia thing a bit slapdash.
Now if you walk into the book as a kid and aren’t aware that you’re facing a great big gigantic Christian allegory, you probably won’t notice it anyway. For adults, it’s incredibly obvious. Still, as Anita Silvey says, "The books have endured not because of their philosophy, but because they bring to life a magical world that readers want to enter again and again."
Philip Pullman? Not a fan. In an interview with surefish.com, for example, he says, "Narnia has always seemed to me to be marked by a hatred of the physical world. When I bring this up, people say, oh no, what nonsense! He loved his beer, loved laughter and smoking a pipe, and the companionship of his friends and so on. And so he might have done. But that didn’t prevent perhaps his unconscious mind from saying something quite different in the form of a story."
I can’t even wade through the thousands of scholarly articles on this book, or even the BOOKS based on it. I will highlight one, though. In 2008 Little, Brown published Salon cofounder Laura Miller’s title The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia. In it she records how, "My relationship to Narnia would turn out to be as rocky as any love affair, a story of enchantment, betrayal, estrangement, and reunion." In fact Miller allowed a section from the Introduction of the book to be included in Anita Silvey’s Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book. She writes, "In one of the most vivid memories from my childhood, nothing happens. On a clear, sunny day, I’m standing near a curb in the quiet suburban California neighborhood where my family lives, and I’m wishing, with every bit of myself, for two things. First, I want a place I’ve read about in a book to really exist, and, second, I want to be able to go there. I want this so badly I’m pretty sure the misery of not getting it will kill me. For the rest of my life, I will never want anything quite so badly again."
I’ve yet to find any statues of the characters from the book, but there is a statue of the wardrobe out there. In East Belfast, Northern Ireland you can see this figure of what some folks are calling Digory Kirke a.k.a. The Professor moving into the wardrobe.
Whether Digory was Lewis’s alter ego is up for contention. You can play with this on Google Earth too if you like.
Big names have a tendency to illustrate these covers. Chris Van Allsburg. David Wiesner. Folks you wouldn’t necessarily associate with jackets as a job. And in a surprising move the publisher released the book recently in its original jacket. This is a trend I approve of, though it only works for the true classics. Which is to say, most of the books on this list. Here are some covers:
Because when you read the book, it’s really the character of the dwarf that sticks with you. Whaaa?
The cover I grew up with:
Way to give away the ending:
In terms of film, early on was the Emmy Award winning special (yeah, I’m a little shocked about that as well).
Then came something a little more live action. I confess to you that as crummy as this looks, I was rather fond of this old Wonderworks version of the story back in the day. I think I blocked out the poorly animated portions, though. Guh.
Finally, the most recent (and best) version. Some folks complained at the time that the movie was trying to be the next Lord of the Rings. I figure the only reason they even made it was because Lord of the Rings had proved you could make money off such a film.
Before the first Narnia movie produced by Walden Media came out they had a special screening for some of the kids at the Jefferson Market Branch of NYPL. They showed a long trailer for the kids that is now, I see, on YouTube. I present it to you now.
Filed under: Top 100 Children's Novels (2010)
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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