I've been slightly bothered, ever since I saw The Chronicles of Narnia, by how big an impact it didn't have. It can't be helped that I keep comparing it in my mind to Lord of the Rings, given the connections between the original authors and the similarity of presentation of the two films. And I'm slowly, reluctantly, coming to the conclusion that the reason that the film didn't hit hard is that, well, it was the same as the book, and the book wasn't all that good.

I don't expect greatness in the literary sense from children's books, and certainly not from the odd assortment I read as a child. Who else, even of my own generation, let alone kids now, reads Tom Brown's Schooldays, or What Katy Did, or even any of the older versions of Robin Hood? And expecting literary greatness from Enid Blyton would be rather silly. But I expect them to have coherent themes, to make internal sense, and to have some character development. Some books do that. Tolkien's work, for all it rambles and circles and gets buried in pages of tedious prose, does that. Malcolm Saville's books, each little more than vignettes around the same characters, do that.

The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, though, fails on these. The themes are not consistent; they're a melange of Christianity, fairytale, neo-paganism (which wasn't even named then) and moral story. None of them is really followed through. Were the book to be a full allegory for the Resurrection, Aslan would have been a wanderer, a preacher, not the ruler of Narnia. If it were a fairytale, then Lucy would have struck the final blow against the Witch. And if it were a moral story, you'd expect to see Edmund suffer from some negative consequences - but all we see is one solemn conversation with Aslan.

As for character development, it's almost absent. The Pevensies triumph because they are destined to do so, and become kings and queens for the same reason. Edmund goes from mean-spirited boy to quiet, well-meaning boy, but the other characters don't change, at all, from one end to the other, and many of them are no more than cartoons, two-dimensional sketches.

I do recall some of the other books in the series being better at character development, and better in themes and coherency. But I'm somewhat reluctant to look at them now, in case my mind has replaced ordinary with good to match up to the imagery and the feelings.

Posted by Drew Shiel at January 17, 2006 1:03 PM

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