“If I was doing it at all, I was arguing with Narnia. Tolkien is not worth arguing with.” - Phillip Pulman, the author of ‘Dark Materials’ says this in an interview.
I liked the Lord of the Rings (LOTR). A lot. Reading this pissed me off just a lil bit. Am still trying to get this man’s books to read but in the meantime I bought and read the Chronicles of Narnia(CON) to see what it was about the book that impressed him more than LOTR could. Having read the book, I think he has a point. LOTR, while very entertaining, is essentially only that - entertainment. CON on the other hand is both a story and a lesson. The author, C.S. Lewis, is trying to teach his audience (the book is meant for children mostly) some lessons through the story. Philip Pulman finds this aspect admirable. That he is a teacher probably explains why.
The Chronicles of Narnia is actually 7 separate adventures. The first one to be written was probably ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’ but in order of storyline, there was another that is set earlier. This one is called ‘The Magician’s nephew’. Here, you discover how Narnia came to be and how human children first started traveling to that world. Compared to the former, ‘The Magician’s Nephew’ comes across as a little forced. The Queen, who in the book to come, is an evil and scary character just escapes being funny in this one. There are also some very unnecessary plot threads that promise a lot but are never realised (in this story or the coming ones).
The next adventure is the one that got made into a movie. This one is better written. The characters get fleshed out and the story is told better. It is only the ending that seems awkward. Personally, I didn’t quite like it that 4 children grow to adulthood in one world and then are forced back (by the author) into their own world where they have to be kids again. How frustrating it must have been! :).
After that, the adventures become shorter. The children who come into Narnia are there only for a few days at a time and are ‘called’ when Narnians need their help. The story also becomes very philosophical as you go on. As an example, in the second story, the author repeats one piece of advice thrice: “When you wander into a wardrobe, don’t close the door”. This, I thought, was meant as practical advice to children reading the book. In later stories, the advice become more about the importance of ‘believing’. They don’t spoil the story but one can’t help wondering if part of the book’s popularity is because of this theme rather than just its ‘story’.
Overall, a good read. I recommend it to anyone with little children at home. Makes good bed time reading. For adults? I think it is still a good book to have read. If only to understand what people like Mr. Pulman mean when they say: “Tolkien is not worth arguing with.”