The Chronicles of Narnia is a series of books I have sitting on my shelf along with things like Harry Potter, Winnie-the-Pooh, and Alice in Wonderland, all of which are awaiting their next purpose - to be read by my children. All right, so I'm young and don't have any children yet, but I loved these stories when I was a kid (okay, so Harry Potter came a bit later) and every once in a while I pull them off of the shelf and read them again.
I'm not sure when I first read Chronicles of Narnia, but I do know it was during the times when my aunt would have a new book waiting for my brother and me upon each visit. The Chronicles of Narnia, written by C.S. Lewis in the 1950's, is composed of 7 novellas (each of which could have its own review). The story revolves around four siblings (Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy) who travel to Narnia at different points in their lives, and Narnia's history.
Although many people begin reading with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which is frequently adapted into plays and movies, the series actually starts with The Magician's Nephew. The nephew is Diggory, and his uncle is Andrew. Andrew is eccentric and mean, and thinks he is a genius when he creates magic rings that transport people to other worlds. Of course, Uncle Andrew is too chicken to try the rings himself, so he sends Diggory. Diggory and his friend Polly end up traveling together to different realms, first meeting the magical Queen Jadis. Jadis turns out to be greedy and evil, and manages to come back to London with Diggory and Polly when they tried to escape. Attempting to escape a larger problem, the next time the children use their ring they find themselves in Narnia, along with Jadis, Uncle Andrew, and a few other characters that manage to tag along. Here we are first introduced to Aslan, the central figure in all the books. The children witness the creation of Narnia, and the lengths gone to to protect the land from Jadis, who has gone into hiding, and whom Aslan knows is evil.
In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy literally stumble into Narnia. They find it in a perpetual state of winter, caused by the White Witch. Ironically, the White Witch is Jadis, who has managed to gain control of Narnia. She is defeated of course, and the children spend many years in Narnia afterwards, becoming kings and queens. The day comes when they accidentally find their way home again, and see that barely ten minutes has passed by back in England.
The third book, The Horse and his Boy, takes place before the four children return to England. It tells the story of a slave boy and a talking horse that make their way from the southern lands of Calormen to Narnia, where they believe they can be free. Along the way they meet up with a runaway princess and her horse, which also happens to talk.
In Prince Caspian, the four siblings find themselves in Narnia again instead of on their way to boarding school. Only a year had passed for them, but time had passed so quickly in Narnia that their own castle, Cair Paravel, had become ruins. Narnia is in trouble again, this time threatened by Prince Caspian's uncle. Uncles always seem to be the bad guys, don't they? Anyway, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy help save the day again, but at the end of the story we find out that Peter and Susan are no longer allowed to come to Narnia.
Lucy and Edmund return in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, accompanied by their snotty cousin Eustace. The Dawn Treader is Caspian's (who is now a king) ship. Together the group goes in search of the missing Narnian lords who had sailed past the Lone Islands years before. Each island the children visit brings a new adventure, including my favorite, when Eustace becomes a dragon. Eventually, Eustace becomes less of a pain, they find the lost lords, and they reach the edge of the world.
In The Silver Chair, Eustace and schoolmate Jill end up in Narnia while trying to hide from bullies. Aslan sends them to search for Caspian's son, who has been missing for years. They are almost eaten by giants, forced to travel with a grumpy scarecrow/frog/thing, and are almost trapped underground. Luckily, they manage to return to England and even scare the bullies away, with a little help, of course.
The trouble in The Last Battle begins with an ape and a donkey, and ends, you guessed it, with the last battle. Last, because this is the end of Narnia, and where the main theme of the story is seen, if you hadn't figured it out yet.
Although the Chronicles are hugely Christian based, that theme is not easily noticed by children because the stories are so enjoyable (take it from the kid who was raised as an atheist). Lewis was a modern day Aesop, with the way he tells stories with a lesson. Although the story telling style is simple, it isn't dummied-down for the readers. It also connects to us on a very basic level. Who wouldn't want to have a fantasyland we could escape to? As the children get older and are forced to leave Narnia for good, Lewis also shows that we must face reality and accept our responsibilities. Luckily for us, we can return to Narnia whenever we want, fueled by Lewis' words, Pauline Baynes' illustrations, and the greatest asset a fantasy lover has - our imagination.