Classic Book Review: The lion, the witch and the wardobe

Today I’m finding it a little hard to work up the motivation to write. I’m not sure why. I don’t think anyone ever know why they can’t seem to write, some days you can, some days you can’t. But if there was ever a cure for this I think it would be me writing about my favourite books of all time (along with reading them of course.) What better way to ignite those flighty fires of inspiration? I’ll begin with my all time favourite book of all time, a story that’s starts with something as unremarkable as a simple wardrobe…

The lion the Witch and the Wardrobe is a glittering example of everything a children’s book should include; children drawn into a magical land to defeat evil, a wicked witch opposing the land’s inhabitants and collection of mythological creatures and talking animals to populate a fantastical realm.

The key to Narnia’s charm often lies in Lewis’s ability to merge myth and magic with whimsical touch. Mr Tumnus may be a creature straight out of Greek legend but he hops around carrying an umbrella and parcels right underneath a Victorian Lamppost. It’s this little sprinkling of charm, perhaps invoked by the likes of Lewis Carroll and Beatrix Potter, that distinguishes Narnia from Middle Earth. In the shire Hobbits there may be, but Tolkien certainly wouldn’t dream of them popping letters or parcels into British postboxes as Lewis might of had his characters do. And while Middle Earth and Narnia are similar, and owe a lot to each other, Tolkien (Lewis’s close friend) made his distaste at Narnia clear. He particularly disliked the appearance of Father Christmas, another quaint touch of whimsy from Lewis.

But despite Tolkien’s doubts the mixture of myth and charm made Narnia a success. It has all the settings of a classic fairytale, settings which enhance whatever happens to be going on in the plot at the time and change accordingly. At first the snow covered landscapes help give the story that fairytale book feel along with the arrival of Mr Tumnus. Later the snow melts away to lush green forests and the action is centred around the Stone Table, Narnia’s answer to Stonehenge, a suitably mystical location where Aslan sacrifices himself at the hands of the White Witch. And finally the happy ending takes place at Cair Paravel, a seaside castle.

The six sequels introduce new characters and lands, ensuring that Narnia never gets dull or repetitive. Each book takes place in a different time period too, sometimes the time between each book can span hundreds of years and the adventures you read about in the previous book are now apart of Narnian legend. This all amplifies the fact there is one star of the Narnia series- Narnia itself. The only character to appear in all seven of the books is Aslan, though in many of the stories he pops up only as a guide, only really getting his hands (or perhaps paws) dirty in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, thanks to having to intervene to save Edmund’s life from that wicked witch who causes so much trouble in Narnia’s early history.

Sadly, when Hollywood came calling a decade ago they totally missed the point with these stories. While The lion, the witch and the wardrobe turned out to be a fairly decent film, the producers really messed it up with the sequels. Why? They were trying to pigeon hole the series into a Harry Potter-esque franchise making the stories similar to Harry Potter, failing to realise that Narnia is the inspiration for Harry Potter and doesn’t need to be squished into a formula it’s superior to.

That’s right I said it, Narnia is superior to Harry Potter. Well, in my opinion at least. Fans of Harry Potter read that series because they are invested in what happens to Harry. It takes a writer of tremendous skill to chop and change his main characters throughout a series and have the reader still invested in what happens in the novels. Likewise with Rowling’s Voldemort, he is the leading villain throughout all seven of her volumes. In Narnia there is no leading villain, each book has a different antagonist to overthrow, whether it be an evil queen, a vulture headed demon or wicked ape (yes, you read that correctly.) Narnia is ever changing and ever evolving, the reader gets a panoramic view of it’s entire history.

