MAY / JUNE 2013: BY EMILY CALLAHAN
All my life, I’ve recalled my summers by what I read. Every summer has its own “theme.” When I was seven it was Pride & Prejudice, eight was Anne of Green Gables, fourteen was Little Women. Many summers were devoted to Harry Potter and my most recent book-of-the-summer was The Hunger Games. If I had to pick a book or series that I spent a lot of time with pretty much every summer over the last several years, though, I’d have to pick The Chronicles of Narnia. I love those books like a favorite sweater; it’s cozy, familiar and holds good memories. Ironically, my first truly memorable encounter with Narnia happened right before my thirteenth summer, when my mom picked up the 2005 version of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe at Costco so we could watch a “nice, classic, family story.” Prior to then, my only other Narnian experience was the 1980’s miniseries, which I recall as being nice, if not a little dry, so I was excited to see a new big-budget version. After watching the movie, I was inspired to read the novels, which started me not only on a series of books that I unfortunately missed as a child, but also on a life-long journey of learning and growth.
One of the first things that struck me about the series is how universally interesting it is. You can get many themes, morals, and messages from it depending on your age, gender, and individual life experiences. The movies capitalize on the books’ simplicity by bringing out the themes of sin, redemption, sibling and family relationships, forgiveness, friendship, death, sacrifice, childhood and growing up, self-worth, and love. This is testament to C.S. Lewis’s design for his books. Lewis often mentioned that he wrote Narnia as “family books,” meaning they could be read and enjoyed by anyone, whether they’re nine or ninety. As someone who read the books as an adolescent as well as an adult, I can see how they fit the “family book” format. The novels are simplistic enough for a young child to be delighted by them and at the same time, the simplicity allows older readers to find the deeper values within the stories. I didn’t read the books in early childhood, so I never really experienced them simply as stories. But I did get a glimpse of what it’s like to read them as a child when I read one of them with my six-year old babysitting charge a few years ago. To him, Narnia is all about the action. He likes the battle scenes, the horses, and King Peter. To him, the Narnia books are huge and epic, real page turners that he can’t wait to get through so he can read the next one. For me, it was an eye-opening experience. As a teen I recognized other values in the stories that pertained to my place in life, such as Lucy’s sadness at having to leave Narnia as she grows up despite it being time for her to go.
People have many different reasons for revisiting childhood stories. For some, it’s sentimentality. Others simply love the story enough to go back and live through it again. Some people go back and read a childhood favorite because they want to experience it through the eyes of a grown up, while others feel they didn’t fully appreciate it as a child. For me, going back and reading the Narnia series first as a teenager then as an adult was a combination of all those reasons. Reading the books allowed me to enjoy a childhood classic I didn’t read as a child, but rereading it provided me with both an imaginative story and a comfy “home-away-from-home” in book form. For me, Narnia is a spiritual haven that symbolizes the spiritual haven found in a relationship with Christ. Narnia symbolizes goodness, innocence, joy, peace, and refuge, even in difficult circumstances. Life’s hard choices and heartbreaks can cause spiritual and emotional weariness, but going back to a favorite childhood story can allow for catharsis.
For me, visiting Narnia brings back happy, peaceful memories, like when my brother and I listened to the entire book-on-tape set while recovering from chickenpox. I think that’s why I like to have my book-of-the-summer, and why anyone may like to go back and read a book they loved as a child. Associating a book, and all the lessons you learnt from it, with a specific time lets you go back and visit whenever you feel like it. Just like the Pevensies learn new things every time they go back to Narnia, readers of the Narnia series will experience new lessons and joys every time they return as well. ♥