The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
First edition dustjacket
|Author||C. S. Lewis|
|Cover artist||Pauline Baynes|
|Series||The Chronicles of Narnia|
|Genre||Children's fantasy novel, Christian literature|
|16 October 1950|
|LC Class||PZ8.L48 Li|
|Followed by||Prince Caspian|
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a high fantasy novel for children by C. S. Lewis, published by Geoffrey Bles in 1950. It was the first published of seven novels in The Chronicles of Narnia (1950–1956) and the best known; among all the author's books it is the most widely held in libraries. Although it was written as well as published first in the series, it is volume two in recent editions, which are sequenced according to Narnia history (the first being The Magician's Nephew). Like the others, it was illustrated by Pauline Baynes, and her work has been retained in many later editions.
Most of the novel is set in Narnia, a land of talking animals and mythical creatures that the White Witch has ruled for 100 years of deep winter. In the frame story, four English children live in a big, old country house during their World War II evacuation from London. The youngest visits Narnia three times via the wardrobe in a spare room. All four children are together on her third visit, which validates her stories and comprises the last 12 of 17 chapters except a brief conclusion. In Narnia the siblings seem to fulfill an old prophecy, so they are soon adventuring both to save Narnia and their lives. Lewis wrote the book for, and dedicated it to, his goddaughter Lucy Barfield. She was the daughter of Owen Barfield, Lewis's friend, teacher, adviser, and trustee.
TIME magazine included the novel in its "All-TIME 100 Novels" (best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005). In 2003, the novel was listed at number 9 on the BBC's survey The Big Read. It has also been published in 47 foreign languages.
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (September 2015)|
In 1940, four siblings – Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie – are among many children evacuated from London during World War II to escape the Blitz. They are sent to the countryside to live with professor Digory Kirke. Exploring the professor's house, Lucy finds a wardrobe that leads to a forest in a land called Narnia. At a lamppost in the forest she meets Tumnus, a faun, who invites her to tea in his home. There the faun confesses that he invited her not out of hospitality, but with the intention of betraying her to the White Witch, who has ruled Narnia for years, using magic to keep it always frozen in winter. She has ordered all Narnians to turn in any humans ("Sons of Adam or Daughters of Eve"), but now that he has met a real human, Tumnus repents his original intention and escorts Lucy back to the lamppost.
Lucy returns through the wardrobe and finds that only a few seconds have passed in normal time during her absence. Her siblings do not believe her story about another world inside the wardrobe, which now appears solid inside. But during a game of hide-and-seek Lucy again passes into Narnia, and this time her brother Edmund follows her. He meets the Queen of Narnia, who questions him about his family. When she learns he has two sisters and a brother, she places an enchantment on him and urges him to bring his siblings to her castle, promising in return to make him her heir. When Lucy and Edmund return together through the wardrobe, Edmund realizes that the Queen he met and the Witch Lucy describes are one and the same; he denies to the others that he has been in Narnia at all. Peter and Susan are puzzled by Lucy's insistence, and consult the Professor, who surprises them by taking Lucy's side.
Soon afterward, all four children enter Narnia together while hiding in the wardrobe to avoid the professor's housekeeper, Mrs Macready. Peter is angry with Edmund when he learns that Edmund had been to Narnia after all. Lucy guides them to Tumnus's cave, but they find it ransacked. A notice from the White Witch (whose name is Jadis) warns of his arrest for high treason in harbouring humans. A talking beaver, Mr Beaver, hides the children in his house, where Mr and Mrs Beaver tell them of a prophecy that Jadis's power will fail when two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve fill the four thrones at Cair Paravel. Aslan, the great lion, is the rightful King of Narnia. He has been absent for many years but is now "on the move again".
