First of all, I must mention the sheer Britishness of the writing. I’ve read this book aloud several times, and it’s impossible not to adopt a British accent when reading it.
But before I actually get into the story, I’d like to briefly discuss my personal history with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (which I shall henceforth abbreviate as “LWW”, because that’s a humongous title!). The very first time I read The Chronicles of Narnia, I believe I was in first grade, and I distinctly recall skipping LWW because I was already very familiar with the old BBC movie and I was in first grade; it was a bit of an undertaking to read six whole books, let alone seven (I was reading them, as I typically do, in chronological order). I think I first read LWW when I reread the series for the first time a couple years later.
This book is representative of the medieval planet Jupiter, aka “Jove”, the root of the word “jovial”, which is quite a good word to sum up the atmosphere of the book in general. There’s a certain delight and reverence throughout the book in tradition and nobility, perhaps the most akin to Tolkien’s works out of the seven books in that sense.
And now, come further up and further in!
Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids.
This is all the backstory we ever get about the kids (at least in this book). Isn’t it nice not having main characters with emotional baggage for once? Sure, Edmund is kind of a brat from the start, but he’s not downright evil or anything – just your average annoying little brother. Peter, the oldest (although Lewis smartly never specifies any of their ages, only the birth order), quickly assumes leadership in the absence of their parents. Lucy is clearly the baby of the family (that is, the youngest and a generally sweet little girl), but also curious. Susan is kind of motherly, I guess? Of the four children, her character is the least defined in this book, which does leave plenty of room for certain traits to be added in later books, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.
Anyhow, they’re staying in an old mansion out in the countryside belonging to one Professor Kirk. When faced with a rainy day after they had been looking forward to exploring the woods and such, Peter proposes exploring inside the mansion, which is not only huge, but centuries old. I remember when I was younger, we would sometimes drive through Bay City, MI, and all down the main street there were old mansions that were three stories tall, often with little attic-turrets, too, and frequently surrounded by shrubbery and iron fences. I used to think of those houses whenever I pictured a mansion, but they were all probably not much more than a hundred years old, maybe one-fifty. I still honestly can’t quite wrap my head around the idea of a mansion that might be 500 years old!
On their little expedition, they find all sorts of odd rooms, so when they get to one where the only item of note is an old wardrobe, everybody heads out without a second thought – except for Lucy, of course.
She stayed behind because she thought it would be worthwhile trying the door of the wardrobe, even though she felt almost sure that it would be locked. To her surprise it opened quite easily, and two mothballs dropped out.
I love how Lewis repeats that it’s very foolish to shut oneself into a wardrobe, because it’s like saying to the kids, “Feel free to check any wardrobes you find, just don’t shut yourself in.”
So Lucy heads in (because she likes the feel of the fur coats), always expecting to run into the back of the wardrobe (as is sadly the extent of most), but instead, the furs change to firs, and she finds herself in a snowy wood at night.
Lucy felt a little frightened, but she felt very inquisitive and excited as well. She looked back over her shoulder and there, between the dark tree-trunks, she could still see the open doorway of the wardrobe and even catch a glimpse of the empty room from which she had set out. […] It seemed to be still daylight there.
This is the first indication that the place runs on a different time of some sort. She makes for a light in the wood which turns out to be a lamppost (I imagine it would be a bit like finding a streetlight in a similar situation).
And then, of course, she runs into a Faun (or rather he runs into her, perhaps), which is one of those creatures that I have never really encountered in any Greek or Roman myths – just the occasional modern fantasy, which is typically referencing this book in the first place. Thus the chapter ends on that strange little image that started it all, a Faun carrying wrapped parcels and an umbrella through a snowy wood.
And when he saw Lucy he gave such a start of surprise that he dropped all his parcels.
“Goodness gracious me!” exclaimed the Faun.
Until next time…