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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a fantasy novel for children by C. S. Lewis, published by Geoffrey Bles in 1950. It is the first published and best known of seven novels in The Chronicles of Narnia (1950–1956). Among all the author's books, it is also the most widely held in libraries. Although it was originally the first of The Chronicles of Narnia, it is volume two in recent editions that are sequenced by the stories' chronology. Like the other Chronicles, it was illustrated by Pauline Baynes, and her work has been retained in many later editions.
Most of the novel is set in Narnia, a land of talking animals and mythical creatures that is ruled by the evil White Witch. In the frame story, four English children are relocated to a large, old country house following a wartime evacuation. The youngest, Lucy, visits Narnia three times via the magic of a wardrobe in a spare room. Lucy's three siblings are with her on her third visit to Narnia. In Narnia, the siblings seem fit to fulfill an old prophecy and find themselves adventuring to save Narnia and their own lives. The lion Aslan gives his life to save one of the children; he later rises from the dead, vanquishes the White Witch, and crowns the children Kings and Queens of Narnia.
Lewis wrote the book for (and dedicated it to) his goddaughter, Lucy Barfield. She was the daughter of Owen Barfield, Lewis's friend, teacher, adviser, and trustee.
Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie are evacuated from London during the Blitz and sent to live with an old professor (identified in a later book as Digory Kirke) in the English countryside. While exploring the professor's house, Lucy enters a magic wardrobe that leads her into a wooded area with a lighted lamppost growing from the ground. Lucy meets Tumnus, a faun who befriends her and informs her that she is in the land of Narnia. Tumnus intends to send Lucy to the White Witch, a ruler who keeps Narnia frozen in a perpetual winter and who requires that any human found in Narnia be sent to her. Tumnus repents, however, and escorts Lucy back to the lamppost; once there, she returns to her own world by re-entering the wardrobe and finds that only a few seconds have passed there during her absence. None of her siblings believe her story about Narnia; upon inspection, the wardrobe appears solid and leads nowhere.
Lucy enters the wardrobe again, and it leads her into Narnia. Edmund follows Lucy. Upon entering Narnia, Edmund encounters the White Witch. When the Witch learns that Edmund is human and has siblings, she plies him with sweet Turkish Delight. The Witch promises to reward Edmund with more Turkish Delight if he brings his brother and sisters to her castle. Upon returning to his own world, Edmund denies that he has been to Narnia.
Soon afterwards, all four children enter Narnia together while hiding in the wardrobe. Lucy leads the group to Tumnus's home, but finds that it has been ransacked and that the faun has been arrested. The children are befriended by Mr. Beaver, a talking animal who takes them to his home. He informs the Pevensies that because of the Witch, it is always winter and never Christmas in Narnia. He and his wife tell the children about a prophecy that the Witch's tyranny will end when "two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve" sit on the four thrones of Cair Paravel, and that Narnia's true ruler – the great lion Aslan – is returning from a long absence.
Edmund slips away to the Witch's castle. In the courtyard, he is surprised by the many statues of Narnians the Witch has turned to stone. The Witch greets him coldly, as he has come alone and with news that Aslan – her enemy – is returning. She takes Edmund prisoner and leaves the castle to find and capture the other Pevensie children. Meanwhile, the Beavers – correctly surmising that Edmund has betrayed them – take the other children to meet Aslan at the Stone Table. As they travel, they find that the Witch's winter is giving way to spring. They are greeted by Father Christmas, who had been kept out of Narnia by the Witch's magic. The group arrive at their destination as winter ends and are greeted by Aslan. The Witch's enforcer (the wolf Maugrim) approaches the camp and attacks Susan, but is killed by Peter. Aslan sends a rescue party for Edmund; it arrives just in time to save him from the Witch, who had decided to kill him. The Witch parleys with Aslan, invoking the "Deep Magic" which gives her the right to kill Edmund for his treason. Aslan denies her claim, but secretly trades his life for Edmund's.