Edmund sneaks away to Jadis's castle, which is filled with statues of Narnians she has turned to stone. Jadis is furious when Edmund appears alone and angrier still to learn that Aslan is back in Narnia. Meanwhile, Mr Beaver realises Edmund has gone to the White Witch. The Beavers abandon their home and set out with the three remaining children to find Aslan. During their journey Jadis's spell over Narnia starts to break: Father Christmas arrives with magical presents (a sword for Peter, a horn and a bow with arrows for Susan, a knife and a bottle of healing cordial for Lucy), the snow melts, and Winter ends. Aslan welcomes the children and the Beavers to his camp near the Stone Table.
Edmund is rescued from the Witch's camp, and Jadis approaches in truce to parley with Aslan, insisting that, according to "deep magic from the dawn of time", she has the right to execute Edmund for treason. Aslan speaks with her privately and persuades her to renounce her claim. That evening, Aslan secretly leaves the camp, but Lucy and Susan follow him. Aslan has bargained his own life for Edmund's, and the girls watch as Jadis ties Aslan to the Stone Table and kills him with a knife. The next morning Susan and Lucy remain weeping over Aslan's abandoned body, when the Stone Table breaks and Aslan is restored to life. He tells Lucy and Susan that Jadis was unaware of the "deeper magic from before the dawn of time" that will resurrect an innocent killed in place of a traitor.
Aslan allows Lucy and Susan to ride on his back as he hurries to Jadis's castle. He breathes upon the stone statues, restoring them to life. Meanwhile, Peter and Edmund are leading the Narnian army against Jadis's army, and Edmund is seriously wounded. Aslan arrives with the former statues as reinforcements. The Narnians rout Jadis's army, and Aslan kills Jadis. Aslan walks around the battlefield breathing on those whom the Witch had turned to stone to bring them back to life. Lucy uses her magic cordial to revive first Edmund and then all the others who have been wounded. After the battle, the Pevensie children are crowned kings and queens of Narnia at the castle Cair Paravel, but after the coronation Aslan slips away and disappears. Lucy is sad to see him go but is reminded that he is "not a tame lion" and will come and go as he pleases.
Fifteen years later, the siblings are hunting for a white stag in the forest, where they find the lamppost. Beyond it, the branches become coats. They come back through the wardrobe in the Professor's house and are suddenly children again; almost no time has passed in the real world, despite their many years in Narnia.
- Lucy Pevensie is the youngest Pevensie child and, on some levels, the primary protagonist of the story. She is the first to discover the land of Narnia when she slips through the magical wardrobe in the professor's house. When Lucy tells her three siblings, they don't believe her: Peter and Susan think she is just playing a game, but Edmund persistently ridicules and teases her about it. After the restoration of Narnia, a Tetrarchy is formed, with Lucy being crowned a Queen of Narnia with her sister Susan, and she becomes known as Queen Lucy the Valiant.
- Edmund Pevensie is the second-youngest of the Pevensie children. He has a bad relationship with his siblings, and is known to be a liar and a bully, singling out Lucy as his favourite victim. In Narnia he meets the White Witch, who plies him with treats and smooth talk. Lured by the White Witch's promise of power and an unlimited supply of the Turkish delight that has him under an enchantment, Edmund betrays his siblings. He eventually regrets his actions and repents. After he helps Aslan and the good denizens of Narnia defeat the White Witch, he is crowned a King of Narnia with his brother and becomes known as King Edmund the Just.
- Susan Pevensie is the second-oldest of Pevensie children. She does not believe in Narnia until she actually goes there. She is crowned a Queen of Narnia alongside Lucy, and becomes known as Queen Susan the Gentle.
- Peter Pevensie is the eldest of the Pevensie siblings. At first, Peter disbelieves Lucy's stories about Narnia, but changes his mind when he sees it for himself. He is hailed as a hero for his part in the overthrow of the White Witch. He is eventually crowned High King of Narnia, and becomes known as King Peter the Magnificent.
- Aslan, a lion, is the true king of Narnia. He sacrifices himself to save Edmund, but is resurrected in time to aid the denizens of Narnia and the Pevensie children against the White Witch and her minions.
