I have not seen the second two of a promised seven films based on the novels in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia series. But I tend to agree with several critics of the first filmed adaptation, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: “The PG-rated movie feels safe and constricted,” Peter Travers observed, “in a way the story never does on the page.” Although Lewis “did nothing to hide his devout Christianity” in his allegorical Narnia books for young adults, nor in his grown-up sci-fi fantasy series, The Space Trilogy, Lewis on the page comes across as a rigorous writer first and a Christian apologist second. Except, I’d argue, for his work of explicitly populist, and rather facile, apologetics, Mere Christianity (originally a series of radio lectures), his fiction and popular non-fiction alike present readers—whatever their beliefs—with challenging, inventive, witty, and moving ways to think about the human condition.
Lewis’ immersion in European Medieval and Renaissance literature in his day-job role as an Oxford don—and his ecumenical, almost Jungian, approach to literature generally—gives his fiction a serious archetypal depth that most modern religious novelists lack, making him, along with fellow “Inkling” J.R.R. Tolkien, something of a literary saint in modern Christianity. Though it may offend the orthodox to say so, Lewis’ novels capture a “deep magic” at the heart of all mythological and literary traditions. And they do so in a way that makes exploring heavy, grown-up themes exciting for both children and adults. Though I’ve personally left behind the beliefs that animated my first readings of his books, I can still return to The Chronicles of Narnia and find in them deep magic and mystery.
There’s no denying the enormous influence these books have had on children’s fantasy literature, from Harry Potter to Lewis’ atheist antagonist Philip Pullman. I look forward to sharing his books with my daughter, whatever she ends up making of their religiosity. I’ve still got my tattered paperback copies, and I’ll gladly read them to her before she can tackle them herself, but I’m also grateful for the complete audio recordings of The Chronicles of Narnia, available free online and read by English child psychologist and author Chrissi Hart. In installments of two chapters at a time, Hart reads all seven of the Narnia books, 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.
You can hear the first two chapters of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe above, and stream or download the remaining chapters, and the remaining six books, at Ancientfaith.com. Although Hart and the Ancient Faith site who host her readings clearly approach the novels from an explicitly Orthodox perspective, I don’t think readers need to share their beliefs, or Lewis’, to enjoy and appreciate the storytelling magic of The Chronicles of Narnia.
And it should be noted that CS Lewis Pte. Ltd. granted permission to put these recordings online, according to the Ancient Faith web site. The recordings are therefore listed in our collection, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free. Enjoy.