This fantasy adventure is the first book in "The Chronicles of Narnia" series by C.S. Lewis. Although it was written first, the events in The Magician's Nephew, another book in this series, chronologically take place before the events in this book. HarperCollins Children's Books, a division of HarperCollins, is the publisher.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is written for kids ages 8 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie are sent to live in Professor Kirke's home in the English countryside during Word War II. As the children explore the house, Lucy discovers an old wardrobe in a spare room. The wardrobe is actually a passage to Narnia, a world filled with magic. Lucy goes through the wardrobe and meets a goat-legged man named Mr. Tumnus. She learns that Narnia is ruled by the evil White Witch who keeps Narnia under an eternal winter.
When Lucy returns to Professor Kirke's house, she discovers that though she spent hours in Narnia, no time has passed in her world. Her siblings do not believe her story about Narnia because the wardrobe's portal doesn't work when they try to go through it. A few days later, when the children are playing hide-and-seek, Lucy hides in the wardrobe, and Edmund follows her into Narnia. Edmund meets the White Witch, who introduces herself as the Queen of Narnia. The Witch feeds Edmund an enchanted form of Turkish delight and asks him to bring his brother and sisters to her.
Edmund and Lucy return home, but Edmund lies about having been to Narnia, which deeply hurts Lucy. Peter and Susan seek advice from Professor Kirke, who tells them that Lucy may be telling the truth about finding a magical country. When Professor Kirke's housekeeper gives a tour of the house, all four children hide in Lucy's wardrobe and are able to enter Narnia together. They find Mr. Tumnus' home empty and read a notice saying he's been arrested for high treason against the White Witch. The children want to help Mr. Tumnus, but a talking animal named Mr. Beaver tells them they are in danger and must come with him to safety. At the Beavers' dam, the children are told that Aslan the Lion, the true king of Narnia, has been seen and that he will put a stop to the White Witch's evil rule. The children also learn that they will play a part in the Witch's downfall because a prophecy says that when four humans sit in the thrones at the castle of Cair Paravel, the Witch will die.
Edmund runs away from his siblings to meet the White Witch, and the Beavers take the remaining children to a hiding place to protect them from her. The next morning, Father Christmas arrives at their new hiding place and gives the children presents. He says the Witch's magic is weakening. When Edmund reaches the Witch's house, she is angry that he has come alone until he tells her that his brother and sisters are at the Beavers' house. The Witch dispatches wolves to kill everyone at the Beavers' house, but they find no one there. The Witch takes Edmund with her as she journeys to an ancient landmark called the Stone Table. As they travel, the eternal winter thaws into spring. Meanwhile, the other Pevensies reach the Stone Table where Aslan and a large group of Narnians welcome them. A wolf sent by the White Witch attacks the company, and Peter kills it with his sword.
The White Witch decides to kill Edmund, but a rescue party sent by Aslan saves Edmund and brings him back to the Narnians at the Stone Table. The White Witch demands that Aslan allow her to kill Edmund because traitors are her lawful victims. That night, Susan and Lucy wake and find Aslan leaving the Narnian camp. They follow him. Aslan goes to the White Witch's camp, where she and her servants mock, then tie up Aslan before killing him. Susan and Lucy are heartbroken, but rejoice when Aslan comes to life again the next day. Aslan takes the girls to the Witch's castle, where he breathes on the stone statues, including the one of Mr. Tumnus, and restores them to life. Aslan leads the resurrected Narnians to the battlefield where the Witch fights Peter's army. Aslan kills the Witch, the good Narnians win the battle and the four Pevensies are taken to Cair Paravel to be crowned. The children rule Narnia until they are adults. A hunting trip through the woods leads them back into their own world, where no time has passed and they are children again. Professor Kirke tells them they will all return to Narnia someday, but not through the wardrobe.