- The White Witch is the land's self-proclaimed queen and the primary antagonist of the story. She tyrannizes Narnia through her magically imposed rule. Her spell on Narnia has made it "always winter but never Christmas" for a hundred years. When provoked, she turns creatures to stone with her wand. She fears the fulfillment of a prophecy that "two sons of Adam" and "two daughters of Eve" (meaning two male humans and two female humans) will come to Narnia and help Aslan overthrow her. She is usually referred to simply as "the White Witch" but her actual name, "Jadis," appears in one proclamation in this book. Lewis's later prequel "The Magician's Nephew" tells her backstory and how she came to be in the Narnian world.
- Tumnus, a faun, is the first person Lucy meets in Narnia. Tumnus befriends Lucy, despite the White Witch's standing order to kidnap any human who enters Narnia. He was initially going to obey the order but after getting to know Lucy, he cannot bear to hand her to the Witch, and instead escorts her back to the safety of her own country. He is later betrayed accidentally by Edmund, who innocently tells the White Witch that Lucy had said she had met a faun. The witch arrests Tumnus and turns him to stone, but he is later restored to life by Aslan.
- The Professor is a kindly old gentleman who takes the Pevensie children in when they are evacuated from London. He is the only one who believes that Lucy did indeed visit Narnia and tries to convince the others that logic indicates she must be telling the truth. "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" hints that he knows more of Narnia than he lets on. He is identified in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader as Professor Kirke, and appears as a young boy, Digory Kirke, a main character in the prequel "The Magician's Nephew" in which he is present at Aslan's creation of Narnia. Although never explicitly stated, there are minor parallels between himself and Aslan on the smaller scale of the country house in Dorset; in that he is rarely seen, can be sought for impartial wisdom and providing a stabilising force, before disappearing again.
- Mr and Mrs Beaver are friends of Tumnus. They hide Peter, Susan, and Lucy and lead them to Aslan.
- The Dwarf is the White Witch's servant. Unnamed in the book, he is called Ginabrik in the film, where he has a more significant role.
- Maugrim (Fenris Ulf in most American editions) the wolf is the chief of the White Witch's secret police. She sends him to hunt down the Pevensie children. He tries to kill Susan but is killed by Peter.
- Father Christmas arrives when the Witch's magical hold over Narnia begins to break. He gives gifts to Peter, Susan and Lucy, but not to Edmund, who is still in the company of the witch at this point. Peter's gift is a sword. Susan's gifts are a bow and arrows and a special horn that will always summon help when blown. Lucy's gifts are a dagger and a special healing cordial. All three later make use of these gifts: Peter slays Maugrim with his sword, Susan summons Peter's help with her horn when Maugrim is trying to kill her, and Lucy saves a critically wounded Edmund from death with her cordial. The Beavers also receive gifts: Mrs Beaver receives a better sewing machine, and Mr. Beaver gets his dam completed.
- Mrs. Macready is the housekeeper for the Professor in his family's old country house in Dorset. Although never explicitly stated, there are minor parallels between herself and the White Witch, albeit on the smaller scale; for example, she effectively rules the country house in the absence of the Professor (terrifyingly so in the imagination of a young girl torn from her home and mother). The Pevensies certainly see her as an antagonist and dub her "The Macready". She is stated to be not very fond of children, imposes strict rules on their behaviour, and disturbs their games by taking visitors through the house.
- Giant Rumblebuffin is a character who is turned to stone by the White Witch. Aslan restores him to life by breathing on him. Although slightly dim-witted, he is very kind. His significant contribution is to break down the gate of the Witch's castle to let the rescued Narnians out, and also to crush some of her army.
Lewis described the origin of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in an essay entitled It All Began with a Picture:
The Lion all began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. This picture had been in my mind since I was about sixteen. Then one day, when I was about forty, I said to myself: 'Let's try to make a story about it.'
