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Top 100 Children’s Novels (#4)

Lewis%20Lion%20Witch%20Jacket%20White Top 100 Childrens Novels (#4)
#4
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (1950)
(#1)(#1)(#1)(#1)(#1)(#1) (#1)(#1)(#1)(#1)(#1)(#2) (#2)(#2)(#2)(#2)(#2)(#2) (#3)(#3)(#3)(#3)(#3)(#4) (#4)(#4)(#4)(#4)(#4)(#4) (#4)(#4)(#4)(#4)(#4)(#5) (#5)(#5)(#5)(#5)(#5)(#5) (#5)(#5)(#5)(#6)(#6)(#6) (#6)(#6)(#6)(#6)(#6)(#7) (#7)(#7)(#7)(#7)(#7)(#7) (#8)(#8)(#8)(#8)(#8)(#8) (#8)(#8)(#8)(#9)(#10)(#10) – 456 points

What better book to demonstrate that fantasy involves passageways? – Priscilla Cordero, Ocean County Library, Toms River, NJ

I love Peter and Edmund and Susan and Lucy and Narnia. I had friends in middle school who had plans to go to Narnia on a certain pre-determined date. They had some kind of plan as to how they would accomplish this journey, but they wouldn’t tell me because I didn’t believe they could do it. Faithless me.
– Sherry Early

I once worked with a man who wouldn’t let his daughter read the Narnia books because of the religious symbolism. I thought to myself, Hey, if she doesn’t know a thing about Christianity, she won’t notice the symbolism! For that matter, I was raised Christian, and the only thing that mattered to me about the books was the storytelling. All of the hokey, derivative portals written about since in children’s fantasy can’t ruin the joy of that wardrobe with its forest of fur coats and the unexpected scent of snow beyond. The White Witch, with her bribe of Turkish Delight, gave me the shivers, and I loved characters like the pathetic, treacherous Faun, let alone the thought that a girl could learn to shoot an arrow and become a queen. - Kate Coombs (Book Aunt)

Apparently I have a thing for escapism. But this one always felt special to me because even though they were kids, they were made kings and queens and not the lesser princes and princesses. – Kristen M. (We Be Reading)

This is the only book I’ve ever physically thrown across the room, I was so emotionally involved and upset. Good thing I picked it up and kept reading. (I was in 5th grade at the time).
– Eliza Brown, Assistant Retail Manager, The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

Narnia was my entrance in the world of literary fantasy, and this book was my entrance into Narnia. I’ve loved and re-read the entire series more times than I can count, but LWW is really where the magic starts. I know some people make a case for reading the books in chronological-story order, rather than publication order, but I think the series is still most powerful when you start here, with the redemption narrative of Narnia. I will be forever grateful to C.S. Lewis for writing these books. – Beth Priest (Endless Books)

My family moved to a large house on 2 acres in upstate New York and I went around naming sections of the property after parts of Narnia. I was in high school and hadn’t read it in years, but clearly the book stuck with me. – Karen Halpenny, Book Editor, Sesame Street Events Co-Chair

Still has me hoping to find a secret world behind an ordinary door, sans the murderous ice queen. – Amy Farrier

The synopsis from the publisher reads, "When Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy are sent to stay with a kind professor who lives in the country, they can hardly imagine the extraordinary adventure that awaits them. It all begins one rainy summer day when the children explore the Professor’s rambling old house. When they come across a room with an old wardrobe in the corner, Lucy immediately opens the door and gets inside. To her amazement, she suddenly finds herself standing in the clearing of a wood on a winter afternoon, with snowflakes falling through the air. Lucy has found Narnia, a magical land of Fauns and Centaurs, Nymphs and Talking Animals — and the beautiful but evil White Witch, who has held the country in eternal winter for a hundred years."

