I suppose I have a problem with Lurie’s piece from the moment she claims that children either love the Narnia books or hate them, since as a child I had no strong feelings about them one way or the other. I read quite a few of them at one time or another but in no particular order (except that I know I did start with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). I consumed a lot of books in my pre-teen years and the Narnia series was just another one that I dipped into and out of.
I had no idea LWW was an allegory of anything. And to tell the heretical truth, although the story was fine, it didn’t spark any passion. I picked up other books in the series here and there along the way; I remember almost nothing about any of them. I think it all felt rather boringly middle-class, and perhaps the earnest pious highmindedness underlying it all just turned me off – even though I didn’t know that was what it was all supposed to be about.
Now, I would read books about middle-class children, no problem (Famous Five: yep, had fun with those. Not that I could tell you any of the plots of those books either… but I think they were all the same really, weren’t they?). Mind you, the children’s books I really devoured were nearly all about kids who might be middle class but were a sort of quirky middle class (probably with struggling writers or artists for parents, or poor clergymen, or something equally threadbare): they were the poorest girls at the local stables (or in the boarding school, where they were probably scholarship girls) – but in the end they beat all the rich kids hands down.
Pony books, more pony books, and sometimes girls’ boarding schools books. How middle class is that? I devoured them.
What worked best was a good rousing narrative where the heroine starts in the mud (it was always best if she was completely useless when she first climbed on a pony and fell straight off again, even more useless than me) with everyone laughing at her and by a mixture of unexpected talent, passion and downright hard work ends up with the big shiny silver cup. Up yours, spoilt rich brats! (Ah, Jill and Jinny, my friends.)
And I could dream that one day I might do the same.
Perhaps, then, the Narnia books didn’t cut it because they weren’t for me particularly good stories. They weren’t tales I could insert myself into, aspire to, with characters I would particularly like or want to be like. They had really very little to say to me: to my inner fantasy life, or my outer social one either.
And so, really, all I’m saying is that I wish so many people wouldn’t make so many assumptions that everyone cares about them one way or the other. Because I still think they’re mostly rather dull and vastly overrated.