Aslan is a mighty lion, and his character is representative of Jesus Christ. Simply hearing Aslan's name creates a different, powerful sensation in each of the children: It horrifies Edmund, makes Peter feel brave, comforts Susan and gives Lucy hope. Aslan is called King, Lord and the son of the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea. He is killed in Edmund's place and is resurrected the following day.
Some old books in Professor Kirke's house are said to be bigger than a Bible. When Mr. Tumnus is first seen carrying some packages, Lucy thinks he looks like he's been Christmas shopping. Tumnus emphasizes that one of the worst things about the constant winter is that the White Witch prohibits Christmas.
Human children are called either Sons of Adam or Daughters of Eve. Mr. Beaver exclaims, "Lord love you."
The Pevensies' parents are rarely mentioned. When Lucy is distraught, she tells her siblings that they can write to their mother and tell her about the situation but she won't change her mind about Narnia being real. Peter says that Professor Kirke will write to their father if he thinks Lucy is in need of medical attention.
Professor Kirke is likable, and the children are fond of him. He lets them do whatever they want in his house. When Peter and Susan believe Lucy is mentally unstable, they go to Professor Kirke to explain their situation and ask for advice. He listens without interruption and asks them questions about Lucy and Edmund to help them determine which child is telling the truth.
Mrs. Macready is Professor Kirke's housekeeper. She dislikes children and tells the Pevensies to stay out of her way when she is leading a tour of guests through Professor Kirke's house.
Peter is the substitute head of his family. He's an enthusiastic advocate of exploring and having adventures. He is willing to believe Lucy when she first mentions Narnia, but when she's seemingly proven wrong, he advises her to stop playing her practical joke. When Edmund persists in mocking Lucy, Peter angrily corrects him, and his harsh response makes Edmund resentful. Peter is disgusted with Edmund when he discovers that his brother has been lying. Peter acknowledges to Aslan that his disapproval and anger may have pushed Edmund into further wrongdoing. Peter kills a wolf that is attacking his sisters, and later leads an army against the White Witch. When he grows to adulthood, he is described as a great warrior.
Susan takes on a motherly role, and Edmund accuses her of acting like their mother when she tells him it is past his bedtime. She asks Peter and Edmund to stop arguing and is motivated to keep her siblings safe and comfortable. Susan recommends that they leave Narnia at the first sign of danger, but she eventually agrees that they must stay to help Mr. Tumnus. As an adult queen of Narnia, she is gracious and gentle.
Edmund resents Peter's and Susan's attempts at leadership, and since he only has authority over Lucy, he corrects her frequently. The narration calls him spiteful, and he doesn't seem to tire of hurting Lucy's feelings. Edmund dislikes his lack of power and is vulnerable to the White Witch's offer to make him a prince over Narnia. Peter believes that Edmund enjoys bullying anyone smaller than himself. After his rescue from the White Witch, Edmund destroys her wand in battle. As an adult, Edmund is more solemn and quiet than Peter and has a reputation for being wise.
Mr. Tumnus is an adult faun, and he convinces Lucy to come to his house and have tea with him. He feeds her, entertains her with Narnian stories and plays on a magic flute to put her to sleep. The White Witch hired Mr. Tumnus to kidnap human children and bring them to her. Mr. Tumnus doesn't want to betray Lucy and repents for his actions. Mr. Tumnus says his own father would not have worked for the White Witch.
The White Witch currently rules Narnia. She does not value the lives of those she rules and frequently turns her subjects into stone statues.
Mr. and Mrs. Beaver act as advisers and guides to the children. They offer their hospitality, serve the children supper and shepherd them to safety.
Other belief systems
Mr. Tumnus is a faun, a demigod creature from Roman mythology. Two of the titles on Mr. Tumnus' bookshelf are "The Life and Letters of Silenus" (the Roman god of wine) and "Nymphs and Their Ways." Tumnus tells Lucy stories that involve figures from Greek and Roman mythology. At the Stone Table, the children see centaurs, a bull with a human head and a unicorn.
