The Book That Made Me….
Where to even start? By my reckoning I’m made of a thousand books or more. I suspect there’s a splatter of ink and scrap of yellowing paper in every Meg molecule. That’s never been more evident than now, when I’m packing to move house.
“Do we really need all these books? You have a kindle!” There is just the slightest hint of despair in my husband’s voice.
I have a kindle but I don’t have a diary. The books on these shelves are my life story. TS Eliot might have measured out life in coffee spoons. I’m measuring mine in tatty old paper backs.
I read Aldous Huxley alongside Elinor Brent Dyer’s Chalet School books. I don’t even remember my first comic. They’ve always been around me. My adoration for the Silver Brumbies was longstanding but it was tempered with A Visit to the Footbinder, and whilst I loved Willard Price’s adventure stories, I was also a big fan of Andrew Lang’s Yellow, Blue and many other coloured fairy books, Alan Garner and Mary Stewart.
There are three things I have in common with millionaire philanthropist Sigrid Rausing (clue: none of them include being her fortune):
1. I’m female
2. I support Amnesty International
3. I have been profoundly influenced by The Chronicles of Narnia.
You’ll notice I cheated. This isn’t one book, it’s a whole world.
What is it about these books?
More than anything they are humane. Compassion and forgiveness are key themes. No one (not even Lucy) is a goody two shoes. These are real people, real children, steeped with sibling rivalry, insecurity and set against the backdrop of a war that has torn them from their parents.
Every single human who enters Narnia learns something about themselves. Every single person is tested (and often fail), grows and changes. Unlike many YA fantasy novels (Percy Jackson I’m looking at you), there is true character development.
And then there’s the mythology. Dryads eating loam like it’s chocolate, minotaurs lurking in the darkness… And father Christmas. It’s a joyous mythological melting pot where creatures spring to life in Aslan’s train to join the glorious springtime of Narnia.
Tolkien didn’t like his friend CS Lewis’ Narnian books. He thought they were far too blatantly allegorical and unlike me, he didn’t find the hodge podge of mythology attractive. And sure enough the Narnia books aren’t steeped in the deep and consistent language and lore of Middle Earth.
But they do have something that Tolkien’s books lack. They have women.
Because in the Chronicles of Narnia the female characters are as brave, true and flawed as the male characters. They carry equal weight. They make calamitous mistakes, fail to trust Aslan or to follow the signs. They can be brave and clever. They can be pretty. Or not.
No girl child growing up on Narnia would imagine that adventures were for boys. After all it’s Lucy who is the first to step through the wardrobe in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Jill Pole who rescues Prince Rinian in the Silver Chair. Even the baddie is a girl. And you have to be a lion to mess with her.
As I’ve grown up I’ve found the Chronicles of Narnia has kept pace with my life experiences and those of people around me. In Eustace’s transformation from dragon (The Voyage of the Dawntreader) to the boy he should always have been, I found a metaphor for recovery. In the dwarves inability to see Aslan’s country (The Last Battle) I learned about the power of attitude and belief to shape your experience of the world.
The Chronicles of Narnia didn’t just inspire me to like books. They shaped me.
And gave me a life long curiosity to see what lies at the back of the wardrobe….