I’ve started to read C.S. Lewis’s classic The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to my seven-year-old daughter. She’s past the stage of having to look at pictures on every page of a book. She can now sit still, eyes wide and settled on the middle-distance, listening to the story and letting it come to life in her imagination. Her avid, silent attention is occasionally punctuated by gasps and a frantic readjusting of limbs when something exciting happens. (She kicked me today at the bit when Mr Beaver whispers, “They say Aslan is on the move.”)
Here’s an admission I’m sure many parents will relate to. Reading to my daughter at night can sometimes be a bit of a chore. Sometimes, it feels like just one more thing to do at the end of a long day, when a glass of wine is tantalising close but obscured by the BFG or Fancy Nancy or those bloody infuriating fairies from the interminable (and I mean interminable) Fairy Magic series. (Try reading them out loud. The author should be roundly spanked and never allowed near a computer ever again.)
But these days, I’m the one suggesting that my daughter goes to get her book after school. I look forward to bedtime so we can share the next part of the adventure. I was a little pissed off the other night when her father read her a chapter instead of me.
You see, the Narnia chronicles rate right up there with my Favourite Books Of All Time. They were the books of my childhood, the tales that helped form my views on what makes a book wonderful. I cried when Aslan died. I cried when he came back to life. I knocked on the back walls of wardrobes, longing to find a way into Narnia. I looked intently at my pet dog/cat/guinea pig, wishing beyond wish that they could talk.
As I grew older and discovered that the Narnia Chronicles were rich in Christian themes and parallels, and that TLtWatW could be interpreted as an allegory of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, I was only more fascinated. The layers of meaning made the reading experience richer. (Have a look at this entry on Wikipedia if you’re interested in finding out more.)
I was apprehensive when I heard they were making TLtWatW into a movie. Movie versions of my favourite books invariably disappoint. This one was OK, salvaged largely by the performances of Georgie Henley as Lucy and James McAvoy as Mr Tumnus. But I just couldn’t get my head around Liam Neeson as Aslan the Lion, King of Narnia. As soon as he opened his mouth to speak, I crossed fingers and toes and prayed it would be like the voice in my imagination. Err, it wasn’t. It was the voice of that tall Irish guy in Love, Actually. I watched TLtWatW again recently, and this time it was the voice of the guy in Taken. I now picture Aslan with one giant paw holding an iphone to his ear, talking to the White Witch in a low Belfast growl: I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.
Ah, but the book. I have been waiting for this for a long time: the joy of rereading the tale again with my daughter, and seeing her discover its magic for the first time. It’s wonderful, and poignant, and sad too. It reminds me that I can never go back to those days of youth and innocence and profound openness, when I believed that one day I may actually find a way into Narnia and meet Aslan and talk with animals and have fantastic adventures. But just by reading the story and seeing the wonder on my daughter’s face, I can recapture some of the magic. And I am reminded that even as an adult it’s important to keep my heart open and my belief in possibilities, in magic, in goodness – in Aslan – intact.
P.S. Just as an aside, I recently adopted two cats, a brother and a sister, from an animal rescue organisation. I named the boy Aslan, which gives me the perfect excuse to insert a gratuitous but utterly gorgeous cat photo into this post. Aslan is on the right, his sister Abi on the left.