The Chronicles of Narnia are an absolute classic series of children’s stories. I could not tell you how many times I have read these seven books. They were read to me as a child and I read them over and over again as an adult and now I’ve read them to my own daughters. I still love these books and it was a delight to watch my children enjoy them too.
As with many of the chapter books we’ve been reading as a family at bedtime over the past year and a half or so, The Chronicles of Narnia are well above my kids’ level. At the same time, I am always surprised by how much they do understand and how engaged they are. Pearl is five and a half and Rose recently turned three so obviously Pearl got a lot more out of the series than Rose but both of them remembered characters from one book to another and listened along happily. Lucy and Susan in particular showed up in their own imaginary play. (They love when books have sisters.)
I would say that my girls most enjoyed the earlier books in the series (I always read them in published order) which follow the four Pevensie siblings. They seemed to like following the same characters and seeing the connections between the books. My own personal favourite is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which may have influenced their opinions but The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian were also favourites.
As for content, I didn’t find there was much I had to alter for them. The books are heavily influenced by Lewis’ own Christian faith and even my young children had no trouble recognizing the parallels between Aslan’s sacrifice and the death and resurrection of Jesus that we read to them about from the Bible. For our family, being able to tie Biblical stories and values back into the Narnia books was a bonus.
The major flaw in the series is probably where Lewis creates the nation of Calormen as the villains, clearly basing it on Middle Eastern and Arabic cultures. There are definitely sections here that have not aged well, particularly language that describes the Calormenes as dark and swarthy or the Narnians as fair-haired and beautiful. Mostly, I skipped over these parts and made sure that when we talked about why the Calormenes were bad it was because of their actions. At the same time, in The Horse and His Boy, which is largely set in Calormen, Lewis does describe some of the beauty of the country and Aravis is both a Calormen and a major character. She’s a brave, tough female character.
The book I was most nervous to read with Pearl and Rose was The Last Battle. Here we witness the fall of Narnia and its ultimate destruction. While the book is ultimately one of great joy, it’s also absolutely heart-wrenching. It deals with death, lies, betrayal, and separation. Much of this was still over the heads of my children though Pearl did ask why Susan wasn’t with her brothers and sister and that was a sad moment.
Overall, I’m very glad to have revisited Narnia with my little girls. Pearl already tells me that she is going to read them again when she can read on her own and I hope she does. I hope this is only the first of many visits to Narnia for Pearl and Rose.