Shortly before the Second World War many children were evacuated from London to the English countryside to escape bomber attacks on London by Nazi Germany. On 2 September 1939 three school girls, Margaret, Mary and Katherine, came to live at The Kilns in Risinghurst, Lewis's home three miles east of Oxford city centre. Lewis later suggested that the experience gave him a new appreciation of children and in late September he began a children's story on an odd sheet that has survived as part of another manuscript:
This book is about four children whose names were Ann, Martin, Rose and Peter. But it is most about Peter who was the youngest. They all had to go away from London suddenly because of Air Raids, and because Father, who was in the Army, had gone off to the War and Mother was doing some kind of war work. They were sent to stay with a kind of relation of Mother's who was a very old professor who lived all by himself in the country.
The plot element of entering a new world through the back of a wardrobe had certainly entered Lewis's mind by 1946, when he used it to describe his first encounter with really good poetry:
I did not in the least feel that I was getting in more quantity or better quality a pleasure I had already known. It was more as if a cupboard which one had hitherto valued as a place for hanging coats proved one day, when you opened the door, to lead to the garden of the Hesperides...
How much more of the story Lewis then wrote is uncertain. Roger Lancelyn Green thinks that he might even have completed it. In September 1947 Lewis wrote in a letter about stories for children: "I have tried one myself but it was, by the unanimous verdict of my friends, so bad that I destroyed it."
In August 1948, during a visit by an American writer, Chad Walsh, Lewis talked vaguely about completing a children's book he had begun "in the tradition of E. Nesbit". After this conversation not much happened until the beginning of the next year. Then everything changed. In his essay "It All Began With a Picture" Lewis continues: "At first I had very little idea how the story would go. But then suddenly Aslan came bounding into it. I think I had been having a good many dreams of lions about that time. Apart from that, I don't know where the Lion came from or why he came. But once he was there, he pulled the whole story together, and soon he pulled the six other Narnian stories in after him.":
The major ideas of the book echo lines Lewis had written fourteen years earlier in his alliterative poem The Planets:
On 10 March 1949 Roger Lancelyn Green dined with Lewis at Magdalen College. After the meal Lewis read two chapters from his new children's story to Green. Lewis asked Green's opinion of the tale and Green said that he thought it was good. The manuscript of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was complete by the end of March 1949. Lucy Barfield received it by the end of May. When on 16 October 1950 Geoffrey Bles in London published the first edition, three new "chronicles", Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Horse and His Boy, had also been completed.
Lewis's publisher, Geoffrey Bles, allowed him to choose the illustrator for the novel and the Narnia series. Lewis chose Pauline Baynes, possibly based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s recommendation. Baynes had greatly impressed Tolkien with her illustrations for his Farmer Giles of Ham (1949). However, Baynes claimed that Lewis learned about her work after going into a bookshop and asking for a recommendation for an illustrator who was skilled at portraying both humans and animals. In December 1949, Bles showed Lewis the first drawings for the novel, and Lewis sent Baynes a note congratulating her, particularly on the level of detail. Lewis’s appreciation of the illustrations is evident in a letter he wrote to Baynes after The Last Battle won the Carnegie Medal for best children’s book of 1956: "is it not rather 'our' medal? I’m sure the illustrations were taken into account as well as the text".
The British edition of the novel had 43 illustrations; American editions generally had fewer. The popular United States paperback edition published by Collier between 1970 and 1994, which sold many millions, had only 17 illustrations, many of them severely cropped from the originals, giving many readers in that country a very different experience when reading the novel. All the illustrations were restored for the 1994 worldwide HarperCollins edition, although these lacked the clarity of early printings.
Lewis very much enjoyed writing The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and embarked on the sequel Prince Caspian soon after finishing the first novel. He completed the sequel in less than a year, by the end of 1949. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe had not been widely released until 1950; thus his initial enthusiasm did not stem from favourable reception by the public.
While Lewis is known today on the strength of the Narnia stories as a highly successful children’s writer, the initial critical response was muted. At the time it was fashionable for children’s stories to be realistic; fantasy and fairy tales were seen as indulgent, appropriate only for very young readers and potentially harmful to older children, even hindering their ability to relate to everyday life. Some reviewers considered the tale overtly moralistic or the Christian elements over-stated — attempts to indoctrinate children. Others were concerned that the many violent incidents might frighten children.