According to 100 Best Books for Children by Anita Silvey (do you own your copy yet?) when Lewis was sixteen he envisioned a faun carrying an umbrella in a wood full of snow.  "Then nine years later, a lion leapt into a story, and Lewis began working on a book entitled ‘The Lion’."  I was unaware that he was only twenty-five when he began the tale.  He’d be fifty-two by the time it published, though.  That’s what we call in the business a gestation period.  He did show an early manuscript to one Roger Lancelyn Green, though, and Green helped him get his manuscript up to snuff.  The book was originally meant to stand alone, which is part of the reason it bugs me when publishers release the books in the order of what happens in the series rather than the order of when the books were written.

Of course, he was buds with J.R.R. Tolkien (though perhaps "buds" is not the term they might choose to describe their friendship).  Tolkien wasn’t a fan of the series though.  Considering he was a fellow who spent ages constructing a history and a bloody language for his fantastical world, he found the whole Narnia thing a bit slapdash.

Now if you walk into the book as a kid and aren’t aware that you’re facing a great big gigantic Christian allegory, you probably won’t notice it anyway.  For adults, it’s incredibly obvious.  Still, as Anita Silvey says, "The books have endured not because of their philosophy, but because they bring to life a magical world that readers want to enter again and again." 

Philip Pullman?  Not a fan.  In an interview with surefish.com, for example, he says, "Narnia has always seemed to me to be marked by a hatred of the physical world. When I bring this up, people say, oh no, what nonsense! He loved his beer, loved laughter and smoking a pipe, and the companionship of his friends and so on. And so he might have done. But that didn’t prevent perhaps his unconscious mind from saying something quite different in the form of a story."

I can’t even wade through the thousands of scholarly articles on this book, or even the BOOKS based on it.  I will highlight one, though.  In 2008 Little, Brown published Salon cofounder Laura Miller’s title The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia.  In it she records how, "My relationship to Narnia would turn out to be as rocky as any love affair, a story of enchantment, betrayal, estrangement, and reunion."  In fact Miller allowed a section from the Introduction of the book to be included in Anita Silvey’s Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book.  She writes, "In one of the most vivid memories from my childhood, nothing happens.  On a clear, sunny day, I’m standing near a curb in the quiet suburban California neighborhood where my family lives, and I’m wishing, with every bit of myself, for two things.  First, I want a place I’ve read about in a book to really exist, and, second, I want to be able to go there.  I want this so badly I’m pretty sure the misery of not getting it will kill me.  For the rest of my life, I will never want anything quite so badly again."

I’ve yet to find any statues of the characters from the book, but there is a statue of the wardrobe out there.  In East Belfast, Northern Ireland you can see this figure of what some folks are calling Digory Kirke a.k.a. The Professor moving into the wardrobe. 

220px Statue of C.S. Lewis, Belfast Top 100 Childrens Novels (#4)

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Whether Digory was Lewis’s alter ego is up for contention.  You can play with this on Google Earth too if you like.

Big names have a tendency to illustrate these covers.  Chris Van Allsburg.  David Wiesner.  Folks you wouldn’t necessarily associate with jackets as a job.  And in a surprising move the publisher released the book recently in its original jacket.  This is a trend I approve of, though it only works for the true classics.  Which is to say, most of the books on this list.  Here are some covers:


Because when you read the book, it’s really the character of the dwarf that sticks with you.  Whaaa?


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The cover I grew up with:


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Way to give away the ending:


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lion witch wardrobe Top 100 Childrens Novels (#4)


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LionWitchWardrobecover Birmingham Top 100 Childrens Novels (#4)


LWW Top 100 Childrens Novels (#4)


the lion Top 100 Childrens Novels (#4)


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Chronicles of Narnia 2 The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe C S Lewis dramatized compact discs Top 100 Childrens Novels (#4)


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In terms of film,  early on was the Emmy Award winning special (yeah, I’m a little shocked about that as well).


Then came something a little more live action.  I confess to you that as crummy as this looks, I was rather fond of this old Wonderworks version of the story back in the day.  I think I blocked out the poorly animated portions, though.  Guh.


Finally, the most recent (and best) version.  Some folks complained at the time that the movie was trying to be the next Lord of the Rings.  I figure the only reason they even made it was because Lord of the Rings had proved you could make money off such a film.

Before the first Narnia movie produced by Walden Media came out they had a special screening for some of the kids at the Jefferson Market Branch of NYPL.  They showed a long trailer for the kids that is now, I see, on YouTube.  I present it to you now.



