The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis narrated by Michael York

the lion the witch and the wardrobeAlways winter, but never Christmas…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

I loved the Narnia books as a child and read them many times, especially this first one. As a child, I was completely oblivious to any religious symbolism in the book, so for me it was simply a great adventure story with a fantastic hero in Aslan. I think I was around eighteen when I last read them and, as with many childhood books, have always been a bit worried to revisit them in case my older, more cynical self has turned me into a Susan – unable to remember the magic and find my way back to Narnia. But when I came across this series on Audible, with some great narrators, I decided to take the risk.

And it was worth it. The book didn’t have quite the same effect on me as when I was seven, but it’s still a great story very well told. This time around I was obviously more aware of the parallels to the Christ story but I was intrigued to note that there are a lot of other references too – Bacchus puts in an appearance, as does Silenus, and of course all the stuff about fauns and centaurs and other creatures from folk legends and mythology. It’s all a bit of a mish-mash really but it works, and stops it from becoming overly preachy. Occasionally the messages are a little heavy-handed – about the evils of lying and so on – but this was fairly standard for children’s literature of the time from what I recall, and isn’t nearly as blatant as in some of them.

The White Witch from the 2005 movie
The White Witch from the 2005 movie

I was also much more aware of how terribly middle-class the children are, and how indoctrinated we were through the books we were reading to accept the subordinate, nurturing role of women and the heroic warrior status of boys. It’s amazing that the generation of women who grew up reading books like these, and Blyton and most of the other books I remember, managed to both love the books and rebel against the message. I did wonder if young mothers of young girls today would be quite so happy to have them reading books where girls help lay the table while boys go off in a manly way to catch fish for dinner, not to mention the girls ending up on the diplomatic marriage market when they were older. Daughters of Eve, Sons of Adam…hmm! Correct me if my knowledge of biology is a bit shaky, but my understanding is that the procreation process requires both genders to participate (or a test-tube or turkey baster at the very least). But I’d encourage young mothers not to let it put them off – my generation seemed to survive the onslaught of not-so-subliminal messages. (I also found myself thinking how little had changed in the role of women in the thousands of years between the Old Testament and this book and yet how much has changed, for those of us in the West at least, in the sixty or so years since. It rather made me proud…)

lucy and mr tumnus

But apart from all this adult over-analysis, I enjoyed the story a lot. The descriptions of the frozen world are great and the Queen is just as scary and horrible as I remember. Edmund is still a revolting little oick, Susan and Peter still badly need brought down a peg or two from their superior teenage smugness and I still identify with Lucy – youngest of four siblings, you see – even if she is a bit too sweet to be true. I loved the thaw – the way he matches the returning of life to the landscape with the returning of joy to the characters. Mr and Mrs Beaver are lovely, and poor Mr Tumnus! The bit with Aslan and the Stone Table is as moving and beautiful as ever it was and I still want to run and play with him, and put my hands in his golden mane! But why, oh why, must it end with them all having turned into stuffy, pompous adults complete with mock medieval language? I hated that bit when I was young and I hate it now – in fact, it was surprising how in tune young FF and old FF turned out to be. Perhaps my inner child isn’t so deeply buried after all…

Aslan, also from the 2005 movie
Aslan, also from the 2005 movie

Michael York’s reading is excellent. He gives all the characters distinct voices, and uses different British regional accents for the creatures. Mr Tumnus is Irish, the Beavers are some kind of rural English – Somerset-ish perhaps? – and I laughed a lot at Maugrim the wolf’s vurry, vurry Scottish accent. The children’s voices grated a bit on me – awfully posh standard English – but I did think they were right for the characters. And crucially he does Aslan’s voice (and roar) brilliantly – just the right deep tones filled with power and menace, but with a warmth beneath.

Michael York
Michael York

So overall a happy visit to my childhood and I can now look forward to enjoying the rest. Since I’m sticking with the original publication order, next up will be Prince Caspian, narrated by Lynn Redgrave. Doesn’t that sound good?

Audible UK Link
Audible US Link

75 thoughts on “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis narrated by Michael York

  1. What a wonderful, magical review, FF! This has made me feel all tingly on a Friday afternoon. I too loved CS Lewis as a child and this is a book I read several times although not for many years. The first time I read it I put myself in Lucy’s shoes (obviously) and remember really being swept away by the magic of it all. Time for a re-read, methinks.

