I’m going to assume you know the plot of Wardrobe, given its status as an extremely widely-read, acknowledged classic of children’s literature. You may not know, however, that there is much controversy over which book in the Narnia series should be considered the first one. I started our journey to Narnia here, as Mr. Lewis did midway through the last century, because I think starting with the later-written prequel, The Magician’s Nephew, ruins the mystery and magic of Wardrobe.
I wasn’t sure how Wardrobe would work as a read-aloud and was pleasantly surprised to find it worked beautifully. Reading it aloud took much less time than I had expected and my oldest was very interested throughout.
Most adults know the Narnia books have a very Christian subtext, but most children (judging by my son and my childhood self) do not notice, at least with the early books in the series. A lion that dies to redeem the sins of others and then comes back to life? Carry on! It is no stranger than a magical chocolate factory staffed by oompa loompas or a father who goes out for some milk and is delayed by aliens, pirates, vampires, and space-traveling-talking dinosaurs. Whether you love that or hate the subtext, some familiarity with Narnia is is necessary for cultural literacy (for example, without Narnia, the excellent His Dark Materials trilogy wouldn’t make nearly as much sense). There is a bit of obvious sexism in this book, but it is not outrageous, particularly for the time period in which it was written.
Further caveats (with spoilers):
I’m not sure how far we’ll venture into this series together; I read Wardrobe early on as a child and really enjoyed it, but checked others in the series out of the library out of order and got deeply discouraged by The Magician’s Nephew (which I thought explained things that needed no explanation and just wasn’t terribly interesting) and then The Last Battle (which, among many other issues, has the Problem of Susan; nearly universally unsympathetic and one-dimensional characters; and an apocalypse, in every sense of the word, that destroys Narnia) and gave up on the series. But I recently read the third book in the series, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (which was sent to me through a shipping error), and think my oldest would love it (although it comes with some caveats of its own, which I’ll detail if it ever gets its own entry) so I’ve ordered Prince Caspian to see if we should read it before Dawn Treader.
Make sure your child is old enough for this book and this series; when good and evil battle things out in Narnia (and they do at least once in each of the Narnia books I have read) the details are vivid and the outcomes can be very, very grim.
Author: C.S. Lewis
Illustrator: Pauline Baynes