What is Narnia? For many children and a great many adults the question needs no answer. The popularity of the seven Narnia tales makes that land better known than the real country of Upper Volta.

“The happy land of Narnia—Narnia of the heathery mountains and the thymy downs, Narnia of the many rivers, the plashing glens, the mossy caverns and the deep forests ringing with the hammers of the Dwarfs. Oh the sweet air of Narnia!” That sensuous description of what I consider C. S. Lewis’s richest imaginative country occurs in the fifth book in the series, The Horse and His Boy (Macmillan, 1972; all subsequent quotations from the seven books will be from this edition). Bree, the horse of the title, captures the love all Narnians, inside and outside the tales, feel for the land. Both children and adults read and reread the Narnia stories, and a million copies are sold each year.

The stories collectively entitled “The Chronicles of Narnia” were published one a year from 1950 to 1956 in this order: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader,” The Silver Chair, The Horse and His Boy, The Magician’s Nephew, and The Last Battle. According to Lewis, though, the proper order in which to read them is Nephew, Lion, Horse, Caspian, Voyage, Chair, and Battle. The year after Lion was published, Lewis in a letter commented on its sale: “A number of mothers, and still more, school mistresses, have decided that it is likely to frighten children, so it is not selling very well. But the real children like it, and I am astonished how some very young ones seem to understand it. I think it frightens some adults, but very few children” (Letters of C.S. Lewis).

Lewis must have anticipated such a problem. Near ...

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