    • Thanks, Lucy! 😀 Haha! It did make me chuckle that the girls were called Lucy and Susan – I was kinda wishing the boys were called Prof and Nick! (I’d have been the Witch, of course – with total control over the Turkish Delight.) Definitely stands up to re-reading, I’m glad to say, and if you fancy the audiobooks there are some amazing narrators in the series – Patrick Stewart, Kenneth Branagh…

  2. I was never as keen on these as you were, largely because I didn’t read them early enough, but I reread them about fifteen years ago and liked them much better, although from a totally different perspective. great review – I notice the parallels with our family – two older siblings, a brother and the baby – no wonder you identified with Lucy! 🙂

  3. I had fun re-reading these recently! I’m glad you’re enjoying the series again too. I definitely notice the gender disparity more than I ever did as a kid but it actually seems less to me than compared to so many other children’s books of the time. The girls, especially Lucy, play important roles and do and see things that the boys never do.

    Hope you enjoy Prince Caspian!

    • Yes, having Lucy as the main character helped, and the girls did get to be quite brave sometimes. Overall these kind of things don’t bother me overmuch – current writing for young people can go too far the other way sometimes, I think. And I think when I was a young kid I was as likely to identify with the boys as the girls anyway. It’s good to be able to re-read an old favourite without being disappointed – such a relief! Glad you enjoyed them too!

  4. Great review! I totally agree with this: “It’s amazing that the generation of women who grew up reading books like these, and Blyton and most of the other books I remember, managed to both love the books and rebel against the message.” I was one of those people who wondered why the girls had to help with the kitchen stuff and remain on the sidelines.
    I would love to hear Michael York’s reading!

    • Yes, it surprises me a bit looking back why I loved the books I did. These are OK – the girls do have strong roles even if they are ‘girly’, but when I think of most of the girls in Enid Blyton, I’m baffled. Except George – she was more my type of girl, but even then Blyton always made it clear she shouldn’t ever really think she was the equal of the boys…

      It’s a great reading – the whole series has some great narrators – Patrick Stewart, Kenneth Branagh…

  5. This is one I’ve read and re-read, and I absolutely LOVE it, FF! I, too, wanted to give Aslan a hug and run my fingers through his mane; I, too, wanted to partake of the Turkish Delights; I, too, was blown away at the symbolism; and I, too, fell in love with Mr. and Mrs. Beaver!! The movie was one I took Domer to, and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m glad to hear the audiobook lives up to the hard copy. Happy weekend, my friend!

    • I read them a million times when I was a kid but this is the first time I’ve gone back to them as an adult – I was so pleased not to be disappointed! I loved Aslan – I had a thing about lions anyway – and always sobbed buckets at the Stone Table bit even when I knew what happened! I haven’t seen the movie – I must make an effort to watch more films, I’ve just got out of the habit. Have a great weekend too, Debbie! 😀

  6. I think the Narnia stories are absolute classics, FictionFan. They are, as you say, well-told stories all full of adventure, and tap into children’s sense of wonder. So it’s not a surprise that you still find them worth the read.
    You make such an interesting point about the cultural norms that are simply accepted and assumed in this story. Speaking as the certified (or is that certifiable 😉 ) mother of a girl, I can vouch for how pervasive the messages are of what girls ‘should’ do and ‘should’ find interesting. I had plenty of conversations with my daughter as she was growing up about the characters in her stories. And I tried to make sure she had plenty of books in which girls do adventurous things. It’s not easy, though…

    • Yes, I think taking the story out of the ‘real world’ allows them to be much more timeless than some other childrens’ fiction. I’m looking forward to listening to the rest of the series over the coming months.