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Elizabeth Bird About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently New York Public Library's Youth Materials Collections Specialist. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of NYPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.

Comments

  1. Z-Dad says:

    Hooray for Narnia!

  2. Maura says:

    The library at Queen’s University, Belfast has a C.S. Lewis reading room which you enter through a replica wardrobe. Students are often disappointed that it’s not actually Narnia in there.

  3. Jim (Teacherninja) says:

    Man if I would have only read the list of the previous 90 books more carefully–my top ten was pretty close. I only messed up by adding Where the Red Fern Grows when it had already been on there. Duh. I _knew_ it should have been Phantom Tollbooth! The order hasn’t been exact, but I totally called the rest (even had this as #4). [patting self on back] I’m just surprised at all the folks still wondering about the top three, especially #1. It’s NOT going to be a surprise, people!
    (coff, charlotte, coff coff)

  4. Angela says:

    I had this at #3 on my list. I hated the cartoon movie when I was a child – I thought the witch was creepy, the battles scary, and the half-animal half-man creatures just disturbing. So, I never read the book as a child. I read the book in college though, and loved it. Amazing how time gives you a little perspective.

  5. Ed Spicer says:

    So, HP tomorrow followed by Wrinkle and Charlotte?

  6. rockinlibrarian says:

    When I was twelve we stayed in a beach house that had a closet that had a second, smaller, locked door in the back of it. My parents claimed it was an access panel to the fuse box or some such, BUT I SUSPECTED OTHERWISE…

    One thing I appreciated about the most recent movie was that it spelled out the experience I had reading the book at two different times of life. When I read it as a child, I imagined it took place Long Long Ago as every book I read that took place in England did (this was pre-Harry Potter). Rereading it as an older teen who knew a little more about world history, I suddenly understood the line at the beginning, that they’d been sent to the country because of the war, and, wow, let OTHER people have their adult readings of the story change from understanding the religious symbolism, it was me knowing that their hometown was getting the crap bombed out of it while all this was going on that blew my mind and totally changed the way I read the story. It DEEPENED it somehow. I really liked that they expanded on that point in the movie, so other people could experience that without necessarily catching the significance of that one line in the beginning of the book.

  7. rams says:

    Please extend my compliments to Mr. Pullman and suggest he stick it where it’s always winter and never Christmas.

  8. Matt says:

    When I’ve read this to my students, one of the biggest payoffs comes at the end when we are introduced to the friendly giant, Rumblebuffin. What a name. Hey! You should do a top 100 all-time best children’s book character names!

    Anyway, cheers to C.S. Lewis!

  9. R.J. Anderson says:

    rams, you made me laugh so hard I nearly choked to death on my breakfast. And it was entirely worth it.

  10. Kate Coombs says:

    Betsy, if you do a Top 100 polls book, I think you should survey a bunch of 4th graders and put their picks in a separate chapter. I suspect it would produce quite a different list. I gave one 4th grader Charlotte’s Web to read and when she thought it was boring, it took me a week to recover…

    But contemporary kids and their video-games taste aside, the closer you get to the top, the more I sigh and smile over the joy of truly great books!

  11. Miriam says:

    I hope Charlotte tomorrow followed by HP and Wrinkle… it’s not that I dislike Charlotte, I’ve just always been a bit underwhelmed by it.

    I’m also really looking forward to Eric’s analysis… the picture book poll really felt like it was building to a consensus more than this one does (though that may be my skewed perception, as the top two picture books were books I voted for, which does not appear to be the case this time.)

  12. Elyse Marshall says:

    I’d completely forgotten about the Wonderworks version of LWW! I loved that when I was a kid. Thanks for the reminder, Betsy!

  13. Kathy J says:

    Well, it didn’t make my top ten, but it would have made my son’s! Except for The Magician’s Nephew and The Horse and His Boy, he has re-read the Narnia book numerous times — and he is not really much of a reader. But these books speak to him and he loves them — even though he is now 15!