That evening, Susan and Lucy accompany Aslan to the Stone Table. They watch from a distance as the Witch puts Aslan to death. After the Witch and her followers depart to prepare for battle against Aslan's followers, Susan and Lucy remain with Aslan's body. In the morning, the girls find the Stone Table broken and Aslan restored to life. Aslan explains that the "Deeper Magic" has the power to reverse death if a willing victim takes the place of a traitor. Aslan takes the two girls to the Witch's castle and revives the Narnians that the Witch had turned to stone. They join the Narnian forces battling the Witch's army. The Narnian army prevails, and Aslan kills the Witch. The Pevensie children are then crowned kings and queens of Narnia at Cair Paravel.
After a long and happy reign, the Pevensies return to England during a hunt when they unintentionally pass the lamp-post and return through the wardrobe; they are children again, with no time having passed since their departure.
The Pevensie Siblings
Their surname is not used in this story (and will not be revealed until The Voyage of the Dawn Treader).
At the Country Home
The house that shelters the Pevensie children is run by a Professor, staffed by servants, and frequently toured by historians.
The magical land of Narnia is populated by talking animals, mythological species, and sentient flora.
Lewis described the origin of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in an essay titled "It All Began with a Picture":
Shortly before the Second World War many children were evacuated from London to the English countryside to escape bomber attacks on London by Nazi Germany. On 2 September 1939 three school girls, Margaret, Mary and Katherine, came to live at The Kilns in Risinghurst, Lewis's home three miles east of Oxford city centre. Lewis later suggested that the experience gave him a new appreciation of children and in late September he began a children's story on an odd sheet that has survived as part of another manuscript:
How much more of the story Lewis then wrote is uncertain. Roger Lancelyn Green thinks that he might even have completed it. In September 1947 Lewis wrote in a letter about stories for children: "I have tried one myself but it was, by the unanimous verdict of my friends, so bad that I destroyed it."
The plot element of entering a new world through the back of a wardrobe had certainly entered Lewis's mind by 1946, when he used it to describe his first encounter with really good poetry:
In August 1948, during a visit by an American writer, Chad Walsh, Lewis talked vaguely about completing a children's book he had begun "in the tradition of E. Nesbit". After this conversation not much happened until the beginning of the next year. Then everything changed. In his essay "It All Began With a Picture" Lewis continues: "At first I had very little idea how the story would go. But then suddenly Aslan came bounding into it. I think I had been having a good many dreams of lions about that time. Apart from that, I don't know where the Lion came from or why he came. But once he was there, he pulled the whole story together, and soon he pulled the six other Narnian stories in after him."
The major ideas of the book echo lines Lewis had written fourteen years earlier in his alliterative poem The Planets:
This resonance is a central component of the case, promoted chiefly by Oxford University scholar Michael Ward, for the seven Chronicles having been modelled upon the seven classical astrological planets, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe upon Jupiter.
On 10 March 1949 Roger Lancelyn Green dined with Lewis at Magdalen College. After the meal Lewis read two chapters from his new children's story to Green. Lewis asked Green's opinion of the tale and Green said that he thought it was good. The manuscript of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was complete by the end of March 1949. Lucy Barfield received it by the end of May. When on 16 October 1950 Geoffrey Bles in London published the first edition, three new "chronicles", Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Horse and His Boy, had also been completed.
Lewis's publisher, Geoffrey Bles, allowed him to choose the illustrator for the novel and the Narnia series. Lewis chose Pauline Baynes, possibly based on J. R. R. Tolkien's recommendation. Baynes had greatly impressed Tolkien with her illustrations for his Farmer Giles of Ham (1949). However, Baynes claimed that Lewis learned about her work after going into a bookshop and asking for a recommendation for an illustrator who was skilled at portraying both humans and animals. In December 1949, Bles showed Lewis the first drawings for the novel, and Lewis sent Baynes a note congratulating her, particularly on the level of detail. Lewis’s appreciation of the illustrations is evident in a letter he wrote to Baynes after The Last Battle won the Carnegie Medal for best children’s book of 1956: "is it not rather 'our' medal? I’m sure the illustrations were taken into account as well as the text".
The British edition of the novel had 43 illustrations; American editions generally had fewer. The popular United States paperback edition published by Collier between 1970 and 1994, which sold many millions, had only 17 illustrations, many of them severely cropped from the originals, giving many readers in that country a very different experience when reading the novel. All the illustrations were restored for the 1994 worldwide HarperCollins edition, although these lacked the clarity of early printings.