      I know – it’s odd. The book made me both shake my head at the indoctrination, but at the same time realise that somehow we must have managed to ignore it. And in my generation my mother would probably have been unconsciously backing up the messages from the books rather than giving us an alternative view. If anything, my father was the one who was more likely to send the message that his daughters could achieve as much as his son, but only within limits. No wonder we all talked about the ‘generation gap’ back then…

  7. What a coincidence?! In my latest post I used the exact same quote “always winter, never Christmas!” I adored these books as a child and just over a year ago I re-read them all, and I still loved them. I hope you enjoy Prince Caspian 🙂

    • It’s such a great line! I’ve been meaning to re-read them for ages but then saw this audio set with some fantastic narrators and thought I’d try it this way instead. So far, so good!

  8. This sounds fabulous – I loved the books and as the mother of a daughter was more than happy for her to read the classics hoping that the examples set by the women around her would cancel out the messages they contain… it seems to have worked! Like you I am amazed at how much has changed in a relatively short time period and I am constantly thankful that I was born when I was. Now to the audio book – it sounds great, I love the idea of the different regional accents for each character, can’t wait to see your review of the next part.

    • Yes, I think we must just filter out the bits we don’t identify with or something. I certainly never thought anything of it as a kid and yet now it leaps out at me – but not enough to stop the stories from being great. Even the difference between my mother’s generation and my own is huge – like you, I’m glad I live now! (No corsets, for a start. 😉 ) The narrators for this series sound so good – I wish it didn’t take me so long to get round to audiobooks though…

  9. I have never read this series, but I hope to do so with my kids. Or maybe we’ll listen to them instead. I grew up reading Blyton as well, but curiously, I never felt like her books were telling me how I should be or act as a girl. I think it was because I always identified more with the tomboys in her stories. It is interesting to see how my girls are reacting to some of the classic books with outdated roles for girls. There seems to be a curious disconnect for them, whether the story is set in the real world or a fantasy world. I think they somehow, thankfully, dismiss the part of the message that might tell them to “go into the kitchen.” Sometimes, I see them reenact “playing house” or something like that, but next thing I know, they are off to “hunt for dinner.” I hope that won’t change. (Now if I could only be just as nonchalant about the unrelenting, unrealistic, and often sickening portrayal of “a woman’s perfect body” everywhere I look!)

    • Yes, I identified most with George, but I tried to re-read one of those books a few years ago and just couldn’t. Although she was a tomboy she was always being told to be more ladylike and it was so clear that she’d have to get into skirts and kitchens sooner or later! But it didn’t stop me loving the books as a kid, nor did it stop me from thinking that just maybe girls didn’t have to spend their whole lives preparing picnics… 😉

      I’m glad to hear young girls are still able to read some of the older books without being influenced by them – I suppose it’s the same as us being able to cope with the type of casual racism in older literature – recognising it for what it is and making allowances for the time. It would be a shame to see the classic childrens’ books go out of style altogether. Yes, the whole body image thing is a worry – and much worse than when I was young. And quite often it’s women forcing the image on other women – ugh!

    • I know, right? First time through I was in my early 20’s and I was entranced immediately. My dad loved it. My fourth grade students loved the stories. In fact, the only people I’ve ever met who did not like them was was the administration of the Christian school where I was teaching. Some wandering evangelist denounced Lewis, Tolkien and any other books that had supernatural things going on. The books were banned and yes burned along with others. (My students went and got their own copies and continued to read it on their own. If I had not already been ready to flit, that would have driven me.

      • That’s fascinating Susan – the banning and burning of these books. It rather shows the power and potency of fiction, doesn’t it, the fact that various groupings of people put books to the fire, ideas to the fire. How terrified we are by what our thinking, our feeling, our imagining creates

        • I had not thought about the power of the books. It was also a tool to control people. And still is. Now and then I encounter some of those students from that school. Either they are either wanting nothing to do with religious things or they are cling to it as if their lives depended on it. One former talked to me a couple of months ago. She is in her late 40’s and she still believes what was taught there that she was a bad girl. I wrote her a letter and put it in her private messaging thing and told her all of the things I could remember about her as a student. She was a sweet child with a joyful expression almost all of the time. And they beat her down over the years. That is wrong.

          • Sounds like that version of religion comes straight from the old Knox type stuff – if you’re not miserable, you must be bad. And if you are miserable, it’s because you’re bad! Never understood it myself, why people would voluntarily follow a religion that made them so unhappy and force their children into it too. Give me a religion that emphasises the joy aspects any day – it’s surely possible (in theory, at least) to be both happy and good.

