A goal of mine at this time in my life (living through lockdown, post-divorce) is to read as much as I can. I want to read new books and be up-to-date, and I want to go back and fill in gaps in my reading. And so here is a gap I must admit: as a child, I never read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. In fact, there are a good many gaps in the category of classic children’s lit in my reading past, but this one seemed very glaring and so, a few days ago, I grabbed a copy from the shelves at my B&N, bought it, brought it home, and read it overnight (one benefit of reading children’s lit as an adult – it’s quick!)
I have at last become acquainted with Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, and I have been with them on their travels through the back of the wardrobe and into Narnia, at least I have accompanied them on their first journey to this foreign land; I know they have other forays there, but this will be the end of the line for me.
And here is a downside of reading children’s lit as an adult – one might not be quite as entranced by it as one might have been in one’s younger and more easily-pleased years. It was sweet, and I liked the charm of the writing, the way the narrator made himself known now and then (an interesting writerly technique – take note!). And now I have seen a bit of Narnia, met Aslan the kind and all-powerful lion, and encountered the White Witch. All good.
Well, except it is my understanding from what I know of the author C.S. Lewis that this book is actually heavily symbolic with Christian theology. Even I can see that, given that Aslan is killed by sacrifice on the stone table and then resurrected, that he might just be a stand-in for some other popular fellow from another book.
And so, a little research is required as a follow up to my reading… ok, yes, Aslan is a Christ figure, and the Witch represents Satan and the story represents a Christian’s journey and so much more, but as generations of kids already know, it’s possible to enjoy it simply as an engaging fantasy story.
The day after I read the book, I talked to Deb and Theresa, two regulars at Barnes & Noble Wilmington who show up most mornings for literary conversation. I barged into their chat and announced that I had at long last read the Narnia book. “What did you think?” they asked. “Eh,” I replied. They agreed and promptly recommended another young reader book, The Bookwanderers by Anna James. As soon as I learned that is a book that takes place in a bookstore and is about characters who interact with fictional characters and can wander in and out of books, I was sold!
In The Bookwanderers, I found what so many of the best middle grade books can offer: sophisticated, complex, and compelling plot. It was a terrific read. Kudos to Anna James for her intricate plot and for working out so well how the complicated logic of book wandering actually works, and for creating the fictional supporting mechanism for this: the Underlibrary, Pages & Co. bookstore, and more. And also kudos for her fantastic recreation of the characters from other books. Her Alice from Wonderland had the same voice as she does in the book she was born into! I might just have to join Tilly and Oskar on their next adventure, The Lost Fairy Tales.