It is quite a glaring omission that I, though a fantasy fan, have not read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe until now. I watched the film adaptations – the 1979 animated one as a child of maybe 6 or 7, at the house of an elderly neighbour who babysat us sometimes, and the live action one when it hit cinemas in 2005. So I was familiar with the overall story.
I wasn’t familiar with the writing though, nor how accurate the 2005 movie – or my slightly hazy memories of it – were. On this occasion, I opted for the audiobook, which is available for free on Youtube. I haven’t listened to audiobook since my parents stopped using the Just William series to keep myself and my siblings quiet in the back of the car on our way to our annual holidays. Given that The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is a children’s book, though, this seems appropriate (I shall have to make a point of listening to an audiobook for adults at some point).
One thing I particularly noted about the narrative style is how it wasn’t afraid of breaking the fourth wall. At one point, it refers to a previous action taken by a character as having happened “at the end of the last chapter”. This, coupled with the introduction addressing a particular girl for whom the story was written, and, perhaps, the fact that I listened to rather than read this story, made it feel quite intimate. It wasn’t immersion-breaking as I would have expected, but gave me a sense of sitting on my grandfather’s knee as he read the story to me. It’s comforting.
The simplicity of the language and of the plot is entirely what I’d expect from a children’s story. I knew in advance about the allusions to Christianity in the story and could recognise those easily when they cropped up.
There is often a question, in fantasy, whether stories should be used to preach, and in the course of my life my own beliefs have let me to side with one side of the argument or the other, but having actually listened to it I don’t feel that religion was preached to me through this story, but rather used as inspiration. And there’s nothing wrong with drawing themes and arcs from existing well known stories and myths, whether you believe in them or not. After all, Bridget Jones’s Diary is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, altered to fit a different setting, just as this is a retelling of the end of Jesus’ life in the Bible, but set in a fantasy world. My lack of belief in the source material was not offended by it.
I think that’s the key thing I can take from this as a writer: that even using easily recognisable source material as a major inspiration for a story does not stop that story being unique, interesting and well-told. I have previously considered a writing a fantasy retelling of an event from the Peloponnesian War, the conflict between Corcyra and Corinth that started it all off; I think I need not be worried that this is unoriginal, if I can make it interesting.