I mentioned in the previous post about the influence of Tolkien on me as a reader and writer that I discovered C.S. Lewis around the same time—the fall semester of sixth grade. I’m not entirely sure which one came first.
I do remember how I discovered C.S. Lewis and the Narnia books. One day, there was something my mom and I were going to do after she got off work (I don’t remember what), so I was to ride the shuttle bus to her office after school instead of taking the school bus home. It must have been fairly early in the fall because I was wearing only a light jacket. I remember feeling very grown-up about riding the shuttle bus on my own, even though it was a green army bus just like the school bus (I was rather confused as a kid because books, TV, and movies all showed school buses as being yellow, but every school bus I’d seen was green). When I got to my mom’s office, she gave me a book she’d bought for me to keep me occupied until she got off work.
That book was The Silver Chair, and I was immediately captivated. That may be why I don’t remember why I needed to meet my mom at her office. Whatever we went to do, all I could think of was getting back to that book. I loved the idea of stepping into another world and going on a quest to rescue a prince, meeting up with all kinds of strange creatures along the way. I wanted desperately to find a way into Narnia. I really liked Jill as a heroine. For one thing, it was fun to have a girl a lot like me as one of the main characters. I’d read plenty of books with main character girls, like Nancy Drew, but they all tended to be people you could aspire to being, less people you could imagine being. But Jill was totally ordinary, caught up in all kinds of crazy things (gee, I don’t know where I might have gone with that concept in my own work).
I was really excited to find out that this book was part of a series, so there were even more books like it. I must have been rationing them so I wouldn’t get through them all at once and then have no more to look forward to, because we moved in February of the next year, and I know I didn’t read the last book until we were in the new place. The Lord of the Rings may have come into play for that because I know I read that whole series that fall, and that likely took a huge chunk of time away from potentially reading Narnia books. Finding both those series around the same time was what made me realize that there was an actual genre of books like that. Previously, I’d read by topic, sometimes by author, but it finally occurred to me that there was a whole huge category of books about magic and other worlds, and they could be very different from each other even while having things in common.
I did discover that I’d already read one of the books, The Horse and His Boy, during my horse phase, when I was checking every book out of the library that had the word “horse” in the title or had a picture of a horse on the cover. But that one’s a one-off that only tangentially ties into the rest of the series, and I was reading it as a horse book rather than as a fantasy book. I guess I got sidetracked into Nancy Drew during my witch book phase before I got to the L section where I’d have found The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
The Narnia books became even more important to me after we moved because I went from a place where I was happy, popular, had a lot of friends, and was involved in a lot of activities to a place where I was the new kid no one wanted (I later learned that the teacher told the class the day before I started in that school that the new kid was really smart and they’d have to work harder. So of course they hated me before they met me). They didn’t have band at the new school, so I had to stop that, and they wouldn’t let me in the choir because it had already formed. The school didn’t have a cafeteria (or wasn’t using it), so they had a weird “accelerated” schedule in which we had only a very short recess and you were supposed to bring a snack to eat at your desk instead of having a lunch break, and then the school day ended at 2. I would head straight home and escape to Narnia. I wasn’t writing down the stories in my head yet, but I did dream up all kinds of scenarios in which I ended up going to Narnia or to places like Narnia. For a while, it even shoved Star Wars out of my imagination (at least until The Empire Strikes Back came out).
I’ve re-read the books many times since then, and I was surprised when I re-read them as an adult how bare-bones they were. I guess my brain really fleshed them out. When I saw the recent movies, I found myself thinking that this was exactly how I imagined things, but then I read the books again and realized that I must have filled in a lot of details.
One thing I like is the way Lewis structured the series to be both standalone and series. You could read the books in any order, but you got more out of them if you read them in order. He had the same cast of main characters in the first two books, with a mostly different cast of Narnians for the second book. Then in the third, two of the main characters were out and a new character with a big growth arc was introduced. And then he became the main character, with another new character introduced. I may have to figure out a series that works that way. You could do more books without getting bored with the main character, there’s continuity between books to draw people through the series, but they can jump in at any point instead of having to start at the beginning.
I still want to write a portal fantasy. I love following a character from our world into a strange world, and it definitely is easier to write than a pure secondary world story because at least you have a frame of reference. You can have your viewpoint character compare the strange world to familiar things.
I wish they’d made it to The Silver Chair when they were making the Narnia movies. I like the BBC version from the early 90s (with Tom Baker as Puddleglum), but the special effects are so very old BBC. And I loved the kid who played Eustace in Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I really wanted to see him get to do The Silver Chair.