Saying good-bye to Narnia

A journey ends…

Five months ago, my now 11-year-old son and I decided that the Narnia books would be our next read-aloud adventure. I’ve been reading to him at bedtime since he was an infant, and even though I know he’ll probably outgrow the nightly reading ritual before too long, it hasn’t happened yet (for which I am deeply grateful).

My kiddo is a very reluctant reader. (Best line so far: “It’s not that I can’t read, Mom. I just prefer not to.”) And yet, he does enjoy stories — he loves following along, deciphering clues, forming theories, and shouting at me when I stop at a cliff-hanger. We’ve (I’ve) read the entire Harry Potter series out loud, plus a variety of other series and stand-alones, including the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, Chomp by Carl Hiaasen, The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series, and several fine choices by Edward Eager and Eva Ibbotson.

So, when we needed something new this spring, we turned to something old. I’d read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe years ago (although not as a child), but had never read any of the other Narnia books, so my son and I both started this adventure with fresh eyes and with no idea what to expect.

And two nights ago, we finished The Last Battle, the 7th and final book in the series.

Was it a success? Overall, yes. Of the seven books, only The Last Battle was a bit over-the-top for my taste. There’s a lot to love in the series: Fantastical worlds, talking beasts, brave kings and queens, fierce battles, tales of heroism and adventure. We both adored High King Peter, and loved Edmund, Lucy, and Susan as well (even though Susan does later depart the series in favor of grown-up things like nylons and young men).

Being used to fantasy series where each book builds on the previous, it was a bit disconcerting at first to realize that each installment in the Narnia books introduces us to a new set of characters and circumstances, sometimes only loosely connected to those who’d gone before. I admit to feeling rather let down when Lucy and Edmund are told that their adventures in Narnia are done for the time being. But each book presents its own opportunities for fresh adventure, with new kings to meet and new quests to undertake — always in the name of the noble and almighty Aslan.

As for the religious subtext, I mostly chose to ignore it — although that was pretty much impossible to do in The Last Battle. Despite the sometimes heavy-handed allegories throughout, Narnia can be read as a fantasy tale, and that’s just the way I like it.

The Horse and His Boy was a wonderful surprise — I didn’t expect to like it, being so different in setting and tone, but it turned out to be one of the best books, in terms of pure adventure and adrenaline. The Silver Chair is dramatic and exciting, and The Magician’s Nephew tells an intriguing origin story for Narnia. Even though I hadn’t seen the movies, I was more familiar with the general storylines of Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader — but even so, found the books to be full of great adventures, heroic characters, and the good-natured humor that enhances all of the books in the series.

In fact, the only times I found myself impatient with the Narnia books were first, at the end of Dawn Treader, which seemed to lose steam and just sort of petered out in a vague sort of way, and then, throughout most of The Last Battle. The Last Battle is mostly a rather dismal sort of book, with terrible exploitation, the end of faith, a king in disgrace, and a rescue that doesn’t really solve anything. Things perk up a bit when help arrives in the forms of Eustace and Jill from our own world, but even then, it’s not a hopeful situation at all, The end brings lovely reunions and a sudden happy resolution to very dark and hopeless story — but it was clear to me (if not to my son) what was actually going on, and it all got a bit too gooey and godly for my tastes.

All in all, it’s been quite a journey, and one that I was especially glad to share with my son. We had plenty to discuss, we shared more than a few giggles, and we held our breaths together at the more chilling and thrilling moments. I can see wanting to revisit the Narnia books down the road, maybe just picking one up at random when I’m in the mood for some high adventure and heroics.

Will these finally be the books that get my son reading on his own? Well, no, not as far as I can see. But I still have hope. He loved Narnia, Harry Potter, and The Hobbit — I think he has the makings of a very fine fanboy. Who knows, maybe some day he’ll dig into the Lord of the Rings books on his own and surprise me with a bit of elvish at the dinner table!

Meanwhile, onward with the eternal question: What should we read next? I’ve got a few ideas…

20 thoughts on “Saying good-bye to Narnia

  1. How fun to read this aloud to your son. The Horse and His Boy was my favorite as well, followed closely by The Magician’s Nephew and The Silver Chair. These are gems that are seldom read. I know what you mean about The Last Battle as well. I actually don’t mind the religious subtexts, but I was very excited for a final (what I hoped was) epic installment, and was very disappointed overall. It was not only dark but kind of boring. Anyway, great post! It’s so great that your son has read all of these Chronicles. He’ll thank you for taking the time to read to him some day. 😀

    • I hope you’re right! I do know that he enjoys our reading time together — but as an avid reader, I just don’t understand how someone can enjoy stories so much and yet have no interest in picking up a book himself! I’m glad to hear from someone else who enjoyed The Horse and His Boy — it’s so different than the other books, and so much fun! Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  2. I tried to start this series with my kids toward the end of last school year, and I realized they are still too young. I can’t wait for them to be old enough, though. I’m read a few of them, but not the entire series. I think it’s wonderful you guys get to read together. I hope mine keep letting me! I just started reading “The Read-Aloud Handbook”. I will see what their recommendations are for his age group and let you know if anything sounds great.