Lastly, a word about the reading order of the series, a subject of much debate. I’ll try and make this quick and simple. The order the books were published in are as follows:

1. The lion, the witch and the wardrobe

2. Prince Caspian

3. The voyage of the Dawn Treader

4. The silver chair

5. The horse and his boy

6. The magician’s nephew

7. The last battle

However the chronological order is:

1. The magician’s nephew

2. The lion, the witch and the wardrobe

3. The horse and his boy

4. Prince Caspain

5. The voyage of the Dawn Treader

6. The silver chair

7. The last battle.

The argument for reading the series chronically is simple; it’s less confusing to read them that way and apparently Lewis approved of this reading method. However these novels were not preplanned like Harry Potter. Lewis made the stories up as he went along and therefor it often makes more sense to read the series as it evolved. Also it’s hardly confusing reading them in published order, the first four books chronically follow each other anyway, and then we jump back in time to two ‘prequels’ if you like, before returning to the last battle which ends the series in both orders. But the main reason I believe the published order is superior is because all the mystery and intrigue with the early Narnia novels are destroyed if you read them chronically. When you read the lion, the witch and the wardrobe you’ll already know why the wardrobe transports you to Narnia, why there is lamppost in the middle of a wood and why the White Witch is such a tough old broad. There is much more joy in discovering these answers later in the series when you’ll have an ‘aha! That explains it’ moment. But read either way these novels are like the land of Narnia itself, endlessly magical.

Phew! That turned out to be a bit of an essay, but such is my love for the land of talking lions and umbrella owning fauns. Next time I’ll be gushing over another classic Watership Down, a great novel about cute little bunnies- but beware- it’s not for the faint hearted…

A writer’s tools on his quest

There are several pros and cons to being an ‘aspiring children’s writer.’ A pro, for example, is that the phrase aspiring children’s writer however pretentious, is something interesting to say to people when you first meet them. I myself have enjoyed many times someone has ‘oooohed’ or ‘ahhhhhed’ when I’ve told them of my lofty ambitions to become a published writer. A con is that there is a lot of time spent alone tap, tap, tapping away at your laptop without any validation that what you are doing is worth it.

There is something else which falls firmly into both pro and con categories. You are not alone. This is a con because the competition is fierce. Agents and publishers receive hundreds of manuscripts a week. When you finally work up the courage to send yours masterpiece to whichever agents you can be sure it will be at the bottom of the slush pile, that dreaded place that is as vast and it is feared.

But the pro to there being hundreds- thousands- millions- of other people like yourself is that there is plenty of information and resources on how to write, snag an agent and eventually get published. The internet is testimony to this. Online there are countless hopefuls on all the same journey who can use their experience to enlighten others and perhaps make that long and twisted road to publication that little bit easier. This is part of the reason for this blog. I want to share all the best resources I can find to help others who are on the same endless quest I am to getting published. Along the way I’d like to share my experience of writing and crafting my novels too. Whenever I’ve lacked the fire of inspiration I’ve found reading about how other writers craft their stories has been enough to light a match that eventually rekindles the creative flames inside my brain. And perhaps I might even share some of my work down the road too.

So with that fanfare over with I’d like to share three books which I have found helped me hone my writing skills and become a little better at writing and a little wiser at the art of getting published.

Wonderbook- Jeff Vandermeer

I’m sure every writer has had those days when you just can’t seem to pin yourself down to a chair and do that simple task of writing. Your muse has wondered back to Narnia, leaving you high and dry. This is where Wonderbook comes in. It’s a visually lavish tome on how to write and find inspiration, filled with diagrams, humour, illustrations and interviews with famous authors from Neil Gaimen to George R. R. Martin. With names like those you know you are buying something worth while. Billed as ‘the world’s first fully illustrated creative writing book’ the tag line doesn’t disappoint.

The writer’s guide to crafting stories for children- Nancy Lamb

Easy to read and some pretty basic advice, but not to be scoffed at. Even books aimed at beginners in the writing world can be helpfully. This book gives examples of classic children’s fiction, dissecting how the writing is effective and hooks the reader. Want to know how J.K Rowling hooked readers on the very first page of Harry Potter, or why reader felt compelled to read all three of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials? Read this book.

Writers’ & artists’ yearbook guide to getting published

The publishing industry is like a world of its own. Small, meek little writers are expected to delve into this world and somehow navigate their way through without committing any of the hundreds of school boy errors that can send agents and publishers alike throwing your work into the trash can. This is where this book comes in. It had an answer for almost every question you could possibly have. Covering letters? Approaching agents? The dreaded synopsis? Copyright? Contracts? It’s all here.

And so finishes my first blog. While I might not have anything infinitely useful to say yet, these books really do. A hero doesn’t go on his quest without first arming himself with a magic sword. A writer shouldn’t embark on his quest without these books.