Lewis very much enjoyed writing The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and embarked on the sequel Prince Caspian soon after finishing the first novel. He completed the sequel by end of 1949, less than a year after finishing the initial book. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe had few readers during 1949 and was not published until late in 1950, so his initial enthusiasm did not stem from favourable reception by the public.
While Lewis is known today on the strength of the Narnia stories as a highly successful children’s writer, the initial critical response was muted. At the time it was fashionable for children's stories to be realistic; fantasy and fairy tales were seen as indulgent, appropriate only for very young readers and potentially harmful to older children, even hindering their ability to relate to everyday life. Some reviewers considered the tale overtly moralistic or the Christian elements over-stated — attempts to indoctrinate children. Others were concerned that the many violent incidents might frighten children.
Lewis's publisher, Geoffrey Bles, feared that the Narnia tales would not sell, and might damage Lewis’ reputation and affect sales of his other books. Nevertheless, the novel and its successors were highly popular with young readers, and Lewis's publisher was soon eager to release further Narnia stories.
In the United States a 2004 study found that The Lion was a common read-aloud book for seventh-graders in schools in San Diego County, California. In 2005 it was included on TIME's unranked list of the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923. Based on a 2007 online poll, the U.S. National Education Association named it one of "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children". In 2012 it was ranked number five among all-time children's novels in a survey published by School Library Journal, a monthly with primarily U.S. audience.
A 2012 survey by the University of Worcester determined that it was the second most common book that UK adults had read as children, after Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. (Adults, perhaps limited to parents, ranked Alice and The Lion fifth and sixth as books the next generation should read, or their children should read during their lifetimes.)
TIME magazine included the novel in its "All-TIME 100 Novels" (best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005). In 2003, the novel was listed at number 9 on the BBC's survey The Big Read. It has also been published in 47 foreign languages.
Lewis wrote that "The Narnian books are not as much allegory as supposal. Suppose there were a Narnian world and it, like ours, needed redemption. What kind of incarnation and Passion might Christ be supposed to undergo there?"
The main story is an allegory of Christ's crucifixion: Aslan sacrifices himself for Edmund, a traitor who may deserve death, in the same way that Christians believe Jesus sacrificed himself for sinners. Aslan is killed on the Stone Table, symbolizing Mosaic Law, which breaks when he is resurrected, symbolizing the replacement of the strict justice of Old Testament law with redeeming grace and forgiveness granted on the basis of substitutional atonement, according to Christian theology.
The character of the Professor is based on W.T. Kirkpatrick, who tutored a 16-year-old Lewis. "Kirk," as he was sometimes called, taught the young Lewis much about thinking and communicating clearly, skills that would be invaluable to him later.
Narnia is caught in endless winter that has lasted a century when the children first enter. Norse tradition mythologizes a "great winter", known as the Fimbulwinter, said to precede Ragnarök. The trapping of Edmund by the White Witch is reminiscent of the seduction and imprisonment of Kay by The Snow Queen in Hans Christian Andersen's novella of that name.
There are several parallels between the White Witch and the immortal white queen, Ayesha, of H. Rider Haggard's She, a novel greatly admired by C. S. Lewis.
Edith Nesbit's short story The Aunt and Amabel includes the motif of a girl entering a wardrobe to gain access to a magical place.
The freeing of Aslan's body from the Stone Table is reminiscent of a scene from Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Pit and the Pendulum," in which a prisoner is freed when rats gnaw through his bonds. In a later book, "Prince Caspian," we learn that as reward for their actions, mice gained the same intelligence and speech as other Narnian animals.
One of the most significant themes seen in C. S. Lewis's The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is the theme of Christianity. Various aspects of characters and events in the novel reflect biblical ideas from Christianity. The lion Aslan is one of the largest examples, as his death is very similar to that of Jesus Christ. While many readers made this connection, Lewis denied that the themes of Christianity were intentional, saying that his writing began by picturing images of characters, and the rest just came about through the writing process. While Lewis denied intentionally making the novel a strictly Christian story, he did admit that it could help young children accept Christianity into their lives when they were older.
