Ossus Library Index
Fantasy Index


A novel by C.S. Lewis
(2005, Harper Collins [first published in 1955])

The Chronicles of Narnia, book 1

Two children are tricked into going to a magical realm where they bring back an evil witch and discover the beginning of a new world.


-- First reading (paperback)
February 12th to March 10th, 2020


Although it is recommended to read this later, it’s prequel, so we decided to read it first. If I hadn’t heard great things about this series, this book would have turned me off right from the start. Condescending, poorly written with uninspiring characters and a being so evil that I couldn’t take it –especially when the author tells us so many times how evil she is. I couldn’t wait to finish this book. I’ve read many books aimed at this age group, and none have been so condescending towards the reader. I never even spoke to my kids like this when they were much younger, and the story isn’t for that age group. By the time the reader would be old enough to understand the story, they must think the author believes them to be stupid. That’s how I felt, and my son didn’t feel much different. Despite that, we will continue with the real beginning of the story.

Spoiler review:

I’ve always heard good things about Narnia, but was always afraid to start the series because I’ve also heard they are overly preachy and simple. This book, the first in chronological order if not publication order, proved my worst fears. I’d much rather read the young reader Star Wars books than this. At least they assume a bit of intelligence from the reader. Lewis wrote and read his stuff to Tolkien and a bunch of other friends. Even The Hobbit has a slightly condescending tone through the weakest parts of it –but this book does it all throughout, and it’s grating.

The worst parts of it are when the author pauses to let the reader know that things are going to happen, or how they would think back on it later and wonder something, or tells us not to be afraid. I don’t know how anybody could be afraid in such a boring story.

The story takes place in London in the late 1800s or so, before cars, but with lampposts, but I’m not sure if they are electric or gas. Regardless, the children live in an age where they can do just about anything they want, and I’m not even sure their parents want them to come home for supper. Polly meets Diggory, who is staying with his aunt and uncle. They create a game where they try to walk the length of the row house in the attic, and end up in Uncle Andrew’s study, where he gives them magic rings, and tricks Polly into touching one of them. Diggory, of course, is forced to go rescue her, with rings that could bring her back.

While everyone probably expect them to be transported to Narnia, they instead end up in a kind of transition nexus, which probably has many portals to all sorts of different worlds. The first world they go to is Charn, which is suspended in time, everybody frozen in place. I would have been interested in learning more about this world, and why some of the people near the queen were happy and beautiful, while others farther back were unhappy and deteriorating. How did the queen get everyone in the same building before activating the time spell? And why leave the message attached to the bell? Diggory, wanting his own way, wrestles Polly and even hits her, to ring the bell, which wakens the giant room. Only the queen is able to leave, and the kids don’t even wonder about the people inside when the building collapses, presumably killing everyone else.

It turns out Queen Jadis was evil, and the people were rising up against her. Yet she is so evil, and seems to know it and relish in it, that she is uninteresting. She unintentionally hitches a ride with Diggory to the nexus forest, where she begins to waste away, presumably because her evil and magic cannot thrive there. But she catches Diggory as he is returning to our world, so is transported back to Andrew’s study.

Andrew, for his part, falls under the queen’s spell immediately, and obeys when she tells him to take her to a place where she can rule over people. But he’s also under the influence of alcohol, so he stops at a bar. I’m not quite sure what happens next, except that it ends up with a taxi crash with the lamppost in front of Diggory’s house, the queen trying to boast that she will take over the world, Andrew trying to slink away, and all sorts of confusion. Diggory and Polly activate their rings again, bringing them back to the forest, where Andrew sinks into another world, and they all follow him.

This world ends up being Narnia, but at first, it is a blank slate. My son raised his eyebrows at me in confusion when the cabby driver starts to sing a church hymn, and I’m with Jadis for once in trying to get away. But the music triggers a response, another song, this one without words. It is the song of Aslan, the lion who brings Narnia into being. I’m confused at why he brought Narnia’s neighbors into being separate from that land, and why he placed a magic apple tree so far away in the hills, especially when he would need it shortly.

The animals in this land can talk, and Aslan gathers them together in a sort of council. It’s not clear why this was needed, but since the animals know how to talk and very little else, I guess he needed to give them some guidelines. The funniest part of the whole story was the animals trying to figure out what Uncle Andrew was. Given that he refused to believe animals could talk, his language became unintelligible, too, and I actually laughed with the animals discussing if he was alive or intelligent or a plant, or not. It wasn’t enough to save the book, but at least it was genuinely funny.

Aslan sends Diggory and Polly on a mission to get an apple from the far-off tree past the borders of Narnia, and they go off on the cabby’s horse, which is transformed into a Pegasus. In the process, they plant a toffee in the ground, which grows overnight into a taffy tree, which I suspect will be part of a later story, and complements the lamppost tree that grew because of the broken piece of lamppost the queen brought through the portal. They make it to the garden, which also has a note. This becomes the garden of Adam and Eve, with Diggory going in selflessly, but the queen tempting him to take another apply to cure his sick mother. But Diggory doesn’t take a second apple, and Aslan is pleased with him. They plant the apple in Narnia, which is supposed to protect the land for centuries (until The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I guess, from my dim recollection of the movies), while the queen climbs the walls of the garden and eats an apple of her own. This is bad, according to the note, and Aslan explains that the queen will never be satisfied, though she will benefit from the apple. It is of course a metaphor for the insatiable quest for knowledge that the bible says is bad, but here it is the queen’s lust for power that will drive her mad.

Aslan rewards Diggory for not giving in to temptation, and gives him an apple to bring back to his mother. The apple of course cures her, and brings good luck to Diggory, whose father returns soon after from a trip to India. They plant the apple core in the courtyard, after which it grows into a great tree, which gets cut down and turned into a wardrobe, which will presumably be the titular furniture from the true beginning of the Narnia adventures.

Polly features prominently at the start of the book, but falls into disuse as Diggory becomes the primary character. She tags along giving him advice through the second half of the book, most of which he ignores. She’s pretty smart, and courageous, but way too cautious for Diggory. She’s the conscience he chooses to ignore, but she might have saved his life. I could have done without the “son of Adam, daughter of Eve”, which sets the initial religious tone of Aslan, which turns a preachy story into an even more preachy story.

The end of the book was not any more satisfying than the rest of it, and we were both so glad that it was over that I was surprised my son wanted to continue the series. Since the next one takes place much later in time, I don’t expect to see Diggory or Polly again, though I think the Witch will live a long time because of her apple, and Aslan will also remain, as he seems to be a metaphor for God. I hope the rest of the series isn’t as preachy or condescending as this one, and isn’t just a retelling of the story of Genesis.


Back to Top

All reviews and page designs at this site Copyright © 1999 -  by Warren Dunn, all rights reserved.