I simply love the writings of C.S. Lewis. Okay, I may not necessarily agree with everything he writes (and I would be an idiot if I did) but I have always found his works, whether they are children's books (such as this one) or deep theological tracts (such as [book:The Weight of Glory]) to be incredibly well written, almost as if he were a master of the English language. In fact as I read this particular work it simply struck me how well he was able to use the English language to be able to create a world, and a story, that simply enchanted me as a reader.
This is technically the first of the Narnia books, simply because it is set back in Victorian England, during the time of Sherlock Holmes (as he rather elegantly puts at the beginning of the story). We are suddenly introduced to two new people, a little girl named Polly, and a boy named Digory, who lives with his uncle and aunt. After exploring some tunnels that connect the terrace houses in Victorian London they stumble upon his Uncle's study and through trickery his Uncle sends Polly off to a magical land, and then Digory is blackmailed to follow her. In their first journey they stumble upon a devastated world and accidentally release the witch that becomes the antagonist of not only this story, but also of the [book:Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe]. After a rather interesting 'battle' on the streets of London, they managed to remove her from Earth and end up taking her (as well as a cabbie, his horse, and the magician) to a dark world prior to its creation.
This story pretty much deals with the creation myth, namely a retelling of the story that appears in the first few chapters of Genesis, however it is told in a rather different way, no doubt to outline the poetic nature of Genesis. The thing here is that the children are able to watch creation as it happens, where as we are restricted to a poetical second hand account and are simply required to guess. Now, interestingly, there is no evolution, and no big bang theory, just music and a song. In fact, it appears that it is the hymn that is sung by Polly and Digory, and led by the cabbie, that starts the whole creation process.
The use of song in creation is a very interesting, and Lewis is not the only one that speculates on this, because in Tolkien's creation novel the world of Middle Earth is also created through song. However, the Bible does not necessarily say that this was how it happened because all that we are told is that 'God spoke and so it happened'. Also, Lewis' creation occurs in what seems to be a couple of hours, which I suspect is another way that Lewis is indicating that the creation myth is more figurative than actual. Okay, at the time of the writing we did not have the vicious fights that occur between the creationists and evolutionists that we have today, but it seems that he may be presaging it in suggesting that the Bible does not tell us how it was done, just that it was done.
There is also a reflection on the end of the world, as the children travel to the devastated world of Charn. Lewis does not dwell on the end as much as he dwells on the beginning in this book, but he does have some interesting points to make. Here the end came because of a struggle for power, and this is no doubt something that came out of World War II. Lewis had witnessed (though not first hand) the devastating power of the atomic bomb, and was now living in an era where one wrong push of a button could bring an end to life as we know it. To the children at the time, there was probably some blissful ignorance, but I suspect, at least in the United States, and no doubt in the United Kingdom as well, there was an element of 'Duck and Cover'.
The idea of evil entering the world is also explored, even though it was brought in innocently. As Aslan says 'it has not been seven minutes (which suggests that the world was created even faster than what I speculated) and evil has already entered the world'. Granted, the witch was pulled into the world, and Digory had no idea that she was being pulled into Narnia, rather he believed that she was being pulled back into Charn.
Lewis also explores the nature of theft in this book, something that children are prone to become involved in (and I know I would steal things from my parents and sister when I was young). His speculation is that while it may seem to be a pleasure at first because we get what we want sooner rather than later, there is an equal and opposite effect as well, and that is that we do not enjoy it as much. For instance, I wanted a book, so took it from the library without going through the regular method of borrowing it, and ended up never reading it. I wanted the book, but when I got it I was never able to enjoy the book because it ended up being shoved to the bottom of the pile.
I guess that goes with all forms of materialism, and not necessarily the illegal forms as well. I know a person (who is on a pension and cannot handle his money) who took out a $700.00 loan to get an entertainment system. Within a week he has sold the system to a second-hand dealer for half what he paid for it for cigarettes and food, and has now been left with a debt and nothing to show for it. In a way he believed that his life would be better with it, got it on credit, and discovered that he did not like it, and was left with a debt hangover.
I am not sure about the people who suggest that Lewis does not have a real grasp of evil and that his characters are shallow. Granted, this is a fantasy novel, but it is not what one would consider to be young adult fiction. The series was written for children, and the language is written in such a way that children would understand. There is no sex, profanity, or gratuitous violence, not because Lewis is a Christian, but because he is writing a story for children. I read this book not for the fantasy, or for what I would expect from modern fantasy novel, but for the theological allegory, and for the beauty of Lewis' writing.