    • Thanks! It’s always very hit or miss with us. Sometimes, something will grab him right away, sometimes I have to convince him that it really will get good if he just hangs in there! And of course, some books we try are just complete duds — either not interesting or not a good out-loud kind of book — and those we abandon and move on!

  3. That’s so awesome that you’re still able to read to him at that age. You know, I’m fairly certain that I read all of the Narnia books when I was younger but I’m just not sure now. I’m not sure I’d be able to read them now and ignore all the religious subtext though. 🙂
    Have you thought about reading the Lemony Snicket books? I really enjoyed Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series but you might want to go with his Red Pyramid series since that’s definitely aimed at the younger crowd.

    • Thanks for the suggestions, Bonnie! We read the first couple of Lemony Snicket books, but neither of us were crazy about them. We might go back to the 1st Percy Jackson book — tried the 1st a couple of years ago, but he was too young at that point and bailed as soon as it got scary. (There was a minotaur involved, I believe). We do have the 1st Red Pyramid book, so maybe we’ll try that. I wanted to read the Enchanted Forest books by Patricia Wrede, but my son said they were too girly (at least the first chapter). Maybe we’ll try again…

  4. I wasn’t raised with religion, and when I first read the books as a kid I didn’t make the connections at all… for me they were just fantasy books, and I loved them… but yeah, The Last Battle was just weird and my least favorite. I recently re-read them, and I definitely think Lewis could have written a more traditional adventure to wrap up the series, even if the ultimate ending (the end of Narnia, last judgment and all that) stayed the same.

    I’d say the Percy Jackson books, if you haven’t read those yet, would be a great choice. I’ve only read the original five books, but Riordan also wrote the Egyptian mythology series that Bonnie mentions, plus the Heroes of Olympus spin-off (I think that series is still in progress though).

    • Charleen, my son also didn’t see the religious aspects at all — until I had to explain them to him for The Last Battle, because otherwise the book just makes no sense at all. I agree, I wish he’d written more of a traditional adventure story for an ending. Kind of a let-down, really. Maybe I’ll push the kiddo to try Percy Jackson again. We saw the 1st movie, which was not very good — but I understand book fans think the movie didn’t do justice to the books. Did you see the movie?

      • I did, though I don’t remember much about it other than that the kids were too old. I do remember hearing complaints that the movie took itself too seriously, while the books are a lot more fun, and I’d say that’s probably a decent description. Percy has a sense of humor that really comes across in the narration that I think I would have liked a lot as a kid.

  5. I remember every night from age 7-12 my mom and I would read a chapter out of our book. It was just our way of bonding since we didnt have much in common. We would stay up late reading My Side of The Mountain, 1984, A Cowgirl Remembers When. I guess i never realized it at the time but reading with my mom reignited the spark for reading i had lost when starting school. Now at 18 i occasionally grab a book I am reading, sit on my parents bedroom floor and start reading aloud. She doesnt make it past the first few pages because she falls asleep but i always finish the chapter, even if i have to reread the next night.

    So my suggestion would have to be My Side of The Mountain

    Ashley
    Books Buying Beauty

    • We read My Side of the Mountain last year, and loved it! It’s really a great book, and my son was so excited by all the ways the boy survives and takes care of himself out in the wild. What a great choice! I love to hear about other people’s memories of reading out loud. As a mom, I really do feel that it makes a difference, both in terms of keeping a kid interested in books and stories and also as a bonding moment. I appreciate your comments!

  6. I’m happy you both liked Narnia as whole! Those were the books my mom read to my sister and me when we were little, and I remember we also watched BBC’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

    Books I’ve bought for my friend’s son that he’s really liked were The Spiderwick Chronicles (the five original ones in a bind-up, not the new second series), and The Witches by Roald Dahl. Last year for his birthday I gave him Diana Wynne Jones’ Charmed Life, but I haven’t visited since so I haven’t heard whether he liked it or not.

    He’s read The Hobbit with his mom before, and really liked it. For his next birthday I took a chance and bought Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book for him, I hope it’s not too scary! (He turns 11.) I also might go ahead and by him the first Harry Potter book for Christmas, have to ask his mom if he’s read it yet…

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