I hear the faucet in the upstairs bathroom running and my son has turned on his electric toothbrush. Roughly five minutes later it shuts off, and he comes bounding down the stairs in his Spiderman pajamas and damp hair. He leans into the upholstered rocking chair where I sit, and looks at me wide-eyed and open-mouthed, signaling to me that he is ready and waiting. We trot up the stairs together to his bedroom and we crawl into his bed. He snuggles next to me as I grab one of the Chronicles of Narnia from his bedside table, and the adventure begins again.
Bedtime has become, for my family, a sacred time for reading. It helps power down my active seven-year-old. One of my favorite things to do as a parent is to read out loud to my kids. Over the past several weeks, I have read to him (and husband, who enjoys being read to as well) all of the Chronicles of Narnia series by the great C.S. Lewis. I’ve never read the entire series before now. Awed, inspired, and captivated, I find myself looking forward to bedtime so that we can experience one chapter every night. It takes me between 20 and 30 minutes to read one chapter, and we try to get started around 8 or shortly after.
Disney’s 2005 release of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe triggered my initial awareness and interest in this series. It was in the theaters, but I was determined to read the book first so that I could compare book to film. Generally speaking, the book versions of films are always better because the reader must work harder to use his or her imagination. In this case, I admit, when you consider the special effects, cinematography and musical score, the film adaption is better. Fast forward 15 years to when I have a seven-year-old son and my husband and I are trying to figure out the best choice for nightly reading, and I worry that the Narnia Chronicles are too advanced. I finally got around to reading the first book, The Magician’s Nephew, on my own, and decided that he would also enjoy it because one of the main characters is a boy, and there’s lots of action. And I was right! He has been actively engaged in these stories based on his frequent questions of “what does that word mean,” and his immediate, enthusiastic responses to predictions about the plot line, and his laughter at the comical parts. The level of suspense and drama piques in The Last Battle. My son and I are hanging on every word, and when I stop and say, “and that’s the end of this chapter,” we give each other a hard stare because we BOTH want to continue.
The average adult could probably sprint through any Narnia book within two to six hours, uninterrupted. But reading out loud slows one down, allowing for questions and sometimes meaningful discussions. Much like poetry, which is also best digested reading out loud, you feel the rhythm, flow and sounds of the language. Research also suggests that reading out loud improves long term memory of content. What if we were to apply this understanding to reading God’s word out loud? This is a powerful teaching and learning strategy. Before literacy became widespread, in oral cultures, reading aloud was how the average person received the scriptures. Maybe this is also why audio books are so popular. When we read aloud, it becomes a shared, community building experience. I vividly remember my fourth grade teacher reading aloud to us after we trudged indoors from recess. It was an excellent transition to the next activity while we either cooled off or warmed up. I was captivated by “Where the Red Fern Grows,” and to this day, I cherish that story and have also read it to my son.
The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe, even thought it was actually written first, makes so much more sense to read it AFTER The Magician’s Nephew in order to understand why and how the magical land of Narnia was created (and would also make a riveting film.) We follow the adventures of the Pevensie children all the way through the Dawn Treader. Then, The Horse and His Boy switches characters and story lines. This book is a more introspective journey in both a literal and figurative sense. It is primarily about seeking out one’s identity. An abused boy who is growing up in poverty is called on a great adventure and learns that he is actually the son of a mighty loving, kind King. (Aren’t we ALL born into spiritual poverty until we learn our true identity as sons and daughters of the Lord God Almighty?)
Taken as a whole, read sequentially from beginning to end, I believe C.S. Lewis wrote an allegory for the living the authentic Christian life. The common thread throughout the series is that evil threatens perfect, peaceful Narnia, and children from the earthly world are summoned and magically transported to the fantasy land by Aslan, who invites them along on a mission, but in the end, the final victory and restoration belongs to Him, the all powerful Lion and representation of God. Does this remind you of something else? We as believers are always dealing with spiritual forces of darkness (Ephesians 6) and are given the necessary tools to defeat this evil, but we still need to rely on God for ultimate victory. The children and other Narnian characters always undergo change and transformation by Aslan’s healing power, patience and wisdom. Much like we do. I love that the same author who has dished out lucid apologetics, Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters also created Narnia! I confess that I haven’t read his entire library yet, but I’m determined to read through it all now!
Which book will you read out loud with your loved one next?