  14. Genevieve says:

    There was a locked gate at the back of the playground, in a wooded area, and I always hoped it would open for me one day, like Jill and Eustace in The Silver Chair (now my son’s favorite).

    I loved Dawn Treader the best — more Lucy, the dragoning of Eustace, the opening line (“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”).

    Turkish Delight is nowhere near as good as one would hope from the name. But I read once that since sugar was rationed during the war, Edmund would not have tasted anything sweet for a long time, making it even more appealing.

    (This makes 3 I’ve gotten in the right order. Not too bad, not too good.)

  15. Mandaladreamer says:

    This book was read to me when I was a small child. I completely believed that Narnia was real and I distinctly remember when my parents told me that C.S.Lewis had died. It brought home to me for the first time that that it wasn’t really true, and I should have known it wasn’t real all along. I was furious and humiliated.
    He died the day after Kennedy got shot. I was sad about Kennedy, but my world changed when C.S. Lewis died. It was many years before I “got” the Christian aspect of it and admired the craftsmanship of the writing. They are still a pleasure to re-read.
    The only illustrations that are valid to me are the ones by Pauline Baynes. (She didn’t see the Christian parallels the first time, either, and was surprised when it was pointed out to her.)

  16. Connie Rockman says:

    LWW couldn’t win out over the Book of Three and The Dark is Rising on my personal list … but I can still remember my first encounter with the Narnia books and it was a powerful one. Totally agree that The Magician’s Nephew should come in the correct order in which the books were written – the thrill of discovering where the wood for the Wardrobe came from and how everything fit together like a Westing Game puzzle – loved that!

    I also love that you can continue growing with Lewis and Narnia throughout your life … I saw Shadowlands in both its Broadway production and the original TV movie … and have devoured Lewis’s “A Grief Observed” in times of personal grief and loss … He’s a gift that keeps on giving in many ways.

    Now that I think about it, I’m surprised I had it as low as #8 on my top ten prediction list … and not sayin’ what they are, but I still have hopes my top 3 predictions will be in the right order.

  17. Beth says:

    Yes! I was practically holding my breath when I clicked over this morning. So wanted to see this here today, and so glad it arrived.

    My depth of love for this book (and the series, and all of Lewis’ writing) can’t properly be measured. One of the joys of the past year or two has been getting to introduce Narnia to my young daughter. The only thing that came close to capturing the magic of my first entrance into Narnia was going back through the wardrobe door with my little girl.

    I’m always a little sad when skeptics and critics don’t get Narnia, but thankfully children almost always do!

  18. Sondy says:

    I remember when I was in about junior high sadly concluding that I was too old for Narnia! Fortunately, in college I got over myself, and have returned to Narnia many times since, including reading it to my sons. As a Christian, I love some of the insights Lewis puts in that swept right over my head when I was a kid.

  19. David Ziegler says:

    Hooray for Narnia!

    Rams, thanks for that laugh!

    I got spooked by something Betsy wrote earlier (which I can’t find now) that a top twenty book had been in the top ten until “something happened”. I paranoically interpreted that to mean unusual, unexpected books had surged ahead and thus alered my top ten guesses. Silly me!

    I think Ed’s order is spot on.

    Now I’m ruminating over which books will be the 20 that missed the top 100. I hope that Treasure Island, Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Ruins of Gorlan will be there. I assume another HP and perhaps The Whipping Boy, Shiloh, the Boxcar Children, Stuart Little, Black Beauty, Missing May, Wimpy Kid, Captain Underpants and other surprises….

  20. Z-Dad says:

    Had the pleasure a few years ago of visiting some world-traveler friends who were staying in England. One of the highlights was popping over to Lewis’ home — while eating Turkish Delight (that they had bought IN Turkey the week before, no less!) …and yes, the Turkish Delight was pretty nasty. I remember a “rose” flavored one being particularly regrettable…

  21. Matt Holm says:

    We had cover #3 on our copy growing up. I always thought the kids looked like the Beatles.