The White Witch's magic keeps the seasons from changing. She works magic through her wand and can make objects appear by pouring drops of magic liquid into the snow. The Turkish delight she produces for Edmund is enchanted to make him desperate for more. Mr. Beaver says the Witch is a descendant of a Jinn named Lilith who was Adam's first wife, and the other side of her family are giants. When the Witch summons her army, she lists giants, werewolves, ghouls, boggles, ogres, minotaurs, cruels, hags and specters as allies.
The implication is that the trees in Narnia are conscious. Mr. Tumnus says that some trees are spies for the White Witch, and Mr. Beaver says that the trees are always listening. Some would be willing to betray the children.
Professor Kirke suggests that many other worlds besides Earth exist, each with its own separate flow of time. Father Christmas (Santa Claus) exists in Narnia. It's implied that the four children enter the wardrobe together because some element of magic in Professor Kirke's house wants them to go to Narnia. Susan wonders if the resurrected Aslan is a ghost. The White stag is supposed to give wishes to anyone who catches him.
Queer is used to describe something unusual. Peter often calls Edmund a beast, and Edmund says his siblings are prigs. Hang it all, shut up, by Jove, and brat are also used.
Mr. Tumnus says that if the White Witch finds out he helped Lucy, she will cut off his tail, saw off his horns, pull out his beard and maybe even turn him into stone. Father Christmas gives Peter, Susan and Lucy weapons but tells the girls they are not meant to fight in the upcoming battle. The girls must only use their weapons to defend themselves. Aslan pointedly tells Peter to wipe the blood off his sword after killing the wolf. During the battle, Edmund is wounded and covered with blood.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- Peter and Susan ask Professor Kirke for advice when they are worried about Lucy.
When should you try to solve a problem yourself?
When should you ask an adult for help?
How can you help your brothers or sisters when they are sad or upset?
- Lucy follows Mr. Tumnus to his house, and Edmund joins the Witch in her sleigh.
What would have happened to Lucy if Mr. Tumnus hadn't protected her?
What happened to Edmund when he listened to the Witch and ate her Turkish delight?
What should you do if people you don't know ask you to follow them?
Why do you think Lucy and Edmund readily talked to strangers?
(Have children consider the time period and how fiction is different from the real world. You can also talk about what each Narnian character might represent.)
- Why does Edmund tell himself that the White Witch is good, and the people who say she is evil are lying?
Does he truly believe she is a good person?
What clues could he have picked up to understand her real character?
What does she say she will give him if he brings her his brother and sisters? (Turkish delight — and she will make him a prince of Narnia)
What part does greed play in Edmund's decision to think of the Witch as being kind?
- How does Peter treat Edmund in the early chapters?
How does Edmund feel toward Peter?
How could each have behaved differently?
How should you treat your brothers and sisters when they are behaving badly?
- To whom does Edmund belong when he betrays his family?
How does Aslan save him?
How does our human sin nature keep us from God?
How did Jesus save us?
What should our response be to Him?
- How does Edmund act differently after Aslan accepts him?
Why does Aslan tell the other children not to talk about the bad things Edmund once did?
In what ways can you encourage others as Aslan encouraged Edmund?
Alcohol: Mr. Tumnus says that in times past, Bacchus would come to the Narnian woods, and the streams would turn to wine. Mr. Beaver drinks beer at dinner and smokes a pipe.
Drugs: The Witch's Turkish delight has an addictive effect on Edmund, but it never satisfies him. It is said that if people have enough Turkish delight, they will continue eating it until they die from overindulgence.
Slang: Some of the British slang and idioms may be difficult for American readers to understand at first glance.
Safety: The book notes on four separate occasions that children should never go inside a wardrobe and shut the door behind them. When Edmund shuts the wardrobe door, the book again mentions that this is a very unwise idea, which could help younger readers avoid locking themselves inside closets while trying to reach Narnia.
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