It's hard for me to judge the Narnia books with any kind of objectivity, because I loved them so much as a kid. I still associate them with a blissful sense of escape. Well, I had five siblings and shared a room with my least favorite of them. I was wild
to escape. The idea of another world just around the corner (or over a wall, or through the closet door) was paradise to me. As it must have been to millions of others.
I guess I'm supposed to hate these books now that I'm a big fat atheist; but the fact is, I was too dense to notice they were carrying any sort of religious message. ("Deborah's density" is a recurring literary theme in my reviews.) Once it was pointed out to me that Aslan's sacrifice for Edmund was supposed to symbolize Jesus' redemption of mankind (if I'm phrasing that properly), it didn't change the story for me any. Even as a religious child, I could tell the metaphor wasn't perfect. Now, I simply think Lewis' work is a flawed analog and a terrific story.
I do find it bitterly amusing that Lewis, who was writing in the '50s, definitely backed the wrong horse historically speaking when it came to women. He's terrified of grown women, and rarely allows them into his stories. When he does, they're bad news. Here, he links the White Witch to Lilith -- that scary, sexually mature, "real" first woman. All female adults are suspect in Lewis' Narnian universe. (I don't want to get ahead of myself, so I'll just keep a running tab as I review each book.)
Also -- "Battles are ugly when women fight"? As opposed to those lovely all-male wars you just don't get any more? I think Lewis' friend Tolkien might have had something to say about that.
One thing that's striking about reading this book as a parent is how utterly absent parents are. The children don't have a speck of homesickness for their mother and father, either at the Professor's house or in their years in Narnia. (Belated spoiler alert. Sorry.) I can't help comparing this with Peter Pan,
which in spite of all the Neverland adventures is all about children longing for parents, parents longing for children, and the sacrifices made when children grow up and become parents.
Barrie's childhood was a hot mess, to say the least, and it shows in his work. (No criticism there, just pointing out the facts.) Is it a sign that Lewis was happier, or at least less screwed up, that his own fictional children are able to skip away and thoroughly enjoy their adventures, forgetting their own origin stories and never giving a thought to their parents until they're ushered unceremoniously back "home"?