Sunday, January 21, 2007


The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C S Lewis, HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 1950, 189 pp
I must have read this book at least five times while I was growing up. It was one of those books, including Little Women, the first Nancy Drew book, etc., that I would read over and over, turning to it perhaps for security or comfort as life changed around me. It has possibly been almost 45 years since I read it last, but the magic held up. I read it with pleasure and was right there with Peter, Susan, Lucy and Edmund. In fact, I haven't been able to bring myself to watch "Narnia" because I am afraid they won't have gotten it right. I may have to finish re-reading the entire chronicles before I can watch the film.

Reading it this time, I noticed some new points as well. On the very first page it says that the children had been sent to the country and away from London, because of the war and the air raids. I hadn't remembered that and naturally it would have made no impression on me as a child because I didn't know what that meant.

Edmund's "punishment" for being selfish and beastly seemed overly lenient to me now, but when I was a child I was completely satisfied with the justice he received as a consequence of his actions. That says to me that children are quicker to forgive and believe in swift consequences as well as an easy re-acceptance of the guilty party once he has got what he had coming. I have decided that children have the right idea and that grownups are too serious and tend to hold grudges.

As far as Aslan, the Lion being a Christ symbol and all that goes, it is perhaps a bit overdone, but it did not bother me in the context of the story on this reading, anymore than it did when I was ignorant of the symbolism as a child. That Aslan came back to life because of "deeper magic from before the dawn of time" sounds just as plausible as that Jesus Christ arose from the dead because he was God's only son. I don't mean to upset any Christians by saying that, but I suppose I might.

Finally, my favorite concept when I was a child; that children could be gone to Narnia for years and come back to England to find that no time had passed, is still my favorite concept now. If only that were true when I emerge from a 500 page novel!

Now for the prize winners in 1950:

NATIONAL BOOK AWARD (NBA): This is the first year that this award was given.
The Man With the Golden Arm, Nelson Algren, Fawcett Publications Inc, 1949, 364 pp
Here is a quite dark novel about life in the gritty reality of postwar Chicago. Frank comes home from prison with bright ambitions to give up the life of a card dealer and drug addict and become a musician. Since he has come back to the same neighborhood where he got into trouble, he is soon embroiled in the same activities that put him in jail in the first place. It is only a matter of time before his drug dealer finds him and gets him hooked again.

By now, this is a familiar story but was undoubtedly new and exciting in 1950. Algren is a fine writer who creates the life of the streets and the thoughts in Frank's mind with great sympathy. It is a hopeless and depressing story but I was left feeling that many people's lives are just as desperate, except now we have welfare and anti-depressants.

The Way West, A B Guthrie, William Sloane Associates, 1949, 435 pp
I am so glad that I read Guthrie's earlier book, The Big Sky first, as it is much the better book. The Way West brings back Dick Summers, one of the key mountain men in The Big Sky. He is now the trail leader of a wagon train headed for Oregon.

The rest of the characters are families setting out from Missouri for a new life in Oregon. It is the final wave of pioneers, but these people are not wild independent spirits. They are settlers, and while they are tough and determined, they are looking to bring civilization to the wild lands of the West, to ensure that America gets these lands and not the British.

Instead of memorializing the last of a breed, Guthrie is now writing about the beginning of a venture. The story centers on a particular family, but includes the usual suspects involved in a wagon train. There is hardship, personality conflict, religion and a bit of romance. Guthrie is a good writer and brings it all alive, so it is a good tale.

I can see why this one took the prize, rather than The Big Sky, because it is the pioneers that America loves. We are a little leery of those wild mountain men.

NEWBERY AWARD (for children's fiction)
The Door in the Wall, Marguerite De Angeli, Random House Inc, 1949
The Newbery Award Medal for 1950 goes to this story of Robin, a ten year old boy in England during the Middle Ages. His father is off fighting with the King against the Scots. His mother has gone as lady-in-waiting to the Queen, thinking her son to be on his way to the castle of Sir Peter to train as a knight. But Robin fell ill and cannot use his legs.

He is rescued by a monk from a nearby abbey and eventually they make it to Sir Peter's. Robin must learn to find other strengths and live as a cripple, which he does with the help of the monks, a minstrel and others. When the castle is besieged, Robin goes for help and becomes a hero.

A good story, never boring for a moment. I wonder if this is the type of story the Newbery awards or if all books for juvenile readers are of this story pattern. So far it has been true of most of the winners.

CALDECOTT MEDAL (for picture book illustration)
Song of the Swallows, Leo Politi, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1949, 30 pp
This is a lovely story set in San Juan Capistrano at the small mission which is still there. It follows the seasons of the swallows, which come in spring and leave in late summer. Politi is also the illustrator. The tale conveys the love that children have for animals.


  1. I don't recall having read The Chronicles of Narnia as a kid. Having read it as an adult, C.S. Lewis' new found religious fervor was not remotely subtle. I did enjoy the first two books the best, despite Lewis' heavy handed moralizing. The Magician's Nephew, which was written later, but intended as the first book with its set up for 'The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe' and as a creation tale was very interesting and well written. After TLTWATW it went sort of down hill.

  2. It's funny you mention the series going downhill after TLTWATW, because I hardly remember any of the other books though I know I read them all. I'll be reading Voyage of the Dawntreader soon, so I'll see if it comes back to me. It looks like you read the entire Chronicles at one go, which is pretty impressive.