Lewis’s publisher, Geoffrey Bles, feared that the Narnia tales would not sell, and might damage Lewis’ reputation and affect sales of his other books. Nevertheless, the novel and its successors were highly popular with young readers, and Lewis’s publisher was soon eager to release further Narnia stories.
A 2004 study found that it was a common read-aloud book for seventh-graders in schools in San Diego County, California. The novel was also included on TIME's unranked 2005 list of the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923. Based on a 2007 online poll, the National Education Association in the U.S. named the book one of its "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children." It was one of the "Top 100 Chapter Books" of all time in a 2012 poll by School Library Journal. A 2012 survey by the University of Worcester determined that it was the second most common book that UK adults had read as children, after Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
Lewis wrote that "The Narnian books are not as much allegory as supposal. Suppose there were a Narnian world and it, like ours, needed redemption. What kind of incarnation and Passion might Christ be supposed to undergo there?"
The main story is an allegory of Christ's crucifixion: Aslan sacrifices himself for Edmund, a traitor who may deserve death, in the same way that Christians believe Jesus sacrificed himself for sinners. Aslan is killed on the Stone Table, symbolizing Mosaic Law, which breaks when he is resurrected, symbolizing the replacement of the strict justice of Old Testament law with redeeming grace and forgiveness granted on the basis of substitutional atonement, according to Christian theology. As with the Christian Passion, it is women (Susan and Lucy) who tend Aslan's body after he dies and are the first to see him after his resurrection. The significance of the death contains elements of both the ransom theory of atonement and the satisfaction theory: Aslan suffers Edmund's penalty (satisfaction), and buys him back from the White Witch, who was entitled to him by reason of his treachery (ransom). In Christian belief, Christ is associated with the Biblical "Lion of Judah" of Revelation 5:5.
Professor Kirke is based on W.T. Kirkpatrick, who tutored a 16-year-old Lewis. "Kirk," as he was sometimes called, taught the young Lewis much about thinking and communicating clearly, skills that would be invaluable to him later.
Narnia is caught in endless winter that has lasted a century when the children first enter. Norse tradition mythologises a "great winter," known as the Fimbulwinter, said to precede Ragnarök. The trapping of Edmund by the White Witch is reminiscent of the seduction and imprisonment of Kay by The Snow Queen in Hans Christian Andersen's novella of that name.
The Story of the Amulet written by Edith Nesbit also contains scenes that can be considered precursors to sequences presenting Jadis, particularly in The Magician's Nephew. Nesbit's short story The Aunt and Amabel includes the motif of a girl entering a wardrobe to gain access to a magical place.
The freeing of Aslan's body from the stone table by field mice is reminiscent of Aesop's fable of "The Lion and the Mouse." In the fable, a lion catches a mouse, but the mouse persuades the lion to release him, promising that the favor would be rewarded. Later in the story, he gnaws through the lion's bonds after he has been captured by hunters. It is also reminiscent of a scene from Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Pit and the Pendulum," in which a prisoner is freed when rats gnaw through his bonds. In a later book, "Prince Caspian," we learn that as reward for their actions, mice gained the same intelligence and speech as other Narnian animals.
Differences between editions
Due to labor union rules, the text of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was reset for the publication of the first American edition of by Macmillan US in 1950. Lewis took that opportunity to make the following changes to the original British edition published by Geoffrey Bles earlier that same year:
- In chapter one of the American edition, the animals that Edmund and Susan express interest in are snakes and foxes rather than the foxes and rabbits of the British edition.
- In chapter six of the American edition, the name of the White Witch's chief of police is changed to "Fenris Ulf" from "Maugrim" in the British.
- In chapter thirteen of the American edition, "the trunk of the World Ash Tree" takes the place of "the fire-stones of the Secret Hill".
