Lewis believed that protecting a child from the dark realities of life was a disservice. He disagreed with people who think: ï¿½we must try to keep out of his [a childï¿½s] mind the knowledge that he is born into a world of death, violence, wounds, adventure, heroism and cowardice, good and evilï¿½ (from his essay, ï¿½On Writing for Childrenï¿½).
Instead, Lewis saw literature as an opportunity for children to safely encounter fearï¿½and move past it to see that all comes out right in the end. A careful reading of the Chronicles reveals that the fearful obstacles the children face in Narnia help them to understand themselves or their world better, or learn important lessonsï¿½like trusting in Aslanï¿½s goodness and power. Throughout the stories, the characters learn to take independent action in the face of fear, fighting the battle or pursuing the quest as well as they can, while also trusting Aslanï¿½s purposes and involvement.
The Narnia stories can help our children grow in the same ways. Think of all the fears and frights of Narnia as Lewisï¿½ attempt to pass on to your children the real prize: courage. And think of courage in childrenï¿½s literature as another word for faith.
As a veteran of both world wars, Lewis was intimately acquainted with real-world fears. (In fact, during the World War II bombings in London, several children did come to stay in his home at the Kilns.) Here are some suggestions of what to say, and what not to say:
Look no further than younger brother Edmund for plenty of material on moral choices! His greatest moral lapse is his betrayal and abandonment of his siblings. But a series of smaller failings leads him into this big one:
Gluttony: Edmundï¿½s lust for Turkish Delight illustrates that too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. Explain to your kids that if our desire for something causes us to lose control or to make bad choices, we should avoid it altogether. You might relate this to the issues of addiction.
Pride: Edmund lies about the world of Narnia beyond the wardrobe because he canï¿½t bear to admit that Lucy was right. Why is it so hard to admit when weï¿½ve made a mistake?
Blame-shifting: When caught in his lie, rather than feeling sorry, Edmund tries to make himself believe that his siblings are self-righteous pigs. Can your kids relate to this tendency?
Power lust: Edmund canï¿½t wait to be king so he can ï¿½lord it over Peter.ï¿½ Ask your kids if theyï¿½ve ever had similar fantasies of power over others, perhaps an older sibling or a friend.
Thankfully, not all of the moral lessons are negative, even for Edmund! His sincere change of heart and his apology to Lucy and his siblings show the power of confession, repentance, and forgiveness. And Aslanï¿½s death is a powerful illustration of the spiritual concepts of sacrifice and redemption.
The answer depends if youï¿½re thinking book or movie. When we read the books, the authorï¿½s voice and presence are always present to comfort and counsel. When weï¿½re curled up on the couch together to read Narnia, our kids can enjoy the steadying context of parent and family. A movie is different: no comforting narrators, for one thing, and characterization and violence will tend to be more graphic. Having said that, Disney is obviously targeting the same family demographic they have for decades.
If youï¿½re unsure about your childï¿½s readiness, ask yourself some key questions that other parents have found helpful:
1. Can my child separate reality from fantasy? In other words, is he or she old enough to realize for certain that the White Witch wonï¿½t be visiting your house tonight? If not, then theyï¿½re not ready to climb through that wardrobe.
2. Does my child already have a tendency toward fear, bad dreams, or being haunted by boogeymen? If so, wait longer than you might otherwise.
3. What else is going on in my childï¿½s life? If your child is going through an anxious or stressful seasonï¿½a recent divorce or other major loss, a seriously ill sibling, a moveï¿½any fears he or she already feels are likely to get amplified by a fictional fright. Extra empathy and wisdom are in order.
4. What is my childï¿½s temperament? Some children feel things deeply but are quick to talk things through with a parent. Some are more sensitive to emotional issues in stories than they are to violence. The variations are endless. But each child deserves what you can do bestï¿½observe, care, protect, pray, and then parent with discretion.
Pints pour and corks pop throughout the Chronicles, including "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." While dining with the children, Mr. Beaver ï¿½sticks to beer.ï¿½ Later, Mrs. Beaver passes around a ï¿½flask out of which everyone drank somethingï¿½it made one cough and sputter a little and stung the throat, but it also made you feel deliciously warm after you swallowed itï¿½and everyone went straight to sleep.ï¿½
And yet, the truth is that the story strand of imbibing will be entirely missed by plenty of readers, your kids perhaps among them. Plus, In addition, recording a behavior or choice is not the same thing as endorsing it, and reading a story that references beer or wine isnï¿½t likely to lead a child to get drunk on Friday night, especially when thereï¿½s a loving, open, ready-to-talk parent reading alongside.
In fact, the beverage issues throughout the different books in the series can easily be turned into important family conversations:
From a kidï¿½s perspective, whatï¿½s there not to like about Lewisï¿½s fantasies? Talking animals, evil witches, wondrous beings and places (goofy dufflepuds, mysterious underground lakes, friendly dragons), and fantastic adventures. Plus, in Narnia, children really matter. They fight in battle, embark on dangerous quests, and rule kingdoms. Thereï¿½s no school, naptime, or boring grown-up rules! And unlike most fantasy stories, set entirely in a pretend world, the kids in the Chronicles travel back and forth between our world and Narnia. A young reader thinks: These are kids just like me! If only I can find the right wardrobe, train station, or picture to travel through...!ï¿½
Older readers love Narnia for all same reasons and more. Who doesnï¿½t enjoy rediscovering the world of childhood? Interestingly, Lewis never liked the distinction "children's literature." "Most of the great fantasies and fairy tales were not addressed to children at all, but to everyone," he wrote. And "No book is really worth reading at the age of 10 which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of 50..."
All this is good news for families. Since the Chronicles appeal to all ages, theyï¿½re perfect for reading together. Chapters are short enough that parents can easily read one chapter a night with their kids. A family guide (like Roar!) can add to the fun and encourage great conversations.