Or 'The One with the Turkish Delight'
Caution: There'll be spoilers in a readalong such as this.
I think most of us have a fair idea how this one goes. It is the most iconic book of the series.
To escape air raids in London, four brothers and sisters, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, are sent to stay in an old country mansion owned by Professor Kirke. Lucy, the youngest, is first to discover that the back of an antique wardrobe leads to a snowy world where it's always winter. Edmund, the next youngest, has an encounter with the wicked witch who usurps the leadership of the land. And finally all four learn how their arrival is woven into a prophecy, and meet Aslan, the majestic Lion of Narnia. He's the only one who can destroy the witch's plan to harm them, and the tale of how he does it is timeless.
What I appreciated even more than before.
1) It's easy to agree to a plan of action in theory, which your principles won't let you carry out in practice. Just ask Mr Tumnus. He successfully seduces Lucy with cosy afternoon tea, cool stories and enchanted flute music, intending to detain her for the Queen. But when the crunch comes, he's a good guy who is guided by his conscience, even when that seems to lead him into very hot water. Good on you, Tumnus.
2) We're introduced to Professor Kirke, an old man with shaggy white hair all over his face. It's our old friend Digory! I never noticed as a kid, but he essentially talks Peter and Susan through C. S. Lewis' own pet theological trilemma; Lunatic, Liar or Lord. In this case, the topic is whether or not to believe Lucy's claim that she's visited a strange land through the back of the wardrobe. The professor explains that if it's not true, she'd have to be either bonkers or untruthful, and Lucy clearly isn't either. (Well, good old Digory ought to know, since he was the boy who unleashed the witch in Narnia in the first place. But we won't find him owning up to that.)
2) Dirt tends to stick, once a person has a bad reputation. Even though Edmund redeems himself mightily and has the presence of mind to target the witch's Achilles heel, he'll still always be known as the boy who betrayed his siblings for a chance to pig out on Turkish Delight. (I've focused more on Edmund in this list of Bad Boys with Depth. I won't repeat it all here, suffice to say that his family position as third born was unfortunate for him, and his taunting of Lucy was all about trying to raise his own status.)
3) Edmund isn't the greedy guts some readers may think. That Turkish Delight was enchanted, which compelled him to keep wanting more. I imagine Edmund to behave like an addict who craves a fix. Any addictive substance is a personality changer, and as we know, he was already a brat with hang-ups to begin with. Edmund was really in no position to break free from the pull of such powerful magic. He genuinely convinced himself that the witch wouldn't harm his brother and sisters. Wishful thinking is a mighty persuasive tool, and coupled with the powerful enchantment of the bad sweet, he would have needed super-human strength to resist the trap she'd set for him. I've always been in favour of cutting Edmund some slack. In the grand scope of Lewis' Christian allegory, he represents each of us, after all. There's no sense in coming down hard on him.
4) Having said that, my intention is not to excuse him. Understanding and empathising with a person is way different to condoning what he did. A traitor is a traitor. If somebody unleashes a trail of damage or harm, it can't be undone. Aslan knew that. And Edmund certainly knew it himself.
5) The witch chooses a reign of terror as her preferred method of being monarch. When somebody who so clearly prefers the stick method suddenly chooses to use the carrot, alarm bells should be ringing. Had Edmund known her any better, he might have been wiser. Anybody who has proven they have no warmth or kindness in their heart must have an ulterior motive when they decide it's worth faking.
6) The description of the witch's rabble of followers is frightful. Whenever I hear philosophies abound that evil doesn't really exist, I imagine scenes such as this. Lewis lists off Ogres, Spirits of evil trees and poisonous plants, Cruels, Hags, Incubuses, Wraiths, Horrors, Efreets, Sprites, Orknies, Wooses and Ettins. These are Queen Jadis' buddies. He adds, 'and other creatures I won't describe because if I did the grown-ups would probably not let you read this book.' Whoa, I wonder how many adult readers' imaginations may rush to fill in the gaps! One of the pivotal points of the series occurs when these degenerate, despicable beings hold their celebration of triumph as the noble Aslan quietly and gracefully offers up his life on the Stone Table.
7) Mr and Mrs Beaver. What a great pair of helpers.
What I wasn't a fan of this time round.
1) I wouldn't have minded hearing at least a little of what Aslan had to say to Edmund, when the two met up for the first time. The boy clearly had issues and I'll bet the conversation might have hit the spot for readers with similar hang-ups and errors of judgement in their past. But all we're told is that it took quite a long time and made a deep impression on Edmund. Yeah, I'll bet it did, on both counts. So since we've been keeping Edmund company throughout most of his stinking thinking, why not now?
2) Father Christmas tells Susan and Lucy that they'll have to stay out of battles. Susan is to use her brilliant new bow and arrows only when strictly necessary. He says, 'battles are ugly when women fight.' Ahem, that's debatable, Father Christmas. The Witch is a female after all, and she's the most formidable tyrant Narnia has ever faced. History is full of bad-ass women who can kick butts big time. Surely I'm not the only reader to think that the more willing hands on board the better. I think it's a bit of mid-twentieth century sexism rearing its controversial head.
3) And on the other end of the spectrum, talk about throwing poor Peter in the deep end! Susan and Lucy are ordered to steer clear of danger, but because he's a boy, Peter is expected to become a mighty battle tactitian on the spot with no formal training. And indeed, we see him sword fighting hand to hand against the White Witch and holding his own. That gets into the realm of the unbelievable. We're talking about the Queen of Narnia: the freakishly towering, powerful, magical woman who can yank metal lamp posts out of the ground, and who subdued the whole country with ease. And he's a school kid from London. My credibility is fairly elastic, but that's a bit of a stretch for it.
4) Susan and Lucy were discussing whether or not they ought to tell Edmund what Aslan did on his behalf, and came to no satisfactory conclusion before they were interrupted. Yet the story doesn't pick up on that thread again. Did they tell him or not? My guess is yes, of course they must have done so. But we aren't ever told, and it would be nice to have a bit of closure there, since the girls' conversation was written in to the story.
Some Great Quotes
Professor Kirke: A case of lying against someone you've always found truthful is a very serious thing; a very serious thing indeed.
There's nothing that spoils the taste of good, ordinary food half as much as the memory of bad, magic food.
Mr Beaver: Who said anything about safe. Course he (Aslan) isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.
Lucy: Please Aslan, can anything be done to save Edmund?
Aslan: All shall be done, but it may be harder than you think.
Mr Beaver: He'll be coming and going. He doesn't like being tied down. He'll often drop in. Only you mustn't press him. He's wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.
After the Pevensies became monarchs - 'They generally stopped busybodies and interferers and encouraged ordinary people who wanted to live and let live.'
Stick around, because next up will be The Horse and his Boy.