            • Well, for me, I had no choice gro
              wing up. My father was the preacher. That church that initiated the burning of materials were acting on the say-so of a self-appointed “former Warlock.” Even my father smelled fake. As for me, it made no sense. The man was pointing the finger at C.S. Lewis and other authors, actors and public people. A good number of unsanctioned musics tapes, etc. I did not show up for the book burning because I was getting married and moving far away and I didn’t think I could keep a straight face during the erm, ceremony. The flim-flam man’s name was John Todd. Many years later when I had internet I did a search. Turned out I was right.

              I think that I remember that last part was that the church officials knew at some point and did not tell the congregation. Even stranger, there is a group of people believe that he is still alive…somewhere.

            • Goodness! It’s hard to believe that the church leaders could fall for it, isn’t it? It all sounds like something out of a cheaper version of Dan Brown or something. Warlocks?? Good grief! Haha! It might have been fun to attend just for the experience though…

            • Frankly, it creeped me out. The leaders of Independent Baptist Churches feed on each other. The leaders hold almost complete control over the church members. We were not allowed to dance, listening to rock and other of the same type, wine or any alcohol. Dresses had to touch the floor when kneeling and other stuff that had little about Jesus and a lot of control.

            • It’s a little bit like that in some of our churches in the Highlands and Islands but the mainstream Church of Scotland is, if anything, a bit wishy-washy – frankly they’re so soft on just about ‘anything goes’ that I used to wonder what the point was supposed to be. It didn’t used to be – when I was a kid it was a place of misery (and boredom) too, but when people started turning away from church attendance in hordes in the late 60s and 70s, they pretty much tried to turn themselves into some kind of social club rather than a church. I don’t really know what it’s like now – must admit it’s been many, many years since I was in church for anything other than weddings and funerals.

            • I’ve been looking into this recently because I find it deeply puzzling, myself. The whole point of Christianity is that ‘God so loved the world that he sent his only son etc etc’ and Jesus thought so much of us that he died for our sakes etc.

              The ‘God is an angry person, we’re completely unworthy and everything is bad’ school of thought is directly attributable to the personal hang ups of St Augustine, Luther, Knox et al. What the Bible actually says is ‘you may not feel worthy but God loves you anyhow so make sure you strive your best to live as he’d like you to.’

              What I want to know is why did, and do, so many people choose the former ideology? You’d think it’d be completely unappealing, but, no.


            • I’m always wary of expressing too strong an opinion, given that I’m an atheist but not one who tries to undermine other people’s faith. But having recently tried to read the Old Testament, I fear the God of that did bear a striking similarity to what I’ve always thought of as Knox’s God. I can quite understand why a lot of churches prefer to concentrate on the New Testament. But, and I hope I don’t offend you or anyone else, I honestly can’t understand why anyone would worship the vengeful and arbitrary Old Testament God, especially women. One day I shall read the New Testament…

            • From my perspective, the Old Testament is more of a ‘backstory’ for the New Testament, particularly as there’s several other books, (listed in the Thirty-Nine Articles) that are missed out.

              I think the key thing to remember when reading the New Testament, especially with the Epistles, is the background of the writers and how it affects their views: St Paul is a celibate Pharisee, so strong on paterfamilias, whereas St Peter is married and an ex-fisherman so there’s slightly less emphasis on household hierarchy. I like the descent to the practical at the end of some of St Paul’s writing: ‘don’t forget to bring my second best cloak’, ‘don’t trust Alexander the smith, he owes me money’.

              I’m sure someone must have written a biography of St Paul; I’ll have to track it down.

            • That’s good advice. I felt that about the Old Testament too – that it had to be seen as being filtered through the attitudes of the people who wrote it, and looking at it in that way I could accept it as historically interesting. But I know a lot of people think it’s the literal word of God, and I really struggled to reconcile that God with the loving God people talk about in our time. And it’s such a sensitive subject (especially in Scotland where the Protestants and Catholics are still battling it out at football matches) that I usually avoid talking about it for fear of giving offence.

            • From my perspective, I think it’s the word of God but ‘transcribed’ by fallible man and, as you say, filtered through the personal attitudes/hang ups of the writer and the period in which he wrote.

