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…