  22. DaNae says:

    I so wish I had read this first as a child. I believe I would have loved it more. I first read it aloud to my little ones after we had vanquished Prydain and I’m afraid it suffered in comparison; the Pevensie kids seemed so Stiff-upper-lipped and the religious symbolism heavy-handed. Upon reading the entire series a few years ago I did feel more engaged and was stunned by the beauty of Lewis’ writing.

    My favorites are the Bears who suck their paws in Price Caspian.

  23. Old Gene says:

    For years I wondered what Turkish Delight was and finally found some on a trip to Canada. I was surprised to find it was simply “Aplets & Cotlets” made in Cashmere, WA and I had been eating it for years. Except Aplets and Cotlets have nuts and tastes better. Much better than the “rose” flavor. Ack!

  24. Melissa ZD says:

    I highly recommend Miller’s book about Narnia that Betsy mentions! It’s one of the smartest books about narrative and children that I’ve ever read.

  25. kristen says:

    No mention yet of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians?

    I was raised in a religion-free household so all the allegories went completely over my head. I used to read the entire series and then immediately start over again.

    I was 8 when the animated version came out. The execution at the Stone Table gave me nightmares.

  26. Sondy says:

    Oh, z-Dad, I LOVE that rose-flavored Turkish delight! When my husband was stationed in Germany, he made several trips to Britain and Turkey, and made sure to bring some back. Maybe it helped that my first taste was chocolate-covered rose-flavored Turkish Delight, but I could easily have been enchanted by it! Best of all, he had just come back from a trip when the movie came out, so we snuck in Turkish Delight to eat during the movie!

  27. rockinlibrarian says:

    (Genevieve: my favorite is Dawn Treader, too! In fact the main reason I predicted this would be LOWER in the top ten than it is is that I was SURE there’d be vote-splitting among the Narnia books. If I had had room for a Narnia book on my Top Ten votes– incidentally, what’s with these people who use the phrase “not on my top ten” to mean “I don’t particularly love it”? How could they not have had forty-some books they adored that they didn’t have room to vote for? anyway– oh, what I was saying, if I had voted for a Narnia book it would have been Dawn Treader, too. But now that I think of it, in general LWW IS most people’s favorite Narnia, so there probably wasn’t that much vote-splitting after all).

  28. rams says:

    Ah, well — Turkish Delight. Thanks for the sugar-deprivation justification — much is explained. Doesn’t Lord Peter Wimsey trick a murderer into semi-confession with Turkish Delight he claims is covered in arsenic?

  29. RM1(SS) (ret) says:

    Dawn Treader was my introduction to Narnia (the library had it out as part of a display), but as soon as I finished reading it I started on the others, in publication order. Christian symbolism? Didn’t even notice it until I got to The Last Battle….

    I somehow managed to leave it off my original top-ten submission*, but I had it at #2 on my Top Ten prediction, with Files in the #4 slot.

    * 8(

  30. Susan says:

    Sondy, you’re not alone…I, too, love Turkish Delight (especially the rose flavored kind!). The chocolate covered variety you’re thinking of is most likely Fry’s Turkish Delight, which is available in the US…google it, and you’ll find a few sources pop up.

    My first encounter with the stuff was from the perfumer Crabtree & Evelyn…they sell it in their shops in the UK, and for a time they also sold it in the US…a little round box with a variety of rose and lemon pieces, dusted with confectioners sugar.

    rams…yes, Lord Peter did use the ruse you mention, it was in (appropriately enough) Strong Poison.

  31. My Boaz''''s Ruth says:

    When I say top ten I don’t mean “Don’t particularly love it” I mean just what I say — it was not in the top ten (Ie not a book I voted for).

    Oh and Dawn Treader is my favorite too, but this is the book I voted for. I kept myself to first in each series. It is one way that I crowded as many books as I could onto such a skimpy list. :(

  32. sarah says:

    on an unrelated note….look who’s Gwyneth’s new pal! Great NY picture book recommendations!

  33. Rose says:

    Rams, that was awesome. SO agree with you!

    Phantom Tollbooth wouldn’t even be on my list. But this one–I think this would be my #1.

  34. anonymous says:

    > So, HP tomorrow followed by Wrinkle and Charlotte?

    I would have to say yes

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