              I think the reader also has to remember that there were a lot of other books on the same subject and that the decision as to which ones were collated into ‘the Bible’ was made by a group of, again necessarily fallible, men.

              So, again from my perspective, the reader needs to do a lot of reading between the lines. St Paul says: women shouldn’t ask questions in church but wait until they get home and ask their husbands; but he also mentions several women who’ve organised churches in their houses and done a lot of other positive work for the faith. So I’d say that was both his Pharisee background coming out and that there’d been occasions when some woman had disrupted the flow of preaching. My reading would be: ask questions afterwards; don’t interrupt the sermon while it’s going on! – especially you women! – rather than seeing it as a direct prohibition against women to be taken literally.

              It doesn’t help with the spread of the Word if, when they get home, the husband hasn’t understood what the preacher was going on about either!

              Yes, it’s a sensitive subject for many people which I find rather odd. I don’t usually talk about it either because a lot of other Christians insist that their particular church is the only ‘correct’ one, and proselytising types make me feel squeamish anyway, and the only atheists I’ve met have been angry types who only want to hear your views so they can ‘prove you wrong’. Which leads us back to censoring children’s books, I suppose.

              I’ve often thought if I could do cartoons I’d do one of God on a cloud, holding up a placard saying ‘Not in My Name(s)’.

            • Ha! Yes! I often wonder what God would think of the things done in his name. And the constant squabbling amongst different religions or sects, with each of them holding that they and only they are interpreting the Bible (Koran, etc) correctly, seems remarkably un-Christian to me. I admire, and even envy, people who hold sincere beliefs and try to live up to them, but I hate the hypocrisy and attitudes of moral superiority that so often appears – mind you, I hate that attitude from atheists just as much! And I hate, hate, hate people of any persuasion or none who try to force other people to conform to things they (the other people) don’t necessarily believe in. That’s at the root of most of the cruelty and injustice in the world as far as I’m concerned.

              It’ll all be different when I become World Dictator… 😉

  10. Oh! Michael York… He’s always got such an interesting voice…and appearance oddly enough.

    I’ve always loved the symbology in this and LOTR. It was like a game of uncovering it at times. And I’m horrible at that sort of thing. On a manly way to fish? I guess they could’ve gone on their womanly way to fish, but that wouldn’t make too much sense. Now I’m wondering how one manly fishes. My brain just might explode, the sudden.

    Not at all fair! After this one comes The Horse and His Boy! Then again, perhaps it’s best if you go like you are.

  11. I love those stories. I have passed my copy of them to my middle child who is a “booky” like me. My children grew up with them. Of all of Lewis’s books that I have read (and there are many of them) Narnia still has the power to charm.

  12. I was sneakily reading this at work and snorted at the turkey baster bit! I don’t think anyone heard… I hope not anyway!
    I haven’t read Narnia in ages, but I hated it as a child because I was forced to read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe because I was too far ahead of my class in reading at primary school. The teacher wouldn’t let me pick myself a new book, so I was forced to read and reread the only book she considered appropriate, TLTWaTW. It doesn’t help any book to be shoved on a child. I did end up reading the rest of the series when I was in my teens, but I think I was a bit old for the magic to really take hold. It’s such a shame, because I think I would have really loved it if I’d come across it on my own.
    I’m proud of women for coming so far too! I’m currently reading E.M. Delafield’s “Diary of a Provincial Lady” and though she’s funny as hell, she has to hide all her snark and humour to act as the perfect lady, especially in front of her insufferable husband, servants and the children she doesn’t even seem to like all that much. I’m glad that nowadays, she would have had a choice about how she wanted to live and procreate etc. Roar, women, ROAR!

    • Ha! Sorry about that! 😉

      I must say I think it’s pretty amazing any of us made it through school still loving reading. The way they forced books on us at specific ages when half the class were way ahead of that in what they were already reading at home, while the other half weren’t ready yet. We were always being told you must read this book now even if you hate it. I hope it’s changed now, but I suspect it still goes on in lots of schools. I was lucky that I had readers in my family and also one particular teacher who recognised me as a reader and encouraged me to try stuff that was ‘too old’ for my age group, but there were plenty of kids in my class who had learned to hate reading by the time they could read properly at all.