After the children enter the world of Narnia through the wardrobe, Edmund finds himself in trouble under service of the White Witch, as she tempts him with Turkish Delights. When Edmund is threatened to be killed, Aslan offers to sacrifice himself instead. Aslan is shaved of his fur, and stabbed on an altar of stone. This is similar to how Jesus was publicly beaten, humiliated, and crucified. After his sacrifice, Aslan is later reborn, and continues to help the children save Narnia. While this sequence of events is comparable to the death of Jesus, it is not identical. There are a few differences, such as the fact that Aslan’s death was not done to save the entirety of Narnia because they broke the law, his death was only for Edmund. Aslan is also only dead for one night, and comes back the next morning, as opposed to Jesus returning on the third day. Despite these differences, the image of Aslan and the event of his death and rebirth reflect those of the biblical account of Jesus’s death and resurrection, adding to the theme of Christianity throughout the novel.
Differences between editions
Due to labor union rules, the text of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was reset for the publication of the first American edition of by Macmillan US in 1950. Lewis took that opportunity to make the following changes to the original British edition published by Geoffrey Bles earlier that same year:
When HarperCollins took over publication of the series in 1994, they began using the original British edition for all subsequent English editions worldwide. The current US edition published by Scholastic has 36,135 words.
The story has been adapted three times for television. The first adaptation was a ten-part serial produced by ABC Weekend Television for ITV and broadcast in 1967. In 1979, an animated TV-movie, directed by Peanuts director Bill Meléndez, was broadcast and won the first Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program. A third television adaptation was produced in 1988 by the BBC using a combination of live actors, animatronic puppets and animation. Only this last one was the first of a series of 4 Narnia adaptations over 3 seasons. The programme was nominated for an Emmy and won a BAFTA. It was followed by three further Narnia adaptations.
Stage adaptations include a 1984 version staged at London's Westminster Theatre, produced by Vanessa Ford Productions. The play, adapted by Glyn Robbins, was directed by Richard Williams and designed by Marty Flood. Jules Tasca, Ted Drachman, and Thomas Tierney collaborated on a musical adaptation published in 1986.
In 1997, Trumpets Inc., a Filipino Christian theatre and musical production company, produced a musical rendition that Douglas Gresham, Lewis's stepson (and co-producer of the Walden Media film adaptations), has openly declared that he feels is the closest to Lewis's intention. It starred among others popular young Filipino singer Sam Concepcion as Edmund Pevensie.
In 1998, the Royal Shakespeare Company did an adaptation by Adrian Mitchell, for which the acting edition has been published. The Stratford Festival in Canada mounted a new production of Mitchell's work in June 2016.
In 2003, there was an Australian commercial stage production which toured the country by Malcolm C. Cooke Productions, using both life-size puppets and human actors. It was directed by notable film director Nadia Tass, and starred Amanda Muggleton, Dennis Olsen, Meaghan Davies and Yolande Brown.
In 2011, a two-actor stage adaptation by Le Clanché du Rand opened Off-Broadway in New York City at St. Luke's Theatre. The production was directed by Julia Beardsley O'Brien and starred Erin Layton and Andrew Fortman. As of 2014, the production is currently running with a replacement cast of Abigail Taylor-Sansom and Rockford Sansom.
In 2012 Michael Fentiman with Rupert Goold co-directed The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at a Threesixty 'tented production' in Kensington Gardens, London. It received a Guardian three star review.
Multiple audio editions have been released, both straightforward readings and dramatizations.
In 1981, Michael Hordern read abridged versions of the classic tale (and the others in the series). In 2000, an unabridged audio book was released, narrated by Michael York. (All the books were released in audio form, read by different actors.)
In 1988, BBC Radio 4 mounted a full dramatization. In 1998, Focus on the Family Radio Theatre also adapted this story. Both the original BBC version and the Focus on the Family version have been broadcast on BBC radio. Both are the first in a series of adaptations of all seven of the Narnia books. The BBC series uses the title Tales of Narnia, while the Focus on the Family version uses the more familiar Chronicles moniker. The Focus on the Family version is also longer, with a full orchestra score, narration, a larger cast of actors, and introductions by Douglas Gresham, C. S. Lewis' stepson.
In 2005, the story was adapted for a theatrical film, co-produced by Walt Disney and Walden Media. It has so far been followed by two more films: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The latter was co-produced by Twentieth-Century Fox and Walden Media.