Thursday, January 19, 2012

No Love For Narnia

(alternate title: I Am A Very Bad Man)

I'm ashamed to admit it, but...

I just can't find love for the Chronicles of Narnia.

I know--just stone me. As literature goes, this series is supposed to be universal, loved by young and old, generation after generation. As authors go, C.S. Lewis is supposed to be captivating, inspiring wonder and excitement in the deepest recesses of the reader's mind. As epic stories go, the Narnia series is arguably a modern Aeneid, missing only a visit to the Underworld (and possibly a tragic father/son power struggle). And I'm sorry. But I just can't get there. Believe me, I've tried.

I made it through The Magician's Nephew just fine. I started The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe only to get shut down by the kids with Lucy crying, "Mr. Tumnus! Mr. Tumnus!" I remember the very moment I read that line, feeling very goofy, completely unable to imitate what I'm sure Lewis meant to portray as a frightening and terrible moment. But the kids weren't having it. They'd given me twenty minutes of their bedtime ritual, and they were done. They politely requested I read something else.

I was genuinely aghast. Really, I knew *I* wasn't getting into it, but these little darlings were supposed to have been enchanted. Wasn't everybody when they first broke into this novel? I thought by that point they were supposed to be hanging on every word, knowing in their hearts that Mr. Tumnus, the tragic pawn of the White Witch's trap, had been caught and surely punished, but hoping with their last breath that he would somehow escape his inevitable fate. But they weren't. We opted for Brave Potatoes instead.

Eventually I finished the book out of principle, but it took me several weeks. I even started the Horse one after, but when the evil guy bargaining for the kid turned out to be everything he'd been presented as originally, with nothing either sincere or sinister beneath the surface waiting to be revealed at the last minute, I just gave up hope. I finished the chapter and re-shelved the book.

Now I'm trying again, this time working in the order in which the novels were written in an attempt to revive interest. Having Read Wardrobe, I'm now digging into Prince Caspian. I wasn't worried about missing anything in the long years between, because I made absolutely no emotional investment in the former. What I've found so far is what I remember experiencing before: a really good story told in a flat, linear, single-layered monotone. And every time Peter says, "By Jove!" I almost want to puke. The greatest value I can find overall are the colorful and wonderful passing descriptions Lewis makes of characters and landscapes, but he never stops telling the facts of the story long enough to let me, as a reader, enjoy the mental image he's just flashed before me before it's snatched away.

I don't know what my problem is. I am sure I'm missing something. I do, of course, realize that the story as a whole, in particular Wardrobe, is a Christian allegory. I also know that Lewis was a dear and respected friend of my very most favorite, J.R.R. Tolkien. And the people in my life who love books and stories and fantasy and literature love The Chronicles of Narnia. I've also read one of Lewis's earlier books, The Screwtape Letters, and I couldn't put it down. Not understanding the passion for this series is like stepping out of the theater for Snowcaps just as the key moment in the movie is about to occur. Everybody else is in awe by the time you get back, but it's simply too late for you.

Please, somebody help me. I want to find beauty and wonder in this series. I want to find what others say they love. I want these books to change me the way other classics have, but I guess I keep missing the mark. If anyone can offer some pointers, I'd really appreciate it. Don't worry though, I'm not giving up this time. I intend to finish Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. And then I'll watch the movies. But after that, all bets are off.

I'm so sorry, Clive. You know, it could be worse: I absolutely hated Voltaire, and I didn't even feel bad about it.

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