“Who are you?” asked Shasta.
“Myself,” said the Voice, very deep and low so that the earth shook: and again “Myself,” loud and clear and gay: and then the third time “Myself,” whispered so softly you could hardly hear it, and yet it seemed to come from all round you as if the leaves rustled with it.”
Reviewing The Chronicles of Narnia feels surreal. It somehow seems beyond it. Sacred. One would be justified in using the word “masterpiece”, but even this means something unique when applied to these books. Other (similar?) works worthy of the term, like Tolkien’s, utterly outshine the series with their world-building and their story-telling. Yet there is a simplicity and a focus that infuses The Chronicles of Narnia with its own peculiar power.
Re-reading The Chronicles of Narnia after years, I was taken off guard by how much was familiar. But I remembered the plot-path, not the scenery. And to be blunt, the path never really excited me. The Lord of the Rings does it better. The scenery, however, is gorgeous. It was only in reading the books the second time round that I realised the path is primarily there because of the scenery. The series does not feel like a story with a sprinkling of jarring moral points shoe-horned in. Instead, it reflects Lewis’s statement on another occasion that he believes “in Christianity as [he believes] that the sun has risen: not only because [he sees] it, but because by it [he sees] everything else.” The Chronicles of Narnia makes interesting sense because of its theology.
In fact, I can cut many words by stating that the books are parables; it is this thought-provoking, entertaining, vivid and rich medium that is Lewis’s crown and that is a lost art in the 21st century. Sometimes the significance of a word, sentence or chapter is shallowly buried, sometimes it is more deeply buried. But his stories are different enough from the Author’s real story that the plethora of doctrines dipped into never affronts as preachy. He taps into Christian, indeed, human, longings staggeringly well with a homely execution. The medium also allows him to distance himself from allegations of heresy (see The Last Battle); prying too deeply into the details of a parable digs beneath its foundations.
Lewis’s New-Creational brush strokes are always his most radiant. He does not act on the temptation to paint too finely; he leaves enough mystery to stir yearning rather than being over-satiating. Perhaps his finest example of this is found in his close to the series:
“And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever in which every chapter is better than the one before.”