When HarperCollins took over publication of the series in 1994, they began using the original British edition for all subsequent English editions worldwide. The current US edition published by Scholastic has 36,135 words.
The story has been adapted three times for television. The first adaptation was a ten-part serial produced by ABC Weekend Television for ITV and broadcast in 1967. In 1979, an animated TV-movie, directed by Peanuts director Bill Meléndez, was broadcast and won the first Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program. A third television adaptation was produced in 1988 by the BBC using a combination of live actors, animatronic puppets and animation. The programme was nominated for an Emmy and won a BAFTA. It was followed by three further Narnia adaptations.
Stage adaptations include a 1984 version staged at London's Westminster Theatre, produced by Vanessa Ford Productions. The play, adapted by Glyn Robbins, was directed by Richard Williams and designed by Marty Flood. Jules Tasca wrote an adaptation called Narnia: The Musical, which was published in 1986. The Royal Shakespeare Company did an adaptation in 1998, for which the acting edition has been published.
In 1997, Trumpets Inc., a Filipino Christian theatre and musical production company, produced a musical rendition that Douglas Gresham, Lewis's stepson (and co-producer of the Walden Media film adaptations), has openly declared that he feels is the closest to Lewis's intention. It starred among others popular young Filipino singer Sam Concepcion as Edmund Pevensie. The book and lyrics were written by Jaime del Mundo and Luna Inocian, while music was composed by Lito Villareal.
In 2003, there was an Australian commercial stage production which toured the country by Malcolm C. Cooke Productions, using both life-size puppets and human actors. It was directed by notable film director Nadia Tass, and starred Amanda Muggleton, Dennis Olsen, Meaghan Davies and Yolande Brown.
In 2011, a two-actor stage adaptation by Le Clanché du Rand opened Off-Broadway in New York City at St. Luke's Theatre. The production was directed by Julia Beardsley O'Brien and starred Erin Layton and Andrew Fortman. As of 2014, the production is currently running with a replacement cast of Abigail Taylor-Sansom and Rockford Sansom.
In 2005, the story was adapted for a theatrical film, co-produced by Walt Disney and Walden Media. It has so far been followed by two more films: (The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader). The latter was co-produced by Twentieth-Century Fox and Walden Media.
Multiple audio editions have been released. The best-known consists of all the books read aloud by Michael York, Anthony Quayle, Patrick Stewart, Kenneth Branagh, Derek Jacobi, Alex Jennings, Lynn Redgrave, Ian Richardson, Claire Bloom and Jeremy Northam. However, three audio CDs in the form of "radio plays" with various actors, sound effects, and music have also been released, one by the BBC, one by Radio Theatre, and one by Focus on the Family.
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- Lewis, C. S. (1960). "It All Began with a Picture". Radio Times. 15 July 1960. Collected in Lewis, On Stories and Other Essays on Literature, 1982
- Schakel, Peter J. (2002). Imagination and the arts in C. S. Lewis: journeying to Narnia and other worlds. University of Missouri Press. ISBN 0-8262-1407-X.
- Veith, Gene (2008). The Soul of Prince Caspian: Exploring Spiritual Truth in the Land of Narnia. David C. Cook. ISBN 0-7814-4528-0.
- Sammons, Martha C. (1979). A Guide Through Narnia. Wheaton, Illinois: Harold Shaw Publishers. ISBN 0-87788-325-4.
- Downing, David C. (2005). Into the Wardrobe: C. S. Lewis and the Narnia Chronicles. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. ISBN 0-7879-7890-6.
- Ryken, Leland; and Mead; Marjorie Lamp (2005). A Reader's Guide Through the Wardrobe: Exploring C. S. Lewis's Classic Story. London: InterVarsity Press. ISBN 0-8308-3289-0.
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- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in libraries (WorldCat catalog) —immediately, the full-colour C. S. Lewis centenary edition
- C. S. Lewis at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- Project Gutenberg Canada ebook (works of C.S. Lewis are public domain in Canada as of 2014)