      Yes, indeed! And it’s all happened relatively quickly too. Even when I was young we were still being indoctrinated that the best you should hope for was to ‘catch’ a ‘good husband’. Not that I object to good husbands! But it’s nice to think that nowadays if that’s what a woman chooses to do, then it’s because she’s chosen it freely, rather than having no other options. And it’s surely better for men too to know that they’re looked on as something more than only being a ‘good provider’, important though that might be!

  13. Like you, I loved the Narnia books as a young girl and kept returning them to relive a little bit of their magic. I’ve always been wary of rereading them as an adult, but your experience leads me to think that I ought to dig them out of the loft at some point. Lovely review!

    • Thank you! 🙂 Yes, I was worried but these ones definitely keep the magic even for adult brains. Like Anne of Green Gables, another series that’s just as good when you’re an adult – but somehow not like Enid Blyton, whom I find almost unreadable now sadly, despite the huge pleasure they gave me as a kid.

  14. Loved the Narnia chronicles both when young and through the movies when older. I so enjoy reading your reviews! 🙂

  15. I really miss reading all your reviews on my computer where I can freely comment! Just know that I enjoy each of them. But I kept this one marked to come back to because I do love this book so very much. And while I’m sure the audio books are lovely, be sure to at least pick up a hard copy at some point to enjoy the original illustrations by Pauline Baynes. Her simple line drawings always delighted me, especially when I wasn’t exactly sure what a satyr was. 😀

    I’m not sure that I can agree that having the girls set the table and not run about killing people in battle really places them in subordinate roles – merely a role that is different from that of the boys. I don’t believe that Lewis at all implies that what the girls did was any less important. Lucy is the obvious heroine, and it is her courage and adventurous spirit that enables all the rest of the Narnian adventures to occur – she is never scolded or punished for her attitudes or actions. It is she and Susan who follow Aslan to his darkest hour – and while one may say that “comforting” is a traditionally (and thus unattractive) womanly role, their comfort and encouragement to him is shown has being a strong and important action. Yes, the boys are fighting the battles, but I believe that Lewis writes his girls as strong characters as well.

    Anyway, I think we can both agree that the books are great fun. While Lewis doesn’t build a world of intense depth (like, say, Tolkien!), it is one that always sounded like a wonderful one to visit – and I believe all of us have, at some point, checked to make sure that our wardrobe definitely has a back to it!

    PS yay for reading them in published order! I am a strong advocate of this method! 😀

    • It’s not so much that they are in domestic or nurturing roles, which I agree are not necessarily subordinate. It’s that they are put into those roles by other people rather than having any freedom of choice. In fact, Aslan says something along the lines of – war is ugly when women are involved. Which leaves me thinking hmm… tell that to the female marines! And – so is it not ugly when men are involved then, Aslan? I know it’s based on the relative positions of women both in Lewis’ time and in the Bible, which is really my point. Now a woman can choose whether she wants to be a marine, a wife and mother, or all three. (And a man can choose to be heroic in some way that doesn’t involve killing or dying.) A huge advance. Personally I’d rather lay the table than fish – but I’d like to be given the choice. And I don’t like the assumption that women inherit from their mothers (including the infamous eternal curse) while men inherit from their fathers (including their innate superiority and right to rule their womenfolk). I’m pretty sure genetics has shown that to be a load of old rope, and as someone who is a million times more like her father than her mother, I didn’t need genetics to tell me anyway…

      But yes, they’re still great fun and no more old-fashioned in their outlook than one would expect of a book of that era. Haha! Yes, I own up to the wardrobe-banging! I still live in hope…

  16. What a lovely review, and how interesting that your child and adult selves responded in the same way – I’m always fascinated by the re-reading process and how it changes one’s perception of a book. My favourite of the series was The Horse and His Boy and The Last Battle scared me silly when I was little!

    • Thank you! Yes, I was pleased my adult self liked it – there are many books from childhood I find almost unreadable now, so was quite wary going in. This one was always my favourite, though I loved them all – I have a big soft spot for The Voyage of the Dawn Treader too, mainly because of Reepicheep!

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